“… da montem et inimicos meos o prostantis vobis et mihi dantes passium fieri sincisibus.”
Ronald Winkle chanted the last of the Latin and waited.
No puff of smoke. No little clap of thunder, no devils screaming from some fifth dimension.
Ronald stared out the open window of his second-floor apartment, wondering if the conjuration would work after all these centuries of science. Or, for that matter, if it ever had.
“But it’s the only way I know to get a girl here short of paying her,” he muttered under his breath. He wasn’t even so sure paying would gain him anybody. Just last month, Muriel, the prune-faced salesgirl at the used and rare bookstore where he worked, had threatened to scream when he’d asked her for a date. And to have her daddy horsewhip him if he ever asked her again.
Minutes dragged by; his long face, which didn’t match his pudgy frame at the best of times, grew sorrowfully longer. Once again he consulted the recipe he had discovered in an ancient edition of Grimorium Verum, which he’d snitched from the, bookstore. “Followed it to the letter, almost,” he murmured. “I fasted all day today, and nothing is hanging crossways to anything else. The table is set just like it calls for, with the white cloth and glass of water. P’raps that baker fibbed when he said a matzo would do just as good as a wheaten roll.”
Sighing, Ronald swore that this time absolutely positively he was through with girls forever. He’d felt the hurt of being turned down and stood up before, many times before, but never the intense misery of knowing that even the devil couldn’t—or wouldn’t—help. The instructions had made him wince, in fact, by stating how important it was to stay chaste three days beforehand. A fat lot of difference caution made in his case.
He sat in the chair next to the place setting for another few minutes, then rose to shut the window. He caught colds fairly easily in drafts. Just as he reached the window, the downstairs front door buzzer sounded, stopping him in his tracks. When it rang insistently a few more times, he-lurched toward the speaker box, the hair on the nape of his neck beginning to prickle.
“Wh— who is it?”
“Lemme in.” Obviously female, but the tinny quality of the speaker told nothing more. “I’m chilled to the bone.”
“You a witch?” Ronald blurted.
“Watch your lip! No, I’m Tabatha Krantzman.”
“Taba—!” Ronald swallowed thickly. “You sure you ain’t from the devil?”
“Let me in!”
Ronald pushed the button, hearing the sounds of the door opening and closing and the quick patter of feet on the stairs. Tabatha Krantzman—well, maybe that was the difference the matzo made.
On the first knock he opened his door. And gaped. Cameo-faced, with a mouth wide and stubborn, and a nose angled at a delicate tilt, Tabatha was about five-three and in her early twenties, he guessed, maybe a year or two younger than him. And she was sopping wet and buck naked, her plump little bottom showing rosy and dimpled in the hall lamplight. She clutched a small towel in front of her like it was a brick wall.
“Don’t touch me,” she hissed.
“You’re dripping all over the hall runner,” Ronald re¬plied. “You can’t stay out there. The landlady, Missus Griswald, she—”
“Why do I want to see you?” Her eyes caught and held his—eyes darker than her auburn hair, challenging him. “I was taking a shower when I had the most awful urge to come here. I’ve never met you before in my life!”
“Shh, not so loud. Griswald might hear, or one of the tenants, and if they caught you with just that towel on, there’d be—” He almost said be hell to pay, but considering the circumstances, thought better of it. “Be trouble,” he finished lamely.
“And what’d happen if you caught me with just a towel?”
He flushed. “I… I’m Ronald,” he said, hoping to change the topic. “Ronald Winkle.”
“Pleased to meetcha, I’m sure.”
“Wink-kle?” A shrill voice echoed up the stairwell from the front hallway below. “Ronald Winkle! Is that you making all the racket?”
Ronald groaned. “The landlady,” he whispered, and reaching out to grab Tabatha by the arm, he yanked her into his room. “The widow Griswald don’t allow visits by the opposite sex.”
Sent reeling, Tabatha careened into an armchair, towel askew, just as the landlady stuck her head around the corner of the staircase. Purse-lipped, beady-eyed, long nose twitching suspiciously, Griswald frowned at Ronald. “You brung somebody up there with you?”
“No-no, ma’am.” Ronald stood blocking the doorway, smiling sheepishly at her. “Oh, no, I just stumbled climbing the stairs, is all.”
Griswald gave a disgruntled sniff. “Well, see to it you’re more careful next time.” Poking her bun-tied gray hair with a bony finger, she returned downstairs to her apartment, giving her door a resounding slam.
Ronald closed his door and leaned against it. “The ol’ battle-ax. I could break my neck, and all she’d worry about would be the noise.”
Tabatha crouched in the chair, knees up, glaring.
“I told you to be quiet,” Ronald said defensively.
After a long moment she said, “I must’ve had a good reason to come. Do you know why I’m here?”
Ronald thought. Sadly he realized that the book had no instructions on what to do after the incantation produced a girl—apparently it assumed the man would know how to handle the situation—and Ronald hadn’t bothered to plan for such an eventuality. Oh, he’d envisioned vague erotic splendors and hand-fed grapes, but nothing really concrete. Besides, the book stated that the girl would slavishly do as he bid. Eyeing Tabatha, though, Ronald concluded that the book must have been referring to fourteenth-century maidens, not to the more independent twentieth-century variety. And he was not about to admit that she’d been drawn here under a satanic spell.
“If you can’t think of anything,” Tabatha snapped, “I can. Clothes, for starters.”
“I’ve got a bathrobe.”
“Keep it. Hand me your phone there.”
“I’m afraid the cord’s not long enough to reach.”
“Well, I’m not budging. You’ll have to call for me.” She gave him a local number. “Ask for Heather.”
When he got Heather on the phone, Ronald explained that Tabatha needed her to bring some clothes over to Ins apartment, and told her his address. Heather, sounding young and nasal, demanded to speak with Tabatha. “She … she’s busy right now, Heather. Take my word for it. Of course, I know her. How well? That kinda depends on your outlook, I imagine.” Assuring Heather that Tabatha was fine, really, Ronald thanked her and hung up.
“Heather’s coming,” he said to Tabatha. “Sounded like there was ;\ party going on in the background. Is she a roommate?”
“Would a roommate let me out in this condition? I live alone. Heather’s just a friend.”
Tabatha tightened the towel. “I sure wish I would figure out what this’s all about. Maybe I’m in a dream. I mean, I’ve heard of folks dream¬ing they’re out in public stark naked.”
“I doubt it.”
“I doubt it, too.” Tabatha looked very glum.
“I’m sorry about all this. I’m glad you came, though. Not just ’cause you’re, you’re …” He waved a hand in explanation. “It’s just that I don’t meet many people. If this had happened to me, I’d have nobody to call.”
“Oh, I can’t believe that.” She smiled, thawing a little.
“It’s true, I swear,” Ronald insisted, and managed to converse haltingly with her until the buzzer sounded again. With a sigh of relief, he let Heather in. But it was a short-lived sigh, for behind Heather trooped four strapping men, some bearded, some tattooed, all over six feet tall, muscle-bound, and scowling at him. Heather stared at Tabatha and screamed: “Attack! I knew it, you’ve been attacked! Stay calm, we’re here now!”
The biggest of the bruisers lunged forward and grabbed Ronald. There was a small crunch and Ronald flopped to the carpet, gasping like a fish. Then he was up again, dangling with his feet off the floor as the man shook him one-handed by the throat, the other hand curling into a fist to punch.
“No! Let him go!” Tabatha cried. “I showed up here like this. That’s why I wanted something to wear.”
The man let go, grinning, displaying all five of his teeth.
“I’m sorry, Tabby,” Heather said. “I figured he was some sort of sex weirdo.”
“Him?” Tabatha laughed. “Okay, where’re the clothes?”
“Aw, I figured he was feeding me a line of bull to lure me to his apartment, like he’d done you. So I brought these guys instead.” Heather glimpsed the expression on Tabatha’s face, and took a pace backward. “Don’t get mad, Tabby. Max had come by to see me, and he’d invited Luther and the Dominick brothers here along with their girl friends. And Max, he thought they ought to come instead of me, but I said I had a few things to say to any pervert who’d try hustling me over the phone. Well, I’d no idea he was for real.”
“So I have to stay in this towel?”
“I’ve got a bathrobe,” Ronald offered again. He was ignored.
Max used the phone, and hanging up, he said, “The gals are coming over with some duds, Tabby.” He drew a pint of bourbon out of his jacket pocket. “Might as well have a snort while we’re waiting. Ice and glasses, pal,” he growled, and when Ronald pointed to the kitchen, he stalked off in search. “Say, Luther, go down to the car and get the big bottle. Ain’t gonna be enough.”
Luther went out, loudly, thudding down the stairs and out the front. Ronald shuddered, thinking of the landlady, and hoping that the girls would arrive soon with the clothes and everybody would leave.
The girls came ten minutes later. Luther had returned by then with a 1.5 liter bottle of booze, and now poured drinks for them. Taking her drink, a blonde babbled, “We just grabbed and dashed,” and she handed Tabatha a wrinkled bundle.
One hand firm on the towel, Tabatha held up the blouse selection, then swore. “These are Heather’s kid sister’s stuff! She’s eight years old! I can’t squeeze into any of this!”
Ronald elbowed his way through the small crowd. “Please, can’t you try? Can’t you go?”
Tabatha vented her frustration on him. “So as soon as we’re not alone, you want me gone, do you? Maybe Heather and Max were right after all!”
With a chorus of assents, chairs and the sofa were pulled out of the way. His stereo was tuned to a hard rock station and Metallica started screaming for love at full volume. Some of the couples began slam-dancing, resembling fish trying to mate in midair. The blonde was talking on his phone; all Ronald caught were hang-up words, “and bring your own.” A Dominick went for beer. In the few minutes he was gone, he managed to interest two other couples who were at the delicatessen at the time to come join the festivities. More folks arrived. More bottles were opened. More phone calls were made.
“Nothin’ like a spontaneous party,” an absolute stranger barked at Ronald. “Looks like this’ll last for days.”
Ronald slunk off to the bedroom, thinking he was a crasher at his own party. The room was dark but occupied. He beat a hasty retreat. Another stiff bracer seemed to help. Mrs. Griswald banged on the ceiling with her broom. Ronald didn’t hear her. She banged again, and a piece of plaster fell on her head. Her scream he heard, but it was too late. “It can’t get worse,” he moaned.
It did. Tabatha discarded the towel and joined some losers from a friendly strip poker game in prancing around, dodging hands and shrieking. Still more people came, like roaches from woodwork. The wild, abandoned spree had routed the entire building by now, and tenants were showing up in their night garb, some happy, some—like oF Bu-ford Monger—angrily shaking fists.
Over the clamor, through the fuzz of drink and smoke, he caught the shrill voice of Griswald: “Wink-kle? Ronald Winkle, just you wait till I clear this place out! Just you wait. This’s a dis—” The rest was drowned in a din of heavy metal from the stereo. She screeched over it, concluding with the immortal words, “I’ve called the cops!”
The cacophony ceased. Everyone except Ronald and the landlady headed for the door, deserting faster than they had arrived, salvaging any leftover booze on their way out. Long before the police parked in front of the apartment house, they had all fled into the night.
Even Tabatha had gone. Which as far as Ronald was concerned, was a good-bad proposition. It was good in that he didn’t have to explain her presence to Griswald or the cops, but it was bad in that he was left without a girl again. What kind of crazy incantation was it, anyhow, that’d conjure a female slave and fail to make her stick around long enough to do his bidding? Well, he supposed if the Lord could giveth and taketh away, so could the devil.
Shortly Mrs. Griswald went downstairs with the police. The other tenants shuffled off to their own beds. Alone, Ronald stood staring at the shambles of his apartment—at the clutter of glasses and empty bottles, the upturned bowl of chip dip smearing his sofa, the cigarette burns on every wooden surface. Pictures were broken, off the wall. The carpet was torn. In the kitchen, not a cupboard had gone unopened or unscavenged. His personal trove of continental delicacies had been found, Max personally consuming four tins of smoked conger eel without a glance at the labels. In the bathroom the toilet was overflowing.
“Ruined,” Ronald groaned. “Tomorrow I’ll be evicted, the bookstore will hear of the scandal and fire me. Oh me, oh my.” Staggering into the now deserted bedroom, he swept a forgotten garter from the bed and sprawled exhausted on the covers.
His misery was cut short by a noise, the sound of approaching footsteps. Turning, expecting to see a couple who’d been too busy to leave, Ronald shuddered in horror at the sight.
She was coming for him, the hall light silhouetting her spindly frame beneath the frayed yellowed nightie. “I waited,” Mrs. Griswald cooed, as she kicked the bedroom door shut. “I waited for you as I was bid. Now I am yours to command.”