Week 41 for the Odd Prompts and once again, I got a prompt from Leigh Kimmel. These prompts are making me think! And that’s not a bad thing…but, brain hurt. Anyway, this was Leigh’s prompt: Under Pressure” is the title of a song by Queen and a novel by Frank Herbert — connection? For extra credit, also tie in Billy Joel’s “Pressure” and ZZ Top’s “She’s Got Me Under Pressure.
Now, I’m a huge Queen and David Bowie fan…this was something I could get into. I looked up the lyrics (gotta get them right!) and found some interesting backstory to the song. Apparently Queen was messing around in the studio one night, playing covers and Bowie joined them. Bowie being Bowie told them that they should write their own song instead of messing with others. So, they started jamming and recorded the jamming. After a pizza break and trying to remember a bass line (successfully), they ended up with “Under Pressure” which is generally about the pressures of fame. Then, I looked up the lyrics to the Billy Joel and ZZ Top songs. Billy Joel’s version deals with (it seems to me), maturity vs. immaturity, and ZZ Top is talking about a bad relationship. The Frank Herbert book is a deep sea mystery/horror/sci-fi thing. So, I think I’ve failed Leigh’s test to connect these various songs and books, but I did go with the general theme of pressure and tension.
That was a long introduction to this: Part 20 of Cursebreaker. I hope you enjoy!
Is wasn’t until he stepped through his front door and closed it behind him that Jack felt the pressure of an oncoming headache start to ease. He glanced around his living room and nodded to his former clients who were sitting all around the room. They had all come. Either they had more information on what was going on, or they, like him, had just started to put the pieces together.
Monica had been handing out tea and harder drinks. He saw more glasses with scotch or beer than he did tea mugs, another indicator of high levels of stress. Jack took the glass of scotch that Greg handed to him and moved to sit in one of the empty chairs. Nikolas followed him over to one side of the living room and propped himself up against the wall. Jack could feel the tension and pressure in the room rising.
He deliberately took a slow, savoring sip of his scotch before saying anything. He was feeling anything but calm, but he knew that he didn’t want a bunch of nervous, possibly frightened magic-workers freaking out in his house. That could get messy. From the corner of his eye, he saw Greg copy his slow sip. Good. Greg was highly respected in the magic-worker community and if he didn’t look nervous, the others would calm down.
One other thing caught his attention. When he had first walked in the door, all the dogs belonging to the magic-workers had been sitting at the feet of their respective humans. Now, the dogs had moved to one side of the room and were sitting in a group around Captain. Jack caught Greg’s eye, raised one eyebrow and gave a small nod toward the dogs. Greg’s eyes widened before he looked back down at his drink. Jack blew out a breath.
“Okay. First of all, thanks for coming. I think we need to have a brain-storming and information sharing thing. A number of things have happened over the last few days and I have reason to believe that the curses put on you all and more recent events are directly connected. I also believe that between all of us we can come up with answers and a solution to this problem,” Jack smiled. That corporate management job had been good for something, even if that was just the ability to make a meeting sound interesting.
Greg stood up. “Before Jack really dives into things, I just want to point out two things. First, the dogs obviously all know something’s going on. They also appear to know that they’ve all had the same experiences…well, Captain there had it worse,” he pointed to the group of dogs, and gave Captain a brief scratch of the ears. “Second, the gentleman leaning against the wall behind Jack is Nikolas Jonnson. He’s a Viking warrior. He’s been deceased for a few hundred years.” Greg held his hands up to still the murmurs that were starting. “I’ll let him tell his story,” he nodded to Nikolas as the Viking pushed himself off the wall.
“Good evening. As Greg said, I am Nikolas Jonnson. I am…was a Viking warrior. I was sacrificed to the spirit that controls what the town calls “Marysville Haunted House,” he paused, more for effect Jack thought, than any real need to gather his thoughts. Nikolas told his story to what was now a rapt audience. He told the story up until the point when he first arrived at Jack’s house and glanced over at Jack as he finished.
Jack took up the narrative and finished with their arrival back at the house a few minutes earlier.
“That’s all I got,” he finished. “Renee can tell us more about what was stalking her, and then I think we all need to spend some time thinking about what happened before you showed up here when you were cursed…or when your dog brought you here. I am positive now that it is all connected…including this strange blackout that’s not really a blackout. Oh, and the Viking boat we saw leaving the harbor as we drove back into town.”
The living room erupted at that point. Jack could feel the pressure in the room rise as worry and concern filled their voices. Magic-workers were very sensitive about disclosing what they were working on and this group was no exception. Jack let them talk themselves out for a couple of minutes before he raised his hands in an effort to get them to calm down.
“Guys. Guys! The point is, if we don’t do this, and work together, I have strong reason to believe that you will be picked off one by one by the spirit that demanded Nikolas’ life in sacrifice.” That last bit was probably not entirely accurate, but Renee had been genuinely terrified when they picked her up, and Nikolas seemed to feel that whatever frightened her was the same thing that controlled the haunted house. Besides, mentioning Nikolas again made the squabbling magic-workers go quiet.
Renee stood up from where she had been sitting against the wall near the dogs. Max was crouched next to her and neither dog nor human seemed inclined to be separated. Jack could see Renee draw a deep breath.
“What Jack didn’t tell you all is that for about an hour before he showed up tonight, I was being stalked by some thing. Obviously, my house is warded and since I…since Jack got me out of the damn doll curse, I tripled my wards…”
“She was the first of you to show up here…what?…about three weeks ago?” Jack interjected, looking at Renee.
“Yes, that sounds right. Anyway, up until today, things were pretty normal. Then, when I was out in the yard, gathering some flowers and herbs, I felt a presence approaching the house. At first, I wasn’t worried, as I also have wards around my property. They are not quite as strong as the ones around the house, but they are strong enough to give me time to get myself and Max back into the house. Or they used to be,” Renee paused again and took a sip of the beer she was holding.
“We made it back into the house…barely. I don’t know what it was, but I sure wasn’t going to face it outside. Right about that time, I got Jack’s text about coming here tonight. I told him that he would need to pick me up. I didn’t want to risk facing whatever it was by myself. And, it was still there, sniffing around my wards.
When he picked me up, I’d been outside for about ten minutes and that was almost too long. I’d been trying to time Jack’s arrival because I didn’t want him turning the car off or getting out. I figured if I was outside, Max and I could jump in and then there’d be at least two magic-workers and we’d be moving. I think if I’d been out there just a few more minutes, I’d be dead.” Renee reached down to pet Max and ran a hand across her face.
The living room was quiet except for the panting of the dogs. Max gave a small whine and leaned into Renee’s legs. Once again, Jack felt the pressure building.
My prompt went to Anne Guglik. Want to join in the prompting fun? Go to More Odds Than Ends for details. Don’t have time to come up with a prompt, pick up one of the spares! C’mon in, the water’s fine! And there are no alligators…I think.