Malice Through the Looking Glass: A Bayou Story


Hopeful Monster
Original poster
Chapter Two: The Oleander Eaters

The five tumbled through an infinite chasm filled with mirrors and tattered sheets. They fell in the reverse order of how they had entered. They fell like this:

Cecile (and the coral snake)




Whitey was the first to sense her coming at them from above, a silent predator gliding through the shapes and the columns. He could navigate the realm between the two cities, but he was powerless to change their trajectory; couldn’t slow his own descent to warn the others as they fell from above him.

The ichor swallowed the tunnel above them. The water was different here. They could detect the stench of burning rubber, stagnate water, of bloated decay. Pale ghost shapes lingered beneath its depths, like thousands of gar hovering within the black water. As it neared them, its shape began to morph into a terrifying avian shape.

From the globulous flesh sprouted carrion plumes all black save for the red tops of its sharp raptor wings. The face of a woman regarded them with a cunning ferocity in her vulture eyes, before lashing out at Cecile.

It was impossible for Cecile to explain how Sidney was able to turn herself mid-fall and then, somehow, it was as if she slowed herself or floated upward... Sidney’s hand gripped Cecile’s, and with a fierce tug, brought her down, saving her from the savage claws.

Sidney’s screams of agony shook the mirrored tunnel as a gush of vibrant red bloomed across her chest, where the harpy’s claws had struck. Cecile felt Sidney’s fingers slipping away and clenched her hand in response, bringing the girl closer. Tears sprang to Cecile’s eyes, the droplets were swept up by the wind whipping past them. Even in the freefall, she could see that Sidney was dying. Her skin was turning gray, and Cecile felt the dry paper flesh crack and crumble inside of her hands as she cradled her.

The harpy’s pinions flexed, propelling herself down to them for the final swoop. Her lips parted, revealing the swirling blackness within. The shriek she unleashed sent a shockwave of shattered glass down into the depths of the mirrored tunnel.

It was the coral snake, tumbling within Cecile’s handbag, that felt the presence of the Loa. In response, the Jericho Root in his belly had resonated with a beat that seared its signature into his guts.

Manu’s cries were cut short as her eyes drank in the massive phantom shape as it drifted past her, bathing her vision in neon yellows, purples and oranges.

The harpy fought, biting and clawing her way through hundreds of ghostly tentacles, entangled in the delicate, venom-laced appendages.
Manu’s screams resumed when she realized that Cecile and the dying Sidney were caught among the fray. Whitey’s eyes widened--oh, how he wanted a smoke right now-- the exit was fast rising to meet them.

One of the tentacles drifted toward the two falling girls. Cecile could not close her eyes in terror as the shining, serpentine shape touched Sidney’s forehead. There was a final gasp from Sidney before the two girls were bathed in light.

Manu stared, transfixed at the sight of the elephantine jellyfish as it floated above them. The harpy unleashed another shockwave-producing scream.

It was coming right for them--

Manu had barely managed to reach Whitey’s hand as they were sent off course, through another exit.


There was an inhuman shriek, a mixture of voices, followed by a feminine gasp.

The Saint Queen of the Gulf gazed into the dark, swirling depths beneath the glass.

“This is Medea’s doing.” She hissed as she turned away from the mirror, clutching at her ravaged face with a gloved hand. Strands of her short blond hair stuck out from between her fingers.

“When will she grow up?” The exposed flesh of her face had already healed itself.


Manu sat up with a groan, one hand rubbing her sore backside. Whitey had recovered from their less than graceful tumble sooner than the human girl. While she busied herself with bitching about her various aches, the Lapin had himself a cigarette and a look around the empty street.

He waited for Manu to realize that Cecile and Sidney were nowhere in sight.


Cecile sat up with a groan, one hand rubbing her sore backside. Her other hand was still clutching something, but she couldn't remember what is was and she didn't want to open her eyes, yet.

A few feet away lay Cecile's discarded handbag. It stirred for a moment, then went still at the sound of Cecile's gasp.

She wasn't holding Sidney, anymore. Instead, someone had given her a leather top hat.

The coral snake peeked from the handbag's opening, tasting the charged air of the stairwell with its tongue.

They were alone for now.
"Alright, alright! Shut up a minute, would you?!" The irate taxi driver stared down at his companion as he interrupted her various forms of complaining, "Lemme fuckin' think for a second, okay?" He looked up and down the street they stood upon as he stuck the cigarette into the corner of his mouth and lit it absently.

They were in the Mirror City now; the rules had just changed.

"Okay, first things first, we need a ride," Whitey said, looking down to Manu and offering her a hand to get her back on her feet, "We're not gonna get very far on foot, and I keep my spare cab not too far from here if memory serves correctly." The driver looked his companion in the eyes, his expression serious and his tone uncharacteristically matching this tone, "But listen up, you gotta stick with me and not do anything stupid though, okay? The residents of this place? They figure out you're not from here and they'll eat you for fucking breakfast."

For a moment, he thought of the other two girls, trapped somewhere in this mad realm, and there was a slight thought of sympathy towards them; fucking irritating they may be, but no-one deserved this. He hoped the being hiding in Cecile's bag would keep them safe. Glancing back to Manu, he motioned with his head up the street. "You ready?"
Cecile looked at the stairwell she had found herself in, then to the snake, then to the top hat in her hands and back to the snake. With a groan she stood up and took a couple of steps over to the handrail and looked down into the inky darkness that the stairs seemed to descend into. She twisted her head around and looked up only to be greeted by more stairs. With a sigh she turned to look at the snake.

"Well Monsieur Snake, it appears we're going to have to move from this spot, allons'y." She squatted down and extended her hand to allow for him to slide up and coil around her wrist. "Well," she thought aloud as she faced the stairs down, "Since I'm pointed that way I guess I'll go down. Mon dieu if this ends up being an oubliette I'm going to be very displeased." She looked to the snake, her only living companion, wondering why she was even talking to him but if he responded she wouldn't be surprised, after everything she had just gone through it wouldn't be that strange for her.

With a sigh she grabbed her handbag and placed the top hat onto her head (no sense in carrying it around when it would go on her head just fine) and started to proceed down the stairs and into the inky darkness that she viewed. Hopefully something would light her way the futher down she got.
No sooner had the coral snake slithered up Cecile's arm that it started convulsing again, an audible hiss of pain echoing around the stairwell. It contracted sharply around the girl's wrist then just as quickly released. And then, like an unfurling bandage, it fell from her. The snake uncoiled and dropped onto the stairway, rolling and tumbling as its body divided, the one coil splitting into two, then four, whilst fleshy lumps expanded from the center. It was if the entire creature was unravelling.

It hissed as it fell, the noises overlapping into ever-richer sound, till at last it broke to something legible. "Fuggin Christ, maan!"

The bundle of flesh slammed against the next wall down and collapsed. As it lay there the colours of the snake separated and reformed - the black stripes becoming heavy cloth, the yellow stripes becoming flesh, the red stripes congealing into a single bracelet. Then all at once the mass lunged upwards, slamming against the wall and assuming human form.

"Gaaaargh!" yelled Geburich, his arms splayed against the wall and his body panting for breath. He was drenched in sweat and swamp water, eyes wide and gleaming white as he beheld Cecile.

"Away wi' tha' shifteen now! I be finish with eet!" He curled over to cough up further water as he clutched his stomach tighter. "Some fine spell dey be teaching wot make a man liek dis!"

He glared up at Cecile as she silently watched his flailings. "Ou be wrong wi choo, womaan? You not be 'elping a maan when 'e be wriithing?" Then another bout of coughing as he toppled onto his knees.
A derisive laugh escaped Manu's lips. "Nah." She straightened herself up, took a few steps closer to Whitey. "Nah, I ain't ready, pods." Her lips were cocked in a one-sided smile, her eyes were wide, filled with the wild, dark humor that preludes anger.

The flickering glow from the streetlamps cast tiger-stripe shadows of gray and black across their faces as Lapin and human stared each other down.

"In the span of one hour I've been chased around by some kind of dracula man, tossed around in the back of taxi, nearly eaten by a giant bird-bitch and oh yeah, I'm short one brother and one friend!"
Manu counted off with her fingers.

"Now gimme me my fuckin' minute, because I'm 'bout have my fuckin' fit!" The truth of the matter was she didn't want to go anywhere with the strange albino. Sure, he'd saved their lives, but it was all too well-timed; the rescue via magic taxi, the disappearance of her brother, the other albino girl waiting for them in his studio. There was something Whitey wasn't telling her.

Manu swiped at the corners of her eyes with her fingertips. "And when I'm done, you can start tellin' me the fuckin' truth." Her voice was tight.
Cecile cried out as the snake constricted on her arm tightly, waving her arm as the snake flopped to the ground. Cecile watched with a horrified expression on her face, snatching the top hat off of her head and holding it between her and the writhing snake on the ground. She wished to look away, escape whatever it was that was that was forming from the snake but morbid fascination kept her eyes glued to the creature that was slowly changing, growing from the once serpentine body.

When the creature (or was it a man at this point?) spoke, it caught Cecile by surprise. She clutched at her chest in fear, a scream was caught in her throat as her eyes grew as wide as tea-saucers. As he spoke to her she had a bit of trouble understanding his rather thick accent but she seemed to catch the gist of what he was saying. "I-I'm...pardon! I did not know zat you were un 'uman. C'est tres bizarre!" She took a couple of timid steps towards the man that the snake had formed and extended her hand to help him up. As soon as she felt the sweat and gross water from the swamp touch her hand she cringed, something about her surrounding had made her feel like she had a constant urge to keep thing clean, that if she didn't constantly move to somewhere clean she would be consumed by this nightmarish world. Or was it the hat that made me feel that way? Nonsense, a petite chapeau cannot make me feel something like that... Cecile thought as she rubbed the grime from the snake's hand on her shorts.

"And what do I call you? Comment t'appelle tu?" She asked as she turned to continue down the stairs. "Allons'y."
Having been helped to his feet, Geburich flailed around behind Cecile, his arms and legs all over the place as if they were still more snake than limb. He was somewhat gangly, his motions like a dancing insect. But in time he settled and slicked back the grey mess of his hair. "Course I be oumaan, Sistah! Ain't no snake be dahngling wi' you fools! For longest tiem no shift as beeg. Me bones be achin' maan."

He hunched over again to clutch his stomach and hiss through gritted teeth. It seemed like his own body was struggling against him, but after another water-spewing cough the agony abated. The man straightened and turned to follow Cecile.

"Me name be Geburich, Sistah, an' we best be moovin' nau. Dem pale maan be seekin' his tahxi, and we no wan' miss dis ride."

He overtook her, all arms and legs as he descended the stairway and collided with each wall. There was boundless, twitching energy in his motion, at one moment clumsy and in the next moment dance like. He glanced up at Cecile as he twirled down the next flight, nodding at her hat. "Tis fine pity for your friend, Sistah. She wa' gifteed fa sure, dat child."
For a moment, Whitey looked like he was about to launch into yet another abusive tirade at Manu... but then his expression suddenly softened somewhat. Sighing, he reached into the pocket of his grubby shirt and withdrew his packet of cigarettes, offering one to the rather shellshocked girl.
“There ain't enough time in the world right now to tell you everythin' you wanna know right now, girl,” the pale man muttered quietly as he took a drag from his cigarette and offered her a lighter, “There just ain't the time for it. You thought that harpy was bad? Honey, that's just the tip of the fuckin' ice-berg down here, and if we stick around in the same place too long, something goddamn unpleasant is gonna find us.

“So here's the deal.

“You come with me jus' now, I'll answer what I can as we move.”
Whitey looked up and down the street again quickly. “But what you need to know is this; you're sitting in the Mirror City, a place like your world but... different. And I've been asked to look after you and your friends. Fuck knows why; on that one I'm in the dark as much as you are. But I'm supposed to keep you safe, and right now that means gettin' the fuck outta here before something finds us.”

Returning the cigarettes and lighter to his pocket and quickly checking his pocket-watch, Whitey looked down at Manu. “We gotta get a move on, girl. I know I don't seem the most trustworthy of motherfuckers, but you're just gonna have to deal with that.” The albino grinned humourlessly. “Cos right now? I'm the only friend you got down here.”
She was jerked back to blinding consciousness by a sudden surge of frigid water splashed in her face. Through the wrenching coughs and sputters, Mary Lou focused on the pair of shiney white shoes. She did this because she no longer had the strength to hold her head up, and they were the only detail should could make out on the slick, grimey floor.

She had to stay awake--kept blacking out.

“You know, cher, we can stop dis’ game any’time.” Calloused fingers gripped her chin, tilting up and up past the white slacks, shirt, jacket, tie, to a mocha face etched with shadows. Gibbous’s face twisted into an alligator grin, revealing a mouth full of pearly shark teeth. “‘Tis a waste breaking up ‘dat pretty piece of flesh, anymore.”

They’d stripped her to her underwear. Her white skin had shined against the darkness. Now, it was dull from purple and black bruises. Her hands were bound, attached to a chain looped around a waterpipe in the ceiling. The albino girl hanged by her arms, her feet barely able to touch the floor. She’d spent most of the interrogation like this and was now too weak to grip at the floor with her toes to alleviate the agony in her shoulders and back. She couldn’t feel her arms, now.

And she still wasn’t talking.

“What does Medea want with de humans?” Gibbous held her face as he lit another cigarette. He kept talking without closing the zippo lighter.

“D’ey joinin’ d’at club down d’a bayou? I know d’ey got that traitor with ‘em. Ah’ recognized his stench. You know what d’eyre gon’ do with d’at root.” Though his tone remained conversational, his grip on her jaw had tightened and he kept waving the still lit zippo in front of her face.

“Medea helpin’ de’ insane, now?” There was a hissing sound, before she gasped, choked, tried to thrash away as Gibbous withdraws the lighter from Mary Lou’s thigh, pocked with dozens of inflamed oval shapes all still fresh.
“Loa on d’e otha’ side without a horse. It’s unnat’ral.”

“No contract’s worth this, cher.” It wasn’t a question of loyalty; the Lapin were only concerned with protecting their own interests. He had tortured enough Rabbits to know how to make them sell each other out. If it were only a question of personal loyalty, she would have cracked hours ago. This one was under a contract, had already been paid for her services. Nothing could make her break it, now.

“Medea’s been hirin’ a lotta White Rabbits, ‘dese days. She been treatin’ ya’ good, cher?” Mary Lou wouldn’t look at him. “Better d’an we can do?” He blew a puff of smoke in her face.

Mary Lou laughed, a rasping sound. “I could really use one of those, right now.”

Gibbous laughed in return. “Any’ting for you, cher.” He tucked a cigarette between her split lips and left her alone without lighting it.

Mary Lou chewed on the cigarette and traced the crisscrossing network of pipes above with her eyes.


Whitey lead her through a series of cramped backstreets, through buildings, canals, hallways, and finally to a broom closet that lead to a brightly lit market square.
It was one of the few places left in the city not coated by the black water. The Saint Queen could not see here.

Not that Manu understood what any of that meant. Though Whitey meant well, he was still just as spooked as she; Manu could tell because he kept lighting new cigarettes and checking his watch. His explanations were as clear as they were frequent. But Manu was an observant girl, so she kept her mouth shut and let her eyes wander as she followed Whitey through the crowd.

He’s right. We’re definitely not in Houston, anymore.

The two stood out in the market as the only creatures to appear human. This racuous market was quite literally packed to the gills with every creature and critter native to the Gulf of Mexico.

A dolphin woman waved a three-fingered-fistful of pearls at Manu, clicking excitedly. A gaggle of seagulls cawed in front of a ramshackle food stall operated by a solemn tiger shark.

Manu peered up through the columns of steam and spicy smoke into the night sky. Only, it wasn’t exactly the sky. It was more of a dark blue, and it swirled and shifted to allow the occasional beam of light through, to illuminate the enormous shapes of a whale pod hovering high above. Were they under water?

This had to be a dream. She had studied too hard for her marine biology final and now she was having a crazy under-de-sea dream. Manu had to repress the urge to punt a red crab as it scuttled past.

“I guess this would be the place to store a spare magic taxi.”


They’d been walking--or in Geburich’s case half-stumbling down the staircase for what felt like hours. Whenever they stopped to rest their feet and peer over the ledge to check their progress, they were only greeted by the same darkness waiting just beyond the stairs. They were nowhere near the bottom and their were no doors or windows in sight.

“Dun’ look now..."
Someone had whispered it in her ear, but Cecile did not feel their breath against her neck. When the girl stopped to look around, she found that it was still only herself and Geburich.

On a whim, Cecile looked up.

Correction. It was her and Geburich and the crustaceous shadow creatures scurrying out of the ichor currently dripping its way down to them along the stairwell.
Cecile listened carefully to the god, she couldn't tell, she had only studied stories like this in her classes but she always thought it was just a strange religion of the bayous back home or in Haiti never thinking that it was real like this.

"C'est mon plaisir to make your acquaintance Monsieur Geburich." She bowed gently as she walked, holding the hat to her chest, the strange feeling she had the last time she put it on was uncomfortable and she was avoiding putting it back on unless she had no other choice. "Oui, let's catch ze cab." She couldn't help but agree but squirmed and nearly screamed as she was scooped up by this ragged looking man and was being carried down the flight of what was seemingly never-ending stairs.

Time indeterminable passed as they walked down the stairs, having been let down finally from the man's grasp, they took breaks and Cecile began to ponder if time was passing as it rightfully should, after all it seemed like hours but was it really that long? Maybe it could have been just minutes and her mind was playing tricks on her, the reality could've been that they had only been walking for a manner of minutes.

Her stomach churned when she heard the voice in her ear and the urge to look up overtook her and she did the exact opposite of what the voice had told her. "Quelle suprise. I'm sure zat zeese t'ings 'ave un 'unger for 'uman flesh ou...serpent..." Her voice was almost blase but her heart began to race as she watched the creatures, they appeared as lobsters to her but she wasn't sure and she certainly didn't want to wait around to find out. She was to her feet in a flash, running down the stairs as fast as her feet would carry her, shouting for her companion to follow her but placing her own safety before his, after all he was able to magically shift his body from snake to human, she was sure he could defend himself quite well otherwise.
Shadow-Crabs. Ink-Lobsters. Jellyfish and octopuses forged from darkness. In seconds the stairwell was choked with the stench of fish and the rustling, slurping interplay of slime and capace. Geburich dashed after Cecile as the walls were overrun with ichor.

"Ah sheet, we in trouble nau, Sistah!"

Crab-like phantoms dropped from the walls and scuttled after them, forcing them to the rail of the stairs as they descended. The creatures held aloft glimmering claws and with pearly, bulbous fish eyes watched the every move of their prey. It was not long before Cecile slid to a halt. Below her a black carpet of creatures coming up the stairs to devour them.

They were surrounded.

"Now dey fuhking tings be forcin' me ta sheeft! I be tahd of dis pain, maan!" Geburich complained before snatching the hat from Cecile. He tossed it over the railing and let it drop into darkness. Cecile turned, about the protest, but the man pinched his fingers over her nostrils. Her eyes went wide and he stared directly into them.

"Sam sweet dae, I make 'er mine, pretteh flamingoh!"

Darkness swirled behind Geburich as he sung, a wall of claws reaching out to snatch at him.

"Den ev'ry maan wi' envy me, cos paraadise..."

He threw his full weight into Cecile, who yelped as they tumbled over the railing a moment before it was devoured. The two plummetted after the hat, down the shat, and in a half-second broke apart entirely. Their flesh and clothes vanished and with a spark of light they turned into dozens, hundreds of falling coins. A shower of quarters, dropping down the stairwell and glimmering silver in the gloom.

* * * *

"Hmm..." grunted Whitey as a black tophat fluttered down the side of the nearest building and landed upside-down in the marketplace. Then "FUCK!" as a rain of quarters came plummetting towards him. Whitey and Manu dodged aside as the coins fell, but a moment before they hit the ground every single quarter twisted and changed trajectory.

They fell in a perfect stream into the inside of the hat.

There was a pause.

Then the hat leapt upwards and two streams of light shot out from it. Silver tendrils knitted into flesh and clothes, mixing in an instant into vibrant colour. And the second part of a scream sounded in Cecile's lungs as she materialised in front of them.

" where ah'll be!" finished Gebrurich as he removed the top hat from his head.
“Better fuckin' believe it, hun,” Whitey responded to Manu's observation with a chuckle, “Now listen up. Down here there's a couple ground-rules you gotta stick to like a goddamn leech, capiche? First of all, don't. Trust. Anyone. You're walking through a city full of beings that'd fuck you over soon as they'd look at you.” Whitey expertly manoeuvred through a small crowd of short and stocky bearded women, nodding to them as he went past, “Second of all, I recommend not drinking or eating anything offered to you 'less I say it's cool. Some of the shit you find down here, it's... well, let's say it's an acquired taste, yeah?”

Rounding a corner, Whitey and Manu saw a series of garages built next to one another, made of old red brick. Many of the doors were grafitiied with strange, intricate designs that most human eyes would have difficulty placing. A chain fence surrounded the entire building and there was a small office building seemingly tacked onto the side of the row of garages. “Here we go...” Whitey muttered, checking his pocket watch and muttering, “balls...” under his breath before turning to Manu again.

“That building there?” He motioned with his head towards the red-bricked garages, “That's where my spare's kept. Trouble is, if we're gonna pick it up we're gonna have to pay Anton a visit for the keys.” He regarded his companion with a very serious look. “Anton's as bent as the Soviet sickle, and his cousin Yuri's as hard as the hammer that crosses it. You watch yourself when we go in there, you hear? I'm actually starting to grow fond of you, kid, and I don't want some gangster having his overgrown relation beat your fuckin' brains out.”

Taking a final drag of his cigarette and hurling the butt away, he walked straight for the office building. Shouldering open the door, his voice adopted a tone of uncharacteristic friendliness. “Anton, you old motherfucker! How are you?”

Whitey was not looking forward to this.
Manu grinned as she slid between the slippery bodies of two gossiping manatee women, and was nearly smacked across the face with a shopping bag for her troubles. Luckily, the massive old ladies didn't seem to notice her intrusion. The grin remained as she trailed Whitey, amused by his gruff ramblings of Mirror City Rules of Engagement.

"Aw, so you're starting to like me? What won you over? My engaging personality or my pretty eyes?"
Manu had by now caught up to him. She was starting to relax, it was obvious because her sass was starting to reassert itself full force.

But Manu wasn't a stupid girl. She knew that Whitey was the only other person she could rely on in this place. She knew to keep close. She stayed behind him as he flicked his cigarette away and opened the door.

“Anton, you old motherfucker! How are you?”

The two were greeted with silence.

Whitey turned to look at Manu, who shrugged in return.

"Maybe nobody's home..."

"Hmm..." grunted Whitey as a black tophat fluttered down the side of the nearest building and landed upside-down in the marketplace. Then "FUCK!" as a rain of quarters came plummetting towards him. Whitey and Manu dodged aside as the coins fell, but a moment before they hit the ground every single quarter twisted and changed trajectory.

They fell in a perfect stream into the inside of the hat.

There was a pause.

Then the hat leapt upwards and two streams of light shot out from it. Silver tendrils knitted into flesh and clothes, mixing in an instant into vibrant colour. And the second part of a scream sounded in Cecile's lungs as she materialised in front of them.

" where ah'll be!" finished Gebrurich as he removed the top hat from his head.
Cecile wanted to fight everything that the strange man was doing when he started what most people would call singing but something told Cecile that it was more like a chant or spell or something. If she made a protest it was lost in the shock of those grubby fingers being shoved inside her nostrils. Any thoughts of further protest were met when Gebrurich tossed his full weight into her and slowly she felt herself being torn to shreds and reformed into small coins, it felt something along the lines of a nasty paper cut and the wind getting knocked out of her, she was trying to scream as they fell in coin form chasing rapidly after the hat that was once her friend.

It was a strange sensation being bounced into the hat and out into the street to reform. She could feel each coin as if it were a separate part of her body and when they finally intertwined to create her again the scream she had tried to let out earlier erupted from her re-formed lungs. Her eyes searched the area that they had landed. It was strange, it was like a city but if she could make any sense of the direction they had traveled they must be very deep underground, of course going through a mirror might mean that they weren't even in a world where any of that made any sense.

Looking up she noticed the cab driver from before alongside Manu. "Zere you are! Mon dieu this place is not safe for us! 'Ow did we get in zis mess!?" She cried out, finding her footing on shaky legs. She stumbled a bit and realized that her arms were wrapped around Gerbrurich's arm tightly. He was the only thing that seemed to be keeping her alive and she was grateful for that but now that they were with the others Cecile felt that they could actually start to figure out where they were and how to get out, just not back with that crazed man that attacked the taxi...