The characters from the TV show are owned by MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is intended, and no profit gained by this piece of fanfic.
Thanks to Steph and the Academy for inviting me to have a go at this year’s Halloween Challenge.
This story continues the tragically pitiful saga of Lady Xena, whom we first met in ‘Take One Head…’ You don’t need to have read that story to read this one, but of course I think you should anyway!
Email me at Lariel_a@hotmail.com
It was a dark and stormy night. The black clouds, hateful of the light, scudded across the sky like malevolent ghosts riding on the back of the whipping wind, clustering around the pearly moon and gleefully smothering her silvered rays. Once they’d achieved their evil mission, they celebrated by cascading a frenzy of bitterly cold rain onto the world below, as if the very Heavens themselves wept to see the delicate beauty of the harvest moon snuffed out.
The aforementioned driving rain drove its way down and some unlucky little droplets ended up pooling around on the roof of a dark and archetypically creepy mansion house, whose twisted turrets reached for the sky like arthritic fingers grasping at a cake on a high shelf (well, maybe not a cake — unless it was an evil cake?). Naturally, the house was in blackness apart from the odd candlelit window — gaslight had been invented by now, but due to a previous unfortunate incident with a bottle of brandy, a naked flame and a farting competition, the current incumbent insisted on candles only and ‘none of this new fangled wizardry in MY bloody house’.
The fact that it was only her mansion because possession was nine tenths of the law, was neither here nor there — or to be more precise, she was here, and the former legal occupants were not. Not many sensible people stick around when a deranged drunken woman waving a sword shows up and insists on a bed for the night.
A crackle of lightning sparked around the windows of the almost derelict building, and illuminated one of the occupied rooms momentarily. Let’s follow the light, and peek into the window.
The room was dingy, with faded wallpaper starting to peel from the walls and a carpet and rugs that had seen better days, and those many years ago. A guttering candle sent weak yellow rays dancing around the faded rose-red walls, joining the macabre gyrations of the fire that flickered in the grate.
It illuminated an overstuffed red armchair, covered in nameless stains and with its stuffing bursting out, which also had clearly seen better days. Uncannily like its owner, who was lying sprawled across the chair, also covered in nameless stains and looking like she’d had the stuffing knocked out of her — possibly by whatever had caused the stains. With her bodice all awry and her dark hair a tangled mess of mares’ tails, she looked the ultimate picture of Eighteenth Century debauchery. The champagne bottle which dribbled its contents onto the floor completed the picture.
Lady Xena was doing what she’d done for years — drinking and plotting. Polishing off the last dregs of the champagne, she hurled the bottle across the room before precariously leaning down over one side of the armchair and fishing out another from the almost empty wine rack which lay at her feet. You couldn’t plot on an empty stomach, she’d discovered years ago, and what better way to fill a stomach than with champagne? It was a win-win.
“Bentley!” she yelled at the top of her Eighteenth Century lungs.
The hunched old butler manoeuvred his way around the pile of broken champagne bottles which were almost blocking the doorway and proceeded to stutter his way across the room, dragging his limp leg behind him. It was a slow and tortuous progression - you could hear his old bones creaking painfully with every movement. He’d served Lady Xena for years — decades, even — through thick and thin. She being thick, and he being thin. “Yes, madam?” he intoned, in a voice with more than a touch of ‘bring out your dead’ bells in a Black Death epidemic.
“Open this for me. You know I can’t manage it cos of the arthritis in my fingers.” Not to mention the DTs and the crossed vision. She wiggled her fingers airily in front of his rheumy old eyes.
“Yes, madam.” Expertly — cos he’d had a helluva lot of practice — he plucked the bottle off her outstretched palm and with one deft movement of his fingers, popped the cork. The sound was nearly as loud as the ones his arthritic knuckle joints made. A small groan of pain escaped his thin, elongated lips and he shook his fingers out as the bottle was speedily snatched back by a gleefully grinning Lady.
“Be back in five minutes — I’ll need another bottle opening. I’m hatching a really good plot. I think this one’s a real goer.”
Another groan slipped out, and his cataract-ridden ancient eyes closed briefly. “Yes, madam.”
Slightly squiffy ice blue eyes tried to fix on him, but as they were really quite crossed, it ended up being more of a squint. “You sound disbelieving, Bentley?” The Lady managed to struggle semi upright in her armchair, disapproval and champagne oozing from every pore.
“Not at all, madam. Just years of experience.”
The bottle twirled airily. “This isn’t like the others. I’ve thought it all through, and it’s fool proof!” She settled — well, I say settled, more collapsed, really — back into the armchair, casting him a triumphant grin as she did so. The Plan, after all, was fool proof.
“Yes ma’am,” Bentley intoned.
Lady Xena slipped back into her recumbent sprawly pose and stuck the neck of the bottle into her mouth. A good five minutes later, and the sparkly look was back in her eye and her cheeks had turned a fetching rosy pink.
Lady Xena, never being one to let death get in the way of a good relationship, was back to her two favourite hobbies — getting drunk, and hatching ways to bring her bard back. She’d spent many fruitless and pointless hours creating plans, devising complicated plots and making up malevolent machinations — hundreds if not thousands of hours dedicated to bringing back the love of her life, who’d shuffled off this mortal coil a good fifteen or so years before, leaving Xena bereft and disconsolate, and with a great deal of unresolved sexual tension.
“Yes,” she said, satisfaction and self congratulation splattered all over her face. “This one’s a real goodie this time, I just know it! I’ll be speaking to my bard in next to no time, and I mean the real bard. None of that re-animated corpse nonsense again.” Both Bentley and the Lady gave an involuntary and very deep shudder.
Another five glugs, and the shudder was gone. The tiddly noblewoman began to wax lyrical, her eyes glazing over with misty reminiscence. “Oh, to hear the dulcet tones of my bard again! It’s been along time — too long, Bentley! Too long. A woman should never have to suffer the way I’ve suffered, having the love of her life ripped so cruelly from her arms, and just as it was all getting really interesting. Know what I mean?”
“Yes, madam.” Bentley knew exactly what she meant — he could remember the nocturnal shenanigans. The banging, the clanking, the screaming… and that was just the Lady. The Bard had been ten times more talkative. He’d had to invest in a pair of heavy duty earmuffs.
The sozzled woman waved the now empty bottle around in the air. “She was in the prime of her life, Bentley, and I was in the prime of mine. We were two primes. So much time, wasted. But soon, soon I shall have my bard in my arms again! Well, maybe not soon — I have to make contact first.”
“I thought you said no more re-animated corpses, Milady?” the butler queried, his voice wavering with dread.
“Well, I did. Not after last time.” She shuddered deeply again. “Also, I never could figure out how to hold the head on with a smaller bolt, and I can’t be having my bard with a great big bolt through her neck, even if it does provide a useful hand-hold. But why bother with the dead, Bentley? Let the poor things lie. No, I have a much better idea!”
She tossed the bottle over with the rest, and fished out another. Bentley popped the cork, and Xena stuck it into her mouth. She wiped her arm across her mouth, and beamed. “We can resurrect her into a live body! A lovely, nice warm real live body. We can pick a really cute one…” A lascivious gleam entered the crossed eyes. “No scrap that — we’ll find a really, really hot one. A cute, hot one with lovely legs and fantastic abs and a lovely smile, and really big…”
Bentley sighed with despair, visions of being on midnight watches for hot young ladies passing through his mind’s eye. He was way, way too old for this. “But Milady, I don’t understand — how will this bring back Miss Gabrielle?”
Xena cast him a withering look. “Of course you don’t understand, you don’t have my intellectual prowess and my creativity. You can’t think outside the box!”
“Well, a coffin. Or dead bodies. But I ask you, where’s the future in that? Never knowing what’s gonna fall off next, always having to keep a needle and thread handy. And let’s face it, we don’t know how long those rotting re-animated corpses actually last, do we? It was all getting a bit whiffy there towards the end. No, all we need to do is find ourselves a nice living body, and then get Gabrielle’s essence into it.” She sat back with a triumphant ‘ta-da!’ expression.
“Ah! I see Milady — you mean, her spiritual essence. Like possession?”
“But how do you find spirits?”
“Well, I do prefer champagne but if we’re all out…”
“No, Madam, I mean, how does one find Miss Gabrielle’s essence? She has been dead rather a long time now, and even if one believed in the afterlife…”
A steely glint crept into her eyes. “Oh, one believes, Bentley! It better bloody had exist — it’s a crucial part of my plan!” She polished off the last bottle of champagne, then fished around in her ample cleavage for a good ten minutes before pulling out a crumpled bit of paper. She unfurled it and smoothed it out. “But I see what you mean. How does one bring back the souls of the dead? Easy — you hire a professional.” With a beamingly hopeful smile, she passed him the piece of paper. It was a leaflet, advertising certain specialist services as performed by Madam Montelimar, done under cover of darkness. “You use a medium.”
Madam Montelimar, or Gertrude Armbliss as she was known during the hours of daylight, tucked her scarf around her head and gave her wispy dress a last-minute check-over and her spangly fake jewellery a last-minute jangle. She’d found that the punters did expect their mediums to have that slightly otherworldly, hippy dippy look to them. Being a washerwoman by day wasn’t the most romantic of career choices, but needs must and all that — the needs coming from Mr Armbliss who had buggered off and died five years ago and left her in hock, with his unpaid bills and gambling debts. They still had rows about it now. He steadfastly refused to apologise for the fact that he’d left her needing to be elbow deep in rancid starchy washing water at the local launderette three times a week, and she still simmered with unwavering rage at the whole situation, and told him so at every opportunity. It was a miracle he came visiting at all.
Which of course, was her gift and her curse — although it had to be said that whenever Mr Armbliss turned up in her head, there wasn’t much gift to be had about it. He definitely embodied (so to speak) the curse side of it.
“Are we ready, Gladys?” whispered Gertrude to her sister. Gladys, younger sister and satisfyingly for Gertie, still a spinster, nodded. “What’s the crowd like tonight?”
Gladys twitched the deep red velvet curtain that separated the sisters’ makeshift dressing area from their parlour and peeked out. The room was also swathed in red velvet, trimmed with gold tassels and bows which gave off little glimmers in the dim flickering of the gaslamps. Gertrude reckoned that added to the whole ambiance of the place. ‘It’s not just about reuniting people with their loved ones, Glad,’ she was wont to say frequently. ‘We give them an experience. It’s entertainment.’ And a pretty hefty one too, at a shilling a pop, per half hour, personal consultations an extra sixpence with a tuppence per contact. It was how Gertie only needed to do three days a week at the launderette.
“Small crowd tonight,” observed Gladys, her eye pinned to the gap in the curtain. “Mr Henderson, as usual. Still trying to find out where his wife hid her savings. Don’t let her tell you, Gert — I don’t know where we’d be without his two shillings a week.” Gladys, despite her meek and unprepossessing exterior and small, birdlike features, possessed a mind like a steel trap when it came to money. Her cut of the proceedings was the other reason why Gertie did those three days a week at the launderette. She had the ambition and unscrupulousness of a modern Eighteenth Century entrepreneur - if only she hadn’t been a woman, what couldn’t she have done? She’d have gone places, and not just to the shops, the pawnbrokers and the ale house like most of the other women around here. “Florrie Daley’s in. Looks awful she does.”
“That’s grief for you, Glad,” observed Gertie as she put the finishing touches to her headscarf. “Plays havoc with your eyeliner. I ‘spect Ned’ll be queuing up to have a word with her.”
Gladys agreed. “Try and get her into a personal consultation. I’m sure Ned’ll want to talk to her in private. Explain what he was doing out at that time of the night over in THAT part of town. With a grapefruit and a horsewhip in his pocket.” And him without a horse. Ned’s shame must be worth another eightpence at least.
“And there’s two young women, never seen them before. Oh wait, one looks vaguely familiar.” Glady’s steel trap mind never forgot a face, or at least never forgot the fee that the face paid. “I think she was here a few months ago with her mother. I wonder what she wants?”
“Really?” Gertrude had a peek of her own. “Oh, I remember - right posh, the pair of them. But I never made contact with the father.”
“Oh, yes. Two personal consultations and paid extra for tea and biscuits. See if you can get the girl to one as well, and we’ll charge her top rates.” That was Glad-speak for twice the price. “Are you ready yet?”
“Will be in a minute. Do you want to go and set the scene?”
Gladys parted the curtains, and stepped through.
The Lady Ephinata de Beauvoir leaned over to her companion and whispered beneath the kid gloves which were held discretely to her rosebud mouth. “It’s absolutely marvellous, darling! And it’s absolutely genuine, it really is.”
“If you say so. But why do I have to be here?” her companion whispered back, not quite so discretely from behind her well-worn and much darned cotton gloves.
“I need the moral support, sweetie! A girl can’t be expected to go through potentially emotionally draining experiences like meeting her dead father again without the support of her best friend!”
Gabriella rolled her eyes. “You always were a bit on the gullible side, Effy, even when we were children.”
“Nonsense, darling. Mummy and I checked the place out last time we were here, and I’m telling you the woman is the real thing. Even though Daddy didn’t come. I know what you’re thinking — there must be some trick to it. You’re so suspicious. But the woman knew things about people that she simply couldn’t have. Perfect strangers, dear! I’m absolutely convinced that Daddy will come calling tonight. I miss him so much, he simply has to!” Effy gave Gabriella a beaming smile, filled with hope and trust.
What else could Gabriella do but give her a reassuring smile in return, with an accompanying comforting pat of the hand. She didn’t want to be here, not at all, but she’d never been able to say no to Ephinata. To be fair, though, nobody could. Steaming great piles of money and an Old Name tended to have that effect, Gabriella had noticed. She shrunk down into her chair, tried to remain unnoticed and fervently prayed that Madam Montelimar was a fake. The last thing she wanted was to be meddling with the Undead — been there, done that, wore the shredded and bloodied t-shirt. She’d spent most of the last two years desperately trying to move into denial about the whole business, and quite successfully. Things like this could set her recovery right back.
She looked up as a small, scrawny woman ducked between the two musty old crimson curtains and made her way across the room, a fake smile plastered across her face. “Ladies and Gentleman,” the newcomer announced, “Please take your seats at the table. Madam Montelimar will be with you shortly, and insists on absolute silence before she can start, the better to hear the voices from the Spirit World.” Gladys settled everyone at their seats, then went round collecting their shillings.
She lit a pair of candles at the centre of the table, placed them on either side of the gleaming new fangled contraption — a crystal ball — and then slowly circled the room, turning down the gaslamps. Once the room was in virtual darkness, save for the shards of candlelight which bounced off the crystal ball, Madam Montelimar dramatically swept aside the curtain and sashayed into the room.
Jingling her jewellery loudly, she settled herself at the head of the table. She placed her hands flatly on the mended off-white tablecloth, and bent her head. “Welcome, friends.” She fixed everyone with a firm stare. “Tonight, we take a journey together — a journey into the Other World. A world where spirits walk. I will open the door to the Other World, and I will step through to join my Spirit Guide, who will walk with us amongst the spirits. Now, would you all join hands please, fingertips to fingertips, and we will begin.”
Everyone shuffled around the table, carefully arranging hands so that the tips of little fingers touched their neighbours.
Madam Montelimar took a deep breath. “Is there anybody there?” she uttered theatrically.
“Yes, there bloody is!” came the reply, sounding like it was coming from far away, muffled by invisible and otherworldly barriers.
“Blimey, the spirits don’t usually turn up so quickly!” shot back Madam Montelimar in surprise.
The sound, an eerie banging and slithering noise, drew nearer until it sounded like it was practically in the room.
“My goodness me,” marvelled Gabriella to Effi. “You’re right, she is really good!” Effi squeezed her hand harder in reply. “It sounds almost real!”
Gladys rose quickly to her feet and headed towards the doorway. “The spirits don’t usually make quite so much noise when they show up,” she remarked, just as the door was flung open.
In fell Lady Xena, a hipflask in one hand and an empty wine bottle in the other. “We’re not too late, are we?” she said as she managed to drag herself semi upright with the support of the doorknob and Bentley, who had painfully limped in after her. She cast a glazed yet benevolent smile around the assembled crowd, then squinted. “Dark in here. Am I in the right place? Is this where the s՟ance thing is? Cos I need to be at the s՟ance thing. It’s abslootly critical to my plan,” she slurred before staggering over to the table.
Gabrielle’s stomach plummeted as she recognised the inebriated figure, and she shrank back into the shadows as far as she could without actually moving, bumping into Mr Henderson as she did so. She cast him a small, apologetic glance and he smiled in return, eyeing her appreciatively. Frantically, she cast around for a quick escape route but she was well and truly blocked in. All of a sudden, she had a very bad feeling about all this.
Swaying slightly, the newly arrived noblewoman cross-eyedly surveyed the small assembly. “You must be the Madam,” she observed, waggling a finger in Gertrude’s astonished face. “Excellent. Most convenient, you being a Madam and a psychic, killing two birds in one hand so to speak. We’ll have the medium first, then you can bring your most hottest girls out and I’ll have one of them.”
There were gasps around the room; shocked and disgusted gasps and one gasp which definitely had a tinge of ‘I’m shocked and disgusted but can I watch?’ to it. Mr Henderson, obviously — or perhaps it was Effie. Difficult to say, But we digress.
“What? I can pay! I have sovereigns!”
Quick as a flash, Gladys recovered from her shock and disgust and swiftly divested the inebriated Lady of all of her loose change. “Madam Montelimar isn’t THAT kind of Madam, Madam.”
“Oh. Pity. Oh well, never mind. I’ll cook up a plan B.” Xena muscled her way into a seat at Madam’s right hand side, and oozed into it, an ingratiating smile plastered across her visage. “Please, carry on, don’t let me stop you. My bard will be waiting, and she gets right lippy if she’s kept waiting.”
Madam Montelimar managed to snap her jaw shut. “Err, right. Where was I? Please join hands again, and Is There Anybody There?”
“Yes, there’s about four others, aren’t there?” commented Xena helpfully, squinting around the table again. “More, including me. Don’t count Bentley, he’s barely all there at the best of times. Hang on a minute…” She broke little finger contact to pick up her hip flask. Proffering it around the astonished and affronted assembly, she gave a lop-sided smile. “Anyone else? It’s practic’ly medicinal. Nerves, you see. I’m filled to the brim with nerves.” She took a hefty swig, then popped the cap back on and stuck it down her cleavage. “Ooh, needed that. Right, what are we waiting for, let’s crack on.”
The Medium sighed deeply. “Running Elk, are you there? Please be there.” There was a definite note of pleading to her voice. She gave him a couple more tries before closing her eyes and sighing in resignation. “He’s not there. I’m not getting anything.”
There were groans of disappointment around the table.
“Oh, but there simply must be!” Effy’s voice was anguished, her expression beseeching. “Do try again, please?”
“Yeah,” muttered Xena darkly. “I paid for an hour!”
A voice piped up from the back of the room. “Right,” said Gladys, visions of shillings and sovereigns disappearing from her grasp. “The spirits only visit under certain circumstances. The atmosphere has to be right. Please, dear Sister, do try again. The spirits have never let you down yet.”
Everyone around the table — apart from Gabriella — nodded encouragingly at the medium.
Madam Montelimar rolled her shoulders, popped her finger knuckles and did a few deep breathing exercises to get herself into the ‘zone’. “Silence everybody please.” She cast a narrowed warning glare to her right. “We will call out to the spirits again. There’s no need to be afraid — they cannot harm us. We are protected by the power of the crystal ball. The crystal will magnify our calling, and strengthen the ethereal voices.” She made a few complicated gestures over the crystal ball before lowering her hands to the table once more.
Fingertips were joined again, and a hush descended.
“Is there anybody there? Is there anybody there?”
The silence stretched over several heartbeats whilst the candle flames sputtered and spat wax onto the crystal ball and tablecloth. The group shifted uneasily as the silence stretched on.
“Joyce? Is that you?” Madam Montelimar’s voice was gruff, and noticeably an octave or two lower. “Joyce? Are you there? It’s me, Ernie. Your Ernie.”
Everyone looked at each other around the table. There was clearly no Joyce. The newly widowed widow, Florrie Daley, looked up, her red-rimmed eyes and pinched face bright with anticipation. “Ned, is that you?”
“No, it’s Ernie. Joyce? Are you there? It’s me — your snugglebum…”
Lady Xena, perilously close to almost starting to sober up, peered owlishly at her companions. “Anyone here know an Ernie? No? Good. Piss off Ernie, there’s a queue and my bard’s first in it. Go on Madam, let her in, I know she’s dying to speak to me.” She motioned to Bentley, who appeared from behind her and popped the cork out of the empty wine bottle. “I’m ready for you, sweetie!”
“Excuse me,” hissed Effie from across the table. “There are other people here who have been waiting longer than you. I must hear from my dear Papa.”
“Listen, blondie,” warned Xena, learning as far over the table as she could without breaking fingertip contact. “I’m talking about an Epic Love here. A Love That Knows No Bounds. I’ve waited a long time for this. Don’t get in my way if you know what’s good for you.”
Gabriella’s temper kindled, and against her better judgement and any sense of reason at all, she leaned forward out of the shadows. “Are you threatening her? Don’t you dare threaten her!”
“Oh, another posh blond, eh? Well listen…” Bristling, she broke fingertip contact, took another fortifying nip from her flask and readied herself for battle. “Wait, don’t I know you?”
Gabriella immediately retreated back into the shadows. “No!”
“You look really familiar…”
“I have one of those faces.”
Xena eyed her appreciatively. “You have one of those bodies, too. Hang on, I don’t work well on an empty stomach.” She plucked out her flask again. “Oh, that’s better. Move forward. Come into the light…”
“No. Madam Montelimar, just get on with it quick, so we can all get out of here.” Gabriella tried to shuffle her chair further back from the table.
But Madam Montelimar was watching enthralled, an oily smile spread about her thick painted lips and an oddly malevolent expression in her eyes.
“Wait!” Xena gasped, then drained her flask in shock. “I remember! You were the sister of that awful girl… you burned my castle down! And I’d only just paid the bloody mortgage off on it! Bentley, quick — my emergency flask!”
Gabriella’s eyes flashed vivid green. “Never mind about your castle — you murdered my sister! Twice!”
“It was for the Greater Good! And it would’a worked too, if it hadn’t been for your meddling and distracting me!”
“You put the brain of a maniacal serial killer into her dead body and brought her back to life! And she was a rotten old cow to begin with!”
Xena huffed. “Could’a worked. She had a really hot body. Just one teensy little wrong brain and my whole plan was foiled. And I was so close! So close to having my bard back!” She thumped the table, causing the crystal ball to jump off its stand momentarily. Her expression turned fixed, and her eyes maniacally tiddly. “And I will again, and you won’t stop me this time. You stay away from me, my medium and my bard’s bottle!” She grabbed the empty bottle and protectively clutched it to her ample and heaving bosom. “Madam, get on with it!”
Madam M turned a beaming smile onto Xena which didn’t quite manage to reach her eyes. “But Xena, my dear — I’m here. Just like you always wanted.”
Xena’s mouth dropped open. “Gabrielle? Is that you?”
“Would you like it to be?”
The voice was low, gravelly and without charm. It sounded like it needed a really good cough to clear it out. Gabriella guessed that’s what death did to you, as there weren’t too many opportunities to lubricate the old voicebox when you’re six feet under. Either way, it didn’t sound like the kind of voice that belonged to a person who inspired everlasting love in a deranged type like Xena. More like the kind of voice that inspired the derangement. “Good grief,” she queried her voice disbelieving. “Is that your bard?”
“Sure better had be! Sounds a bit different from what I remember — when my bard laughed, it sounded like champagne bubbles fizzing in a glass. Beautiful.” Xena sighed, all misty eyed with pleasure. “I’ve missed her lovely, sweet voice.”
“What, hers?” Gabriella still couldn’t believe it — the voice coming out of Madam Montelimar’s mouth sounded like it’d crawled forty feet over broken glass before downing three bottles of whisky and smoking a couple of pipes. Lived in, so to speak.
“Yes, mine,” croaked the voice. “Xena was always fascinated by what I had to say. Enthralled, you could say.”
Xena looked thoughtful. “Hmm. Different to what I remember. I guess it’s been a while. But then again, look at the box she’s in. Yeah, that’s it — it’s my bard’s words, but a borrowed voice. Really need to get a better borrowed voice.”
An annoyed expression flicked across Madam M’s face. “What’s the matter, Xena? Don’t you recognise my voice?”
“Well, it’s a bit lower and more gravelly than it was earlier but that’s what too many spirits can do. I should know! Right, no time for all this — I have plans to fulfil, a destiny to meet and a hansom cab waiting outside. Get in the bottle, sweetie.”
“What?” The medium and the voice, along with everyone else in the room, was momentarily flummoxed.
“The bottle, Gabby. How else am I supposed to get you home? Don’t worry, I got Bentley to wash it out specially for you.” Lady Xena rubbed her palms together briskly. “Right, make your way out of the old hag — please, for pity’s sake — and into the bottle. I’ve rigged up a contraption at home that will preserve your spiritual essence until we’ve found a nice body to pop you into. And then we can live the rest of our lives together, in blissful and satisfied happiness! But let’s not take too long finding a hot bod — I changed the bedsheets specially.”
“Oh, I don’t think so, Xena. A mere bottle can’t contain me, and all my beautiful badness. But you’re right, I do need a better corporeal presence than this desiccated old shell. But I’m so disappointed, Xena. You still don’t recognise me, do you? Thinking I’m your silly little girl bard - I don’t think so. I’m the woman who made you, Xena — I made you and you are mine, and always will be. Don’t you know me by now?”
“Good God, Xena, not THAT type of made you!” The unknown entity thumped Madam Montelimar’s fist down on the table in frustration. “God, you’re even more puddled than you used to be — you’ve pickled your brain!”
The arm that was proferring the empty bottle paused momentarily. “Oooh, that’s a bit rude. My bard was never that rude, or that bad tempered. Well, maybe sometimes, but not rude. Are you sure you’re Gabrielle?”
“No, I’m the Contessa di Alti — good God, woman, do I really have to spell it out?”
Xena reeled in horror, the bottle falling from suddenly nerveless fingers. “Not the Contessa di Alti? My arch enemy, or one of them at least.”
Poor old possessed Madam M cackled maniacally. “That’s right, Xena! I’m back, and spiritually more powerful than ever — more powerful than you could ever conceive of! And once I join my spiritual power with a physical body, and leave this spiritual plane for the earthly one, there will be no stopping me! And you’re first on my list, Xena. We could have had it all. We were unstoppable, until you stopped us. You betrayed me, Xena, and I have had countless years to plot my revenge.” She cackled again.
Gladys, who had been stunned into silence like everyone else until this stage, leapt into life. “Why doesn’t somebody help my sister? She’s been possessed by evil spirits! Quick, someone fetch a priest!”
Madam M’s eyes fell upon her sister. “No, you won’t do — you won’t do at all. I need someone far younger, and more agile. Who else… a man?” Mr Henderson gulped deeply. “God, no.” The Madam’s eye roved around the small group until it settled on Gabriella. Her face broke out into a huge smile. “Well, what do we have here? Remind you of anyone, Xena? It’s uncanny, really. Yes, you’ll do very nicely. A beautiful added touch of cruelty.”
Lady Xena leapt to her feet, her ice blue eyes piercing in the candlelight. “I will never let you leave that poor broken body. And I definitely won’t let you have the hot one — I’ve got my eye on her myself for my bard’s new body!” She turned to Gabriella. “Well, saves having to put an ad out, doesn’t it? Leave this place, Countess, and do not darken it again!”
“I will leave, Xena, thanks for the invitation. But there’s only one place I’m going to!” And with that, Madam Montelimar’s mouth stretched open, and a strange, misty liquid started streaming out of her gaping mouth and nostrils, trickling down her front and pooling onto the table top.
“Oh my God,” screamed Effie. “What is that?”
“It’s ectoplasm,” yelled back Gladys, as she leaped to her feet in search of a bible. “Bloody crystal ball was supposed to protect us from all this. I’m having my money back tomorrow! I kept the receipt!”
“What are we supposed to do?” panicked Effie. “It’s crawling across the table — it’s heading towards me! It’s after me! Help!”
“Cast out ye demons!” shouted Gladys, waving a Bible around in front of the streaming mess. “The power of Christ compels you!”
“Stand back!” commanded Lady Xena. “Gabriella, move out of the way!” Grabbing up her bottle, she dashed over to Gabriella’s side and shoved her aside. The steaming goo continued its crawl to the rim of the table. Lady Xena grabbed the Bible, scraped the ectoplasm off the edge of the table and funnelled it into her empty bottle. She stuck the stopper in firmly. “Bugger, now what will I store my bard in?”
There was still screaming and shouting and rushing around going on in the parlour. Florrie and Mr Henderson were clutching each other and hyperventilating, whilst Effie had swooned onto the floor and had Bentley hovering over her with smelling salts. Poor old Madam Montelimar lay face down on the table, her sister desperately trying to slap her back into life. Xena marched over and checked her pulse. “Still alive,” she grunted. “Good. Have you got any bottles of wine knocking around? Preferably not empty ones.” Gladys threw her an incredulous stare. “Hey, I’ve had a trauma too! I need a drink, and an empty bottle. In that order!”
Gabriella grabbed onto Xena’s arm, and whirled her around. “You can’t be serious? You’re not going to put that poor woman through any more tonight? She’s barely conscious!”
The Lady waved dismissively. “A nice cup of tea and she’ll be right as rain. Someone put the kettle on!” She flung a companionable arm around Gabriella, and started steering her towards the door briskly. “So, let’s get to know each other a little bit better. What’re your likes, what are your dislikes? Favourite colour? Bentley, bring the medium woman with you, please!”
But Bentley was beaten back by slapping hands and swooning woman — it was all too much. When Effy stuck her head out of the parlour window and screamed for the rozzers, Xena knew it was time to beat a hasty retreat. She started to steer the dazed Gabriella firmly and hurriedly towards the back door of the property. “Leave the medium, Bentley. We know where she lives. Right, favourite food? I like cheese. With wine. But enough about me — tell me about you! Bra size?”
“Did I say bra? I meant shoe. 34-b, right? Marvellous. Bit bigger than my bard’s - just the right size.” She flexed her hands in anticipation. “Let’s drink to it!” Xena moved to unstop the bottle she was carrying…
“No!!” screamed Gabriella and Bentley in unison.
“Ooops! Nearly! What am I like? I’d forget my head if it wasn’t bolted on! Right — now, weren’t we discussing your undergarments?”
The end of this particular sorry saga.