With uncanny speed, Lee leapt to her feet and flipped Jason onto her back. It was like a reflex action on her part – she was ready to carry him away if necessary, just as she would carry Marcus to safety if she couldn't beat this spook.
The spook hissed again. "The seventh hagspawn will threaten the entire Netherworld…"
Jason clung on, holding her shoulders. Her heart was speaking fast and she was really sweating now. He was intimately acquainted with her strong, sweaty body over thirteen years, and now the way she was sweating was because of adrenaline, or whatever a night-hag had in place of adrenaline. He could only envy her strength, that she could leap into a fight at a moment's notice. He was already terrified by the spook and could only cling tightly to his wife.
"I can see your leaky alien tits," said the spook in his dry, rattling voice. "I don't care that I once killed twelve people, but you are an image I can't get out of my head. You don't belong in any picture of domestic bliss…"
So rude… but Lee had told Jason that spooks always said weird and creepy things.
Lee leapt and grabbed at the clustered eyes on the ceiling. At that moment, her green skin seemed to glow in the dark. "You wanna give me night-terrors? Should pick your fights better!" The next instant, there was a prolonged hissing sound and the next thing Jason knew, the glittering eyes disappeared, and Lee now had white, sticky strands on her fingers, like giant cobwebs.
Jason slid off her back and lighted the oil lamp beside the bed. Lee was grimacing as she examined the sticky white goop on her fingers. "Urgh! The spook's ectoplasm left a real mess, hey?"
At that moment, Marcus woke up on the other side of the screen and began to cry.
"I – I'll get him," said Jason. He moved the screen aside to pick up his baby son in his arms and held him close. Marcus screwed up his little green face and bawled. Jason knew how he felt. He was trembling himself.
Lee's brows drew together. "Aw, my poor boys. Here, sit on my knee."
Jason sat himself on her bare, green legs, Marcus in his arms. The hag wrapped her strong, sweaty arms around them. There was sticky ectoplasm on her long fingers still. She kissed the top of his head. "There now, everything's alright. The spook's gone. He was just an apparition. Not really there. I'm here for you though, hey?"
Jason leaned against her, feeling her breasts press against his back and her warm breath on his neck. Her nipples were leaking and getting her pungent smelling milk onto his back. He rocked Marcus and sang "Pioneer of the Waves" to him. It was a Grey Isles song he had learned from Porson, his own family's butler.
Lee kissed the top of his head again. "You're so picture perfect, you two. And that's such a happy song. I wanna join in. Oh Marcus… if you don't stop crying, I'll sing. I will." Fortunately, there was a chuckle in her voice which meant she was joking.
Marcus put his little green fist to his mouth. A sure sign he was hungry.
"Oh, here, lemme feed him," said Lee. Jason placed Marcus in the crook of her arms and his tiny mouth found her breast. Jason did his best to wipe the awful ectoplasm off her fingers. He shuddered as this made him remember the spook. Lee was sweating a lot and the smell in the bedroom was getting pretty heavy, so he wiped her shiny green face with a cold wet cloth. She never had a problem with him doing this. She barely seemed to notice the feel of cold water on her skin.
She smiled and then peered at him anxiously. "You are alright, my love? That spook won't ever be back. Not if he's got any sense."
He looked into her penetrating blue eyes. "How do you know there're no other nightmare creatures like him in the 'neighbourhood,' as you put it?"
Her greyish lips twitched to form a smile and her blue eyes twinkled. "I am a nightmare creature, Jason. I should totally know."
Her confidence gave him confidence. "You're my favourite nightmare. I've never wanted a daydream since we've been together." That piece of wordplay was a bit hard to follow, but Lee seemed pleased by it. They kissed, even though Jason could taste the vomit residue in his wife's mouth. When you love a lady of giant origin, you get used to her being messier than a human.
Lee successfully cuddled Marcus to sleep, the put him in his cradle behind the screen. Then she took Jason in her arms. She rocked him and murmured in his ear, reassuring him – again – that there were no more spooks in the 'neighbourhood.' Tasting vomit in her mouth had not killed Jason's sexy mood, but the presence of the spider-man had done. Instead, he drew comfort in his wife's closeness and her strength. He could feel the comforting sense of her embrace as her essence slipped into his dream and hear her soothing words in his mind. "No spooks around, my love. I've checked. Rest now. Don't worry."
The next morning, Lee showed that she was really back into the swing of morning sickness by vomiting profusely into a bucket. Jason was used to this by now, and really, it was nothing like as much mess as when she gave birth. He laid a hand on her broad shoulder as she leaned over the bucket and retched.
When the bucket was almost full of hag vomit, she straightened up, breathing heavily through her long nose. The sunlight streaming through the diamond paned windows shone off her green cheeks. Her red hair cascaded down her broad, green back and framed her face. Jason had always thought the clash of bright colours with her strange green skin and vivid hair was incredibly beautiful, right from the moment he first saw her. Even her morning sickness couldn't take that glamour away.
She gave a wry smile. "Wish I threw up cutely, like you do, hey? Not in great bucketloads."
Lee looked after Jason when he got sick. She wouldn't entrust that duty to anyone else. Only she would say that he vomited 'cutely.'
Jason laid a hand on his wife's green belly. She wasn't showing a bump yet, but there was absolutely no mistaking her morning sickness. "Look forward to welcoming you to our world, little one," he said. Lee beamed, her smile lighting up her green face. She thought it was adorable whenever he spoke to one of their babies who was still in her womb. It never seemed to get old.
They had plans to make to get ready for the Winter Solstice Gala they were hosting. First, Lee spontaneously decided she needed to 'get the cobwebs out of her brain' before the kids woke up by swimming in the frozen lake. Only she was strong enough for this kind of exercise. Her sinuous green arms cracked the ice as she swam front crawl across the frozen water, cleaving a path all the way to the far bank. Her swim back was quicker with no ice to break. Jason watched from the bank, wrapped up in furs. Lee emerged, stark naked and dripping wet, bare foot in the snow, her red hair sodden and hanging limply down her broad shoulders. After thirteen years, such a display of her awesome strength was still arousing. Her green breasts glistened in the early morning sunshine. The strands of her wet hair began to freeze into icicles.
"How's the water, darling? Too bad I can't join you in there today."
She smiled and touched his arm. "It's just about cold enough. I'm totally awake." She flicked the strands of her frozen hair, causing the icicles to clink together. They walked back to the house, hand in hand.
Elsie supervised the cooks as they got things ready for the Solstice Gala. Kat was inclined to slack if she wasn't watched closely and poor Mary wasn't the brightest and couldn't be expected to do everything right without help. To give them all encouragement, Lee had made a model of a little wooden house with realistic snow on the roof and the message, "To All My Lovely Staff." The hag had also sculpted figurines out of ice to set around the hall. Even ice sculpted by her magic green fingers wouldn't last long, but they would most likely last long enough.
Elsie smiled as Leevana came in with her little sons, Blaise and Gabby, in her arms. The green woman beamed at them. "Heyy, how're you doing? Wish I could help, but my arms are full. Aren't they, darlings?" She kissed both of her little sons on the top of their heads.
"Everything's coming along," said Elsie.
"'Lo!" squeaked Gabby, waving his chubby little green fist at her.
"Big bro's coming!" piped Blaise in his shrill little voice.
Lee grinned. "That's right. Karl's coming. We've gotta get his favourite dish ready."
Mary looked up, wide eyed. "Karl's coming? Good, he's wunnerful. So sweet and beautiful. Why'd he stay away so long?"
Lee gave her a small smile. "He got married, Mary. But now he's coming back to stay with me. I – That's how it should be." Her blue eyes were strangely bright.
When Lee was gone, Mary wanted to talk about Karl again. "He does look different from Lee's other kids, don' he?"
"The Mistress adopted him," explained Elsie. "But she gave birth to all her other children. Remember how I told you that Karl was once the Prince of the former land of Ostinia? He needs special looking after. Poor thing – he has a condition where his blood doesn't clot. It must be from all the inbreeding the Royal Family did. He needs his mother now. She can treat him with her magic powers."
Sophie had never enjoyed Maths much, but she found a new appreciation for it since she had a new tutor - Chase from Treania, the continent to the far west, over the oceans.
"You've shown a real improvement," Chase told her. That Treanian accent made her feel all warm and gooey inside. It was a sing-song sort of voice.
"I – Thank you," Sophie replied, her voice coming out in a squeak. She became aware that she was gazing at him, at his emerald green eyes and auburn hair and chiselled face, defined jaw with a shadow of stubble broad shoulders … She quickly looked at her feet, though that was scarcely less awkward.
Sophie had to help with the Solstice Gala and she was still thinking about Chase as she scampered into the Ballroom with her tray of appetisers. The hall was decorated with the glittering ice sculptures Mum had made which reflected the rainbow lights of the crystal chandelier.
Great Auntie Lori was talking to Al. "And how is my favourite little green man doing?" She actually pinched Al's cheek when she said that. "Have you been good?"
Al ran his fingers through his hair. "Um… Yes Auntie."
Lori gave her shrill laugh. "To think, my most perfect nephew is one of the green ones! You will be a heartbreaker one day."
"Appetisers?" Sophie as she held out the tray.
"No thank you, Sophie," said Lori.
A seven foot tall woman with green skin came gliding across the hall, her long black hair streaming behind her. It was Aila, a night-hag like Mum. She wrinkled her shiny green nose at Sophie's tray of appetisers. "These are no good, where's the raw meat?"
"You want to eat raw meat?" said Lori.
"You want to go out and catch some?" said Aila.
"I hope no one in our family would be so uncouth," said Lori with a sniff. She put her hands on Al's shoulders. "My Leafy Cheeks would never be uncouth." Sophie thought her nickname for Al was sort of sweet, but Al bit his lip and rubbed his green cheek self-consciously.
Aila laughed out loud. "Lee's got her fondest wish – which was squirting out a huge litter."
Lori ruffled Al's hair. "Well as a spinster, I'm starting to be jealous. Of her having five sons that is."
Lori continued. "I almost want to ask if I can keep Al."
"Yeah, I dare you to ask her," said Aila smirking.
At that moment, one of the baby toys Mum made rolled by. It was a colourful ball with a smaller ball for a head which rolled around all by itself. The little head had a smiley face. It must have escaped from the playroom. "A chance to test my claws," said Aila, flexing her claws and stalking after it.
Mum was greeting one of the guests. Sophie walked up to them. Mum clasped the man's hands. "So great to see you again, Liam. How you've grown."
"I've missed having you as a tutor, Lee," said Liam.
Mum turned to Sophie with her tray. "Thank you, darling." She picked up a piece of salmon in her long, green fingers. Her green cheeks were shiny with a sheen of sweat. Mum sweated a lot unless she was outside in winter. "This is Liam. I tutored him when he was little. Liam, this is my daughter, Sophie." Sophie smiled and tried to curtsey without dropping the tray.
At that moment, Elsie called across the room. "Ma'am! Karl and Grace are here."
Mum looked up, her eyes wide and then she glided across the room – that's what it looked like. She could move very fast when she wanted to, her feet hardly seeming to touch the ground. Karl and his wife had entered the hall. Mum gathered Karl up in her green arms and was planting kisses on his face. Sophie went towards them, tray in hand. Aila made for them too.
"By the Moon, Karl, it's been too long since you last visited me," said Mum, still holding Karl in her arms.
Karl's wife, Grace was a lady with long brown hair and big brown eyes. A slightly sad smile was playing about her lips.
Aila the night-hag smirked at Mum. "What brings him to visit his mother? Is it once in a blue moon already?"
"It hasn't been that long, Auntie Aila," said Sophie stiffly.
Mum lowered Karl onto the ground. "Y- you're not wearing the jumper I knitted. Don't you like it?"
Liam had sidled up to them. "I'm wearing the socks you knitted me last Winter."
The green woman grinned at him.
"The jumper's perfect, Mum," said Karl firmly.
"But you'd tell me if you didn't like it?" said Mum anxiously.
"Listen," said Grace. "We need help. Karl's illness is flaring up. We've no one else to turn to."
Mum nodded. "Of course, Grace. You're here now. That's how it should be." Mum's eyes looked bright with tears. She hadn't let go of Karl.
Sophie really wanted to comfort Mum and put her arms around them both, but she was holding this tray, so instead she said, "it's so nice to have you here, Karl."
"It's so nice to see you again, Little Sis," said Karl, bowing his head.
"Your Mum won't have as much time for you, squirt," said Aila, poking Sophie and almost making her drop the tray. "We were going to train you in the ways of a good night-hag. In doing what we do."
"I have time for all my kids," said Mum firmly. "We will schedule Sophie's training for the Witching Hour." Her eyes flickered down to her blue dress for a moment. Sophie could see what was wrong. Two wet patches were blossoming on her chest. Her breasts were leaking again. Mum seemed to have that problem a lot. "I need to get cleaned up and Karl needs his rest," she said firmly. "Come on darling." She lifted Karl in her arms and carried him out of the hall.
The Witching Hour is three in the morning. It's traditionally the hour when night-hags, both good and bad, are most active. Snow covered the grounds in a white mantle. The Moon shone down, a ghostly orb that lit up the scene with an ethereal light. Sophie accompanied her mother and Ulva and Aila – her night-hag aunts – as they trudged across the snow. Only Aila wore boots. The other three didn't mind the feel of snow on their bare feet.
"You should have joined the party, Ulva," said Aila, her black eyes glittering.
Ulva pushed her silver hair away from her green face. "Don't think so. I've never been one for parties. I hope you refrained from acting the fool and embarrassing our family."
"Let's not quarrel, hey?" said Mum. She was holding Twiggy, her live broomstick with a moving, caved face. "Sophie, darling, you're just starting to grow into your night-hag powers. We're proud to have you in our sisterhood. We're a sisterhood of good hags."
"The only one as far as I know," said Aila. "Anyway, I've never regretted your mother getting me to take the oath with her emotional arm-twisting. You know all about that."
Sophie nodded. There was quite a story behind how Mum had got Aila to be a good hag.
"The oath to be good is a fine and honourable thing," said Ulva stiffly. "If the spooks are rising again, we have to be prepared."
"Ooh yes, I'm very proud to be a good hag," said Sophie, nodding so that her ponytail jiggled.
"And we can do a lot of good with our powers," said Mum. "You'll see just how wonderful they really are. But it takes baby steps. First, try flying Twiggy. Not all night-hags can fly, but I can and you are my daughter. Try flying up a little way."
Sophie straddled Twiggy and then gave a little cry as he shot into the air, higher than she expected… much higher. The wind roared in her ears and the snow covered grounds and woods and frozen lake shrunk beneath her. She was surrounded by low hanging clouds. There was a chilly mist all around her. Then a horned shadow loomed out of the mist. A chilling voice resounded in the air around her:
"You little monster! I'll get you! I've brought my whip…"