Tag Archive | short story

Kateesha – Blogophilia 3.5

It’s time for Blogophilia,  the fun blog group where Marvin gives participants prompts to use in their weekly posting. This week’s prompts are:

  • Blogophilia 3.5 Topic: “You are cordially invited”
    Bonus Points:
    (Hard, 2pts): Incorporate: ‘Ice Water Castles’
    (Easy, 1pt): Include the name of Lady Godiva’s horse

This week is another vampire morsel, a story about a character from my Amaranthine series that, for one reason or another, never got to say much. As an especially snifty thing I am slowly revising these and publishing them on Smashwords as freebie reads. (Elsa just went up the other night) Eventually I’m planning to bundle them altogether into a single volume, but that’s something in the distant future, as there are several tales to tell!

 

Kateesha

(You can find kateesha in Shades of Gray & Legacy of Ghosts. Her story takes place in May, 1865, roughly a month after the end of the American Civil War)


CONTENT WARNING: Sex, blood and violence, not only separate but all together. You’ve been warned.

(Seriously, what can you expect from Kateesha?)

Kateesha and Daniel steered their horses through the trees. The night clung to their shoulders like the black cloaks they wore, and they moved through it wordlessly. Ahead, shafts of moonlight danced into a clearing. Kateesha stopped and threw back her hood. Her dark skin gleamed and her mahogany eyes skimmed the surroundings.

“I can smell them.”

Her partner reined his horse to a stop and looked left to right, his eyes invisible beneath his hood. Though she couldn’t see them, she knew them. She’d gazed into them more than once, watched as his pupils flared and shrank with blood lust.  They made her think of another set of eyes; eyes so dark they seemed black, fringed in heavy lashes and shimmering with a thousand demons.

Jorick.

He’d been her partner so many times, in more ways than one. They’d come from the old world together, just her, him and their master. She’d sworn an oath of blood to them both, though she knew she would break it a thousand times over if Jorick told her to. On his word she’d betray Malick and damn the consequences.

She thought suddenly of her master. Though the ancient vampire was shorter than she was, he seemed a giant. His long beard and flowing hair were the color of fresh snow, and his eyes were like staring into the heart of a lightning storm. When she’d last seen him, he’d sat at a long table and glanced absently at a piece of parchment. “It appears we have a coven in Arkansas that has overstepped their bounds. My daughter, you and Daniel will bring these wayward children back to us so that I may chastise them myself.” A dark look came from one of the council members and Malick added, “Gently, of course.”

 “Of course, Father.” Though they used those titles, the relationship was not of human birth. Rather, he was her father in blood; her father in darkness. The mysterious man who’d swept through the brothel and brought her an immortal kiss, promising her a new life and a mate for eternity.

Jorick.

“Where are they?”

Daniel’s question brought her back to the task at hand. “Near.” She motioned towards the source of the scent. “It appears they’ve chosen to gather in the woods. However, their den is not far from here, if our information is correct.” She spurred on her horse, “Giddyup, Aethenoth.”

The animal whinnied and followed her directions at an easy pace. Kateesha breathed in deeply, as if seeking assurance. Yes, she could smell them still. Five men, or the remnants of them now made immortal. They gathered around a campfire, no doubt more for comfort than for warmth or light. Beneath their scent was the smell of human blood from more than one source. They’d made their meal and either kept the corpses or neglected to clean themselves.

The camp fire was suddenly visible between the trees and she slowed her horse to a walk. Old leaves crunched beneath his hooves and small animals scurried away. Though vampires could move silently, the horses couldn’t.

She signaled to Daniel and they stopped and dismounted. She tugged a sword from her saddle and motioned him to do the same. She hid the weapon under her heavy black cloak and crept forward. As they drew closer, she could see five figures huddled around the fire. They wore tatty, stained gray uniforms, relics of the newly ended war. Beards sprouted from their chins and faces, clotted with gore and blood. Seven bodies lay crumpled on the ground around them. Five wore the Union blue. The other two had dark skin and were dressed as civilians, or more likely ex slaves. All of their throats were identically torn out. The youngest, a boy of perhaps fourteen, still twitched. His eyes rolled in his head and his blood dyed his shirt crimson.

Daniel laid a hand to Kateesha’s arm. She stopped, an annoyed question in her eyes.

“Perhaps I should speak with them?” he suggested.

“Why?”

The word was cold, and he shivered under its power. “Because you’re a woman. Few men take orders from ladies.”

His reason was a lie and they both knew it. It wasn’t her sex they might take exception to, but her color. Though the human’s president had freed the slaves, and been shot for his efforts, the citizens of the south still held the same opinions they had before.  “I’m no lady, but fine.” Her tone was a soft purr. “You play the mighty man, and I’ll stand in the shadows this time.”

Daniel drew to the fore and she followed a few steps behind. They were nearly within the circle of light before the vampires noticed them. Their heads snapped up in unison and they squinted uncertainly at their visitors.

Kateesha reached out and touched their minds. As she moved from man to man, she saw scenes of blood and death; battlefields, dead comrades, a bleeding wife, a burned house, the twisted bodies of children. Yes, war was cruel and it had fostered this coven. They’d been nursed on the teat of destruction and nurtured by prejudice and ignorance. It was a coven destined to cause trouble.

The blonde nearest to the dying boy spoke first, “And who might ya’ll be?”

Daniel opened his cloak and flashed the silver medallion he wore around his neck; three pieces of intertwined metal that formed a twisted knot. “We’re here on official Guild business.”

A vague understanding washed over them. “If I rightly understand, that there Guild is the vampire gov’ment, ain’t it?”

Kateesha snickered behind her hood and Daniel answered impatiently, “Yes. Your presence is requested immediately.”

They laughed. Daniel’s body tensed. “This is no laughing matter.”

”Maybe it is and maybe it ain’t,” the blonde replied. He stepped forward and adjusted his bloody coat. “Why don’t yer try invitin’ us nicely?”

Daniel ground his teeth.  Kateesha moved next to him and silenced him with a thought. “I’ll handle this.”

“Is that a woman?” a redhead demanded. “This gov’ment’s sendin’ women ter do men’s work? Pshaw, we ain’t got nuthin’ ter worry ‘bout.”

“Don’t you?” she asked, her voice silk. “You are cordially invited to accompany us to the Guild’s fortifications where you will have an audience with our Master. Will you ever so kindly accompany us?”

They laughed again and the blonde slapped his knee. “Now that’s more like it. Good to see a woman what knows her place.” He turned back to Daniel. “Despite your right hospitable invitation, I’m afraid that me ‘n the boys will have ter decline on account a the fact we got too much work ter do here. The war may be officially over, but we reckon that with these new abilities we ought ter be able to start ‘er up again real soon. I reckon we could take a whole regiment by ourselves. Give them Yank bastards sumin’ ter think about.”

Kateesha’s laughter was light and silvery. The men glared at her, arms crossed over their chests. “And just what do yer find so funny, Miss?”

She dropped her hood and fixed them with her dark eyes. “I doubt you could successfully route a company composed of orphaned children, let alone a regiment.” She saw his reaction in his mind; saw what he thought her punishment should be for daring to speak out to a white man. It had been the punishment of another girl; a slave girl. Bound, ravaged and left to die.  Kateesha’s hand went to her sword before he even spoke.

“Hey there! You watch what you say, you nig-”

The word fell unfinished. With a single stroke of the blade, Kateesha severed his head.

The men jumped back, eyes as large as saucers. The redhead cried, “Holy Jesus! Who are you?”

Kateesha smiled a broad, fanged smile. “I’m the devil, and I’ve come to collect.”

Of the remaining four, two ran. The other pair attacked, or tried to. Too young and inexperienced, Kateesha cut them down in seconds. The scent of blood filled her nostrils and stirred her in a way that nothing else could. She wanted it. She wanted the feel of it, the taste of it. She wanted to bathe in it while Jorick watched, but since he wasn’t there Daniel would do, just as he had before.

Her eyes flamed with lust and she grabbed his hand. “Come, we’ll catch the others.”

They raced headlong through the woods. Terror and youth made their prey clumsy and their lead was quickly lost. The men squealed. The leader, a brunette, tripped over a tree root and crashed to the ground. The redhead fell over him and landed in a horrified tangle of limbs.

Kateesha threw aside her sword and grabbed the redhead with her bare hands. She knelt, one knee in the middle of his back, and pulled his head back to expose his throat. Daniel stood over the brunette, his sword pressed to his chest.

“Oh sweet Jesus,” the redhead whimpered. “Please, in the name a the holy mother, have mercy. We didn’ do nuthin’. I swear. I swear we didn’t do nuthin’.”

She leaned down, her breath hot against his ear. “Isn’t that a pity, then? To die as a punishment when you haven’t had the fun of the offense?” She flicked his earlobe with her tongue and he whimpered.  Her fangs scraped over the delicate curve of his ear and then, she bit. She clamped down savagely and tore. His ear came away in her mouth with a spray of blood.

His screams echoed through the trees. She spit out the ear and licked her lips, her dark eyes shining. The brunette vampire screamed and writhed under the point of Daniel’s sword. “Oh, God. No! Please, no!”

“Don’t worry,” Kateesha purred. “You’re next.”  She turned back to her bucking, shrieking prey and buried her fangs in the side of his neck, under the bleeding hole where his ear had been. She ripped the flesh, peeling it away. His blood was hot and thick, and she gulped mouthfuls of it. His screams grew louder, higher pitched, more horrible as she bit into his shoulder, rending skin and shirt together in a mangled mess.

She met Daniel’s eyes. His nostrils flared and she could feel his desire; his need. The hot blood pulsed in her hands. She lifted a palm full and licked it, wiping the last of it over her face and her neck, to the collar of her cloak. She arched her back, and licked her lips, promising him anything he wanted.

He was weaker than Jorick had ever been. That small display was too much temptation and he broke under it. With a savage snarl, he threw aside his sword and set upon his terrified captive. The younger vampire screamed as Daniel’s fangs tore through his flesh. Hot blood sprayed out, coloring Daniel’s face and sandy hair.

Kateesha laughed and attacked her victim again. This time it was his wildly waving hand; his wrist. The bones snapped and popped and he shrieked. She could hear his terrified thoughts. He begged God to let him die, to let him pass out. Anything to end this torment. Thanks to his immortal blood, no such grace would be granted him.

The rest of his limbs cracked easily and she left him lay, broken and bleeding in a heap. Her heart raced and the smell of his death intoxicated her senses. But not just his death. The blood of his victims was still fresh in his system and not yet fully mixed. She could smell them; smell the negro and his life of labor, and the soldier and his prayers to see his new baby one more time. She could taste them and the cocktail inflamed her.

She peeled back her robe and gathered handfuls of the blood. She brought it to her mouth, and let the excess run through her fingers. It streamed over her heaving cleavage and down the bodice of her gown. She looked up to see Daniel watching her, his face and clothing covered in blood. The brunette vampire lay dead beneath him. His back was torn open. His broken ribs and spine were shiny in the moonlight. Next to him lay the squashed remnant of a heart.

A Quick kill.

Without words, Daniel moved to her. She pulled him to her roughly. The broken vampire next to her moaned softly, not so lucky to share the fate of his comrade. She wiped blood from his shoulder and smeared it over Daniel’s face and his eager lips. His tongue darted out and cleaned her fingers. Without breaking eye contact, he smeared blood over her cheek, down her neck. She leaned back and tore at her dress and the corset beneath. Cloth ripped beneath her impatient fists and she discarded the scraps.

With fresh handfuls, he painted her dark breasts in crimson. She moaned and ground her hips against his. He pressed back, his need a hard knot of urgency.

She tackled him to the ground. He writhed beneath her and she straddled him, rubbing her body against his. She stared into his eyes, not black but green. They weren’t the eyes she wanted to gaze into, but they would do for now. They would be a vehicle to her memories, to the night in the eastern territory so many years ago when she and Jorick had bathed in the blood of the rogues. She’d drawn scarlet symbols on his skin and licked him clean again. She could still remember his scent and the soft growl when he surrendered to her and the blood.

She closed her eyes and mentally conjured Jorick. Sightless, she ripped at the clothes of the man beneath her, no longer Daniel, but another. She tore away his cloak, his shirts, and ran her hands over his naked chest. He groaned her name; a plea to end the agony of his need.

A plea she would gladly grant.

With an inhuman howl, she sank her teeth into his shoulder and bit. His hot blood filled her mouth and the world shifted; pulsed. He bit back, his teeth sharp. The pain was delicious and then it melted into something more. Her every nerve burned, quivered, screamed.  Torn between ecstasy and agony in a world of shimmering shadows and screaming desire. It no longer mattered if he was Jorick or Daniel or someone else. Only the blood and the need mattered.

Something pulled her from her trance-like absorption and she released Daniel, though he held on, his teeth buried in her arm, his expression glazed ecstasy. She turned her face to the broken redhead. He lay next to them, his gurgling mouth opened and his dying eyes wide. Kateesha laughed and wiped the blood from her.

“Do you want some?’ she asked huskily. “Do you want to die like you’ve never lived?”

Before he could answer, she sank her fangs into his good shoulder and his world exploded in a flash of nightmare pleasure.

Traveling by night, it took them a week to get to the Guild’s fortifications in Iowa. Half brick, half wood, what would soon be a monstrosity was only partially finished.  Kateesha could imagine the coming grandeur, but she didn’t care. This was already the third location since she’d come to the new country. It would move again.

Malick waited in the audience chamber, a long, low room paneled in wood. Five chairs sat at one end, under an antique tapestry. He sat in the center chair, a pale woman on his left and a dark skinned male on his right; two of the five council members.

Malick’s thundercloud eyes swept over the newly returned pair. His question came like a gentle slap, “Where are those you were sent to bring back?”

Kateesha dropped to her knees before him. “Father, they were troublesome and we were forced-”

“Forced?” The room seemed to shake with his displeasure. “Would you lie to me? I can see the events in your mind! I see the orgy! Is that what you make of your missions? Do my orders mean so little to you?”

Kateesha could feel his fury. “No, of course not, Father!” She dared to look up and offered him her most winning smile. “They were of little use. Ignorant, uneducated, filthy-”

“As were you when I found you!”

The smile disappeared from Kateesha’s face and her eyes went as cold as ice water castles. “They deserved their deaths!”

The dark council member leaned forward. “It is not your judgment to make! Your job is to carry out your orders as they are given to you!”

“Yes,” the woman agreed. “You have disobeyed too many times, Kateesha. You are a dangerous element that has proved uncontrollable, and your partner in this is no better. Leave us while we decide what your fate will be.”

Kateesha felt the blood drain from her face and her stomach twisted. There was only one fate for breaking the laws: death. Panic consumed her and she threw herself prostrate on the floor, her hands on Malick’s feet. “Please Father!” she cried. “We’re sorry! We did not mean to disobey you! It will never happen again!”

“So you’ve said before,” the council woman answered sharply. “Yet here we are. Your words are lies that you shine with your charm. I will not fall prey to such traps. Now leave us!”

Kateesha snarled at her and turned her eyes to Malick. “Father, please! Forgive us! I beg you! Have mercy!”

Malick withdrew his feet and pointed silently to the door. His face was as unreadable as marble, and the blood in Kateesha’s veins turned to ice.

“Go,” the dark council member ordered. “We will call for you when a decision is reached.”

And so they went. Not just out of the audience chamber, but out of the building, to the stables. Their horses were too tired to be taken again. Kateesha threw a single, regretful glance back at Aethenoth as they rode away on someone else’s steeds.

The horses ran full tilt and only when they could take no more did Kateesha call a halt. Daniel slid from his saddle, his eyes on the lonely road behind them. “They’ll hunt us.”

“Perhaps. Would you rather have stayed there and waited for your death to be handed to you?”

His silence hung heavy. At last he answered, “No.”

“Good. Once the horses have rested we’ll need to find shelter. It will be morning soon.”

Daniel nodded and then, in a tone so low she could hardly hear, he asked, “Do you love me?”

The question caught her by surprise and she laughed. “Should I?”

He looked away. His mouth twisted unhappily. “We’ve been partnered on several missions now. We work well together.  We-” he broke off but she could see the bloody memories in his mind.

“We fuck well together?” she asked unabashedly.

He balked at her language, but didn’t deny it. “I’ll do anything you want me to, you know that.”

She patted down the horse absently. “I’ve heard that a hundred times, or a thousand. That’s the second line every man uses, right after ‘you’re beautiful’.”

“You are,” Daniel said quietly. “I’ve never met a woman like you.”

“And that’s the third. Next you’ll promise me your undying devotion, and maybe your soul.” She made a dismissive gesture with her hand. “It’s the same. You’re all the same.”

Except for Jorick.

Daniel had no reply.

They rode for days. When they grew tired of running they took a farm house and kept the occupants for their dinner. They dragged their deaths out to a week, but then they drained the final child.

“We will have to hunt tomorrow,” Kateesha said as she mopped herself up.

Daniel nodded absently, his eyes still clouded with the after moments of their feast. His clothing lay in a heap beside him and the last of the child’s blood was smeared across his chest.  He gazed at Kateesha as she cleaned herself and pulled on layers of white linen undergarments.  A chemise, a corset, petticoats-

A knock sounded on the door. While Daniel went stiff, shocked back to the present. Kateesha sniffed the air and smiled. She could smell their visitor. She knew who he was and she knew what he wanted, but she was sure she could persuade him otherwise.

She wrenched the corset opened so that her ample breasts nearly spilled out the top, and carefully smoothed her hair.  After a quick glance in the mirror, she dropped one strap of her chemise, leaving her shoulder naked and whispering to be touched.

That should be enough.

She opened the door and let her eyes drink in the man before her. Tall and lean with broad shoulders and silky hair as black as midnight. She knew how that hair smelled and smiled at the memory of it wrapped around her fingers.

His voice was neither hostile nor friendly, only impatient. “You know why I’m here.”

“No, Jorick,” she said innocently. “I have no idea.”

“Malick sent me.”

“Did he?” She gazed at him from under heavy lids, and let her eyes slide lower, past his belt. Her tongue flicked out involuntarily and traced her full, lower lip. “I thought perhaps you’d come to see me.”

Jorick drew back a step, his face hard. “I’m married now.”

Kateesha leaned against the door frame and pouted. “Yes, I know, and to such a plain, timid little thing. Can you truly be happy with her? Oren’s sister would suit you more. Even that little girl in Texas would have been a better choice. Sarita, wasn’t it?”

His nose curled with disdain. “You know I have no love for Spaniards.”

“She wasn’t a Spaniard, but a Mexican and she filled your bed easily enough.”

“There is a difference between sharing love and a bed.”

“And do you love this new woman, this Velnya? Can you really?” Kateesha was suddenly on him, her hands on his shoulders, her breasts pressed against his hard chest and her lips brushing his neck. “Can she really give you all the things I can?”

“Enough.”

Jorick knocked her away. Surprised, she stumbled and landed on the floor in a heap of petticoat. She jerked to her feet, her forehead puckered in anger. “Don’t do that again!”

“I’ll do it as many times as necessary. Malick ordered me to spare you, so get out of my way!”

She reached for his mind and plucked the scene from it. The council was angry. They shouted. They demanded her blood. Jorick must be sent. Only he was strong enough to do what must be done without falling victim to Kateesha’s charms. But Jorick was tired. Newly arrived from a dispute in Indian territory, he wanted to go home. His little wife needed him.  She sent terrified letters, afraid of the local population. Cattle had died. First only a handful and then by the herd. They blamed her. They called her a witch. But Malick owned him the same as he owned Kateesha. He’d given them his blood and gotten their unwavering loyalty in exchange. Jorick was nothing more than his dog, and his request was denied. Only… No. Privately, Malick made a deal. He would free Jorick from his debt if he spared Kateesha and took only Daniel’s life. Jorick agreed quickly. He had other things to attend to.

Jorick shoved past Kateesha and stormed through the house. She leaned against the doorframe and closed her eyes. She heard Daniel shout, and then she heard the scuffle. Wood smashed. Something ceramic broke to bits. Then, Daniel screamed.  At the sound she had a sudden vision of his lust filled eyes locked with hers and something fluttered in her chest. She dismissed it cruelly. Daniel was nothing. He was a diversion. A replacement.

Jorick reappeared, a splash of blood across one cheek. Kateesha moved quickly and used her petticoat to wipe it away. He jerked back and glared at her. “I don’t have time for this.”

“Don’t you?” she asked, packing every innuendo she could into the syllables. “Velnya will keep for a night.” She caught his hand and tugged him towards her. “I’ve missed you, and I know you’ve missed me. Come, for one night it will be like it was. Do you remember that night under the stars, after we’d defeated the rogues?” She pressed against him again and looped an arm around his waist. “Do you remember the way they tasted? The way I tasted?” Her lips hovered over his throat. “I remember your flavor-”

As if he’d suddenly broken free from a spell, he jerked away. “No!” He stepped back and ran a hand through his hair. “No.”

“But, Jorick, I love you.” She reached for him. He caught her hands and held them away from him.

“No, Kateesha, you don’t. You love a shadow. I’m not that man anymore and now that Malick has released me, I am free, and I won’t be that man ever again. I don’t want to be.” He dropped her hands and turned for the door. “If you value your life I suggest you give the council at least a year to forgive you before you stage a return.”

He didn’t wait for her reply, but ducked out into the night. She glared at his disappearing figure with narrowed, burning eyes. How dare he reject her? How dare he turn his back on her? On a whim she could make any man crawl through the mud for her, begging for a word, a touch, a taste. How dare he resist!

He’s leaving!

She threw her pride aside and plunged out into the darkness. He stood next to his horse, one foot in the stirrup. She rushed towards him. “Dammit Jorick! You are who you are! You can’t run from your nature simply because you wish it to be something different! You can not take shelter in a falsehood!”

He paused to look at her. “That was never my nature, Kateesha, only yours and Malick’s. It is the falsehood I’m running away from.”

He swung into the saddle in a smooth motion and nudged the horse forward. Kateesha’s hands turned to fists at her side. “You can’t hide, Jorick!” she screamed. “You love me, and you know it! I was made to be with you! You belong to me!” Her words turned shrill and hysterical. “I will have you! One day you will beg me for mercy on your knees! Do you hear me?”

He didn’t look back. His only acknowledgement was a flippant half wave. Then, he spurred his horse forward and rider and animal raced away into the darkness.

Kateesha stood alone, her petticoats gleaming white under the moon and one fist raised as she shouted, “Do you hear me, Jorick? You’re mine and you’ll always be mine! Do you hear me? I own you! I own you!”

There was no answer. She dropped her fist and glanced back to the opened door. Inside Daniel lay in a pool of his own blood, shattered and dead. She shoved away the burgeoning emotions. She couldn’t afford to care. Daniel was of no consequence.  Jorick was her goal. They were bound together for eternity, whether he understood that or not. He was hers and ultimately she was his.

Regardless, he’d  chosen Velnya over her.

Only for now, she told herself. Only for now. One day he will repent his choice.

She’d make sure of it.

 *************

 Next up is Nirel. In fact I *think* there’s only four left and then Collection 1 will be ready for publication – yay!.

Kariss – Blogophilia 45.4

It’s time for Blogophilia,  the fun blog group where Marvin gives participants prompts to use in their weekly posting. This week’s prompts are:

  • Blogophilia 45.4 Topic: “Angels in the Snow”
  • Bonus Points:
  • (Hard, 2pts): use a pick-up line
  • (Easy, 1pt): include “rules are meant to be broken”

This week is another vampire morsel, a story about a character from my Amaranthine series that, for one reason or another, never got to say much. As an especially snifty thing I am slowly revising these and publishing them on Smashwords as freebie reads. (Claudius just went up the other night) Eventually I’m planning to bundle them altogether into a single volume, but that’s something in the distant future, as there are several tales to tell!

 

Kariss

(You can find Kariss in Legacy of Ghosts. Her story takes place in Iceland and bounces back and forth between 1784 (during the Mist Hardships) and the early 1820’s)


“Who are you, again?”

Kariss ground her teeth. “I’m your granddaughter, Pala, Kariss’s daughter, remember?”

The old woman nodded and Kariss relaxed a little. How she wished she could tell her the truth.

The truth.

Truth was a word that meant dark shadows and screams in the night. It wasn’t the thing her mother needed right now.

Her mother coughed, the signal she had something to say. Slowly, she worked her voice up and croaked out, “Kariss was a good girl. Did you know that? She was always a good girl. Until she disappeared.” The old woman squinted and peered through the gloom. “Where were you when she disappeared.”

“I wasn’t born yet.” Another lie. “That’s when she met my father. I’ve told you that, Grandmother.”

“Hum. Maybe you have. I don’t think so well these days.” She coughed again, long and ragged. “Where is your grandfather? Where is Vagn?”

“He’s dead.”

The cold wind rattled the house and Kariss shivered, more from habit than from cold. The cold didn’t bother her anymore, not since the darkness had taken her. The darkness stole many things from her, including the sun. If only it had taken her heart with it. Then, she wouldn’t have to hide in the shadows and watch her mother die.

“It was during the Móðuharðindin, that’s when she left. Have I told you about that? The livestock died. Everything died. Kolli died, and Kariss disappeared. Her brothers looked for her, but they’re gone now. Where did they go?”

“Manitoba,” Kariss answered. That was what the weathered letter next to the bed said. It seemed that everyone had gone to Manitoba.

“Yes, yes. That’s right. My sons have made lives in another place, except for Styrr and Athan. The famine took them. Athan was Kariss’s twin, did you know?”

His name brought with it a pair of laughing blue eyes and a head of curly brown hair.  A crooked smile beamed at her from the memories and her chest tightened painfully. “Yes.”

“He was killed by a man who wanted his food, but he didn’t have any. I can’t remember his name now. It was so long ago. That man’s wife died and I always thought that drove him insane. Athan was a good boy and he knew it. There was no bad blood between them. It was the loss and the hunger. It makes people do things.”

Kariss nodded wordlessly.  She’d imagined his death a hundred times, and each was worse than the one before.

“I named them after the Kappas. You don’t know them, they left, went home or somewhere better. They stayed with Fjola that summer. They had such lovely names.” She broke off into a cough. “They’re gone now. Everyone is gone now. So many have left. There will be nothing left. Even Kariss has left.”

“I’m here, Grandmother.” She took her mother’s withered hand in hers and squeezed it softly. The return pressure was light and fluttery, like a butterfly. So weak.

“Your hand’s cold, child! Cold like the wind.” She closed her tired eyes and murmured softly, “Cold.”

She touched her mother’s withered cheek, so different from her memories. In her memories her mother was stern and firm with bright, flashing eyes and a temper to match. It was only when Kariss’s father kissed her that she softened. And then she would smack him and tell him to behave. “We have enough children!” she’d say and point to whichever was nearby. “Do you want another one like that one?”

Watching her parents had been like peering into her own future, only instead of Vagn it would Kolli. Kolli would come home and she would point to one of the children and say, “Do you want another one like that one?”

No. She didn’t want that. Or she thought she didn’t.

No one knew where Andrei came from. He breezed into town just as the Mist Hardships were at their worst. He was exotic and intoxicating, and he stole much of Kolli’s attention. Then came the news that Kolli and six others were killed in an accident.

When Athan told her, her knees gave out. He picked her up and cradled her while she cried. Her words were thick with misery. “Not Kolli. No, not Kolli.”

“He wasn’t the only one,” her brother reminded her gently.

The others didn’t matter. Why didn’t Athan understand that? “Not Kolli.”

Athan carried her to the house. Her mother met them at the door. Her face said she’d already heard. She laid a rough hand on Kariss’s shoulder. “I’m sorry.”

Kariss cried harder. What did sorry do? It didn’t bring her future back to life!

The moon was full when he came to her. She heard his whisper in the mist and rose, half fearful and half hopeful. The grass was cold under her feet. The night sang its symphony in her ears. She covered her nose to hide from the thick air.

And there he was.

“Kolli!”

She ran to him, but stopped short. It was him, but it wasn’t. He was wrong. His eyes were too bright, his hair too shiny, his skin too smooth. She took a step back, suddenly afraid.  He smiled.

His teeth were too white; too sharp.

Like fangs.

She screamed. He caught her in his arms and hauled her away from the house. He whispered soothing words and they seeped into her brain. Andrei was in the hollow just beyond the hill. He stood ringed in old flowers and silvery moon light. He held out his arms in welcome.

“Welcome.”

The word whispered through her brain and she trembled. She felt him run through her mind like white lightning. He withdrew and her trembling legs folded on themselves. She landed on her knees in the withered grass.

“She is worthy.”

Kolli hurried to her and she flinched away. Terror shook her lips as she whispered, “You’re dead. They said you were dead.”

“No, Kariss. Andrei saved me, and he can save you, too.” He took her hands in his. “If you accept it and swear yourself to him he can give you ever lasting life. You will never grow sick, or old, or hungry. It’s true freedom.”

Freedom.

It was a beautiful word, but it was a lie. There was no freedom. It was only enslavement of another kind; enslavement to the darkness, to Andrei’s whims, to blood.

A tear slipped from her eye and she caught it on her finger tips. The old riddle came to mind, one her brother had asked her: I was born in your eyes, live on your cheeks, and die on your lips. What am I? *

What am I?

The answer to that question was one word; one horrible word that she refused to think about. If she could only shut it out perhaps it would go away. Maybe it would all go away. Only, it wouldn’t.

There was a sound; a footfall. Soft and muted in the snow. She stiffened and sniffed the air. The familiar smells of home were there. Under them was something else equally familiar. Musky, heady.

He is here.

She stood quickly. Her mother stirred in her sleep, as if she sensed the intrusion, but she didn’t wake. Kariss fixed her blankets with trembling hands, then hurried to the door. She flung her cloak over her shoulders as she plunged out into the night.

The sky spread above, strewn in crystal clear diamonds. The salty tang of the ocean filled her nose. In days gone by the cold would have stung her cheeks. Now it only caressed them like the cool hands of a lover.

“Kariss.”

He was suddenly in front of her. His pale face gleamed in the moonlight and his angry eyes glittered with the light of a thousand stars. The same eyes she’d seen on that long ago night under the full moon.

Her breath caught and his name came to her lips like a worried sigh, “Kolli. You found me.”

“Of course I found you. I knew where you’d be.” He reached for her. At the last second the caress turned into a slap that made her ears ring. “What did Andrei tell you? It’s one of the rules, you can never go back! Someone might recognize you!”

She stumbled back, hand to her face. “Some rules are meant to be broken, Kolli.  She’s my mother, and she is dying all alone!”

“As did my mother, and my sisters and your brothers and countless others. We gave them up when we accepted his blood. That was the price we paid for this freedom.”

“What freedom?” she asked bitterly. “To wander the nights eternal while all we once knew withers? What freedom is that?”

“The freedom of life.” He caught her and pulled her to him. She resisted, her spine straight, but the familiar warmth of his arms softened her. “We are alive, Kariss. Alive and together.” He nuzzled her neck and his voice dropped to a whisper. “Unless you anger him. I’m – I’m sorry for being harsh, but what would I do if he punished you? What if he…” he choked off, but she knew the rest.

What if he took back the life he’d given?

She found no words, only stood wrapped in his arms and the cold wind.

He let her go and took her hand. His eyes searched the landscape around them and a faint smile played on his lips. “Do you remember when we were young?” He prodded the snow with his boot. “Do you remember how we used to wait for the first snowfall? And when it came, like a blanket to cover the world, how we used to run through it? Do you remember how we used to make angels? And then the spring would come and melt it all away.”

“Yes, I remember.”

He breathed deeply, as though inhaling the memory. “What will you do now? Will you share it with her?”

Both the question and answer made her stomach clench. “No. She’s too old and frail. Her mind is gone. I doubt even the blood would bring it back.”

“I am sorry.”

And she knew he was. If she closed her eyes and concentrated on the tiny pulse of him in her mind, she could feel his sorrow, like an aching tooth. He was sorry for her and for himself, and so was she.

He let go of her hand and stepped back. “Take tonight but no more. You’ve been here a week already and we can’t risk any more. Tomorrow when the sun sets we must leave. Andrei is waiting.”

“Did he send you after me?”

“He didn’t need to, but yes. Our blood debt is unpaid. Until it is, he owns us. You know that as well as I.”

He turned away and started up the hill. After a handful of steps he stopped and turned back. “Only tonight, Kariss. Tomorrow we have to go back.”

Though she nodded, it wasn’t in agreement.

The house should have seemed warm, but it didn’t. Andrei’s blood had taken that, too. She sat next to her mother’s bed and watched her sleep.

She remembered the rest of that long ago night. Intoxicated with his blood, she’d run back to the house. Her feet failed her and she dropped. Fire sliced through her. The pain would pass and she would run again, as if hell’s demons followed her.

And maybe they had.

She banged into the house. The door left open, moonlight spilled in behind her as she stumbled to her mother’s bed. Mother could make it all right. She could take away the burning pain, the terrors screaming in her brain. She could save her.

She fell on her knees next to the bed. Under her heavy gaze, her mother stirred in her sleep and muttered, “Vagn, tend the fire.”

Nonsense from her dreams.

Kolli’s footsteps were soft. He stopped behind Kariss and laid a hand on her shoulder. “Come. Pack your things so we can go. Andrei is impatient. Everything will be better now. You’ll see. We’ll be happy.”

Happy. Kolli had been wrong. It had been so long since she’d felt happy that she’d forgotten how.

She stared through the darkness and listened to the winter wind howl. It was a lullaby for the damned and she knew the words by heart. She knew the empty, aching darkness it screamed about.

Her mother coughed and she turned her eyes to her. She watched her chest rise and fall and listened to the heavy, labored breaths. How many more would there be? A hundred? Half a dozen?

The rasping breaths were torture. The sluggish heart beats were agony. It could go for days, for nights, for weeks. She could linger, slowly decaying, while Kariss sat at her side, forever young, forever whole, forever safe.

How much more could she stand?

She brushed her mother’s gray hair from her face and she woke. She fixed Kariss with a pair of watery blue eyes and asked weakly, “Who are you?”

No more.

A single tear slipped down her cheek. She met the blurry eyes and focused on them; focused on the feeble mind behind them. “Sleep. Sleep and dream of better days. Dream of your husband and your children when life was sunny.”

Her mother’s eyelids sagged, and then dropped. Kariss bit her lip until she tasted her own blood. This was not the mother of her memories. Gone was the stern face, the flashing eyes, the quick temper. This was a feeble woman waiting for the angel of death to take her away. If he refused, then so be it. She would play his role.

She leaned over the sleeping woman and breathed in her leathery, sick bed scent. Gently, she turned her mother’s head to one side, exposing her wrinkled neck. Her lips hovered over the pulsing vein.

“Goodnight, Mamma. Sleep and be free.”

She struck.

Her mother’s eyes went wide. Her whole body jerked, suddenly animated. Kariss pressed her down into the bed and drank. The hot blood filled her mouth. She swallowed it, mouthful after mouthful. Her mother’s feeble limbs waved once, twice, then fell still, too weak to fight, and still Kariss drank. She reached for her mother’s memories, buried under layers of too much hardship. She sorted through them, sifting, seeking. And there it was.

The sun shone. The snow sparkled. A bird called, loud and harsh. She stared through eyes that weren’t her own; her mother’s eyes. She looked at the assorted children that peppered the wintery landscape.  They ran and laughed. They fell and rolled and made angels in the snow. They were all good children, or as good as they could be. All too thin and too loud, as children were want to be. She didn’t have much in the world but she had them and Vagn and so she was happy.

Happy. That feeling Kariss had forgotten.

The scene faded. Kariss fought to hold it, but it ebbed away with her mother’s life. The old woman fell still on the bed and there was only blackness inside her head. Black and cold like the winter night.

Kariss pulled away and wiped tears and blood from her face. The old woman stared back at her with wide, glassy eyes. The wound on her neck bled and scarlet blossomed on the pillow.

She swept from the house and into the night. As if he’d known what she’d do, Kolli stood nearby, waiting. She stopped next to him and he took her hand. His eyes moved to the stars and he said softly, “Aren’t they beautiful? I remember when we used to lay in the grass and try to count them. It seems so long ago, yet nothing has changed.”

Her voice was wet with tears. “You’re wrong Kolli. Everything has changed.”

“No, Kariss. it’s only we who have changed.”

In that moment she understood the truth. You can never go back. It wasn’t a rule meant to protect yourself from discovery, but to protect your heart. You could travel to the places of your childhood and drink in the faces of those you’d once loved, but it could never be the same. It wasn’t that they had changed, but that you had changed. So long as you stayed away, you could tell yourself that you were the same, but when you stood face to face with the past, you’d find only the dark, ugly truth and all the illusions would melt away, like her forgotten happiness and the lost angels in the snow.

**********

* Note to Marvin – I was born in your eyes, live on your cheeks, and die on your lips. – this is my pick up line. The entire line is “I’m like your teardrop; I was born in your eyes, live on your cheeks, and die on your lips.”

Next up is Kateesha. I don’t know if it will be another origin story or if it will be the slaughter of the coven she got kicked out of the Guild for or something else.

Jesslynn – Blogophilia 42.4

It’s been awhile since I’ve gotten to do a blogophilia post, hopefully it won’t be so far in between them in the future! I’ve really missed everyone!! What is Blogophilia? It’s the fun blog group where Marvin gives participants prompts to use in their weekly posting. This week’s prompts are:

  • Blogophilia 42.4 Topic: “Third Time’s a Charm”
  • Bonus Points:
  • (Hard, 2pts): incorporate a quote from Emily, Charlotte or Anne Bronte
  • (Easy, 1pt): include a caution sign wording (like “Danger! Do Not Go Beyond This Point”)

I’m going to pick off vaguely where I left off, by posting short stories about characters from my Amaranthine series that, for one reason or another, never got to say much. As an especially snifty thing I am slowly revising them and publishing them on Smashwords as freebie reads. Eventually I’m planning to bundle them altogether into a single volume, but that’s something in the distant future, as there are several tales to tell!

Jesslynn

(You can find Jesslynn in Shades of Gray. Her story takes place on a plantation in Virginia in January, 1820)


Jesslynn peered through the window. Outside, the world was still and silent like an empty room. Snowflakes dropped from the sky and the dawn’s feeble beams tried to slice through the mantle of clouds.

By contrast, morning was well under way inside. Warm smells drifted from the kitchen where the slaves had already been at work for two hours. Breakfast would be ready soon and Jesslynn turned her thoughts to her family; or what was left of it.

A baby’s wail broke through the house, shrill and unhealthy. The sound tore at her heart and she closed her eyes against despair. She could hear Nan’s quick steps as she hurried to fetch the child and bring him down. Jesslynn straightened her spine and readied her face. The fruit of her womb might be weak, but she was strong.

A dark, wrinkled woman appeared with a squirming bundle in her arms. Without a word, Jesslynn took the baby and dismissed the slave. She turned dark eyes on her son and cooed to him softly.  His small face was screwed up in misery but instead of bright red, his skin was pale like linen. Her chest tightened. She had seen that color before. It was the color of death.

Her eyes stole to the window and the family cemetery beyond. There were eight markers. The newest belonged to her mother-in-law, dead six months and good riddance. Next to her was Oren’s father, Jesslynn’s father-in-law. He’d been dead before she ever married into the family.  It was the other stones that caused her heart to skip. They belonged her children. Though she’d born eight, only two survived infancy; Alexander, who would be five in June, and Tristan, the baby in her arms. At six months it was uncertain whether he would live to see his first birthday.

She looked from the stones to the naked vine that wound around the cemetery’s fence; roses that her husband and their neighbor, Jorick Smit, had planted. When she thought of Jorick, she shivered. They’d planted those flowers in the dark. At first she’d thought it some old world superstition, but then she’d taken stock of him and paid attention. Her conclusion was drawn quickly; he was touched by demons. Demons that kept him from aging, growing weak, getting sick.

She looked down at the child in her arms and made up her mind.

Her husband stood in the snow, bundled up against the January wind. Strands of tawny blonde hair escaped his ponytail to blow in his face. He stared at her. A mixture of horror and disbelief shown in his amber eyes.

“What you say is…” he broke off and shook his head.

“Is what? A sin? I am tired of righteousness if the bones of our children is all it rewards us with.”

“No. Impossible. I’ve told you before that it is your overwrought imagination. Jorick is not an agent of demons, nor a warlock, nor a wizard. He is as human as you or I.”

“Have you ever seen him in the sunlight?”

“Perhaps. I don’t remember.”

She narrowed her eyes shrewdly. “No, you haven’t, and neither have I. Neither have his slaves, or anyone else you care to name. I’ve asked them, Oren. You must go now, before the sun can set, and catch him up. Reveal the truth of his secret deeds, for honest people don’t hide their deeds, as he does. The mark of the devil is on him. I feel in my heart that he is not human. You see that he does not age nor grow weak, nor sicken? He remains unchanged – not his hair, not his face, though it has been six years since he took the plantation from his uncle – if uncle the man was to him!”

“There are others who don’t sicken. Perhaps Jorick is blessed with a strong constitution?”

“No! You know as well as I! You have remarked on it before. You try always to pass it off as some casual observation, made in jest, though we know that is a falsehood, for you can sense the truth of the matter. It’s in his eyes, in the way his skin seems to gleam, in the way he moves and the way he talks; how he never opens his mouth all the way, as if he is afraid some secret will leak out. Don’t deny these proofs, my husband! You know them to be true!”

Oren’s shoulders sagged. “Yes,” he said softly. “You are right. There has always been something about him. But to suggest that he has a pact with the devil?” Oren closed his eyes against the idea. “If you are right and I catch him in some secret rite, then what?”

“You must demand he share the secret!” She broke off from adding “before it’s too late”, though it was on her face.

“What if he refuses?”

She caught Oren’s hands and gazed hard into his eyes. “Then you must make him!”

“How?”

“Must I think of everything?” She threw his hands away and turned her back on him to stare at the small, snowy cemetery.  When she spoke again, her voice was calm, but not warm. “You owe this to your children and their future, Oren. You will find a way. You will make Jorick share this gift and you will bring it to us.”

“Yes, Jesslynn.”

Though his words were what she wanted to hear, his uncomfortable tone was not. “You’d better.” When he made no reply she turned back to him. After glancing both ways to be sure they were unobserved, she brushed a quick kiss across his cheek. “Go now. The overseer can handle the slaves. Safe journey, my husband.”

It was early afternoon when Oren left. By dinner he had not returned. Jesslynn hid her fears behind a mask of stern indifference, though she couldn’t feign an appetite. Oren’s sister Torina sat at the far end of the table. As she ate, she chattered about the plans for her new dress. When no one answered her, she eventually fell into a pouty silence.

Alexander finished his meal and folded his hands primly in his lap. “Mother, where has Father gone?”

She fought to keep the apprehension from her voice. “To call on Mr. Smit.”

Torina cooed delightedly. “Will Mr. Smit be joining us this evening?”

Jesslynn cringed inside. Torina was as vapid and useless as her mother had been. “I can’t say.”

“I do hope so!” Torina patted her hair and bent to examine her reflection in a silver server. “I’m quite taken with him.”

“I’m sure.” The words were out before Jesslynn could stop them, but they made little difference. Torina had been in and out of two engagements. Perhaps Jorick Smit would be next. If they were lucky, Torina would actually make it to the altar this time. The third time’s a charm.

Alexander looked at his empty plate. “May I be excused, Mother?”

“Yes. Go to your room and study your French lesson. You have yet to give me a sentence for the day.”

The small boy looked on the point of arguing, but wisely snapped his mouth shut. With an exaggerated sigh, he climbed off the chair and scampered out of the room.

Torina blotted her lips with a napkin and dropped it on the table. “You’re too strict with him sometimes, and others too lenient.” Her nose wrinkled. “Children are such a bothersome trial. I can not understand why you and my brother insist on having them, one after another.”

Jesslynn’s face went hard.  “I imagine you would feel that way as you have no prospects for a husband or a home of your own with which to birth a child in.”

Torina’s eyes flamed, but her voice was honey, “You have misheard, dear sister. The trouble is that the prospects are too numerous. But that is bound to happen to a woman who has been blessed with the beauty and temperament to attract men.” She looked suddenly sorrowful. “Oh! I must apologize. Of course you would know nothing about the trials and tribulations of beauty and warmth. I imagine that’s why you accepted the first hand that was offered to you.”

Jesslynn ground her teeth. “Better to take the first than to grow old a spinster.”

Torina batted her eyes. “Perhaps that was a concern for you. However, it’s something I doubt I need to fear.” She swept up from the table in a swish of long skirts. “When Oren returns, tell him I’d like to speak with him about some important matters.” Then she disappeared from the room.

Jesslynn glared after her. When Oren returned, Torina would be the last person he’d see!

Only he didn’t return. Not that night, or the next morning. The day dragged past, cold and grey, and still there was no sign of him. As the sun set, Jesslynn’s uneasiness turned to fear, and she sent a rider to fetch her brother.

She met him at the door. Fabian shook the snow from his boots and studied her. “What is so urgent that I must be called away from my dinner?”

“It’s Oren.” She laid a hand to his elbow and steered him towards the parlor. “Come, I’ll tell you everything.”

They stood in front of the fireplace and the story tumbled out in hushed tones. When it was over, Fabian sulked. “You believe that Jorick Smit is an agent of the devil, and yet you expect me to go to his house, alone, and seek out your husband? If he caught Jorick in some unholy ritual then no doubt he is dead.”

Dead.

The word was one she’d imagined before; heavy and dark it dropped like lead through her thoughts.  She tried to ignore it. “Do you expect me to go? A woman, traveling alone in the dark?”

“You could send a slave?”

“And have them learn the secret?” She grabbed his hands. “Do this for me, Fabian, and if he has been successful I will share with you! Think of it, to never grow sick or frail!”

Fabian whined, “What if Jorick has killed him? Would you lose a husband and a brother both?”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “Then be smarter than Oren. Be quicker and quieter! Go and look, only. If you do not see him, return to me and we will discover some plan together.”

Fabian argued for half an hour more, then gave in. Jesslynn watched him go, and paced the floor while he was gone. When he returned, she ran to the door, to find him alone.

“Well?”

Fabian pulled off his winter gear, scowling. “The slaves said that Oren and Mr. Smit left just after dark and have not yet returned. They say that your husband was alive and well when last they saw him, though Jorick was unusually grim and severe.”

Jesslynn clutched his arm. “Perhaps he has taken him to see the source of his secret?”

“Perhaps.” Fabian shook her off. “And now that I have run your errand I’m hungry. You took me from my meal, so I expect you to provide me with another one.”

“Yes, yes,” she gestured him towards the kitchen, her thoughts elsewhere.

Despite the word of the slaves, Oren did not return. Fabian ate and drank. At midnight he helped himself to the guest bedroom. It was three days later when he finally went home, and Oren was still missing. Jesslynn sent messengers with questions. The slaves said the same thing: Jorick and Oren had gone but not returned.

She feared the worst.

After one week she forced her brother to accompany her. After sunset, they ventured to the Smit plantation. The dark young woman who answered the door tried to keep them out. Jesslynn barged past her. With Fabian at her heels, she swept from room to room, but found only shadows. The beds were untouched, and the drawing room was cold.

The slave woman followed their inspection, wringing her hands and begging them to hurry and go. “If the master comes back he won’t be pleased!”

They were in the master bedroom when Jesslynn spun on her heel to face her, “When will he be back? Tonight?”

The fear in the young woman’s eyes doubled and she looked away. “I don’t rightly know, Ma’am. Maybe tonight, maybe a month. The Master is often away on errands.”

“What errands?”

The slave woman took a step back, her hands twisting in her apron. Different fears warred on her face, and her voice dropped low, “He ain’t right, Mistress. He ain’t… he ain’t right. You best to go ‘for he comes back. He has an awful mean temper. He don’t like no one to peer into his business, Ma’am.”

“I do not fear him.” She swept her eyes around the room; from the heavy wardrobe to the four poster bed hung in garish, red curtains. “What errands does he leave on?”

“I don’t know, Ma’am. He gets a letter, then most times he orders the horse to be made ready and he and the messenger go. No warnin’.”

“What do these letters say?”

The woman’s eyes got bigger. “I don’t rightly know, Ma’am. I can’t read, and even if I could he burns them.”

Jesslynn grunted in dissatisfaction. “And did he receive such a letter this time?”

“No, ma’am. Not this time. Like I told the Master there,” she nodded to Fabian. “Master Cotterill came and they spent the night locked away. The next night they left as soon as it was dark and they ain’t been back since.” Her voice turned pleading. “Please, Ma’am. Please go home quick. Go home and forget what I told you.”

“I told you,” Fabian said peevishly. “This was a wasted trip.”

Jesslynn stepped close to the slave, her eyes narrowed and her voice hard to cover her own fear. “The moment they return you are to send a messenger to me, do you understand? No matter the time of day or night. Otherwise, I will be forced to mention that you’ve gossiped about your master’s business behind his back. As he values his privacy, I’m sure he will be most grieved to hear of it!”

The woman squealed.  Jesslynn grabbed up her skirts and swirled from the room with the command, “Come, Fabian.”

Fabian helped her into the carriage and then climbed in next to her. At a word, the driver took up the reigns with a “Yawh.”

Fabian seemed amused. “Will you really betray her to Mr. Smit and his temper, I wonder?”

“Perhaps.” Jesslynn stared at nothing, her expression cold. I am strong. I am fierce. I am resolute. I am strong.

“Really? How unlike you. You’re too soft with your own and I can’t imagine you jeopardizing another’s.”

She dismissed his concern. “Mr. Smit is softer. A fearful slave would never have spoken to us unless spoken to, and certainly would not have betrayed such confidences.”

Fabian leaned back in the seat. “Or perhaps he’s crueler and she’s more afraid of him and what he might do if he knows you’ve been there. She may have told you so that you’d leave before he arrived and found you in his chambers.” A wry smile twisted his lips. “I can’t imagine that your husband would appreciate such a visit, either.”

“Then he should have come home!” The veneer slipped away and her terrors shown on her face. “What if he never returns? What will I do?”

Fabian shrugged. “Remarry. You’d be a wealthy widow. Mr. Smit is unwed-”

The slap was loud. Fabian put a hand to his stinging cheek and scowled.

“Don’t ever suggest such a filthy thing, again. If Oren is gone, it is his doing. I would no more marry the instrument of my husband’s destruction than I would throw my child to wolves! I am not Torina! I do not hand my affection to the highest bidder!”

Fabian smirked and relaxed back into the seat. “She only does so for a short while, usually an hour at a time.”

She should have slapped him again for his crude remark. Instead, she grunted her agreement.

“Is Father coming home?”

Jesslynn caught her breath and tucked the blanket under Alexander’s chin. “Of course. I told you, he and Mr. Smit have gone to Charleston on business. They’ll be home soon.” She pressed a kiss to her son’s cheek and inhaled his sweet, innocent scent. How much longer can I continue this charade?

She closed the door and found Torina in the hallway, frivolously dressed in her new skirt and matching shirt waist.  “You expect us to believe that story?”

“Yes.” Jesslynn answered coldly and made to move past her. Torina caught her arm and held her back.

“He always tells me when he’s going somewhere and asks if I want him to bring anything back. He wouldn’t go without speaking to me first and telling me goodbye. Why would this time be any different?”

Jesslynn jerked away and glared, her lip curled in fury. “How should I know! Perhaps because you’re his sister and not his wife! Now get out of my way!”

Shocked, Torina stepped back, and Jesslynn stormed by her, anger pulsing in her veins. She’d had enough of her, of Fabian, of all of them!

She changed into her night dress and shut herself in her room, Tristan in the bed next to her. She picked up her embroidery and worked without really seeing it. Inside, her mind clicked away, making plans. If Jorick returned without Oren she would confront him. She would take Fabian and five of the most able bodied field slaves. She’d demand answers, and she would get them!

Tristan cried; a soft, mewling whimper. She scooped him up and cradled him close to her. He was so pale and so weak. She tried to nurse him, but he refused to drink, only made those soft, sickening noises. She clutched him tightly. “Damn it! Where are you Oren? Why haven’t you come home? Why haven’t you brought the secret? Where are you?”

The dog barked. She stood and crossed to the window. Torina stood before the porch in the arms of a man. Jesslynn couldn’t see his face and she didn’t want to. She made a noise of disgust and moved back to the bed. We will never be free of the harlot!

She heard a raised voice; the man. She glanced towards the window, but from her vantage point she could only see darkness. It’s no matter. Let them fight.

And then Torina screamed.

Jesslynn laid Tristan aside and hurried back to the window. She drew aside the curtain to see Torina struggling with-

No.

She dropped the curtain and stepped back. She didn’t want to know who he was. Let him do as he pleased with her. It was something she gave away for free to other men. Let this man take his share, too. Let her scream. Let her lay in the cold, bruising grass and know misery for once in her selfish, pampered, spoiled life. Let her suffer.

Jesslynn climbed back into bed and pulled her baby to her. Torina screamed again and again and Jesslynn closed her eyes tightly against the sound. Tristan cried for her, though Jesslynn shooshed and soothed him.

A door banged. Feet ran across the floor. The house slaves were awake. She heard the front door open and she heard Nan cry, “Lordy! What have you done? What-” her words were choked off in a terrified cry.

Jesslynn squeezed her eyelids tighter. Where was Oren? He was the Master of the house! He should handle this! He should – but he was gone. Gone and useless! And what use was he when he was there? He was a body, at least. A body who could stand at the door with a rifle.  Now someone else must hold the rifle and she must stand behind them.

She tucked the blankets into a hurried nest, lest Tristan roll away, and dressed quickly.  There were more footsteps, scurrying, hurrying, running to the scene in the front of the house. She could see light flare; a torch. One of the slaves shouted, and then the gun went off.

Tristan wailed and Alexander was suddenly there, his eyes wide in his terrified face. “What is it?”

She pulled him into a hug and squeezed him tight. Her son. Her only son that would survive.  Reluctantly, she released him. “I don’t know yet. Stay here with your brother and stay quiet.”

He nodded, and she took a last look at them before she hurried out the door.

The house was dark, and she had no candle. She stubbed her toe on a heavy sideboard and banged her knee into a low stool. There was no time to stop. She could hear someone shouting outside. She could hear Torina screaming again.

Two of the kitchen girls stood on the porch in their nightdresses, their eyes wide and their terrified fingers pointing away into the shadows near the carriage house. One of them held a torch. The flickering flame threw harsh, stark shadows. Henry stood on the bottom step, the rifle to his shoulder. The barrel shook in time with his hands.  At his feet, red against the snow, was a splash of blood.  It trailed away into the darkness, mingled with drag marks, disappearing towards the carriage house.

Jesslynn made the sign of the cross. The devil had come for Torina at last. For one wild moment she thought again to leave her, but there had been Nan. The slave woman had been good to her and to her children. She didn’t deserve to suffer for Torina’s sins.

“What are you waiting for?” Jesslynn demanded. She grabbed the torch from the trembling slave and marched forward. The women wailed, and Henry hurried after her, the gun up.

The night was cold. The stars were tiny and brittle, like bits of broken glass.  The snow was frosted over and crunched under her feet. The heavy silence was broken by soft, guttural noises and something that sounded wet and sloppy. The doors of the carriage house were open and the closer Jesslynn drew, the louder it grew.

And then she saw it.

A man lay near the doors, his body broken and crumpled. It was Torina’s lover. Blood stained the snow around him. Just inside the carriage house crouched Torina. Her hair had fallen around her face like a shower of flames. Her dress was torn and bloody. A gaping wound on her neck bled freely. More horrifying, she held an unconscious Nan in her arms. Her mouth was fastened around the old woman’s neck. The torchlight shone in her green eyes and Jesslynn bit back a scream at what she saw there; lust, hunger and madness.

“Do not enter!”

It was Oren.

She pulled to a stop, the torch held high. Slowly, Oren stepped from inside the shadowy building. He was dressed as she’d last seen him, only without his coat or hat. His long blonde hair flapped free in the wind. Blood ran down his chin and stained his shirt and hands.

“God save us!” Jesslynn made the sign of the cross and moved back. Oren stared at her, the expression on his face a mixture of sorrow and fear.  He took a step towards her and she backed away.  The torch shook in her hands and slipped from her fingers. The flame burned for a minute, throwing long, black shadows, and then it sputtered and died.

She ran.

She heard the gun go off behind her, but she didn’t stop. The two girls were still on the porch. She’d nearly reached them when he called to her, “Jesslynn.”

The girl’s shocked expressions made her stop. She looked over her shoulder and then looked away quickly. His face was clean and his shirt was gone. He stood half naked in the snow, his tawny hair whipping around his face.

“Go inside,” she ordered the girls. “Alexander and Tristan are in the master bedroom. Go to them and stay until I come for you.”

They babbled incoherently and fled into the safety of the house. She could hear Oren’s footsteps crunching through the snow, moving towards her. She couldn’t bring herself to face him.

At last he stood behind her. She could feel him there, so close that his hot breath warmed the back of her neck. The proximity tightened her spine and her shoulders like a fist. She couldn’t move.

“Jesslynn.” Her name was more a breath than a word. Softly, he touched her cheek. His warm fingers trailed down her neck to her shoulder and she shivered. “You wanted the gift, Jesslynn, and I’ve brought it.” His voice turned brittle. “Look at me, wife.  This is what you wanted. Look at it.”

Almost against her will she turned and stared into his face. It was different. He was different. His golden eyes seemed to glitter with an intensity they’d never held before and when he opened his mouth she saw the fangs.

“God preserve us!” She fell back. “What have you done? What have you become? What have you done?”

He closed the gap between them and cradled her face in his hand, forcing her to look at him. “I did as you asked. You wanted his secret and here it is. Do you still want it?”

A twig snapped. She looked over his shoulder to see Torina hovering in the shadows. She wiped the blood from her face with a gory hand and swayed on her feet.  A maniacal smile spread over her face and long, shiny fangs glittered in her mouth.

Whether gift or curse, he had given it to his sister first.

In that moment she hated Torina more than she had ever hated anyone.

“You shared it with her?”

There was regret in his voice. “I had no choice. I – I couldn’t stop. The man – his blood. I hurried to come home to you. I did not drink first. She did not know me. She screamed. I – I did not mean to bite her. But then…  I couldn’t let her die. She is my sister. There was no choice.”

No choice. No choice but to save his sister. She buried her fears behind her fury. “Will it save our son?”

Oren hesitated. “Yes. But Jorick said we must not use it on the children, not until they’re grown. Once they drink they will never age, never grow.”

“Never die?”

He nodded uncertainly and she focused again on Torina. The redhead stumbled backwards and fell to the ground on her knees. Her eyes squeezed shut and she held herself as if trying to stop her insides from spilling out into the snow. A high, horrible sound issued from her lips.

“It is the change,” he said softly. “There is pain. It comes and goes, then disappears in a day.”

Torina threw her head back and howled. She fell onto her back and writhed, her arms around her mid section. Her bloody hands left red, wet spots on her new dress. Blood. Pain. The mark of the devil.

And then she pictured Tristan.

“Yes,” she whispered, her voice almost inaudible. “Yes. Give it to me.”

Oren crushed her to him. She could feel his heart pounding against her, the warmth of his hard body, the texture of his hands as he pulled her head to one side, exposing her throat.  He brought his lips to her neck. His breath was hot. He hovered, lips brushing her skin, and then, he bit.

Jesslynn held back a scream. She would not howl like Torina. She would not draw attention.

I am strong. I am fierce. I am resolute.

I will save my children.

Like me, they will be strong.

Forever.

**********

You can find Alexander and the whole Cotterill family in the free short story Alexander.

Vampire Morsels: Herrick

Everyone has probably read this on the Amaranthine Night blog, but just in case…

As I was organizing my notes for my last book I noticed that there were several characters in the Amaranthine universe who had not gotten any “me” time. As such, I am giving them short stories now, better known as…

Herrick

(You can’t really find Herrick anywhere. He existed as a character in an early draft of Legacy of Ghosts – originally he accompanied Kariss to Jorick’s house – but he got cut in a revision and is no more than a name inLegacy of Ghosts and Ties of Blood, which is a shame because he is an interesting guy. This story takes place during Shades of Gray. If you’ve read the book you may recognize the timing.)

Thunder rumbled in the distance. Herrick could smell the coming rain on the breeze, and so could Caroline. She held her hand out to check for stray drops before she pulled the door shut.  The dog strained at the leash, anxious for its nightly walk. It didn’t care if there was rain or not.

“Okay, okay.” She took a few steps and the dog leapt ahead, his tail wagging and his tongue lolling to one side with enthusiasm.

Herrick stepped back deeper into the shadows, not that she could see him with her mortal eyes. She stopped at the quiet street corner and looked both ways, a habit she’d held onto from childhood, then she plunged forward again. He waited until she was halfway down the street before he followed. He didn’t want to get too close.

Not yet.

He crept silently from shadow to shadow as she shuffled along at an uneven pace, her eyes on the dog in front of her. He wondered what she was thinking about. Her friends? Her family? Her ex-boyfriend? Was she happy? Sad? Worried? He wished he could crawl inside her head and make himself comfortable, if only for a few minutes. But vampirism hadn’t given him those gifts.

Vampire.

It was a too familiar word, but it still held old terrors, ingrained from his childhood. He could hear his grandmother muttering prayers against the demons. He could see her terrified eyes, the way she made the sign of the cross with her withered hands. It was well that she hadn’t lived to see her grandson join them, so long ago.

The clouds drifted over the moon and the world was suddenly shrouded in shadows. Herrick didn’t mind. Sometimes, he thought he could see better without the light. Caroline couldn’t. Her eyes darted around as if, in the dark, she was suddenly conscious of his presence. He wondered if she could really feel him watching. Waiting. Wanting.

“Come on, boy.” Her voice was too loud. The dog didn’t notice, and turned back for the house with the same enthusiasm he’d left with.  She picked up her pace, her shuffling, random steps suddenly a steady rhythm on the pavement as she hurried towards her perceived safety. The closer she got the faster she moved and for a moment she passed him, only a few feet away. It was a distance he could have closed without effort, but he didn’t.

Not yet.

A rain drop fell. And then another.  And another. It pit-patted on the last of the tree leaves and the bugs in the branches sang to the beat. Thunder rolled across the sky, like tympani drums. The symphony of the storm only hurried her steps and by the time she reached the house she was in a run.

She fumbled with the door, her eyes on everything but it. Finally, it opened and she shoved the dog inside and followed quickly. The door slammed and the lock clicked. Herrick could hear it; the faint metallic sound that meant she was safe – or thought she was safe.

The thunder sounded, an echo of the door that shut him out. He walked silently until he stood under the tree across from her house. He leaned on it and watched. Light flickered in the window; the television. He could see her silhouette as she dropped onto the couch and pulled a blanket over her.

“Back here again?”

Herrick turned towards the voice. At first there was only the glowing cherry of a cigarette, and then a bald vampire came into view.  He walked casually towards Herrick and stopped next to him. “You know it’s fucking raining out here, right?”

“As a matter of fact, Micah, I noticed.” Herrick turned back towards the house and fought the desire to sigh deeply.

Micah followed his gaze. “This is stupid. You drive forty-five minutes for this every night. Why don’t you just go knock on the door? What’s the worst that could happen? She probably remembers you.”

There was no mirth in Herrick’s laughter. “And how do I explain that I haven’t changed in the last twenty years? How do I explain my very presence here?”

Micah took a puff from his soggy cigarette, then dropped it to the ground and stomped it out. “You could just tell her the truth, man.”

“What? That I’m her great-great-great-what’s it and I’ve been keeping an eye on her all these years? That should go over well.”

“How many greats are there? You sure it’s distant enough for all this pining shit you do?”

Herrick ground his teeth together. “Yes. It’s distant enough. Don’t you have somewhere to be?”

“Yep. “ He clapped his hand on Herrick’s back. “I’m here, savin’ your ass from the miserable black hole you seem to wanna live in. Though, I guess I can kinda see it. You meddled when she was a kid, so it was like custom raising your future girlfriend. You shoulda got her some ‘vampires are your friends’ picture books or something. Woulda made things easier. ”

Herrick glared at him from under soggy blonde bangs. “You make it sound cheap, sick even.”

“Ah, I’m just kiddin’ ya. I don’t give a damn who ya wanna chase after. She’s got a nice ass.”

“Watch your mouth!”

“Sorry, man.” He held up an appeasing hand, then grinned. “She does, though.”

“Whether she does or not isn’t for you to notice.” Herrick gave the house a final look, then turned back to his friend. “Since you refuse to leave me in peace, might I suggest we go somewhere that’s a bit dryer?”

Micah’s grin grew. “Now you’re talkin’! I got some laundry to do, then what do you say we hit a bar or somethin’?”

Laundry. How lovely.

It was nearly nine P.M. when they walked into the all night Laundromat. Despite the time, a woman and three children sat in the far corner. She talked on her cellphone, and waved around her free hand to punctuate her words.

Herrick chose a plastic chair on the other side of the room and flipped absently through the stack of old magazines. Micah dumped his bundle of clothes into a nearby washer.

The washer started and he flopped into the chair next to Herrick, his eyes on the woman and her tiny denim shorts. “Take a look at that.”

“I see her,” Herrick answered stiffly.  “Perhaps if she had more clothing on.”

“More?” Micah chortled. “I think you mean less.” He gave his friend a once over. “Never mind. I’m talking to a guy in a cape.”

“It isn’t a cape. It’s a cloak. And it’s comfortable. You should try one.”

“No thanks. Not really into the whole medieval look.” Micah snickered and then turned serious for a moment.  “So you’re really gonna go join what’s his name’s war?”

“Oren? Perhaps.” Herrick stared into space and stroked his blonde beard thoughtfully. “Benjamin and Des are already helping them.”

Micah crossed his arms over his chest and slouched down in his seat, his legs kicked out in front of him. “You gotta ask yourself, is this really our problem? I mean, fuck, I don’t even know who the guy is they’re fuckin’ fighting.”

“His name is Claudius. I don’t know if you’ve met him. He looks all of sixteen with a chip on his shoulder and a ruffled shirt.”

“Not ringing a bell.”

Herrick waved it away as unimportant and they fell into silence. Micah’s attention stayed on the woman in the too-short shorts. Eventually, she looked up and caught his eyes. An unspoken communication seemed to pass between them, and she stood and stretched languidly. “Stay out of trouble. Mommy’s gonna go have a cigarette around back.” With one more meaningful glance at Micah, she strolled out the door, her hips swaying.

Micah was on his feet. He dumped a handful of quarters on the nearest table. “Toss ‘em in the dryer when they’re done.” Then he, too, disappeared.

“Of course, I don’t mind.”

No one was close enough to hear the comment, and no one cared, anyway. Herrick sighed and his thoughts turned to Caroline. She was probably still watching TV. It would be another hour before she crawled into bed, alone. Perhaps Micah was right. Perhaps he should knock on her door and confront her with the truth.

Then she can scream and reject me outright.

 So much better.

He wasn’t sure when it had happened. One day she was a little girl and he was her neighbor. He’d never thought anything impure, or even romantic about her. She was just another in the long line of descendants that he kept an eye on. Sentimentality held over from his mortal days, perhaps. Or guilt. He hadn’t shared the gift of the vampire with his brother. Too late did he regret it, so now it was his duty to see that his line didn’t end. The closest he could give him to immortality.

Caroline left for college; a flush faced child with blonde curls. He couldn’t remain the unchanging neighbor forever, and so he’d disappeared, too, though returned now and again to make sure they were all right. It was four years before he saw Caroline again. Instead of a shy child she was a woman with stormy eyes and a temperament to match.  He hadn’t even realized it was her at first, and by the time he did it was too late. Though she didn’t know it, she owned him.

The washer stopped. He jerked from his thoughts, gathered Micah’s wet clothes and stuffed them into the nearest dryer. The quarters clinked noisily, their echo giving more import to their existence than usual. Like the echo of the door.

“Are you a Jedi?”

Herrick looked down and found one of the children staring up at him. The boy’s eyes were large and his hair was thick and curly. In another life he’d have been painted as a cherub. “What?”

“Are you a Jedi?” the child repeated. “You look like one.”

Out of touch, Herrick had no idea what a Jedi was, or if he resembled one. The reverence in the child’s eyes made it clear it was something splendid so he went along. “Yes. Well spotted.”

“I knew it!” The child was suddenly animated. “Where’s your light saber? Can I see it?”

Herrick was spared having to answer when a dark skinned vampire with short cropped hair skidded through the doorway. He lifted his sunglasses and his eyes snapped to Herrick. “We got trouble at Benjamin’s!” Then he turned and ran out the door again.

The boy’s excitement seemed to grow. “Is he a Jedi, too?”

“Yeah, sure.” Herrick dumped the extra quarters in the child’s surprised hands. “When your mother returns, tell her crude, tattooed friend that I’ve gone to Benjamin’s.” He stopped himself from adding “if”. Micah wasn’t callous enough to drain the woman’s life when she had children so close by.

Benjamin’s motel was at the far end of town, not that it was much of a town. Herrick had come there following Caroline’s family; she was barely a baby then. He’d been more than a little surprised to find a local concentration of his own kind. Perhaps they unconsciously drew together, even while their conscious mind cried for solitude.

The shabby little town was perfect for vampires, though. The main attraction was Benjamin’s vampire friendly motel, with its bank of windowless rooms in the back and Benjamin himself. Herrick didn’t know how many vampires he’d helped over the years, many of them fledglings whose masters had left them to stand on their own. That and the food was easy. The town was small enough that wildlife was available on the fringes, while the highway brought in just enough visitors to keep the locals safe from those who preferred more human food and, should something go amiss, the cops were slow.

Or they were normally.

All three cars were already parked at the Rookway Inn, lights flashing red and blue against the night sky. Herrick found Des standing a block down under a dark tree. “What’s going on?”

Des’s face was hard and furious. “They killed Benjamin.”

Herrick choked on his response. Who? Why? How?

Though the questions remained unasked, Des answered anyway. “It was that fucker Claudius’ goons. It had to be! Jorick found Benjamin in the office mangled and drained. He barely got the body out of the way before the fucking cops showed up.”

Herrick put a hand to his head. “Who called them?”

“Someone else in the motel? I don’t know! Fuck!”

Herrick’s eyes turned to the motel and then back to his friend. He tried to think rationally. “Why would it be Claudius?”

“Because Arowenia and Jorick’s human are both missing. Who else would take them?”

“Jorick has a human?” That was almost as shocking as the other news.

“Apparently. I don’t know! Ask Oren about it! They’re trying and get ahold of Elsa and see if she knows where they’ve been taken.”

It was too much information, too fast. “I thought Elsa refused to help them anymore?”

“I don’t know!” Des shouted. “Fuck!”

Micah was suddenly there. He skidded to a stop, a cigarette in his hand. “What in the hell is going on?”

Herrick took the helm. “Benjamin’s been killed. Arowenia and Jorick’s human are missing.”

Micah’s eyes bulged. “What the fuck? Benjamin? No, not- but- “ He took a  step backwards.  “Who killed him? Was it that bastard Jorick? I know who he is, he’s that Executioner-”

“Was,” Herrick interrupted. “Long before you were born. And no, they think it was Claudius’ underlings.”

“Claudius. The dude with the chip and the ruffles?”

Des’s hands compressed to tight fists. “That’s him.”

“Then we fuckin’ kill Claudius!” Micah grabbed Herrick’s arm and started to pull him away. He stopped when the other vampire resisted. “What the fuck are you waiting for?”

Herrick cleared his throat loudly. “Claudius is much older than you and there are things to do here.”

“Like what?”

Herrick turned to Des. “Where is the body?”

“My house. I didn’t know what else to do with it.”

Herrick gave a satisfied nod. “Good. Come, then. We’ll see to this first, then we can worry about what steps to take.”

Micah’s eyes bulged. “Are you serious? They just fucking killed Benjamin and you’re worried about – what? burying him? That can wait until tomorrow! Tonight we get blood!”

“Claudius’ blood will keep until tomorrow. Besides, no one knows where he is. He has several dens. Do you plan to visit them all? That would take days at best. If they’ve taken Jorick’s human, then Jorick will no doubt be on the hunt already. Let him do the legwork.”

Des nodded. “Yeah, though he’s wasting his time. His human is dead. The whole place reeks of blood, but there isn’t any to be seen. Obviously they drained her and took the body as a trophy for Claudius.”

Herrick turned suddenly thoughtful. “Jorick and Claudius would be an interesting match. They’re very close in age. I can only imagine Jorick’s fury if he cares at all for the human.”

Micah exploded, “I can’t believe we’re having this fucking conversation! Who gives a shit about the human? They killed Benjamin!”

“Yes, Micah, we know.” Herrick glanced towards the police cars. “I suggest we go before they notice us loitering. I don’t really want to be questioned.”

Herrick washed his hands. The water was red. It swirled around the sink and down the drain. He finished and stared in the mirror. His face looked young, frozen forever in his early twenties, but his eyes were old. Too old.

Des and Micah waited in the backyard, their hands in their pockets and their eyes on the frosty ground. It hadn’t rained here and the autumn leaves had been raked in crisp piles to create a bare patch of grass.  They’d dig a trench, like a miniature moat. It was only a few inches deep but nearly eight inches wide. Instead of a castle, the miniature trench surrounded Benjamin, who looked as presentable as Herrick could manage.  His face was torn and the side of his neck was ripped out, but the clotted gore had been neatly cleaned away and a scarf had gone a long way towards hiding his hurts.

“He looks…. Nice.” Des suggested without really looking.

“Yeah, whatever.” Micah scuffed his feet in the leaves. “So now what?”

“Now would be a good time to remember him.” Herrick looked to the east. The sun will rise soon. “Who would like to start?”

“I will.” Micah took a step forward. “Benjamin was an okay guy, though he was kinda gross with his whisky and shit, and those sons of bitches who killed him are gonna fucking pay.”

Herrick rolled his eyes impatiently. “That isn’t exactly what I had in mind. Des, do you have something more appropriate?”

“Um, yeah. Benjamin was a good guy. Been awhile since we had one of the old poker nights. I’ve been thinking we needed to do it again soon, but I guess we won’t get to now. I’ve been too busy with all this shit with Oren. I thought we had forever, you know?”

Before he could continue his cellphone rang; the dance rhythm seemed out of place with the solemn occasion. Des answered it quickly, nodded and then hung up. “That was Oren. Elsa won’t help them, so we’re trying alternate routes for information. I need to run if I’m going to meet up with them before sunrise. You guys can sleep here if you want after… you know.” He motioned to Benjamin’s prone form.

Micah looked suddenly hopeful. “You going to kill that bastard Claudius?”

“Not tonight, it’s just a meeting. Oren loves that crap.” Des checked his watch. “I have to go. Sorry.”

Herrick threw his hands up. “Of course, go. Micah and I will finish this.”

“Sorry,” Des repeated and then hurried towards the street and his car.

Herrick took a deep calming breath and looked towards the horizon again. Des was right, they had very little time. The sun would rise soon and cleanse the world.

“You gonna say something?”

Herrick looked at Micah in surprise.  “Yes, I suppose I should.” He let his eyes settle on the dead body and tried to remember the old funeral rites, but they were lost to time. He barely remembered his birth language anymore.

He cleared his throat, as though it would make a speech easier. “Benjamin was an interesting man, to say the least. And though I didn’t expect to be here, I would not say it was because he lacked bravery. He was brave, but he was the kind of brave that stays behind and tends the house while the warriors go to battle.  He was dependable and reliable and though his words were gruff, I believe his heart was soft. He will be greatly missed, not only for the help he has provided to many over the last twenty or thirty years, offering them shelter, help and acceptance, but also as a recognizable figure around town.” A strange smile made Herrick’s eyes crinkle. “Even the mortals were beginning to notice he hadn’t changed.  He had become a fixture, and there will be a Benjamin shaped hole in the world now that he is gone.”

Micah lit a cigarette and puffed on it. It was several minutes before he spoke, and when he did, his voice was thick, “That was beautiful, man.”

“Thank you.” Herrick’s eyes skipped to the horizon again. A gold line appeared, like a crack between heaven and earth opening to take Benjamin home, “We had best go indoors, now.”

Micah nodded and grabbed the nearby shovel. He held it up, then dropped it again. “Fuck it, Des can get it.”

They watched through the window of the back bedroom as the sun crested the hill and the first rays spread across the cold grass. They backed away quickly, but not before Herrick saw the smallest of flames licking at Benjamin’s ugly Hawaiian shirt. He said a quick prayer, though he wasn’t sure to who, and asked that someone, somewhere take Benjamin into their everlasting care. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, reclaimed by the sun they had long ago abandoned.

They hurried through house and clunked down the stairs to the finished basement and Des’s bedroom.  Without feeling, Herrick pointed to the bed. “You can have it. The floor is fine for me.”

“I’m not gonna argue.” Micah flashed him a fanged grin and peeled off his motorcycle boots.

Herrick found some extra pillows and made himself comfortable. When he closed his eyes he saw Benjamin’s lifeless body, the first rays of the sun gleaming golden on his pale skin. The image disappeared and suddenly he saw Caroline again.  Tonight showed how fragile life was – even immortal life. He thought of Micah’s advice, “Why don’t you just go knock on the door? What’s the worst that could happen?”

Maybe he should. What was the worst that could happen?

In his mind he suddenly heard Des, his voice offhanded and matter of fact, “His human is dead.”

“What’s the worst that could happen?”

 “His Human is dead.”

No, now was not the time to talk to Caroline. Maybe when the fight was behind him, but not now.

Not yet.

***********

Jesslynn is next, and i have actually started it.  Right now she, Torina and Alexander are sitting at the breakfast table and Oren has gone to look for Jorick. Should be interesting!

The Leaf

(originally from November 2007)

 

The Leaf

Cotton candy clouds floated above the landscape, thick and colored gray like something dead. Beneath them trees clawed the sky; naked branches were bony fingers stripped of flesh. A cold wind shook loose the last of the autumn leaves and sent them to mingle with the driving rain.

She stared through the window and watched the heavy drops drip down the glass; each one a tear she couldn’t shed.  Thunder pounded relentlessly and lightning cut through the haze in streaks that left a brilliant gash in her vision like a scar; only it faded much faster.

She lifted a hand to touch the window, but stopped just before her palm made contact. The rain was outside and she was in. Its closeness was only an illusion, like so many others. So many people she thought she was close to but, when she needed them, she discovered that chasms separated them and that she was alone.

Her throat felt thick and she dropped her hand uselessly to her lap. Her eyes followed, but stopped at the empty wine goblet on the sill. The faintest trace of burgundy liquid remained in the bottom in a tiny, sticky pool. It reminded her at once of blood, red and congealing, like the blood slowly running down her arms.

Her eyes flicked once more to the window. Outside darkness gathered, and she wondered one more time where he was. Was he in the arms of another? Was he alive? Dead? Was he happy? God, how she hoped he was happy. She hoped her pain had bought something for someone; that her destruction had been for something.

The glass rattled in the frame and a cold wet leaf slapped against it; plastered flat with its edges fluttering. She traced the intricate lines of the leaf’s underside with her eyes. Each miniscule vein that had once given it life was now empty of chlorophyll, brown, withered and useless.

But even dead the leaf was beautiful: a rich orange with a patina of golden brown. It hung, seemingly suspended in air, dead and yet miraculous. How many times in her life had the sight of dead leaves blowing cheered her? The drifts of bright colors signaled the end of heat and the beginning of the frozen winter when white snow would fall to blanket the world in its cleansing purity.

She lifted her tingling arm and looked at the bleeding gash. She was like this leaf, though she still clung to the tree of life by a sender stem, waiting only for the final wind to shake her loose. When it did she would drift away and leave behind a corpse, paving the way for the next step when she’d go to the great beyond. There her soul would be bathed clean of everything and reborn; whole, pure and cleansed, like the untouched snow.

A soft smile flitted across her lips and she pressed her hand against the window, numb fingers splayed to match the leaf’s shape. She let her last tear fall, and then closed her eyes, at peace with her chosen fate. Yes, she would die and she would be reborn, and the pure white snow on her soul would once again be tainted by the touch of man, trampled by children’s thoughtlessness, the peace and tranquility ruined by the noise of the rabble, but it didn’t matter. Everything had its season and its place and right now she was ready to start the next one – right now she was the leaf.

photo by Sassy Sue – used with permission – All Rights reserved

**********

Fav Song of the Moment – All the same – Sick Puppies

(check out Sue’s blog – http://sassyspeaks.wordpress.com/)

My Best Friend – Flash Fiction

(originally from June 2008)

This was written for a Barb’s Challenge. The topics were “best Friend” and “Childhood” so I combined them.

My Best Friend

School is out and the world is free. The garden gate swings shut and laughter dances on a warm summer breeze. The sun is shining and the flowers are nodding off to sweet scented dreams. The green trees are swaying and in their branches the birds sing a private song just for you and me.

I stop my hurried amble to scratch at a mosquito bite and then start again. I run now through grass, deep with the smell of life, and I head to the secret clubhouse. It’s really just some old milk crates, but when I look at it I see something infinitely more impressive. It can be a pirate’s den or a cottage or even a school building. As long as we’re together it can be anything. Today, however, it is a princess’ castle.

The birds in the trees, robins and wrens, turn into golden swans whose voices are like silver trumpets. The broken coffee cup is fine china and I sit upon a chair made of gold and sip spiced tea from it. My dirty play clothes turn into a shimmering gown of rainbow colors; the kind of dress that a handsome prince would find his eyes drawn to. A servant sits in the corner of the room and plays music on an enchanted harp. It will play  any kind of music that you like, even if you don’t know all the words.

An innocent toad hops by, but you tell me that he isn’t so innocent, he’s really henchman of the Evil King who has come to kidnap me and take me to the neighboring country of Abbradabra, our bitter enemies. I leap from my golden chair and shriek, and the toad hops away as fast as he can. A battalion of royal guards chase after him.

Now I am curious,  so I follow him through the grass. As I go, the resplendent gown turns into a long black dress and my crown becomes a pointed hat. I’m a witch out chasing down a toad for my latest potion. All I need to do is catch him and dip him the green brew and at last the curse will be complete. That will teach those dwarves to steal my magic apples!

But the toad is fast. He hops and jumps and, even though I try to tackle him, he gets away, but it’s okay. As long as I have you here I can be something else because you’re my best friend, the only one I really need.

You’re my imagination.

**********

Fav Song of the Moment –“New Drug” – Thousand Foot Krutch

Flash Fiction: Sheep & Wolves

(originally from May 2008)

 

Her is another short story written to songs, this one is to Linkin Park’s  album Minutes to Midnight. If you know it you’ll notice a phrase here or there that should be familiar. My last one of these was to Don McLean and funnily enough it had the same damn subject matter.  Go figure!

*************************************************

 

A black wind sweeps through, looking dissatisfied at its destruction. Cold and alone the world trembles in its grip, and the sightless stare through the dim purple haze that rules the days. Heartless, the weeks creep past in silent disarray, leaving nothing behind but aching memories and bitter tears that fall uncounted to the dust beneath the blackened feet and twisted limbs. This is the new world order, this is the future, this is the apocalypse.

And how they rushed to meet it. How they hurried forth with smiling eyes and shining faces, arms open to greet the technological wonders that flowed from a seemingly endless fountain of prosperity. Then, the prosperity ended and still they craved more, pressing and demanding, pushing and meddling, and to what did it lead? Now, on the brink of the world the few stand, praying for death and crawling through the dead.

Truth hangs in the spoken lies and mumbled words; doubt disguised as faith and despair as hope. Voices lift against the howl of the wind and make promises that they can never keep; their words banish regrets and promise the stars to those who will  listen. And, like sheep, they listen Their ears so dull with the pain of the former silence, so in need of some escape that they fall into the dark traps laid by the new wolves.

And the wolves smile as they gather the remnants together and work to rebuild their former kingdoms. Their false smiles and empty words bring them all crawling from the darkest corners, leading them forward and into their brighter future. Their lips utter false love, while their hands stay in their pockets, afraid to touch the unwashed masses. Afraid of being infected and soiled with their weak decay.

And the sheep bleat and bow. They follow blindly and they do as they are told and generations slip away. The sky slowly heals  its wounds, the ice recedes and the ash blows away in the merciless wind until life returns and history has passed away into legend, a macabre old religion to be debated by the enlightened, stories to mock, not heed nor listen to, lessons fallen through the cracks of science and left to wither beneath the floor, forgotten.

The world marches forward bravely and wolves watch from their hills, smiles on their faces, herding the sheep into the snares of their own making. And while the sheep are sacrificed, still the wolves survive, bathing in the blood of those who are beneath them, bloated with their greed and hunger for power, always marching forward, always pushing them into the brighter tomorrow, never changing, for where there are sheep there will always be wolves.

And so they rush forward, following their false profits and greeting the future with open arms, their eyes smiling and their faces shining as they embrace what should be theirs…

And so it goes again.

A black wind sweeps through, looking dissatisfied at is destruction….

 

*************************

And now that I have brought a ray of sunshine I am off!

Song playing at the moment – “Gone Away”- Safetysuit

Flash Fiction: Car of Dreams

(originally from April 2008)

 

Written for the BWBR Challenge. Look at it as an ode to my Dad’s old Nova 😉

CAR of DREAMS

The sun sets on the old car in the backyard, bathing the rusting body in glowing colors.  Nature fights to slowly claim it, turning it into a home for her creatures, so that the animals look at it and see a place of safety, someone to shelter from the storm and night, a secret place to dream in safety.  Green weeds grow around flat tires and purple flowers peep through the cracked floorboards.  Lazy bees drone around the peeling steering wheel, and wasps live under the hood in droning nests while rabbits hide beneath it, their wiggly noses peeping out to peer at the quiet trees.

But the heavy summer silence is broken by the children. They run and laugh, they crunch the grass as they race each other to the old car, hurrying towards their rusty oasis, their favorite forbidden toy.

They arrive in a heap and climb up the trunk, but the frame doesn’t bow under their weight. The old car is no longer a vehicle rusting in the grass but now it is a boat floating on the ocean tides, taking them to far away lands.  Soon the ship becomes a race car and they bounce on dirty seats, ignorant of the dust the rotten foam expels. And then the car becomes an island, and they are pirates trying to bury their treasure, their happy voices filling the twilight hours as they act out their dreams.

But another voice interrupts, one that barks “Kids! Get off that car! It isn’t a toy!”

And regretfully they do as they’re told, casting back looks towards the rusting metal structure as they walk towards the house and their expectant father.

“You kids know better,” he says firmly as they reach him. “That’s the first car your mother and I ever owned, and one of these days I’m going to fix it up.”

“Yeah, yeah,” they mutter, they’ve heard it a thousand times before.  He has so many plans though it is just a playground to them.

But their father’s eyes see something very different then either the children or the wildlife, because he looks through the veil of love, and to him the old rusty monster is still shining brightly with gleaming chrome and fresh paint, a sleeping princess waiting for a kiss from her prince. And no mater how many years pass, even when the bumper drops off and disappears, still the car will always be his first, his favorite, the one he can never let go; his car of memories and dreams.

——————————-

Song playing at the moment – “Long Night Dreaming”- Crash Parallel

Vampire Morsels: Elsa

This was supposed to be for Blogophilia (there are prompts from two different weeks sprinkled in here!) but I’m too late, again, so it’s just getting posted as is. No points for tardy Jo 😦

 

Elsa

 (You can find Elsa in Shades of Gray. She is the one who turned Michael. This story takes place in the early 1980’s.)

Elsa stared at him and he stared back. A long moment dragged past and then he gave what amounted to an apologetic shrug and strode away in the rain. She watched him go; watched him climb into his black car and disappear into the night, and then she went inside and cried.

She hated him, but she hated herself even more.

When the tears stopped coming she wiped her face and went to the kitchen. In movies people always splashed water on their face, but what was the point? It was damp enough. Though, that would be a good excuse if her parents saw her.

“Why is your face wet?”

“Because I just washed it.”

Yeah, right.

She opened the refrigerator and stared inside. Her eyes skipped from item to item again and again, as if they might conjure something new and infinitely delicious, but they didn’t.  There were vegetables and fruit and cold iced tea. None of it would help settle a broken heart.

But what would?

She closed the door and dropped into a kitchen chair. The coffee pot light blinked in the darkness and the rain splattered noisily on the window. It was just the kind of night to be miserable, wasn’t it? The kind of night that practically screamed for the company of the depressed and lonely. Even if it was their own fault. Which it was.

She knew he didn’t want anything serious. She knew he had a life that was as different from hers as night was from day, not to mention a girlfriend he’d never leave. Still, she’d hoped anyway, hadn’t she? Deep down she’d believed that he’d stay. That was why she was so shocked when he said goodbye.

“Bye, babes. It’s been fun.”

What fantastic parting words. Those were the kind of words you could frame and hang on a wall. As if. Couldn’t he come up with something better? He had enough practice that he should have a little speech memorized just for the occasion. Did he say that to all the girls, or was she just the one lucky enough for such a poetic verse. Didn’t immortality require something better from him?

Damn him.

She ran her fingers through her brown hair and took a deep, cleansing breath. She wished she could wash him away, the way she’d washed the blood from her skin after their first night. He’d shown her what he was and she’d accepted it; welcomed it. He was beautiful and charismatic, and when she looked in his eyes the world jumped.

And now he was gone.

She abandoned the kitchen and her silent coffee pot companion. The front room was awash in whispery shadows. She stopped by the tv and turned it on, but there was only static. It was too late for programming. It was as if the station managers were all saying in unison “Go to bed!”

She threw herself on the couch and absently picked up the phone from the stand. She stared at it. Nothing happened. With a sigh she snatched up the receiver and tapped in Jennifer’s number.  She was her best friend and this was the kind of situation best friends were supposed to be for.

Elsa counted off the rings. One. Two. Three. Four. They rang on and on, until she ticked off number eighteen.  That was when the line clicked and a sleepy voice muttered, “Hello?”

Elsa gripped the phone in a strangulation hold and tried to find words. “Jen-“ A thick sob cut her off and she broke down. “Tristan. He- he’s gone!” she wailed.

“What? Who’s gone?” Jen yawned and slowly came to terms with the conversation. “Elsa, is that you?”

“He’s gone!” she sobbed again. “He just left! God dammit, he just left!”

“Oh, that dude who thought he was a vampire?” Jen was suddenly awake and her voice dripped sarcasm instead of sympathy. “Look, he was hot – maybe not bringing back sexy hot, but still hot, I admit that. But, Elsa, he thought he was a vampire.”

“He was!” she cried. “Goddamit! He was! And he left!”

“Yeah, I get that he left. But you’re better off without the psycho. What would your parents say?”

Elsa watched the streaky shadows the rain threw across the carpet. This was all wrong. Jennifer was supposed to tell her it was all right. She was supposed to understand . She wasn’t supposed to lecture her. “I’m twenty. I can do what I want.”

Jen imitated her father, “Not while you’re under my roof.” When Elsa didn’t so much as giggle she sighed. “Okay, look. I’m sorry, all right? But there’s plenty of other fish in the sea.”

Elsa caught her breath and held it. Plenty of other fish. That was a line straight from the annals of cliché comfort, and so she quit listening, though Jennifer kept talking. And talking.

Elsa cleared her throat loudly, and cut into the rambling spiel.  “Yeah, you’re right. Thanks. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Elsa, wait-“

She didn’t. She hung up the phone and then, for good measure, she unplugged it.  Tears dripped down her cheeks like the rain on the window. She wished she’d done something besides stare at him. She wished she’d thrown herself at his feet – her pride be damned! Never, never give in. Never, never let something so important slip away.  Don’t just sit there and cry about your lost paradise. Get up and do something about it.

That was what she needed to do.

Elsa stopped in the bathroom and splashed water on her face. As she thought, it did nothing to help, and soaked her shirt. She changed, threw on her raincoat and, without leaving so much as a note, she slipped out the door and into the storming night.

She slid into her car and started it. The heavy engine roared to life and she wished for the millionth time that she could afford one of the cute cars. The radio crackled and Madonna bled through the static. Her tiny, high pitched voice was no comfort, so Elsa turned the radio off.

She turned on the lights and the wipers, put the beast into gear and backed out carefully. Under the streetlights the road was a glare of slick reflections that made it hard to see.  She navigated slowly, though she was only half focused on the task.  Most of her attention was turned on where to go.

Twenty minutes later she parked outside of the Roockwood Inn where Tristan had been staying. The vacancy light flickered eerily, and the raindrops echoed off the car; ping, ping, ping.  The darkness seemed to watch her like a tangible, malevolent creature. She shivered at the thought and climbed out of the car.

Room 622, around the back. That was where he’d been, but no one answered her knock. She pounded again and again, until someone in room 623 shouted at her to be quiet. She couldn’t give up, so she hurried through the rain and into the shabby motel office. The walls were stained with tobacco and smoke hung thick in the air. The bell was broken, so she banged on the counter impatiently.

A voice came from behind the nicotine tatty blanket that served as a makeshift door between the office and the back rooms. “Yeah, yeah, hang on.”

She didn’t have time. Each second might be taking him farther away from her.

The blanket was thrown aside and a short fat man dressed in a horrible Hawaiian short waddled out. He took a puff from his cigar and eyed her critically. “Yeah, what can I help you with?”

“I’m looking for someone. Tristan Shelby. He was in room 622.”

The attendant shrugged. “Room 622 checked out earlier. Sorry, sister.” He looked her up and down again. “Just as well. I’d let that one go, if I was you.”

“I can’t!” she cried passionately. “Do you know where he went?” Tears trembled at the edges of her eyes, ready to drop.

The attendant scratched his stomach thoughtfully. Indecision flickered over his face, but finally her tears swayed him. “I don’t know where he went for sure, but he was runnin’ with a local crowd. They hang out at the old fair grounds most nights, so he might be down there. But-“ he lowered his cigar and met her eyes. “I wouldn’t go lookin’ for any of them, if I was you. They’re not what you think they are.”

Hope blossomed inside her. The old fairgrounds were a popular hangout for teenagers and, having grown up there, she knew them well. “Thank you! Thank you so much!”

“Remember I warned you!”

His words were lost as she dashed out the door into the rain. If she could only catch Tristan and say all those things she should have said earlier, then maybe she could stop this.

The drive was short. The fairgrounds were on the edge of town, and had been abandoned since the late 70’s.  She parked in the overgrown lot and got out. The tall, wet grass wrapped around her legs like grasping hands. She shook it off and forced her way through it towards the peeling gates. A wooden sunshine cut out still hung above them. Its toothy grin was faded and chipped, and the colors were bleached almost gray. “Have a Happy Day” was just visible on the reverse side in faded rainbow letters.

The ticket booth was dark and silent. The windows were a spider web of cracks that told stories of bb guns and rocks. Scattered beer bottles glittered in the flashing lightning and weeds grew through the cracked pavement. The rusted Ferris wheel hulked to her left. Vines covered it and hung down in long, thick tendrils like something from a nightmare scape.

She could feel eyes in the darkness again; feel the night watching her. She forced the silly superstition away and told herself to grow up. There was nothing to be afraid of. She’d been there before.

But never alone.

Am I alone now?

“Hello?”

No one answered her except the rain. She pulled up her courage and walked deeper into the fairgrounds.  The carousel loomed ahead of her. The dirty mirrors still tried to glitter on the canopy, and the silent horses stood in a frozen circle, waiting for riders that would never return.

She stopped next to it and waited as a bolt of lightning sliced through the sky. In the instant of light, she looked around madly, but didn’t see anyone. Her heart sank as she realized that she’d missed him. It was too late. Tristan was gone.

Her body sagged and she used the nearest carousel horse to hoist herself onto the large, disc-like base. She felt too morose to do more than sit on the edge and stare at her dangling feet. What was the point? Maybe she’d get lucky and the carousel would get struck by lightning.

She glanced up to her silent, painted companion. Dark streaks ran down the horse’s face, like old tears.  Oddly, that made her smile. “You know what it’s like, don’t you? With no reason to go on anymore?”

Thunder snapped and she sighed. She should go home and have a cup of coffee. She should change into her pajamas and go to bed. In the morning she should get up and put on her make up and go to work. Again and again the same routine. Meanwhile, he would be doing what? Or who?

She heard something. Her head snapped up and she looked around, but there was nothing. Only rain and dark and rusted rides. It was probably just a rat, anyway. Yeah. A rat.

A rat with fangs.

A man stood in front of her. To her terrified mind he was only a black shape with snarled lips and long, pointed teeth. A vampire, like Tristan. But, it wasn’t Tristan. It was someone else. Someone she needed to get away from.

She gasped and tried to throw herself backwards, but the carousel horse blocked her escape. He was too fast and she was suddenly pinned down on the old carousel. He held her by her wrist and growled into her face. His eyes were strange, not human but more like a wild dog; a wild starving dog.

He didn’t ask who she was, or what she was doing. He only stared into her eyes for an agonizing moment and then tore into her neck.  She screamed, but the sound was drown out by the rolling thunder. Lightning sliced across the sky and in the brightness she could see the rain drops, suspended in midair and the sad, weather stained face of the carousel horse, watching with chipped eyes. The darkness crashed back, but the image stayed in her head, like a still frame. Perhaps the last thing she’d ever see.

With her last breaths she screamed for Tristan.

There was a blur of motion and suddenly she was free of her attacker. She tried to move, but she was too weak to do more than roll her head to one side. The carousel horse and its neighbors were broken and strewn in the mud. The dark vampire lay nearby, hanging half off the carousel, his face covered in blood.  From the shadows a second man stepped forward.  He had bright red hair, like a punk rocker, and though he was soaked he brushed at the mud on his long coat as he approached them.

“Sorry, Lennon.  But I think I need her alive.” The new vampire hopped lithely onto the carousel platform, stepped over the bloody and angry Lennon and came to a stop next to her. He peered down at her like a vulture, his brow puckered. “You are alive, aren’t you?”

Her answer was a gurgle. Terror engulfed her. She tried to raise her hands to her gaping neck, but her arms wouldn’t work. All she could do was plead with silent eyes.

Lennon stood and wiped the blood from his chin. “What do you need her for?”

The red head arched a single brow. “Unless I’m much mistaken, she was shouting for our friend Tristan who, if you’ll recall, I am trying to locate. It seems that if she knows him, she may well know where he is.” He narrowed his eyes at her. “Or maybe not.” He shrugged as if it was suddenly of no consequence. “It appears she’s useless to me, after all, so you can do what you want with her. Either kill her or turn her.”

“Turn her?” Lennon stared at him as if he’d gone crazy. “Why would I do that?”

The world shifted into shades of gray and Elsa choked. She tried to concentrate, but the conversation slipped through her fingers like tears.  Tristan. Where is he? Why isn’t he here?

“Why not?” the red head asked cheerfully. “She seems to know all about us already. That’s hard to come by in a fledgling, and it’s not like you have any, yet-“

Tristan.

“- Besides, it might be fun-“

Where are you?

“-Of course, it’s up to you. I don’t care one way or the other-“

Tristan.

“-better decide before it’s too late-“

Goodbye babes, it’s been fun.

The thunder cracked, but the sound was muted behind a wall of black. There was something in her mouth. The taste was bitter and sharp, like sucking a knife blade. She swallowed. It burned like fire. She swallowed again. And again.

It was an hour or more before she could move.  The first thing she did was sit up and touch her neck. The wound was gone. Even the blood had been washed away by the steady drum of rain.

Lennon sat nearby, his knees up and his eyes on her. “I’m Lennon,” he said pointlessly.  Then he half-lifted a hand in greeting. “Hey.”

Her eyes skipped around, but they seemed to be alone. “Where’s-”

“That red haired guy?” She nodded and Lennon shrugged. “Went back to work, I guess. He’s hunting them. Tristan and his partner. “

“Hunting them?” she echoed.  “He’s not going to – I mean he won’t…”

“Kill him?”

The words were too horrible to contemplate, but there they were, just the same. Lennon didn’t explain further, so she forced the question out, “Will he?”

Lennon’s expression softened. “Were you guys, you know?” The answer was in her eyes, and he suddenly looked away. “I don’t know. It depends, I guess. If he just goes quietly then probably not.”

Despite his attempt at reassurance, it was impossible to combat her panic. “But why is he after Tristan?”

“I don’t know. They’re wanted for something. Hard to tell.” Lennon fished a soggy pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. He tried to slide one out, but it crumbled in his hand. With a mournful sigh he tossed it away. “Maybe because the guy’s obviously telling humans about us.” She opened her mouth to ask what he meant and he added, “You are – were – human, and he told you.”

Elsa couldn’t argue with that, though the word “were” disturbed her.

Lennon threw the ruined cigarettes away and stood up. “We better go. I’ve got to find my brother, then we need to get back to the den before sunrise.”

“Where’s that?” she mumbled, still lost in the intricate twists of the night’s events.

“New York.”

Her attention snapped to him. “I can’t go to New York!  I have to go to work tomorrow-” The sentence died on her lips as the full realization of her new status crashed down on her. She struggled to come to terms with everything that had in the last few hours. Hours. Was that all it had been? A few hours had taken Tristan away and changed her?

Changed her like she’d once asked Tristan to do.

“Have fun with that.” Lennon stood and offered her a hand. “I hope you don’t act this stupid when you meet Claudius.”

A mixture of panic and elation coursed through her and she fought to master it. “Is Claudius your brother?”

“Hardly!” He snickered. “He’s the coven master. We’re supposed to get permission before we make fledglings.” He frowned. “I’m not really sure what to tell him.  I’m not really sure why I did it.” he squinted ta her. “You’re not bad looking, I guess, but we need to work on a better story that this.” He waved his hand around the abandoned grounds as if to indicate the truth.

She had no answer for him, though he didn’t seem to expect one. He tugged her to her feet and led her through the rainy fairgrounds towards the exit.

Vampire.

Somewhere in the back of her mind she could hear Jennifer’s voice echoing, “He thought he was a vampire.”

That’s because he is, and now so am I.

Vampire.

The sign over the exit made her giggle softly. “Have a Happy Day”. Bizarrely, she would never have another day again. There would only be night after night from now on. But it was all right; or it would be once she found Tristan. Never, never give in. Never, never let something so important slip away.  Don’t just sit there and cry about your lost paradise. Get up and do something about it.

And now she had an eternity to do it in.

**********

Next up is either Herrick or Jeda, depending on my mood. (Herrick is so minor that his only contribution is he dies and Jorick and Katelina inherit his coffin, so he may get skipped.)

Song playing at the moment – Harleys & Indians – Roxette

Poem vs Story – Haunted

(originally from November 2007)

I was working on a poem for the CPCCC, but I came up with something totally different. Though, I didn’t feel that it completely captured what i was going for, or maybe it did(?) – so I tried a story type version. With both of these on the same theme,  I thought I’d take this chance to do yet another Poem vs Story and let you decide which is better!

 

Memories

In the darkest night
You haunt me
Like a specter from a past I cannot hope to shake
In the hazy shadows
You call me
Tempting me from the reality’s that we make
In most secret dreams
You hold me
Arms warm against the chill of star strewn night
In raging passion
You claim me
Hot flesh melding until there is no wrong or right
In the aftermath
You tell me
Though time has rent us, still you won’t forget
In the morning
You leave me
And back I go to this life that I have set

In light of day
You remind me
Whispered words of memories I can’t forget
In the lonely hours
You chain me
With the heavy shackles of my past regrets
In the dimming day
You own me
Chained to a choice I was too scared to ever make
In the evening’s warmth
You taunt me
Asking what might have been and laughing as I break
In the deep twilight
You hurt me
Hateful spirit who nightly haunts my dreams
In the growing darkness
You scare me
Because memories are not always sweet

In the darkest night
You call me
Voice like ice chills me to the bone
In the hazy shadows
You haunt me
Cold demon, will you never fade and leave me alone?

It seems so long ago when our paths crossed and then separated. You went your way and I went mine, too scared to do anything more. How could I make overtures when your feelings seemed so contrary to my own?   Yet now, as darkness comes once more to my tiny world, I close my eyes and see your face.

You haunt me.

Like a ghostly wraith, your memory follows my every step. Its footfalls echo in time with mine. I turn and see your face, untouched by time. Pale eyes stare back at me, questions in their depths of all the things that might have been had I only dared. But I used my fear as a shield and I hid safely behind it, too afraid.

You call me.

In the night your voice is lifted. In dreams I hear you say my name and feel your touch. Your lips taste like summer’s wine and my senses overflow as our bodies brush and meld with one another. Promises of forever and whispered words half remembered cling to my fevered brain when I wake in the night with heart pounding. My eyes blink back the dreams that seem at once so real and yet so foreign.

You chain me.

Shackles of regret bind me to your shadow and hold me in this dungeon of despair and sorrow. I can not escape their bite, no mater how I try. Through the window I can see a life, but I can not reach it. I’m held back by these bonds you won’t unfasten. I hate them and I love them. I dread them and I embrace them. They are bittersweet like my memories of you, like summer’s end, the ghostly reminders of what has been before and the warning of the lonely winter on its way.

You hurt me.

Even when the golden dawn brings the warm sun to the skies, still you’re with me. Sometimes slumbering beneath the surface of my soul and sometimes standing in my heart with a twisted knife in your hands. You reopen wounds that should have healed, scars like smiles that mark my skin. And there you’ll stay until my eyes run tears and my soul bleeds crimson.

You own me.

I can not live my life while I am tortured by these doubts. I can not reach for other things held back by restraints of regret, but I can not forsake you. Your picture is printed on every page of the book of my life, hidden in the decorative edges where the eyes can not easily see, yet the soul can feel. And I feel you watching me, taunting me; this spirit of a love never tested presses down on me until I am suffocated in my sleep. From you I get no peace, no rest

You scare me.

And I scream to the heavens, begging for release from this unending hell. Be you man or demon or specter of my own design, I beg you to release me from this prison of remorse.  Stop this endless parade of torture that strings from night to day! Release me from the shackles you have bound me in and give me back the life I should be living. Free me from these halls of memories, these caverns of despair where in I tread and let me live! Forgive me for my fears, my inadequacies and cease this maddening torture before it is too late.

But as the night wind whispers in the trees, as the shadows stretch and meld into a sea of darkness, again in dreams you come to me. With arms so warm and safe, you give to me your double edged blade, your two fold gifts: a haven from the world while sleeping, and memories to plunge me into hell while waking.

You haunt me.

************************

You’ll see the second poem to this set on Saturday for the Cheryl’s Pal’s Share , though I may attempt to slap one together that uses some more lines as well, so I may have two this week.

I suppose this was random enough and so doesn’t warrant a “Random Things…” segment. Pity though, I have some lovely cemetery pictures uploaded finally! Maybe next time?

Instead, though, how about a “Random complaint”?

This thing is slow, nothing will connect and I am getting irritated.

That was a random complaint bought to you by Alltel Phone company, Acer Laptops and Yahoo Messenger.

Fav song of the moment – “Rainy Monday” – Shiny Toy Guns

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