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HOLD BACK THE NIGHT – Part 1

October 11 – Fifteen Years Ago

Amanda Love Lassiter looked at her son and smiled.  Joey, who turned four-years-old this night, was oblivious to his mother’s gaze and was more entranced by the moon, so bright in the dark, starless night that it looked like an entrance to heaven.  He wished he could run right through it to find the magic that lay on the other side.  Amanda had a simpler wish—that her life would be filled with moments as joyful and uncomplicated as this one.  Unfortunately, only one of their wishes would come true.

As Joey’s birthday party neared its end, only his immediate family remained.  The mountain of presents had been opened, the more-chocolate-than-vanilla ice-cream cake eaten.  Now all that was left was the ceremony—a Love family tradition started decades earlier when Amanda’s father, Perry, celebrated his fourth birthday.  Since then all the Loves walked into the ocean on the night of their fourth birthday to make a wish and therefore add a small, but significant, piece of history to the Love family tapestry.

Amanda held Joey’s hand as she led him to the water’s edge for his induction, followed by the rest of her family. No one saw the raven-haired woman standing only a few yards away near the water’s edge.  No one saw her because the woman wanted it that way.

Joey stepped into the water and closed his blue eyes as a cold wave danced over his bare feet.  When he opened them he was officially a Love.

“Did you make a wish, Baby?”

“Yes, Mommy.  I wished I could touch the moon.”

 

The woman with raven hair didn’t laugh with the rest of the family, but simply raised her right hand and opened her palm.  When she did this, time stopped and the man with crimson eyes and a sad smile appeared before the little boy so suddenly it was as if he materialized from the waves.

“Would you really like to touch the moon, Joey?”

“Yes, sir.  Can you take me there?”

The man knelt down and met Joey’s gaze wonder for wonder.

“Yes.  Will you follow me?”

“Yes.”

“Forever?”

“Forever.”

When Joey clutched the man’s hand, the boy almost pulled away.  He felt no pulse, no warmth, but then he looked into the stranger’s eyes—red was an odd color for eyes he thought—and saw compassion and tenderness just like when he looked into his mother’s eyes.  Wherever this man took him, Joey knew he would be safe.  The man stood and whisked Joey away as the raven-haired woman dropped her arm and time resumed its count.  Within moments Amanda and her family regained control of themselves and slowly realized Joey was missing.

Unable to free herself completely from the effects of the spell, Amanda couldn’t move, but only cast fear-drenched eyes onto the vast ocean that lay before her.  Could her son have wandered into the sea without anyone noticing?  No.  She forced herself to believe he was somewhere in the house or playing hide-and-seek in the dunes since the alternative was too incomprehensible.

All around her, her family was emerging from the raven-haired woman’s control and began the search for Joey.  Amanda’s husband, Joe, thrust their two-year-old daughter, Winter, whom he had been holding, into the arms of Amanda’s younger sister, Edwina, and started to scour the beach for his son.  Edwina, far from the maternal type, held the child tentatively, but since she had just recently finished her fourth vodka martini, straight up and very, very dry, she was grateful not to have to join in the search.  And Amanda’s parents, Perry and Madeline, reacted in completely opposite ways, which was normal for the long-married couple.  Perry instantly began shouting orders to his family while Madeline, in contrast, was paralyzed with an all-too-familiar fear and could only watch her family move around her.  She could not believe the nightmare was happening again.

Amanda, now focused and alert, ran into the house calling Joey’s name.  She opened every closet, cabinet, and hiding space a four-year-old could squeeze into, which was no small task considering Nightwind—the Love family home—was a four-story, 32-room mansion nestled on Maine’s southern coast in the small hamlet of Nightfall.  The house was immense and foreboding and clung to the majesty and mystery of an earlier time.  It also meant that Joey could have wandered down one of the three secret passageways.

With this in mind Amanda ran to the first passageway, which led from Nightwind to the unused servant’s residence.  Joe raced to the second tunnel that ended at a small beach house nearly a mile away.  And Perry took the third passageway that led to a remote section of the nearby woods near Serenity Pond.  It was a small, but dense forest that would have no trouble concealing a little boy from his family.

All the while the raven-haired woman remained on the beach and watched the Loves’ futile attempts to recover the family treasure.  The woman would never understand mortals, no matter how many centuries she lived among them.  Hours later every piece of furniture in Nightwind was overturned, every hidden passageway examined.  Every policeman and member of the Coast Guard was on Love property using flashlights, scuba gear, and megaphones to lure Joey from his hiding place.  It was ironic that while Perry Love’s family did not listen to him, his massive inheritance made him the most powerful man in Nightfall and therefore a man who was listened to by anyone who wasn’t a blood relative.  It helped that Joe Lassiter was the Assistant Chief of Police and was respected by every lawman in the state.  This combination of power and respect meant that every highway, every unmapped road, every airport, and every seaport would be blocked off to be investigated.  The search would continue through the night, long after the raven-haired woman grew bored of watching and returned to the mist.

As the sun rose the following morning, Amanda stood, facing the ocean, unmindful to the action surrounding her.  She was overwhelmed by the sudden, clear realization that her son had been kidnapped and would not be returned to her until his captor was ready to relinquish his prize.  Until then, she would never see her son, except in her dreams.

 

Chapter 1: Fifteen Years Later

“Mommy, look at the moon.  It looks like a tunnel to heaven.”

“Would you like to fly up very close and see into the tunnel?”

“Yes, but only if you come with me.  I don’t ever want to be separated from you.”

“Don’t worry, Joey, I’ll never let you out of my sight.  No one will ever take you from me.”

“Promise me Mommy?”

“I promise.”

“Then why did you let him take me?  Why did you make me leave you?”

“I didn’t want you to go Joey.  I had no choice.”

“I don’t love you anymore, Mommy.  I love the man who took me.  He’s the only one who loves me.”

“No!  That’s not true, I love you.”

“If you loved me, you would never have let him take me away.  I’ll never forgive you.  Never!”

“Don’t say that, Joey.  Please!”

“Thank you for not loving me.  Thank you for letting him take me away.”

Amanda woke up with a bolt, terrified, but silent, her blonde hair wet against her neck.  Even while dreaming, Amanda’s unconscious mind would not let her shout her child’s name for fear that someone would overhear.  She had been told repeatedly that her mourning period should be over and she needed to let go of her son, if for no other reason, than the practical one: Even if she were to be reunited with her son, how could he possibly remember a few brief years spent with someone he once called Mommy?

Gradually, Amanda’s breathing eased and the sweat dried on her neck and forehead.  She was accustomed to such violent awakenings and had expected one this morning since it was on this date, 15 years ago, that her son Joey was kidnapped.  Gathering her strength, she made her way to the mailbox to find out if the day’s other expectation would be fulfilled.

Every year on the anniversary of her son’s kidnapping Amanda received a hand-written thank you letter from her son’s kidnapper.  In each note, the writer would write the same message in red ink: “Thank you Amanda for allowing me to raise your child and experience the joys of being a parent.”  At first, Amanda was repulsed by the letters, then suspicious for they were clues to her son’s whereabouts, but now she had come to realize each one was a beautiful reminder that at least her son was alive with someone who cared for and, perhaps, even loved him.

The mailbox stood in front of her and quietly beckoned to be opened. If anyone saw her, they would think she was just a woman retrieving her mail, not a woman securing a year’s worth of dreams.  She opened the mailbox and gasped a sigh of relief when she saw the envelope with “Amanda” written out in red letters.  She grabbed the envelope excitedly, but was careful to keep it like all the others, unbruised and untorn.  Unable to wait until she got inside Nightwind, she opened the letter, confident she would read the same simple words of thanks. She was wrong.

In the familiar crimson color, the words “We shall all be reunited soon” were handwritten.  For a moment Amanda forgot everything – where she was, how to breathe, why she was holding the letter.  She had waited so many years and the power of this message hit her with tremendous force.  She stumbled into her house and called the only person who could ever understand the consequences of this new message: Joey’s father.  At present, however, Joe was no longer married to Amanda, but to her sister, Edwina.  In fact, Joe and Edwina had been married for the past 13 years.  None of that mattered to Amanda as she dialed his number.

 

Joey’s Father

Joe Lassiter was dependable.  Some thought that was an honorable trait, others were not so impressed. To his ex-wife, Amanda, his dependability throughout the years was a good thing.  He was a good listener who possessed a compassionate nature and blue eyes that could still make Amanda’s knees buckle.  To his current wife, Edwina, his dependability was tolerated.  She preferred to dwell on his square jaw, rough hands, thick black hair, and yes, even those blue eyes.  Edwina didn’t love Joe, but she loved being with him.  She had loved taking him from her sister even more.  Her marriage to Joe Lassiter was the result of shrewd investigation, careful planning, and a spiteful nature.  She stumbled over  the fact that although Amanda and Joe grew apart after Joey was kidnapped, Amanda still loved Joe.  So Edwina helped Amanda and Joe grow further apart by convincing Joe that Amanda blamed him for Joey’s disappearance.  It was then easy for her to seduce the confused man on the same night she misplaced her diaphragm. Edwina knew she could count on Joe to do the right thing and stay with her and their baby.  He was, after all, dependable.

But Edwina could do without Joe’s dependability today.  She had dreaded this day for weeks because she knew the yearly reminder of a missing child’s abduction was a strong bond between two people.  Just how they would react to each other on this day could never be predicted.  Would they still blame each other, criticize, forgive, love?  Edwina worked too hard to gain the respect of the community as the Chief of Police’s wife, respect that eluded her as Perry Love’s wayward daughter, to lose it to two sentimental souls weak enough to get swept away by the memories of a child they hadn’t seen in years.  Unfortunately when Amanda called to ask for Joe to come over “right away,” Edwina had to play the game.  She hugged her husband gently and cooed, “She needs you today.  I understand.”  Joe assured her that Amanda just needed a familiar face.

Void of any expression, Edwina watched Joe get dressed, but behind her empty facade she was plotting, as was typical.  This situation had gone on for too long.  Fifteen years was a long time, and Amanda and Joe had to realize their son was never going to return to them.  Edwina would let Amanda have today, but starting tomorrow she would be in control.   They could both depend on it.

 

The Strangers

Vincent Savage was a tall man, nearly 6′ 4″.  In truth, he was no longer a man and hadn’t been one for two decades.  He was a vampire.  At first a reluctant one, but now he was a fierce proponent of what he called the Golden Life, a bittersweet name since the sun’s golden rays were just a faded memory to him.  As a vampire, his handsome mortal looks took on a more lustrous aura and with one casual glance he could penetrate souls, embroidering his image into mortal memories for eternity.  He stood on the rocky cliffs behind his sprawling home on the western coast of Washington State, his dark blonde hair tossed by the wind, and was a commanding presence.  He didn’t move, but he was filled with an energy that demanded to be noticed.

As he watched his son, Adam, quietly read an Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem on a bed of grass, he knew he wasn’t the only one with the magic.  Every woman and man whom Adam gazed upon, touched, or caressed, would be changed.  Perhaps the change would not last forever if they fought it—and some humans could fight the preternatural fire—but most were too weak.  The meek might inherit the earth, but the weak would inherit a memory that would perplex and comfort them all their lives.  Vincent wondered just how many men and women had already been changed by Adam. There were only two women whom Vincent remembered in that way: one possessed a pair of eyes as dark as her luxurious ebony hair, and the other was blonde and pale and mortal.  Both women were connected to Nightfall, the place where it all began.

“Adam.”  Vincent called out to his son so abruptly a nearby restful owl cast a disapproving look.

“Yes, Father.”

“It is time for you to hunt.”

Alone, Adam set out into the wilderness to search for a victim.  Although he had hunted several times with his father most often he merely watched Vincent attack their prey.  Tonight was only the second time he would hunt solo and he was apprehensive.  The previous night’s hunt had been less than successful and Vincent had to intervene to salvage the kill for Vincent hated to waste food.

On the way through the wood, Adam gazed at the full moon with a childlike hope and ignored the girl who walked passed him.  The girl had a calm gait as she walked through this park as she did hundreds of times before.  She felt at home here, a fact that comforted Adam, despite the fact that in less than a minute he would kill her.  Since he wasn’t a natural born killer he resisted killing until instinct took over. But in order for him to master the hunt like his father, he had to gain control of his power.

Vincent warned him it would take time, just as it had taken him time when he was being transformed into a vampire.  Adam, however, had trouble believing that his father struggled to master anything, for Vincent Savage was brilliant, strong, loving, successful, and caring—simply everything a child could wish his father to be.  And

everything Adam hoped to become one day, if only he could lasso his fears of the hunt.

Adam allowed the young girl’s scent to caress his nostrils and penetrate his lungs a moment before he grabbed the girl from behind.  With his left arm, he twisted her head to the left and with his right arm he grabbed her shoulder and pulled backwards so her neck snapped.  She was killed instantly.  As her confused soul floundered in its search for its next plane, it passed through Adam.  Adam shook violently to rid himself of the intrusion and only when he was soul-less did he begin to feast on her body.  His sharp teeth seared through her flesh with ease, but he struggled to get her blood to flow into his mouth.  He sucked harder and yanked at her torn flesh until the blood washed over his tongue, drenched his gullet, then flood his body.  He kept pressing his mouth to her neck until the blood flowed freely down his hairless chin and stained his newly starched shirt.  Moments after he swallowed the last drip of blood, he let the lifeless body fall to the ground as if he were repulsed by its sudden uselessness.

Before the girl’s body hit the earth, Adam’s brain began to pound with fierce determination and his temperature soared to a degree that he felt would surely make the girl’s blood boil in his veins.  When the pain reached a point where it was almost intolerable, it began to reverse itself and subside.  When his brain stopped pounding and his temperature cooled, Adam knelt down to thank the girl and willed her spirit to find its new place for he understood all too well the confusion of moving quickly from one plane to another.  Just as his father was guiding him, he tried to guide his victims.  Vincent thought this to be admirable, but unnecessary, since he had learned the soul was resilient and eventually found its correct path.

Then, strangely, Adam was overcome with hunger again.  Why was the hunger consuming him so fully when he’d just had a wonderful feast?  Before he could ponder the question any further, he heard a sound in the brush, but couldn’t pick up a scent.  It was his father.

“You killed her too quickly.  Her blood was no longer alive,” Vincent said with a parent’s patience.  “Try again.”

 

Amanda and Joe

When the front door slammed, Amanda’s body shuddered.  It was Joe.  Remarkably Amanda had the entire mansion to herself this weekend.  Her family left town either feeling she needed this time to be alone, or they were tired of sharing this day with her.  Amanda didn’t care what reason made them flee Nightwind, she was thankful it meant that she would be alone with Joe when she showed him the most recent letter.

“Joe I’m coming,” Amanda cried.

She left her private study that connected to her bedroom on the second floor of Nightwind and walked swiftly passed the Ivory and Jade room, which brimmed with rare African art, and then passed the massive library which contained first editions of Proust as well as an autographed copy of Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls—smuggled into the library by Amanda’s grandmother, Priscilla, much to the outrage of Amanda’s grandfather, Pierce.

When Amanda got to the top of the white marble staircase, she saw Joe waiting for her.  Just the sight of him brought her relief.  She ran down the imported Venetian marble, crafted from the same marble that was installed in the grand ballroom and greeted her ex-husband with a powerful embrace.  As she pulled back and locked eyes with Joe, Nightwind’s beauty eluded her.  She focused all her energy on the only man who truly understood her, and the only man she ever truly loved.

Joe looked into Amanda’s eyes and saw fear. He prayed she didn’t receive a message that announced their son’s death, for he, like Amanda, felt that as long as the thank you notes kept coming, their beloved son could still be considered alive.  She gave him the note and when he opened it he understood and shared her fear.  Just like Amanda, he went to bed every night praying that one day he would see his son again.  Now this note answered his prayers, but it was so sudden and disarming that he couldn’t wrap his mind around the thought of actually seeing his boy again.

After a long silence, Amanda spoke.  “Do you think it could be true?”

“I pray to God.”

Joe wanted to talk more, to convince Amanda and himself that after such a long time the person who took their son from them was ready to bring him home, but he couldn’t.  An avalanche of repressed emotions overcame him and he began to sob for all those missing years, all the days and nights and years that he didn’t get to raise his only son.  He’d not allowed himself to cry in the past because he wanted to be strong for Amanda, but he could no longer control his pain. Without hesitation, Amanda cradled him as he cradled her so many times before and let him weep for their loss there on the smooth marble steps.  As she held him she felt herself grow stronger and more confident that she would see her son again very soon.  In the meantime, there was a man in her arms who needed her compassion and her love.  And for the first time since their marriage ended, she would give him both.

 

Edwina and Jonatha

Edwina was having her special dream again, the one where she and Joe visited Amanda’s grave.  Joe carried the bouquet of white roses, Amanda’s favorite flower, and placed them on her meticulously groomed grave.  Edwina, draped from head to toe in glorious black Versace that made her luxurious auburn hair stand out like a cherry on a decadent hot fudge sundae, stood behind Joe and watched the muscles in his back tense up through the silk black Gucci shirt she purchased for him in honor of their annual visit to his dead

ex-wife’s altar.  She hated spending her trust fund on gravewear, but Joe did look splendid.  After a few minutes of quiet mourning, Edwina touched Joe’s shoulder, unsure what sensation could feel better than muscle through silk, and indicated to her man that it was time to go.  Joe turned to his wife, who looked ravishing in the graveside wind, and proclaimed, “I need you now.”

“But Joseph,” Edwina demurred, “we’re in a cemetery.”

“The dead understand the needs of the living.”

Realizing she couldn’t argue with logic like that, Edwina allowed herself to be ravished fully and completely by this man whom she adored physically, but misunderstood emotionally.  As Joe made love to her wildly, Edwina tore up the earth that protected Amanda’s grave with her red, angry fingernails.  She made a mental note to call the landscaper, and her manicurist, as Joe pushed into her one last triumphant time.

A ringing telephone invaded her dream and Edwina awoke abruptly.  As she groped for the phone, she realized her nails had ruined yet another satin pillow.

Assuming the caller was her husband, Edwina murmured, “Joe, are you coming

home?”

“Mom it’s me Jonatha.”

Edwina’s murmur became affectation, “Oh I thought it was your father.”

“Daddy’s not home?”

“You know quite well where your father is every October 11th.”

“How are you?”

“I’m fine.  How’s the weather in London?”

“Perfect.  Winter and I are having a wonderful time.”

With mock fury, Edwina continued: “I can’t believe your cousin is gallivanting with you through Europe when she should be home comforting her mother.”

“Winter hardly remembers her brother.  She was only two.  Besides Aunt Amanda insisted she get away this year.”

Edwina plucked a thread of silk that had caught onto her jagged fingernail and flung it onto the rug below.

“Yes that was very unselfish of your Aunt Amanda, wasn’t it?”

“Will you be able to meet us at the airport Saturday?”

“Yes, I have your flight information,” Edwina said, covering up a sigh.  “I’ll be there.”

“Thank you.  Are you all right Mom?  You sound distant.”

Abruptly, Edwina rose hoping this sudden action would startle her voice into a sound that imitated hurt with a touch of indignation.

“I’m fine.  I lost a nephew, too, you know.”

“I know.  We’ve all suffered.”

“Oh don’t mind me.  Push all the bad thoughts out of your head and enjoy your trip.  Enjoy your life, because that’s what your mother intends to do.”

“Yes ma’am.  I love you, Mom.”

“Yes, yes.  And give my best to Winter.”

“I will. Until Saturday then.”

“Until then.”

Before Edwina had set the phone back into its cradle, she was already formulating a plan that would star her only child, Jonatha Lassiter.  At last Edwina had found a use for her daughter’s damned innocence.

 

Amanda and Joe

Amanda watched Joe slip his arm into his wrinkled shirt and remembered a more uncomplicated time.  In spite of their tragedy, they both had aged well physically, but their son’s kidnapping, their painful divorce, and other matters left them wounded emotionally.  As she admired her ex-husband’s body, she couldn’t help but notice that even at 41 he never looked better.  Joe pulled up his jeans, glanced at Amanda, blonde and pale and beautiful, and thought she had never looked more captivating than she did at that moment. Flush with emotion, Joe bent down to kiss Amanda good-bye.

“This can’t happen again,” he whispered.

“I can’t make any promises.”

“I have to.”  He tried to look stern.

“Then stay with me, don’t go back to her.”

“She needs me.”

Joe closed the door behind him and never saw Amanda’s resolute expression.  If she was going to be reunited with her son shortly, she decided it was time to be reunited with her ex-husband as well.

 

The Strangers

Adam’s next victim was an older man, new to the area, and not afraid.  Adam watched the man from 30 yards away and hesitated for only a moment before elegantly leaping into the man’s path.  The man barely had time to process mentally who or what had suddenly appeared in front of him before he felt something amazingly sharp puncture his throat.  Adam drank ruthlessly as the man’s blood pulsed into his mouth at the same time his victim’s heart fought to keep beating.  By the time the heart lost its valiant battle,

Adam had drunk his fill and finally could rest for the remainder of the evening.  Until tomorrow, when he had to feast again.

Vincent watched his son wipe the last droplets of blood from his stained lips—the son he took as his own so long ago—and knew the time was approaching.

“I think it’s time we began your education.”

“Isn’t that what we’re doing, Father?”

“I mean the education of who you are and what it means to be Vincent Savage’s son.  We must return to the place where it started.”

Adam stood up and peered into his father’s crimson eyes.  “Lead and I shall follow.”

“Forever?”

“Forever.”

“Then we shall leave tomorrow.”

Vincent saw the curiosity grow in his son’s eyes and he smiled wanly.  Despite the separation in time and distance, Adam was still his mother’s child.

“Father, if I may, where shall we end up tomorrow?”

“Nightfall.  It is time you met your family.”

 

TO BE CONTINUED . . . 

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