My sister is one of the few people on earth who know about my "condition."
I have other family members, of course. A sister in San Francisco, a brother in New York, and my parents in the high desert, but I was not close to them. My sister, Mary Lou, and I had always been more like twins, even though she was six years older than me. Back when I was attacked and left for dead – or, more accurately, left for eternity – it had been Mary Lou who was by my side. In fact, I didn't even receive a phone call from my brother until three days later.
It's hard to forget something like that.
Mary Lou and I will probably never live very far apart. She is my rock. Men come and go, friends come and go, but my sister will always be there for me.
That I would someday outlive her is a very real possibility. That I would watch my sister steadily grow old and wither is a very real possibility. Somehow, this was less difficult to accept than watching my own kids grow into old age.
Of course, if I failed to unlock the secrets of the medallion, I wouldn't have to worry about this with Anthony.
Panic gripped me.
Calm down, Samantha. Be calm. You're of no use to anyone if you're panicking.
As I waited for my sister, sitting there with my back against the living room wall, sitting between an end table and a bookcase, I realized that I didn't know what the hell I was doing. What if unlocking the medallion somehow hurt Anthony? What if the process of returning him to his mortality was painful? What if something went wrong?
Oh, Jesus…what have I done?
"You saved him," I whispered to myself, hugging my knees and rocking. "You saved him. That's what you did. Now just fix it, Sam. Fix it."
A car pulled up outside and soon I heard feet rapidly approaching. My sister was using her own key to unlock the door and soon she was inside and in the living room and on the ground next to me, holding me closely, and crying with me.
God, I loved my sister.
But she had no idea why I was crying, and I would not tell her, not ever. Not if I didn't have to.
"C'mon," she said, hauling me to my feet. "Let's go see Anthony."
"Rick's watching her and the kids."
"Rick's a good man."
"The best. Now, let's get you dressed…"
At the hospital, we found Anthony asleep. No surprise there, since it was the middle of the day.
With guilt nearly overwhelming me, I listened to the doctor express his concerned over my son's slower than normal heartbeat, a condition he called bradycardia, which apparently could lead to a cardiac arrest. My sister looked increasingly concerned about this news, but I held my poise. The slowing of my son's heart rate was to be expected, after all. Expected by me, at least. Hell, my own heart barely beat a few times a minute.
Other than the decreasing heartbeat, everything looked good and, according to the doctor, if my son kept up this healing pace, he might even be released in a few days.
Good news, surely, for any mother. Mary Lou hugged me tightly and I felt her tears on my face. She pulled away and wiped her eyes and was unaware of a very different expression on my face.
I could not predict how I looked, but I suspected it was a look of desperation. After all, I had three and a half days by my reckoning to unlock the secret to the medallion.
Or my son would forever stay a vampire.
At age seven.
I asked Mary Lou if she would stay with Anthony for a few hours while I took care of some business. She said of course, and as she pulled up a chair, she took out a black and narrow device that looked suspiciously like one of those Kindle thingies.
She powered it on, settled in, and I headed out.
Maybe I should get one of those someday.
In my minivan, with my specialized window shades drawn tight, I Googled Archibald Maximus on my iPhone, a device that was quickly becoming the private investigator's greatest tool.
Nothing of note.
I tried the name without the quotes, including other possible related keywords:
Archibald Maximus, vampire. Although a ton of sites popped up, very few were even close to what I was looking for. And the few that were turned out to be either porn or dead ends.
Archibald Maximus, medallion. Same thing. Nothing.
Archibald Maximus, alchemist. Nothing.
Archibald Maximus, wizard. Nothing. Wait! Something. No, never mind. Just another porn site.
I really hadn't expected an obscure alchemist to have a web page or even a Twitter account, although that would have certainly made my job easier.
I next tried the name in my various industry databases, sites that only private investigators have access to. Nothing. Not even an unlikely hit. Whoever Archibald Maximus was, he didn't own property, have a criminal record in the United States, nor had he applied for credit.
I next called my ex-partner at HUD, Chad Helling. He answered on the second ring, which made me feel good.
"Good morning, Sunshine."
"Never gets old does it?" I was referring to his nickname for me. Sunshine. In Chad Helling's simple world, the nickname was supposed to be ironic. And funny.
"Not yet," he said, chuckling.
"You need to get a life."
"I'm working on it," he said. "I'm going to ask her, Sam."
"Ask her what? And who?"
"Monica. I'm going to ask her to marry me."
I shook my head. The poor dope. "Isn't it a little too soon?"
"For love? Never!"
Oh, brother. "Listen, Romeo, I've got a job for you."
"Sure," I said. "A coffee and a scone."
"The coffee I'll take. I'm still not sure what the hell a scone is."
I gave him the name and asked him to use the agency's database.
"Archibald Maximus?" he asked, confirming.
"What is he, a wrestler or something?"
Chad grumbled something about doing my work for me and told me he would get back to me as soon as he had something.
I was still in the hospital parking lot, parked under a pathetic-looking tree, whose branches only provided me with partial shade. The minivan was heating up and by all rights I should crack the windows and let in some fresh air. Except, I didn't need fresh air, and so I didn't bother. Cracked windows let in sunlight, and sunlight was far more detrimental to me than stale air. Also, there wasn't a car on earth that could heat up hot enough to remove the eternal cold from my bones. In fact, I craved the heat, and so I sat in the minivan, baking, breathing stale air, and thinking hard.
I had only one answer.
I reached into my purse and removed the small legal pad I now kept tucked in a side pocket. I also removed a favorite pen with flowing, liquid black ink. I love flowing, liquid black ink.
As a small wind rushed over the van, swishing the tree above and scattering a few precious leaves from its sparse branches, I spent the next few minutes going through a meditation exercise that both grounded me to the earth and opened me to the spirit world.
Once grounded and open, I sat quietly with pen in hand, waiting. Shorty, I felt the familiar tingle in my right arm. The tingle turned into something more than a tingle. In fact, it turned into an electrical impulse and my right arm involuntarily spasmed. It spasmed again and again, lightly, and soon the pen in my hand was moving, seemingly on its own. Writing. Two words appeared on the mini-sheet of legal paper before me.
"Hello," I said within the empty minivan, feeling slightly silly.
In the past, two different entities had come through in this form of communication, what many call "automatic writing." I asked now who I was speaking with. My hand twitched once, twice, and the name Sephora appeared before me. Sephora, I knew, was my personal spirit guide.
Whatever the hell that was.
"I might have done a bad thing," I said.
My hand jerked and spasmed and more words appeared on the notepad on my lap.
You are only as bad as you feel, Samantha.
"Well, I feel like shit and I'm scared to death."
My hand flinched rapidly.
Did you act out of love or fear when you saved your son?
I thought hard about that. Sweat was now breaking out on my brow. It took a lot for sweat to break out on my brow. The car was heating up rapidly. "I acted out of instinct," I said. "For me, it was the only answer. I had a means to save my son, and I took it. Some would call that love, others would call it selfishness."
The electrical impulse crackled through my arm.
What would you call it, Samantha?
"Love. It has to be. I love my kids more than anything."
Then so be it.
Interestingly, had I not possessed the medallion, I don't think I would have done it. In fact, I know I wouldn't have done it. I would not have sentenced my son to…this…if there was no way to turn him back.
"Does my son know what's happened to him?" I asked.
Your son sleeps deeply while the change comes over him. In the physical, outer world, no. But, yes, his greater self, his soul self, knows exactly what you have done.
"Does he forgive me?"
My child, he loves you with all his heart. He understands this was a difficult decision for you, and that you made the best choice you could.
I stared down at the words on the pad, wondering again if I was making them up or if they were really flowing through me from the spirit world.
"You make it seem like there's two of him," I said.
There is his higher, spiritual self, Samantha, and his lower, physical self. The higher self resides in the spirit world, and the lower self in the physical world, your world.
I thought about that, then got to why I was here. "I have a name of a man who might be able to help me," I said.
There was no response. No weird electrical impulse. My arm rested lightly on the center console.
"Is there a way you can help me find him?"
Precious child, there is always a way. To find what is missing, lost or hidden, requires great faith, patience and perseverance.
I waited, but apparently that's all I was going to be given.
"Is that it?" I asked.
It is enough, Samantha.
I slammed the pen down and tore out the sheet of paper. A few seconds later, the paper was nothing more than confetti. I knew I was acting like a baby. Losing control was exactly what I shouldn't be doing. But I didn't need riddles and spiritual platitudes. I needed Archibald Maximus.
And I needed him now.READ MORE >>