As he stood in the darkness outside his home, Steve silently hoped that all he would find on the other side of the door were earthbound mortals, and only the ones that he knew and loved. It had been a very strange evening, and he felt somehow drained. Try as he might, he couldn’t put a finger on why, although he remembered bits and pieces.
Okay, I remember walking into the building with Delilah. Okay, I remember that. Not much light left. I felt stupid being there, and that we hadn’t brought a flashlight. There was…oh, right, I ran into something sharp, and I patched it up. Or did I?
Hmmm, seems okay now. He felt where the sleeve had torn when he’d gashed himself. Where’s the bandage? I could have sworn I put a bandage on it. Oh well, guess it wasn’t that bad. Then what? Okay, yeah, that kid had come along and we left.
He mused on the evening a little more, but just became more perplexed. I didn’t do squat. So why am I so tired?
He shrugged, put his key in the lock, and turned the knob.
The atmosphere that greeted him once he was inside was not the one he had hoped for. He stood just inside the door and sighed with quiet frustration as he looked around at the assembly of beings. Not the cozy family scene he was hoping for.
Lydia was on the couch, Trudy’s head on her shoulder. It looked as if his daughter had been weeping.
Well, hanging out with Martha in a dead woman’s house doesn’t exactly make for a cheerful weekend.
Toby sat quietly at the women’s feet, coloring in one of his books. Every few seconds he would break off to look up at Trudy, then he’d return to his crayons.
Pat was in a far corner, talking quietly with Gabriel and an ancient man Steve had never seen before, while Raphael stood quietly observing the street through the plate-glass front window.
Steve cleared his throat, unwittingly making Trudy jump. She let out a little yip of surprise, her hands flying up to her face as if to ward off a blow. Toby jumped up, climbed into her lap, and held her tight.
“No, Toody, it okay. It Unca Steve, you daddy.”
Steve was thoroughly surprised by the boy’s behavior. Toby was only a bit under three years of age, but here he was acting very adult-like in his protection of Trudy.
“Protection”? Why did I think he was protcting her?
“Hello all,” he said, trying to sound cheerful but not quite making it. “I wasn’t expecting so many, uh, bodies here tonight.” He walked over to the couch and kissed Lydia, who smiled gently up at him.
She noticed his sleeve. “What happened?”
“Nothing much. Caught it on something.”
Then he turned to his daughter. As he kissed the top of her head, she flinched and drew away.
Steve’s brow furrowed in concern. “Trudy? What’s wrong?”
She looked at him, wild-eyed; for some reason, she seemed for all the world as if he terrified her.
“Sweetie,” he crooned, reaching out to touch her.
Toby’s little hand gently pushed his away. Surprised, Steve turned to look at the child, and almost fell over.
The boy’s eyes were luminous; it seemed as if he could see through to Steve’s very soul. “Unca Steve, no. My Toody. No touch now. Later okay, not now.” And without another word, the baby turned back to Trudy, stroking her neck, making little comforting noises.
“What…” Steve whispered, scarcely believing what he’d just seen.
“Trudy had something happen to her today,” Lydia began, then stopped. Steve could see her trying to come up with the right words, but not succeeding. At last, she drew a deep breath, decided on the basic unvarnished truth, and gave the expectant air the words it had wanted to hear all evening.
“Trudy was attacked.” Lydia closed her hand on Steve’s and held it tight. “By a vampire.”
“What? But—they don’t exist. Anymore. They’re…gone…aren’t they?”
Nick spoke for the first time. “Not all of them. Not the worst. She hid the last time heaven and hell clashed.”
“Yes.” The old man fell silent.
Steve gave him a long look, then turned his gaze back to at his daughter. She looked so scared. Instinctively, he started to reach out to comfort his daughter, but drew his hand back.
He turned to the others. “What about…did…?” He fluttered his fingers at his own throat.
“She had been bitten, but we were able to get to her,” Gabriel explained. “The vampire was distracted by the Master in His dove form, so Trudy was able to get a scream out. We…” here he indicated Pat and Nick, “were nearby, and ran to her.”
“They ran. I’m too old,” Nick interjected.
Steve gave the stranger another quizzical look, and turned back to Gabriel.
The angel continued, “Pat was able to get a crucifix in the demon’s face. She ran off, right into Nick’s path.”
“And I did her in with this.” Nick held up a crude length of iron, sharp on one end.
Steve nodded. “Uh-huh.” He regarded the old man. “Um, have we met?”
Pat spoke up. “Oh, sorry. Dad, this is Nicodemus.”
Steve quirked an eyebrow. “Go on.”
Lydia stood up, laying Trudy gently down on the sofa. Toby sat beside her, keeping vigil.
“Honey,” she said, addressing her husband, “let’s all go out to the kitchen. Except for Trudy and Toby. And Raphael, of course; he will probably want to stay with his boy.”
Raphael nodded silent assent.
Steve allowed himself to be led through the door and to the kitchen table. Pat brought him a cup of coffee (“Decaf, Dad.”), and the explanations commenced.
As he lay in bed later that night, after all of the guests had either left or disappeared, Steve thought over all of the weird and wild tales he’d been told earlier that evening.
Vampires again. Nails from the True Cross. And a two-thousand-year-old ex-Pharisee. Unbelievable.
The only thing that really mattered from the last few hours was the way his daughter had looked at him. It completely horrified him that his baby girl would be so frightened of her own daddy. It was becoming more and more obvious to him that this whole Divine Mission thing was a really bad idea.
“Hey, God,” he whispered, so as not to wake Lydia, “why don’t you go get someone else to do this dirty work? Leave my family alone.”
No answer. He didn’t expect one. As he drifted off to sleep, he imagined he heard Delilah’s voice calling him.
“You bugger off too, lady,” he murmured, “I’m not on the clock.”
Lilith paced her small room, frustrated at Steve’s weak connection to her.
“How am I going to get to him again? I don’t have enough power over him yet. He just stays by her side,” she snarled and grumbled to herself.
Howard sat in the one hotel room chair, idly changing the TV channels. He didn’t respond.
Lilith stopped her pacing and glared at him. He glanced up at her, then returned to staring at the screen.
“What.” It wasn’t a question.
“Can’t you do something besides hardwire your brain to that video machine? We have a problem here, and I want it resolved.”
“And I want Lois back!” Howard thundered, throwing aside the remote. “Guess neither of us is getting what they want tonight.” He got up and strode over to the small refrigerator and pulled out a bag of pilfered blood. Once he had it torn open, he had it drained in seconds.
Lilith watched, her lip twitching in disgust. But there was hunger in her eyes; she hadn’t fed in a couple of nights.
Howard gave her a scornful smile as he held the empty bag in front of her face. “Snob,” he said disdainfully.
“I just don’t like the idea of some apparatus getting my meals for…”
They both had the same idea at the same time.
Howard smiled, seeing Vlad’s exploits through Judas’ and Cain’s memories. Those two trapped souls shuddered with revulsion.
“No, no…better than that. We have to find someone, a nurse, to draw blood for, like, a test or something.” Lilith thought for a moment.
“I have it!” she yelled triumphantly. “He cut himself on that piece of metal, remember? So maybe he needs to be tested for tetanus. We just have to convince him to get himself tested. The nurse can do the blood draw, and give me his blood behind closed doors.”
Howard shook his head. “Who are you going to get to do this? It’s illegal, you know.”
Lilith sneered at him. “Idiot. Go visit the blood bank again. This time, walk through the front doors just before they close for the night.” She took his chin in her hand, and stared coolly into his eyes. “Get yourself another thrall. Maybe you’ll get lucky, and her name will be Lois…”
After a lot of tossing and turning that night, Trudy was finally able to drift off to sleep. But the respite was short-lived.
She suddenly sat bolt-upright, with the certainty that someone was watching her. Pulling her covers up to her chin, she glanced quickly around the room.
She drew a relieved sigh and lay back down. Just as she was closing her eyes, a movement at the end of her bed brought her straight up again.
What she saw made her blood run cold.
She threw her covers off and ran for the door.
Locked! And it would not open; the knob was stuck tight. Terrified, she turned and braced herself for the worst.
For there, standing before her, was the vampire-woman that had attacked her that evening.
Trudy let out a blood-curdling scream, unlike anything she had ever known herself capable of. She held her hands up to protect her throat, her breath coming in short, panicked gasps.
But the monster just stood there, motionless at the end of the bed, and waited for Trudy to stop panicking—which she did when she realized she wasn’t in any immediate danger.
She’s not attacking. Trudy stood flattened against the door, staring at the apparition in wonder. Why isn’t she attacking?
The woman finally spoke. Her voice was not audible to Trudy’s ears; rather it was picked up by a sense Trudy had never experienced before, somewhere in her mind.
“Please,” it spoke, “do not fear me. It was not I who attacked you. I was there, and I abhorred what was happening. The demon that took over my being when I was changed was the one who was at fault.
“I had been its prisoner. But now, because of your brother and Nicodemus, I am free to move on to the next reality.” She was starting to fade as Trudy stood, open-mouthed, trying to absorb what she was experiencing.
“I am being taken up,” the vision said, a glow of sheer joy on her face. “Please thank your brother for me. A word of warning, though: He who changed me is one of three. The other two within him are not responsible. Please judge them leniently. They are prisoners also.”
“Who? Who is this person?” Trudy asked. “How will I know who it is?”
But the woman’s soul disappeared in a glow of holy light.
It was then that Trudy became aware of pounding on her door. How long it had gone on, she had no way of knowing.
“Trudy? Trudy! What’s going on? For heaven’s sake, open this door!”
She turned the knob; to her surprise, it yielded easily. Her parents were on the other side, wide-eyed with panic.
“What?” She tried to sound as if she’d just woken up. No way did she want to share what she’d just experienced. Not at this hour. And besides, there was something about her dad that warned her against revealing too much. What that was, she couldn’t fathom. But for the first time in her life, she felt she couldn’t trust him. And that was unnerving.
“Sweetie, we heard you scream. Are you alright?” Her mom grasped her shoulders, then gave her a tight hug.
“Uh, yeah. A nightmare, I guess…”
Her dad sighed in relief. “Good. Well, I’m glad you’re okay.” He reached out to touch her face, and it took all of her will not to pull away.
“Yeah, me too. G’nite.”
She stepped back and started to close the door. As her parents walked down the hall to their own room, she followed them with her eyes.
What is it with Dad that’s so weird? Why am I feeling so scared of him?
Suddenly she felt another presence in the hallway. Little Toby stood in the doorway of his room, his teddy bear dangling from one hand.
She smiled at him. “I’m sorry, Toby. Everything’s okay. Go back to bed.”
He gave her a long, serious look, then closed his door.
“Are you sure this is necessary?” Steve asked as he rolled up his sleeve.
“Definitely. You had quite a nasty scratch. We just want to make sure you aren’t infected with anything.” The nurse smiled at him as she applied the tourniquet.
Steve was puzzled. “Don’t you usually just give a shot? Why the extraction?”
“Considering the, um, circumstances behind the demise of the previous company in the Magma buildings, we’re rather interested in the possibility of some link between the mass hysteria that happened here and what may have been going on in the atmosphere. Your blood donation would help us find that out.”
Delilah sat beside him as the nurse readied the needle and tube. Steve was extremely uncomfortable with the proceedings; not because of the blood donation, which he had been through before, but because of the two women’s behavior during the procedure. It made him uneasy to see the intent interest on their faces, as if chocolate ran in his veins.
“Um, do you have to get so close?” he asked of Delilah, who was almost as close to him as his own skin. “I’m sure the nurse—Greta, is it? He peered at her name badge. “She probably has had plenty of experience, and can handle things on her own.”
He tried to shift away from Delilah’s overpowering nearness.
Yet Greta was just as wolfish in her behavior. Steve couldn’t understand the glassy-eyed stare, her short breaths (She’s practically drooling!), and the way she kept running her finger up and down the crimson-filled tube, almost lovingly. He was feeling somewhat nauseous.
What is up with these two?
“If you’d be more comfortable, I can leave. I just wanted to make sure you understood what we were doing, and why.” Delilah got up from the stool beside him and, with a lovely smile, excused herself.
Steve watched her saunter out of the room, a dreamy, silly smile on his face. He caught the nurse watching him and sobered up quickly. “Okay, just…keep on with the job.”
“Uh-huh.” Greta shook her head, a small smile trying not to run across her face.
“It’s not like that,” Steve objected, then wondered why he’d said that. As if it mattered what Greta thought. I’ll probably never see her again.
Greta just glanced at him, then concentrated on her work.
Steve looked at his watch. “Will we be done soon? I have appointments to keep.”
He looked up at Greta, and was alarmed to see the tip of her tongue protruding from her mouth, licking the edges of her teeth.
I’ve seen this type of behavior before. But where…?
Then he remembered. Trudy! Just before she was completely taken—that day I ripped my finger on the rose thorns…
“I—I think that’s quite enough.” Steve pulled the needle from his arm. “Two tubes should be more than sufficient.”
Greta tried to stop him, but wasn’t quick enough. Steve gave her an anxious, quizzical look as he stood and left the room.
Greta gazed longingly at the two tubes of blood, but, obedient to her new master, she took them to the back room and set them on the counter. Then she returned to her duties. There was the clean-up to attend to.
And besides, there might be a way to get at that leftover blood…
Lilith came back into the clinic through the back door. She was pleased with how the past hour went. It was so nice to find so many recruits for her employee team, and they were just trusting enough to allow her to become their closest confidante. Closeness, for her, bred satiation; already she had a dozen or more thralls that she could feed from.
“Greta!” she called. “Where’s that package you had for me?” Lilith glanced around the laboratory.
“I left it there on the counter by the phone,” Greta called back.
Lilith scanned the counter, but no blood-filled tubes were in sight. “I’m not seeing it. All I see is a yellow copy of a courier form.”
“What? No one came in that I know of.” Greta ran back to search with Lilith. She snatched up the paper and read the description of items taken. The tubes, labeled “unmarked”, were on it.
Greta looked over at Lilith, panic growing in her heart. She’d heard about Lilith’s anger, and she knew she didn’t want to be a part of it.
“DAMN!” Lilith yelled, tearing frantically through the paperwork and detritus on the counter. “I needed that—item—for my plans. Now what?”
Greta had an idea, one that probably saved her existence. She had saved these items for herself, but she figured that, if she could save her skin, it was worth giving up. Hurriedly, she went to her locker and produced a box. She opened it and pulled out a couple of blood-soaked cotton balls.
“I was nervous and kind of scratched him up with my initial insert. These are the cotton balls I cleaned him up with.”
“You’re sure,” Lilith said skeptically.
“Yes! Absolutely! We hit a real oil field, as it were. I remember wishing I’d had something to catch it all in.”
“To help him, or to to get yourself a little snack for later?” Lilith quirked an eyebrow at the nurse, and was rewarded with a very embarrassed look. “Thought so. Well, never mind.”
Greta gasped as Lilith picked up the cotton balls, put them in her mouth, and swallowed them whole.
“This had better be enough for me to control him, or your head’s on a plate,” she growled at the nurse.