Oh, it’s starting to get busy now…
As she drove home Sunday evening, Trudy’s mind whirled. The weekend had been far from the quiet couple of days that she had expected.
After the Ouija board had been completely consumed, she and Martha had scraped the ashes, still smoldering, into a big tin pail full of water. Once they’d made sure no cinder still lived, they had taken the pail outside to the back corner of the yard and buried its contents. Trudy had taken the crucifix from around her neck and placed it on the cold ashes just before the girls had filled in the hole.
This morning had had its surprises as well, but good ones. As Trudy had been going out to go to church, Martha had silently joined her. Not wanting to spoil her friend’s tenuous hold on these first grasps toward a life of faith, Trudy had smiled at her but had made no comment. She knew that if any fuss had been made at all, Martha would have skittered off and shut herself back into her old convictions. As it was, Trudy had no guarantee that Martha would keep searching. She had to leave it to God to keep watering and fertilizing that infant seed until it came to flower in His light.
After church, Martha had decided to go back to her own apartment rather than stay in the house, so the two friends had packed up, secured the place, and parted company. Trudy was glad that Martha had made that decision; even with the Ouija board destroyed, something still didn’t feel quite right about that house any more.
As she approached her own street, Trudy caught sight of the park. A strong urge to go for an evening stroll under the trees came over her. Pat was always saying how much better he felt after some time among the flora and fauna; she thought maybe she could use a little alone time herself, to think over the events that had happened and maybe pray a bit. A lot.
After parking along the street, Trudy headed for the path that led around the lake and was soon enveloped by the thick foliage. Taking a gravel path that led off from the main one, she walked until the sounds of the passing traffic could no longer be heard.
Her senses were almost immediately soothed by her surroundings. The wind whispered through the oaks and evergreens, and the smell of ripe blackberries and late roses combined in a heady mixture. She could smell the moisture in the air and could hear the lake lapping at the shore in a steady, comforting rhythm. The sound reminded her of when she was little, and her mother would take naps with her. It sounded just like her mother’s deep, even breathing as she lay next to her.
Ferns and moss, interspersed with rhododendrons, combined in many-hued shades of green, her favorite color. The sound of the gravel made a steady crunching noise under her feet, and birdsong came from the throats of robins, finches, chickadees, and other birds she couldn’t readily identify.
I have to agree with Pat; this is certainly a…
A flash of movement in the underbrush, and Trudy suddenly found herself pushed against a tree, its rough bark cutting into the back of her head. A hand was around her throat, and she was shocked to find herself suspended a foot or so above the ground.
Her assailant was a petite young woman, fully a head shorter than Trudy. It would have been ludicrous, and even amusing, if it wasn’t for the woman’s immense strength.
And her eyes, which were dilated and red.
Oh, God, help!!
They were growing longer and sharper as the vampire leered at her. Trudy’s heart hammered in her chest, and she struggled with all her might to get away. Kicking her assailant brought no response except a high-pitched shriek of laughter.
She could feel something warm and wet on the back of her head; the wound that was caused by striking the tree bark was now starting to bleed. The vampire could smell it; her nostrils dilated, and she grinned in response to the odor.
She licked her fangs. “I hear your heartbeat. It is like a bird trapped in a cage. And your blood—so sweet…” She came closer, her mouth inches from Trudy’s throat.
Trudy’s eyes rolled wildly; she kicked, twisted, trying to push her assailant away. “Abba!” she whispered, unable to shout. “Father God, help me!”
The woman chuckled. Trudy felt immense pain in her back as the vampire pulled her down the trunk of the tree. Then the monster struck.
Trudy gasped as agony filled her entire being. She found herself unable to breathe. The blood was pulled so hard and fast from her veins that it was a physical pain that reverberated throughout her body.
Suddenly there was a flurry of movement. A small bird, blindingly white, came between the vampire’s face and her prey. The fluttering of its wings caused the monster to move away in irritation and surprise. Whenever the vampire moved in to resume her feeding it struck at her, making it impossible to finish Trudy off.
Trudy took the opportunity to scream for help. In the depths of the forest, surprisingly, she caught the attention of more than one pair of ears.
Pat was sitting with Nick and Gabriel at Nick’s campsite. They were going over some of the main information that Pat needed to know about the Hunters. Trudy’s scream came to them from a short distance away, and Pat knew immediately who it was.
“Trudy!” he shouted, and ran off towards the sound. Nick followed sedately at a distance, and Gabriel brought up the rear. The angel had shimmered into invisibility, just in case.
At the same time, Lilith and Howard were roaming stealthily through the foliage from the other direction, searching for Howard’s wayward protégé.
Lilith was disgusted. “Great. I told you to take her out to hunt. But no, you had to give her that bagged-and-tagged crap. Now who knows where she is?” She glanced over at Howard. “You know yourself how hard it is to be spoon-fed. We are created for the hunt.”
“Yeah, yeah, get off my back, willya? With the whole business venture, I sort of forgot.”
The scream made them freeze in place.
“Over there,” Howard whispered, pointing.
They moved soundlessly in that direction. Before they cleared the shrubbery, however, Lilith motioned for Howard to stop. They peered between the leaves and branches and saw their new vampire in action.
They could see that she had a mere girl in her clutches. But something was odd; there was a white bird flapping about the heads of the two, between predator and prey. Blood streamed down the girl’s throat, but their vampire couldn’t get to it. The bird attacked her by fluttering in front of her face whenever she tried.
“It’s just a dumb bird. Why doesn’t she do something?” Howard muttered.
“Shh!” Lilith whispered. “I hear something.”
Footsteps pounded down the path. The two fiends watched as a young man came into view.
“Trudy!” he shouted, and ran toward the girl and her attacker.
As he got closer, he dug into his pocket and produced a shiny metal object. Howard and Lilith couldn’t see what it was, but it certainly had an immediate effect on their offspring. The woman screeched, covered her eyes, and fled down the path that the man had taken.
Suddenly a much older man blocked the vampire’s way. As she approached, heedless of his existence, he plunged something into her chest. She screamed once and exploded into dust.
Howard and Lilith both felt her destruction, Howard more than Lilith. He crumpled to the ground, pain and anguish contorting his face. Howard had made her and felt the loss keenly, but Lilith recovered quickly; the destruction of the vampire was not directly related to her. As Howard attempted to pull himself together, Lilith peered at the ancient man, who was still standing on the path.
She made a small sound of surprise. “Nicodemus,” she said softly, almost to herself. “I wondered where he was hiding out.”
She chuckled softly. “Idiot – now he’s shown his hand. So he’s here, is he? I have to wonder who his student is.
“All in good time; for now, we’d better go. I feel another presence here, and not a safe one.” She pulled Howard up from the ground, and silently they left the way they had come.
“You okay, Trudy? Oh God! No, you’re not!” Pat inspected the bite marks. “Gabriel, I think we need your help here.”
The archangel, still invisible, was beside the siblings in an instant. “Good thing you were alone when you said that,” he admonished, glancing around. “Someone might have heard you.”
“Oh hell. Oops, I mean, I didn’t think…”
“Yes, I understand.” Gabriel sensed an unseen presence. “I don’t believe we have anything to be worried about. Still, there was someone here. The question is, friend or foe? This bears looking into.”
Trudy moaned and slumped to the ground.
“But first, let’s take care of our girl here.” Gabriel closed his eyes and waited for a moment, listening.
“No, they’re gone.” He touched Trudy’s neck and back, and the wounds healed immediately. “Let’s get her home. She may be whole physically, but the psychological wounds are going to be there for a long time.”
“My car…” Trudy muttered.
“It’s already in front of your house,” Gabriel said, stroking her hair.
Pat pulled her up gently and supported her as they all walked back down the path.
“She’s gone into shock.”
Lydia watched as Trudy rocked back and forth in the kitchen chair. Her daughter held her arms protectively crossed against her chest, one hand spasmodically stroking her own shoulder. Her eyes were glazed, unfocused. Toby stood beside her, his hand on her leg, his worried brown eyes gazing up at her.
Trudy didn’t seem to realize anyone’s presence. Pat and Gabriel watched her face, hoping for some sign of recognition. Nick stood by himself on the other side of the room, feeling uncomfortably out of place.
Lydia twisted her hands under the table, her wrists in agonizing pain. Her ankles also hurt; this was a new sensation in her experience with the stigmata. She could also feel the renewed stabs of pain in her scalp, a sensation she had not experienced since her original restoration from the world of the undead.
“Toody?” Toby reached up on tiptoe and put his hand on Trudy’s cheek. She turned her unseeing gaze toward him. A moan escaped her lips.
Raphael, ever present, touched the boy’s shoulder. “Toby, I think we should find something for you to do. Come on, let’s go in the other room.”
“No!” Toby’s response was loud, vehement – and quite unchildlike. “Bad doggie got Toody!”
He crawled up into Trudy’s lap, which caused her to stop rocking. He put his little hands on either side of her face and touched his forehead to hers. “Toody! You come back here! Play wif me!”
Their eyes locked, and it seemed a full minute before Trudy finally blinked.
She shook her head and rubbed her eyes. “What the-? What am I doing here? I was in the woods…”
Then the memory of her attack hit her and she shrieked, over and over. Toby, not the least bit frightened, held her as tight as he could while she fought her way through the nightmare all over again.
Gabriel moved forward, wanting to comfort her, but a surprisingly stern look from Toby stopped him in mid-stride. “No, Unca Gabel. She my baby. She okay now.”
The room was absolutely silent. Even Trudy was conscious enough to hear and understand Toby’s words, spoken with all gravity and in a way that totally defied his brief years.
Nick merely smiled to himself as he watched the drama play out.
Trudy hugged her little friend and looked around at everyone. She suddenly put a hand to her throat, panic in her eyes.
“No, you’re okay,” Gabriel assured her.
She closed her eyes in relief and sighed, pulling Toby closer. “Thanks to the good God,” she breathed.
“Good thing we heard you out in those woods, and were close enough to get to you,” Pat said.
He pulled something out of his pocket. “Also, this seemed to help a lot.”
Lydia gasped when she saw the object. “Where—where did you get that?” she stammered, pointing to the crucifix on its chain.
“Oh, yeah, I meant to tell you. I found this when Sean and Ryan and I were up at Magma. It was in an old overgrown fountain.”
He noticed his mother’s wide-eyed stare. “Mom? What is it? What’s wrong?”
Lydia opened her mouth, but nothing came out. Finally, after much effort, she was able to rasp, “That’s mine. Vlad took it away the first day he imprisoned me.”
Steve grumbled as he kicked through the debris on the floor in one of the Magma offices. He could think of a thousand things he’d rather be doing on a Sunday afternoon in late summer. Not the least of which was to be spending it with Lydia.
But Delilah had beckoned, so in accord with his employers, he had obeyed. And here they were, in an unlit building, trying to make remodeling plans by the light of a setting sun.
He lifted a piece of moldy ceiling tile from the trash on the floor, then yelled and promptly dropped it again when a huge rat scurried out from under it.
“Delilah, really, couldn’t this wait? I can’t give good remodeling advice, or any kind of a price estimate, when I can’t see what I’m doing.”
He peered up at the blown-out ceiling, wondering what in the world had gone off to destroy it so badly. That in itself will cost a fortune, he thought.
“Oh, don’t be silly, Steve. I’m sure you’ll do just fine.” Delilah was sitting on the edge of a desk, idly fingering the abandoned belongings of some long-ago employee.
“Okay, okay, maybe some of the more noticeable items,” Steve conceded. “But it’s getting late, and…” He did a quick visual search for the rat, shuddering at the thought of coming across it again.
“Now, Steven, you’re not going to let a rat scare you off, are you?” Delilah chided, her voice right in his ear. Steve jumped; she was suddenly standing beside him, although he hadn’t seen her move.
“Uh…” He backed away, and turned to pick up some more acoustic tile.
This place is a dump. More of a tearer-downer than a fixer-upper.
He was suddenly very aware of her intense gaze; trying to ignore her, he stepped away and attempted to concentrate on the job at hand.
“First thing we’ll need to do is get a crew in here to clean up this mess, and to cart all these computers and supplies out. No doubt someone will want to come up and claim it. Legalities, you know. You and Howard can keep what isn’t taken.”
Steve turned back to find Delilah sidling up to him again. Her eyes had gone almost completely black.
Steve was transfixed by her stare, but only for a moment. Then he blinked and shook his head.
I’m more tired than I thought, he reasoned. But why does she keep getting so close?
He was startled by an unbidden thought. Unless it’s…no, it couldn’t be. Why me? Why not Howard? He’s much younger and better looking. And why in this godforsaken place?
“Wh-where’s Howard, by the way?” he asked, trying to sound casual. “Isn’t he interested in what we’re doing here? I mean, to the building, of course. I…”
“Howard’s busy,” Delilah said, a hint of distaste in her voice. “Don’t worry, I’ll tell him—everything.”
She was inches from him now, and he could feel her breath on his face. He was backed up against the wall of a cube; he tried to slide sideways and caught his arm on a sharp bit of metal protruding through the join between the cube panels.
He howled in pain. Grabbing his arm, he pushed past Delilah.
“Steve, what did you do?” Delilah sounded genuinely concerned.
“Tore my arm on something.” Steve gritted his teeth and groaned, bending over in agony.
Then he stood straight and glared at Delilah. “This is it. I’m going home, Delilah. I can’t see what I’m doing, and this cut hurts like hell.”
He pulled his hand away to look at it and winced. Blood seeped through the gash, and he had nothing to stanch the flow. When he put his hand back, he was frightened and a little nauseous to see that the blood was coming through from between his fingers.
Delilah put her hand over her mouth, her eyes shocked. “Steve! Oh, dear, you really did hurt yourself. Here, maybe I can help.”
He pulled his arm away from her advance. “No, I am probably going to need stitches. I’m going, now, to see a professional.”
“Please, let me help. I was trained in first aid. Let me at least look at it. I can tell you if you need stitches or not.”
She took hold of his arm and pulled it toward her face. Steve tried to wrest it from her grasp, but was unable to get out of her grip. He was only able to watch, in growing horror, as she seemed to be lifting the cut to her mouth.
“What—what are you doing?” he yelled. He pushed at her and yanked at his arm, to no avail.
Delilah laughed, a little abashedly. “You’re right—the light’s not so good now. I should have taken your advice.”
But she only held tighter. “It’s almost dark. Hold still; I can’t make it out when you’re jerking like that.”
Steve stopped his struggle, mentally berating himself for imagining the worst. Comes from having all those heavenly visitors around, constantly reminding me of the most horrendous time in my life.
He stood, quietly but impatiently, as Delilah squinted at the gash.
“I…think…you’ll…be…okay…” Delilah’s voice had suddenly changed to a husky rasp, her breathing labored.
Before Steve could blink, her mouth was over the wound.
Steve’s stomach lurched as he realized, all too late, that she was sucking on the gash, drawing blood out from him with amazing rapidity. The room started going black, and he felt as if he would drop where he was. He couldn’t even cry out, he had suddenly become so weak.
“Just making sure it’s not…infected…” Delilah purred.
A sudden bang and crash made her jump.
Steve took the chance to pull away, and was sickened by the sight of his arm. The skin on either side of the cut was grey, the skin puckered. He backed away from her, realizing in shock what she had done. Fortunately for him, her attention was drawn to a figure by the far door.
“Sorry, sorry, that was me. Fell over some junk. Man, this place is a mess.” A young man in overalls picked himself up off the floor and waved. “I’m okay.”
“What are you doing in here?” she demanded. “No one’s supposed to be in these buildings yet.”
She was angry; Steve wasn’t sure if it was because of the young man’s presence or because she…
What? What had she done? His mind was blank when he tried to recall what was going on just a few minutes before. It had been right there, some reason to be alarmed, but now it was gone.
The stranger came towards them, a flashlight beam guiding his way. “Boss told me to come up here and get measurements. Carpeting. But it’s way too dark in here for that now.”
“I didn’t order any subcontractors up here yet.”
“Oh. Really? Well, I better go back and tell the boss to check his paperwork.” He grinned. “If he thinks he’s gonna get out of paying me double-overtime, he’s got another think comin’.”
He pointed the flashlight beam towards the door. “Need some help getting out?”
“Sure. Thanks,” Steve answered quickly, interrupting whatever Delilah might have said. He heard her sigh in frustrated resignation as he practically ran to the worker. “Let’s go.”
I don’t care if you want to sit in this burnt-out shell all night. I’m not going to.
Delilah followed behind as the two men left the building.
“Do you need a ride, ma’am?” the young stranger asked.
“No. Thank you. I came out here in my own transportation.” Her words were like ice as she stared angrily at the worker.
“Okay,” he said cheerfully. Then he turned to Steve. “Hey, how about you?”
Then he noticed Steve’s wound. “Oh, wow!” You going to be okay? That’s a nasty tear.”
“I’ll be fine, thanks. I’ll go see a doctor if necessary.”
Steve turned towards his client. “Good night, Delilah.”
But she was gone.
Steve looked around quickly, puzzled. “Well, that was quick.”
“Huh. Sure was.” The youngster looked toward where Delilah had been, and was quiet for a long moment. Then he turned back to Steve.
“Alrighty, guess I’ll see you later. My car’s at the far end of the property. ‘Servant’s entrance’.” He snickered at his own joke and loped off, leaving Steve alone.
Steve shook his head tiredly, got into his truck, and pointed it down the hill toward home. Behind him, unnoticed, his benefactor disappeared in a ray of light.