Witch’s Pawn: The Binding, Book 2
Written by Victoria Clapton
Narrated by Teresa Booth
Though she is dead, life is good. Being the Vampire Queen of New Orleans is not without its perks. For Sybella Rose, her new life with her mate, King Demien, with whom she shares the connection of The Binding, is a vampire’s version of happily-ever-after. She has adapted to the differences that come with being a preternatural creature and is making her own way as vampire royalty.
Yet, life and everything Sybella knows about herself is about to be uprooted. A new presence of faeries is menacing the city, and it will take the combined efforts of vampires, witches, a little voodoo, one ghost, and a small white cat to solve the mystery and save the vampires from a detrimental curse that could lead to their demise.
With the help of friends, old and new, Sybella must learn what it means to be a Witch’s Pawn.
Click to Listen
Catch up on The Binding, Book 1
Find & Follow
“A nurse is the Lord’s fiercest angel.”
—Sorcha Alden, New York 1935
–Still true, New Jersey 2020
Anne Marie Andrus
At the peak of a rocky red outcropping, Draven paced, sat, leapt up to wander again and shouted into the empty darkness. “I should have saved you.” He stumbled, grabbed fistfuls of his blond hair and threw his head back to shout at the night sky. “I accept that I’m a failure.”
The only answer was the desert wind’s drone.
“Tonight, was my last. I’m done. I’m ready.” He spun to face the brightening horizon and stripped off his shirt. “I’m coming to join you, my beloved Gwynevere.”
Dawn’s light lingered below the jagged crests, slicing through the landscape one ray at a time. Pinholes of smoke erupted across Draven’s skin like a spray of bullets.
Gritting his teeth to muffle a scream, he stared at the patch of ground a few feet away, already bathed in killer sun. After a long exhale, he took two strides toward instant death. The final step was cut short by a missile dressed in a royal guard’s uniform. Two vampires tumbled down the back side of the butte into the cold safety of shadow.
“What the bloody hell?” Draven clawed his way back up the red rock, only to be yanked into a cliffside cave. He narrowed his eyes to focus in the pitch black. “Ronald?”
“Your highness.” Ronald bowed.
Draven lunged for the cave’s mouth and was knocked down again. “Have you gone insane?”
“Have you?” Ronald rolled a boulder across the opening. “On second thought, don’t answer that. When did you last feed?”
“What concern is that of yours?” Draven turned up his nose at the flask Ronald offered.
“It’s my job to keep you safe.”
“Then, you’re fired.”
“Unacceptable.” Ronald plunked a silver flask on the stone floor in between them.
“This is not how it works.” Draven charged toward Ronald and landed flat on his back. “I’m a damn prince!”
“Tackling you now, and on top of that rock,” Ronald dusted off his palms and held out a hand, “was easier than knocking a child down on the playground.”
“Blood would be wasted on me.” Draven swatted him away. “Doesn’t matter where I’m going.”
“And, your highness, where is that?”
“Not sure, exactly.” Draven puffed his cheeks and exhaled. “To find my beloved Gwyn.”
“I’m so very sorry for your loss.” Ronald rested his hands on his knees. “But burning yourself up in the desert isn’t going to bring her back.”
“I hate myself and I’m broken beyond repair.” Draven wrapped his arms around his chest. “How did you find me out here, anyway? I covered my tracks.”
“We’re blood.” Ronald dug through a canvas bag and tossed him a wrinkled shirt. “Can’t hide from me. To your credit, the search did take weeks.”
“I never really thought about that…your direct lineage, I mean.”
“If I remember correctly, you turned me vampire as a stunt to impress Sorcha.”
“I was rather taken with her back then. But the reason doesn’t matter.” Draven pulled on the shirt and buttoned it without looking down. “As my sole heir, when I’m gone, you’re next in line for my father’s throne. Should it ever come to that.”
“Well.” Ronald swallowed hard. “There’s extra incentive to keep you alive—”
“If you dare call me Daddy, I’ll rip your face off.”
“It will only grow back.” Ronald held out the flask again. “Sire.”
“I never believed in hell, but I’ve been there every night since Gwyn died.” Draven grabbed the flask and gulped. “Every damned night. Can’t you see that?”
“Yes, and I don’t pretend to know the pain of losing a fiancée.” Ronald settled down with his back against the cave wall.
“I remember saying something very similar once.” Draven sat down across from him, leaned his head back and closed his eyes. “To Raimond, after his Emily was murdered. He certainly handled it better than I have.”
Ronald rubbed his neck. “About Raimond—”
“I left my guards in Louisiana to watch over his house full of fools.” Draven looked up when Ronald didn’t answer. “What?”
“At first, I tried to find you…unsuccessfully. When I returned, it was too late.”
“I don’t understand.”
“After you left, there was an attack.” Ronald stared at his hands. “They burned it.”
“Who?” Draven tilted forward. “Who burned what?”
“The Victoires and others, foreign soldiers, witches. An army of mercenaries.” Ronald lifted his eyes to meet Draven’s. “Your royal guards are dead. Normandie Hall is ashes.”
“You must be mistaken.” Draven shook his head violently. “They were all upstairs—”
“After Sorcha and Vir crashed through the window, the entire house imploded.” Ronald bit the inside of his cheek. “Rumor has it that Steven Banitierre survived. I do know that Miss Rayna is on your island. I’ve spoken with her.”
“Julia?” Draven rubbed his face with both hands. “Lily?”
“Both dead.” Ronald frowned. “We should go back to New Orleans.”
“Raimond will be furious with me.”
“Never mind the house, though he did restore it from a ruin into a fortress.”
“But, his family is his whole life. Those girls—”
Draven froze in Ronald’s vacant gaze.
“I’m sorry, sire, about Raimond—”
“No.” Draven’s jaw dropped and his body convulsed. “No, no!” He stared at the flask in his hand and hurled it with enough force to cause a shower of rock dust to fall. “Not Raimond. He would have escaped the fire.”
“Not if he was murdered.”
Draven’s eyes flew open and he flashed in front of Ronald. “By whom?”
“Nicholas Victoire.” Ronald grabbed Draven’s quaking shoulders. “That criminal has seized power in New Orleans. We need to go back.”
“Sorcha will never forgive me. Never. She’ll try to kill me.” Draven staggered again. “Raimond. Are you sure? He’s the strongest…my best—”
“Sorcha won’t try to kill you in New Orleans.”
“She should!” Draven shivered and landed on his knees. “I left her and the whole…all of Raimond’s family to die?”
“Sorcha and Vir escaped, and haven’t been seen since. Rayna said they had help from locals, Crescent magic.” Ronald reached out but pulled his hands back. “Normandie Hall was an ambush. You couldn’t have known.”
“Murder, murder.” Draven slammed his head on the stone floor. “Failure, failure.”
“I want to die!” Draven flew into the jagged rock wall, fell and leapt up to do it again. “Why can’t I die?” He spun to Ronald with black blood streaming down his face.”
“You don’t look right, sire. A little rest, maybe?”
“Such a good man.” Draven patted Ronald’s cheek. “My blood…my son.”
“Whoa.” Ronald flinched. “Take it easy with the crazy eyes.”
Draven grabbed Ronald’s gold dagger and scampered back into the shadows.
“All right.” Ronald reached for the gold and fell back at Draven’s maniacal howl. “Enough of this nonsense. Hand it over.”
“I told you I was done.” Draven’s body shrunk. “It’s over. Put me out of my misery or I’ll do it myself. I swear on the souls of all the deaths I’ve caused.” He collapsed into a writhing heap with the dagger pointed at his own heart.
“I’ll help you, I promise. Just put it down.”
“Make it quick.” Draven nodded, squeezed the blade to his throat hard enough to draw blood, and handed it over. “I’m a coward.”
“You’re no such thing.”
“Don’t tell my father.”
Ronald spun the blade in his fingers.
“Though, we really should tell—”
“Save that thought for later.” He snapped Draven’s neck with military precision. “I’m sure you’ll be a royal pain in my ass when you wake up.” Ronald tucked a blanket around the limp body and drew a ragged breath. “Heal quickly, my prince. Raimond’s family desperately needs you.”
Like this sneak peek from Book 3 of the Monsters & Angels series?
Catch up with Books 1 & 2
December 21st, 1899
Raimond trailed Prince Draven through crowded French Quarter streets, pausing at each bar’s doorway to marvel at people celebrating in every available corner. He read the street signs as they walked. “Bienville?”
“Constructed the first levees.” Draven shook his head. “Woefully inadequate mounds of dirt.”
“We’re on Customhouse Street.”
Raimond pointed up at a shiny sign.
“I wish they would stop changing street names. Iberville was a naval hero and explorer.” Draven strode up to glass doors and allowed tuxedo-clad men to sweep them open. “Died of yellow fever, or so they say.”
Raimond shook a doorman’s hand and grinned at the infusion of knowledge he gained. “This building is elegant. The total opposite of our last stop.”
“It’s quite the jewel, though not my favorite hotel.” Draven walked directly toward a spinning red and white pole and sat down in an empty chair. “I have a standing appointment and a private barber—best in town. I suggest you have a shave as well. Lot’s more people to meet before sunrise.”
“Isn’t tonight the—”
“Longest night of the year?” Draven winked and leaned back while a barber draped his neck in steaming towels. “We’ll need every minute.”
Within the hour both men passed through the back of the hotel and into a residential alley.
“The shop on the corner belongs to a painter and metal sculptor.” Draven undid a button on his shirt. “It can get a bit warm in his studio, but the cloves—”
“I smell them from here.” Raimond walked straight through the soaring French doors, inhaling the rich scent with deep breaths. “Heavenly.”
Draven admired the glorious jumble of art and treasure while Raimond negotiated a sale and filled his pockets with hand-rolled cigarettes. He paid for another carton to be picked up later. “And who is this little beauty?” Raimond knelt and offered his hand to a grey dog.
“That’s Faith,” the artist answered. “She keeps me company when I burn the midnight oil.”
“Pleased to meet you, Miss Faith.” Raimond scratched her ears and she crawled into his arms.
“Faith doesn’t warm up to everyone. Sir, you must be someone special.”
Blessed Solstice to all…
Excerpt from Raimond, Chapter 28…The Hall of Villains
Selling a Childhood Home
By: Victoria Clapton
Large, puffy cumulus clouds rolled across the sky and the golden rays of the sun pierced through the cottony fluffs mocking the somberness that had settled upon the day.
A genesis, a new beginning, to be a pioneer in someplace new–that is what my grandmother hoped for when she made the rash decision to sell our two-hundred plus year old family home where generations had lived.
I looked back one last time at the stately Georgian dreamscape, the only home I’d ever known, and listened to my grandmother’s pitiful attempt to convince her family that selling this part of our legacy was a good decision. I locked the beauty of our home into my mind, the pristine condition of the gardens before I jumped into my mom’s red truck, mashing the seat-belt into its locking mechanism, hoping I could erase the negativity brought on by this tragedy of a day and one day only remember my childhood home with fondness and not loss.
Find and Follow
A NEW TAKE ON THE ARTHURIAN LEGEND
~a silly story about a great kingdom and the power of love~
aka: another tale of Luke and Laura
Elizabeth L. Lemons
WORDS TO USE: Avalon lake crossbow comrade corruption enfold disgraceful grass orphan list
Once upon a time, in a groovy era filled with free love and flower power, Woodstock and presidential corruption, there existed a tiny yet lovely island known as Avalon. Surrounded by shining blue lake waters, this petite fantasy island was known by most households during the 1970’s due to the quotable declarations of a small man on television as he exclaimed, “The plane, the plane!” Anyway, known in the royal history books as “the age of Court Charles”, here on this wee island great meetings were held in the Mouse Castle, where the King’s knights would sit around a custom-created round table made entirely of driftwood and beaver boards. This particular legendary table had been built by one of the local area river rats’ finest artisans whose name was Lucky Charles. To commemorate its creator’s name, the legendary Court Charles Round Table gatherings were born. This fine table was a representation of the King’s intent to bar corruption as had been witnessed in previous disgraceful reigns. The extraordinary table’s design allowed that no one sat at the head of the table, that no one creature was head over another, that each voice garnered equal merit, and even the King himself included his own decisions to be discussed and voted on by his respected rodent Knights that sat round in advisement. This new-fangled practice allowed justice and fair treatment to all the mice of the land. The desire for a better kind of kingdom where every teeny voice could be heard was the brainstorm of the goodly mouse-king known as King Robert Scorpio.
The king was a jolly good and just mouse and was, (as an older, ordinary looking mouse-man with both idealistic and romantic plans), still filled with unfulfilled personal longing. King Robert had his visionary crossbow hairs focused on wooing and marrying the fairest maiden mouse in all of Avalon. When he found her, she was both wise and beautiful, with the softest of grey fur and a comely tail. Her name was Laura Vere. Laura Vere’s tiny mousine countenance was like the golden sun, her smile filled all the good people of Avalon with hope and cheer in the days that were plagued by war, tie-dyed clothing, music by Jimi, Janice and Jim, and bra-burning. Still, Lady Mouse Laura Vere knew a good opportunity for stability and loads of mouse munchies when she saw them, and so, despite the difference in their ages, and lack of any physical attraction, she consented to marry good King Robert. She did truly admire him, and they enjoyed the dancing and the music of the castle, as well as squirrel-back riding on warm days. They had fun and laughter and often exchanged wit and private ponderances, but these alone moments were not the kind of romantic escapades that Laura Vere had dreamed of as a young mousey girl.
It didn’t take very long before the Queen’s days in Court began to grow long, they became a total bore, and without any challenge whatsoever. Being Queen allowed Laura Vere and her maidenly mice maidens lots of room to roam, to venture across the island with complete freedom. It was on one of these daytime excursions that Queen Laura Vere took notice of a very charming and handsome knight. Luckily, on that day, longing for some Queenly solitude, she had decided to leave the ladies behind ashore for a quick solitary row for a bit of quiet. The mouse maidens constantly chattered too much and would eat all the cheeses that Cook had provided in the basket way before lunchtime. Queen Laura Vere found their unladylike greediness to be quite appalling, so on this day, she set them and a few provisions on the bank and paddled away. Her solitary adventure began as a fine sunny afternoon, filled with hopes of tranquility, until a westerly wind picked up suddenly, as a summer storm blew in. Laura Vere became frightened as she had floated a bit too far away from dry land and her leaf was teetering in the wavy water. She panicked. Just when she thought she might burst into mousey tears, Sir Luke-alot paddled up gallantly beside her on a large piece of whitish driftwood. Wearing a long forest green morning coat, he reached for her teeny ivory lace-shrouded mouse paw and helped her board his vessel. Sir Luke-alot had saved Queen Laura Vere!
“Queeeeeeeee-nie!” He said, much too familiarly. He held her delicate paw, as he simultaneously and suggestively used his masculine body to closely enfold her as he pretended to steady her stepping aboard.
She trusted him implicitly, because Laura Vere had heard a great many complimentary words spoken by King Robert in regards to his own admiration of this Knight. She knew Sir Luke-alot was her husband’s closest comrade and confidante as he performed his honor-sworn duties. Still, Sir Luke-alot was also known by all the ladies of the kingdom to be a bit of a rogue with a sullied, “ladies-man “reputation. Laura Vere generously allowed a coy smile at him as she said a silent goodbye to her rocking leaf. She decided to be lenient with him, for surely, he couldn’t help his lack of proper manners as her husband had told her that he was an orphan, and could call no other place other than this kingdom his home. That didn’t mean he was not beguiling. He was and he knew it, scoundrel or not. Overly-confident, he certainly was, but Laura Vere fell for it all… the looks, the laughter, the twinkle in his itty bitty mousey black eyes. And he smelled so good!
As Queen Laura Vere made herself comfortable upon the curved inside of his driftwood boat, she laid back in an enticing fashion as she watched him first roll and then smoke some grass with his right paw while his left paw guided them along in the lake. Sir Luke-alot was famous, seriously, he was Mouseketeer famous. Everyone knew him, everyone loved him. He was smart, quick, knew countless ways to avoid traps, water poisons, cats, and he could wield a thorn sword better than any other mouse in the land. He feared nothing and no one. It was this complete confidence that was Lady Laura Vere’s undoing.
Nature, of course, followed its destined course (as you knew it would!), and soon, the unexpected afternoon outing became a looked-forward-to daily pleasure that Lady Laura Vere and Sir Luke-alot partook of in great secrecy and lustful happiness. They were made for each other and Luke-alot (sadly) was everything that poor old King Robert was not. And you also know as well, that, now, just as it was then, there were sneaky spy rats (who were, for some unknown reason, called “Cassadines”) hiding everywhere on the riverbanks and amongst the tall weeds just waiting to uncover a tainted tidbit to tarnish the good Queen’s image and her honored place next to the King. Whether the motivation was just plain devilment or jealousy, a sordid rodent or two always seemed covetous of what someone else had, and Queen Laura Vere was blessed with all the riches of the kingdom and now, love. Soon, she and her secret lover were revealed!
Without going into all the sordid details of this long-tale extramarital affair, it is needless to say that King Robert felt betrayed when he was given the shocking news. It was quite a harsh blow of deception that brought him to his trembling old mousine knees. Yet, he could find no real fault with his beloved and kind Laura Vere. Being a wise old King, he contrived in his mousy mind a list of all the good qualities and traits that he admired about his gentle Queen and he determined in his heart that she ably fulfilled all her wifely and courtly duties to him but one, and it saddened him greatly that he was not physically able to fulfill hers. He knew he was too old to maintain her physical happiness and so he forgave her and also Sir Luke-alot. In fact, he felt a great deal of relief after the initial embarrassment of it all. Sir Luke-alot had assumed the role of lover, thereby letting the King off the hook, so to speak. But forever and ever, the betrayal and story of Sir Luke-alot and Queen Laura Vere and their tumultuous tryst would be told throughout history. King Robert actually felt quite proud of himself for being so gracious and accommodating.
And so, on a morning soon after the revelation of the affair, when interviewed by the daily newspaper, aka The Gouda Gazette, the good King seemed comfortable in trying to put the sordid incident completely behind him as he commented, “What’s done is done. I really don’t want to talk about it, actually, I’m pretty tired. Disappointments happen from time to time, but the truth is, you know… the kingdom will persevere…I’ve simply just had a bad knight.”
Happy Halloween Horror Lovers!
From the creators of the #1 bestseller The Box Under The Bed horror anthology and its #1 bestseller sequel Dark Visions, comes Nightmareland . . .
A horror anthology with 23 stories from 14 authors!
In a rundown shack deep in the woods, a high school girl dares herself to try the strange new drug all the kids are talking about. One injection of “Nightmareland” is all it takes to unleash a person’s biggest fears to them – and then they are on their own! But rebellious Jessica thinks she will prove herself to her peers and parents.
Tremble along as she is strapped into the chair and becomes a lost child on a Florida party island, an investigator looking into a circus’ bizarre side shows, an abused prisoner locked away in a desolate concrete cell, and much more as Jessica faces the most terrifying ride of her young life.
Compiled by USA Today bestselling author Dan Alatorre, this anthology of horror once again unites the minds and pens of more than a dozen amazing authors.
Nightmareland will send you into the foggy twilight of the eerie and macabre, with heart stopping stories from:
USA Today bestselling author Dan Alatorre (The Navigators),
award-winning bestselling author Robbie Cheadle
award-winning bestselling author Ellen Best
award-winning author Kaye Booth
award-winning bestselling author Betty Valentine
award-winning bestselling author Alana Turner
award-winning bestselling author Christine Valentor
award-winning bestselling author Nick Vossen
award-winning bestselling author Alana Turner
award-winning bestselling author Victoria Clapton
award-winning bestselling author Anne Marie Andrus
award-winning bestselling author Adele Marie Park
award-winning bestselling author Barbara Anne Helberg
award-winning bestselling author MD Walker
award-winning bestselling author Dabney Farmer
award-winning bestselling author M J Mallon
Perfect for Halloween or any time, these stories will make you think twice before spending the night alone, watching TV with family, or even going on a casual boat ride.
CONSIDER YOURSELF WARNED!!
Behind the Scenes at the Theater
September 20, 2019
Words: loneliness, applaud, beg, jogging, memorize, admit, solitude, converse, eternity, marsh
October is just around the corner and all the coffee shops have already busted out all the fall flavors. Outside the air stirs, still warm but with the occasional chilly draft. The fall equinox is only a few days away. Alex is excited for the change and ready to let go of this dreadful summer haze.
The summer had been awful. Loneliness had been his constant companion; he’d been unemployed; a small-town wannabe actor freshly moved to the big city looking for acting work. He’d had a hell of a rough time, unable to join in with the rest of the city as everyone cherished those precious few weeks of perfect weather.
But then, right at the end of summer, last week, things finally improved: he got a job. Not just any job. He was finally invited to join one the most successful theater companies in the city, Elysium Theatre, and a role in their current award-winning production, The Last Victim.
Today is his first day. During his interview he already decided he loved the company. He’d met most of the actors and the stage crew, although of course he didn’t even lay eyes on the main actors. The big shots were just way too important and busy to ever hang out with the main company. They hardly come out to rehearsals, Alex learned to his disappointment, although he wasn’t surprised. He had especially wanted to meet Ben Morgan, the lead actor in the play, who had been Alex’s inspiration to become an actor, and his motivation to join this particular theater company. But Alex is thrilled nonetheless—he might not even see him, but he’s going to be in a freaking play with his hero!
Alex is the first one in. He came jogging from his studio apartment; he was too excited to sit still. He didn’t know what time everyone comes in to the rehearsals, so he chose to arrive an hour early, to be safe. Inside the designated auditorium, some lights are on but there’s no one around. He sits on a chair in the front row.
“Hello,” he hears a voice above him.
He looks up and sees—Ben Morgan? Holy crap!
“Hi, Mr. Morgan,” he stammers.
“Please, dude. Call me Ben.” Ben descends a metal ladder that’s propped against the lighting platform above the stage where he had apparently been, doing who knows what in solitude. About halfway down he jumps off and lands with uncanny grace on the stage. He sits on the ledge, right across from Alex’s chair.
“Right. Ben. I’m Alex. I’m new. I’m playing the banker, the smallest part, I know, barely two lines, but just the fact that I’m in this company, wow, I’m so excited and humbled. And to have my one scene be with you—well, the young version of Caleb, that’s, well, just, incredible.” Wow. Halfway through that logorrhea Alex knew he should stop talking, but he was so nervous that he just kept babbling on. He takes a breath to steady himself because he feels like he wants to talk some more to apologize, or to explain himself, or just to fill the silence, but he decides it might just be best to never speak again.
Ben is looking at him strangely. In his eyes there is a mixture of pity and humor. “Well, Alex, nice to meet you. But let me correct you, so you don’t go around spreading false statements.”
“Huh? What do y—”
“The banker. He’s not the smallest part. He may have only two lines, but he’s one of the most important characters in the story. He’s the pivotal person in Caleb’s life; the one who changes the course of Caleb’s whole life, when he says those two lines.”
Speechless, Alex can’t reply with words other than reciting the lines he’d already memorized, in a half whisper. “ ‘Young man, I’ve been watching you. I believe I know someone who might be quite excited to meet you.’ ”
“Aha.” Ben holds his index finger up and displays a dazzling smile. “And who did the banker mean by someone?”
“The benefactor. Mr. Lawrence.”
“Yes. And Lawrence changed Caleb’s life,” Ben reminds him. “Had it not been for the banker, Caleb wouldn’t have met Lawrence, and he wouldn’t have risen to where he did.”
“I guess,” Alex stammers.
Ben cocks his head to the side as if considering the young nobody before him. “Did you know that The Last Victim is based on a real-life story?”
“No, I didn’t,” Alex has to admit.
“My character, Caleb, is based on a young man who lived in the 50’s. His name was Charles, and he was an orphan. Just like in the play, Charles struggled in life, had many afflictions; and on one particularly bad day, having almost given up hope, he met the banker. The banker saw past the unfortunate circumstances that plagued Charles and saw only his beauty. He introduced him to his wealthy acquaintance, believing this acquaintance would be interested in Charles. And he was right. The wealthy friend took an instant liking to Charles and became his benefactor. We all know what happens next.” Ben pauses for effect, then he narrows his eyes and smiles that knowing smile of his. “But here is where the play differs drastically from the real story. In the play, Caleb goes back to his hometown as a wealthy man, and he purges the men who spurned him as an orphan, right? But in real life, Charles went back to his hometown, alright… but he killed those men.”
“What?” Alex’s face puckers in disbelief. “Just for mocking him?” In the play, one of the things young Caleb struggles with is being bullied by a few older boys that he works with. Later after he’s rich, he has them convicted and put in jail.
“They did more than mock him,” Ben explains. “They beat him up so bad, he couldn’t defend himself. He couldn’t even beg for his life. They left him for dead in the marsh where they worked. But he lived, he healed, and he persisted. He quit that job, went to a bank to borrow money to start a business. He met the banker. His life changed. And later when he was powerful, he went back and got his revenge.”
“Is that true?” Alex asks, unease creeping up his spine. “And he killed them?”
“Yes,” is Ben’s smart reply.
“But how did he do it?” Alex doesn’t really want to believe the supposed real version of the story, so his words are partially laced with disbelief. He doesn’t know where Ben is going with this, but it sounds like the guy wants to tell this story, so might as well ask him.
“I mean, how did he manage it? There were three of them and one of him.”
“There were eight of them and one of him.” Ben drops that in a deadpan voice. “In real life,” he adds.
Alex begins to get a weird vibe. Is Ben messing with him, or what? “So he paid people to do it, or…?”
“Alex, what the popular version of the story which we act out every night fails to mention is… the so-called benefactor, Lawrence, who in real life was named Lehmann, was actually a powerful vampire who fell in love with his intended victim, the little orphan boy that his banker friend brought to him as a gift. The vampire bestowed the gift of immortality on the young Charles. Not right away. Lehmann saw young Charles as a little pet; well, a pet that you have an intimate relationship with. But after some time he turned him into a vampire. And just like Caleb returns to his hometown as an adult in the play, Charles returned as an adult, albeit a vampire one, and had fun getting his revenge.”
Alex realizes his mouth is hanging open and quickly closes it. Ben is obviously joking, but he sounds so serious, Alex doesn’t know how best to reply. He looks at Ben expecting the face to reveal the butt end of the joke, or some clue as to why he’s hearing this fictional story from one of the most renowned actors in modern theater, but the man remains as serious as if he was retelling a news story from last week. Alex decides to play along. He never dreamed he’d converse like this with Ben Morgan on his first day; might as well roll with it.
“Wow, um. So, how do you know all this?”
“I play Caleb. It’s my job to know his character well, inside and out; what is written in the play, and what is not written.”
“Okay,” Alex says, frustrated with the lack of answers and not exactly knowing how he should react to Ben’s story. “Well, if Charles was a vampire, did he even die, like Caleb?”
The Last Victim is named so in reference to the main character, Caleb. After becoming rich and using his power and influence to get his revenge, his decisions gradually cross into the gray area of questionable judgment. Not being particularly trained in morality or ethics, and being quite young, he chooses to bestow assistance to people or deal punishment as his whims dictate. In the end, one particular bad decision puts the life of another young boy in peril; and Caleb, finally seeing his folly, dies tragically in a fire to save the boy, who reminds him of his former innocent self, in a gallant attempt to redeem himself. Thus, he is his own “last victim”.
“A vampire would’ve survived that fire,” Alex challenges. “He would’ve been fast enough to save the boy and save himself.”
Ben’s expression changes and his voice fills with sorrow. “He did perish in the fire. He started it, and both him and the innocent boy died in it. The boy never made it out. Charles didn’t save him. He watched as the smoke claimed the boy and had no remorse. It was Lehmann who killed Charles, finally realizing he had lost control of his little pet. So you see, Charles didn’t die in the fire like Caleb did in the play, but he equally died because of it.”
Alex, temporarily forgetting this story can’t possibly be real, feels awful for the little boy who didn’t make it out of the fire. The play, despite being a tragedy, is generally liked because this one sweet innocent unnamed kid is saved.
“So it was all a lie?” he demands. “Saving the boy, Caleb’s sacrifice?”
Ben shrugs dejectedly. “The writer didn’t like the ending, so he wrote a different one.”
“Well, he shouldn’t have,” Alex says a bit angrily. “Everyone thinks Caleb was this great tragic hero. They all applaud him, and he was an asshole.”
“He was an asshole, but Lehmann loved him. He had turned Charles into a vampire because he wanted to spend an eternity with him. Lehmann felt guilty, thinking he should’ve taught Charles better, guided him better.” He sighs. “It was Lehmann who wrote the story.”
“Wait, what? Lehmann—Lawrence? He’s the author?” Alex tries to remember the writer’s name. He can think of the playwright, but not the original author.
“Wait.” The author of a real play and the vampire in a fictional story clashing in his confused brain is too much for Alex at the moment. He covers his eyes with a hand, trying to reassess. Of all the things that don’t make sense, the one question that comes out is, “How do you know all this?”
He asked the same question earlier, but in a whole different frame of mind. Disbelief back then, mostly. This time, he wants to know. This time is different.
This time, Ben replies honestly.
He looks into Alex’s eyes, deep into his soul, it feels like. And Alex immediately knows. It’s all true.
“Would you like to know … more?” Ben Morgan hops off the stage and extends his hand down to Alex.
Alex takes the offered hand.
“I would love to.”
Find and Follow Johi Jenkins
Bright Lights & Chilly Nights
Anne Marie Andrus
Setting sun trickled through colored glass, illuminating mirrored letters behind the bar until LEGENDS sparkled like lost gold from an enchanted city. The bartender brazenly whistled off key and polished curved mahogany with a vintage rag. According to the calendar, autumn was still two weeks away but last night he felt “it” for the first time this year. That fleeting bite of a rogue breeze and rustle of dying leaves followed by a whiff of fragrant firewood. His favorite season was right around the corner—exciting and bittersweet—ruthless and glorious, all at the same time. Baseball was more than a game; it was a way of life that lasted from February all the way through October. Only one team would win their final contest and then silence would descend until next season.
Behind the bar, numbered beer mugs hung from pegs. The bartender glanced over his shoulder at a still empty parking lot and picked out the prized #7 and #42 mugs for two regulars who would arrive first. Always gleeful Yankees fans. Grumpy Boston #34 would be close behind followed by perpetually hopeful Mets #31. A lucky few would be in attendance at the big ballparks in October. The rest would be on bar stools watching their teams pack up lockers and lug golf clubs through private airports while arch rivals padded win-loss records and secured coveted home-field advantage.
The bartender eyeballed bottles of top shelf bourbon—the perfect elixir to calm nerves that would be frayed moments after the roar of the pre-game flyover faded. As players waxed poetic about fan appreciation and stadium acoustics, experts sounded alarm bells over statistics and injuries. Lifetime baseball addicts agonized over traveling ghosts and whether the powers of aura and mystique would be making a nightly appearance. Despite all the famous curses being broken, from The Bambino to The Billy Goat, dread of the jinx never really vanished, it merely slunk into the shadows ready for ambush on a supremely pivotal play. Innings would crawl by, pitch by agonizing pitch, unless the home team was losing of course…then it seemed to get late early. A wise quote from a true legend so many years ago.
Outside, music blared and tires screeched to a stop on loose gravel. The bartender waited for the door to slam open before he shouted. “Most important pitch of the game?”
“Strike One.” Mug #42 tossed her auburn hair back and slid into her usual seat. “Most exciting two words in sports?”
The bartender picked up the TV remote and grinned. “Game Seven.”
October 18, 2003…2 nights after the Game Seven, Aaron Boone home run…