I parked my minivan in front of a high, wrought-iron fence, where I sat and studied the grounds beyond. Even to my eyes, which could penetrate the darkest of nights, I couldn't see much. A long winding road that led away from the fence plunged into some deep, dark woods.
Well, as deep and dark as they got in the hills above Fullerton.
I understood Detective Hanner's heartache. I understood how much she missed her own son, but I wasn't about to sentence my own son to a lifetime of blood-drinking adolescence. Not if I could help it.
According to Detective Hanner and her neighbors, the old man's property was not only protected by a high fence but also by dark magicks. I asked her what, exactly, she meant by dark magicks, and she shrugged and said she was only reporting what she'd heard from her neighbors. Hanner added that she wouldn't put anything past the creepy old man who may or may not be immortal.
What the hell kind of neighborhood was this?
Except this really didn't feel like a neighborhood. Not anymore. Not out here in the dark and surrounded by trees and high fences and apparently black magicks. In fact, I felt like I was in a fairy tale. A Brothers Grimm fairytale, as twisted and dark as they come. And there was no prince waiting for me at the end of this cobblestone drive. No, only an ancient master of the black arts, who may or may not be a vampire. Who may or may not be undead.
I debated turning back, but instead I got out of the minivan and approached the gate. I could have scaled the fence easy enough, but the "protected by dark magicks" part had me a little nervous. And curious.
So what would happen if I broke in? Would a wart appear on my nose? Would a she-devil manifest in a swirl of black smoke to drag me down to hell? Would Lady Gaga apparate and give me a make-over? I shuddered. I didn't know, but now was not the time to find out.
So I did it by the book, and pushed the red intercom button above a cobwebbed touchpad. I had no sooner released my finger when I got a prompt reply.
"State your name," crackled a strongly-accented voice through a speaker.
The speaker crackled again. "Please turn around."
I did, turning slowly, knowing there was a camera somewhere and wondering how well my make-up was holding up.
"The left side of your neck, just below your jawline, is missing."
"It shows up as…empty on my monitors. Are you a vampire, Samantha Moon?"
I touched the area in question, and sure enough, I had missed a spot there. Damn. "Now, what kind of question is that to ask – "
"Are you a vampire or not?"
"Perhaps we can discuss this inside, where we can have a little more pri – "
"You are alone in the woods, dear girl. Let me assure you. Again, I ask: are you a vampire or not?"
I rarely, if ever, go around blurting my super-secret identity. The man in the house, whoever he was, was obviously privy to the ways of the undead. How much so, I didn't know. But I needed help for my son and I needed it asap.
"Yes," I said. "I guess you could say I'm a vampire, although I really don't think of myself as – "
"State your reason for being here, vampire. And hurry please, you are cutting into my morning rituals."
Morning rituals? I didn't like the sound of that. I suddenly had an image of a bloody forest animal staked within a pentagram, but this wasn't a psychic hit. Just my overactive imagination. In fact, as I thought about it, I wasn't getting any psychic hits from the old man. Whoever he was, he was good at concealing his thoughts.
I said, "I'm here because I need help with my son."
"What kind of help?"
"Can we please talk inside?"
There was a long pause, and then the speaker went dead and the iron gate swung open on silent hinges. I got back into the minivan and drove through. As I did so, the iron gate shut immediately behind me.
I was a vampire, dammit. I shouldn't be afraid.
But I was.
There's a reason why they don't make roads out of cobblestones anymore.
Teeth rattling and brain turning nearly to mush, I soon pulled around a massive fountain that featured three rather robust mermaids, each more endowed than the next. Men and their damned mermaids, I thought. As I turned off the minivan, I actually paused to wonder if mermaids were, in fact, true.
Hell, why not?
The house was huge, complete with massive columns and a wide portico, all befitting a man who may or may not be a human. My sixth sense was telling me to be wary. It wasn't exactly ringing off the hook, but it was letting me know that there was danger here, perhaps not necessarily of the physical kind, but…something.
I stepped out of the minivan and into the cool night air. Crickets chirped nearby and the waxing moon shown through some of the taller, ornamental evergreens that marched around the property.
The house was a massive Colonial mansion, befitting America's forefathers. Our very rich forefathers. I followed a cement path through what appeared to be crushed seashells, and then stepped up on a cement veranda, and found myself before two massive double doors. My internal warning system continued beeping steady, neither increasing or decreasing. Nothing would harm me here, I was sure, but I was being warned to stay alert and cautious.
No problem with that.
I pressed a doorbell button inlaid within an ornate brass fixture that seemed about right for a house this gaudy. A gong resonated from seemingly everywhere, followed shortly by footsteps on a wooden floor. Soon, the right door swung open and I was greeted by a wide-shouldered man with a red nose, holding a tissue. He studied me briefly, eying me along his red nose, which could have used another wipe or two, but that was probably just the mother in me. He was balding and what few stray hairs he had were wildly askew. Was he the butler? I didn't know, but I suspected so. My only experience with butlers was with Franklin, Kingsley's wildly disproportionate butler.
Finally, he nodded and wiped his nose – thank God – and said, "This way, madam."
And like Franklin, he didn't sound very happy about being roused to service in the middle of the night. But like a trooper he led me down hallways and around corners, past marble sculptures and fine works of art. The deeper we got, the more I realized that something was off. Something was different. Very different.
It was the energy in the house. It was moving slowly, spiraling oddly. Normally, energy zigzagged randomly, illuminating my night world nicely. But this energy spiraled in seemingly slow motion, as if the very house itself had slipped out of the normal flow of time. And the particles themselves blazed in multiple colors of oranges and blues and violets.
What the hell?
I stopped and stared, feeling like a teenager at her first laser light show, minus the funny mushrooms.
"This way," said the butler, and I followed him deeper into the house.
The man looked like a gnome or something out of Xanth.
But it was hard to tell, since he was sitting cross-legged on a cushioned mat in the center of an empty room. I saw that a similar cushion had been placed before him. Was that for me?
He was wearing a white robe and a peaceful expression. He wasn't a vampire, I knew, because I could see his aura around him, and I was getting minor psychic hits, too, which is not the case when I'm in the presence of Detective Hanner. And it hadn't been the case when I had faced off with Captain Jack, whose mind had been completely closed to me.
But that wasn't the case here.
As I stood in the doorway, I began picking up on some fairly random thoughts. Almost as if someone were switching the channels to a radio. But no, not quite. These thoughts were on a loop, repeating over and over.
What the hell was going on? I focused on the words, trying to make sense of them, but couldn't:
"Tread carefully," came one repeated phrase. "The Great Cosmic Law is unerring," came another, and "Life is a continuous circle," and, "You cannot give without receiving, and cannot receive without giving." And still more, "Thine evil returns to thee, with still more of its kind," "Here be monsters," and others that were far stranger and completely incoherent. At least, incoherent to me, such as: "Thus humidity or water is the body, the vehicle and tool, but the spirit or fire is the operator, the universal agent and fabricator of all natural things."
They were esoteric sayings, surely. Spiritual sayings. The kind of sayings that might randomly flit through a highly-evolved mind. Or one who practiced the Kabbalah.
But the words, repeated over and over, created a sort of buzz. A white noise that was almost deafening, to the point where I was having a hard time thinking, or hearing my own thoughts.
"Please sit down, young lady," said the little man, motioning to the cushion before him. I noticed he didn't open his eyes. "At least, I assume you're young. With vampires, you just never know."
The air in the room was filled with more of the swirling, colorful particles; somehow, these particles were moving even slower in this room.
"I'm fine right here," I said.
He nodded. "Forgive the voices you might be hearing; that is, if you can hear them. Not all creatures of the night possess this skill."
"What…what are the voices?" I asked.
He cracked a smile, although he still hadn't opened his eyes. "Ah, you can hear them. Very interesting. Yes, the voices are my defense."
"I don't understand."
"You see, it is impossible to close off your thoughts to a vampire, especially a powerful vampire, but one can provide a sort of 'white noise.' Clutter, if you will."
I nodded as if I understood – which, disturbingly, I think I did.
The old man continued, "Of course, I cannot penetrate your thoughts; at least, not yet. Not until we've developed a deeper bond or relationship, and I don't see that happening unless you have an unflagging desire to become chums with a very old man."
I smiled despite the strangeness of the situation.
"How old?" I asked.
"Old enough not to answer that question. Anyway, I will not bother to ask how you came to find me, as I'm generally always found by your kind. Indeed, the how is not important. It is the why that I'm after. Why are you here?"
"I need help with my son."
He smiled again. "A vampire with children?"
"Tragic," he said, making small noises and shaking his head.
"Because you will inevitably outlive your son, only to spend an eternity being barren."
"Vampirism is the ultimate contraceptive."
I hadn't thought about having more kids. I hadn't realized that I would never, ever have children again. My heart sank. No wonder Hanner was so distraught.
"Ah, I see that this is news to you," he said, and still he had not opened his eyes.
I nodded. "Yes."
"You can see, then, the tragedy. There is but one way to overcome this, of course."
I suddenly knew the way, because despite his looping gibberish that filled my thoughts, I had caught a quick glance into his mind.
"Yes," I said. "The medallion."
His eyes shot open.READ MORE >>