She left me. She left ME.
My love Gillian has gone.
I do not understand. She explained but it all sounded like another language that I did not understand.
She said, “When we first met in 1651, yes I will be the first to admit it was love at first sight. You were so kind. I needed someone and you were there for me always. You helped me so much. Then a short sixty years later you vanished without a trace, until Randolpho and I found you in 2014 locked against your will in a snow covered crypt in a long forgotten graveyard, where you’d been for three hundred years. You were dazed and confused by the world you’d suddenly come into. I helped you navigate this strange new world and all of the new technology. I helped you adjust to your new status, not as the Vampire King, but as Vlad, the man I love. But honestly Vlad, it has been exhausting. I love you with all of my cold Vampire heart but I need a break. I will always love you. ALWAYS. I’m going away, I don’t know how long, or exactly where, or what I’ll be doing, but I just need to get away.”
“Gillian, is there someone else?”
She threw up her hands, “When would I have had time for someone else? No, you are the only Vampire I love. Yet, I feel like a caretaker to someone who can’t take care of himself. You can take care of yourself, but, please Vlad, I can’t do this right now.”
A tear rolled down her pretty cheek. First salt water then it turned to blood. I wiped the tear away and put my arms around her. “I love you Gillian,” I said. “Always.”
Then she kissed me with such passion that I thought she had changed her mind and would stay with me. Alas that was not to be. She walked out the door without another word. I tried to take her hand and pull her back but she was too quick. Then she was gone into the night.
She left no forwarding number. She left no forwarding address. She took nothing of mine except my heart.
In all my 679 years, no woman has ever left me like this before. I feel numb. I feel as if I have been crushed by a heavy rock, then lit on fire, then thrown into the ocean and eaten by a shark, then locked in a dark crypt with my heart torn out and left at my feet.
As I stood alone looking at my closed front door my cats came up to me and rubbed against my legs. They then both, in unison, gave out a mournful cry, as only cats can do. They sounded like small Demons but they were only my cats, sad that the brightest ray of moonlight in our world had left us.
My friend Randolpho came over to do what he called intervention. He brought our friend Constantine along with him. Randolpho was wearing, as usual, a ridiculous hat. Constantine, whom we call Connie, was dressed in a beautifully cut gray summer suit. Even I, with my ignorance of the modern world know a well cut and expensive suit when I see it. Connie has always been the best dressed Vampire I have ever met. Randolpho has always worn ridiculous hats.
“What do you mean by intervention?” I asked. “What are you going to do? Maybe give me shock treatment, or tell me Gillian was never good for me, or force me to listen to hours of mind numbing inspirational talks?”
“Dear Vlad, you’ve been watching too much reality TV,” said Connie. “We’re here to help sooth your Vampire soul with the most modern way to get over a bad break-up.”
“I do not think anything can help,” I said. “I have never felt so bad in my entire existence.”
Randolpho shook his head at me like a disapproving parent, “What about when you and your wife broke up?”
“That was centuries ago. My most prevalent emotion in that situation was anger. This is not the same,” I said.
“We can help,” said Randolpho.
“Nothing can help,” I said.
“We have a playlist,” said Connie.
“A playlist? I do not understand,” I said.
“When your heart is broken,” said Randolpho, “you need to listen to sad songs. That will help you get it out of your system. You won’t feel so alone, or at least you can better relate to your pain.”
“I still do not understand,” I said.
Then Connie pulled out a tablet, not a slate kind of tablet or the kind that ancient Babylonians used, but an electronic tablet that is connected to the Internet.
“Here is your first song,” he said and played this.
“This did not make me feel better,” I said.
“You could grow your hair out and wear it like the lead singer did in the video. Here look,” said Randolpho.
“I do not think so,” I said.
“Oh come on Vlad, with those golden locks,” said Randolpho. Then he laughed. He has such a funny laugh that even I had to smile.
Then they played a third song.
“I might as well set myself on fire. This song is about a man who deserves to be left alone,” I said.
“I think this is your song,” said Connie, and he played yet another song.
“Yes, you will survive,” said Connie.
“But can you roller skate Vlad?” asked Randolpho.
“Of course I can roller skate,” I said. “Please no more songs. I am done with songs. Songs are no cure for what my heart needs at this time.”
“One more,” said my friends in unison.
“You may have well ripped my heart out forcing me to listen to that one,” I said. At that point my head was light and I had to lay down on the couch. The two cats jumped up with me.
“Just one more…” my friends said.
“You said that about the last one.”
“Stop,” I cried out almost feeling tears in my eyes.
I suddenly realize that I cannot order them to stop. I am no longer the King of Vampires. When I was locked in a crypt for three hundred years and presumed finally dead Vampires went out on their own. They adjusted and adapted. I feel as if I, what do they say, laid the ground work for them. Maybe that was not such a good thing. Vampires are now collectors of break-up songs.
“You need to forget about me and speak of something else,” I said.
“Connie is seeing a Werewolf,” said Randolpho.
“Why would you get in an entanglement with a Werewolf?” I asked.
Connie ran his hands through his hair. “I wouldn’t call it an entanglement. We’re close friends with extremely good benefits.”
“There could be extreme complications for a Vampire seeing a Werewolf,” I said.
“Not really,” said Connie. “We’re adults. We enjoy each other’s company. We know what we were getting into.”
“I hope you are happy my friend. That is all you can hope for,” I said.
“Thank you Vlad,” said Connie.
Back in my reign as King of Vampires there was an unspoken rule for Vampires to stay away from the company of Werewolves. As Gillian used to say, “Get with it Vlad. Times change.”
Yes, times do change. I do not have to like it. Randolpho and Constantine said I have to accept it. I would like to say I do not understand, but I understand this all too well.
My friend Constetine the well dressed Vampire stopped by my house this morning. I was still sleepless and heartbroken, yet glad for the company. This morning he was wearing not his usual suit but blue jeans and a white button down shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. I understand women love this look. I should not be thinking about women and what they find attractive.
He carried in one hand a holder with two cups of coffee. In the other hand he had a box with a handle that was covered with a pink towel.
“I thought you could use some coffee this morning,” he said.
“What is in the box?” I asked.
“First I must ask you Vlad how you are doing. I’ve been worried about you.”
“You are a good friend. I am better. It would be a lie to say I am doing, what is the term, fine. I am not fine. One day I will be fine, I hope.”
“You will be fine my friend.”
“Good. I know you will be. As for the box here. Well, now that the pandemic is more or less over, and we are free to roam, I went out for a bite to eat last night. I ran into a couple of my regular donors, a couple of delightful warm blooded young women I haven’t seen in months. One is type O and the other is A+.”
“Determining blood types is one things about the modern world that amazes me. We used to know there were different flavors, but never imagine the medical community would be naming them.”
“For their benefit not ours. Anyway, I had a delightful evening. We all got exactly what we wanted and needed. In the morning as I walked down the street to my car I passed an estate sale. There was a rack of marvelous silk ties from the 1950’s I had to have. Then I noticed this box on the front porch.” Connie took off the pink towel and in the box was a large orange and white tabby stripe cat.
He continued his story. “I asked the sellers why the cat was in a carrier on the porch. They said that the owner had passed away leaving the cat. Nobody wanted the poor kitty. He was going to be taken to a shelter. I looked into his eyes and saw sadness and fear. The poor thing reminded me of you. I asked to hold him. The cat, who is named Oliver, immediately started to purr and put his paws on my shoulder, and then he nuzzled his face into my neck. Vlad, I couldn’t leave him. It was meant to be. So meet my cat Oliver. He is ten years old and an absolute delight.”
“You will enjoy living with a cat.”
“Cats make everything better Vlad. Your cats love you so much. They’ll help you get through this mess with Gillian.”
My two cats then ran into the room and skidded on the rug, making it slide across the hardwood floor.
It is always good to have cats and Vampire friends.
Yes, I do believe, as the woman Gloria sang, I will survive.
Sunday mornings on the deck with coffee, a cat purring in my lap, a dog at my feet and my beautiful family still asleep upstairs equals something good. It is all good.
Of course it wasn’t always that way. I think of my kids. I’ve done a lot to make sure they’re strong and secure. I make sure they’re not open to con artists and bullies. I made sure that they learned to stand up for the weak and those who are different.
So why am I musing on such lofty parenting goals? It is because their witty, confident, successful and good looking dad was once the kid who went to school in fear each day because of bullies. Nobody thought anything of bullies back then, when I was a kid. It was part of the school culture. But you know, even as a kid I knew it was wrong and one day it would be over.
It was over for me by the time I was 13. I went to high school and reinvented myself into a funny smart semi-popular kid.
My mind went back to fifth grade – in particular to one kid. Ronnie Martin was the personification of a bully. He was Goofus in Highlights Magazine. He was a sadistic little shit who never let down on reminding me that I was smaller and weaker than he was. Ronnie amassed an army of schoolyard thugs up against me. I was taunted, tripped, lied about, and shunned by other kids. I never knew why his one goal in life was to make my life a living Hell.
Once we got to high school nobody would put us with his bullshit. He faded into the background of kids nobody sees. I was free.
So what brought these memories back on a beautiful Sunday morning?
Last Friday on the way home my 15 year old son and I stopped by the hardware store to pick up some supplies for a leaking faucet. I still had on my suit (important meeting at the Capitol that day) sans the jacket. My son had on a band shirt and skinny jeans (no sagging mind you.) We were a typical father and son – only my son was an inch taller than me. When did that tiny six pound baby grow to be six feet tall?
I’d sent Tristan off to find a new front doormat while I went through the thirty thousand small bins of washers.
Standing in isle 34 I heard a voice that made me go cold.
“Here kitty kitty.”
In fronting of me was Ronnie Martin. He was older and larger than I remembered. The last time I remember seeing him was 45 years ago in Freshman English class when a couple of popular kids told him nobody put up with bullies in our high school and that they liked me. Now here Ronnie was a big slob with a gray ponytail, bad ink on his arms and a shit eating grin on his face.
I had the misfortune to be named Bartholomew. My mother called me by my full name. I went by Bart. Ronnie picked up on the mew.
Back in elementary school Ronnie and his minions would follow me making pathetic mewing noises and yelling “here kitty kitty.” Someone once filled my desk with cat litter. Ronnie told the teacher I’d done it to get out of work. She believed him. I had to clean it up and was sent to the office where the principal lectured me on my bad behavior. Such was my life for the next three years.
Ronnie made sure I was always picked last on teams and that I never had a place to sit on the bus. Now I look back on it I realize that I was his obsession. It just seems so sick and twisted now.
The bully looked me up and down in isle 34 like some creeper looking at a pretty girl in short skirt. “So I hear you’re some sort of big shot. What are you the gay secretary?”
He knew I owned a successful advertising and PR agency. He must have known.
Tristan came up with a doormat looking curious at the big rough looking Buba blocking my way.
I tried to pass and Ronnie blocked me. I looked him in the eye. “The fact that you bullied me does not define me. The fact that you are a bully defines you and will always define you.”
“You’re still a pussy Bart. You’ll always be a pussy.”
I said nothing but I knew he’d always be an asshole.
Putting my arm around Tristan I headed for the check out.
“What was that about Dad?” My son gave me one of those amused WTF looks.
“Just some loser I knew in elementary school.”
Tristan started to laugh in that way teen boys laugh. I had to laugh too.
The Price of Love
a short story from Marla Todd
“He stole my heart,” she said.
I looked up at the pretty blonde woman in the pink silk blouse. She brushed back a pretty curl that had fallen across her big blue eyes. I had no time for her kind.
“I don’t deal in love potions or revenge. If you’d like I know a few other Witches I could recommend. They’re quite good.”
“You don’t understand, he literally stole my heart. I was supposed to have a transplant a few days ago and the bastard stole my new heart.”
She opened the top few buttons of her shirt to reveal a long line of stitches. “I was on the operating table, ready to have this pitiful damaged heart of mine removed, when the donor heart vanished. It literally vanished out of thin air, right there in the hospital, in front of the doctors. He said he’d steal my heart, but I never knew the bastard could actually be so ruthless.”
Then I noticed the oxygen tank she was wheeling behind her.
She pulled up a barstool and sat down next to me. “I know your rates are extremely high, but so is your success rate. I want my heart back. Will you take the job?”
Her name was Ava. She looked exhausted, and frankly, extremely ill, so I offered to take her home.
“How’d you know I didn’t take my own car here?” she asked.
“I’m a Witch. I know things. Besides, you’re in no condition to drive, and you don’t seem like a reckless person.”
Ava’s home was a modest house in a modest middle class neighborhood. Across the street a couple of guys were working on what looked like a 68’ Charger. Four middle school aged boys sat on the porch next door eating ice cream bars. Scooters and bicycles lay on the lawn in front of them. Two cats, an orange tabby and a solid black kitty sat on Ava’s doorstep. They both stood up when they saw us. I reached down to pet them.
“Meet Mr. Snickers and Mr. Darcy.” As the black one wound around my legs and meowed, Ava scratched the orange one behind his ears. “Hey Darcy. How’s my sweet baby?”
I helped her inside with oxygen tank. She kicked off her shoes by the front door, and I left mine by the door as well. We were greeted by a tall brown eyed guy, about 30 years old, with brown wavy hair and a short, neat beard.
“Devin, this is Isolde. Isolde this is my fiancé, Devin. Isolde is the one I told you about. She’s going to help find my heart.”
They led me to a living room filled with midcentury modern style furniture all done in blues and yellows with touches of orange. Original art and 1970’s movie posters hung on the wall.
I look at family photos on a bookcase shelf.
“That’s my brother Blake,” said Ava. “He’s in the Coast Guard.”
I smiled. “He looks like you.”
“Our parents passed away from Covid-19, early in the pandemic. If I die…I’m all he has. We don’t have any other family.”
“I’ll find your heart Ava,” I said. “Blake won’t be alone.” I wasn’t sure if that was going to happen but I had to stay positive.
I sat in a blue chair. Devin brought out beers for him and me, while Ava had a glass of sparkling water.
I started in on the questions. “Ava tell me why you think Jon Blanken might have stolen your heart. What was your relationship? What happened to make him want to take your heart? Who are his friends and associates. Are they also into the occult or magic? Do you know where he is now?”
Ava had mentioned his name in the bar and again in the car. She told me Jon Blanken dabbled in the occult, but his name didn’t ring a bell with me.
Ava gave an uncomfortable glance at Devin.
“It’s ok honey,” said Devin, taking Ava’s hand.
Standing in the corner was the faint image of a woman wearing a black dress and rather long colorful scarf. I knew Ava and Devin couldn’t see her.
“Go on Ava,” I said, ignoring the apparition, who was now waving her hands at me.
Then Ava took a sip of water and told me about Jon Blanken.
It was the age old story of a young woman swept off her feet by a charming handsome man who seemed as rich as he was sexy.
Ava didn’t have any clear photos of him. Blanken refused to have his photo taken. He’d laugh it off and make jokes about it.
When they were together, he’d take her phone, saying something about his business and that he didn’t want to be tracked.
Jon Blanken dazzled and bewitched Ava with his charming ways and his wealth. He controlled her every move. He changed the way she dressed and fixed her hair. It was as if he was grooming her to be his own perfect woman. He demanded perfection in the most loving of ways, or at least his version of perfection. Ava was in an abusive relationship that had come on so slowly and methodical that she didn’t even know it.
Then one day she told him she was going to a job interview, for her dream job, and Jon Blanken said no. Then Ava evaluated the situation and left.
Jon Blanken begged her to return, then he began to use threats. Then he vanished.
Ava moved on with her life. A year later she met Devin. It clicked. She became ill. Devin stayed with her. Then Devin asked Ava to marry him.
Jon Blanken contacted her when her name was put on the donor list. He was angry she’d become ill, especially after all he’d done for her. What he said didn’t make any sense to Ava. She refused to meet with him. He threatened her, then it was over. She didn’t hear from him again, but she was still frightened and more than frightened – she was angry.
I asked her where he was now. Ava didn’t know. She and Devin had looked and done the usual Internet searches, but they couldn’t find a trace of Jon Blanken. It was as if he never existed. Ava and Devin even drove by Blanken’s house or where his house used to be. The large home had burned to the ground, the beautiful gardens that once surrounded it were now dead. None of the neighbors knew what happened or where he’d gone. Property records lead nowhere. The Blanken house belonged to a family trust with apparently no living members since 1954. The state was trying to find heirs with no luck, and if no heirs were found, the property would eventually be put up for public auction.
At that point I was going to ask why Ava thought Blanken was into the occult when Mr. Snickers and Mr. Darcy started playing with some beaded fringe on my bag. The two cats knocked it open and out rolled my crystal ball.
“You know my dear,” said a voice behind me, “you ought to be more careful with your orb.”
Ava and Devin gasped, and both looked shocked as if they’d seen a ghost. I smiled. They had seen a ghost. It was Charlie, the ghost who sometimes resides in my crystal ball.
Charlie, who refuses to go his given name of Charles, looks like the dashing leading man right out of a 1930’s romantic comedy. He stood with his million dollar smile, pencil thin mustache, and dark hair brushed back off his face, and bowled us all over with presence. At least that was his goal.
“Oh, right. Ava, Devin, this is Charlie. He helps me out sometimes. Charlie is a ghost,” I said.
“Sometimes? Oh please, Isolde, I help you out ALL of the time.” Then he turned to Ava and Devin. “I’m so sorry to barge in like this. I know it is such a surprise to see a ghost. Unfortunately, there is a ghost in your house that you can’t see. Her name is Asia. Dear Ava, she is your heart donor.”
Then Charlie took Asia by the hand and they both vanished into the crystal ball. I didn’t wait for Ava or Devin to get over their shock.
“My heart donor? Wait, I need to talk to her,” said Ava, almost in a panic.
“No,” I said. “You don’t need to talk to her right now. You need to get some rest. In the meantime, I’m going to need some help finding your heart. You’ve given me a lot of useful information but since we’re dealing with something far more sinister than an asshole of a former boyfriend I’m going to consult with a friend of mine.”
“Who? Will it cost more?” Ava asked.
“The price will stay the same. My associate, my friend, can find anything.”
“Tell us about him first,” said Devin.
“My friend was once tasked with finding Marie Antionette’s jewels. Aren’t we all. Everyone thinks there are jewels out there, but most are just rumors and wishful thinking.”
“Did he find them?” Devin asked.
“Well, no,” I said, “but he did find a box of trinkets that belonged to the headless queen. There were a few ribbons, a child’s ring, a lock of hair from a lover along with a poorly written but extremely explicit love letter, and a few more milder love letters, and small items such as buttons, and a collection of tiny ceramic animals. There was also a vial full of brownish gray water.”
“Of course not.”
“So nothing,” said Devin. “What was in the vial? Was it Marie Antionette’s tears?”
“It wasn’t tears,” I said.
“What was in the vial then?” Devin asked impatiently.
“Marie Antionette’s soul,” I told him.
The was a hush in the room as it something had sucked all of the air out of it.
“Her soul? That’s ridiculous,” said Devin.
“Not any more ridiculous than Ava’s heart vanishing into thin air as she lay on the operating table with her skin peeled back ready to have her chest cavity cracked open.”
Devin downed the rest of his beer and stood up. “Sorry, I’m having a hard time processing all of this. It’s bad enough that Eva needs a heart transplant, but…I don’t know…” His eyes watered up and he wiped his eyes with the back of his hand.
“What happened to the vial?” Eva asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “What I do know is that he never opened it, and that it is in a safe place.”
After finishing up with Ava and Devin I went home. With Charlie’s help I did some research on everything I had so far. I consulted with my crystal ball, made a few phone calls, and did a little research on both the Internet and the Dark Web. Then with Charlie and Asia tucked away in my purse (in the crystal ball of course) I headed out to the home of the one person who could help me solve this mystery of the missing heart.
After changing into something nice, grabbing a change of clothes for the next day, and a packing couple of good bottles of wine from my cellar, I headed up the road to see my friend, and treasure hunter extraordinaire, Fortunato Alexander Flannigan Orlando Rogers. Don’t laugh. Guys like him rock the long names. Before I left I did a quick spell on the parameter of my house to keep out any intruders. I never know when I’m working on a case like this what might happen when I’m gone. I also brought along Maisey, my twelve year old Golden Retriever.
As I wound up the narrow road into the hills above Los Angeles Charlie had jumped out of my crystal ball and sat in the passenger seat. Maisey sat in the back with her head out the window.
“This is a tough one, even for Fortunato,” said Charlie. “It would make a great movie.”
“If you weren’t a ghost you could star in it,” I said.
“Write, produce, and direct it too,” said Charlie. Then he let out a big sigh and looked out the window.
We arrived at a house that was a marvel of Arts and Crafts design with a view of the valley and the ocean to the west, and the mountains to the east. As far as I was concerned, and for many more reasons than the design, it was a bit of Heaven on Earth.
The front door opened with a flood of light into the dark night. A man of average height, but uncommon charisma greeted us. Fortunato kissed me on the cheek, then nodded to Charlie. Maisey wiggled her rump as our host gave her a treat.
Dinner was on the grill out on the deck by the infinity pool. A red tailed hawk flew up and landed on the Catalina tile table next to me. “Hello Aurora,” I said to the bird and stroked her feathers. She was Fortunato’s familiar, the finder of lost dreams, and the finder of the occasional rabbit.
As we dined on steaks, grilled vegetables and a wonderful California Zinfandel, I told Fortunato everything I knew about Ava’s heart.
He listened without interruption.
“Tell me more about Ava,” Fortunato said as he leaned back and took a sip of his wine. “What does she do for a living?”
“Ava works for the city. She is in charge of coordinating and implementing improvements and programs to help the city withstand natural disasters. She also helps develop planning and housing policy in the office of economic development. In her spare time she runs a couple of community gardens. That includes outreach to marginalized populations, and programs for senior citizens. Her fiancé Devin is a High School English teacher. He runs creative writing programs for the teens and helps then get published in his spare time. He also volunteers at a cat shelter. That’s where the cat Mr. Darcy came from.”
“They sound like a socially responsible young couple. I’m impressed. Does Ava have any enemies?”
“No. Or at least none that I could find. I checked up on Devin as well. He’s a good guy. Their families are also just nice regular people.”
“Any paranormal connections?”
“I haven’t seen you for a few weeks. How are you?”
“Fine I guess. I’ve been going to the dog beach a lot with Maisey.”
“Sound like fun. I need to join you sometime.”
“That would be great. I’ve been getting a lot of business lately from Reality TV stars. Most of them might as well have sold their souls already, but I’m doing my best to keeping it real for them. Anyway, it more than pays the bills.”
“Are you seeing anyone?”
“Not really. You?”
He smiled. “No, I’m not.”
Later that night I woke up alone. Fortunato’s side of the bed was still warm. The last thing I remembers was falling asleep with his arms and legs wrapped around me and head against my shoulder. I slipped one of his robes and went out to the den where he often works.
I could see him at the table, in front of a large window with the view of a full moon and the city lights down below. Three cups were in front of him. He had the cards spread out on the table.
“I woke up with a weird feeling about some of the things you’d told me,” he said. “Have a seat.”
“Did you discover anything?”
“I keep getting an overwhelming sense of love from both Ava and her heart donor, as well as Devin. The vibes off of Jon Blanken were not so good. In fact they were disturbing.”
“Look at the cups.”
All three cups were filled with red liquid. Blood.
“Ava got herself tangled up with a Vampire.”
“Did he take her heart? Why?”
“I don’t know yet. There is also a question of what happened the night Asia, the heart donor died. She comes up as nothing but trouble. She never had any jail time but has come close.”
“Fights, disruptive public behavior, stalking, and an assortment of other general asshole stuff. Our girl Asia has annoyed just about everyone she has ever met.”
“Maybe we need to talk to her.”
“I was thinking the same thing.”
I got out my crystal ball and summoned her out of it. Charlie also came out.
Asia appeared in a black party dress with a huge wildly colored scarf. Her long dark hair was curled and still messy from her wild dancing the night she died. For someone who was such a social outcast she was surprisingly pretty. Then again so were my Reality TV clients, but come to think of it they had the help of plastic surgery. Asia came by it naturally.
Asia looked around. “Hey, wow, this is a nice place. Look at that view.”
“Asia,” I said, “This is Fortunato. He is going to help me find your heart.”
“Cool,” she said. Then she winked at me. “He’s cute. You doing the nasty with him?”
I just gave her a slight smile. Charlie snorted and put his hand over his mouth to keep from laughing.
Asia kept talking. “So do you guys have any clues yet? I mean, you’re sort of like paranormal investigators or something like that.”
“Something like that,” said Fortunato. I believe something other than human has taken your heart Asia. That is the reason your soul is still locked here in the mortal world.”
“You gotta be effing kidding me. Even now I can’t get a break. I should have known something like this would have happened. Paranormal my ass. This is para-abnormal,” said Asia.
“If it isn’t too painful for you Asia, please tell us about the night you died,” said Fortunato.
Asia sat her ghostly form down in a chair and wrapper her garish shawl around her shoulders and arms. “It isn’t painful at all. I mean, it was at the time, but not now. My boyfriend Quinn and I went to Raven Nest. It’s a brewpub. One of our regular places. Was one of our regular places. A band I like, Tumble Buns, was playing. Have you heard of Tumble Buns?”
Charlie, Fortunato, and I all said no.
“They’re great. Sort of a Rock-a-Billy Emo band. Anyway, as soon as we get there, Quinn ditches me. When I find Quinn he says it is over. He broke up with me right there in front of everyone. What the crap? We just got there.
I ask him why. He tells me I have no redeemable qualities. I asked him to explain. He says first off that I eat his food. So I steal a fry or onion ring from time to time. So what? Everybody does it. Then he says I dress funny. I have a unique style. I’m artistic and a free spirit. Then he says I talk too much. So, I tell him I have a lot to say. Then he says I’m boring in bed because he can’t get me to, well, you know, see fireworks. That isn’t my fault. I told him he doesn’t know what he is doing. It isn’t my fault.
I tried to talk to him, but he called me a self-centered selfish freak. Self-centered? Selfish? I only thought of HIM. It was always about HIM. I can’t believe how mean Quinn was to me that night. We’d been together for, what, six months? Yeah, six months. Almost seven.
After that I went out on the dance floor and danced by myself. I didn’t care who was looking at me. Some girl called me a freak and asked me if I was on drugs. All I did was accidently brush her arm with my scarf. I wasn’t even drunk. Some people are so mean. I called her a bitch and told her boyfriend that I bet she faked it when they screwed. Then Mr. Bitch’s Boyfriend starts yelling at me. And no, I didn’t respond. By then everyone was looking at me so I went to the bar and found a place next to Quinn. He told me I was the worst person in the world and that I was an embarrassment and left.
No sooner had I sat down on his stool I heard POW POW POW. Some asshole was standing right there with a gun, you know one of those big black automatic things that looks like it is out of some military movie. A couple next to me froze like rabbits. Awww man. I put my arms around them and another chick and got them down on the floor under the bar. I told them they’d be ok and not to be scared. And that was it. The guy shot the top of my head off. Just like that. KABAM. SPLAT. DONE.
Then Quinn has the nerve to blubber like a baby in front of the news cameras because his girlfriend Asia, a true hero, had died. Fuck him.”
“You saved three people.”
“Better them than me. Really. I know I’m weird. I know I say stupid things. Nobody gives a crap about me. The people I save were normal. They didn’t deserve to die.”
“You didn’t deserve to die either.”
“I guess, maybe, maybe not, but I saved more than three people. There were three at the bar. Then, because I was an organ donor, my eyes went to someone, my kidneys, my liver. Even my face.
Yeah, I donated my face. I’m pretty weird, but I’m also pretty pretty if you know what I mean. A sweet woman who had her face blown off by some dirt bag ex-boyfriend got my pretty face. How cool is that? She’ll be able to have a normal life again. I never had a normal life, but now she can with my face. With MY face.
But my heart. Someone took my heart and now… You know, after I died, everyone else who died and I sort of traveled down this path towards a light. It was like hiking through the redwoods, but I’ve never been to see the redwoods because nobody would ever go with me. Then I was back here. Poof. Just like that. I want to go down that redwood path again. You have to find my heart and give it to Ava. She needs my heart. I want her to have it. She deserves it. I want to go back to the redwoods.”
Then Asia gave us an especially serious look furrowing her pretty ghost brows. “Asia. Ava. Our names even sound sort of alike. It was meant to be. I didn’t do shit when I was alive. Now that I can make a difference, son of a bitch, nothing ever goes right for me, even when I do the right thing.”
“Shhhhhh. We’ll find your heart Asia,” I said.
“God damn Quinn. He’s the kind of guy who eats bubble gum flavored ice cream. No adult should eat bubble gum ice cream. It should have been the top his head that was blown off.”
“Would Quinn want your heart Asia?” Fortunato asked her.
“Hell no. He already has a new boring vanilla regular normal girlfriend. It’s freaking pathetic. Holy crap, my death is the best thing that ever happened to him.”
I didn’t tell Asia that I’d already contacted Quinn. He was a nice normal guy. He had been devastated by what happened to Asia.
“Asia was kind of a lost soul, but she had a good heart. I remember when she put the donor designation on her driver’s license. She was so proud. A month later she was dead.”
“Do you know who might have taken her heart?” I asked.
“No,” said Quinn said, as he wiped away a tear with the back of his hand.
I had Charlie take Asia back into the crystal ball. She’d just get into more trouble if she was allowed to ramble around in Fortunato’s home. Plus I’d know where she was if I needed more information from her.
Right now our most important task was finding Jon Blanken. Actually the most important task was getting a few hours more sleep, and maybe, well, some more quality personal time with Fortunato.
As the sun came up in the morning I kicked the ghosts out of my crystal ball and got to work searching for Jon Blanken. Fortunato was out on his deck meditating and hopefully getting some messages from wherever he gets his messages.
After about twenty minutes he came inside. “Have you had coffee yet? I’m making some.”
Over coffee, fruit, and some exceptionally good bagels, he told me he’d found Jon Blanken. The coward had burned down his house and escaped to one of his other properties in Palm Springs.
We left Maisey at the house with Charles and Asia and took off for a visit with Blanken. The drive was a little over two hours. I might be a Witch but I don’t ride a broom. We took Fortunato’s hybrid SUV and talked along the way.
It was also so comfortable and familiar between us. For over fifty years we’d worked together, become friend, then become more than friends. For all of the time I’d known him there was still something mysterious about him. He was incredibly spiritual and kind, but at the same time he was one of the most savage beings I’d ever met. I still didn’t know quite how old he was or where he had come from. The answers were always vague and hidden away in dark places even I didn’t dare go. He was whatever he needed to be, which was fine with me.
We arrived at a modern atomic age glass structure surrounded by century plants and barrel cactus planted in tan colored rocks.
“Nice house,” I said.
“I guess, if you like that kind of thing,” said Fortunato.
There was no need to knock. I spouted off a spell and blew the door off of its hinges.
Blanken was sitting on the couch binge watching Somebody Feed Phil on Netflix. He sat stunned as we entered in a cloud of blue smoke (my own special touch.)
“Who the hell are you?” the Vampire Blanken asked.
“Where is Ava’s heart?” Fortunato asked as he walked up to Blanken.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Blanken.
Fortunato grabbed Blanken by the neck and lifted him about six inches off of the ground. “Where is Ava’s heart?”
“I don’t have it,” Blanken hissed out.
“Tell us what you did with it then,” said Fortunato as he tightened his grip, then dropped the Vampire to the floor. Blanken hissed showing his fangs.
Fortunato laughed at him. “You’re such a pathetic little rat. Where is Ava’s heart?”
“You don’t understand,” whined Blanken. “I was turning her. I was taking it slow.”
“Turning her? As in turning Ava into a Vampire?” I said shocked by the revelation.
“Yes, do I have to spell it out? I was turning her into a Vampire. She didn’t know. When she left me I was half way through. It damaged her heart.”
“She didn’t know? That is unacceptable even for the worst of Vampires. You’re nothing but an opportunistic ghoul,” I said.
“You destroyed her heart,” said Fortunato. “Why didn’t you go after her and finish it?”
Jon Blanken started to fidget and his bottom lip started to quiver. “You don’t know Ava. She’s strong. I’ve never met a woman who was so strong. I couldn’t keep her. She turned me away.”
“The you stole the heart that was going to replace the one you damaged,” said Fortunato.
“It wasn’t like that,” snapped Blanken.
“Then tell me what it was like Blanken? What did you do with the heart?”
“I sold it.”
“Because if Ava had a new heart she’d never take me back. I’d never be able to turn her into a Vampire.”
“Ava’s heart is beyond repair by your inept attempts. You will never be able to turn her into a Vampire you idiot,” said Fortunato.
“Who did you sell it to?” I asked.
“The Demon Goblin Queen. She is auctioning it off tonight to the highest bidder.”
“Oh shit,” I said. “Fortunato, we’d better get going.”
I called Ava and updated her on the situation. Devin insisted on going along with us. I tried to talk him out of it, but finally Fortunato agreed to have him along.
We arrived just in time to the auction house of The Demon Goblin Queen, Belinda Bozella. The last time I was here was when I purchased a vat of dried elf skin I needed for some rather difficult spells. That must have been at least thirty years ago.
The auction house was crowded with just a few seats left in the back. Devin looked around at the crowd no doubt wondering what horror film he’d just walked into.
Belinda Bozella stood at the auction block, all tightly wrapped in a silver and black wiggle dress, with red hair piled about three feet above her head. Then with a brief introduction she started the bidding. “One human heart. Belonged to a twenty six year old female human. A heart taken from the operating table as it waited to be transplanted into the chest of another. What will you give for it.”
The would be buyers called out their offers.
“Joaquim Murrieta’s Head,” called out a man in a green plaid jacket.
“Adolph Hitler’s Dirty Underwear,” yelled a demon.
“The skull of a nun,” another screamed out. “A nun who killed twenty children and a priest.”
“Twenty million dollars,” said someone in the front row.
“A load of unicorn manure,” a woman yelled out.
“My heart. You can take my heart in exchange for Asia’s heart,” rang out a voice so sweet and pure that half of the crowd winced in pain.
“No, Devin. No” I said.
“Retract that bid,” called out Fortunato.
Belinda shook her head. “There are no retractions allowed, unless of course…” She smiled a smile full of sharp white teeth. “You would like to give me Isolde’s dog Maisey.”
“No. Absolutely not,” said Devin.
Belinda squinted at Devin. “Who are you?”
“He’s a high school English teacher. He teaches AP English and creative writing. His heart is useless to you,” said Fortunato.
“Why do you want this heart English teacher?” Belinda asked.
Devin stood up and answered. “It was supposed to go to the woman I love. It was stolen off of the operating table by the Vampire Jon Barkins.”
“I see,” said Belinda.
“No, you don’t see,” said Devin. “She needs this heart.”
Fortunato stood up next to him. “Devin please, stop talking. Belinda, his heart is no use to you. The man is just a normal guy. There is no magic in him.”
“There is no magic in the heart he wishes to purchase either,” said Belinda.
My purse jolted and Asia jumped out of the crystal ball. “Excuse me. That was my heart you’re talking about bitch. There is plenty of magic in it. Go fuck yourself and give the English teacher MY HEART.”
Belinda looked annoyed. “You’re a ghost. What do you care?”
“Blow me,” snapped Asia.
Belinda’s face became a mask of anger. “One more word and you will be removed permanently, and young lady I mean permanently as in forever. Does anyone else wish to bid?”
“The propeller of Amelia Earhart’s plane,” yelled someone with a horn coming out of his forehead.
“Cromwell’s Head,” yelled a man with a long white beard.
“No, I don’t need any more heads,” yelled Belinda.
“Mata Hari’s head,” yelled a man in a white suit standing in the back.
“I said no more heads,” roared Belinda.
“The Oak Island Treasure,” cried someone from the middle.
Belinda rolled her eyes. “Oh please. Don’t waste my time.”
The she scanned the crowd and yelled, “The heart of the woman loved by the poor pathetic High School English teacher. Going once, going twice.”
“Marie Antionette’s Soul,” a voice rang out strong and clear.
Belinda looked shocked. “Fortunato, you have Marie Antionette’s soul?”
“Yes, I do,” he said.
Belinda smiled. “Really?”
“Would I lie to you Belinda?”
“You’d part with it for this common heart?”
“It’s not common,” yelled Asia.
“Asia, hush,” I hissed at her.
“Yes, the heart is more valuable to me than the soul of a headless queen. I’ll throw in a petrified piece of cake and a couple of extremely dirty love letters to sweeten the deal,” said Fortunato.
“What else?” Belinda asked.
“A kiss,” said Fortunato.
Belinda smiled, “From you?”
Belinda slammed her gavel down. “Sold to Fortunato Rogers.”
A resounding cheer went up.
The following morning Asia’s heart was put into Ava’s chest where it began to beat strong and steady.
Asia kissed Charlie and took a walk along the redwood path towards the light.
I went back to my house by the beach with Charlie and Maisey. That afternoon I had a Zoom call with the California Witch’s Alliance. After taking care of some paperwork and taking a long shower I sat on a chair in my backyard and tried to clear my brain.
The love that Devin had for Ava blew me over. It was something that might seem so rare to some, but was it really? Who wouldn’t give their heart to save the person they love the most? Then I thought about Asia and how she threw herself over three strangers to save them and didn’t even seem to care that she died. Her happiness came from somewhere in a deep place that we all have, but rarely even know it exists.
Then I thought about Fortunato. That was a bad idea. He was brilliant, and sexy, and scary, and a total mystery, and if I kept this up I was going to end up with a damaged heart.
Then I heard a familiar voice say my name.
I turned to see Fortunato standing there.
“Hello. I didn’t expect to see you,” I said.
He smiled. “We have some unfinished business Isolde.”
“Well,” I said, “I hope you’ve rinsed your mouth out and wiped all of the Goblin spit off of your lips.”
Fortunato smiled at me and laughed.
Like a good Witch I was ready for the night. Ready to solve another mystery. And ready to believe.
I usually don’t answer my phone when I see a number I don’t recognize but I was expecting a call from a big potential client. If I got this contact it would pay for my daughter’s first year in graduate school with maybe some left over.
Me: Hello this is Astrid.
My caller: Hi Astrid, I met your son Sam the other day at the Disk Bay Observatory. He told me you’d painted the mural in the lobby. Your work is beautiful.
It wasn’t Louanne Freeman, the woman who wanted half a dozen insanely expensive and historic paintings restored.
Me: Who is this?
My caller: Nevil Simon.
Me: Oh my goodness. goodness. Nev Simon.
He went on a bit about what he’d been doing for the past thirty five years. Just a bit. Astrophysics. Divorce. No kids. Two cats. He’d looked up my online portfolio.
Nevil Simon wanted to see me. Let’s back up a bit. I’m a 60 year old widow with three kids who are all out of the house, but still in college. Nevil Simon, an old flame from my college days contacted me. Yes, that Nevil. The one I never talked about but never forgot.
We met in at his cabin in Tahoe. The weather was perfect, but we still ended up spending most of our time inside.
On the last night there, over steaks and a nice bottle of Zinfandel, Nevil smiled and took my hand. I looked into his big brown eyes, with those long lashes, and thought he was going to tell me something horribly romantic.
“Some friends of mine invited me to go with them to the Snow Mountain Wilderness to find Bigfoot. Come with us. It will be fun,” he said. “A real adventure.”
Maybe at my age I shouldn’t be thinking of romance.
“Are you serious? Bigfoot?”
He laughed. “I don’t want to go alone. I need another sane person there with me.”
“It will be in the 90’s and there will be a million rattle snakes,” I said.
“The nights cool down to the 50’s.”
But my heart fluttered a bit. More than a bit. Damn, at 61 Nevil was still hot. “Fine, I’ll wear my heavy boots,” I said.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to go into the wilderness and sleep on the ground in a tent. The Snow Mountain Wilderness is beautiful. I didn’t want to go into the wilderness with a group of die hard cryptozoologists. I didn’t want to go out into the woods at night with night gear goggles and listen for the howls of giant hairy humanoid creatures who might or might not exist.
It all just seemed weird.
But I was going anyway. I was going because of a boy. A sixty one year old boy.
Nevil told me not to worry about food but I’m a mom, so I packed a few things. Old habits die hard. I packed wine, and cheese, and chocolate. I read that Bigfoots, or Bigfeets, or Sasquatches, or Squatches, or whatever, I heard they liked apples and other gifts, so I brought apples. I like apples so they wouldn’t be wasted. I couldn’t’ believe I was packing apples for am eight foot tall mythical beast.
I also packed stuff for smores, and Smokehouse almonds, because large hairy creatures in the wilderness might like something that wasn’t squirrel meat or acorns or whatever the hell they eat, if they do indeed exist and eat. I figured if the Bigfoots didn’t want to make smores I’d make them for the humans. Everyone loves smores.
I told my kids where I was going and what I’d be doing. They couldn’t stop laughing. They asked me to take lots of pictures, and told me to have fun and be careful. Sam told me to bring condoms. His siblings, Rachael and Chase laughed out loud. I love my kids.
The drive to the turn off for the Big Foot Camp was a three and a half hour drive. It gave Nevil and I an opportunity to catch up that didn’t involve alcohol or sex.
“So, why’d you ask me to this Big Foot thing again?” I asked.
“I thought you’d be up for it. You always liked weird things, so I decided to look you up.”
“Maybe weird wasn’t the right word. Fantasy things. Lord of the Rings, Maxfield Parrish posters, fairies, Dracula, gothic things, you know.”
“That was in college. I liked the art. In fact, I’ve made a lucrative career out of it.”
“I know. Inert foot in mouth Nev. But you like camping.”
“I don’t believe we’ll see anything but it will be fun. You know, kind of like an old fashioned snipe hunt.”
“Well, now that you put it that way…”
“I wanted to see you again Astrid.”
As I reached to take his hand the car bumped off of the paved road onto dirt and we came to a dusty stop behind a FedEx truck.
The driver waved. Nevil rolled down the window. “What are you doing way out here? Delivering to the ranger station?”
“I’m not sure who it is. I’ve never seen them. They have a bear proof box about a hundred feet up this drive. I drop off packages every few weeks. Sometimes I pick up. Living off the grid I guess. The names are always funny like Alba Tross, or Harry Balls. Hey, changing the subject, there’s been some trouble up the road. Missing college students or something like that. Be careful.”
He waved us on, and we continued for another half hour down the road. We made jokes about the Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine Van showing up any minute now.
The camp was set up when we arrived.
A big guy with a round face named Bill greeted us with hugs. The other Bigfoot Hunters, Janice, Mike, and Drew welcomed us as well. We were told they’d heard a lot of howling the night before and heard something large in the woods. According to Bill we were in for the adventure of a lifetime. Oh boy.
Just as we settled down for beer, chips, and salsa with the group a couple of vehicles drove up. One was a truck from the National Forest Service. The other was a Glenn County Sherriff’s SUV. The officer from Glenn County explained to us that three college students had gone missing. It wasn’t the first time this year. Foul play was expected. Blood had been found on their car along bullet holes.
Two male suspects were at large and considered armed and dangerous. If we saw a couple of white men in their 40’s with shaved heads and racists neck tattoos we were told to call the sheriff’s office or 911 right away. They handed us flyers with pictures of the men.
The two National Forest Service Rangers told us to stay off the trails at night, as if that was going to stop a group of seasoned Bigfoot hunters.
I asked Nevil about it. He said we’d be fine. That was small comfort to me. My husband had been murdered. When I heard of events like this it was never fine in my mind.
At dusk I walked to the nearby creek to watch the sunset and maybe see some wildlife. Nevil was catching up with his friends. Honestly, I had no idea what they were talking about and just needed a few minutes by myself. By the water I met a couple of young men, who were out birdwatching. They were maybe in their early 20’s. The one who introduced himself as Josh was a ghostly pale skinny kid with blue eyes and blonde hair tied back in a ponytail. The other, Daniel, was dark with curly black hair and brown eyes behind round wire rimmed glasses. I thought about my kids, then I thought about the killers with swastikas tattooed on their necks.
“Hey, guys,” I said. “Be careful out here.”
Daniel promised me they would.
Then out of the blue Josh and Daniel said they knew where the Bigfoot camp was. Josh gave me directions that I wrote down in the small sketchbook I always carry with me. When I looked up from the paper and they were gone. Maybe it was the mosquitos, or they were bored of a gray haired woman old enough to be their mother.
Later that night I got up for my own call of nature. On the way back to the tent I saw Josh and Daniel again. They waved. I waved. Nevil came out to find me, and Daniel recognized him as one of their former professors. He recognized the kid and they talked for a bit. He’d gotten into graduate school at UCLA. They’d talk later. They were camping nearby. Then Josh reminded us of the map. Then the young friends started down the trail, but not before they turned off their lantern. I could hear them talking softly to each other, then Nevil and I headed back to our own tent.
Nevil stopped me before we entered our camp. “Look up. What do you see?”
“A zillion stars. Oh my god it is beautiful. I don’t remember that last time I saw this many stars.”
“Do you see it up there?” He pointed.
“The big dipper and little dipper.”
“Also known as the big and little bears. See that bright star below the big dipper? That is Arcartus. It is on the end of the constellations Boötes the Herdsman. The herdsman can be seen driving his great plow, in a great circle around Polaris, the north star. With his two trusted hunting dogs, which are represented by the constellation Canes Venatici on his right. Asterion is the northern dog and Chara is the southern dog. I always imagined them to be huge wolfhounds or retrievers of some sort. Boötes also resides next to three constellations: Hercules and Corona Borealis are on his left. Below him, Virgo in all her glory shines bright, perhaps waiting for him to seduce her along their trip across the Milky Way.
As he spoke, he stood behind me with his arms around my waist, holding me tight.
“Was Arcartus anyone?” I asked.
“It means Guardian of the Bear. It keeps the big and little bear safe. Arcartus would look orange if we had a telescope. I’ll bring one next time, or better yet you can come spend a weekend with me.” He turned me around and kissed me. “A weekend without Bigfoot.”
“That would be awesome.”
“Astrid,” he whispered. “Shining bright.”
“My name doesn’t mean star.” I said, then felt stupid.
“It means divinely beautiful.”
“How’d you know that?”
“I looked it up.”
If he’d been anyone else I would have called him out, but tonight I didn’t care.
The next morning over coffee and bacon we were called love birds by the other Bigfoot hunters who all made kissy noises.
So the big foot hunt was on.
We trooped around for hours covered in layers of sweat, sunscreen, and dirt. Then, after dinner, as it grew dark, we heard knocking.
The knocking could have been caused by people. I bet pot growers in the National Forests did it all the time to freak people out. There was a howl, but it could have been anything or anyone. Still, I had chills up my spine. I couldn’t stop thinking about the young people who were missing. It could have been my kids and their friends. It could have been Nevil and I if we’d taken the wrong turn or showed up a few days earlier.
As it grew darker, Nevil and I went down the narrow trail. The knocking became louder with the knocks closer together, almost in a rough rhythm. Sort of like toddlers banging on pans.
I shrugged off my pack and dug out a couple of flashlights. When I turned towards Nevil he was gone.
Knock knock knock, in front of me. Then knock knock knock, behind me.
I called for Nevil.
“Astrid. I’m here.”
I turned around.
In front of me stood my husband. Yes, the same husband who’d been dead for eighteen years. I suddenly realized, the same husband whose murder had never been solved.
“Phil.” I could barely get my voice to work.
“You’ll see two young men. You’ve met them before. You will also see third stranger. The stranger will be wearing a yellow neon hunting vest and a bandana. Follow them.”
“Do as I say?”
I stepped towards Phil. I was going to turn on my flashlight, but I didn’t have to. He sort of glowed, kind of like one of those old fashioned Santas, or a jellyfish in an aquarium, or a million other ways my overly visual brain started to fill my head with.
“I’m not exactly a ghost Astrid. I can’t stay long.”
“I’m here to help.”
“What? How? Why? Why haven’t I seen you before now?”
“I can’t say.”
“You’ve done a great job rising them. I am so proud of them all grown up and in school, on their own.”
“Of course I do.”
I stepped forward. “Phil, I’ve missed you so much.”
“I love you baby, always and forever. On the other hand, I’m not here and you’re still in the world of the living. Follow the boys. Give Nevil a chance. He’s a good man. Tonight follow the boys.”
“I love you,” I said.
Then he smiled at me and vanished.
I turned around and there stood Nevil.
“There you are,” he said. “I thought I’d lost you. Are you alright?”
“You look like you’re about to cry.”
He took me in his arms and hugged me tight. I closed my eyes and hugged back.
When I opened my eyes, I saw a strange pair of eyes over Nevil’s shoulder. The largest person I’d ever seen in my entire life stood there glaring at me with a bandana over his face, a cap on his head, and a neon yellow vest. His eyes were a weird yellowish brown that looked like uranium glass under an ultraviolet light. He must have been almost seven feet tall with the build of a professional offensive lineman.
“Come. The camp is this way,” he said. I tried to catch his accent but couldn’t make it out. Scottish maybe?
“Who are you?” Nevil asked.
“Doctor Nev, you know stars. Come with me.”
Daniel and Josh stood smiling behind the large stranger.
“There you are Astrid, Dr. Nev,” said Josh. “Come on. We gotta go.”
Nevil wasn’t so sure. He pulled me aside.
“We don’t know anything about these guys.”
“I trust them.”
“Are you nuts? Why?”
“Stop acting like I’m some stupid silly college girl. I have a successful business. I’ve raised three wonderful children, mostly on my own. My husband was murdered. The killer was never found. I’ve been dealing with shit for years…on my own, so don’t question me. I don’t have to explain anything. If you want to stay behind that is your choice, but I’m going with these guys.”
“That guy is huge, dressed like he’s out of some weird survivalist cult.”
“Says the man who too me to a Bigfoot hunting expedition. Trust me Nev. Trust me.”
We hiked for another twenty minutes down a narrow trail lit by a small flashlight carried by the big man up front. The two young men walking behind us talked about something we couldn’t hear and laughed the way only young men do, with that sort of joyful raspy kind of unapologetic way.
Then, our large guide stopped. The boys were quiet. The clearing in front of us lit up with lanterns and torches.
There stood fifteen large extremely hairy people in various styles of clothing, or no clothing. Only they weren’t people. They were Bigfoots. Our guide took off his bandana.
“Welcome,” he said. “Take these children home. Do what you will with the other two.”
By a fire Josh and Daniel lay underneath sleeping bags. A young woman sat by them. She looked up. What the…they were just standing next to us.
“Oh my god, help us. My friends need to get to the hospital,” she said.
I looked just beyond them and saw two men hanging by their feet from a tree. They were alive and trying to wiggle. They were the killers.
“How?” asked Nevil looking at me, then at the girl, and on to the Bigfoot group.
“Their spirits sought you out,” said our guide in a gruff voice, taking off her hat. Reddish brown hair tumbled out in a complex mass of curls and braids. Yes, our guide was female. “If you take our your phone and call 911 someone will come help. We have coverage up here. Don’t look surprised. We have a lot of things. Remember the FedEx truck?”
“They saved us,” said the girl who was named Katie. “They hung up the men who shot Daniel and Josh.” Katie turned to the Bigfoot group. “I will never forget your kindness. You will always be in my heart.”
The group of large people, because they were people of their own kind, gave Katie hugs, then they turned and walked into the woods.
About an hour later a rescue helicopter came for the three missing college students. Law enforcement came for the killers. Nevil and I walked back to the camp in silence.
We never told anyone about the Bigfoot community. Katie told law enforcement that she wasn’t sure who hung up the men who’d shot her friends. It was dark, she told them.
Nevil and I talked about the weirdness a little, well, a lot. We saw it. We experienced it. We couldn’t explain any of it. We never told his Bigfoot seeking friends about our experiences. I never told Nevil about my visit from Phil.
Later I told my children about it, as they listened in awe and wonder. As an empty nester I can still make them think I’m the cool mom.
A few months later Nevil and I traveled down to Death Valley to see the weird geology and amazing stargazing. He’d brought a telescope.
“Look to the empty spot. That is Fomalhaut. It is a bit isolated. Some call it the solitary one. Look down the length of Pegasus and you’ll see it.”
The solitary one, I thought. That could have been me a few months ago, before I’d gone on a Bigfoot hunt.
Nevil put his arm around my shoulder and we watched the shooting stars, just the two of us. Then again, I never knew, after the weekend in the Snow Mountain Wilderness if we’d ever really be alone again.
Every have one of those days when getting out of the house seems nearly impossible?
I couldn’t find my keys this morning and of course I was running late. And no I can’t just change myself into a bat. That only happens in fiction.
I’m scouring the house but nothing. Then I heard a throat clearing. I turned around and behind me is the Ghost, damn him, with my keys.
“I believe I have something of yours.” He said that with a nasty curl of his lip then flicked a lock of black hair out of his eyes.
I reached for the keys and they vanished, along with the Ghost.
I let out a string of not so nice words (the kind moms pretend not to know) and then tried to sense where he could have gone.
Off of the bookshelf I grabbed the box with all of the spare keys. Does anyone else have keys to cars, doors, and safe boxes they don’t even remember?
Anyway I grabbed the spare keys to my car and yelled, “If you don’t give me my keys back I’ll pour a bottle of Pinesol on your grave. I’ll pour a gallon on it.”
“I know where your grave is Nigel. I looked you up. I know all about you.”
I heard a clang as the keys dropped on the tile floor of the kitchen. I picked them up and headed for the front door.
He stood there waiting for me. “How’d you find out where my grave is?”
“I don’t even know your last name. How would I know where your grave is?” I looked at him with such calm as his eyes narrowed and threatened to turn me to ice.
“You’re a Vampire and a liar,” he snarled at me.
“And I’m really good at being both.” Then I smiled and headed out the door.
Anyway, tell your kids that lies and bad words are not acceptable…of course unless you’re dealing with a Ghost.
~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman
Note: This was first posted in 2013. Today is a busy day for me so I thought you’d like more fun and a blast from the past from Nigel and me. Sure he’ll hate me for it but the guy is a Ghost. What do you expect? On the other hand being a Ghost has nothing to do with it. I bet he was an asshole when he was alive.
I’m honored to share a poem from my friend, Northern California writer, and Vietnam Vet, Richard Turton.
The acrid smell of cordite
Still hovered in the air.
No breeze to wash away
The scent of Satan’s hair.
The Medivac’s are fading now,
Their cabins filled with dead.
So many grisly pictures
Are surging through my head
Another hill’s been taken
The earth all charred and black
We all know what’s coming;
Tomorrow…”Give it back!”
The Eagle cries from barren trees
His tears, he cannot hide.
Where once a proud, young soldier stood
My Warrior Brother, died
The scorched ground that surrounds me;
Am I in Dante’s Hell?
This skirmish now is over
We saw them as they fell.
My Warrior Brother, Donny,
Died that gruesome day.
He took the bullets meant for me
With his final words did say,
“Tell Mom and Sis I loved them!
Please! Don’t let me down!”
I promised I would tell them
A promise I’d soon drown.
The Eagle cried that tragic day,
Back in Sixty-Eight.
A promise made…un-kept,
To my Warrior mate.
One thing that I’m sure of,
A thing that gives no rest.
The hounds of Hell still battle
Deep within my chest.
A bottle’d been my address
For forty years or more.
I’d take ‘most any drug,
I couldn’t find the door.
Somewhere there’s a record,
Of drugs and booze and tears.
When I crawled out of the bottle
I’d been buried in for years.
Half a decade sober.
Not a real long time.
That’s how long I’m clean tho’,
My life’s becoming mine.
The winds of war are blowing by;
In history books they last.
I’m in the winter of my years,
My best days…they have passed.
The one thing that I’ve never done
One thing I cannot face:
To visit the Memorial,
The headstone for that place.
My daughter said, “You have to go,
To honor those who died!”
I said I know I should…
But that I’d go…I lied
Then one day the phone rang;
A call I knew I’d dread.
It was Donny’s sister,
“Please help me!” Karen pled.
“I’ve spent these years just searching
I even hired a sleuth.
I finally found out where you live…
I need to know the truth.”
“The Army’s always been real vague,
And their answers never matched.
I need to know what happened;
They always seemed detached”
“Our Mother has passed on now,
But I still need to know;
I’d really love to meet with you,
Please…just show me how!”
The hounds of Hell are roused again;
Their howling has re-started.
I force their shrieks out of my mind,
My path, it has been charted
Quiet now, you dogs of war!
It’s time for a new quest!
It’s time for me to wrestle you,
And lay your souls to rest!
Then I thought the one thing,
A thought I’d never say,
Should I meet her at The Wall,
And put my hounds at bay?
I finally said I’d meet with her,
With a voice that was not mine.
“The Wall is where I’ll meet you.
I’ll see you there at nine.”
I saw flowers in her hand,
As she walked my way.
“Yellow roses were his favorite.”
Later she would say.
“Hello, my name is Karen.”
She said when we did meet
“Donny wrote me many things,
I knew that you’d be sweet!”
“I know this must be hard for you,
But I really need to know.
Please tell me how my brother died,
That day, so long ago.”
The moment had arrived.
I could hide this fact no more.
I said things I’d kept hidden,
Behind my mind’s locked door
She took my hand in hers,
And waited patiently.
My head bowed down as I thought
Of words I had to say.
I knew my words would stab her heart
But she would not look away.
She watched me as I told her
Of that ghastly day.
“Your Brother died in my arms,
In that nameless place.
He took the bullets meant for me
And died as we embraced!”
Her head dropped down, when I was done
Her chin upon her chest.
A single tear rolled down her cheek,
“Now Donny’s laid to rest.”
I walked with her as she made her way
To the Wall of Stone.
She laid the flowers at the base
Her silent prayer was sown.
At last I’ve honored those who fell,
Whose names are etched in rows.
We touched the name of Donny,
Who died so long ago.
And we cried…
The Eagle’s cry is heard again;
It lives within the Wall!
Each time a name is touched
The Eagle gives his call.
© Richard Turton
Note from Juliette:
I met Rick Turton through his son who was my daughter’s 4th grade teacher. Rick joined a writing group I’m an administrator for. We all soon discovered Rick is a talented writer and a man with a sharp sense of humor. When I first read this poem I had no idea … I ended up choked up. A few years ago I visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington DC. It was such a moving experience – a difficult experience – even though the war is long over. For many it will never be over. Thank you to Rick for your words of love and honor and for allowing me to share this poem.
“We pumped quite a bit of blood out of your stomach. We’re not sure where it came from.”
She heard the words but was the noise in her head was still loud…
“Your heart had stopped beating. You weren’t breathing. You were cold.”
A hospital bed. She was in a bed hooked up to equipment. Her throat hurt.
“We still can’t get your body temperature up to normal and your heart beat is extremely slow.”
She’d been found in a room of an abandoned house wearing nothing but a black silk cocktail dress and black high heeled sandals. The nails on her hands and feet were painted silver. Aside from that there was no jewelry, no purse, no identification. The man she’d been with had received minor injuries and would be in soon to see her. He said he was her boyfriend. Panic started to set in but she didn’t show it.
“Do you remember anything?”
“Not a lot.” She lied. She had remembered almost everything, despite the headache. The man called Austin had wanted to show her a house he was remodeling. He specialized in renovating Victorians and older historic homes. It was charming. It was haunted. “Is Austin alright?”
“He had a few stitches in his forehead, but yes, he is doing fine.”
“We left the club where we met. I mean, it wasn’t a hook up, we’d been seeing each other for a while. We’re friends. He told me about his work restoring old homes. I own some property I was thinking of having restored…He took me to a house he owns. It’s old, nobody lives there. A Queen Ann style Victorian. Beautiful. He showed me around and we ended up in an upstairs room.” She didn’t tell him of the phantoms and the screams that nearly burst her ear drums. She paused, and glanced at the needle in her arm. “Alright, we did fool around some. But we both started to feel really sick. He passed out first. I tried to wake him. I think we were drugged at the bar. Is he ok?”
“I’m fine sweetheart.” In the door stood a man with a bandage on his forehead. His brown eyes met her blue with almost a spark of both passion and hate. He smiled at the doctor.
“She’s a vampire and I’m a vampire hunter. I had no idea the house was haunted when I took her there. Sorry, it’s along running joke between us. Isn’t it Elizabeth?”
Her eyes met his again. A hunter hunting the huntress. “Is that all I am to you?”
He sat next on the edge of the bed and took her cold hand. “You need to warm up dear or they’ll never let you out of here. I know, it takes a lot of effort to keep your heart beating for those machines. You don’t want them thinking you’re dead.”
To think she was starting to fall in love with this man.
“I thought you were going to kill me last night but you saved my life. Why’d you do that Elizabeth?
Doctor Davis spoke up. “What is going on here?”
Austin smiled and spoke in a quiet calming voice. “I’m sorry for the confusion. We have our own language. We had a fight. She wasn’t going to kill me. Just an expression. She was angry. You know, I’m a typical guy. I did typical stupid guy stuff. We went to the house and like she said, we were both feeling sick. Then someone came in and mugged us. She saved me. I don’t know how, but she defended me. It was too dark to tell what was going on. We had a tumultuous relationship but we’re not violent, just a little dramatic.”
“He’d never touch me.” Elizabeth looked back at Austin. “The ones who attacked us… I had no idea. I’ve never experienced anything like that.”
“I thought you’d know.”
They both talked to the police about what had happened. Their story was the same. They’d gone to a house he owned, it was unoccupied, they were attacked. They both had traces of an airborne toxin in their systems.
Elizabeth was released into Austin’s care. She’d told him she’d call a taxi but he insisted on bringing her home.
On the way he talked. She sat still, feeling sick, trying to regain her energy. The morning sun burned her eyes even through the fog.
“So my building, the house we were in last night is haunted. Those were ghosts.”
Elizabeth glanced over at him, then looked away. “Yes, they were ghosts. I know someone who can get rid of them for you. He’s good and his prices are reasonable.”
“You know Elizabeth, I’ve found at least a dozen of your kind, vampires, in the basements of abandoned old buildings I’ve purchased for restoration. They weren’t like you. They were like rats.”
“I’m not like them. I don’t live in the shadows or in a crypt. I don’t sleep in a coffin. Most of us aren’t like your rats. We live normal lives.”
“When were you born?”
“1834. I’ve been a vampire since 1853. How did you know?”
He gave her a mean smile. “Call it a 6th sense. My grandfather hunted vampires. It’s in my blood, no pun intended.”
They arrived at her house. He was impressed. A beautiful craftsman style, maybe 2,500 square feet, nice old neighborhood. Inside the woodwork was beautiful. Her decorating was a combination of period and modern. Nice.
“You can go,” she told him.
“Show me around. This place is great.”
“I’m the original owner. 1905.”
As she showed him around Austin noticed a diploma in her office. “You didn’t tell me you were an attorney. Go figure.”
“I told you I consulted for the Justice Department. There is no shame in what I do.”
The house was impressive as was the vampire who lived in it. “Was that my blood they pumped out of your stomach?”
“Most of it. Don’t worry, you won’t turn into a Vampire. I just took maybe a pint.”
Austin noticed a mirror on the wall. He took Elizabeth by the shoulders and turned her around to face it. He could see his own reflection but hers was just a dim shadow.
“Look at my eyes, in the mirror. Look at my eyes,” she told him.
Their eyes locked in the glass. Her image became clear. He laughed. It wasn’t the sarcastic bitter laugh she’d heard all morning. This was joy.
“Elizabeth, will you be alright if I leave you?”
“You aren’t going to kill me?”
“Then when? When will you be back to cut out my heart and cut off my head.”
“Do you want to go out sometime on a real date?”
“You’re scaring me Austin.”
“I know. I’ll pick you up tomorrow around 8:00. It should be dark by then. Wear something nice.”
She watched through the window as he drove away. Her heart had stopped beating. She wasn’t breathing. In the refrigerator was a bottle of blood. She was starving. Her head was light but that was because of him.
Austin drove away with a smile on his face. What a rush. He wasn’t sure what tomorrow would bring. Either he’d kill her or he’d marry her. That is, if she didn’t kill him first.
This was the first story in the Austin and Elizabeth series. For their continuing adventures click here.
~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman
He turned to her
A faint smile
Yet when he turned
It was as if
He was only
In a daguerreotype
A ghost within
Of a photograph
A metal plate
He sat in
My big wingback chair
Just a ghost
With a faint smile
Then a wink
What I was thinking.
~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman