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Full disclosure – I am a 20th century guy living in the 21st century! Yes, I understand how technology has improved our world by quite literally putting opportunity and knowledge at our fingertips, but no, I still haven’t completely embraced it. (Memories of my rotary dial phone loom large in my mind!) But I get points for trying and this Blog is evidence. Although I know the best Blogs are updated daily that is just way too much pressure for someone like me! So for starters I’m going to commit to posting a new Blog entry every other day. Sometimes it’ll be about my books, other times just something I’m thinking about, but it’ll always be a fun read.

THE HUMAN RACE – a political satire

I am not political or satirical so . . . I’ve decided to challenge myself and write a political satire!  Here goes:

The Human Race

Part 3

Atlanta in the middle of the summer is hot. A presidential debate in Atlanta in the middle of the summer is hotter than Hell. Which is exactly where most of the people who were starting to gather in the audience felt Priscilla Papillon and Claude McCook belonged.

It’s true that the Democrats were much more at ease with Priscilla as their party’s nominee because of her multiple-decades-long experience, commitment to social reform, and political savvy, but that didn’t mean they liked her. And it’s true that the Republicans found their candidate’s political incorrectness refreshing, but none of them thought he had the intelligence, experience, or personality to be the Commander in Chief of the most powerful nation on the planet. So the atmosphere at the first presidential debate wasn’t filled with optimism, but rather desperation sine each party felt like they were stuck cheering on a candidate they’d pick last to be on their team for a game of Dodgeball.

And even though both candidates knew this, neither candidate cared because they also knew that their parties had no other choice but to convince the public that they were giving their candidate full, unconditional support. Because in the world of politics, no one cares about anything except winning and within that twisted little circle, few people cared about it more than Priscilla.

“I think I’ll bring up Sri Lanka within the first five minutes when I talk about Free Trade,” Priscilla announced. “That should make Claude clench.”

The beleaguered Press Secretary tightened her grip around the bag of honey-lemon lozenges to prevent herself from slapping Priscilla in the head and creating an unnecessary headline: Press Secretary Slugs Presidential Candidate. Or more probable: The Bitchslap Heard ‘Round the World. No, Kyoko would have to play to Priscilla’s moral compass, if she could find it.

“Priscilla, we’ve already discussed this,” Kyoko said, “and you know that this isn’t the time or the place to bring this up.”

“Au contraire mon frère,” Priscilla replied, for some reason speaking in French to her South Korean Press Secretary.

Her grip around the lozenge bag tightened.

“How many times do I have to tell you I am not your brother?!” Kyoko exclaimed.

“I’m trying to show you how understanding and embracing I am of your lesbian brotherhood,” Priscilla explained.

This time Kyoko slapped her leg with the bag of honey-lemon lozenges because like every sado-masochist knows, if you can’t hurt the one you want, hurt yourself. “And how many times have I told you that I’m not a lesbian?”

“So many times that I’ve lost count,” Priscilla said. “And each time, Kyoko, it makes me sadder than the time before. Almost as sad as it does for me to think that the American people have dubbed me ‘She Who Can’t Be Trusted.’ I mean, come on, if the public can put their trust in God, whom, by they way, they cannot see or hear, then why can’t they put their trust in me when I both tweet and Instagram on an hourly basis?”

Luckily Priscilla’s question was rhetorical because the acid reflux filling up Kyoko’s throat prevented her from responding.

“And it’s primarily because I am viewed as untrustworthy,” Priscilla continued, “that I must expose my opponent’s chicanery.”

Kyoko swallowed the acidic liquid and felt it reluctantly travel down her esophagus, but didn’t even feel the burn because the only thing she hated more than acid reflux was losing control. Her entire life, both professional and personal, was built on the mandate that she could maintain control even in the most hostile of situations. No matter what circumstance was thrown her way she was always able to remain calm, quickly think of a solution, and outsource the problem to have it solved. It didn’t matter if the circumstance involved a secret girlfriend who no longer wanted to remain secret. Or intel on a secret arms deal that wound up in the wrong hands. Or in this case a politician’s secret about his secret birthplace that another politician felt it was time to give birth to. She wasn’t entirely sure how, but Kyoko knew that needed to reclaim control over this particular situation.

Staring at the woman she had vowed to serve and protect, Kyoko became frightened. Maybe Feodora was right, maybe it was time to take this bitch down. But how?

Unwilling to entertain such decidedly unentertaining thoughts, Kyoko decided to utilize her motherly voice that she only used on those rare occasions when she felt the need to remind her children that they actually had a mother. “Priscillaaaaa,” she sang-spoke. “I agree with you one-hundred-and sixty-fiiiiiive percent.” Her comment ended with a perfect high-pitched accent on the ‘cent.’

“Good because if you disagree with me by even one percent I am prepared to fire you,” Priscilla replied without the hint of a melody in her voice.

“You wouldn’t dare!”

“Not only would I fire you,” Priscilla continued, still sans any musical lilt to her declaration. “I would expose you for the lesbiliar that you are. See if the LGBTXYZ community rallies behind you once they find out you’re living a life as duplicitous as that Republican senator who can’t go to the bathroom without the help of his herd of male interns.”

Priscilla stopped threatening long enough to take a breath, but not long enough for Kyoko to find her voice and protest.

“I have photographic documentation of all your dalliances Lesbian Kyoko,” Priscilla informed. “The long lunches at that artist’s loft in the seedy side of Georgetown, the trips to Provincetown during family week without your family, the late-night rendezvous with the slow-walking geisha under the cherry blossoms.”

“Akika isn’t a geisha!” Kyoko shouted. “She’s just not used to walking in shoes with a closed toe!”

“The public isn’t going to care about Akika’s problems with western footware!” Priscilla retorted, not even concerned about raising her voice in such a public setting. “They’re only going to care that you were blossoming some geisha’s cherry while you were supposed to be taking care of your family’s needs not to mention the needs of the Democratic party and all its constituents.”

Kyoko almost shouted, “What about my needs?!” Luckily she stopped herself not only from being overheard, but from being embarrassed. No one cared about her needs, not the public, not her family, not the woman who was blackmailing her. She was nothing more than a mouthpiece, a human communiqué, someone to regurgitate the party line in a steady, emotionless voice so the public could feel safe and reassured whether her regurgitation contained innocuous material about political pop culture or bits and pieces of classified information. Few people in the country knew her name and those few who did know, knew that very soon her name would be replaced by another. The Press Secretary’s lifespan was a short one so why commit a name to memory when it had no chance of longevity?

Clearly, Priscilla was not going to be swayed on moral or ethical grounds, so Kyoko decided to address the biggest elephant in the room, Priscilla’s ego. When she spoke, Kyoko was proud to hear that her voice sounded once again like the usual flatlined calm she had been perfecting since childhood.

“If you reveal the fact that Claude is not a United States citizen, the fact that you sat on this revelation for almost a year will also be revealed.”

Priscilla’s silence revealed to Kyoko that the vengeful candidate had been so blinded by revenge that she hadn’t thought her scheme all the way through.

“How will you explain that to your already suspicious public? How will you acquire their trust if you once again prove to the world that you’ve lied to them for almost a year?”

Watching Priscilla squirm didn’t make Kyoko as happy as it usually did, but it did make her relieved. She had hit a nerve, she put out a wildfire, she bought herself some time. But exactly how much time was still a variable. Until Priscilla spoke.

“Then you have twenty-four hours.”

“To do what?”

“To create a backstory and a paper trail – hard copy and electronic – to make it look as if I recently found out this information and took the time necessary to vet the story before sharing it with the public at our first presidential debate proving once and for all that I am decisive, thorough, honest, and most of all, trustworthy.”

If Kyoko subtracted the three hours it would take for her to apply for and hold the semi-automatic assault weapon in her hands complete with a shoulder strap to match her ensemble, she should still have enough time to concoct and execute a plan to assassinate Priscilla by week’s end.

“You might gain the respect and yes, the trust, of the public,” Kyoko started, “But you will also gain the hatred of McCook’s fan base, not to mention the wrath of the Republicans.”

“Nothing will change the former and I don’t care about the latter.”

Kyoko paused for effect and busied herself by shuffling some papers into a pile. She pulled a folder out of her briefcase and put the pile of papers into it and when she spoke she focused on her task and not Priscilla. “Even when they retaliate by lifting the curtain on the biggest exposé this planet has or will ever witness?”

Fortunately, Priscilla’s sinister smile went unnoticed, but had Kyoko seen it she would have known her boss was ready, prepared, and oh-so-willing to take the first step past the point of no return confident that no one would have the guts to follow.

“The public might be too stupid to trust me, but you shouldn’t make the same mistake Kyoko,” Priscilla hissed. “They’ll be too scared to retaliate so you can tell them that I call their bluff and I’ll see them in the White House.”

Right before Priscilla walked away, she made sure that she got right in front of Kyoko so she couldn’t avoid looking at her any longer.

“You might want to get to work,” Priscilla ordered. “The clock is ticking.”

Watching Priscilla march away, Kyoko felt her body start to sway and had to clutch the chair in front of her to steady herself. God, how she love-hated that woman! The strength of her conviction, the commitment to conquer anyone and anything in her path, the boxy cut of her suit, was an aphrodisiac that literally made her head spin.

She sat down as normally as she could, hoping that she didn’t give anyone around her an indication that she felt faint. Stupidly she retrieved the file that she just put in her briefcase and laid it out on the table before her, but her eyes couldn’t focus on the Helvetica not when her boss was hellbent on destroying the American political system with one careless comment in less than an hour.

Looking around the room she sought out images that would remind her of how normal life could be. On the stage next to her husband, she saw Maude McCook reapplying her red lipstick, across the room she saw Feodora fake-laughing at something Darnell said, in between an aisle toward the back of the room she saw Knoxville Dolittle, the stalwart janitor cleaning up someone’s mess. Business as usual.

“You should freshen up your make-up Kyoko, you look queasy. Did your husband just text you asking for a quickie before the debate?”

Could the day get any worse? Kyoko didn’t have to turn around to know whose breath was making her earlobe curdle.

“Why Nero, this is an unexpected . . . and unwanted surprise.”

“If you think for one nano-second that I enjoy sitting next to the likes of you, then you are as foolish as that shrew who keeps you in her employ.”

Nero Ballantine was the unofficial leader of everything that had to do with national politics and about a third of the international political scene as well. Allegedly, his forefathers not only landed here on the Mayflower, but they also built and steered the ship and were responsible for the feeding and entertaining the troops during the turbulent, transatlantic trip. Next to control freak in the dictionary was a picture of the Ballantine family crest – a vulture plucking out the eyes of a near-dead fluffy rabbit. Nero had learned through centuries of trial and error that it didn’t matter who your opponent was as long as they wound up as your victim.

Since Nero hated everyone his words didn’t alarm Kyoko. What was alarming was that he had stepped down from his self-appointed pedestal in order to speak with an unworthy underling in a public setting. Someone could snap a photograph of Nero sitting inches from a mere mortal like Kyoko and forever dispel the image that he and his ancestors had spent a lifetime creating, which was that money, wealth, and power inoculated them from having to interface, well, with anyone. He must have an incredibly good reason to risk destroying everything he had worked for and Kyoko was rather certain that she didn’t want to know what that reason was. Sadly, this was not turning out to be a wish-granting day for Kyoko.

 

“After you introduce that unattractive harpy you work for to a treadmill so her ass stops resembling the width of Tennessee,” Nero stated, the smile on his face never faltering, “ask her if she knows the whereabouts of her only son.”

“What are you talking about?” Kyoko replied.

She knew it was a stupid question to ask and Nero knew it was a stupid question to ask so he didn’t waste the breath to reprimand her, he merely elucidated.

“Tell her that he has been crying for her like a helpless newborn suffering from colic and his Peruvian prison guard is contentedly listening to Barry Manilow’s greatest hits on one of those old-fashioned Sony Walkman’s,” Nero explained. “Until, of course, I give the signal for him to hit the stop button and decapitate his prisoner to bring silence back to the correctional facility.”

Oh how Kyoko hated to be elucidated. But what she hated more was being bullied by another bully. Gathering every ounce of courage she could muster she spoke, but could only manage to use her peripheral vision to glance at Nero. Even she had her limits and she wasn’t courageous enough to look Nero directly in the face.

“And what exactly can I do to prevent you from giving that signal?” she asked.

“You might be a woman, Kyoko, but you are an anomaly so I know you’re not stupid.”

Despite the misogynistic comment, Kyoko couldn’t help be revel in the compliment.

“Convince her to keep quiet about Claude’s birthright and her son will be released mentally distraught, but physically unharmed.”

Before she could respond, Nero left her side and for a moment she thought she had imagined the scene. But then she felt some dampness on her panties and she knew that she had just lived through something few others had survived: an altercation with a supreme being.

Kyoko saw Squire D’Trell, the prize-winning New York Times reporter take the stage signaling the start of the debate. She pushed her way through the crowd avoiding both Feodora and Darnell’s attempts to grab her and engage in last-minute conversation and got to Priscilla’s side just as Squire was introducing Claude.

“They have Trey.”

It took a few seconds for Kyoko’s statement to register, but once it did Priscilla’s face turned gray.

“Where?”

“In a Peruvian jail cell and if you utter one word about Sri Lanka, the birthing movement, or even the agony of your own pregnancy, they will cut off his head.”

Neither Kyoko nor Priscilla showed any emotion on their faces so even if someone were watching them they would think the women were discussing where to have dinner after the debate not how to prevent Priscilla’s son’s head from rolling on a plate much to the delight of some Peruvian cannibal.

“How do I know they’re not bluffing?” Priscilla sked.

“Because Nero shared the news with me himself.”

Finally, Kyoko got a reaction that convinced her she had finally won. All confidence and cockiness drained from Priscilla’s body and she looked like she had just been sucker-punched in the gut. Which she kinda had been.

All Priscilla did was nod her head, but Kyoko would take it. She didn’t win by herself, the big guns actually swayed Priscilla to keep her mouth shut, but Kyoko didn’t care, victory was hers and she would take it. Now all she had to worry about was if her wet panties had stained her skirt.

 

Halfway through the debate, Kyoko could finally relax. She positively beamed when Priscilla used the catch phrase she came up with in reference to allegations that Claude lied on his tax returns and was certain that “I don’t McCook the books” would become part of the country’s vocabulary by the morning.

When Priscilla turned her head to listen intently to Claude ramble on about some unsubstantiated conspiracy theory about Albanian immigrants, she wanted to applaud Juan-Lupito’s talent because she couldn’t see a speck of gray amid Priscilla’s brunette coif.

Only once when foreign policy was discussed, did Kyoko hold her breath, but Priscilla didn’t mention a word that would threaten to reveal Claude’s secret or her son’s life. Neither her opponent or her son had to worry that Priscilla would betray them. Unfortunately, betrayal was often brought to life by the most unsuspecting of suspects.

Deep within the bowels of the Hilton Hotel at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport was the tiny janitor’s office. It was a small room, but so isolated from the hustle and bustle of the hotel’s daily activity that Knoxville thought of it as his private sanctuary. He had a toilet, a hot plate, a cot, and a TV, truly all the comforts of home.

Watching Priscilla and Claude live on his 32” flat screen TV in the tiny twelve by twelve foot room, made him feel like he had a front row seat at the event instead of being three floors below the debate venue. He was so far removed that he let down his guard and thought that when he spoke he couldn’t be heard. He was wrong.

“And that is why I never compromised national security by using my own Blackberry to send out personal texts,” Priscilla concluded.

Even over the combination of boos and applause, Knox could still be heard.

“Mercy me, that woman lies better than an ugly child’s mother.”

There were some chuckles as everyone in the hall thought a heckler had gotten hold of a stray microphone. Everyone except those who knew better.

Squire was not one of those who knew better so he fought to conceal a smile and asked Claude the next question about his reluctance to increase the minimum wage.

“A capitalist society does not become more powerful by pumping more capital into the society!” Claude shouted. “Capital must be earned and so I must insist on a maximum cap of the capital a minimum wage earner can earn!”

Again the hootin’ and hollerin’ were no match for Knox’s hecklin’.

“Land sakes, what’s the cap for filing for bankruptcy? Or relocating a factory to Bangladesh?!”

If the crowd was paying attention to its surroundings instead of laughing hysterically and trying to find out who dared interrupt the otherwise structured proceedings with such insightful commentary, they would have noticed the look of terror on the faces of certain people in the room. Claude, Maude, Priscilla, Kyoko, Darnell, Feodora, and even Nero. All of them shared the same horrified look because their worst fear was coming true: The smoking gun was about to go off.

Kyoko didn’t have to drag Priscilla off the stage to warn her that their truth was on the verge of being exposed. Darnell didn’t have to powwow with Claude to advise him of the communication breach. No one had to explain to those who understood that their collective future was being compromised all because Knox had fallen into a false sense of security and quite simply had become all too human.

They all knew that they would survive the evening and no one would guess that Knox’s comments weren’t somehow accidentally picked up by the microphones and broadcast to the public. No one would guess unless someone started digging. And when it comes to politics and especially the presidency, someone always had a theory and a shovel. So everyone ‘in the know’ knew it was only a matter of time before the digging began and Knox’s extraterrestrial vocal talents were discovered. Then soon after that, the unbelievable truth would be confirmed as fact – that aliens had invaded earth quite a long time ago.

And not just one group of aliens, but three different groups from three different planets all of whom arrived here centuries ago with the same common goal: To embark in a race to one day take over the planet.

After years of struggle, infiltration into the highest ranks of political office, and what some unenlightened humans would label murder and mayhem, the aliens were so close to achieving their goal. Come November, whether Claude or Priscilla cinched the presidency, the United States would be ruled by an alien. The only thing that was yet to be determined was which alien planet would claim victory – Claude’s planet of Aquaterra or Priscilla’s homeland of Tenebris. Ironically, Knox’s world of Verdigris was out of the running and yet it was because of his slip of the tongue that the entire clandestine and long-rooted plan was suddenly thrust into jeopardy.

Quite understandably since the plan was now in jeopardy, so was Knox’s life.

Seconds after the debate was over, Knox’s tiny room was filled with angry aliens representing the most powerful planets of any solar system in the universe. Away from the presence of any humans they were able to let their true nature show, both physically and emotionally.

Claude, Maude, and Darnell’s lips, eyes, and extremities pulsed an electric blue. Priscilla, Feodora, and Nero’s hair lengthened into thick gray coils. Only Kyoko’s flesh matched the green neon color of Knox’s, together casting an incandescent glow in the small room that threatened to engulf all its inhabitants.

Nero’s voice was as cold as the solid ice that filled his veins. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done?”

Knox shrugged his green shoulders lazily, “Told the truth?”

“Dug your own grave, you idiot!”

Feodora’s gray tongue hung in mid-air pointing at Knox like a rifle until she sucked it back into her mouth.

“What are you gonna do, kill me?” Knox asked. “I’m sorry, what’s the human word for political murder? Assassination.”

“You’re not worthy of assassination!” Priscilla barked.

Knox’s laughter filled the room perplexing everyone watching him. It was long known that the people of Verdigris generally lacked ambition and the ruthless edge it took to achieve world domination, but they weren’t believed to be a stupid people. Kyoko was proof of that, but Knox’s actions were telling a different story. Until his words changed everything around.

“Let’s break down the word ‘assassination’ shall we?” he asked rhetorically. “You take two asses like Claude and Priscilla out of the nation and what are you left with?”

Kyoko as a fellow Verdigrisan was able to follow the logic.

“I?”

Knox applauded his alien brethren and added, “And I have just become all y’alls worst nightmare.”

 

 

The Human Race

Part 2

If anyone ever doubts that the underbelly of politics is disgusting, all they need to do is visit a hotel conference room hours before a presidential debate.

While the debate hall is dripping in so much patriotic flair that the designers of Disney’s Main Street USA will appear to be communist sympathizers in comparison and the actual stage where the candidates will engage in a Wrestlemania-style caged death match (thankfully sans the requisite skimpy outfits) will be meticulously designed to please a television viewer’s critical, demanding eye, the rest of the building is a pigsty. And a pigsty that smells like those skimpy, sweaty outfits after being slammed onto those wrestling mats for several hours.

That’s why Darnell Weisenberg, Press Secretary for the Republican Party’s presidential candidate, is sitting at a desk in a room the size of a broom-closet-on-steroids breathing through his mouth.

“I think I smell the rotting carcass of Adlai Stevenson,” Darnell declared. “And it smells like political failure. Twice-baked!”

“Who’s Adlai Stevenson?”

Luckily the person asking that question wasn’t Claude McCook, the Republican Party’s presidential candidate, but rather Maude McCook, the Republican Party’s presidential candidate’s wife. While Claude is considered a newcomer to the world of politics, Maude isn’t even considered by the world of politics as someone worthy of being noticed. The problem is that the world outside of politics heartily disagrees.

Maude McCook née Chamberlain is one of those self-made women who made millions by selling herself. Saddled without talent, intelligence, curiosity, or personality, Maude had two things she knew the rest of the world coveted: a swoon-worthy face and a lust-inducing body. And so at the ripe old age of 19 she exploited both.

One leaked sex tape (that would be considered merely risqué by today’s standards) led to a reality TV show, which led to beauty product endorsements, which somehow led to the creation of Then There’s Maude, Inc., the multi-million dollar business operation that Maude oversees and somehow covers everything from cosmetics and apparel to real estate and medical research. Now at 51, she is known and begrudgingly respected worldwide and has been thrice-labeled the Most Influential Woman in the World by Time magazine. To offset that prestigious honor she’s also been labeled Hottest MILF by Maxim magazine which is a bit of a lie since Maude is only a step-mother to her husband’s children and, therefore, can technically only be a SMILF. But with breasts like hers that still remarkably defy gravity without the aid of any artificial enhancement, why quibble?

Now the Republican Party doesn’t want to bar Maude from the political arena based on her past history and outrageously beautiful looks, on the contrary, they’d love to be able to push her front and center into the harsh political footlights and use her as the face of the New Female Republican. But they can’t. Because Maude is, quite simply, stupid.

In the business world all her meetings are held behind closed doors and she is surrounded by a team of managers who can translate any of her idiotic comments into impressive business jargon. When she’s interviewed by the pop culture media, the highlight of the ‘get’ is always her physical prowess, but the clips are so heavily edited that when she is heard speaking, her sound bites make her appear witty and aloof. And as long as she’s heard uttering her trademark phrase “Maude’s mad about it” the public is satisfied. What the public doesn’t understand is that Maude is neither trying to appear witty or aloof by speaking in the third person, she only does so because she addresses everyone else by their first name and she hates to be left out of anything.

“Seriously Darnell,” Maude said. “Who’s this Adlai Stevens?”

Son!” Darnell corrected. “Adlai Stevenson!”

“Him too.”

“Google him.”

“Oh Sweetie, you know Maude doesn’t do that anymore,” Maude replied. “Maude is married. Maude would like to do that, she really, really, really would, but . . . well, do you think Claude would be upset if Maude did?”

Having walked down this road before, Darnell knew that it was better to explain than to argue.

“Adlai Stevenson was the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee in both 1952 and 1956,” Darnell explained, “And both times he lost to Dwight D. Eisenhower.”

Something strange and unprecedented happened after Darnell spoke, Maude’s eyes lit up as if she understood exactly what he was saying. It was as if that piece of scientific folklore came true and one out of the hundreds of monkeys in the typewriter pool actually produced a close-to-perfect draft of Love’s Labors Lost. But when Maude spoke, Darnell realized her monkey brain didn’t have a clue.

“Oh! He’s just like that poor Annette Bening.”

Darnell had only been in Maude’s company for the past several months, ever since Claude woke up one Sunday morning and decided to run for the presidency, but he had already learned that it was not possible to resist taking the bait when she uttered such ridiculous comments. He claimed it was because he was cataloging them for a tell-all tome he was planning to write when the election was over, but he was beginning to think that it was because he was actually intrigued by how her mind worked.

“Tell me Maude,” Darnell said. “How is Adlai Stevenson just like Annette Bening?”

“Isn’t it obvious?”

“No, Maude, it isn’t obvious, that’s why I’ve asked for clarification.”

“But you’re so smart Darnell, I thought you’d know.”

“By definition, ‘to ask’ means that one does not know, so please,

Maude, put us both out of our misery and tell me.”

“Oh I’m sorry, are you not feeling well?”

“Maude!”

Wishing she were attending one of her business meetings where no one ever raised their voice to her instead of being here in this cramped room with one of her husband’s very rude and clearly dumb employees, Maude decided it was best to share some wisdom with the less fortunate.

“Annette Bening lost the Best Actress Academy Award in 1999 and 2004 and both times she lost to Hilary Swank,” Maude explained. “So you see, Annette and Adlai are like the same person. Except different genders, of course. And, of course, one is dead and the other’s alive. Though I don’t think Annette works much anymore so her career’s kind of dead. And if you’re an actress with a dead career, are you really alive?”

Shockingly, Darnell followed the thread of logic in Maude’s comment and thought that her Adlai-Annette comparison was borderline insightful. He then immediately wondered if this meant that Maude was becoming smarter, or if by osmosis and his close and sustained proximity to her, he was becoming dumber. Her next comment put everything back into its correct perspective.

“Oh great, the Cow and the Milk Lady have decided to show up right when you and Maude were starting to discuss important things.”

Without turning around to see who entered the room, Darnell knew. ‘Cow’ was Maude’s affectionate nickname for her husband, Claude. It wasn’t because Claude in any way resembled a cow, but because they met two years ago while at a charity event at a dairy farm in upstate New York and although Maude is lactose intolerant the two immediately hit it off and have been inseparable ever since. The Milk Lady, however, is not as affectionate a nickname, but the moniker Maude has bestowed upon Feodora Lazenby, the Chairwoman of the Republican National Party. Or as Maude so eloquently puts it, “That Republican whore who wants to tug on my Cow’s utter.”

Even though there is no evidence of an affair between Claude and Feodora, Maude is convinced otherwise and, at best, thinks that it is only a matter of time before Feodora gets her hands on what is utterly not hers to touch. Claude, being a man who likes to be the center of attention, has done little to convince his wife that she has nothing to worry about and that his relationship with Feodora is purely professional. Twice in one minute, Darnell was forced to admit that Maude might not really be as stupid as her IQ test suggests because he knows that Feodora would like nothing more than for her relationship with Claude to be anything but professional. The very thought of it made Darnell’s stomach turn. Dealing with three loose cannons is not easy and it’s no wonder that Darnell’s diet consists primarily of Nature Valley trail mix bars, Pepto Bismal, and Imodium.

“Weisenberg!” Claude shouted from behind Darnell.

The Press Secretary was so transfixed watching Maude’s face contort into a grotesque scowl as if she was auditioning to play Alexis Carrington Colby in some drag version of Dynasty: The Musical that he forgot to brace himself for what always followed Claude shouting his name. So when Claude slapped him on the back, Darnell lurched forward and almost knocked his coffee all over his notes.

“Careful Weisenberg,” Claude barked. “If you ruin those notes, what the hell am I gonna say when those pesky reporters ask me a question?”

“Answer them as brilliantly as you always do,” Feodora answered.

“Back off Feodora!” Maude cried. “Or I swear Maude will pull an Eisenhower and turn you into Adlai Stevenson right here and right now.”

Both men in the room were impressed for completely different reasons. Darnell felt like Henry Higgins after teaching Eliza Doolittle the necessity of the letter ‘h’. And Claude felt like Henry VIII after watching Anne Boleyn bitch slap Catherine of Aragon. The result, however, was the same and both men were aroused.

“Now, now, Maude,” Claude began. “Feodora is only doing her job as Chairwoman and giving me the emotional support someone in my position desperately needs and, might I add, deserve.”

The sound of Claude’s voice always unsettled Maude. She knew that to most of the world he sounded like the lovechild of Truman Capote and Marlene Dietrich, but to her he sounded like undiluted testosterone. No matter how mad she might be all he had to do was speak a few words and she was the lovesick 49-year-old she was when she first laid eyes on him walking through the dairy farm trying not to step in cowpies.

“Maude is sorry Sweetie Cow,” Maude purred. “Maude’s just missed you so.”

“And I’ve missed you,” Claude replied. “But I’ve told you Maudie that you need to start practicing patience. Once I win this thing you’ll have to share me with the rest of the country.”

“I know you’ll think Maude cruel and the worst wife ever in the entire universe,” Maude started, “But there’s a part of Maude that hopes you lose the election.”

Darnell and Feodora gasped so loudly most of the oxygen was sucked out of the little room.

“There! Maude’s said it,” Maude said. “Maude hopes you lose.”

“Blaspheme!” Feodora cried and clutched Claude’s bicep to steady herself.

“I’m sorry!” Maude cried even louder. “It’s how Maude feels and Maude did not become a beloved celebrity by hiding Maude’s emotions.”

“No, Maude became a beloved celebrity by not hiding Maude’s privates,” Darnell remarked.

“Enough squabbling,” Claude said. “You should all know by now that there’s enough Claude to go around even if the entire population of the United States wants a piece.”

“Spoken like a true leader!” Feodora exclaimed, still clenching Claude’s bicep.

“I hate to interrupt,” Darnell lied. “But we have a debate to prepare for.”

Claude rolled his eyes and chuckled at Darnell’s use of the word ‘prepare’ because Claude never prepared for a single thing in his entire life. Born into incredible wealth, Claude slithered out of his mother’s womb and instinctively understood that he could live life by his own rules because he had the safety net of an interest-bearing multi-million dollar trust fund and a family name that could get him out of the worst jams he might find himself in. And there were countless jams, one worse than the other, through the years.

Claude drank, caroused, and slept his way through Swiss boarding school, Harvard Business School, and most of the civilized world before settling down with his first wife whom he met at foam party in Monaco. Svetlana divorced him three years and two children later when she caught him au naturale with Padma, one of the editors of one of the many magazines he published. Padma divorced him two years and one child later, when she caught him dozing off while they were au naturale. Claude claimed he was exhausted from work, Padma knew he, like her, had simply become bored at working to save their marriage. The following year he met Maude and they’ve been inseparable ever since. Until certain times when Darnell demands he have Claude all to himself.

“Maude needs to leave,” Darnell declared.

“You heard the man in charge,” Feodora added. “Maude needs to leave.”

“And so does Feodora.”

Feodora Lazenby glared at Darnell, but didn’t say a word. Although she was not a woman who typically took orders, she knew when to take them. She had not risen to the top of the political food chain by being a picky eater, she ate everything and anything that stood in her way to achieve success, power, and respect, but she also knew when to swallow her pride and wait for her next meal. As much as she adored Claude she knew that her fantasies of having late-night, private meetings with him in the Oval Office would only come true if he won the election. Which meant that she had to respect Darnell’s fantasy of being in charge.

“You are so right Darnell,” Feodora said. “We ladies will leave you gentlemen alone so you can master the art of the debate.”

Maude gave Claude a deep, very non-presidential kiss, but kept one eye open to make sure that Feodora saw that Maude saw Feodora looking at Maude.

Wanting to be rid of Maude as quickly as possible, Feodora waved her arm toward the door allowing Maude to leave first.

“After you my dear.”

“Of course,” Maude replied. “Ladies first.”

After the door slammed in Feodora’s face, she turned to the two men in the room and made a pronouncement worthy of Queen Elizabeth on a heavy flow day.

“I bid you gentlemen adieu,” she bellowed, “But be advised that I expect to be informed as to the decisions you make regarding tonight’s debate. I don’t think I need to remind you of the importance of this telecast.”

Claude’s high-pitched, lispy laugh echoed throughout the small room.

“Oh Feodora!” Claude cried. “You act like I’ve never been able to seduce an audience before.”

Although neither Darnell nor Feodora really knew the full extent of Claude’s exploits, they had heard stories and they had their own wicked imaginations. Thus, they knew that Claude could seduce an audience of one or one thousand. The problem was that during tonight’s debate he was going to have to do the seducing fully clothed. And do it with Priscilla Papillon standing right next to him. In public, the entire Republican Party pooh-poohed Priscilla’s debating abilities, but behind closed doors they were shaking in their elephant-skin boots because Priscilla was a formidable opponent with decades more experience as a debater. Every Republican, especially Feodora, was worried.

“You know I would never make the mistake of doubting your skills of seduction,” Feodora stated. “But you shouldn’t make the mistake of doubting Priscilla’s skills either.”

It was as if someone just announced that Claude would need to file bankruptcy. For the fourth time.

“That chinless widow?!” Claude cried in disbelief. “Are you serious?”

“Do not underestimate the seductive power of the widow,” Darnell declared. “Black or chinless.”

“Forget about Priscilla, darling, and listen to Darnell,” Feodora instructed. “But remember that the fate of the free world is riding on how well you do tonight.”

“Is that all?” Claude asked without a hint of irony.

Feodora started to leave the room and turned back one last time to see Claude and Darnell already huddled over the pile of papers on the table. She loved how quickly powerful men took orders from her, it gave her such a rush of excitement. When she turned back around to exit, excitement drained from her body and was replaced with fury.

“What the hell are you doing here?” Feodora whispered.

“I’m here to issue a warning,” Kyoko replied.

Feodora ushered the Democratic Party’s Press Secretary out of the room before the two men could see that their tiny sanctuary had almost been invaded by a member of the enemy camp. And an enemy with a prophecy.

“How dare you barge in here in that . . . that . . . dowdy Democratic dress?!”

“Oh shut up Feodora!” Kyoko snapped, “This dress cost more than your entire J.C. Penney wardrobe. I’m here to do you a favor.”

Feodora smirked primarily because she had bought her black and white houndstooth suit at Sears and not Penney’s, but also because she loved when Democrats came a-crawling.  “Is Priscilla ready to admit defeat?”

“No, she’s ready to use the smoking gun.”

A-crawling like a flea-bitten rat!

“Does she want to commit political suicide?!”

“Not that smoking gun,” Kyoko clarified. “The other one.”

Feodora took a deep breath. She had been waiting for this day to come, but had hoped Priscilla wouldn’t have the guts to pull the trigger. Once again the Democratic hopeful proved her wrong.

“If you’re serious, then you need to do everything in your power to change her mind,” Feodora ordered. “Because if Priscilla reveals the truth about one smoking gun it’s only a matter of time before the truth about the other smoking gun becomes front page news and the world is not ready for that revelation.”

“Don’t you think I know that?”

“Yes, but it doesn’t matter if you know that or if I know that,” Feodora replied, “If Priscilla doesn’t know that then we’re all screwed!”

Kyoko grabbed Feodora’s arm and pulled her closer to her. Feodora flinched thinking it was a closeted lesbian move on Kyoko’s part to create some intimacy between the two women, but then she saw how serious Kyoko looked. Feodora might be Republican, but she was a woman working in a so-called man’s profession so she knew a thing or two about lesbians. The primary bit of knowledge being that they were not known for their jovial nature. Even still, the intense look on Kyoko’s face had absolutely nothing to do with intimacy and everything to do with fear.

“Priscilla does know that,” Kyoko hissed. “But I don’t think she cares anymore. She doesn’t care if the world finds out that Claude isn’t really Claude!”

Why do Asians always shout when they get scared?  “Keep your voice down!” Feodora yelled.  “This hallway could be bugged.”

Why do Republicans always become paranoid when they get scared?  “Don’t you think I already did a hallway sweep?”

“I’m sorry,” Feodora said.  “I know how efficient your people are.  What I didn’t realize was how selfish the person you work for is.”

“Priscilla isn’t selfish,” Kyoko replied, “she’s desperate!  She knows this election is starting to slip through her grasp and she will do anything she can to get back on top of the polls.”

“Even if her actions have such a ripple effect that the world may never recover?”

“As long as it means she gets to be in the top spot and be the one who heals the world,” Kyoko explained. “Priscilla will take the risk of exposing Claude for who and what he really is – a native of Sri Lanka and not Lancaster, Pennsylvania like he and you and the entire Republican Party have led the world to believe.  And if by doing so that other smoking gun is revealed, well then, she’s prepared to suffer the consequences.”

While that statement repulsed Feodora and instilled in her a sense of foreboding because it was clear that someone else had the power to destroy every single thing she had worked for her entire life, she was also impressed. If only Claude had one-tenth of Priscilla’s courage to add to his charisma, then it wouldn’t matter about any smoking gun or what he said during a debate or the fact that his real birth certificate said “product of some third world country that no one can even find on a globe,” he would win the election by a landslide. But when it comes to courage, some women got it and some men don’t.  And Feodora was forced to admit that the only important thing Claude had was a foreign born skeleton in his closet big enough to make his entire campaign and the entire Republican Party implode overnight.

She would do anything to prevent that from happening.  Even the unthinkable.

“Well my friend we have no choice,” Feodora said. “The time has come for us to join forces and bring that bitch down.”

The Human Race

Part 1

The votes are in and the results are unanimous.  Change is coming and once it arrives, the world will never be the same.

 

The first truly viable female presidential candidate in the history of the United States entered the room.  She didn’t expect to be greeted  with tumultuous applause, either spontaneous or manufactured, for the only other person in the room was her Press Secretary.  And her Press Secretary never applauded because her hands were always otherwise engaged holding, at least, a clipboard, a cellphone, and a ziploc bag filled with honey-lemon lozenges.  However, the presidential hopeful also never expected to be greeted by an audible gasp.  Followed by a piercing cry.

“PRISCILLA!!!”

For a moment, Priscilla Papillon, the Democratic Party’s hope for a history-making, gender-bending future, thought the Hilton Hotel at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport was under siege by radical terrorists or bitter Midwestern members of what was once the influential group known as the Tea Party and almost gave in to the instinct to duck and lie flat on the floor.  With one quick look at the threadbare and worse, mauve, carpet, Priscilla was happy that she resisted such a primal urge.  Terrorists and Midwesterners be damned, she was not going to risk soiling her suit.  Unfortunately, her Press Secretary already thought it was an eyesore.

“Priscilla!” Kyoko screamed once again.  “You cannot wear that suit at tonight’s debate!”

At this point in their relationship, Priscilla was accustomed to Kyoko’s Tourette-like outbursts and it was one of the reasons the Asian-American, happily-married-yet-closeted-lesbian, was considered such an asset to this groundbreaking team.  Unlike most of the other members in Priscilla’s inner circle, Kyoko Takahashi had no qualms about telling the truth and nothing but the truth.  Other top-tier personnel would tap dance around a sensitive issue like an epileptic hoofer, but Kyoko, true to her Japanese heritage, spoke her mind even if her comments could be as sharp and culturally offensive as a Samurai’s blade.  Most of the time Priscilla was grateful for Kyoko’s honesty.  Now was not one of those times.

“Why the hell not?” Priscilla asked in her trademark rasp.  “It’s my favorite.”

It was because of situations like this that Kyoko was drawn to the political arena.  Here, she could use her insight and Jeopardy-esque knowledge about the world and how its inhabitants think, feel, and act, to steer a campaign away from metaphorical icebergs and toward victory.  She could affect change.

“I don’t care if it’s your favorite, Priscilla, it’s . . . BROWN!”

The last word burst out of her mouth like the mushroom cloud that appeared in the sky above her great-grandparents’ farm when they were newlyweds.  Incomprehensible and without warning.

“But Kyoko, that’s why it’s my favorite,” Priscilla whined uncharacteristically, “Earth tones flatter my ruddy complexion.  Especially under the harsh TV lights.”

The emotionless mask that was always tightly screwed to Kyoko’s face to hide any hint of expression started to shatter.  Her almond shaped eyes grew so big they became ovals, her thick, flat nostrils elongated and flared, and her unnaturally white teeth clamped together like someone slipped Krazy Glue into her toothpaste.  Kyoko was so angry that even with her jaw clenched, every word that she shouted could be distinctly heard.

“No they don’t!” Kyoko spat.  “They just make you look . . . ruddier!  Like one of those breast cancer runners who’ve never set foot on a treadmill, but think that just because they fasten a pink ribbon to their overpriced Lulu Lemon everyday Yogi tank top, they’ll be able to run a 5K!  It’s stupid and unsubstantiated!  Not the Lulu Lemon Yogi tank top, that’s perfect, it fits snug on the back, but skims loosely in the front and flatters the breasts those runners are trying to save.  I have five, all in heathered black, because black’s my color.  It matches my hair.  And I like when things match.  What’s a stupid and unsubstantiated comment is that you think your brown suit is a positive fashion statement!”

Undeterred, Priscilla replied, “Of course it is.”  And then strategically positioned herself next to the airport’s logo of a globe in the shape of a Georgia peach and added, “The subliminal message is that brown transforms me into Mother Earth.”

One of Kyoko’s unnaturally oval-shaped eyes began to twitch.  “And the actual message your brown suit conveys is that you’re a sad, isolated, and decaying woman!”  Waving her clipboard over her head, Kyoko continued, “Because that, Miss Priscilla, is how 87.5% of the voting-age population interprets the color brown.  As the color of decay!  Do you think that’s who voters want to watch in a presidential debate?  Is that who you think voters want in the White House?  A decaying corpse?  Answer me!”

Priscilla knew that regardless of how intimidating and influential the rest of the world might view her, whenever Kyoko addressed her as ‘Miss Priscilla’, she lost all of her bargaining power and had no choice but to acquiesce to her Press Secretary’s wishes.

“No Kyoko that is not who they want.”

But because Priscilla did not reach the lofty heights she currently resides in, with the glass ceiling pressing down on her teased-up, heavily-dyed brunette hair, due diligence typically followed acquiescence.  “But are you sure about that?  I mean really sure?”

Kyoko didn’t explode because she was expecting a follow-up question.  Instead, she took a deep breath that allowed her features to return to their natural states and sat down at one of the two plastic folding chairs at the small square table, which were the only pieces of furniture in the room, and replied, “Yes, I’m really sure, it’s all in the market research.”

Sitting across from Kyoko in the other folding chair, Priscilla folded her hands on the table, leaned forward and scrutinized her employee with the same intensity usually reserved for foreign heads of state right at the turning point of a particularly rough negotiation and confessed, “I had absolutely no idea.  I thought brown made me look strong and grounded.”

“Just the opposite,” Kyoko corrected.  “It makes you look weak and undetermined.  And don’t even get me started on what that yellow blouse adds to the equation.”

Priscilla didn’t respond, well not articulately.  She slumped back in her chair and let out a small whimper.

Unable to resist the opportunity, Kyoko pounced.  “Yellow on top of brown paints you as an irrational, depressed woman on the brink of suicide.”

This time Priscilla’s whimper was not small.  It was also not an easy whimper for Kyoko to interpret.  And when Kyoko couldn’t interpret something, she became anxious.

“You’re not contemplating suicide are you?” she asked.

In her gut, Priscilla knew Kyoko was only asking in order to prevent a gap in the day’s planned schedule and not out of compassion for her well-being, but still is was a thoughtful question.  “No,” Priscilla replied, her voice once again strong and unwavering.  “Absolutely not.”

“Good,” Kyoko barked.  “Because we have a very tight schedule.”

Priscilla didn’t care about the schedule, she really didn’t even care what kind of emotional resonance her outfit’s color scheme had on the voting public, all she cared about was defeating her opponent.  And she didn’t care what she had to do to secure a defeat.

“So do you think it’s finally time to disclose the smoking gun?” Priscilla asked.

“Which one?” Kyoko replied, her head not even lifting to meet Priscilla’s steely glare.

Priscilla rolled her eyes, but since Kyoko still hadn’t looked up and was pouring over her notes, the melodramatic gesture played to an empty house.  “You know which gun I’m talking about,” she added.  “The one that will guarantee Claude McCook only steps foot into the White House as my guest.”

How delusional can these people be, Kyoko thought.  It must be lack of oxygen when they rise to such Olympian heights that makes them lose all touch with reality.  Or perhaps it’s a result of living years of entitlement and isolation that makes them think they are beyond reproach, that only others can be held accountable for their deeds and their histories, and only others can tumble down from the precarious pedestal they’re perched upon.  How can they possibly think that they will get away with what they’ve done?  Don’t they watch CSI?  Don’t they know their are clues everywhere?  Don’t they know that every person ultimately has to pay for what they’ve done even if that person is rich, powerful, and on the short list to become president?

“You forget that Claude has a smoking gun too,” Kyoko said.  “With your name on it.”

Waving a manicured hand in the air, Priscilla scoffed, “I’m not talking about the double-barrelled gun that we share and that bears both our names, I’m talking about the other one.”

“Oh that one.”

“Yes that one.”

“It’s too soon.”

“But he’s rising in the polls.”

“He’s been rising.  And falling.  That’s his rhythm,” Kyoko explained.  “When he rises and then continues to rise, that’s when we use that weapon against him.  If we use it before that time it’ll be premature and the only premature event that ever turned out to be a blessing was your husband’s premature death.”

“Kyoko!” Priscila cried, her voice filled with unconvincing moral outrage.  “How dare you use Mr. Papillon’s name in vein!”

“Do you even remember Mr. Papillon’s first name?” Kyoko asked.

Priscilla thought for a moment, but since she couldn’t decide between Peter or Paul, she changed the subject.  “We’ve held onto this secret for quite a long time, don’t you think it’s time to use it?”

Kyoko hated to be second guessed.  Especially by an employer.  “Don’t you think it’s time to change?”

When Priscilla’s eyes darted away from Kyoko’s Asian-American laser-focused gaze, the Press Secretary realized a Suitgate scandal was still a possibility.

“Why can’t you look me in the eye Priscilla?  Why are you turning away from me?  And why in the name of the Supreme Buddha, the Dalai Lama, ARE YOU STILL WEARING YELLOW AND BROWN?!”

Each question was like a dagger in Priscilla’s heart.  She knew that at this point in the race for the presidency how she looked was far more important than what she said or thought about domestic and foreign policy and yet after all these decades of being in the public eye, she has never gained an iota of fashion sense.  She still clung to the hope that the crocheted poncho would make a comeback and had three hanging in her closet just waiting to be worn with a comfortable, broken-in pair of Birkenstocks.  Instantly, the second smoking gun was forgotten and Priscilla was forced to explain to Kyoko that the only other suit she brought with her was her gray one.  It was a comment that resulted in Kyoko tossing the ziploc bag in the air so it landed with a thump in the middle of the table.

“Didn’t I already tell you that your gray suit makes you look like an overweight cloud of doom?” Kyoko asked, somewhat rhetorically.

“Yes,” Priscilla replied softly while reaching out to grab a honey-lemon lozenge that broke free from the ziploc bag upon impact.

“Then why did you bring it?”

In a heartbeat, the Democratic presidential nominee, the first woman to ever receive a major political party’s backing to run for the highest office in the free world, was transported back to the insecurities of the grammar school playground.

Sucking loudly on a lozenge Priscilla replied, “Because I’ve lost five pounds and thought the gray might now appear flattering.”

Kyoko allowed her emotionless mask to crack once again, but this time it was to bring a smirk to the surface of her lips and a squint to her already slanted eyes.  They were all the same, she thought with a mixture of pride and revulsion.  They could be insanely rich, preternaturally powerful, and yet all of these people were exactly the same at their core — they were little children just begging to be scolded.  They longed for someone even more powerful to grab them by their wrists, rip down their pants, throw them over a knee, and slap their tiny, powerless, insecure buttocks with a firm hand.  So that’s what Kyoko did, figuratively of course, with one simple sentence.

“Fat or almost-fat, Priscilla, a cloud of doom is still a cloud of doom.”

When Priscilla nodded her head frantically in agreement with Kyoko’s pronouncement, Kyoko could see some gray beginning to emerge from the presidential nominee’s scalp thus ruining the landscape of the brunette helmut and made a note to book an appointment with Juan-Lupito, the Party’s official hair colorist, for a touch-up.  Even with this distraction she didn’t lose sight of the matter at hand.

“Lucky for you I always think ahead,” Kyoko announced, “I brought your navy blue pantsuit with the cream blouse.  It makes you appear strong, authoritative, commanding, and most important, like a hermaphrolitical.”

“Thank you Kyoko,” Priscilla gushed.  “I can always count on you.”

Then she replayed Kyoko’s comments in her head.  “Hermaphrolitical?!  What the hell does that mean?”

Kyoko’s bony fingers retracted into a fist and pounded onto the table at the same time she shouted, “Like you’re a political hermaphrodite!”

What?  Priscilla had spent decades as a public servant working with underprivileged families in all parts of the country.  In the deep south she knew an opponent was a coward and not to be feared if someone described him as the type of person who wouldn’t bust a grape in a fruit fight.  While working with coal miners in Appalachia she knew that when someone said that it looks like a bunch of hogs running around with sticks in their mouths it was time to break out the parka because the temperature was going to drop.  She successfully negotiated arms treaties with Middle Eastern rebels, helped raise human rights concerns in communist China, and convinced a reluctant Vladimir Putin to put his shirt back on during a climate change summit.  Those language barriers were easy to break, but not this one.  She heard Kyoko’s comment, but had no idea what she said.  Kyoko could tell by her boss’ confused expression that she needed to translate.

“Like you’re a woman with the biggest pair of balls on the planet!”

Finally, Kyoko was speaking Priscilla’s language.

But would Priscilla speak the public’s language during the debate later on tonight?  Would she say the right things to keep moving up in the polls and not stumble down a few notches like she had done so many times before?  That’s what both women were worrying about.  Well, to be specific, they were both worrying about Claude McCook.

The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Claude was an unexpected, but now formidable, opponent who had broken every rule to rise to the top.  Last year he wasn’t even a member of their party, he was a registered Independent, but now he was Alpha Republican.  He seemed to be made of Teflon and could say or do the most outrageous things and still not lose support and remain the people’s choice.  It was unbelievable to think that four short months ago Priscilla was looked on by all sides as the guaranteed winner, the next POTUS, and now she was struggling to maintain a mere five point lead over her opponent.

In her mind, she had one choice and that was to pull out that smoking gun and fire a bullet right into Claude’s heart to annihilate him and his candidacy or else risk losing everything she had worked her entire life to achieve.  Every choice she had ever made since she was a six-year-old girl and first uttered the words “I pledge allegiance to the flag” while living in poverty in rural Tennessee had brought her to this point and there was no way in hell she was going to allow a twice-divorced, former magazine publisher, and celebrity golf-pro destroy her chance to fulfill her destiny.  It just wasn’t going to happen.  No matter what Kyoko said about waiting.

No, Priscilla said to herself, she was done waiting.  She was done being the good little girl who played by rules made up by the big boys.  The time had come for her to use her secret weapon and get ride of her competition once and for all.

True, Claude McCook possessed a mighty pair.  But if he hadn’t figured it out by now, he – and the rest of the world for that matter – were about to find out that his balls were no match for Priscilla’s.

Coming soon – Part 2

TRANS-ition

Lately, you can’t go online or turn on the TV without reading an article or hearing about the transgender population.  And what a great thing that is.  It’s about time there is an open, serious discussion about this community – of which I admittedly know very little about – in order to educate and inform the global community – that is probably as ignorant as I am on the subject.

A few months ago, before Caitlyn Jenner was formally introduced to the world, I spoke at several high schools about my novels and the writing process in general and had the pleasure of meeting with members of several Gay Straight Alliance groups.  As someone who graduated high school way back in the early ‘80s, a time when very few adults – let alone students – were emerging from their closets to declare their sexual orientation, it was inspiring to meet teenagers who are fearless and so confident in themselves that they willingly joined a group with the word “gay” in the title. 

Color me surprised when I realized that t I completely ignored the last letter of the LGBT community and was shocked to discover that several transgender teenagers were also part of these groups.  Was it because I’m a gay-man-of-a-certain-age?  Had I spent too much time writing books about vampires?  Did I think the “T” stood for “Transylvania”?  (And yes, my mind has also gone directly to The Rocky Horror Picture Show and if yours hasn’t, get thee to Youtube asap!)

Anyway, despite my initial surprise, we all had a great time meeting one other.  The kids wanted to know what it was like growing up gay in the “olden times” and how my “coming out” and subsequent journey into adulthood influenced my writing and I was happy to share my story.  I was quite interested to hear how they handle being gay, lesbian, and bisexual in today’s modern world and found it heartwarming that many of the groups’ members are straight and part of the group to support their friends and do their part to ensure that high school is a safe haven for all students.

I must admit, however, that I was really fascinated by what the transgender students had to say.  They didn’t believe me at first when I told them that they were the first transgender people – that I was aware of – that I had a conversation with, but it is the truth.  I’m not sheltered, just from the suburbs.  In any event, I learned quite a bit about their issues, their struggles, and their courage, and I am better informed because of it.  Ironically, the one issue I still have a little bit of trouble with is a semantic one.  I’m not always sure what to call them.

Now before you call me supremely ignorant, I understand the proper use of ‘he’ and ‘she’ as pronouns when identifying a transgendered person.  But it can become more complicated.  One of the students told me ‘it’ is a pronoun option and with apologies to those who refer to themselves that way, I cannot bring myself to call a person an ‘it’, I personally find it disrespectful. 

The other choice is ‘they’.  And here’s where it gets tricky.  I completely understand that we, as a society, are label-centric, but there’s a reason we are.  It simplifies things and creates order out of chaos.  So regardless if you agree with labeling – him, her, mom, dad – it is the norm and a habit and habits are hard to break.

I found out recently that the teenage niece of a very close friend of mine is an advocate for the transgender community – intelligent, articulate, poised – and transgender herself.  Actually, that should be himself.  Except it isn’t.  This person doesn’t identify as either male or female, but something in between, something that is part combination and part new creation.  Take away the emotional reaction to such a comment and the hard-to-let-go-of traditional beliefs we all harbor about gender identity and this makes perfect sense because each and every one of us possess masculine and feminine qualities.  Simple, right?  So it shouldn’t bother me that this person uses the pronoun ‘they’ to describe herself.  Or himself?  Or . . .

To be completely honest, when I first heard about this, I immediately rebelled against the idea as being dumb, irrational, and just plain wrong.  How open-minded of me!  Once I got over my stupidity, I realized this is a perfectly appropriate choice.  It may irk the writer in me to use the plural pronoun to describe a single person, but if ‘they’ describes the state of mind of a transgender person who am I to argue?  Or disagree?  Or, most reprehensibly, to judge?

I’ve actually done a lot of thinking on this subject and I think another factor in my reluctance to call a ‘him’ or a ‘her’ a ‘they” is my own homosexuality.  I proudly identify as a gay man. I get the humor of it, but I really do bristle when members inside and outside the gay community use ‘she’ or ‘her’ to describe a man because I consider it derogatory.  I’m old enough to have lived through a time when name-calling was accepted and I won’t tolerate it.  So now when I hear a transgender man describe himself as ‘they’ I get a little angry.  No, you’re a man, be proud of it.  But then I have to remind myself that that’s my own journey, one that is specific to me, and no one else.  So if the ‘they’ fits, wear it.

I think the most important thing to remember is that we are all the same and that we are all transitioning.  Some of us are moving from one gender to the other.  And some of us are moving from one state of mind to another.  

Say good-bye to ignorance, because understanding is really the new black.

The Meaning of $uccess

Whether you loved your childhood or despised it, the culture of the time period when you ‘grew up’ has more than likely defined you as the person you are today.  You may think you escaped the clutches of your past, but if you’re like me, your thinking is all wrong.

I’m a self-described late-bloomer.  Born in the ’60’s, I started high school in 1978 and while I embrace the pop culture of the ’60’s and ’70’s (Claudine Longet anyone??), I am most definitely a child of the ’80’s.  I graduated high school in 1982 and college in 1986.   And yes for those of you keeping count, that’s a really long time ago!  So for me the 1980’s is the decade that most defines me.

When asked, most people will say they remember the ’80’s as a decade of mediocre TV, huge hair, and shoulder pads as a fashion statement and, for the most part, I agree.  I do, however, maintain that MANIMAL and PARTNERS IN CRIME were really fun TV series and if you don’t believe me youtube them.  And it may be because I was a teenager when MTV debuted, but I still consider Duran Duran to be THE best band ever in the history of music and it has nothing to do with their beautifully-coiffed big hair and perfectly-fitting super-wide-shoulder-padded jackets.  Again, if you don’t believe me, youtube them and start with the Wild Boys video, you will thank me later. 

Unfortunately, there is a flip side to all the over-produced music videos, buffalo plaid and/or neon colored outfits, and asymmetrical haircuts that made up my young adulthood.  There is also the forced realization that since the ’80’s was a time period of excess I was subconsciously taught that without financial success you were a failure.

Remember, this was a time of J.R. Ewing, Alexis Carrington, and the rest of the gang who populated The Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.  My head was filled with champagne wishes and caviar dreams, but my heart was filled with the need to be artistic.  Plus, my brain was not filled with the knowledge of how to balance a checkbook or how to focus my substantial energies to make money to even have a checkbook.  I had ambition and drive, but little practical guidance from my elders – either family members or actual school guidance counselors – and so I drifted away from careers that would have netted me an ’80’s sized fortune and toward endeavors that satisfied my soul.

Please don’t get the wrong idea, I’m not blaming anyone for not steering me in the right money-making direction.  My parents were loving and supportive, but they didn’t understand how the world really worked.  And I don’t remember ever reaching out to a guidance counselor for guidance and even if I did, I was so headstrong and stubborn I probably wouldn’t have listened to anything I was told.  So I graduated college with a Journalism degree and magna cum laude bragging rights and very quickly went on my merry way to become an actor aka a waiter.  But like Gloria Gaynor, I survived.  

I’ve published eight novels and am currently working on my ninth.  I have written over ten plays, all but one full-length play has been produced, several 10-minute plays have been published, and many have won awards.  I’ve also written many magazine articles, screenplays, and am the Artistic Director for a community theatre in my hometown in New Jersey.  I’ve performed in musicals in New York, the Far East, and many places in between.  And yet I still question if I’m successful because my bank account hasn’t ballooned as much as my talent, and dare I say, accolades.  Trust me, I know I’m not Stephen King or Tennessee Williams, my work isn’t known world-wide or considered to be national treasures, but success comes in all shapes and sizes.  

Years ago, I had a book signing at a college in South Jersey and about eight people attended.  One of them was a 14-year-old girl who is now my number one fan. At her Sweet 16 birthday party, one of my books was the party favor!  She, her mother, and her entire family are now my friends and I’ve had the pleasure of watching this ‘kid’ grow into an intelligent, funny, self-assured young woman about to leave the nest to attend college.  I couldn’t be more proud.   

Another young guy was so enamored with one of the recurring lines of dialogue in The Archangel Academy Series that he had the phrase tattooed onto his back!  I was dumbfounded when he told me, then humbled and even a little bit honored.  I couldn’t believe that something I wrote moved him so much that he wanted a permanent reminder of those words and the emotions behind them.  If you don’t believe me, here’s proof:

Unnatural Tattoo!

So I must be doing something right and whether or not I want to admit it, I’m successful.  Because you can’t only define success in terms of dollar signs.  And I’ve learned that if you do, then you’re completely missing the point.

 

Proud Marys

The word ‘pride’ has been bandied about quite a bit this week and with very good reason: the Supreme Court – or the sane portion of the aforementioned – has finally made it a constitutional right for any American to marry any other American.  You go Girlamerica!

Of course to the rest of the rational-thinking population this is a no-brainer, but the truth is this was a narrow victory.  Furthermore, there are still many pockets of our great country that house citizens who believe this right should not have been granted.  I’m not going to waste much time directing my words at them because people who are against marriage equality don’t embrace fact and logic, but rather hide behind rhetoric and commingle with fear.  They pick and choose the mandates in the bible that speak to their prejudice and they don’t acknowledge a simple tenant upon which this country was built – that there is a separation of church and state.  If you only get married in a church or a synagogue or other house of worship and don’t also get a court-obtained marriage license you ain’t married so how you can bring the church and by extension religion into a debate about marriage is more than my simple mind can take.  But I don’t want to talk about that.  Or write about that as the case may be.

Pride, like any other emotion, cannot be awarded or granted, it needs to come from within.  And I know that many of us who were taught to believe – whether literally or through subtle innuendo – that we are members of a fringe society, have not always been proud of who we are.  Sure we made a conscious choice to surround ourselves with like-minded individuals to feel less alone.  And yes, if we were lucky – as I have been – we had the love and support of family who don’t ‘accept’ our homosexuality, but rather don’t care about it.  We are their sons, daughters, nephews, cousins, grandchildren, and part of the family regardless of who we’re attracted to.  The person comes first; the sexual orientation is an afterthought.

And still pride didn’t always come.  Or if it came it came fitfully, in spurts.  Feel good one day and then overhear a catty remark or see yet another stereotype played out on TV for a cheap laugh and pride is immediately replaced with shame.  I am not good enough, I am not equal, I am not worthy.  I’ll never truly know, but I assume it’s the same with women, African-Americans, and other minorities who feel marginalized.  So for me the lesson learned by the Supreme Court’s decision is that we all need to lighten up.

It’s truly wonderful (though a little late-coming) that same-sex marriage is going to be federally recognized, but should that one law change how I feel about myself?  Should I surge with pride because five people have given me the right that I should have always had?  Should I pump my fist in the air because four old men who wear black gowns are still pissy that they lost and one of them – that would be you Scalia – is as quotable as Dorothy Zbornak?  Not really.

Because even though what the nine justices have done is remarkable and ground-breaking and could potentially change my future (if, of course I can get a second date!), it shouldn’t change my self.  If the vote came in 5-4 in the other direction, I should still have pride in myself.  I should still have pride in recognizing that I’m a good, decent person who is loved and respected by the people who count.  I should still feel pride in my accomplishments as a writer, a friend, a brother, a relative, and that feeling should never change.  Nor should it be used as barter.  Give me federal recognition gosh dangit and I’ll feel proud about who I am!  Absolutely not.  Like a good Dorothy Zbornak zinger, pride should be organic.

So yes, let’s continue the pride party.  But let’s also remember that the celebration should never end even if there are people who believe it should never have started in the first place. And most important of all, remember that your pride party needs only one attendee: You.

Thank You For The Music

Last night I spent a joyous evening at a friend’s home doing something I haven’t done in quite some time – singing just for the fun of it.

Now, if you know me, you know that I love to sing, always have and always will.  Sometimes in the shower, sometimes on a stage, if I ever get to perform in the cross-gender production of SOUTH PACIFIC I’ll get to sing in a shower on a stage, but it’s been a while since I sang with a bunch of friends just for the sheer joy of it in a good old fashioned sing-a-long.

Recently, I’ve sung in some shows, but they were to entertain.  And if you’ve ever been in a musical you know that you have to work really hard for weeks beforehand to make the few minutes you’re on stage look carefree and easy.  Yes it can be joyful to be in the spotlight, but there’s  a lot that goes into a production before the curtain rises and stress, nerves, the unrealistic desire to be absolutely perfect, as well as backstage drama can get in the way.  As a result, some of the sheer joy of singing a beautiful melody can be lost.  You can be so worried about remembering your lyrics that you forget to tell a story through your song because in the back of your head you’re worried that you may go up on your lyrics or turn eight bars of music into four and then you’ll hear the nasty, condescending musical conductor go off on you and scream at you in front of the entire orchestra, cast, and audience to let you know that you ruined the dress rehearsal, made an utter fool of yourself, should transfer to Girl’s High, and have absolutely no business being on the stage.  Actually people like her have no business being on the stage, but that’s another story.

This story is about not having to deal with insecure, unprofessional people like that because last night I got to sing in my friend’s apartment with friends who are all secure and professional – what a difference!  We laughed, we sang, we drank, we forgot lyrics, we hit wrong notes, we drank some more, we remembered how much we enjoy being with each other, we impressed ourselves by still being able to hit the high notes, we didn’t self-implode when we didn’t hit the high notes, we were surprised to find out the quiet neighbor possesses a gorgeous, rich voice, and we realized the joy of singing doesn’t come from trying to be the perfect singer, but from being so comfortable with your friends by your side that it’s okay to sing imperfectly.

So thank you my friends for bringing some real music back into my life and for reminding me that being in the company of good friends is all the entertainment you need.

Gimme Some Good Energy

Whenever I watch the news on TV, read the headlines of various websites, listen to NPR, or scroll through Facebook postings and twitter feeds I’m reminded of that song from THE WIZ, “Don’t Nobody Bring Me No Bad News.”  The onslaught of negative vibes from every possible medium is absolutely relentless and shows no sign of diminishing.  Because the harsh truth is that bad stuff sells.  PARANORMAL ACTIVITY Part 52 anyone?  CRIMINAL MINDS Season 12?  As long as there’s bad news happening to some stranger out there in the world whether real or fictionalized or some combination of the two, it makes most of us feel better about our own lives.  It’s time for that to end.

Now, before you call me a hypocrite, please note that I acknowledge that I’m part of the problem and just as responsible for shooting bad energy out into the world as anyone else.  Most notably via my twitter account.  If you follow me at michael2264, you know that I’ve been criticizing New Jersey Transit and The Young and the Restless at warp speed lately for their contributions to commuter traffic and bad storytelling respectively.  However, as of today I am going to do my level best to stop that practice.  (I’m also going to try and uncover the origin of the phrase ‘level best’ in a future blog because I have no idea what it really means and it’s what I like to call ‘empty language’ – a colorful, made-up phrase that has no meaning.  But, as I often do, I digress.)

Notwithstanding the foregoing (another fab phrase of mine), NJ Transit and Y&R absolutely deserve to be criticized, ridiculed, and held accountable for the unconscionable crimes to the worlds of mass transportation and soap operas, but there has to be a way to do that in a less verbally violent manner.  Wouldn’t it be more effective if – to paraphrase a line from JANE EYRE, my favorite book of all time – I tempered judgment with praise?  (Another sidebar:  If you haven’t read JANE EYRE, buy it now and do not cheat by watching one of the many movies based upon this classic.  Trust me, you’ll thank me later.)  You see what I did there?  I took what could’ve been a negative comment – chastising those of you who’ve been too lazy or preoccupied with more superficial meanderings and haven’t yet read one of the best novels ever written – and turned it around by making it positive – acknowledging that you’ll be thankful to me once you stop being lazy and/or preoccupied with less important things and do something productive by reading said tome.  It’s all in the delivery.

And speaking of delivery, I realized this week that I have a lot to be grateful for.  To begin with, I should never have been born.  My parents wanted two kids, no more, no less, and since all my relatives are made up of families with only two kids – very common during the ‘60s – that isn’t just a comment to set up a story, but a fact.  Sadly, my mother’s first child was stillborn, a terrible tragedy that I don’t believe she ever fully recovered from.  But from that tragedy came a blessing – at least for me – because it meant that my mother then could have two more children, the last one being me.  I don’t know why I thought of this, but it truly did pop into my head last week.

In addition, my birthday is in late November and by today’s strict educational standards I would have to wait until I was five years old to start school.  Not so during the loosey goosey year that was 1964 when I was able to start school at the ripe old age of 4½.  I was such a baby – literally and figuratively – that my early kindergarten academic record is summed up by Sister Catherine’s comment to my mother, “Michael is an excellent student, IF HE WOULD JUST SHUT UP!”  When a nun yells, you know you have issues.

Although I never fully outgrew my ‘immature’ status as one of the youngest kids in my class, I am so grateful that my parents and the Hoboken, New Jersey school system disregarded the fact that I was too young to sit in a classroom for more than five minutes at a time and let me start kindergarten in the Fall of 1969.  If not, I would never have met Don and Robert and Corey and Karyn and Carol and Bernice and Henry and the countless other students in my grade who became my lifelong friends.  I’m sure I would’ve made other friends if I started school a year later, but, honestly, I know those kids and I much prefer the students who were in my grade thank you very much.

So instead of complaining, moaning, and spewing verbal venom, take a moment to think before you speak, write, or hit that SEND button.  Think about what you have to be grateful for and focus on all the good in your life instead of just tossing more negativity into the ether and the universe because, quite frankly, it’s killing us.  So from now on I’m going to do my best to put a good energy spin on things.  I can’t promise that I’ll truly become a Pollyanna overnight, but I’m going to work hard at spreading good words and thoughts and not evil, pro-negative, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY-esque thoughts into the world.

So hopefully the next time I’m in a traffic jam on Route 3 or ready to throw a hammer at my TV set while watching yet another almost-unwatchable episode of The Young and the Restless, I’ll be able to practice what I’ve e-preached and remember that I’m grateful just to be living and among a wonderful group of friends.

And if I fall off the wagon, you’ll find me listening to THE WIZ to help get me back on track!

The Blog is Back

So after a bit of an absence . . . I’m back!!  I’m going to do my darndest to blog every other day . . . starting today!  I’ll keep it short, not always so sweet, but definitely entertaining.

So today I’d like to discuss retail.

Do the head honchos of major retail companies really think that it makes customers feel better about themselves if salespeople refer to them as ‘client’?  I was in Sephora the other day on my way to a gallery opening and let’s just say I wasn’t feeling fresh.  Don’t judge me, it was a busy day, and it was humid out, you smell the picture, right?  So I took a detour and stopped into Sephora to spritz myself with cologne.  I won’t even tell you how disappointed I was with the men’s cologne selection – I finally picked Tom Ford’s Noir – mainly because he’s handsome and I was desperate.  Wait, that doesn’t sound exactly right, does it?  Hmmm, actually it kind of does.  Okay, moving on.

So I’m in the store and I hear all these Sephorabots shouting, “May I help the next client?”, “Will the next client please step down?”, “Excuse me client, would you like a makeover?”  We’re not clients, we’re not guests, we’re customers.  What’s wrong with calling us that?  Why must we sugarcoat everything?  Why must we pander to the ego, can’t we just be direct?  What’s wrong with, “May I help the next customer?”  And please note that I used the word ‘next’ and not ‘following’, which is another pet peeve of mine.  I just don’t like how it sounds.  I know that it basically means the same thing, but would you say “Who’s following in line?” when you want to say “Who’s next in line?”  No you would not.  Now back to the issue of client vs. customer.

I know that the CEOs are trying to create a relationship between their salespeople and customers and make the latter feel as if they’re important and essential and they are, but labeling us ‘clients’ just rings false.  It’s like when you walk into a store and a salesperson doesn’t look at you, but shouts “Hi!  How are you?!”  They don’t care, they’re not interested in my well-being, they’re just shouting out words because they’re being told to do so.  It’s artificial and it’s phony, like when a customer service representative with a thick Indian accent says, “Hello my name is Jennifer.”  No it isn’t!  Your name is Shakti.  Or Chandrakanta.  Both lovely names, both a far cry from Jennifer.  But Jennifer is American and therefore more appealing, reassuring, and familiar.  And that, I guess, is the Corporate American way.  Do whatever you can to appeal to the masses and reassure them that they’re giving their money to a familiar face.  So should I really make a fuss out of this?  Should I really care that this is a relationship built upon a lie?

Maybe it’s all just a waste of time and the only thing that I should worry about when it comes to the retail world is that I leave whatever store I enter as one happy client.  I mean customer!

Hold Back the Night – The Final Chapter

Chapter 17

The Final Battle

Slowly and painfully, Amanda lifted her eyes until she saw that the woman who floated before her was the same woman who haunted her dreams.  The wild raven hair, the flowing white dress, the irresistible stare.  This was the woman who was anticipating the birth of her child almost as much as she was, but for entirely different reasons.

“So the time has finally arrived,” Ondine said as she descended to the ground.  “Our child is about to be born.”

She tried to look away, but Amanda was magnetically pulled by the blackness of Ondine’s eyes.  While she stared she noticed that beads of sweat were beginning to drip down the sides of Ondine’s face and that her skin was grayer and not as milk white as it was in her dreams.  What this information really meant, Amanda didn’t know, all she instinctively knew was that this woman wanted her child dead.

“This child isn’t yours,” Amanda said, breathing heavily.  “And you will never have it.”

“Stupid mortal, when will you learn?” Ondine asked rhetorically.  “You will give birth to this inferior human and I will take its soul, as I have taken the souls of children in years past and will take them again in years to come when it is necessary.  And if history repeats itself your child will live for several minutes without its soul, so if you must bond, I suggest you do it quickly.”

Amanda’s eyes searched the room for a weapon she could use to defend herself, but even if she did find something useful, she was still being controlled by Ondine and couldn’t move.  Then as Amanda watched Ondine walk towards her, she felt her baby kick.  This interruption gave Amanda the strength she needed to break Ondine’s spell and as quick as a captured animal that suddenly finds itself unshackled, she went scurrying toward Joe.

“Joe, Joe!” Amanda cried, shaking him violently.  “You have to get up, please, you have to help us.”

When it was apparent that he couldn’t obey, Amanda cradled him in her arms and made soft, whimpering sounds that made Ondine cringe.

“We’re very much alike Amanda,” Ondine said.  “Neither one of us can depend on our men.”

“That’s where you’re wrong,” Amanda declared.

Whirling around, Amanda pointed the gun she had pulled out from Joe’s shoulder holster directly at Ondine.  She wasn’t really sure if something as basic as a gun could wound something as complex as this creature that stood before her, but Amanda knew the only way to find out was to pull the trigger.

The first bullet seemed to soar in slow motion.  It penetrated the place where Ondine’s heart presumably lay and ripped right through her chest and out her back and burrowed into the wall behind her.  The second bullet had more fury, but less precision, and it pierced the right side of Ondine’s chest sideways, causing Ondine to stagger backwards and grab the wing back chair for support.  And the third and final bullet had more anger as it bore into Ondine’s throat and flew upwards until it fled from the back of her skull.  It was this bullet that caused Ondine to crash to the floor.

Amanda’s hands were shaking so hard she didn’t actually feel the gun slip through her fingers; she only heard it when it hit the floor.  She watched Ondine uneasily but couldn’t assess if she was dead or even wounded since no blood rushed from her body.  The woman just lay there serenely.

Once again Amanda tried to revive Joe, but he still remained motionless.  From within the womb, her baby cried out through a series of kicks as if to announce its imminent arrival and Amanda knew that to ensure her child’s safety she had to get out of this house even if it meant leaving Joe behind.  Kneeling next to him, Amanda clasped her hands around his face and brought her lips close to his ears.

“Joe, I have to leave,” Amanda whispered.  “I have to get to someplace safe to have our baby.  But I will come back for you.”

As Amanda crawled toward the door, she forced herself not to look back or to think about what Ondine could do to Joe if, or most likely, when she awoke.  She just begged God to protect him a little better than he was protecting her at the moment.

 

Serenity Pond

The cold, pre-dawn air hung lifelessly over the four bodies that were sprawled out near the edge of the pond.  Some of their limbs touched, others were akimbo, all were still.  In the distance an owl cooed, and a deer rustled some leaves, almost in an attempt to wake up the sleeping teenagers.  Finally, one of them did stir.

Water rose from Dashiell’s lungs and seeped out of his mouth when he coughed.  He had never felt weaker in his life, which was ironic since he stood at the threshold of the Golden Life, and should have felt invulnerable.  Instead, he felt undeniably mortal.

 

After a few seconds passed, his vision was less foggy and he could see Jonatha, Winter, and Llewellyn on the ground next to him.  Llewellyn was laying face down on the ground and when Dashiell gently turned him over he saw that his face was covered in bruises and a river of blood traveled from his nose across his soft, red lips and down the side of his neck.  Horrified, Dashiell put his ear next to Llewellyn’s mouth and he could feel the strangled rush of his lover’s breath.

“Llewellyn,” Dashiell said, “Can you hear me?”

As expected, no answer came.  Dashiell’s head began to pound as if his own blood still remained in his veins and had started to pulsate with the speed only terror can ignite.  Feeling tears drop from his eyes as he realized that his companion was dying, Dashiell held Llewellyn’s hand and begged him to return to him.

“Please Llewellyn!” Dashiell cried.  “Come back to me.  I need you . . . I can’t survive without you.”

“Yes you can,” Llewellyn finally replied.

“You’re alive!” Dashiell shouted.

“Not for long,” Llewellyn said.

The two young men stared at each and felt their love as ripe and as whole as the first time their eyes met.  Although their time together wasn’t exceptionally long, it was intense and it was honest.  And now that Llewellyn lay only moments from death, they understood there was nothing more they could say to each other that they hadn’t already said a million times before in bed, under the stars, or on a crowded train.  They had loved each other and each was the better for it.

Impulsively, Dashiell announced: “I can change this.”

Llewellyn’s response was to close his eyes and let his long eyelashes caress the involuntary tears that escaped.

“I can make you whole again,” Dashiell implored.  “You just have to ask me.”

Dashiell simply wanted to make Llewellyn a vampire, but Llewellyn knew that it was not a simple task.  He was wary of an eternal life lived in the darkness and he also knew, thanks to Ondine’s constant reminders, that vampires couldn’t create new members at will, there were procedures that had to be followed.  If Dashiell, who wasn’t yet a full-fledged vampire and therefore didn’t have the respect of his elders, created Llewellyn in his image, they would both be shunned from their own kind.  They would have to live as rogue vampires, together for eternity, but alone from the world.

“I can’t Dashiell,” Llewellyn said, looking at the heartbroken face of his one true love.

“You have to,” Dashiell protested.  “I have been so frightened these past months knowing I would soon cross over and the only solace I ever found was knowing you would be there to guide me.  I am nothing without you by my side.  Please, Llewellyn, ask me to give you this gift.  I won’t just take you.”

“I’m afraid,” Llewellyn responded.

“I’m terrified,” Dashiell said.  “But if you come with me at least we’ll be terrified together.  We can protect and love and comfort one another.  I am asking you to come with me into the night to hold my hand for eternity.  But if you say no, I will stay here and hold you until the morning sun destroys us both.”

“No!” Llewellyn cried.  “You have to hide before the sun rises.”

“Not if I have to hide alone,” Dashiell said simply.  “I don’t want to live my life without you.”

Suddenly, the fear that had gathered in Llewellyn’s heart lifted and he saw that his choice was very simple: die or live with Dashiell.

“Take me,” Llewellyn said, “Take me with you.”

Before Llewellyn could finish his sentence, Dashiell plunged his fangs into his pale, tender flesh sucking out just enough blood so Llewellyn’s heart wouldn’t burst.  Llewellyn writhed underneath him, and gripped Dashiell’s shoulders in both agony and ecstasy.  Dashiell paused for a moment, told Llewellyn that he loved him, and then continued to drink the rest of his blood until Llewellyn was, like Dashiell, a hollow shell of flesh that needed to be filled every night with new gallons of blood.  It was not the life Llewellyn had envisioned for himself, but it was a life with Dashiell and that was all that mattered.

When Dashiell was convinced that Llewellyn was stable he moved his attention to the two other bodies that lay near the pond.  He rolled Winter over onto her back and was startled to see her eyes wide open.  She wasn’t moving, but she was staring intently at something that Dashiell couldn’t see.

“Winter,” Dashiell said.  “Are you alright?”

“Dashiell,” Winter gasped.  “Yes, yes, I’m fine.”

But Dashiell knew that his friend wasn’t fine.  Although the rest of her body seemed to be working on its own, Winter’s eyes stared straight ahead, unblinking and unreal.

“Can you see me?” Dashiell asked.

“No,” Winter replied, “But I know you’re there.  I can see you with my mind.”

The only response Dashiell could muster was a weak ‘I’m sorry.’  It was beginning to register in his mind that all of this tragedy and pain was caused by his mother.  She had destroyed so many lives, yet she was still at loose, eager to destroy even more.  He was just about to chastise himself for not being strong enough to stop her reign of terror when he heard Jonatha cry out.

“Help me!” Jonatha screamed.

Both Dashiell and Winter, who instinctively knew where Jonatha was even though she couldn’t physically see her, ran to the young girl’s side and were devastated to see that her stomach was drenched in blood.  Her skin was as white as virgin snow and her lips had turned a shade of blue like that found in ice.

“Winter,” Jonatha gasped.

“I’m right here,” Winter said, as she held her sister’s hand tightly.

“I’m going to die,” Jonatha declared.

“No! I won’t let you,” Winter replied.

“I wish there was something you could do to stop it,” said Jonatha.  “Because I don’t want to leave you.  It’s too soon.”

“Dashiell isn’t there something you can do?” Winter begged.

Looking over at Llewellyn’s tranquil body, Dashiell knew that a vampire’s existence was not part of Jonatha’s destiny.  She was meant for greater things.

“Jonatha,” Dashiell said as he knelt close to her.  “From the first moment I saw you I knew you were special.  You are much more than my mother’s creation, you are the essence of everything that is good and joyful and I pray that one day I will feel your grace again.”

“You and Llewellyn must protect each other,” Jonatha said in between shallow breaths.  “You two are beginning a dangerous journey.”

“I know,” Dashiell replied.  “And so are you.”

“But at least you have each other,” Jonatha said, grabbing Winter’s hand even tighter.

Dashiell knew the sun was only minutes from materializing and that he needed to bring Llewellyn to his hiding place, but he also knew that he couldn’t just leave this girl, the girl who had given her life because he asked her to help defeat his mother.

“Someday we will meet again,” Dashiell said.  “Perhaps in heaven, perhaps not.  But when we do I will repay my debt to you.  Until then please accept my love and my sorrow and my guilt for they are all I have to offer you.”

“Oh Dashiell,” Jonatha sighed.  “You don’t owe me anything.  Because of you at least I know what I really am, and as much as I don’t like it, I know what my fate is.  Now go, take Llewellyn and go before the sun rises.”

Dashiell was overcome by his young friend’s bravery.  He held the two girls close to him and whispered “goodbye my American friends.”  Then Winter and Jonatha watched as Dashiell gently lifted Llewellyn in his arms and carried him into the woods to hide and to greet their new, altered world.

It was now strangely quiet as the two girls held each other tightly not knowing what the next few seconds would bring.  For the first time in months, both girls just sat next to each other, comfortable in the silence.  Winter stroked Jonatha’s hair, and both wondered if they should say something before death separated them.

“I always liked you, you know,” Winter said.

“Well,” Jonatha replied, “not always.”

Winter blushed at her sister’s honest evaluation of their relationship and knew that Jonatha’s absence in her life would affect her greatly.  But before she could ponder what life without Jonatha would truly be like, she heard footsteps and voices in the distance.

“Jonatha!” Anthony cried.

“We’re over here!” Winter responded.

Anthony and Edwina followed Winter’s voice and raced to the edge of Serenity Pond.  When they saw the girls sitting up they were relieved, but when they saw the blood pouring out of Jonatha’s stomach they were repulsed.  It was the first time Jonatha saw fear in her mother’s eyes, and, although it was startling, it was oddly comforting.  After all it is nice to know that your mother loves you more than her Manolo Blahniks.

“Jonatha,” Edwina said tentatively.  “We need to get you to a hospital.”

“No,” her daughter replied tenderly.  “I can’t be helped at a hospital.  Isn’t that right Uncle Anthony?”

“Oh Jonatha,” Anthony said as he sat next to her and cradled the young girl in his arms.  “You may not have been meant for this earth, but I am grateful I was meant to spend time with you.”

As Edwina watched her daughter be held by her brother on one side and her niece on the other, she felt utterly useless.  One month ago, Edwina would have rolled her eyes and allowed the rest of her family the privilege of playing the martyrs.  Never once feeling obliged to put someone else’s emotional life before hers, to give of herself freely with no thought to her own discomfort.  But in this past month Edwina had changed, unwillingly at first, but unequivocally in the end.  She wanted to be the one, who held her daughter, but her daughter chose someone else’s arms to die in, and Edwina would have to live with that knowledge.

“I hate to say I told you so Uncle Anthony,” Jonatha said, as she felt her breathing grow more beleaguered.

“You were always the wisest in the family,” Anthony replied.

“Truth be told,” she said, “I don’t want to die.”

Out of the corner of his eye Anthony noticed that Edwina was sitting on the ground, her designer dress completely ruined, her shoes lost in the frantic run through the woods.

“No one wants to die,” Anthony said, as he reached his hand out to Edwina, who grabbed onto it like a drowning man latches onto a life preserver.  “But not only do you have people on this side who love you dearly, you also have so many loved ones on the other side who are waiting for you.”

“Jonatha,” Edwina interrupted.

“Yes, Mother.”

“I . . . I don’t know what’s happening, to you, or to me,” Edwina began, “But you must understand that I loved you in the best way that I could.”

Jonatha smiled because she did understand.  Edwina had not always been a good mother, perhaps on some unconscious level she knew that she really wasn’t her mother at all, and nothing more than the vessel that brought Jonatha into this world, but, for the most part, she tried.  Maybe Jonatha’s death would make her mother an even better person.

Edwina wanted to say more, she wanted the torrent of emotions that were filling her brain to flood out of her mouth and into the air so Jonatha could hear exactly what she was thinking, but it was too late for any reflection or explanation, Jonatha had begun to leave this world.

“Uncle Anthony!” Jonatha cried.  “I’m scared.”

“Don’t be scared, I’m right here,” Anthony replied, “and I won’t let you go.”

“I can f            eel myself leaving,” she said.  “I’ll miss you so much.”

“And we’ll miss you,” Anthony said through a deluge of tears.  “But we’ll think of you every day.”

Jonatha felt as if she were choking.  Her eyes bounced from Anthony to Edwina to Winter searching for a way to escape the inevitable and even when she saw the kind, smiling faces of the angels, who were waiting for her and heard their peaceful thoughts, she kept fighting.

Jonatha was gasping for breath and grabbing at Anthony and Winter, but didn’t have the strength to hold on to them.  Edwina forced herself not to turn away.  She had not been much of a witness to Jonatha’s life, she knew she had to be a witness to her death.  As Anthony tried to calm his niece, he felt a jabbing in his thigh and pulled out the rosary beads David Anderson gave to him from the confines of his own coffin.  He then placed the rosary in Jonatha’s hand and she was instantly enveloped by peace.

 

Anthony felt Jonatha’s body go limp and he didn’t need to see her spirit, immaculate and buoyant, rise toward the angels to know she had found the power to let go.  Edwina wanted nothing more than to yank her daughter’s spirit from the air and shove it back into her body, but all she could do was sit on the ground and cry.  Until, of course, Jonatha’s spirit started to move towards her.

Mesmerized by the specter that floated in front of her eyes, Edwina was speechless.  This ghostlike presence had all her daughter’s features, her small slightly upturned nose, her round eyes; it was as if it were a transparency of her daughter.  And then Edwina felt Jonatha’s spirit rush into her and lift her high above the earth.

From below, Anthony saw and Winter felt Edwina’s body intertwine with Jonatha’s spirit and swirl in the air.  What they couldn’t see was Jonatha’s spirit sift through Edwina’s blemished soul, cleansing it, purifying it, washing away the remnants of so many sins, until it was like a newborn’s.  Edwina drifted slowly back to the ground as Jonatha’s spirit kept rising higher and higher until it was completely surrounded by the angels who had been patiently waiting for her.  Jonatha, surrounded by the compassionate and excited angels, watched her family from above and her fear was replaced with contentment.  Further in the distance she could see the Blessed Mother smiling and she knew that she was finally where she was meant to be, she was home.

Back on earth, Edwina opened her eyes and felt a clarity and purpose like she had never felt before.  She walked over to her daughter’s body and easily lifted her in her arms.

 

“It’s time to go home,” Edwina announced, and with Jonatha in her arms, and Anthony and Winter walking behind her, she led them back to Nightwind.

 

Nightwind

Looking outside the one small window in Perry’s office, Vincent could see that the sky had turned from midnight black to light gray signaling the onset of dawn.  He had mere minutes before he had to get the serum, find Adam, and pray that this blonde Norwegian woman was far smarter than she appeared to be.  Because of Perry and Astrid’s stalling tactics, Vincent’s timetable had been altered, delaying the date when he was supposed to get the serum.  There was no time for testing, no more time for experimentation for Adam would cross over to the Golden Life completely at sunrise.  There was only time for action.

“I will say it once more, Ms. Hallström,” Vincent said darkly, “I want the serum that is rightfully mine.”

“Isn’t the moment just before dawn breathtaking, Vince?” Astrid asked as she gazed out the window.

Infuriated by Astrid’s taunts, Vincent lost control of himself and leapt toward her, ready to rip her mortal limb from mortal limb.  But Astrid proved that she was smarter than her blonde bombshell looks suggested and reached between her legs to pull out a crucifix that she had strapped to her right thigh.

“Back off V-man!” Astrid cried, as she held the crucifix in front of Vincent’s contorted face.  “I’m not a fool, and I’m not afraid of you.”

“Astrid you just have to hold him off a few minutes longer until the sun rises,” Perry declared, as he inched himself closer to Astrid and the all-important crucifix.

Vincent always knew Perry was capable of double crossing him, but he thought Adam was his trump card.  He believed that as long as Perry’s grandson’s life was in the balance, Perry could be easily managed.  Once again, Perry proved that he only cared about himself.

“How nice that you want to play on my team Perry,” Astrid said, as she walked to the office door.  “But I still haven’t forgiven you for deceiving me.  As far as I’m concerned, you, along with your son here, can burn in hell since you’re the one who tricked me into creating this eternity serum for a bunch of mutant freaks.”

She punctuated her tirade by seductively running a finger down her cleavage and pulling out a vial of black serum.

“And speaking of the serum, here it is boys, the magic elixir that will render the sun harmless to all the creatures of the night,” Astrid announced as she let the vial swing languidly from her manicured fingers.  “Now gentlemen if you’ll follow me.”

As Vincent feared, Astrid moved into the glass enclosed hallway where there would be nowhere to hide once the sun broke the horizon.  However, if he wanted to offer Adam a chance at a full life he had to follow her and leave the safe darkness of the office.

“It seems the guest of honor has decided to join us,” Astrid declared as she spotted Adam at the other end of the hallway.

“Adam!” Vincent shouted.  “Stay where you are!”

“Daddy wouldn’t want his precious monster boy to burst into flames when the sun rises,” Astrid laughed.  “Which should be in precisely 45 seconds.”

“Give it to me Astrid! Give me the serum now!” Vincent shouted wildly.  “Or I will kill you.”

“Take one step closer and I’ll break this vial,” she replied.  “And if you trust nothing else, trust that this is the only one that exists.”

“Break it Astrid!” Perry screamed.  “Just break it and end this nightmare now!”

Adam was so shocked by his grandfather’s statement, that he missed his father lunge toward Astrid and try to rip the crucifix from her hand.  Vincent screamed savagely as the cross burned into his flesh and he fell to the floor at Perry’s feet.  The rays of the sun were now beginning to make their first glorious appearance and Vincent knew that he was out of time.  He felt his body instantly weaken and he started to crawl in Perry’s direction towards the office door to seek refuge from the sunlight.  But Perry had other plans.

As he crawled on his knees, Vincent saw Perry run to the office door presumably fleeing the scene.  But instead Perry slammed the door shut and remained in the hallway.  Perplexed, Vincent sat on his haunches and stared at his father.

“This is what fear is, Vincent!” Perry seethed.  “This is how I have lived my entire life.”

Perry’s words smashed Vincent in the face with more power than any of the sun’s rays, and he realized that he had wasted his lifetime trying to destroy a man, who had destroyed himself a long time ago.  With his son watching in the shadows, Vincent resolved that he would leave his child a different legacy.

With every ounce of strength that he could muster, Vincent lunged at Astrid once more, ripped the crucifix from her hands, and flung it with such force that it broke through the glass enclosure.  With one eye on the vial of serum that still hung in Astrid’s hand, Vincent held the unfortunate scientist by either side of her head and twisted so quickly and so ferociously that her neck snapped before she could even scream.  She did have enough time though to toss the vial into the air.

Steam was already beginning to rise from Vincent’s flesh, and he could just about see the vial flying in the air, let alone reach out his hand to grab it.  What he could see was Adam race like quicksilver into the light to catch the vial before it crashed to the ground.

“Adam!” Vincent shouted, just as he saw his beloved son slide on his knees and catch the vial with the black serum still intact.  Simultaneously worried and proud as only a parent can be, Vincent cried out to his son one last time: “Remember your family!”

Those were the last words Vincent uttered before he exploded into the most gorgeous orange and red flames.  As Adam felt his father’s ashes rain down on him, he also felt his own flesh begin to sear and he knew that he couldn’t let his father’s death be in vain.  He took the cap off the vial, let the black liquid tumble down his throat, and waited for either salvation or his own death.

The serum scorched his throat as the sun scorched his flesh and Adam felt his body shake uncontrollably.  The pain soaring through his body blinded him and he prayed that once this agony subsided he would gaze into his father’s gentle and loving eyes.  But the agony continued.  Adam’s arms thrashed against the air, occasionally breaking the glass that surrounded him, and he felt as if his insides were on fire.  Then, as quickly as the pain began, it stopped.

He felt the cold hard stone of the hallway floor press into his cheek and when he opened his eyes, he blinked furiously.  It had been quite some time since he had seen sunlight and it took a moment to get used to the sensation again.  Adam smiled wistfully as he thought that even from beyond the grave, his father had protected him.  His smile, however, quickly vanished, as he decided it was time to pay back Vincent’s sacrifice.

Perry watched Adam rise from the floor and realized that Astrid was indeed even smarter than he had ever dreamed; somehow his vampire grandson was walking in the light.  The serum, manufactured by the one and only Love Laboratories, was a triumph and a true cause for celebration.  For some reason, however, Adam didn’t look happy.

“You helped kill your own son,” Adam said.

“He wasn’t my son, he was a monster,” Perry replied, as he frantically tried to open the door to his office.

“And you were going to allow me to die.”

“No, no,” Perry said, banging on the door futilely with his shoulder.  “I knew the serum would work.”

Perry only stopped trying to open the door when Adam was inches from his face and he flashed his fangs.

“This is for my father,” Adam said.

Vincent had taught Adam to always keep your enemies guessing, and Adam had learned well.  Instead of breaking the flesh of Perry’s neck, like his grandfather suspected, he lifted him up and flung him, with ease, through a glass panel of the hallway.  Adam watched Perry fly in the air, arms awkward and flailing, until he landed on the brutally hard steps of Nightwind.

At that precise moment Madeline broke free from her coma.  It was as if through some mysterious twist of fate that husband and wife switched places.  Anthony, Edwina, and Winter, all of whom had been at her side while Vincent and the others were fighting over the vial of black liquid in Perry’s office, hugged their mother and took turns holding her close to them.  Just seeing Madeline alert and awake gave them renewed strength after watching Jonatha die.

“She’s at peace,” Madeline said to the three of them, “she wants you to know that.  And Edwina she wants you to know that your father needs you.”

Leaving her mother to rest in the arms of Anthony and Winter, Edwina left the room with the insight that she had certain responsibilities now that she carried a piece of her daughter’s soul with her.  From the top of Nightwind’s stairs she saw her father’s motionless body and she knew that he, just like she, had gotten what they deserved.  She could tell that Perry was breathing and there was life in his eyes, but the rest of his body was dead.  He would have to live out his life at the mercy of others, the very people that he had manipulated, loathed, and deceived.  Sitting on the steps, holding Perry’s lifeless hand, Edwina realized that if she hadn’t been blessed with Jonatha for a child, it would have been her fate as well.

Back inside Nightwind, Madeline voiced the question that no one had the courage to ask, “Where’s Amanda?”  In her mind Winter saw Amanda crawling on the ground, bleeding, and felt Ondine’s presence nearby.  With an overwhelming desire to protect her mother, Winter ran out of Nightwind on a mission.

The Final Battle

After the hidden trap door flung open and the sun caressed Amanda’s face, she allowed herself to accept a brief moment of relief.  When she left the servant’s quarters she fled through one of the secret passageways that led to Serenity Pond in an attempt to escape the clutches of the raven-haired woman, or Ondine, or whatever the thing was called that was after her child.  Now that she was here, by herself, at the pond’s edge, about to give birth to this child who had grown so rapidly and curiously inside her, she wasn’t convinced she hadn’t made a terrible mistake.

She took a few steps towards the woods to hide, but was racked with an incredible stabbing sensation in her stomach.  The baby had decided this was a good time to make an entrance so Amanda did the only thing she could think of doing, she sat down, spread her legs, and prepared to deliver her own child.

“Oh God, help me!  Please, show me some mercy!” Amanda shouted at the newborn sky.

She ripped off her jacket and turned it into a makeshift blanket just in time for her baby’s head to emerge.  She felt the baby’s head push against her and even more blood drained from Amanda’s womb.  In the distance she thought she heard a noise, but then the shoulders were in view and Amanda could only hear her own screams.  She closed her eyes tight as if shutting out sight could shut out pain, screamed louder, and put her hands around her baby’s head to guide it out of her womb and felt another pair of hands embrace hers.  She opened her eyes and saw Joe.

“I’m here,” Joe said, “I’m right here.”

“Oh thank you God!” Amanda said overcome with joy and allowed Joe to take control.

“Just push a little more, it’s almost over,” he said.

Amanda pushed and breathed and screamed and pushed again until she felt the baby fully release itself from within her.  She wished her body wasn’t so physically anguished so she could take her baby and with Joe at her side run far away from Ondine’s grip.

“We have a daughter,” Joe declared proudly.

When Amanda heard her daughter cry, she cried along with her and when Joe gently placed their child, now shrouded in Joe’s shirt as well as mystery, she beamed.

“I love you,” he said, kissing her softly on the lips.

But before she could reply in kind, she heard Ondine’s voice.

“I’ll be taking that child now,” she said.  “Or at least its soul.”

They knew the woman standing before them was Ondine, but they were startled by her severe physical change.  Her hair was now ratted and streaked with gray and her face looked wrinkled and haggard.  There were three holes in her body where the bullets had gone through and through which sunlight emanated and parts of her skin looked as if they were falling off.  Foolishly, Joe made the mistake of equating her outside appearance with her internal power for although she was weakened, she was still quite strong when her strength was measured in human terms.  This time their fight was a bit longer and Ondine had to struggle a bit more to overtake her opponent, but in the end it was Joe who fell wounded and unconscious into Serenity Pond.

Amanda waited for Joe to rise through the water’s surface triumphantly, but he never did.  She called after him and clutched their daughter close to her heart, but that didn’t stop Ondine from limping toward her.

“It’s over,” Ondine said, “Give the child to me!”

“Never!” Winter cried.

“Winter!” Amanda shouted, thankful to see her daughter, disheveled, but alive.  “Get out of here, it’s too dangerous.”

“Your child is as stupid as you are.” Ondine said.

As Ondine moved toward Winter, the ground around them roared angrily as Adam flew into Ondine from behind and knocked her into the weeping willow.  Ondine’s bones shattered as they made impact with the majestic tree and she felt her own soul, already exhausted and willing to rest, start to loosen from her physical being.  She fought hard to stay conscious as she fell onto the dirt and was alert enough to feel Adam grab her hair with a pair of hands that had become amazingly strong and vindictive.  Adam swung Ondine through the air twice before letting her crash into the pond.

“Your father’s in there too,” Amanda yelled, “He needs your help.”

“And so I will help him.”

Underneath the surface of the pond Joe could hear shouts, but he didn’t have the strength to swim any longer.  He let the water race into him, knowing there was nothing else he could do to protect his family.  He was just a man after all.  As the water began to fill his lungs he felt the new weight cause him to rise up towards the pool’s surface, but then he realized someone was actually pushing him from below.  He looked down and gazed into the face of Amelia Lawrence.  He looked closer and deeper until he was looking into Amelia’s soul and he was amazed to find himself looking at Amanda.  These two women, who had both suffered at the hands of Ondine, were linked and although Amelia couldn’t save her own family, she was determined to save Amanda’s.

“It is not your time,” Amelia said.  “Amanda still needs you.  And so do your children.”

Joe felt a pull on his arm and he turned to see Adam.  When he turned back to Amelia, she was nowhere to be found.  Immediately, he became very aware of the water that had flooded his lungs and he started to kick his feet.  He was suddenly overwhelmed by a strong desire to live.  He wasn’t sure if he made this decision on his own or if some strange woman made it for him, but when he broke through the surface of Serenity Pond with his son by his side, he was glad that he was given a second chance.

Adam made sure Joe had reached the edge of the pond before diving back down to deal with Ondine.  Luckily, she was already being taken care of.

Her muffled screeches could be heard as hordes of Dark Angels grabbed at Ondine, ripping her flesh, and pulling her hair out by the handfuls, bringing her deeper and deeper into the darkness.  She knew that this band of angels, cast out by God and exiled from the light, lived in pockets of darkness, but up until this moment she had never had proof of their existence.

Ondine’s soul, black and no longer harmful, separated from her body and drifted into another eager circle of Dark Angels.  They attacked Ondine’s body like a pack of sharks that had recently ended a week of fasting.  Her soul, however, they kept as a trophy.

Adam smiled at Amelia, who was now holding her child in her arms and was being held by her husband, James, and she told him that Ondine was being taken to a resting place where she would have to pay for her deeds and then be destroyed.  Adam thanked her and wished her well as he watched the family vanish into the lower depths of the pond.

Emerging from the water, Adam hesitated a moment for he wasn’t ready to lose yet another parent.  But his fears were quickly washed away when Amanda smiled at him and raised her hand as a signal to join them.  He walked to her, sat at her knee, and took her hand in his.  Shyly, he grabbed Joe’s hand, and although it was rougher and more calloused than Vincent’s, it was a good fit.  Bathed in the morning sunlight, Amanda cherished her family.  She smiled at the son she had thought would never return to her and once again saw his eyes grow wide with joy.  Winter blushed, for although her sight was tightly wound by darkness, she could feel Adam’s bashful gaze.  And as Amanda sat with Joe’s strong, loving arm around her and her newborn daughter wiggling in her lap, she realized that she had found what had been missing from her life for so many years.  She had found hope.

 

The End

Hold Back the Night – Chapter 16

Chapter 16

Friday Evening

At Last

The moon was as full and as bright as it was on that fateful evening fifteen years ago when Joey was ripped like a piece of almost-ripe fruit from the Love family tree.  But unlike that night when the ocean was joyful and the wind frolicking, there was a different feeling in the air.  The stars were in hiding and the waves were quieter than usual.  It was as if nature knew something important was about to happen and it wasn’t sure if it wanted to be witness.

Amanda, with Joe at her heels, led her family to the beach.  Her heart was ravaged by such a large collection of emotions that she had to breathe deeply to calm herself.  One moment she was excited, then she felt frightened, and in the next breath she was peaceful.  All Amanda really wanted to do was break out into a run and embrace her long lost son and wash away her heartache and struggle as quickly as the surf erases footprints in the sand.  She just wanted to look into Joey’s eyes once more and know that her son was healthy and unharmed.  Instead, she focused her mind to remain quiet so she could walk steadily to the area on the beach that was illuminated by Nightwind’s outside lights.  The place where the reunion would take place.

As she stood on the beach and strained in the moonlit night to catch a glimpse of her son, Amanda realized her life would soon change, hopefully for the better.  Reaching behind her, Amanda found Joe’s hand and held it tightly.  His hand was damp and she realized that he too was about to meet his son again for the first time.  She looked into his eyes and saw fear mixed with excitement and she kissed him softly as together their lips formed one brave smile.

Behind them stood the rest of her family.  Madeline, Perry, Anthony, Edwina, Winter, and Jonatha, all of them anxious and unprepared.  Ondine, Dashiell, and Llewellyn stood behind them not sure of what they were about to see, but convinced it was going to be interesting nonetheless.  Even Amanda’s unborn child seemed to feel the tension and kicked her stomach several times fiercely.  But Amanda didn’t feel a thing.  She was concentrating on making her body stop shaking for just at that moment she saw two figures emerge from the mist and walk towards them.

“Hello Amanda,” Vincent said.  “My name is Vincent Savage.”

“You?” was all Amanda could say.

“I am the man who has been writing to you,” he replied.  “I hope my letters have given you some comfort through the years.”

She was finally face to face with her son’s kidnapper and it turns out to be a man she had heard of but had never seen.  A man who looked so familiar and yet so foreign.  For so many years she thought she knew exactly how she would respond if she ever met the man who had taken her son from her.  She dreamed of killing him in many different ways, some elaborate, some primal, but now that she was facing this stranger, all her anger and rage had abandoned her.  She desperately wanted to push him out of the way so she could see her son.

“Where is my son?” Amanda asked quietly.

Vincent smiled at his sister’s impatience, disappointed that his preternatural state had altered his physicality.  He would have liked to have seen her expression when she looked into the face of her twin.  Oh well, he thought, not everything could be perfect.  He took one step to the right and Amanda found herself looking into the eyes of a handsome, young man and she thought to herself that this couldn’t possibly be her son, this person was an adult.  She was supposed to meet her little boy and instead she was being tricked.  How could they think she would believe that this tall, virile man was her little Joey?  But then she looked into his eyes.

She saw the same eager, blue eyes she saw every night in her dreams.  The eyes that could grow as big as the moon and the same eyes that could never hide any emotion whether it be happiness or guilt or sorrow.  She looked into those eyes now and knew that no matter how different this man looked physically, he was still her little boy and that was all that mattered.

“Joey,” Amanda said as her family held its breath.

“My name is Adam.”

Jonatha, Winter, and Anthony couldn’t stifle gasps of shock at this revelation for they knew Adam and couldn’t believe he had always been within their grasp.  Adam looked at Amanda, who was obviously his mother, but was unable to make any connection to her, emotional or physical.  She did have the same blonde hair as the woman who often penetrated his dreams, and if he used all his preternatural vision he could see a familiarity in her eyes, but that was it.  He thought that when he met his mother, the emptiness that embraced him would be replaced with serenity, but now he only felt confusion.  Perhaps Ondine was right and this mortal woman didn’t deserve his attention.  So, as always during a crisis, he looked to his father for guidance.

“I christened you Adam,” Vincent replied.  “But your given name is Joseph.”

“You are our son, Joseph,” Amanda said bringing Joe closer to her so Adam could have a good look at both his parents.

“Hello son,” Joe said awkwardly.  “I’m your father.”
“No, he is my father,” Adam said indicating Vincent.  “You’re just a man.”

“I know this is confusing.  You were taken from us when you were very little, but you are ours,” Amanda said.

“I know what the truth is,” Adam protested.  “You are my biological parents.  This man is my family.”

The silence that engulfed them was excruciating.  The Loves were too respectful of Amanda and Joe’s situation, or just too nervous, to speak, and they remained silent. Even the wind was mute and the waves only dared to break in a whisper.  Vincent, however, relished the silence and smiled a devilish grin that melted when Amanda finally spoke in a voice that was both hurt and harsh.

“No Joey, you are our family,” Amanda said.  “This man took you from us, he took you by force and I think it’s about time that he explained why he did such a thing.”

The moment had finally arrived, Vincent thought.  The truth was about to be revealed and Perry Love was going to be exposed as a fraud.

“I think that’s a question you should pose to Perry,” Vincent said smiling.

Every head snapped in unison to look at Perry as he desperately searched his brain to think of a plausible explanation.  He looked at the confused and concerned faces of his family and he realized there was no loophole he could slither through any longer.  Only two choices remained, he could either tell the truth, or lie and proclaim his innocence.  Naturally, he opted for the latter.

“Daddy?” Amanda asked.

“I don’t know what this . . . fiend is talking about,” Perry stammered.

“Perry, you mustn’t lie in front of the children,” Vincent said.  When his eyes met Ondine’s, he added: “Have you learned nothing from your life here on earth?”

“Amanda I swear to you, I know nothing!” Perry cried.  “He’s a madman.”

“Hardly,” Vincent said.  “Just a son.”

That casually spoken comment slipped by most of the members of the gathered audience, but not Madeline.  She grabbed Anthony’s arm for support for she understood what Vincent’s remark truly meant.

“Oh dear God!” Madeline exclaimed.  “Perry, you knew that he was Amanda’s twin all along!”

Once again stunned faces spun around to Perry, whose own face had suddenly turned ghostly pale.  He felt as if his body had turned to steel and although he desperately wanted to flee the scene, he was physically unable to move.  He wasn’t strong enough to admit the truth, but the consummate businessman realized it was time for damage control.

“Yes, Vincent is your twin brother,” Perry began.  “He was kidnapped at birth and your mother and I thought it best if no one ever knew.”

You thought it best!” Madeline cried, clinging onto Anthony with even an shakier hand.  “I begged you to tell. And when Joey was kidnapped I knew it was too great a coincidence not to be connected, but you still made me keep our secret and like a fool I obeyed.”

Although each person remained silent, their thoughts shouted loudly with panic.  Edwina was slightly ill as she looked at Vincent and then Adam and realized she had fornicated with her brother and her nephew.  Anthony kept trying to ignore the pangs of fright that crept into his mind and remind himself that this was nothing more than family strife and not the beginnings of something more devastating.  Winter squinted in the darkness for a sign of the raven-haired woman for she knew that she played some role in this madness, but even though she sensed the demon was near she couldn’t find her.  And Jonatha watched the scene unfold and prayed to the Blessed Mother for grace and guidance, though neither came to confront the young girl.  It was Adam whose own frenzied thoughts made him break the silence.

“So you never looked for your son Perry,” Adam said,” just like my parents never looked for me?”

“That’s not true!” Amanda cried.

“We searched everywhere for you!” Joe added.

Pandemonium broke out and the only one who was happy about the chaos was Perry, because it shifted the focus off of him for at least a few minutes until, of course, Vincent once again took control of the scene.

“So it seems there are actually two reunions taking place tonight,” Vincent said.  “Two family members have returned to the flock.”

When Madeline began to cry, her family at first became uncomfortable simply because it was a rare sight to see.  They then quickly realized the Love matriarch was overwhelmed by this juggernaut and Jonatha and even Edwina stood next to her to lend their physical and emotional support.  But Madeline didn’t need anyone’s support.  From a place deep within her that she always kept tightly locked rose an anger that would not be abated.  She walked towards her newfound son, stopping only when she was an inch from him, and slapped him hard in the face.  It was only the intensity of her emotions that kept her from realizing that Vincent’s skin was as hard as stone.

“Coward!” Madeline shrieked.  “You are a coward!  Why did you take Joey away from us and hide?  Why didn’t you join us and be part of our family?”

Perry was motionless as he watched his wife stand up to their son in a way that he was never able to.

“We would have welcomed you, you are my son.” Madeline continued.  “I would have welcomed you with loving arms.”

Vincent, unexpectedly, was moved by Madeline’s raw emotions and needed a moment before he could respond with his usual detached flair.

“I wanted revenge,” Vincent responded.  “I wanted to make you live with pain just as I have lived with the pain knowing my father played a part in my kidnapping and did nothing to ensure my safe return.”

“The same family who did nothing to ensure my safe return,” Adam added.

“That’s not true!” Joe shouted.  “We spent years looking for you.  We’ve never given up!”

“I don’t believe you,” Adam said simply.  “And I don’t want you in my life.  So if you’ve had enough of a look at me, I’d like to go home.”

Abruptly, Adam turned and started to walk home.  Amanda was dumbfounded that her son was exiting her life for a second time and that she was doing nothing to prevent it.

“No!” Amanda cried as she moved toward her son to grab his shoulder.

She couldn’t believe how strong his arm was when the last time she touched him it was so soft.

“Please, I . . .” Amanda began but she couldn’t find the words to express what she wanted to say.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, Amanda thought.  Joey was supposed to run into her arms and tell her he loved her and missed her and never wanted to be apart from her again.  But this man was telling her he didn’t want her in his life.  She began to feel that all her dreams were dreamt in vain and she let go of her son’s arm so he could turn away from her.  Which is exactly what he did.

The tall, young man who was named Adam walked away from her and into the night.  She, along with the others, watched him go, and Amanda felt the promise of a new life slip through her tired hands.  And then she heard the encouraging words her mother said to her just a few days earlier, that she needed to make Joey understand, no matter how difficult, that she prayed every night for his homecoming.  She heard Madeline’s words echo louder until she realized she could never let Joey out of her life again without putting up an incredible fight.

“No!” Amanda cried.  She ran to her son, grabbed him by the shoulders, and looked him straight in the eyes.

“You listen to me!” Amanda said to a startled Adam.  “Whether you like it or not you are my son.  You were taken from me by force by that man—my own brother—because he had a vendetta against my father.  He kept you from us and I had no idea if you were alive or dead, but I never, never, stopped looking for you, not for one day, not when everyone around me begged me to stop and accept the fact that you were never coming home.  I couldn’t accept that then and I will not accept that now!  I have woken up every morning convinced that I would find you and I have gone to bed every night convinced that tomorrow would be the day you would return to me because you are my son!  And I am your mother and nothing, not this man, not fifteen years, not your own fear can ever change that.”

“I am not afraid of you,” Adam protested unconvincingly.

“Yes you are,” Amanda said.  “And I’m afraid of you too a little, because you’re so different.  But look into my eyes, just look . . . you’re my little boy.  And this is your family and we want you to be a part of us.”

“I can’t just change my life because you want me to,” Adam said.

“Don’t change it for me,” Amanda replied.  “Change it for yourself.  I can offer you something that no one else can: pure love.  This man can’t offer you that.”

“This man is my father,” Adam said.  “And he’s a good man.”

“He may have treated you with kindness, but he is not good,” Amanda said.  “How can a man be good when he destroyed my family just to get revenge on my father?”

“This is all a crazy misunderstanding,” Perry mumbled.

“Tell your family the rest Perry,” Vincent said.  “Or I will.”

“Oh for God’s sake, what more could there possibly be Daddy?” Edwina asked nervously.

If Vincent could produce bile he would have tasted it in his throat, but he merely bit his lip and waited for Perry to address his family.  When no sound came from Perry’s quivering, and very, very pale, lips, Vincent spoke in his place.

 

“I am not what you think I am,” Vincent said.

“Stop it with the games!” Joe cried out unable to contain his fury any longer.  “What the hell are you talking about?”

“I was not meant for this earth,” Vincent replied.

That string of words sent a shiver down Jonatha’s spine.  She wasn’t entirely sure what Vincent meant by them, but she knew he didn’t choose them arbitrarily.  Somehow her own personal problems were intertwined with this strange-looking man and the boy who was really her half-brother.

“Nor was I meant to be part of this family,” Vincent continued.  “My dear father voluntarily gave me up to a stranger as payback for an earlier crime he committed.”

“You what!?” Madeline gasped.

The air around her became suffocating.  She couldn’t breathe when she tried to gulp in the breeze and her throat merely constricted.  Vincent’s words reverberated inside her head and she realized that Perry not only knew the fate of their firstborn son all these years and kept the truth from her, but he played a principal role in his kidnapping.  She knew her husband was crude and heartless, but this act of tyranny was unfathomable.

Perry looked out at his family and saw each set of eyes staring at him with a mixture of disbelief and hatred.  Then he saw that both Vincent and Ondine were smiling at him and he felt rage pour out of him.

“Yes I sold my own son!” Perry screamed.  “But I had no choice.  My life would have been destroyed if I didn’t give the boy away.  I kept the girl for you Madeline because I knew you’d prefer to raise a daughter.”

Madeline’s shrieks of disgust were barely heard over the rest of her family’s cries of outrage.

“Don’t you understand?” Perry shouted.  “She was going to tell everyone the truth.  She was going to tell them that I left her for dead.  If only she would have stayed dead, when the snow melted they would have found her and no one would have suspected that I killed her.  Tell them Ondine, tell them that it was an accident!”

Once again the focus of the scene shifted.  All eyes fell on the mysterious French woman with the lush, white hair.

“My dear sweet Perry,” Ondine said softly.  “Once, a long time ago, I loved you.  And Madeline, forgive me, but I did share a bed with your husband for a time.  But now, Perry, I only feel pity for you, which, I’m sure, is much better than what your family is feeling for you right at this moment.”

“You made me give you Vincent!” Perry cried madly.  “I know it was you!  You made that woman threaten my life and my family’s life if I didn’t give her my son.”

“How can one woman force a man to hand over his firstborn child?” Ondine replied dramatically.  “Don’t blame me for what you have done to yourself Raz.  This is your destiny.”

“What did you call me?” Perry asked.

Fortunately, no one else heard the slip of Ondine’s tongue, they were all watching Madeline run towards Nightwind and then, with the exception of Vincent and Adam, everyone rallied together to pummel Perry with more questions and shrieks of anger.  Even Dashiell and Llewellyn found themselves joining the mob.

Enraged and disgusted, the Love matriarch ran up the steps of Nightwind.  She needed her sanctuary desperately now, she needed to be alone to sort out her overwhelming emotions, but by the time she reached the top step, Madeline heard a familiar voice calling her name.

“Just leave me alone,” Madeline replied without stopping or turning around.

“Would you like to know the whole truth?” Ondine replied softly.

“Why should I listen to a woman who slept with my husband?

“As if you actually cared about your husband’s sex life.”

The two women faced each other in the hallway.  They heard the wind swirl past them as Madeline realized how foolish her comment was.

“What do you know?” Madeline asked.

“Everything.”

“Why should I believe you?”

“Take my hand.”

Madeline hesitated, but then saw a flicker of something flash across Ondine’s face.  She wasn’t sure if it was something to be trusted or feared, but knowing her husband, she knew there was much more to his story and she had to take the chance to uncover everything, no matter how devastating it would be.  It was the last time Madeline would ever underestimate how bad a situation could actually be.

“Tell me.”

Ondine didn’t respond except to hold out her hand.  Curious, Madeline put her hand on top of Ondine’s and immediately felt a surge of energy, every nerve in her body danced and tingled.  Madeline wanted to let go of Ondine’s grasp, and even though their hands weren’t clasped, she was unable to lift her hand from Ondine’s.  Her senses were on fire as wave after wave of memory raced out of Ondine’s brain and flooded Madeline.  The unsuspecting woman witnessed Ondine’s entire history, the darkness surrounding her own kidnapped son, Vincent, and the truth of Amanda’s unborn child.  Other images pulsated through Madeline’s body that she didn’t understand, but that she felt were painful and evil.  It was simply too much for her to bear and after a few seconds of being in Ondine’s power, Madeline collapsed to the floor.

“One down,” Ondine said with a smirk before leaving Nightwind and gently closing the door behind her.

From a hidden enclave of hand-clipped bushes to the right of Nightwind’s exterior steps, Winter was hiding and saw Ondine slowly walk down the stairs.  Although Winter thought Ondine looked weak and apparently suffering from some physical ailment, she knew she was an odd woman and someone who should be avoided.  She waited until Ondine was out of view before she climbed the stairs to Nightwind to comfort her grandmother.

“Grandma!” Winter cried when she saw Madeline sprawled out on the floor.

 

The Beach

By the time Winter got back to her family there were several people missing from the gathering.  Perry had fled the pack to an unknown location and much to everyone’s surprise Vincent suggested that Adam return to the servant’s quarters with Amanda and Joe to have a more private conversation.  Naturally, Adam balked at first, but he finally acquiesced to his father’s command, as he always did.  But at the moment Winter didn’t care about them, she was looking for Ondine.

“Where is she?” Winter cried as she ran down the beach.  “Where is your mother?”

Realizing she was talking to him, Dashiell tried to hide his concern.

“Why are you looking for my mother?” he replied.

“She’s hurt my grandmother.”

“What?” Anthony cried.

“I don’t know what happened,” Winter said breathlessly.  “But after Ondine left Nightwind, I went in and found Grandma laying on the floor.  She needs our help.”

Instantly, Anthony and Edwina raced to Nightwind.  They were both so consumed with fear over their mother’s fate that they didn’t realize this was the first time they reacted the same way to an event since they were teenagers and neither of them were deemed old enough to attend a Fleetwood Mac concert in Boston.  They also didn’t realize that their older brother, Vincent, was running right behind them.

As Jonatha and Winter started to run after their older relatives, Dashiell and Llewellyn each grabbed a girl by the arm.

“Get off me!” Winter cried.

“If you really want to help your grandmother,” Dashiell said, “you’ll listen to me.”

“You have thirty seconds,” Jonatha said grimly.

 

Parents with Child

The servant’s quarters were decorated in a much less elaborate style than Nightwind.  There were no velvet curtains or marble staircases or crystal chandeliers.  However, in the foyer, amid the slightly frayed brocade loveseat and the out-of-tune grand piano, were three individuals who were linked by a history of deception, fate, and blood.

Sitting stoically in the center of the room in an uncomfortable, wingback chair was Adam.  His grim countenance hid the occasional feelings of joy that permeated his confusion.  After so many years he had found his parents and although Ondine’s vile voice teared through his mind, he wasn’t completely convinced that they had ruthlessly abandoned him.  He had decided he would let his parents argue their own defense.  Mortals did need to be given special compensation at times.

Joe had made Amanda sit on the loveseat to conserve her strength while he paced the room with enough nervous energy for both of them.

“I do wish you would stop pacing,” Adam said.  “You’re like a caged animal.”

Joe fought the urge to scream at the boy who he currently regarded as an adversary instead of a son.  He could accept any unkind words or harsh accusations Joey threw at him, but he hated seeing Amanda treated with such disregard.  He took a deep breath and apologized.

“I’m sorry,” Joe said.  “It’s just that I’m, well, I’m nervous.”

“Why should you be nervous in the company of your family?” Adam quipped.

“Don’t speak that way to your Father?” Amanda interrupted.  “And don’t tell me once again that he isn’t your father because that’s starting to bore me.”

 

The two men were shocked by Amanda’s outburst and it took them a few seconds to regain their composure.

“Is that the way you’ve decided to win me back?” Adam asked.  “With assertion and parental disdain?”

“You’re obviously a well-educated young man,” Amanda replied.  “I must thank my brother for your schooling.  But I don’t want to talk about how well you can turn a phrase, I’m more interested in what’s in your heart.  What are you feeling right now?”

“What? Adam asked uncomfortably and got up to look out the window and stare at the moon.

“You always loved the moon,” Amanda said, moving close behind him.  “On the night you were taken from us you wished you could ride right through it.  You thought it was a tunnel.”

“I was a silly child,” Adam said.

“Yes you were.  You made me laugh all the time,” Amanda replied.  “You would say incredibly absurd things and draw whimsical pictures and ask questions that I couldn’t answer, but that would make me smile.”

Adam turned to his mother and this time he saw her differently.  She was the woman in his dreams, the one who held him close and whispered softly to him and kissed his hurt away.  The young man wasn’t sure if he still had a heart, but he did feel an ache begin to grow deep within him.

“Like what?” he asked.

“What do you mean?” said Amanda.

“What kinds of questions would I ask?”

“You would ask me why clouds didn’t fall to the ground.  Or how sandcrabs could breathe under the sand.  Or why soap didn’t fall from the sky if water did,” Amanda said, fighting the need to cry.  “Oh Joey, my baby, please, you have to understand that I would have done anything . . . your father and I would have done anything . . . humanly possible to have you returned to us.”

One simple word, “humanly”, made Adam catch his breath.  How gullible could he be?  How vulnerable to a mortal’s words could he have become?  He couldn’t accept these people into his life for he wasn’t human.

Adam looked away from Amanda’s hypnotic gaze and his eyes fell upon Joe’s hand.  Small drops of fresh blood lingered near a recent cut.  Unexpectedly, Adam felt his hunger grow and he knew from experience that his natural appetite needed to be quenched immediately or else it would consume him and he would not be responsible for his actions.

“I have to go,” Adam said desperately.

“No,” Joe said.  “We’re not going to let you just walk out on us.”

“You don’t understand,” Adam tried to explain.  “I . . . I’m not like you.”

“Yes you are,” Amanda said, misunderstanding her son’s statement.  “We’re all scared, but we love you and that’s all that matters now.”

“No!” Adam growled.  “You can’t love me!  My Father and I . . . we’re not like you!  This is what we want!”

Adam grabbed Joe’s hand violently and sank his teeth into the fractured flesh.  Joe screamed out in agony and horror as he watched his son suck the blood from his hand.  Unsure of what was happening, Amanda tried to pull Adam off Joe, but Adam reacted instinctively and slapped Amanda in the face with the back of his hand, the force of which sent her flying backwards into the wingback chair.  The sight of his lover hovered on the floor, using only her arms to cover her unborn child, made Joe feel a surge of adrenalin unlike anything he had ever experienced before.  He punched Adam in the face and he felt the fangs retract from his flesh.

When Adam looked up at his parents his appearance had changed.  His skin was gnarled and contorted and bloody fangs protruded over his full red lips.

“Can you love this?!” Adam growled.  “This is what your son has become!”

Suddenly the smell of new blood caressed Adam’s nostrils and he saw that Amanda was bleeding from the womb.  When she noticed what was happening, Amanda tried to cover up the blood, but it was too late, Adam was already transfixed by the oozing liquid.  He lunged towards Amanda, but never saw Joe spring into the air to deflect him.  Joe struggled to subdue Adam as Amanda screamed and tried to crawl to safety.  As she tried to get to her knees she felt the blood rush from her and realized safety was far, far away.

Although she was too weak and too frightened to turn around she heard Joe, and the thing her son had become, fight.  She had no idea who was winning, but she knew she would soon find out.

“What have you done with my son?!” Joe cried.

“I am your son!” Adam shouted back.  “This is what we are.  We’re vampires, you mortal fool!”

Joe was rendered speechless by Adam’s announcement and he realized the fantastic stories that not only were legendary in Nightfall true, but that his son was at the center of all the rumors.  While Joe pondered this bizarre piece of hometown history, Adam threw one final punch.  Throughout his career as a policeman, Joe had taken several hits before, but never had he been hit with such force.  He flew several feet above Amanda and didn’t stop until he hit the textured wallpaper and slid to the floor landing several inches from her face.

“Joe,” Amanda whispered helplessly.

Although the pain and her tears distorted her vision, Amanda could see Adam coming towards her.  She thought she had heard him proclaim himself a vampire, but that couldn’t possibly be true.  Vampires weren’t real, they were fantasy.  She too had heard the whispers in town, but she never believed them.  But this thing that hovered over her didn’t look real, he looked like something out of a grotesque fairy tale. She felt herself be lifted to her feet and then higher.  She found herself looking into crimson eyes and then she heard her voice.

“Joey?” Amanda asked.  “I don’t know if this is you, but if it is I know you can hear me.  You don’t want to hurt me.  You have to fight whatever force is taking control of you.”

She felt hot breath and the scrape of sharp fangs on her throat.

“Because whatever it is, my love for you is stronger,” Amanda whispered.  “I love you Joey.  I always have and I always will.”

Once again she saw the crimson eyes, but now they were wide and innocent.  Slowly she saw the contorted face regain its original shape and she saw her son once again.

“I knew you wouldn’t hurt me.”

“Mother,” Adam said.

“Yes, baby,” Amanda replied.

Adam longed to be held by Amanda, to weep in her arms for the endless nights he spent as a child wondering what had happened to his family.  He wanted to tell her that he was terribly afraid of crossing over to the Golden Life, but the glorious scent of blood tantalized him again and he knew that if he didn’t flee his mother’s presence he would take life from her.

“I do love you,” Adam said, just as he flew out of the room into the unsuspecting night.

 

Nightwind

Since Anthony and Edwina didn’t know that Vincent had left with them, they didn’t realize that he hadn’t entered Nightwind.  They were on either side of Madeline now trying to ascertain her condition.  She seemed quite peaceful, her breathing was calm and steady, she had no bruises, nor did she look to be in any pain.  If she were laying in her bed instead of on the hardwood floor, they would have thought she was sleeping.

“Mother, can you hear me?” Anthony asked.

“Anthony,” Edwina said.  “Do you think we should call a doctor?”

“I have a feeling a doctor would be no use to us now,” he replied.

Edwina felt completely helpless as she watched her brother attend to her mother.  She also felt excluded.  Her mother and her brother had always had a special bond, which she alternately coveted and loathed, while she allowed the family to think that she was her father’s special little girl.  She simply understood that her father was practical and that his practicality was often misinterpreted as unemotional.  Unfortunately, she had learned tonight that her father actually leaned closer to insanity.

She helped Anthony lift Madeline onto the chaise lounge and muddled thoughts of her and Vincent penetrated her brain.  A few short hours ago she had kissed this man and had incredible sex with him and his son.  Now, she realized she had committed incest.  Some days, she thought, just don’t turn out as you expect them too.

“Would you like to pray with me Edwina?” Anthony asked.

At many points in her life that question would have seemed laughable, more accurately the question would never have been put to her.  But now as she knelt beside her brother in front of her unconscious mother, it seemed to be the most natural question of all.

“I’m not sure if I remember how,” Edwina admitted, “but if you lead, I’ll follow.”

Anthony smiled wanly at his sister and took her hand.  Then they each took hold of Madeline’s hands and were unprepared for what happened next.  They could hear their mother’s thoughts as they held her hand.  They looked at each other incredulously and listened to what Madeline had to say.

“Your father is scared, which means he’s dangerous,” Madeline telepathically told her children.  “You must stay away from him.  Vincent may be your brother, but he is also a vampire.”

When Anthony and Edwina heard this amazing claim they almost let go of Madeline’s hands, but she clung to them even tighter.

“He’s turned Joey into a vampire as well,” Madeline continued.  “We’ve lost our grandson to the darkness.”

They could hear Madeline cry, but could see no tears.  Currents of immense emotional pain pulsated from Madeline into her children and they knew the only way they could comfort her was to listen.

“Ondine has orchestrated all of this pain,” Madeline said.  “She took Vincent and sold him, she helped him steal Joey from us, she even created Jonatha.”

Upon hearing this, Edwina flinched and looked at her brother for help.  Mentally, she asked her mother for an explanation.

“Ondine isn’t human, she needs a soul to survive so she created a child that you carried.”

“Joe and I conceived Jonatha!” Edwina shouted at her mother’s expressionless face.  “Ondine had nothing to do with it!”

“No, you and Joe never conceived a child,” Madeline explained.  “It was all a lie.”

Unable to listen to any more of her mother’s ramblings, Edwina let go of Madeline’s hand.  As much as she wanted to believe that what she heard was untrue, she realized it explained why she could never remember actually making love to Joe that first time when Jonatha was conceived.  Nothing was the same for Edwina.  The only constant she had in her life was her daughter and now she had been taken from her, she had never felt lonelier in her entire life.  She was so consumed with her own pain that it took her a moment to hear Anthony’s screams.

“No!” Anthony shouted, “It’s not true!”

“What?” Edwina asked.  “What did she say?”

“Jonatha’s life is in danger.”

Serenity Pond

The moon’s glow made Serenity Pond shine with light as all around it darkness hung quietly like a panther ready to strike its defenseless prey.  Dashiell and Jonatha hid together in the brush on one side of the pond.  On the other side, Winter and Llewellyn stood behind a weeping willow.  The young men had filled in both girls on Ondine’s mission and they understood that in order to defeat Dashiell’s mother, and save Amanda’s unborn child, they had to work together.

Crouching next to Jonatha, Dashiell admired how bravely the girl had taken the news that she had been born for the sole purpose to die at the hands of a Soul Angel.  Dashiell didn’t realize that Jonatha was hiding her feelings and that she was devastated to learn why she was not meant for this earth.  She wasn’t conceived, she was created by some crazy demon woman who just wanted to rip out her soul so she could live another hundred years.  Silently she thanked God for allowing her to be born without a soul thwarting Ondine’s master plan and the Blessed Mother and the angels for intervening and giving her a soul when she was safely out of Ondine’s reach.  Now that same sick woman was going to take the soul from Amanda’s unborn child.  Well, she was going to try anyway.  Jonatha, along with the others, was going to do everything she could to stop her.

“Foolish children, do you really think you can stop me?”

Ondine appeared before them in the center of Serenity Pond, floating on its cool liquid surface.

“Come out, come out, wherever you are,” Ondine declared.

No one moved, which only made Ondine grow more impatient.

“Then I will come into the bushes and drag you out and kill you one by one until I find the child who has irked me so.”

Before Dashiell could pull her back into the bushes, Jonatha walked out of her hiding place and stood at the water’s edge.  She stared at Ondine, and although she was quite afraid, she knew that somewhere, a higher power was on her side.

“Such a brave little bitch you are,” Ondine said, still an inch or two above the water’s surface.  “Too bad your bravery will get you killed.”

All four teenagers watched as Ondine commanded every ounce of her strength to revert back to her original physical state.  Her white hair, which had grown brittle and coarse in recent days, turned dark until it was as black as a raven’s feather and so long that it brushed against her ankles.  Her wrinkled and blotchy skin faded away to reveal a smooth, and breathtakingly beautiful, complexion.  They couldn’t believe that a creature so exquisite could be so evil.

As Ondine raised her hand in Jonatha’s direction she heard a rustling from the bushes where she had been hiding.  Like uncontrolled lightning, Dashiell sped towards Ondine and crashed into her with all the preternatural force her could corral.  Alas, he was not used to his superior strength and had not yet learned how to control it.  Ondine easily pushed him off of her and as she moved safely toward the grass, Dashiell crashed through the pond’s chilly surface.

“Who’s next?” Ondine asked.

From the opposite side of the pond she saw Winter running toward her.  As the young girl ran to protect her sister, she silently chastised herself for not realizing that Ondine was actually the raven-haired woman who had been controlling her.  Before she could berate herself any longer, Ondine raised her hand in her direction and Winter stopped abruptly.  The two locked eyes and Ondine silently commanded the girl to fight on her behalf.  Winter had no choice but to comply and she suddenly found herself seeking out Llewellyn.

“Winter no!” Dashiell cried as he climbed out of the pond.  “You must fight her!”

But Winter was just a girl, and Ondine was a supernatural entity who had conserved her strength these past several days so she could fight with her full arsenal against all those who wanted to put an end to her life.  Winter raced toward Llewellyn, took him by the scruff of his neck, and effortlessly swung him into the trunk of the weeping willow several times before hurling him into the depths of Serenity Pond.  Finally, Ondine let go of the spell she had on Winter and the girl saw both Jonatha and Dashiell dive into the pond to rescue Llewellyn.  She also saw Ondine plunge in after them.

Like black tentacles, Ondine’s raven hair reached toward the teenagers under the pond’s surface.  Jonatha was the first to reach Llewellyn and she had to wave her hand in front of his face to make the blood float away.  She saw that his eyes were closed and his mouth open so she put her hand over his mouth and pushed his body to the surface.  Dashiell was inches from Llewellyn’s feet when Ondine grabbed his legs and pulled him farther below.

His arms flailed out in search of his mother, but he couldn’t reach her, he only felt her hit him like a cat toying with a mouse.  Then he thought that if he was going to defeat this creature he had to think like her and so he grew very quiet to regain his strength.  After a moment, Ondine paused, her raven hair swirling around her, and contemplated her son.  She understood what he was doing and in her own maternal way, she approved.  Plus, the kill was so much more satisfying when the prey put up a good fight.

Suddenly, Dashiell propelled himself into Ondine’s stomach and rose with her through the pond’s surface.  When they were nearly twenty feet in the air, Dashiell let go of Ondine and flew to the right, landing securely on the ground as he watched Ondine fall back into the pond.  He raced to Llewellyn’s side and saw that his lover wasn’t breathing.

“Llewellyn!” Dashiell bellowed.

“I’m sorry,” Winter cried, “I didn’t mean it!”

Before anyone could speak further they heard the ground shake and saw the pond water begin to crest.  Although Ondine was nowhere to be found she had obviously grown restless.  From the depths of the earth’s soul, they heard her speak.

“Do you really think I will allow four children defeat me?” Ondine asked, her voice booming in the night.  “I was created by God, I am a Soul Angel!  It is my destiny to be immortal and that destiny will be fulfilled by the first light of the sun!”

They saw Ondine rise from the pond, completely dry, and with a look of menace that took their breath away.  Ondine hardly seemed to move, but in an instant her hand was clutching Dashiell’s throat and shaking him violently as Winter and Jonatha screamed several feet below.

“My only son turning against me,” Ondine said.  “I should have done this on the day of your birth.”

With absolutely no remorse she tossed Dashiell into a collection of boulders near the pond’s edge.  Before his lifeless body slid down the curved stone to greet the soft dirt, Ondine had lifted both girls into the air.  In one hand she held Jonatha and in the other, Winter, and let them face each other as the three were suspended in mid-air.

“It’s time to say good-bye girls.”

Even if they didn’t have Ondine’s hands wrapped around their throats they still wouldn’t have been able to speak.  Jonatha watched as Winter was thrown to the ground and landed on top of Llewellyn.  Somehow Jonatha found the poise to simply look at Ondine.  She didn’t cry out or beg for mercy, she just stared.

“Where are your angels now?!” Ondine cried, just before she and Jonatha plummeted into the pond a final time.

As if in slow motion they grabbed at each other, Jonatha valiantly trying to fight against Ondine’s inhuman strength.  She saw, but could not hear, Ondine laugh at her, and she felt, but could not stop the water invade her lungs as darkness began to creep into the edges of her eyes.  She knew that she was drowning.  She tried to remain peaceful and accepting, but she only grew more frightened, she just didn’t want to die.  And then she saw an angel.

“Not again!”  Ondine cried to the angel that tried to grab Jonatha from Ondine’s clutches.

Rising furiously from the pond, Ondine broke the water’s surface like a bullet and held Jonatha overhead like a prize.

“You will not get in my way this time!” Ondine said as she let Jonatha fall and flew into the angel blocking its path so it couldn’t prevent Jonatha from crashing into the ground.

Ondine, with the angel at her side, surveyed the area and saw Dashiell, Llewellyn, Winter, and Jonatha laying on the ground.  Ondine laughed and the angel wept, as they realized that four bodies had fallen to earth, but only three would rise again.

 

Nightwind

The corridor between Perry’s office and Nightwind was half the length of a football field and enclosed by glass on all sides.  Vincent walked quickly down the hallway and entered Perry’s office to find his father and Astrid waiting for him.

“Well, well, Mr. Savage,” Astrid said.  “It’s about time.”

“I want the serum,” Vincent bellowed.

“And I want my money,” Astrid replied, clicking open a briefcase filled with five million dollars.

“Here!” Vincent shouted as he tossed a similar briefcase onto Perry’s desk.  “Now give me the serum!”

Perry was shocked by Vincent’s outburst, but Astrid was merely amused.

“Don’t go getting all ornery Mr. Vampire-Man,” Astrid said, “Especially when it’s only fifteen minutes before sunrise.”

 

The Final Battle

The blood wouldn’t stop rushing from between Amanda’s legs and she knew that if it continued any longer her baby’s life would be in question.  She shook Joe’s body with weak hands, but he didn’t stir.  Hope was running out, but Amanda knew that she had to rise from the floor and find her family.

“Dear God,” Amanda whispered, “Won’t you please help me?”

Amanda gasped as she saw two bare feet floating above the ground in front of her.

“God’s a bit busy,” Ondine said, “but I’ll lend a hand.”

Hold Back the Night – Chapters 14 and 15

Chapter 14

Friday Morning – St. Agatha’s Cemetery

As Anthony Love stood atop the small hill in St. Agatha’s cemetery, the wind ripped through his deep purple robes and his lush chestnut brown hair so that he looked like he was flying.  A large percentage of the population of Nightfall had gathered in the early morning chill to bid farewell to three of their beloved neighbors—Aimee Pomeroy, David Anderson, and Noelle Parker—and Anthony was nearing the end of the funeral service.  He had wrestled for hours the night before to find the right words that would console and reassure, but he had to settle on speaking generically about birth and death and the moments in between that comprised a life.  He told the wounded faces that another, more important, existence awaited the three whose bodies were soon to be lowered into the earth.  He spoke clearly and deliberately as if trying to convince himself that his words were, in fact, the truth.  And when he looked out at the sea of mourners, he saw disbelief in their eyes.

Bile caught in his throat and he had to swallow hard to keep from choking.  Clutching the bible with a shaking hand, Anthony knew these murders were random, but that they were connected.  A shiver streaked down his spine causing his body to shake and his other hand lost its grip on the sterling silver rosary beads Jonatha had given him on his tenth anniversary as a servant of God.  He watched them tumble into the large hole in the ground that would soon house three caskets.  From where he stood the rosary beads looked quite insignificant and defenseless.

Fighting the anxiety that began to take hold of him, Anthony continued the sermon thankful that it would soon be over.

“And so we draw upon the Lord’s strength to help us in this time of immense grief,” he said.  “May the Lord embrace and protect the souls of our three friends who we lay to rest here today.”

One by one the three mahogany caskets were lowered into the earth.  They were fine examples of exquisite New England craftsmanship donated by Love Industries.  The townspeople thought it a charitable gesture from a wealthy family; Perry knew it was a small price to pay since he was the reason death had once again taken a prolonged residence in Nightfall.  Madeline simply thought it was in poor taste.

“Aimee would never have wanted to be buried in such an ostentatious coffin,” Madeline said to Amanda in a voice slightly above a whisper.

“She knows Daddy meant well,” Amanda replied.

“If he cared at all about her he would be here right now instead of in Oslo,” Madeline seethed.

Amanda wanted to tell her mother that her father never cared about anything in his life except himself and his business, but she thought a burial service was not the proper place for sudden disclosure.

When the last casket was lowered into the earth, Anthony picked up three white roses and held them high over his head.  He felt his throat constrict as he tried to speak when all he wanted to do was scream at God and ask him why He was putting these people through such pain yet again.  Before he began his tirade, he realized that his role as Nightfall’s spiritual leader required him to suppress public displays of extreme emotion.  The people needed strength, not tears.

“Dear God,” Anthony said, “Please take care of our friends—Aimee, David, and Noelle—and in heaven show them all the love that they showed us while here on Earth.”

He tossed one white rose onto each of the caskets and watched as every person came forward to do the same.  Soon he could no longer see the caskets, but only a sea of white petals and thorns.  As the crowd cleared and began to return to their cars and limousines, the wind grew rough and swirled around him and he could hear it moan and sigh.  It began to blow the roses a bit and suddenly Anthony realized the wind was only blowing around him and the coffins, no one else seemed to be affected or even notice the disturbance.  The roses lifted and stood upright on the smooth mahogany wood until they were all floating above the caskets.  Slowly, the roses parted to either side of the center coffin and when the lid was free of debris it began to open.

David Anderson looked resplendent, yet pale, and still retained much of his youthful countenance.  He was dressed in his official policeman’s uniform that was swathed in several medals David accrued during his short, but decorated, career.  Anthony watched as the dead man bent at the waist to sit up and opened his eyes to reveal the most beautiful blue eyes he had ever seen.  Even if David did have blue eyes while living, which Anthony wasn’t sure of, the priest knew that these eyes were not human in origin.  They possessed a tranquility and peacefulness that no human being could ever acquire.  Anthony moved closer to David and saw that he was holding something tightly in his left hand.  When Anthony was close enough to touch the living corpse, David opened his hand to reveal Anthony’s fallen rosary beads.

“You’ll need these,” David replied in a voice both strong and tender.  “And very soon.”

Without moving his eyes from David’s, Anthony took the rosary beads from David’s hand and was amazed at its warmth.  He was hardly cold and hard like a cadaver, but soft and warm like a living vessel.  He looked around and saw that no one was staring at him or the dead man sitting up in his coffin.  But after David lay back down and the casket’s lid closed, he saw Jonatha watching him in a small clearing near the edge of the cemetery.  And even though they were quite a distance apart, Anthony could tell that she was frightened.

 

Family Affairs

Walking back to her limousine, Madeline was finding it difficult to conceal her fury.  With one hand she held her black mink coat tightly around her throat, the same mink she let Aimee borrow for her cousin’s wedding last March, and with the other hand she held onto Edwina’s arm.  Out of respect for her departed friend Madeline had dressed impeccably just the way Aimee loved to see her.  Her hair was teased slightly, her nails were French manicured, she was wearing a navy blue Chanel suit, matching Ferragamo pumps with a too-high heel, and she had taken her most expensive pearl jewelry out of her safe deposit box, including the triple strand pearl necklace that Perry gave her on their first anniversary.  She knew her former maid was smiling as Madeline struggled to walk like a lady in three-inch heels through the uneven dirt path.

“I can’t believe your Father couldn’t push his trip to Norway back one day,” Madeline said to Edwina.

With her right ear Edwina listened to her mother, and with her left ear she strained to hear what Joe and Amanda were talking about only a few feet in front of them.

“Given the option of out-of-the-country business emergency or funeral service I think most of us would choose a quick flight to Oslo,” Edwina said, her eyes never leaving Joe’s hand which pressed into the small of Amanda’s back.

“I wish you and your Father would learn the meaning of respect,” Madeline said as she entered the back seat of the limousine.

“I see this is gonna be one helluva day Mother,” Edwina mumbled as she followed Madeline into the car.

 

Joe and Amanda

Out of the corner of her eye, Amanda could see Inez Collins staring at her.  At first she thought it was because of her pregnancy, which at seven months along was something Amanda could no longer conceal even while wearing an overcoat, but Inez was interested in other matters.  Amanda’s unexpected pregnancy had caught Inez’s eye, but she along with most townspeople, were giddy over the unexpected reunion of their favorite couple and Amanda couldn’t help but feel that Inez and the town were finally getting what they had prayed for: Their king and queen were getting back together.

“I think we might have to hold a press conference,” Amanda said to Joe indicating Inez with a slight nod of her head.

“Right after we tell our kids,” Joe said opening the door of his red Mustang.

“Tell your kids what?” asked Winter, who had been walking, unnoticed, to the left of her parents.

“Where’s Jonatha?” Joe asked.

 

Winter looked around the cemetery and although she couldn’t see her sister, she knew exactly where to find her.

“If I find the little scamp will you tell us everything?” Winter asked.

“Yes,” Joe said smiling, “We’ll wait here for you here.”

 

St. Agatha’s Chapel

As long as she stayed on holy ground Jonatha surmised, no harm could come to her.  It was a naïve thought.

Regardless, in the past several days she had come here when she felt overwhelmed with the fear that she would be taken from this earth.  Even once in the middle of the night after a particularly disturbing dream wherein the Devil and God had fought for Jonatha’s soul, she snuck out of the house to seek refuge here.

Now she sat on a stone pew and quietly prayed to the Blessed Mother asking what she always asked: to protect her from the evil she knew was swirling around her just like the flowers swirled around the caskets to allow the dead body to come to life.  When Winter entered the chapel, Jonatha jumped.

“I knew I’d find you here,” Winter shouted.  “C’mon religious girl Amanda and Joe want to talk to us!”

“Please don’t shout in here,” Jonatha said.

“You know if the Blessed Mother weren’t so, well, Blessed, I’d be jealous,” Winter replied.  “You spend all your time with her and not me.”

“I feel safe here,” Jonatha said, then turned away from her sister.  “You couldn’t possibly understand how I feel.”

“Trust me, I know what it’s like to be afraid, but I do know that nothing that involves Miss Mary could be bad,” Winter said. “Plus, with me and Uncle Anthony watching out for you, you have nothing to worry about.”

“This isn’t funny!” Jonatha shouted, her echo bouncing off the stone walls.  “I’m really scared Winter.”

Unable to think of a quick comeback, Winter instead held her sister close to her.  She was surprised to feel Jonatha shaking and was forced to admit that their lives had become terribly complicated and yes, even frightening.  But for all of Winter’s bravado it wasn’t in her nature to acknowledge fear and face it head on.  So she just hugged Jonatha tightly the way her parents hugged her when she was scared as a little girl.  She didn’t believe hugs had any power then and she didn’t believe it now, but she couldn’t think of anything else to do.

“You know I love you right?” Jonatha asked.

“Of course I do,” Winter replied, feeling even more uncomfortable.  “I love you too.”

“I know,” Jonatha said, then decided to change the subject.  “So what do our parents want?”

“They want to tell us they’re getting remarried,” Winter replied.  “But act surprised because they think we don’t know.”

As they walked out of the chapel Jonatha didn’t notice Winter pause and clutch the cold, stone wall.  It felt good against the burn on her hand caused by her uncle’s crucifix.  But she forgot how soothing it felt when her eyes were overpowered by darkness.

The Collins Inn

The phone flew across the room, missed the open window by inches, hit the wall, and fell to the floor.

“Do you feel better now?” Llewellyn asked before taking another sip of Hazelnut coffee.

With rage in his eyes, Dashiell walked over to the phone, picked it up, and screamed into the receiver: “I need maple syrup!”

Again he threw the phone, this time against the opposite wall.  Enid Collins, Inez’s cousin, who was manning the Inn while everyone attended the funeral service, had brought the two men their breakfast, but since she was doing all the work by herself she forgot to include the maple syrup, which was made fresh from trees on their own property.  Dashiell, not used to such bad service from servants, was livid and began to pace the room in front of the small breakfast table where Llewellyn sat quietly.

“All I want is some bloody maple syrup for my bloody pancakes!” Dashiell shouted.

“I think they call them flapjacks in this corner of the world,” Llewellyn commented, quite amused and slightly aroused by Dashiell’s outburst.

“How bloody hard is it to remember to bring maple syrup with the bloody pancakes,” Dashiell shouted ignoring his lover.  “Who eats pancakes without any bloody maple syrup anyway?”

“I have found jam to be a suitable alternative on occasion,” Llewellyn said.

Dashiell was about to pick up the phone again when Llewellyn’s comment registered.

“Am I the only one who demands quality room service?”

“Dashiell we’re lucky the coffee arrived hot,” Llewellyn said.  “You know the entire town is mourning this morning at the funeral for those three people your father killed.”

A second after Llewellyn realized what he had said, he realized it was too late to take it back.  The two men had an unspoken pact not to speak about Dashiell’s father.  It wasn’t as if Vincent Savage and Dashiell ever had a bad relationship, it was simply that they had no relationship at all.  Vincent donated his vampiric sperm to Ondine, who was quite capable of creating a child solitarily, but thought it would be especially exotic if her child were half-vampire.  What she didn’t count on was that her immortal nature and Vincent’s vampirism would cancel each other out so that Dashiell was born nothing more than mortal.  Disgusted, Ondine almost destroyed the “thing that emerged from her womb” as she referred to Dashiell as an infant until she remembered that maintaining a relationship with Vincent was more important than getting rid of a disappointment.  It was for this reason that Dashiell hated his mother only slightly more than he hated his father.

“That thing is not my father!” Dashiell yelled.

“I’m sorry,” Llewellyn said truthfully.  “I didn’t mean it.”

“Yes you did! You think I’m just like him don’t you?” Dashiell shouted.  “You think I’m going to kill innocent people too!”

“What are you talking about?”

“Admit it!  You think I’m nothing but a cold-blooded killer!”

Llewellyn could see that Dashiell’s mood had nothing to do with maple syrup or estranged fathers, but something much deeper.  He was in the final stages of crossing over to the Golden Life and he was starting to realize immortality had a very high price tag.  If Llewellyn didn’t love Dashiell so completely, he would have told him that he did in fact think he would become a heartless killer.  Instead, he put his arms around him to try and calm him down.

“You’re not like Vincent Savage,” Llewellyn whispered into Dashiell’s ear.  “You’re compassionate and kind and you’ll carry those traits with you when you cross over.”

“What if I change?” Dashiell said.  “What if I become a ruthless monster?”

Llewellyn turned Dashiell’s face to him so the men stared directly into each other’s eyes.

“I won’t let you,” Llewellyn said.

They kissed tenderly.  This wasn’t a time for passion, but for understanding.  Regardless of what happened in their future, they would always be connected because despite the complexities of their relationship, their love was quite simple.

Their second kiss was interrupted by the crash of glass on the hardwood floor.  They obviously didn’t hear Enid Collins knock for she now stood in the doorway, her mouth agape as she watched Dashiell and Llewellyn hold each other tenderly.  She fled the scene just as the maple syrup was about to run onto her shoes.

 

 

 

Love Laboratories – Oslo, Norway

After scouring through the fourth and final filing cabinet, Perry still hadn’t found any information regarding the experimental serum Astrid was supposed to be working on.  When he first arrived at the lab he found it empty and now after rummaging through all its contents, he realized Astrid must have taken her work and fled the country.  Or worse, destroyed everything.

Perry clutched a metal table for support and shook his head as if trying to ward off an excruciatingly painful headache.  He surveyed the room yet again trying desperately to see if there was a section of the lab that he forgot to examine.  A cabinet, a box, a test tube that concealed something that Astrid had left behind in connection with the precious serum or at least its formula.  But he had examined every inch of the lab twice and had still come up empty handed.

Cold sweat began to drip down Perry’s back as he imagined what type of revenge Vincent would seek out against him and his family.  He collapsed into Astrid’s chair and his face went ashen as he pictured his family sleeping peacefully and Vincent bending over to pierce his fangs into their flesh, methodically, one by one until they were all dead.  He knew quite well that Vincent would save his punishment for last so that he could witness his family perish.  Vincent might be a vampire, but he was still an angry child.

And although Perry was devastated emotionally by this turn of events, he knew that soon everyone would know about his connection to Vincent Savage and that he, the self-declared patriarch of Nightfall, was responsible for his own grandson’s kidnapping.  He wondered which would be worse: watching his family be murdered or leaving behind such a tarnished legacy?

“Excuse me Mr. Love.”

“Astrid!”  Perry was horribly disappointed when he saw Torvald, Astrid’s assistant standing in the doorway.

“I’m sorry sir, Astrid isn’t here,” Torvald replied, his startlingly white teeth forming into a hesitant smile.

“I know that!” Perry replied impatiently.

The young man bristled at Perry’s outburst and started to back away.  Perry had forgotten how sensitive scientists could be so he softened his tone hoping to extract some information out of this man.

“Do you know where she is?”

“No I thought you might actually,” Torvald said, running his hands through his long blonde hair.  “She left yesterday afternoon and said the lab was closing.  I figured she was just stressed out so I came in today expecting to see her, but she’s gone and it looks like she took everything with her.”

“This is very important.  Do you have any idea where she went? Or where the serum is that she was working on?”

“She never let me near the serum, I don’t even know where the formula is,” replied Torvald.  “But right before she left she said the oddest thing.”

Perry waited for Torvald to speak, but when it appeared that he wouldn’t, he let his anger show: “Well, what did she say?!”

“She said she was going to soothe a savage beast,” Torvald said.  “Any idea what she meant by that?”

“Yes, unfortunately I do,” Perry replied just before running out of the lab.

Nightwind

Awkwardly clutching a Hello Kitty pillow, Joe was sitting on Jonatha’s bed between her and Winter and tried to explain how and why all their lives would soon change.  Amanda was sitting in the antique rocking chair that had been in Edwina’s bedroom when she was growing up and listened to Joe’s nervous speech.  Since he was father to both girls, they decided to let him do most of the talking.  Now as she watched these two young girls look adoringly into their father’s eyes, she prayed they hadn’t made a mistake.

“Girls I think, actually I know, that you’re both old enough to hear what we have to say, which is the truth about what’s been going on,” Joe stuttered.  “Jonatha, your mother and I have agreed that it’s not fair to us, or you, to continue our marriage.  We just don’t love each other.  We care for each other very much and I think we did love each other at some point, but it wasn’t strong enough to last.  You know that has nothing to do with our love for you don’t you?”

Although Jonatha often questioned her mother’s capacity for love she knew that Edwina loved her as much as she was capable of.  Her father’s love, however, was something she knew was hers unconditionally.

“Yes,” Jonatha said softly.

“I know this situation has been difficult for all of us, it’s not the most conventional family, but I think we’ve come through it okay so I know we’ll survive this too,” Joe continued.

“You’re starting to lose me,” Winter said.

“Honey what your Father is trying to say is that he and I are planning to remarry,” Amanda intervened.

Both girls remained quiet.  Even though they knew this was coming it was strange hearing it spoken out loud.  As much as they pretended to be adult and cosmopolitan, they really were just teenaged girls who wanted their parents to love each other.

“I’m not happy about it,” Winter said, surprising herself as much as every one in the room.  “But I can see that you both love each other so you deserve a second chance.”

“Thank you baby,” Joe said.  “Jonatha how about you?”

Jonatha looked at her father and then at her Aunt Amanda with a blank expression.  Joe sensed that Jonatha had been very moody lately, but thought it was a result of her age and the turmoil surrounding Joey’s homecoming.  But as he watched her contemplate this situation, he realized she was under a great deal of stress and his remarriage was just adding to it.

“Honey, are you okay?” Joe asked.

“Are you doing this because of Joey?” Jonatha questioned.

“No, we’re not,” Amanda replied.  “We reconnected before I found out Joey was going to be brought back to us.”

“Promise me one thing,” Jonatha said.

“What is it?” Joe asked.

“That you two will remember how you feel for each other today and won’t let anything or anyone come between you,” she said.  “Love should be for a lifetime.”

“Ours will be sweetie, I promise,” Joe replied, discarding the pillow and embracing both his daughters.

“Thank you both for your blessing,” Amanda said.  “We’re not doing this to hurt anyone.  We just want to live our lives with each other.”

“As long as I can keep my room here at Nightwind,” Winter said, “You can’t expect me to give up this castle for some condo.”

“Oh Winter!” Amanda said, hugging her daughter.

The four of them laughed and held each other tightly on Jonatha’s bed.  They understood that their family was not traditional, but they also understood that it was rooted by deep love.

“I guess this is going to be a day of bombshells,” Winter said.  “If you’ll excuse me I have a party to get ready for.”

“It’s still early honey, you have hours,” Joe said.

“Daddy I’m 17.  It takes me three hours to get ready for school.  How long do you think it’s going to take me to prepare myself to meet my brother who I haven’t seen since I was two?” replied Winter.

“Well don’t lock yourself in your room all day,” Joe said.

“I won’t.  I’ll see you all later.”

When Winter left the room Joe and Amanda were so preoccupied with Jonatha’s acceptance of their remarriage that they didn’t notice that she stumbled slightly when trying to open the bedroom door.  She let her right hand graze against the wall that led to her bedroom and the second she entered the room she closed the door behind her.  Breathing heavily she waited for the darkness that surrounded her to give way once more to the light.

The Collins Inn

Ondine sat at the small table in Dashiell and Llewellyn’s room and heard the shower water running.  She absentmindedly envisioned the two men wrapped in each other’s soapy arms washing and kissing each other, but she was more intrigued by the latest entry in the saccharine love story of Joe and Amanda.  Through Winter’s eyes she saw the announcement of their remarriage.  How sweet, in a boring, mortal way, Ondine thought.  And how short-lived it would be.  Once Amanda gave birth, Ondine would suck the soul out of the child thereby restoring her body to its original state of immense supernatural power.  She wouldn’t linger long enough to see if Amanda and Joe’s love could survive the loss of another child, but she doubted it would.  Until then she would let them cling to their happiness.  But until she reclaimed her power she was vulnerable and therefore had to be careful.

She had survived too long in this body to succumb to the same fate as Raz.  Jumping from one human form to another to roam the earth without any memory of a past life was not a fate Ondine would accept.  She would let the mortals have their party tonight, but when it was over she would take control.

“How dirty can you boys possibly be?” Ondine said, throwing the bathroom door open as Dashiell and Llewellyn tried to camouflage themselves from behind the glass shower door.

“Mother!” Dashiell cried.  “May we have some privacy!”

“I have no interest in watching you perform, but I am growing anxious,” Ondine said.  “We have a busy night ahead of us and plans to orchestrate.  From past experience, I know that at your age it doesn’t take that long to reach the pleasure zone.”

Llewellyn shut off the water as Ondine left the room and closed the door behind her.

“We can’t help her kill Jonatha,” Llewellyn said, preventing Dashiell from opening up the shower door.

“I know, but we have to act as if we plan to,” Dashiell replied.  “And remember she can still read your mind so you have to think about killing Jonatha.  She can’t telepathically control her own flesh and blood so leave the deception to me.”

“I’m scared Dash.  Ondine might be weak, but she’s desperate.”

“More than anything she wants Amanda’s unborn child,” Dash said, pressing Llewellyn’s wet chest close to his, “She’ll stop at nothing to preserve her immortality, but she’s afraid that Jonatha with the help of the angels and maybe even the Blessed Mother, will stop her.”

“So we need to get Jonatha on our side,” Llewellyn said, finishing his lover’s thought.

“Exactly,” Dash said.  “My mother isn’t that powerful any longer.  And once Ondine is gone, it’ll just be you and me forever.”

Although Llewellyn knew that the word “forever” meant two different things to both men, he didn’t correct Dashiell.  If he was going to succeed in fooling Ondine he had to erase every doubt from his mind and concentrate on killing Jonatha Lassiter.

They opened the shower door and stepped onto the cold marble floor quickly toweling themselves dry.  Just as they both wrapped plush white cotton towels around their waists Ondine once again threw the door open.

“I’m waiting!”

“At your service Mother,” Dashiell chirped.  “Anything we can do to help.”

“At tonight’s party Vincent Savage will reintroduce the long lost Love heir to the family fold,” Ondine stated.  “Dashiell I want you to flirt with Jonatha Lassiter.  I want you to seduce her if you have to.  Whatever it takes to make her trust you completely.  Don’t worry about her sister Winter, she’s already under my control.  The family will be confused and distracted,  that’s when I will ask you to bring Jonatha to Serenity Pond, the one place in this horrific hamlet where I am the most powerful, so I can kill her.”

“Not that I really care Mother,” Dashiell said, “but why do you want to kill Jonatha?”

“Because the lucky Miss Lassiter has the angels on her side.  If she is alive while I am taking the soul from Amanda Love’s child there is a chance that they will intervene and prevent me from taking what is rightfully mine,” Ondine explained.

“I see,” Dashiell said.  “And if you don’t get that soul?

Before Ondine could reply, Llewellyn answered Dashiell’s question.

“Then your immortality is compromised?”

No one was more shocked by this statement then Llewellyn, but he knew the truth about Ondine, that she had to conserve every ounce of her energy for her final battle.  If not, she would have lifted her hand and killed him instantly.  Sensing more than a little tension between his mother and his lover, Dashiell thought he should say something.

“That would be a terrible thing mother,” Dash said.  “Considering that you are allegedly immortal.”

“There are many beings on this earth, and above, that would love for me to die,” Ondine said.  “I trust you aren’t one of them.”

“Mother how could you say such a thing,” Dashiell replied, his stare never shifting from Ondine’s eyes.  “If I thought it would help I would lay down my life for you right now.”

“And if I thought it would help, I would have killed you years ago,” Ondine replied.

Seething with an anger she had no strength to act upon, Ondine retreated to her room, silently vowing to make everyone who had ever degraded her pay for their actions.  That group of unlucky souls now included her son.

 

Nightwind

Nightwind was a whirlwind of activity.  Even though Madeline refused to throw the gala celebration her family was planning for her sixtieth birthday party on the same day that she buried her long-time friend, she did agree to have a small family gathering.  However, she would have canceled the party entirely if it wasn’t for her grandson.

Several times during the past week she was overcome with emotion at the thought of being reunited with her grandson after fifteen years.  She had tried to remain calm and supportive for Amanda, but she was as apprehensive as she was on her own wedding day.  Hopefully, tonight wouldn’t be as disappointing as her wedding night.

As she stood at the kitchen counter mechanically chopping vegetables she remembered the last time she saw Joey.  He was holding his mother’s hand as he walked toward the ocean.  She wondered if he would still want to hold his mother’s hand or even look in his mother’s eyes.

Anthony watched his mother chop vegetables and knew that she was busying herself with any mundane chore she could find in order to push away thoughts of tonight’s gathering.  Anthony felt the same way for he was convinced that Joey’s return spelled disaster for his family.  The fear clung to him like smoke in the air and he knew that, somehow, Joey brought with him an unwanted evil.  The only other person who could possibly understand his trepidation was probably the person who would suffer the most.

In the corner of the drawing room, Jonatha sat in one of the velvet chairs looking through the only photo album in all of Nightwind that had pictures of her half-brother.  Joey crawling towards the camera, Joey splashing in a bathtub, Joey blowing out four birthday candles.  That was the last picture that was ever taken of the young boy.  He was staring straight into the camera, his blue eyes wide with hope and delight, not knowing that in a few short hours (or was it minutes) after that picture was taken, his life would be altered forever.

Jonatha closed the book and let it rest on her lap.  She thought about all the strange things that had been happening to her and wondered if there was a connection between those events and Joey’s return.  Could she possibly need protection from her own family?  Or had Joey changed so much that he was only family by blood.  Perhaps in his heart he was something very, very different.

Walking by the drawing room, Edwina saw Jonatha sitting quietly by the window.  She felt the urge to go near her daughter, but felt a more familiar urge to take care of some personal business.  This internal tension was becoming more and more frequent and Edwina didn’t like the feeling one bit.  It was as if she had been separated into two opposing forces: one was only thinking about her own needs, which was normal, while the other was always concerned about those around her.  And when her selfish side won out she was consumed with guilt.

She turned away and thought she would make one phone call and then sit next to her daughter and see what was troubling her.  Since her family was scattered about in practically every room of Nightwind she dialed Vincent Savage from the phone in the hallway.  After the seventh ring she hung up and remarked that she hadn’t had this much difficulty pinning a man down since she seduced Joe.  Obviously, Edwina was losing her touch.

As she watched Joe talk on his cellphone at the other end of the hallway, Edwina realized he had lost none of his charm and sexiness.  He was still the most attractive and alluring man she had ever met and although she had never fully loved him he captured more of her heart than anyone else ever had.  That had to count for something.

Joe put his phone back into his jacket pocket and caught Edwina’s stare as he walked back to the living room.  He stood where he was and smiled at his wife feeling no obligation to speak or move closer to her.  It was the second best feeling in the world.  The best feeling would be wrapping his arms around his son later tonight.  He smiled even broader at Edwina and then left her standing in the hallway as he walked into the living room where Amanda was waiting for him.

She was sitting next to the window, the light shining on and through her golden hair, with her hands caressing her stomach just waiting for Joe to sit beside her.  That’s all she wanted.  She wanted the man she loved to come sit next to her and hold her hand and wait for their son to return home.  And that’s just what he did.

 

Coming Home

Other people weren’t as peaceful.  In the plush leather chair of his private jet, Perry Love gazed out the window and looked like a normal businessman on his way home to his family.  No one would have guessed that he was racking his brain to try to find a way to convince a vampire not to kill his family.  The absurdity of the situation had been replaced with a logic Perry assumed only the insane could understand.

But within all this insanity there was a logic.  Vincent was Perry’s son and perhaps there was a chance that bond still carried some weight.  It was a very slight chance, but Perry had no other choice but to hope that it did.  He also had to find Astrid before she got to Vincent.

Flying a few thousand feet in front of Perry’s plane was a Norwegian Airlines 747 that was carrying a very nervous passenger.  Astrid sat in an aisle seat and stared straight ahead, never once glancing at the incredibly bad Kevin Costner film that was being shown.  She had refused her meal, said “no thank you” to coffee or tea, and didn’t even flirt with the extremely attractive stewardess who kept asking Astrid if she was alright.

“Excuse me ma’am,” the stewardess said attempting one more time to make Astrid feel a bit more comfortable.  “Are you sure you don’t want me to stow your carry-on in the overhead compartment?”

“I told you I’m fine,” Astrid replied tersely.  “Now please leave me alone.”

The stewardess shrugged her shoulders, smiled, and left Astrid alone.  The scientist clutched the small box even tighter to her and was soothed somewhat by its cold temperature.  Inside was the serum that made a vampire invulnerable to the sun and therefore made Astrid invulnerable to a vampire.  But if her plan worked, not only would she be an immensely wealthy woman, but both Vincent Savage and Perry Love would be dead by sunrise.

 

 

Chapter 15

Friday – Late Afternoon

Father and Son

Outside, the rays of the sun shined brightly through the clouds and warmed the cold earth.  Inside, the Savage’s sleeping quarters were pitch black.  Vincent and Adam lay in their respective caskets, already awake, and anticipated the sun’s disappearance so they could rise and roam freely.  They understood that after tonight their lives would change and Vincent, especially, was very concerned about how the evening’s events would affect his son.

“Adam, can you hear me?” Vincent asked Adam telepathically.

“Yes, Father,” Adam replied in kind.  “Are you alright?”

“Yes.  Are you prepared for tonight?”

With his eyes closed, Adam turned his head and felt the soft velvet lining caress his cheek.  He told his father that he was as prepared as he could be for the unexpected, but he didn’t truly understand why he had to meet his biological parents after such a long time.

“If it weren’t for the serum, I would never have arranged for this reunion,” Vincent said.

Adam’s forehead wrinkled as he tried to make sense of this statement.  When he couldn’t find the logic, he said: “Forgive me Father, but I don’t follow.”

“When you take the serum you will be able to walk with the light as humans do,” Vincent explained.  “You will no longer be confined to a coffin during the sun’s reign and you should have the choice of spending the daylight hours with your family.”

“But you are my family,” Adam protested.

Inside his casket, Vincent beamed at his son’s loyalty.  “And you are mine.  But there are other people who would welcome you back into their lives and you should meet them.”

For a long time there was silence and then Adam asked a question that he had always pondered, but never felt the need to ask until now.

“Why did you take me from my family?”

Foolishly, Vincent thought he had escaped having to answer this question.  Unwilling to recap the details of his complicated relationship with Perry Love and Ondine Chauvelin, Vincent, uncharacteristically, lied.

“You were destined to become a vampire and you needed guidance.  Your family was unsuited for that challenge, so I took you away from them in order to teach you.”

Then Vincent decided to add some truth.  “But your parents were good and loving and they were terribly hurt when you were taken from them.  They deserve to see you again if for only one more night.”

“Have I met these people before?” Adam asked.

“You may have seen them around town, but tonight there will be a formal introduction,” Vincent said.  “Your mother, by the way, is a lovely woman.”

Deep within the recesses of his mind, Adam pulled out memories of a woman with a gentle voice, soft hands, and long blonde hair.  He tried to plunge deeper into those memories to see her face, but every time he tried he failed.

“Rest my Son,” Vincent said, “in a few short hours it will be over.”

“Promise me one thing Father,” Adam said, “No matter what happens, you will always be near me.”

“I promise.”  A vampire as confident as Vincent could never imagine that those words were yet another lie.

 

Perry

Placing the carphone back into its cradle, Perry smiled and sunk into the limousine’s leather seats.  He had just found out that a commercial plane left Oslo that morning and had landed in Portland before continuing on to New York.  As he waited in the airport parking lot he craned his neck to catch sight of Astrid for he undoubtedly knew that she was on her way to Nightfall.  He just prayed he would greet her before she caused any serious damage.

Perry didn’t see Astrid, be he did see Bartholomew running to the car.  Actually, Bartholomew, a heavyset man in his early 50s, was not running, but merely speed walking.  It was, however, the fastest Perry had ever seen his driver move.  Bartholomew got into the car, tossed a package wrapped in plain brown paper and christened with a dime-store green and red plaid bow, quickly started the engine, and began to speed out of the airport parking lot.

“I saw the blonde woman,” Bartholomew said breathing heavily.  “She’s waiting for a taxi.”

“Was she carrying anything out of the ordinary?” Perry asked.

“Yes, she was holding a little metal box like it was a baby or something.”

Perry couldn’t conceal his gasp at this news, Astrid actually had created the serum and brought it to Nightfall.

“Follow her,” Perry commanded, “and whatever you do, do not lose her.”

 

Astrid

In the backseat of the airport taxi, Astrid was astonishingly calm for a woman who held the key to “a new and improved immortality” in her lap.  She smiled when she thought of how Perry and the beast would respond to her demands.  Very soon she would be the richest lesbian she knew and although she was preoccupied with her own money-drenched daydream, Astrid did notice the taxi driver glance into the rear view mirror several times.

“Are we being followed?” Astrid asked, then realized how suspicious that statement sounded, and added: “Or has your broken tail light caught the eye of some over eager patrolman?

“I don’t know,” the driver replied.  “The same limo’s been behind us for miles.  You the type of person who would have a reason to be followed?”

“Oh we’re all that type of person if we try hard enough,” Astrid said.  “Just to be on the safe side why don’t you try to lose him.”

“That’ll cost ya a bit more y’know,” the driver replied, not entirely joking.

“Don’t worry, money isn’t a problem,” Astrid retorted.  “Anymore.”

Perry

“Where are they?!” Perry exclaimed, as he practically jumped through the window that separated the front seat of the limousine from the back.

“I don’t know,” Bartholomew replied, breathing even heavier, “I thought they made a left up there, but I can’t find them.”

Acting out of character, Perry didn’t berate Bartholomew for his blunder, but sat back against the cool black leather seats and realized that if Astrid was going to Nightfall there was only one place she would be staying.

“Bartholomew forget about the taxi,” Perry said calmly, “Take me to the Collins Inn.”

 

 

Astrid

“How quaint,” Astrid said when she stepped out of the taxi in front of the Collins Inn, “Why it almost looks Norwegian.”

While she paid the taxi driver his fee, adding an extra thirty dollars for successfully losing the limo, Astrid never once let her tight grip on the little metal box slip.

“Thanks,” the driver replied as he pocketed his cash.  “I hope whatever’s in that box was worth the trip.”

Astrid didn’t answer the man, but merely smiled the way taxi drivers like women to smile and walked into the Inn.  She would take a nice long lavender-scented bath and then make some phone calls.

 

The Collins Inn

Since Dashiell and Llewellyn really don’t have eyes for the girls and Astrid doesn’t have eyes for the boys, they didn’t notice each other as they passed in the entrance room of the Collins Inn.  Furthermore, Dashiell was already thinking about how he needed to get to Jonatha Lassiter before the party started to warn her about Ondine’s plan, and at twenty second intervals Llewellyn kept repeating the phrase “Kill Jonatha Lassiter” just in case Ondine was tuned in to his mind.

When Dashiell opened the front door he felt a warm sensation race through his body, but thought it was just from his nerves.  Then he noticed his hand was severely burnt.

“Bloody hell!” Dashiell screamed as he pulled his hand away from the sunlight and slammed the door.

“Dashiell, you’re hand,” Llewellyn cried.

“Don’t make a fuss,” Dash whispered urgently, “just get me upstairs.”

Llewellyn quickly took off his coat and made Dashiell carry it over his arm so he could hide his scorched hand.  They both walked up the stairs to their room trying to look nonchalant, but not succeeding entirely.  Once they were in their room, Dashiell fell onto the bed in agony as Llewellyn closed all the curtains and then ran for the first aid kit.  They both ignored Ondine who was finishing her third cup of hazelnut coffee.

“I see the change has begun,” Ondine declared.

“Why didn’t you tell me I had to start avoiding sunlight?” Dashiell demanded.

“I have more important things on my mind,” said Ondine wearily.  “And why haven’t you consulted your Father about these things?  He is an expert you know.”

Dashiell was in so much pain he didn’t even have the strength to argue with his mother, which was lucky for Ondine because she didn’t have the strength either.  In fact, when Ondine stood up she faltered a bit and knocked over the china coffee cup before retreating into her own bedroom.

“Good luck on your first feeding,” Ondine said with a tired smile before closing the door behind her.

When Llewellyn had finished treating Dash’s wound with salve and loosely bandaging it, Dashiell finally had the courage to speak.

“I guess this is it, the moment you haven’t been waiting for.”

“Don’t hide behind me if you’re having second thoughts,” Llewellyn responded.  “You knew the day would come when you would have to kill in order to survive.”

“I know!” Dash yelled.  “I just didn’t think it would happen today.  Or that it would come over me so quickly.”

Sweat flooded Dashiell’s forehead and the hunger pains in his stomach made him lurch forward and fall to his knees.  His eyes, so blue a moment ago, were now crimson.

“I need to feed,” Dashiell panted.

The two men had talked about how they would have to adjust to Dashiell’s new lifestyle.  They had already turned the basement of their London townhouse into lightproof sleeping quarters and had an ebony casket imported from Budapest with baby blue silk lining that would complement Dashiell’s platinum blonde hair beautifully, but they had never discussed the intricacies surrounding his feedings.  Llewellyn wanted no part in that dialogue so he was grateful the subject was never broached.  Now, however, he wished they had at least one conversation about what to do when Dashiell was overcome with a raging desire to feed.

“I can’t breathe Lew,” Dashiell whispered.

The knock on the door prevented Llewellyn from responding.

“Um, excuse me, but it’s housecleaning,” Enid Collins said tentatively from the other side of the door.  “I’ve, um, come to, well, change the sheets.”

The two men didn’t have to say a word, they both knew that Enid Collins would be Dashiell’s first victim.  Slowly, Llewellyn walked towards the door and opened it keeping himself behind it so Enid couldn’t see him.  The stout woman walked into the room and forced her eyes to stare at the pile of linens she was carrying in case the boys were once again acting unlike any boys she ever met before.  So when she turned to her right to see Dashiell she was simply relieved that he wasn’t embracing the skinny fellow like he was earlier and it took a moment for her to notice the beads of sweat that dripped off his forehead.  The beads dripped at such perfectly timed intervals that Enid was reminded that she had to fix a leaky faucet in the downstairs bathroom.

“Are you alright?” Enid asked, not yet sensing the dread that would overcome her in just a moment.

Llewellyn shut the door and Enid spun around to see the skinny fellow as Dashiell sprang from the floor and pounced on Enid’s back bringing her crashing to the ground.  Only one scream escaped Enid’s lips before Dashiell clasped his unburned hand around her mouth and wrapped his legs around her waist.  He leaned in so their faces were inches from each other.

“I’m sorry,” Dashiell said.

The novice vampire then yanked Enid’s head to the left as he clumsily plunged his brand new fangs into her throat.  Enid’s body convulsed and her hands slapped against Dashiell in a pathetic attempt to free herself as Dashiell gulped greedily, tearing at the almost dead woman’s neck until all the blood from her body was gone.  Dash held Enid as he felt the blood pump through his body, and he held her tighter when his own body started to convulse in response to the new life that had entered him.  By this time he was drenched and his body emitted a foul, decaying odor, which he knew meant that his human life was ending as his vampire eternity was about to begin.

When he looked up he saw that Llewellyn had been watching the entire scene, and hadn’t recoiled in fear. His love for Dashiell was so deep that he didn’t see the horror of the feeding, only the beauty of life.  Although he looked frail, Llewellyn was definitely the stronger of the two.

“Let me clean you up,” Llewellyn said, as he went into the bathroom to draw Dashiell’s bath.

 

Nightwind

Luckily, only Jonatha and Madeline were in the room when Anthony had another seizure.  Lately, they had been coming with less frequency and Anthony had thought that was a sign that the evil was getting ready to leave Nightfall.  Madeline held his thrashing head firmly so he didn’t bang it on the kitchen floor, while Jonatha held his hands together and searched for the rosary beads in his pants pocket.

Madeline watched with a curiosity that soon turned to awe as Jonatha wrapped the rosary beads around Anthony’s hands and began to pray.  Immediately, Anthony’s body stopped shaking and his breath become steady.

“Uncle Anthony,” Jonatha said, “can you hear me?”

“Yes,” he replied without opening his eyes.

The two women helped Anthony to his feet and then to a seat at the kitchen table.  Madeline searched for the right question to ask, but none came to her that made any intelligent sense.  So she just asked what was on her mind.

“Jonatha,” Madeline said, “What on earth did you do?”

“I prayed to the Blessed Mother to end Anthony’s pain.”

Anthony informed Madeline that this is how he has been surviving these seizures and in fact Jonatha’s interventions have caused the initial pain to lessen each time, until now.  He explained that he hadn’t felt this type of pain since the night Joey disappeared.

“I’m convinced now that my seizures are connected to Joey,” Anthony said.  “I just hope it doesn’t mean tonight will result in disaster.”

In another room of Nightwind another member of the Love family was experiencing an equally painful journey.  Amanda had fallen asleep in Joe’s arms in the drawing room and Joe had put her on the chaise lounge so she could rest for a while.  She was alone now with nothing but her disturbing thoughts.

She was dreaming of the last night that she saw her son.  One second she was holding his hand, the next she saw him running from her into a man’s arms.  Squinting in the darkness she was unable to see who the man was, but she did see him scoop Joey up in his arms and fly into the night.  Undaunted, Amanda began to run after them screaming for the man to release her son.  The man’s laughter echoed in her ears but she continued to run even faster.  When she finally stopped she realized she was at the edge of Serenity Pond.

The pond was eerily quiet and Amanda could only hear the occasional rambunctious cricket and owl in the distance.  She walked around the edge of the pond, stumbling over rocks, but stopped when she heard the distinctive voice of a woman singing a lullaby.  As Amanda got nearer to the voice, she saw Amelia Lawrence sitting at the base of an enormous oak tree, her clothes soaking wet, her hair tangled, and her face distraught and ashen.  One arm was around her husband, James Lowell, whose dead body was resting against her, while her son lay quietly in her other arm.  Amelia smiled at Amanda, but she just kept singing.  After a moment she spoke.

“Look at my baby,” Amelia softly demanded.

Amanda looked at the child, who was also wet and ashen, and saw that he wasn’t breathing.

“He’s my hollow baby,” Amelia said, “My baby has nothing inside.”

Amanda heard herself gasp as she woke up, hoping that she didn’t alarm anyone in the house.  She instinctively clutched her stomach and whispered the first thought that penetrated her conscious mind.

“The woman wants my child’s soul.”

 

 

Friday – Sunset

The Savages

One second after sunset and it was as if it were Christmas morning in the Savage living room.  Vincent and Adam were rummaging through their closets for the perfect outfit, both trying to appear cool and nonchalant and conceal their anxiety and joy from the other.  They were so consumed with their own emotions and wardrobe that they didn’t notice Ondine sitting quietly in one of the antique wing back chairs until she spoke.

“My, my, look at the two of you flutter about.  It’s as if you have a party to attend.”

“Ondine,” Vincent said, “you really should go home and get ‘done-up’ for tonight’s festivities.”

“I am ‘done-up’,” Ondine replied dryly.

“Oh poor dear, you really are at the end of your lifecycle,,” said Vincent, not quite sure if he wasn’t thrilled that Ondine’s lifetime was fast approaching its long overdue end.

Ondine wanted to tell Vincent that even a vampire as powerful as him should watch what he says to an entity who would regain her full strength and quite soon, but instead she asked for his help.

“Vincent,” Ondine said.

“Yes,” Vincent replied, a bit testily.

“Perhaps when the curtain falls on this melodrama, you will have a moment to teach Dashiell the finer points of vampiric life.”

 

Vincent felt as if a persistent mosquito were buzzing next to his ear.  He tried to concentrate on whether or not he should wear the subtle lavender tie or embrace symbolism and choose the dark red Bill Blass, but Ondine’s jabbering echoed in his brain.

“Years ago you made me promise to stay out of Dashiell’s life forever,” Vincent sighed.  “I intend to keep that promise.”

“Do you think that’s wise?” Ondine asked.

“Perhaps it is foolhardy, but I am not afraid of you,” Vincent said.  “Tonight is our night.”

“Ah yes, the night mother and child will finally be reunited,” Ondine said.  “Adam you must be quivering like a little boy.”

Adam didn’t hear Ondine’s comment, because he was trying on his fourth outfit when he realized the second was really the best.  He looked quite handsome in black trousers, a white t-shirt, and a baby blue cashmere cardigan sweater that brought out his blue eyes.  Completely dressed, he entered the living room.

“I’m sorry, were you talking to me?” Adam asked.  “I was getting dressed.”

“Ondine was just wishing you luck tonight and informing you that you have no reason to feel nervous,” Vincent lied, as he finished tying the knot in his tie.

“I am though,” Adam said, “a little nervous anyway.  I’m not sure what to expect.  I don’t even know if I want to meet her and the rest of them.”

Before Vincent could reassure Adam that this meeting was inevitable and would happen regardless of his trepidations, the phone rang.  After a brief, almost covert, conversation Vincent announced that he had to step out to take care of some business.

“Ondine I trust that you will not take up too much of Adam’s time while I am gone,” Vincent said icily.

“No mon cher,” Ondine said.  “I’ll only stay a moment to gather my strength and then return home to reapply my make-up so my appearance is not so garish.”

“You won’t be long will you Father?” Adam asked nervously.

“No, this will not take long,” Vincent said reassuringly.  “Wait for me and we will meet your family together.”

When the door closed behind Vincent it was almost as if the room became hermetically sealed and all the air in the house fled.  Adam found himself uncomfortable being left alone with Ondine and felt the temperature in the room suddenly stifling.

“What do you think your mother will do when she sees you again?” Ondine asked.

“I don’t know,” Adam stuttered.  “I suppose she’ll be happy.”

“Why do you suppose that?” said Ondine as she traced the chair’s floral pattern with a wrinkled finger.

“I guess all mothers would be happy to see a child that they thought was lost to them.”

Ondine chuckled, then replied, “That thought is hopeful and naïve.”

Adam was starting to feel claustrophobic so he opened up a window to let some air into the room.  He breathed deeply before he spoke again and when he did there was an edge in his voice.

“I don’t understand what you’re implying.”

“Not all mortal women are devoted and maternal, some are uncaring and quite apathetic towards their children.”

The nervousness Adam felt when he awoke had tripled and now listening to Ondine’s ramblings he felt a painful pressure build in his chest.

“Will you just say what you want and leave me alone?!”

“Young man, I assure you there is no need to yell,” Ondine said, unable to speak much above a whisper.  “All I want you to know is something your father is too kind to tell you.  If your mother truly cared about you why did she ever lose sight of you in the first place and why hasn’t she ever tried to find you?”

“My . . . my Father explained that he took me from her.”

“No child can be taken unless a parent is being careless.  Your mother has gone on with her life.  She is in love once again, she has raised a daughter, and she is carrying another child who will consume all her time and energy.  The place in her heart that was once reserved for you will be offered to this new child.”

“Why are you saying such terrible things to me?” Adam asked.

“I love your father dearly and I know how tender and hopeful he can be,” Ondine lied.  “I, however, am a realist and I know the truth of the situation you are about to be faced with.  Your mother has moved on and tonight is nothing more than an inconvenience to her.  Yes, you should meet with her, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that a moonlit reunion will lead to anything permanent and everlasting.  Your family begins and ends with your Father.”

Before Ondine left she added one more thing: “I thought someone should be kind enough to allow you to hear the truth.”

 

Any bit of confidence Adam felt earlier had dissolved into a pool of uncertainty.  He felt tears fall down his face as he collapsed into a chair.  He wasn’t sure what he really wanted from tonight’s meeting, but he had thought it might be nice to have a mother again.  Ondine’s words looped in his ears until his tears of confusion gave way to a very clear feeling of anger.

 

The Collins Inn

The sitting room at the Collins Inn was empty so no one saw Perry Love sneak behind the front desk and peak into the reservations book.  He found it ironic that Astrid was booked into the Sunset room and wondered if she chose that room deliberately.

He walked up the stairs trying hard not to make the pine wood creak too much and decided to make a surprise entrance so he didn’t knock before he twisted the doorknob and opened the door.  When he saw Astrid sitting across the table from Vincent, Perry was the only one who was surprised.

“It’s about time you showed up Perry,” Astrid said.  “We’ve been waiting for you.”

Vincent gestured for Perry to sit in the chair to his right, but Perry opted to stand.  He noticed that Vincent was dressed in a beautiful black three-button suit, and wore a blood red shirt and matching tie.  Astrid looked stunning and had poured herself into a chartreuse green silk halter gown with a slit up her right thigh and large emerald and diamond earrings.

“A gift from Mr. Savage,” Astrid said indicating the earrings.  “He’s not even a real man and yet he knows how to treat a lady.”

“Then the two of you have something in common,” Perry replied.

“So ribald for a New Englander,” Astrid laughed.

“You really don’t look like you’re dressed for a party Perry,” Vincent said, “and tonight is such a special occasion.”

“Where is the serum?” Perry demanded.

“Such an angry little man you are Perry,” Astrid said in disgust.  “Always demanding and bellowing.  Well all that’s about to end.  From now on I will be the one making the demands.  Sit next to your son so I can explain to both of you how things will work.”

Perry looked like he was just forced to swallow an extra helping of one of Edwina’s disastrous attempts at cooking.  He sat next to Vincent as if he were sitting next to a poisonous asp that was about to strike.  He was glad he hadn’t yet dressed for the party because he was already starting to sweat through his shirt.

“The good news is that I have brought the serum with me,” Astrid began.

“Where is it?” Perry interrupted.

“Father please don’t interrupt our host,” Vincent said, trying to remain calm although he was as nervous as Perry.”

“Thank you Vincent,” Astrid said.  “Now then, the bad news is I want to be paid for my labor before I give over my precious cargo.  I want five million dollars from each of you.  When I have it I’ll hand over the serum to you Vincent and neither of you will ever see or hear from me again.”

“You will have my five million this evening,” Vincent declared, trying not to seem too impatient.

“I knew a person of your stature wouldn’t leave his money in a bank,” Astrid replied.  “How about you Perry?  How long will it take you to scrounge up five mil?”

“I will also have my share by this evening,” Perry said, “I anticipated that a working girl like yourself would give in to petty greed.”

“Perry,” Astrid said, “now is not a good time to tick me off.  Understand?”

After a brief pause, Perry replied: “Yes.”

“Well I guess our business meeting is done,” Astrid replied rather cheerily as she escorted both men to the door.  “I’ll see you both at the party and afterwards just before sunrise I’ll meet you both in Perry’s private study and hand over the serum to you Vincent.”

“How will I know if the serum works?” Vincent asked.

“You won’t know until your son Adam drinks it and takes a stroll in the morning sun and doesn’t burst into flames,” Astrid replied.  “I believe it works and that’s good enough for me.  If it’s not good enough for you, let me know and I’ll take my serum, and my earrings, and be on the next flight home.”

Vincent felt himself grow hot, not with hunger, but hatred for this human who was far too smug.  The unfortunate part was that Vincent also acknowledged that she was completely in control.

“Ms. Hallström,” Vincent said taking Astrid hand and kissing it, “I trust you implicitly.”

“A vampire and a flatterer.  What more could a girl want?” Astrid replied, no longer frightened of being in Vincent’s company.  “But let me add one more thing before you leave.  If at any time I feel that my life is threatened, I will destroy the serum, and kill you both.  And you can trust me implicitly on that one too.”

Perry and Vincent didn’t have a chance to reply before the door slammed in their faces.

 

Aunt Edwina

Although auburn haired women are advised not to wear pink, Edwina never subscribed to traditional theories of fashion.  Her reddish tresses fell over her shoulders and just touched the top of her strapless pink gown.  She had let her mink wrap drop to the floor just before she buzzed Vincent Savage’s front door and now the cold air enveloped her bare shoulders and cooled some of the heat that emanated from Edwina’s body.  Out here, posing brazenly, she felt like her old self again.  She hoped it would work to woo Vincent into her arms for a quickie before the party got under way when she would be pushed to the side as Amanda and Joe and their wayward son got all the attention.  Her hopes dipped a bit when Adam answered the door.

“Is Daddy home?” Edwina cooed.

“No, but he’s due back in a moment,” Adam said matching Edwina’s tone.  “Why don’t you come in and I’ll warm you up.”

Her curiosity piqued, Edwina entered the house, her mink coat dragging behind her, and noticed an open bottle of wine.  It was half-empty and there was only one glass out.

“You know you’re drinking wine from a champagne glass,” Edwina remarked.

“That’s all I could find,” Adam replied, now noticeably drunk.

“If you want to survive in New England society, you can’t make such a faux pas,” Edwina said, sitting on the couch.

“I can survive anything, I’m immortal,” Adam said, pouring himself another glass of wine.

Something in Adam’s eyes made Edwina bristle.  She had wonderful instincts that she trusted and she sensed that this young man was a trifle dangerous.

“Well I have a party to go to,” Edwina said, standing up.  “Tell your Father I’ll see him there.”

“Don’t give me orders, you’re not my mother!” Adam shouted.

It only took one swift movement for Adam to push Edwina back down on the couch, straddle her, and pin her arms to her side so she couldn’t move.  They stared at each other in silence, and Edwina could smell the wine on Adam’s breath and the musk from his loins.  She knew he was stronger than she was and there was nothing she could do physically to escape.  But Edwina had other talents.

“I didn’t know you were so strong,” Edwina purred.

“What?” Adam said, taken off guard.

“And muscular,” she added as she ground her hips into Adam’s pelvis.

“I thought you wanted my Father?” Adam asked.

“I want a man,” Edwina replied and noticed that Adam’s grip was already loosening.  “Perhaps as much as you want a woman.”

Without warning, Adam buried his tongue in Edwina’s mouth and savored the foreign taste of saliva mixed with lipstick.  His kisses were sloppy and hard and Edwina realized that she was making out with a virgin.  Not one to run from a challenge, Edwina kissed Adam back trying to show him a better technique and as she expected, Adam followed her lead and began to kiss Edwina softer and use his tongue more sparingly.

It wasn’t until Adam was kissing Edwina’s throat that she realized he wasn’t using any force to pin her down.  Now that she was free to escape she really had no desire to leave.  She wasn’t being flippant when she told Adam she wanted a man, she wanted to feel a man’s muscular back and feel her body being worshipped the way it was born to be, so even though Adam was nearly the same age as her daughter, and drunk, she let him continue doing what he clearly was enjoying.

Out of the corner of her eye, Edwina saw Vincent standing near the door.  She smiled at him, completely unashamed, and motioned with her head that he should join his son.  Adam, oblivious to his father’s presence continued kissing Edwina’s neck and biting her ears.  He only stopped when he felt Vincent’s hand on his shoulder.

“Father!” Adam exclaimed.  “I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist.”

“Neither can I,” Vincent replied.  “Let us share one last feast?”

Edwina’s left eyebrow rose about an inch just as she felt both sides of her neck being pierced by something sharp.  She couldn’t tell what they were doing to her, but she moaned in ecstasy nonetheless just before she slipped into unconsciousness.

 

 

 

Friday – Evening

Nightwind

The party had begun.  Although it was a small affair, Madeline had made sure the best china and silver were being used and that the few servants who remained were wearing white gloves.  She was trying to push out the disturbing images of this morning’s funeral from her mind and fill it with joyful memories of her grandson.  She was doing a wonderful job until she saw Perry rush into the house.

“I’m sorry I’m late,” Perry said out of breath, “Happy birthday dear.”

Madeline accepted the gift and inspected it’s packaging.  She noticed that the brown wrapping paper reeked of Portland airport.

“Remind me to thank Bartholomew for whatever he picked out for me,” Madeline said as she tossed the gift onto the settee.

“Madeline please,” Perry whined.  “I had to take care of business, I had no choice.”

“We all have choices Perry,” Madeline said, then added: “And very soon I’ll be exercising mine.”

Perry watched his wife walk away from him and although he knew that she didn’t love him, he now realized that she decided to stop acting like she did as well.  He wanted to cry, but he was standing in the hallway and there were servants nearby.  Instead he would change his clothes and prepare to act shocked as his grandson was reintroduced to his family.  He would think about how to deal with his wife when the night was finally over.

On the way up the marble staircase he bumped into Amanda and Joe.  They were both dressed simply, but elegantly.  Amanda was wearing a navy blue swing dress with an empire waist and cream-colored accents, while Joe was wearing his only blue suit with a white shirt and the tartan plaid tie that Jonatha brought back for him from London.  They looked perfect together and Perry felt nothing but envy.  He couldn’t think of one nice thing to say to them so he just smiled and ran up to his bedroom.

At the bottom of the stairs Jonatha introduced them to Ondine, her son Dashiell, and his friend Llewellyn.  She explained that these were her friends from London and Joe was immediately relieved when he realized that the two young men were gay.  He wondered if Jonatha had figured it out yet, but was quite sure Winter had.

When Amanda looked into Ondine’s eyes, she almost cried out.  She found herself staring into the eyes of the raven-haired woman of her dreams.  Immediately she felt herself become lightheaded and she held Joe’s hand tighter.  She heard Ondine’s voice, small and fragile, but could only comprehend fragments of her monologue.  Ondine was an old friend of the family, she once lived in Nightfall, and other bits of information that Amanda couldn’t process at the moment.  All she knew was that this old woman with white hair was somehow the young woman with long raven hair that had been plaguing her dreams.

Reaching out for the banister, Amanda thought she was going to faint if Ondine kept talking.  Just when she thought her senses couldn’t take any more, Edwina ran into Nightwind with an announcement that shut everyone up.

“Amanda!” Edwina shouted waving a white piece of paper in her hand.  “I found another letter on the front steps.”

Amanda rushed to her sister and ripped the letter out of her shaking hand.

“He hasn’t backed out has he?” Joe asked nervously.

“No,” Amanda replied.  “He wants us all to go to the beach where it all began.  Joey will be waiting for us there.”