Late sun angled from the tall windows of the dining hall down the long table, which was already set for dinner. The fastidious Tonkerbuttle adjusted the silverware, glasses and napkins again and again, until finally he was satisfied it was ready.
His special guest whose good impression he sought would be there any minute, not a moment to waste, post haste Margaret! he said to the cook. To stations, Geoffrey! he yelled to the butler, whose real name, Gutbucket, was on occasions like this changed, somewhat begrudgingly, for propriety’s sake.
Candles were lit and the fireplace was refilled and stoked. Tonkerbuttle flew back and forth and examined the setting from every possible angle, satisfied in the nick as the sun finally set, and a carriage could be heard on the pebbles.
The knocking was loud and even, the last knock twice as loud as the first. At last, she had arrived.
Geoffrey opened the door with a welcoming air and was struck by the beauty of their guest. She had piercing blue eyes and wore a velveteen gown that was purpled in black, hair set tall in a perfect bouffant, a silver necklace around her neck that dazzled on her luminous skin.
Freya was her name. Her and Tonkerbuttle met at Carols by Candlelight in the park and had since become further acquainted through Instagram, their shared love of Jackie Chan expediting their friendship so much that less than a week in and a dinner already seemed long overdue.
“Freya, you made it,” shouted Tonkerbuttle, fluttering fast her way with great enthusiasm.
“What a lovely home you have,” as she kissed his cheeks. “And what a dining hall this is!”
Indeed, the hall was of an unusual proportion, tall and deep as a church, its table able to fit over a hundred guests. Communication between either end, the case of dinners like this evening’s, aided by tin cans and string.
Freya was a purveyor of the finer things and was curious as to the hospitality of a fairy, but Tonkerbuttle’s own eagerness was as much to do with her status as a vampire, a creature for whom a winning favour of good graces was highly desirable since the Werewolves had moved in next door.
But alas, the dinner proved not a straightforward one. These benign motivations soon gave way to a bizarre clash of power, even by standards of the respective orders they both belonged to.
In the event of her turning, Tonkerbuttle would be safe from a vampire’s bloodlust, he had figured, as the spirits of his attic had granted him a surreptitious control over the wills of any misbehaving guests. And so if things turned awry, he could simply ask that she leave.
By her own hand, Freya’s tenacity for hypnosis gave her precisely the same degree of control over anyone she interacted with — a skill she had no intention of exercising in light of the promise of a Jackie Chan marathon, but which skill could easily get out of hand and operate in servitude of her compulsion in the event she was suddenly overcome.
A stalemate thus ensued before either was aware of the board, both blissfully unaware their interlocutor’s potential opposition until the fateful moment that Tonkerbuttle, clumsy with cutlery twice the size of his arms, cut his finger with a steak knife. They glanced at each other with equal alarm. Somewhere, a pin dropped. Freya’s eyes dilated, her vocal cadences shifted dark to resonant monotone, and Tonkerbuttle, quick on the uptake, realised the new course of things just in time, and he quickly sent a series of telepathic placations, most notably: You do not want me your meal, Freya!
Freya, however, was too far gone. But I do, Tonkerbuttle.
No, you don’t.
Yes, I do.
No times a million.
Yes times infinity.
“Ahem,” said Geoffrey, as he gathered their plates, and dessert was brought in.
Beneath their unblinking glares, the war of wills was only just beginning. Freya felt Tonkerbuttle’s imposition strongly, but was able to withstand his directives with the vigour of her own, both colliding mid-journey like jet streams from two powerful fire hoses. Freya also saw advantage in recognising the limitation of Tonkerbuttle’s apparent gift, which was active only when she activated her own. And so the key, she reasoned, was to feign the disarming of herself, then strike when he wouldn’t be expecting anything.
Of course, Tonkerbuttle knew Freya would be thinking this, and he also knew that so long as she was overwhelmed by her desire for blood, her capacities of patience would be too limited to be effective. Moreover, the closer she came to feigning cordiality, the more he could simply provoke her into further misbehaviour by throwing breadsticks at her, for which her retaliations, no matter how harmless, would constitute misbehaviour enough to keep his powers in action.
The problem was, how could he tell whether she was better behaved under false pretence, or for her bloodlust passing?
“You can’t,” she said.
He regarded her a moment. “So, what do we do?”
“Well, we could finish these delicious sticky date puddings, and go watch Rumble in the Bronx.”
“We could try, I suppose.”
“It really was delicious, by the way. The whole meal was.”
“Must get tiring, sometimes. One whiff of blood, and a whole night’s ruined. Don’t you get sick of it?”
“Of blood? That’s like me asking if you get sick of water.”
“The way it shadows good company, though. One minute, things are pleasant, the next…”
“Sure, but that’s only how it seems from your point of view. From mine, it’s simply one good thing replaced by a better one.”
“Never thought of it that way.”
“No, you didn’t. You also didn’t notice me leave my chair a moment ago, or how close I suddenly am.”
Tonkerbuttle’s alarm rapidly grew; Freya, he now saw, was lurched directly above. He tried in vain to use his power, but she simply smiled at him. “No misbehaviour in leaving one’s chair, now is there?”
“No, can’t say there is.”
“And no misbehaviour in showing your host some appreciation for a wonderful meal by leaning in close, like this, and breathing on their neck…”
“Well, technically speaking…”
“This next part on the other hand, I think you’ll agree, is just about as bad as misbehaviour will ever be.”
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