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
“I’m home!” Love closed the front door behind her and shrugged off her school backpack and coat, then she jumped in fright as she noticed her parents standing five feet away, staring at her. “God, you scared me,” she said, adjusting her volume.
“Hello, Love,” her mother said, a worried frown clouding her usually perfect face.
“Hello, Love,” her dad said, looking equally worried. “We have some news.”
“Okay,” Love said. “Give me a sec, I need to plug in my phone; it ran out of battery.”
“This can’t wait. Let’s sit down,” her mom said, and she motioned to the adjacent sitting room.
“Oh-kaay…” Love had no idea what this was about, but she knew it was going to be bad from her parents’ expressions. She sat down in the closest armchair. “Alright. What’s up?”
Her parents sat in a lounge chair opposite of her. Her mom took a deep breath and said, “Love, honey … we’re moving.”
Love just stared at them, trying to determine if she really heard what she thought she’d heard.
“We’re so sorry about what this will do to you,” her dad started to say, and was joined with similar apologetic words by her mom, until Love finally found her voice.
“We’re moving out of Woodstock?”
Her mom frowned in anticipation of dropping possibly the most unwelcome news. “Darling, we’re moving out of the country.”
“Are you kidding me!” Love almost yelled in happiness. “This is the best news! I hate my life here. I hate my school. And the country currently sucks too. I’d rather be anywhere else. Anywhere!”
Again her parents exchanged a look. “You hate your life?” her mom asked.
Love shifted in her chair. “I mean, it’s not like I hate you guys … just my school and its stupid backwards mentality. I told the counselor I wanted to be an engineer and he said I should try a career more geared towards women. What the hell? And I also hate the idea that any one of my ignorant classmates could be a potential shooter and he could just walk into a store and buy whatever weapons he wanted, and nothing is being done about it. Oh, and I hate the stupid soda machine that never works. High school sucks.”
“That’s all … very …” her mom started to say, but didn’t finish.
“Awful, yeah. I know. So … moving is the best news I’ve heard all day. Where are we going? Why are we moving?”
Love could tell her parents were ill at ease; they were shifty-eyed and looking suspicious. They didn’t answer right away, so she became apprehensive. After another few seconds of silence she all but shouted, “What’s going on, guys?”
“Hold on, sweetheart,” her mom said. “This is very difficult for us to say. We haven’t been honest with you about our … parentage.”
Her dad tried to explain. “Our family … which we’ve always said were dead, they’re now really dead, and we have to go back home to take care of … it.”
“What!” Love asked, totally confused. “Who’s dead? Who’s not dead? Take care of what?” She flipped her hand palm up in sign of questioning. “Can you be any more cryptic? Please explain.”
Her mom looked at her dad, then back at Love. “Okay, we’ll tell you everything. It might be very upsetting to hear,” she warned.
“I don’t care. Just tell me.”
Her mom took a deep breath. “First of all, we are … not human. We are fae. Faeries.”
Love’s jaw dropped. No words came out, so her mom continued. “We came from another place, the faerie world, where we lived under the rule of our father …”
“Did you say faeries??”
“Yes. And I know it might be hard to substantiate that claim without some form of proof, so look.”
Her parents held an open palm toward the other and held them a few inches apart. Before Love’s very eyes, a ball of light appeared between their hands. They held it there for a few seconds, then, with a quick burst of light, it vanished.
Love’s jaw dropped. “What was that?”
“Our magic,” her mother said. “It works much better back in our world.”
There was a moment of silence while Love’s brain tried to make sense of what was happening. It sounded crazy, but it also seemed very true. And it was … kind of exciting. Actually, really exciting. Her favorite comic book had always been one about faeries—she had been captivated by them for years and years. And to learn that faeries were real? That there really was a magical faerie world … and her family was going back to it?!
Her mom looked anxious. “We know this might be difficult for you to grasp—”
“That’s where we’re moving to? The faerie world?” Despite her parents’ apprehension, Love could not contain the excitement in her voice.
“Yes,” her dad answered. “We just learned that our father passed away. He wasn’t a nice person, which is why we never wanted to talk about him and pretended he was dead, and why we were so eager to leave our home and live here amongst humans. But … he was the ruler of our kind back home, and now that he’s gone, we have to go back to take care of our family and our people.”
“Your father was a ruler?” Love asked. “You mean like … a king?”
Her dad nodded. “Yes, a king—”
“Oh my God.” They were royalty.
“—and now that he’s gone, we have to go back to take our place in the realm,” he finished.
“So you get to be king now?” Was she going to be a princess?
Her parents exchanged a worried look again. “Maybe,” her dad said. “Maybe I’ll just be a prince, and Aurelia will be the queen. We don’t know yet.”
She looked at her mom, Aurelia, who closed her eyes; and before Love could form a question in her head, her dad spoke again.
“This might be a little disturbing to you,” he warned, “but I’ll just go ahead and say it. Your mother and I are twins, firstborns of our royal parents, King Razel and Queen Ashelia. We hated the royal world and our father’s tyrannical rule. We always relied on each other for strength; we were inseparable. After our mother passed away, our father only got worse; he forced Aurelia to marry an awful prince of another kingdom without caring that he was a known sadist; so Aurelia fled the night before the wedding. In his arrogance our father never expected her breach of duty and obedience, so it was easy for her to escape. I went looking for her and a month later found her here, in the human world. We stayed hiding, and we never meant to go back. But as of this morning, we’re both feeling a strong magic pulling us back home, as though something inside us has been activated with the passing of our father. It seems we can’t escape our blood.”
“I know this is a lot to handle, my dear,” her mom said. “Ash and I never meant to return, and we thought it would be extremely dangerous for you, so we never wanted to tell you. But we didn’t know about this magic that would call us back home.”
“Oh God!!” Love didn’t know what to think. She could handle having a tyrannous grandfather in a magical kingdom that she’d never been told existed before … but her parents, twins? This was some incestuous Lannister shit. Oh God. She was afraid she might puke. “You … is this normal in the faerie world? Brother and sister … relations?” Gross.
Her parents looked at each other and immediately started talking at the same time.
“No! It’s not like that—”
“We’re not lovers, no!”
“We love each other, but not like that.”
“We’re just best friends …”
“Wait, what?” Love was confused. “But you sleep in the same bed,” she pointed out.
“We’ve slept in the same bed since we were born, honey,” her mom said. “We’re like two halves of one soul, and we sometimes joke we’re the same person in two bodies, male and female … but that doesn’t mean we’re involved romantically.” She laughed awkwardly.
“But then … how did you have …” me, Love trailed off and couldn’t finish her question. Because all of a sudden a lot of little things that she’d noticed or questioned about her life, but always mostly ignored, started popping up in her head. First and foremost was that her parents were impossibly beautiful and she looked nothing like them. They both had fine blond hair that matched their bright golden eyes, and yet somehow had managed to produce a daughter with brown hair and brown eyes and average looks.
“You’re not my father?” Love asked, looking at the man that she called her dad. She was starting to question who her real father might be when her mom spoke.
“Our dear daughter,” Aurelia said with a deep sigh, “Ash and I are not your birth parents.”
“Whaaat …” Love started. She took a minute to let that sink in. So many signs pointed to it, yet it wouldn’t sink in. She was adopted? She knew a girl who was adopted. That girl knew she was adopted. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Her parents looked very uncomfortable and took a few moments to form an answer. Finally her mom spoke.
“We’re faeries, dear. I didn’t know what to do when I found you. You see, your birth mother—I was hiding in this world, living in the woods, learning to live on my own, when I heard a human shuffling around. I could tell it was a woman, but she didn’t say a word; she left as quickly as she came in, got in a car and drove off. I didn’t follow her; I didn’t think much of the odd, brief visit, until some short time later I heard a baby’s cry! I just rushed to the noise and found the most angelic thing I’d ever seen. I picked you up and decided to keep you safe. I joined human civilization for the first time. I stole infant formula to feed you and clothes to dress you and keep you warm. I left my crumbly shack in the woods and moved into an apartment in this small town. By the time Ash found me and told me I wasn’t supposed to just keep an abandoned baby, that I should’ve taken you to the human police, I loved you more than I could ever describe, and I couldn’t give you up. I had named you Love.”
“So naturally I stayed here with my sister, and we raised you together,” her dad concluded.
“So let me get this straight,” Love said. “You’re faeries, you can do magic, you’re royalty, and we have to go back to your faerie world for you to rule now that your father is dead?”
“Yes, Love, that is correct,” her mom said.
“But I’m just … a human someone abandoned in the woods?”
“Well, yes; but you’re not just any human; you’re our daughter and we love you so much—” her mother replied, not seeing the problem here.
Love burst into tears. “That is just the worst news ever!” And she ran up the stairs to hide in her room.
Most writers choose the endings to their stories . . . most writers are not Weavers.
Laney Holden is a freshman at Madison College whose life goes from normal to paranormal in a matter of seconds. When the antagonist in the book she’s writing shoves her down the stairs at the subway station, she learns she is a Weaver. Weavers bridge the narrow gap between fantasy and reality, bringing their words to life.
Laney soon meets William whom she also suspects is a character from her book—one she’s had a mad crush on since her pen hit the paper. But he’s in danger as her antagonist reveals a whole different ending planned for Laney’s book that involves killing William. Laney must use her writing to save the people closest to her by weaving the most difficult words she will ever write.
THE WEAVER is the first installment of The Weaver trilogy. It is an NA paranormal romance set in a small town on the north shore of Boston. It will leave you wanting more…
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:
The chilly October sky turned cerulean and sanguine as the sun dipped below darkened clouds. Thirteen bats flew across the sinister backdrop, signaling the arrival of Leah, my level-headed, put-together boss, to my chilling abode.
Leah stepped out of her SUV, paying no attention to the avian warning high above her head, and gave me a joyous wave before holding up a bottle of wine. She was just as at home here in my dark den of shadows as she was in her high-rise.
“Welcome to my home.” I greeted while motioning for her to enter. The front door of my ramshackle Victorian home gave a squeeeaakkk.
“Thank you for hosting our monthly dinner, Vivien. The renovations are almost finished, but my house is certainly not ready for company.” Leah kissed both of my cheeks before she stepped over the threshold and took in my Gothic décor. I waited for her to flinch, but her smile remained intact.
“Please make yourself at home. Dinner is almost ready.” I pointed towards the living room and waited for her to be seated. “Would you like something to drink? I’ve some vintage Blood Wine.”
“Yes, Blood Wine, what region is that from? I don’t believe I’ve heard of it.”
“It’s a rare blend. Transylvanian, of course.” I hand her an empty skull filled with wine and gestured for Leah to take a seat on one of my matching scorpion-shaped chairs.
Leah took a deep sip. Her face turned pallid then flushed scarlet. “Viv, this is a thick wine but is full-bodied. You must share your source with me.”
I nodded and headed back to my kitchen. I’d slaved all day cooking my favorite foods to share with Leah. We were complete opposites but had always worked well together. Sharing this part of my life with her pleased me.
I used my trusty hack saw to slice thick pieces of brioche and then topped them with bat brain jelly, laying them out prettily on an old silver tray. To go with this, I made a delightful meatloaf macabre, filled with all manner of chunky, crunchy surprises. And, of course, to drink, I had plenty of Blood Wine. A most filling meal, I believed.
“Come, Leah,” I beckoned her towards the dining table and smiled pleasantly when I noticed traces of the Blood Wine dripped from her mouth.
“Oh, Viv! You’ve outdone yourself. I must make a video to share with our friends.”
My forehead scrunched. To her, “our friends” meant work colleagues. To me, “our friends” meant all of those that lurked beneath the ground of the cemetery out back. But I enjoyed my boss and would humor her eccentricities. After all, unlike me, she was still part of the living.
Trickles of murky water danced between shadows and fractures on the underground wall. Flickering candles twisted wilted blooms and innocent stone angels into a jungle of goblins.
“If you’re still fussing, you should have started earlier.” A redheaded vampire flashed through the arched doorway and scowled at his watch. “This space will never be anything but a tomb disguised as a fancy courtyard.”
“Like the desolate streets above us, masquerading as our city?” A man in a tuxedo slicked his mohawk straight up and adjusted his bow tie. “I thought you said rebirth was near, Mister Steven.”
“It’s so close, I can taste it. You’ve followed my instructions to the final detail?”
“Haven’t I always, sir?”
“As much as humanly possible, I guess.” Steven pointed to a steaming carafe. “Pour.”
The man’s shoulders slumped. “What am I now, your waiter?”
“I didn’t mean…that came out all wrong. Pour me a taste, Zachary. Pretty please.” Silence and a smirk followed his lingering sip. “Ah, silky smooth with a viper’s bite.”
“One coffee blunder was humiliating enough.” Zachary tipped his chin in the air. “That other swill tasted like it was blended with the ashes of the dead.”
“Sure wasn’t chicory.” Steven shuddered. “Ick.”
“Don’t worry. The tool who sold it to me, is at the bottom of the river.”
Steven planted one hand on his hip. “So, where did this brew come from?”
“Cross’ the lake.”
“Hope you’re taking my bodyguards when you leave the French Quarter.”
“So much gloom, even your soldiers can’t tell where the safe zone ends and enemy territory begins anymore. Sun hasn’t come out in years.”
“Yet, the dreadful humidity remains. Just to remind us we’re home.” Steven snapped the cuffs of his dress shirt. He inspected the linen tablecloths, uncovered serving dishes, smiled at the scent of peppermint and turned his nose up at licorice. “My chocolate?”
“All your favorites.” Zachary bowed in front of the dessert tower. “Amaretto, raspberry, almond hazelnut…but, the hazelnut still sucks.” He tapped the artery in his neck. “How bout’ a taste of this?”
“Later. Be available,” Steven said. “Eat a little cinnamon.”
“You…are damn bossy.”
Steven waggled his finger. “Leaders delegate, Zach.”
“Oh well, excuse me.” Zachary plucked a sugar cube from the pristine buffet and dropped it on his tongue. “Will it be the usual guest list tonight?”
“Yes, and I’m sure you’ll hate them all.”
“They turn the room frigid. Swear I can see my breath.” Zachary pointed to the fountain. “Your snooty, light-up water feature was frozen solid after last week’s festivities.”
“There’s a method to my madness. We’ll need the allegiance of all the coven leaders, from every corner of the globe—even the villains—to take back New Orleans.”
“Hmph.” Zachary crossed his arms. “Bastards do seem impressed. You’re still the king of decadence, like in the old days.”
“Just wait for the new days.” Steven leaned over the pastel bubbles and watched glittery fish spinning in circles. “When our family is back in power, all this melancholy will be a distant memory.”
“What about that man with the sapphire eyes?”
“You mean the warrior?” Steven sighed dramatically.
“He’s more than politics to you, isn’t he?”
“Is that a hint of green demon I hear in your voice?”
“After so many years of us…” Zachary shuffled his feet and stared at the fish. “Never mind.”
“His fire, his army—that blood.” Steven spun and pumped his fists. “The warrior is our savior. He holds the keys to an empire.”
Zachary stepped back, but not in time to avoid Steven patting his cheek as if he were a petulant child.
“My empire.” Steven flashed back through the arch. “All mine.”
Ashley’s fork cut through what was left of her tiramisu. Her client’s daughter had been put down for almost an hour. The silence of the house meant that she should be studying but the tiramisu was so delicious. After finishing her dessert Ashley opened her laptop double clicking on her document files.
Now that she had the freedom she was sure she would have the rest of the night to herself to finish her project. As she opened the documents pictures of various newspaper headlines flashed across the monitor. Her assignment that her professor gave would have her follow the trail of supernatural happenings in neighboring towns. Things like “leprechauns in trees” to “ghostly images and sounds ” “unexplained disappearances”.
The point of the assignment was to find why are people wanting these “tales of make believe” to be real? Ashley wasn’t sure what to make of all of this. She believed that if she could see it she would believe it for herself. Her computer monitor flickered for a second before completely darkening. A sharp squawking from upstairs made her blood run cold. It also reminded her that the only person up the stairs was Lauren, the child she was sitting.
The family had no pets, a fact that ran through Ashley’s mind as she grabbed the fork she used to eat her tiramisu. She scampered up the stairs tightly gripping her silverware weapon in her fist. Once she reached the door she flung it open to see little Lauren asleep in the same position she had left her in. Perched at the foot of the bed was a blood red cardinal bird with a thumb sized roll of cotton in between its beak.Ashley flung her arms at the bird predicting that the bird would fly outside of the window across the room in which the bird did flapping its wings through the night air.
Lauren gave a yawn before speaking. “I had the weirdest dream miss Ashley. You saved me from a gigantic female pterodactyl and it was red!” She yelled in excitement rolling over on her pillow which she now found with a gaping hole in the center. “Miss Ashley…” the girl let out.
Ashley grabbed Lauren by the hand and stormed out of the house.
A crooked little coffin-shaped sign hung rather creepily and just a bit off-center, somewhat hidden beneath eerie Spanish moss from an ancient tree that draped over a tiny coffee shop where cemetery workers and the occasional mourner would stop in after passing time in the famous Southern graveyard that was just a few yards across the street.
Delia adjusted her purple work shirt that sported their shop’s unique logo. The owners of the shop were two best friends, “Miss Charlotte” and “Miss Cordelia”, and they had hand drawn themselves the symbol of a tiny tomb upon which a tiny coffee cup sat. Above this, in silken threads, the name of their shop, the words Burial Grounds were embroidered on the left shoulder. The concept of the shop had been the brainchild of her best friend, Lottie and had somehow taken their after-college plot of turning a mountain (unemployment) into a more manageable molehill, (becoming entrepreneurs!) with some quick thinking and a few old Southern recipes. The two best friends combined their attributes and somehow had managed to stay out of the red in their first year of business. The shop provided everything that after-funeral crowds might need: water, coffee, teas, pastries, biscotti, bagels and breads, panini and fruit, as well as tasteful cemetery souvenirs such as photography coffee table books of the cemetery that the tourists were just gaga for. Just recently they had also added a very small lunch menu so that the groundskeepers and out-of-town visitors (here to see the book-and-movie-famous gothic nuances that lay by the river just across the way) might be tempted to drop in during the noon hours. A late sleeper, Lottie came in most days after lunch, to prepare the next day’s soups, and sandwich fixings while Delia took great delight in early-hour baking and the opening of the storefront doors each morning.
On this stifling September day in Savannah, Delia was hoping to inspire a few customers into trying her new recipe for Pumpkin bread. As she switched on a coffee pot, she peered out the rippled glass pane of the old storefront. An Autumn fragrance called “Something Wicked” filled the small dining area that was dotted with small black café tables and chairs the girls had found and refurbished from the flea market. The dining area possessed a slightly witchy aura in a Practical Magic sort of way. Delia suddenly observed that a rickety, white-haired, very tall, hat-wearing gentlemen (whom she immediately secretly named “Papa Justify”, she had heard that creepy name in another movie once) was slowly making his way inside from the empty parking lot. She was unsure of where he came from, but it seemed awfully hot for a man of his years to be out and about, walking around alone in the September heat at 10:30 in the morning.
The man creakily made his way to the counter, his loveless face was daunting in the bright morning light, but Delia stood ready to take his order, despite his frightful countenance. Holding a pad, and slightly biting the eraser at the end of a pencil, Delia smiled and said, “Good morning, Sir. What can I get for you?”
He leaned his ghoulish face towards Delia, his large teeth protruding from his thinly-veiled face and replied.” I would love a large cup of coffee, black, and 2 of your old-fashioned tea cakes, please”.
Delia carefully wrapped the two sweets in a glycine treat bag, then poured freshly-brewed liquid glory into the recyclable-yet-insulated to-go cup, it was an aromatic and steaming brew. She dribbled a rich, dark splash onto one of her sneakers as she placed the carafe back on the burner.
The customer appeared to be delighted, thanking Delia as he took his purchases, and left a twenty on the counter. “Keep the change, doll”, he whispered. A shiver ran up Delia’s arms.
It was then that Delia heard a key turning the lock in the back door of the shop. “Lottie, quick! Come here!” Delia called. Delia turned her back to the window that looked over the parking lot just for a moment, motioning to her friend to hurry and observe the unusual customer who had just left. Delia had never seen anyone like him before in her life. Lottie sat down her purse, and quickly was standing by Delia’s side. As they both looked across the parking lot, no one was there. Had the small tourist bus silently picked him up without their hearing it? Surely, he couldn’t have walked completely out of sight in that short amount of time.
Back to the business at hand, the phone rang, orders were placed and work demanded the two friends’ attention and soon the entire morning had flown by. Now the girls were both busy packing up 15 box lunches which they had promised to deliver over to the Cemetery Visitor’s Center across the street by 1 pm. Lottie stayed behind at the store making up a fresh batch of pimento cheese and Delia walked over with a large cardboard box filled with the smaller box lunches, and cold drinks to give to Mrs. McGuire, the docent. She told Delia they were having a Civil War reading near the war monuments later today with guest speakers and so the workers wouldn’t have time to go out to get their lunch. The coffee shop was happy to oblige them. The Visitor’s Center tipped quite nicely.
As the sun pelted down upon the shell-lined pathways, and the hushed Spanish moss gently swayed, swishing ominously throughout the bent and gnarled limbs of the ancient trees, Delia walked past graves and headstones, and statuesque obelisks, headed away from the old grey house that now was designated as the Visitor’s center, and on back towards the shop. Thinking what a lovely blue sky hugged from above, Delia was taken aback as she noticed that someone had thoughtlessly littered the beautiful resting grounds. An abandoned coffee cup sat upon an ornate rock headstone. Intending to clean the trash up herself, she reached to grab the debris, and was taken aback to see that both the sack and coffee cup were imprinted with a little symbol, the coffee shop logo symbol, and the words starkly stated Burial Grounds captured in a sickly red ink made her gasp. A glycine treat bag was also crumpled up with the paper sack, and these were laying over the grassy and sandy grave of a man who had mysteriously died in 1832. His name…Jasper Justify Jacquemin.
This is the precise moment when Delia decided that this would be a good time to lay off the caffeine.
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.
I walked the dusty path that led to the family cemetery located beneath some spindly old cedar trees on the expansive property of the looming Eirewood Plantation. On my way, I stopped to eat a few of the tart bitter blackberries growing there and pondered on how I’d come to such a quiet place.
The sprawling white Greek Revival sat imposing in the sunlight. The tall, thick columns stood stately, supporting the two story gargantuan house while the rocking chairs on the front porch silently invited someone to relax and rock a spell,taking in the beauty of the Southern landscape. Though I had trekked some distance from the house, I could still see the majesty of the house patiently waiting for something, or maybe someone. It’s empty loneliness bothered me very little. At first sight, I was overcome with the feeling of having always been here, having belonged. Whatever the reason, this home was not alone anymore.
Three weeks ago, I received a letter in the mail requesting my presence at McAllister and McAllister Law Firm to claim an inheritance from an anonymous benefactor.
Upon meeting with them, Misters McAllister and McAllister led me to a polished long cherry table in what must have once been the dining room in the old Victorian house they’d converted into their law firm, and there over tall glasses of ice tea, they informed me that I’d inherited the two hundred year old house and the surrounding land that made up Eirewood Plantation from an absolute stranger. Despite my fervent attempt to refuse such a preposterous gift, the McAllisters presented me with the deed, already in my name, and bid me to have a good day.
Now, I stood somewhere between the hulking house and the graveyard filled with crumbling tombs all sporting the name “O’ Brady”, trying to figure out what I was going to do with this unasked for and unusual gift. Unaffected by my presence, a large, husky squirrel bounced from one oak tree to the next as if rejoicing at my arrival.
For a spring afternoon, it was a bit chilly beneath the shade of the trees, and just like the house, this piece of land had a feeling of waiting. A solitary rusted out shovel discarded by the old stone wall surrounding the graves solidified the feeling of a space frozen in time.
“Welcome to Eirewood, Ms. Endicott.” From behind one of the twisted oaks, stepped a nice-looking gentleman wearing light pants, a blue cutaway coat and holding a top hat that he’d just removed from his head in his hands.His cream colored silk cravat accentuated his dapper look. “I’ve been waiting for you to return.”
Startled by his unannounced presence, I took a step back from him but not before I noticed his uniquely light colored eyes. The color of frozen ice, just barely blue, they were visible even in the dappled afternoon light.
“Thank you. Wait, return? I’m sorry, Sir, but I have never been here,” I insisted then introduced myself. “You may call me Eilene I have recently acquired Eirewood Plantation, so I’ve come to see what it’s all about.”
The man moved closer to me. His handsome looks struck a chord in my heart, a memory I couldn’t quite grasp, even if his clothing and manners were two hundred years out-of-date. Perhaps he was here for one of those reenactments I’d heard about history buffs having. Either way, something about his demeanor drew me towards him. My fingers tingled, itching to reach out and touch this mysterious stranger.
“Eilene,” He said my name slowly as if he was savoring his favorite sound. “Then you may call me Jonathan. I’m Jonathan O’Brady.”
“O’Brady?” I recalled the names on the tombstones just behind Jonathan, and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end. The intensity he watched me with was unnerving and somewhat alluring. There was just something about him, something I couldn’t exactly put my finger on. “Jonathan, are you kin to the people who owned this house? Do you know why the previous owners would leave it to me?”
“You kept your promise,” was his reply. “You vowed that you’d return, that not even death could keep us apart.”
My heart sped up as I processed this stranger’s words. “You have me confused with someone else.”
“Oh?” Jonathan offered his hand to me. “Then let me show you, my love.”
I should have ran off, gotten away as fast I could and called the cops on this crazy anachronistic man. Instead, without any hesitation at all, I rested my hand in the crook of his offered arm and allowed him to guide me back into the shaded cemetery. We weaved around graves, one O’Brady after another, until we reached a battered Celtic cross. At the base was the epitaphs and memories of two.
Eilene O’Brady Jonathan O’Brady Born April 30, 1832 Born November 1 1825 Died May 14 1862 Died May 14 1862 Eternally Yours
Something in my subconscious stirred, awakening memories of someone else’s life, promises made by a woman I was not. I should have fled. I should have gotten away as fast as I could. I didn’t know what this man was trying to pull, but I wanted no part of it.
Then I made the mistake of looking up from the tomb into Jonathan’s love-filled eyes. Within their pale depths, I saw that he, too, had been waiting. Just like the house and this land, he had been waiting for his love from an old age long gone to begin again-new.