Frizzy strands of freshly dyed red hair stuck to her forehead and she glared at him; the expression lost most of its power when he smiled, a slow expression that flashed white teeth and tiny dimples.
"Yeah, I'm actually cleaning, so what?" She sighed and dropped into a crouch, gathering the scattered pants as best she could before staggering upright. The closet was a mere step to her left, but Dwayne was already chastising her before she could reach it.
"Not what I meant," he growled. She always did this, always sought out the most simplistic meaning for his words, especially when she knew she was in trouble. And how could she not? "You're procrastinating on the Induction again. The poor girls have been waiting for weeks, at least, and what about Red? You've made her wait for-"
"I know how long it's been!" Carla flung the clothes into the darkness and slammed the wooden door shut. "Do you think I *enjoy* making them wait? Do you think I *like* the pressure of coming up with a brilliant initiation every time?"
Silence stretched between them; she slammed her hands on her hips, her fingers clenching into fists, and waited for him to placate her, as he often did. Instead he pressed one hand to his bare stomach and his mouth opened in a silent laugh.
What the heck was he laughing at? All she'd asked was did he think she liked…oh.
"Shut. Up." She ground the words out between her teeth, her eyes narrowing until the blue was covered in so many shadows it appeared black. White tension lines stood out at the corners of her mouth, visible even against her pale skin, and he knew he'd pushed too hard, this time.
"Sorry." The tension holding every muscle within her body taunt dissipated as if it had been merely a projection of his stress onto her. She smiled at him at last, letting the grin steal across her face an inch at a time. From him, the simple two syllables were the equivalent of David getting down on his knees to beg for forgiveness…in other words, it didn't happen that often.
"No worries," she flipped her hand in his direction, kicked the laundry basket under the bed, and walked to his side, allowing herself to give him a brief hug. Any longer contact, and she wasn't sure she'd be able to stop, but something that quick was safe. "Come on, sit, and we'll get this worked out."
"Good plan," he couldn't stop the words, but she laughed and dropped down into the chair in front of her computer, offering the dark, wooden one at her roommate's desk to him.
"So this time around we have Bat, Red, and Sarah," she smiled, rubbing her hands together. He couldn't tell if that was to ward off the chill produced by the whirling fans, or an unconscious manifestation of her true desire to take over the world, one person at a time. "I'm rather excited about this. I mean, Red's been entertaining everyone for ages with her Conga Lines. Sarah's my own, personal stalker…" Here she glanced at the dark vampire and narrowed her eyes. "Well, the first good one. And Bat…come on now. She wants to be known as the Insane COP. How much better than that can you get?"
"In German," Dwayne corrected. He leaned back in the chair, kicking both feet up until his boots landed on the large desk, barely missing the slender black laptop in the center. "She wants to be the Insane COP, in German. Can you pronounce that?"
Carla shrugged, reaching for a cold can of Dr. Pepper and a pack of smokes. Dark eyes followed her every movement as she extracted a clove cigarette from the black box and placed it to her lips, cupped her lighter in her hands, and lit it.
"Those will kill you," he muttered, gaze still focused on the faint drifts of white rising up from the dark tip. She laughed, inhaling deeply before blowing a mouthful of smoke in his direction.
"And spending time with you won't? Letting you…all of you…in my head to write has already driven me crazy."
"You were crazy far before we got a hold of you," Dwayne argued, following the cigarette as she flicked the ashes into her makeshift ashtray. She noticed his focused gaze at last, and laughed again before passing it his way and lighting another.
"You could just ask, you know, you mooch." He rolled his eyes and leaned back, shaking his dark hair out of his face. The movement enthralled her so much that she forgot what she was doing and almost lit the wrong end of the cigarette before coming back to her senses. The hair shake was quite the feminine move, and it took a secure, definite male to pull it off…Dwayne pulled it off extremely well.
"What's the fun in that?"
"Better be careful, fang boy," Carla stretched her arms high overhead to ease the pain in her lower back and glanced at him once more. "You're starting to sound like Paul…."
"Oh the horrors."
More laughter bubbled past her lips and she swatted the air in his direction. "Enough. You came here for a reason; we should get down to business. The second COP initiation. Here's what I think we should do…"
"Why is it that whenever Carla has what she thinks is a great idea, we always get roped into doing the grunt work?" Marko tossed a box full of decorations in Paul's direction; the other vampire caught it with ease just as Carla's voice broke the silence.
"Because *we* can't do that with a fifty pound box," she reminded him, ruffling his curls as she walked by. "Besides, isn't this a great idea?"
"Of course it is," Valley glared at the shortest of the Lost Boys and he flashed her a sheepish grin. "A Halloween-themed initiation…I almost wish we could have had one like it."
"You could have set it up," Tracy reminded her. "After all, you were the one who came up with the Sisters Of Porn in the first place."
"And a greater idea has never been discovered," David draped his arms over the girls' shoulders, leaning into press a kiss to first Tracy and then Valley's cheek. "But it looks like we're almost done here."
Carla stretched upward, handing Dwayne the last rubber bat to hang from the ceiling, and nodded. "Yeah, we're pretty much done. All that's left is to get into costume…and that means all of you."
"Don't worry, Little Bit, we've already got them planned out," Paul assured her, tossing the now-empty decoration box aside, and sliding a CD into the player. She frowned at him, wiping her dusty hands on her worn blue jeans.
"Why is it that I, the tallest of the SOPs, gets called `Little Bit?'" she questioned.
"Because you're the only one who won't hurt me for saying it," he teased, pressing buttons to set the tracks she'd chosen earlier. Peeled grapes smacked against the back of his head, splattering him, and he jerked around, only to see matching grins on all three girls' faces.
"Get out of here!" Tracy shooed them away so she could discretely clean errant grape juice off of her fingers before it dried. "We'll be ready in half an hour; make sure you have the Initiates here then."
"And don't forget to tell them to remain silent throughout the trials. It's a part of the `test,'" Carla called after the retreating vampires.
"Why does she always stress their silence?" Marko grabbed Dwayne's arm to stop him from walking past. "You'd think, especially today, she'd want the screams and laughter."
"Makes her feel powerful, I guess," Paul answered before Dwayne could. More grapes came flying out of the darkness and he ducked, trying to escape the deluge.
"I heard that!" Carla yelled; the only sound to meet her outburst was his laughter, drifting back along the tunnels. Tracy and Valley grabbed her arms and led her away, murmuring to her to keep her from chasing Paul down.
Per their written instructions, Bat, Red, and Sarah wore long black dresses, the skirts full enough that their ability to walk…and even run…wasn't hindered. Bat tucked her arm through Dwayne's, letting him lead her through the steady blackness; behind her, Red did the same to David and Sarah to Marko. Without the vampires' enhanced eyesight, even in the familiar cave, they would have walked into something. Paul escorted the other Cousins Of Porn, and then the rest of the Lost Cave Family, through the back tunnels, and into the room the Initiates would end up in.
"Go on now," David said, releasing Red's arm. Dwayne and Marko stepped back, shooing the girls on into the velvet-lined walkway that would lead them to the first area. "And remember, silence is a virtue."
"I thought that was patience," Marko muttered, only to be cut off by Dwayne's elbow in his gut. "Sorry, couldn't help it."
The Initiates left the small group of vampires behind and walked forward, their steps slow, but not fearful. Ahead of them the darkness was lessened by a flickering light; when they drew close enough, it became evident that a delicate candelabra lit the first room created from velvet curtains and strategically strung rope.
A witch waited for them there, her face a mask of horror between the green paint and dancing shadows; the typical black hat and dress clothed her body. She pointed a bumpy finger at the caldron set up next to her and even it glistened green in the faint light.
"To be invited to join the Family Of Porn means that you have fertile imaginations," she croaked, her voice like grating glass as it escaped her throat. "But there is much more to being worthy of joining. What will follow will be a series of…tests, to make sure that you posses the qualities that make up the Family. First you must look into my cauldron and see what your future holds…"
Bat stepped forward first, both because she was brave and because she was the first in line. She breathed in slowly and bent over the cauldron. Steam wafted around her cheeks, flushing them a bright red from its heat, but she forced herself to peer closely at the murky water. Something stirred within the depths and she bent farther, straining to make out just what it was…
A hand shot up, scattering droplets of hot water to every side, dark claws aiming at her face. Just when it looked like it would pierce her eyes, the hand twisted, and long fingers tweaked her nose. Bat had to swallow her laughter, and remained bent over the cauldron long after the hand had disappeared to regain control of her facial features.
Both Sarah and Red stood well back, unable to see what kept their co-Initiate so still. When at last she turned toward them, nothing was revealed in her expression, and, no matter how much they wanted to, pride and tradition wouldn't allow them to break their silence and ask.
One at a time Red, and then Sarah, took her turn in the Cauldron Of the Witch. Once they were finished, she pointed her long, wooden staff toward the next section of dark walkway, and they moved on. She turned her head to watch their progress, and her hat slipped, revealing tiny horns, dark red in color, set amongst her hair. Sarah glanced back at her and noticed a matching devil's tale, sticking out from a slit in the dress.
The path meandered to and fro, until none of the three could tell where they had been or what part of the cave they entered now. At last the darkness dimmed and again candlelight drew them forward. Waiting at the next stop was a Spider-Woman. Spiders clung to every inch of her clothing, and in the wane light, it was impossible to tell if they were real or not. Overhead, spider webs, complete with the requisite black spider in the center of each, brushed the Initiates' heads.
"You must be weary from your journey," the Spider-Woman crooned. Her voice swept over them, easing them into complicity, as numbing as the venom within the spiders she was named after. "Please, partake of food and drink…Red first."
Bat stopped in her tracks and Red stepped around her, making her way to the table heavy with large bowls of what she could have sworn was bone. Inside the first eyeballs glistened up at her, but she plunged two fingers in and withdrew one, squinting her own eyelids as she forced it into her mouth, wincing at the rubbery stiffness of it. Next came brains mashed into a fine past and her head twinged, but she managed to eat some none-the-less, though the last bite stuck heavy in her throat. She wanted to gag, but couldn't allow herself the luxury, and hurried on the third, and last bowl, only to find it full of a dark red liquid. Nearby, almost hidden behind the cobwebs, sat David's ornate bottle. She hesitated only for a moment before dipping a goblet—shaped like a spider, appropriately—into the unknown drink and gulped a mouthful down before hurrying back over to the others.
Sarah eyed her now red-stained lips, but moved forward herself, followed quickly by Bat. Once each was finished, the Spider-Woman pointed a long finger toward the exit from her sanctuary; a tiny eight-legged created crawled along her fingernail and the girls skirted around her at a wide distance, though Red did see the tiny purple horns and long tail that didn't match her Spider-Woman persona.
The dark path was much shorter this time; it seemed to be only a straight shot before they were greeted with candlelight once more. This time no woman came forward to meet them, and they hesitated in the center of the room, unsure as to what this test would be.
A gust of wind slapped them, knocking over the single candle and snuffing its light, but not before they saw the figure leap toward them. A white jacket pinned its arms against its body and wrapped around it again and again, and its face was hidden behind a mask of criss-crossing bars, but the hyena-style shriek still grated along their ears. A long, blue tail twisted around its legs, but if there were horns, they were hidden beneath the safety of the silver bars.
From above them another attack came; bats slammed down against their heads, wings whipping their hair into a frenzy of motion. They stumbled forward, keeping their heads down; all but Bat. She grinned up into the darkness and strolled forward, following Sarah as she led them down the final path.
They stumbled out into the main room of the cave; no candles lit their way and out of prudence, they stopped moving forward and waited for whatever was to come next. From the trail behind them came two muffled bumps and then nothing but silence.
When at last lights came on—not flipped by a switch but lit by the Lost Boys as they flung suddenly burning branches into the industrial sized metal cans, the Initiates had a moment to see that the Lost Cave Family was pressed against the far walls of the cave before the scrape of boot on stone drew their attention to the front of the room.
The Sisters Of Porn stood there, no longer clothed in costumes to hide who they were. Their clothing matched the colored horns and tails; long dresses slit from ankle to thigh, shimmering lightly with strands of glitter hidden in the fabric.
"Come forward, Initiates," Valley called to them. They approached her, stopping within three steps of the SOPs. "You survived the Cauldron Of the Witch with nary a flinch." Her lips jerked at the very corners, but she held back her grin.
"So too did you survive the Web Of the Spiders," Tracy followed her words immediately with naught but one breath separating the two. "You ate of her food and escaped with your lives."
"You survived the Trail Of Trials from start to finish, including the Deluge of Bats and Insanity," Carla continued on. "You've proven yourselves worthy of becoming Cousins Of Porn."
"Bat, Red, and Sarah, please step forward," Valley smiled at her as she met the girls halfway and held out an unlit candle for each of them. Once they had taken her burden, she stepped back, already reaching for her lit candle.
"Bat, for the scenes, some unread by all but me so far, in "To the Shock of Miss Louise," we declare you worthy of becoming a Cousin Of Porn. You shall be known as the…" She stopped, wincing slightly, then parted her lips to try again. "The G…" Again she stopped, her nose wrinkling at her inability to speak. "The Geis…"
"The Geisteskrank," Rivinia called out from her spot with the rest of the Lost Cave Family. Carla nodded in her direction, a small smile touching her lips.
"Thank you, Rivinia. The Geisteskrank COP, or the Insane COP. Red, for your suggestion of making an Asher-sundae, complete with whipped cream and toppings, we declare you worthy of becoming a Cousin of Porn-"
"Do we ever!" Raeann cried out from her hidden position near the Initiation. Carla laughed, softly, and nodded her affirmation before continuing on once more.
"You shall be known as the Depraved COP. Sarah, because of your interesting ideas for using Marko…or perhaps that should be for *using* Marko, we declare you worthy of becoming a Cousin Of Porn. You shall be known as the Stalker COP."
"These candles signify your entrance into our family," Tracy began to speak as the three Sisters Of Porn moved down to stand directly in front of the new Initiates, followed by the older Cousins Of Porn. All held lit candles and leaned forward to, one by one, light the others. "As the fire burns easier when all are joined," here she motioned to Sarah's candle, which flared as the others pressed to it, "so too do we survive easier when we are joined as a family."
The Lost Boys stepped forward to collect the candles and extinguish them without setting the Cave on fire, out of fear that Carla would slip, as she had in practice once, and create another raging inferno.
Valley held out a pewter bowl, unreadable runes engraved in the surface. "For the three newest COPs, we have certificates of authenticity, as all of the family carries to prove they are who they say they are."
"Being members of the Porn family doesn't come without perks, you know," Tracy grinned and set the bowl aside once Valley was done handing them out. "And, a new thing for old and new COPs…"
Carla handed the black bag to Valley and began to pass out smaller gift bags to all the COPs. "In the spirit of Halloween, we're providing you with your own horns and tales," she laughed, passing a black one to Bat, silver to Sarah, and shimmering green to Red. "Enjoy them as we do."
"They're lots of fun," Valley whispered in a stage-aside, grinning at her new cousins as she did so. "Good accessories for any occasion."
"We'd now like to formally present the entire Porn Family," Carla lifted her voice until even those farthest at the back could hear her. "Valley, the Twisted Sister Of Porn, and original Founder of the Family; Tracy, the Wicked Sister Of Porn, and Giver of Pictures of the Boys; Raeann, the Good Cousin Of Porn, Queen of the Library; Frosting, Cousin Of Porn Number Two or Milkshake, Bearer of the Cherub; Samantha, the Mild Cousin Of Porn, and the Creator of our Lost Cave; Christyl, the Brilliant Cousin Of Porn, and Lover of Funnel Cakes; Bat, the Geisteskrank Cousin Of Porn, and Teller of Interesting Tales; Red, the Depraved Cousin Of Porn, and Creator of Conga Lines; Sarah, the Stalker Cousin Of Porn, and…erm…Stalker of Carla and Of Luv and Blood." Carla blushed deeply, drew in one more deep breath of air, and finished. "And myself, Carla, the Good Sister Of Porn, and Creator of Initiations. The Family Of Porn, everyone."
Applause, led by Dwayne, Marko, Paul, and David, echoed throughout the cave. Once it died out, the echoes still ringing in some of the tunnels, David clapped his hands once and food began to appear, tables upon tables laden with treats and candy and delicious drinks.
"I promise, no eyeballs, brains, or blood…except for the Boys'…at this feast," Tracy winked at the newest members of her family. "Just grapes, pasta, and wine…among other things."
David approached, flanked by Marko on one side and Paul on the other. He led Bat to the dance floor with care, promising Red that he would be back for her once Paul had gotten his dance. Marko wrapped his arms around Sarah, resting his chin on her shoulder, comfortable in this, though he knew Donna and others were waiting their turns.
Dwayne escorted Raeann down first, spending time with the COP before he realized that, again, Carla hadn't joined in the festivities. He made his excuses to the other women and headed up the stairs to that farthest point where the lights didn't quite reach, grinning to himself when he passed Samantha and Alan seated together, discussing their favorite musicians and Paul and Frosty sitting nearby, chiming in on the conversation occasionally, the Cherub sleeping in Paul's lap.
"Why are you hiding?" Dwayne asked. He sank down onto the stone step next to Carla and rested one hand on her knee. "You pulled it off, almost without a hitch."
"Almost," she echoed. He tilted forward to catch her eyes, afraid that her words meant she was kicking herself for making any mistake. Nothing but happiness and a sort-of peace filled them and he relaxed, waiting for her true answer.
"I just enjoy watching everyone being so happy," she nodded to where David twirled first Tracy and then Valley before darting over to offer Christyl a glass of Dr. Pepper. "I love making this all possible."
"You're getting mushy," he teased, nuzzling at her shoulder. She started to push him away and thought better of it, instead leaning into his touch. He slid an arm around her waist and sat with her for a moment, enjoying the sanctuary from the loud music and buzzing voices down below.
"You can't stay up here with me forever," Carla reminded him at last. "Your entourage is down below, waiting for more time with you." She bumped his leg with her knee and drew away from his hug.
"You can't either," he offered back. "I'm sure they want to talk to you about how well this one went over." She blushed but shrugged and let him draw her to her feet. "Come on, then, let me have my one dance and I'll mingle again, if you will."
"I will," she promised, following him down the stairs and onto the dance floor. He drew her closer into the circle of her arms, planning on enjoying the next six minutes and a handful of seconds; he'd chosen the longest song on the play list for that reason, and to give everyone a break from switching partners for awhile, but not until the song began did he realize what it was…
"`Anna Begins' by Counting Crows," Carla bumped her forehead against his shoulder gently. "Are you trying to tell me something?" He laughed and shook his head, dropping to nibble at her neck playfully. She tilted her own head back, gazing up at the shadow-filled ceiling, and couldn't help but wonder for a moment…
Though they disappeared within a heartbeat, for a moment she could have sworn she'd seen Anna and Adam, Sprite and Victoria, Angeline and Flip, Dante and Requiem, Cassandra and Jolene…all their characters, stretching through the ceiling overhead, offering approval to the enjoyment their creators were taking.