Short Story Sunday: Donner Lake

Donner Lake

Travis glanced at the sign as they drove past. His wife was asleep. The baby was snoozing in the car seat behind them. It had been a long day driving across Nevada.

Donner Lake

Sure there was snow today, but in 1846 there had been a lot more snow, a lot earlier, and no highway. Just a rocky dirt road through the mountains and fucking wagons.

He wouldn’t have let anyone eat his wife or child if they hadn’t have made it. Their two dogs would be safe too. Nobody was going to eat his dogs.

Donner Lake

Keseberg had been the guy who’d eaten people with glee. Aside from being creepy he’d been a jerk by all accounts. Keseberg had joined the Donner Party late in the journey with his wife and a small child. He proved to be an abusive husband and was a real asshole to everyone else in the group. Travis and his wife had gone to the old Sacramento Cemetery and seen the grave of Keseberg’s wife. He had no idea where Keseberg was buried. No doubt he was thrown in the trash or fed to a someone’s pigs.

Going across country in a wagon train, or even by ship back then took guts. Travelers would go hundreds of miles, maybe even thousands without so much as a city or town. Maybe there would be a trading post but those would be few and far between. The native people wouldn’t be welcoming in most cases, or at least Travis imagined they wouldn’t be.

He thought of his infant son in the back seat. He would have died. Not just with the Donner mishap but with any group of settlers trying to make it across the country, or around the tip of South America, or slogging across the Panama. The idea of losing his son was unimaginable. He wouldn’t have done it.

Donner Lake

Travis thought of when his parents told him stories of driving cross country right after WW2, his dad on the GI Bill going to college in California. It was an adventure that had lasted a lifetime. Travis and his brother had grown up in the land of sunshine, wine, and weekends surfing at the beach. It was a far cry from what the Donner children went through after Keseberg killed and ate their parents leaving them to be at the mercy of anyone who was willing to take them in.

By the time Travis drove down the hill to Auburn his wife Kit was awake. He didn’t mention the Donner or Keseberg, or anything else that had gone on in his private thoughts while he drove. Instead they talked about when and where’d they get their Christmas tree, and what they wanted to pick up for dinner that night.

Back up the highway, surrounded by snow, the ghosts of distant travelers settled around Donner Lake. They remembered what had happened, despite the fact that someone had eaten their brains, or just left them in shallow graves. The ghosts marveled at the modern folk who came to visit. There would be boats in the summer, and skiing and snow ball fights in the winter months.

George Donner turned to his wife and said, “Tamsen, I told you to stay with the children. You shouldn’t have tried to find me.”

She smiled and turned to her husband. “Sorry dear. I lost my heart to another man.”

Same joke every night and he still didn’t find it funny.

Donner Lake

~ end

 

 

 

Dark Days, Ghosts, and Inspiration

coffee

Coffee with Vampires, Ghosts and Poe

I’ve been having a bad case of Empty Nest Blues lately. Yes, even without any kids in the house, or kids almost out of the house, I can do anything. Right? Yes, but like everything else it is always complicated with me. As I brooded about my lack of brood and lack of inspiration my brother Val stopped by for coffee.

As I filled the French Press with hot water, Val grabbed cups and poured in a shot of blood and half/half in each cup. He put two packages of Equal in his, one in mine.

“Dark day?” He asked.

“I feel frozen. But I’ll be fine. Tell me about your sorry existence.” That was a joke. Val has a lovely existence, especially for a Vampire.

We sat and talked about a lot of things. I thought about being inspired to be inspired.

I poured more coffee into my cup and posed a question to my brother. “What if Edgar Allen Poe had lived. He died in 1849, so he might have heard of the gold find in California. What if he’d live and come to California? What if he’d continued to write and eventually met Bret Harte and Mark Twain? What if he’d met Lotta Crabtree? What if he’d met us?”

“Imagine him on the ship with our parents. That would have been fun.”

“Poe would have loved them.”

“He would have ended up becoming a Vampire. Mom would have made sure of that.”

“Maybe,” I said. “He was so odd and broken, but he shouldn’t have died. I think he was murdered.”

“That’s the rumor.”

One idea leads to another, and I make mental notes for stories, books, and artwork that I think a lot about and might someday create, or finish, or forget. The thought is depressing, or exciting depending on who is thinking it. If I’m thinking it right now it seems vague and somewhat depressing, and impossible, and overwhelming. Tomorrow it might be another answer.

As we talked, and my mood brightened and became more hopeful, Val and I looked out the window into my back yard. We could see the ghosts, Nigel and Mary by the fence. They were dancing to music we couldn’t hear. Being ghosts, dealing with their own deaths, and murders, had taken a toll on both, but they pulled themselves out of their own broken fog and made a life after death for themselves. Love will do that. Don’t get me wrong, Nigel is still a major asshole, but sometimes I see that light I know he had when he was alive. Like with Poe, I wonder what he would have achieved had he lived. He’d be fifty-eight now, had he not died in 1986.

Nigel looked up at us and waved at Val. Then he looked at me. Our eyes locked, and he flipped me off. Then Nigel and Mary vanished, as she continued to dance, and he glared at me.

I can relate to the songs and dances of the broken. These are not all sad songs. They’re just songs of those who have maybe had more complex paths to wander along.

Val had always been along my path with me, but we’ve taken side trails alone.

But like with my brother’s visit, I always circle around and return to the joy and love of my family, my friends, and of my imagination.

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

 

don't be a ghost

 

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/broken/

 

 

 

The Travelers – A Tale of Mystery, Love, and Hope

A Christmas Tradition at Vampire Maman

The Travelers

A Christmas Tale of Mystery, Love and Hope
from Juliette Kings

The night was falling on the travelers, Daniel and his son Tad and daughter Ada. They had to stop before the dark of night and freezing snowfalls. The father and his children were finally going home, from the broken dreams of gold to the city where Daniel had found a job in his profession of typesetter and reporter. When his wife had passed on he followed his dream to the California gold fields taking his teenage children with him. For good or bad they’d made the new state their home.

As the snow began to fall they came upon a cabin, the door boarded up from the outside, the windows shuttered. It looked deserted and like shelter for the night. Dan and his son pried the nails off of the boards, which secured the door and went into the two-room structure. Inside was a cozy room with a fireplace, comfortable chairs and a wall full of books. Dan sent Tad out to bring in firewood.

Ada went to the bedroom and called her father. On the bed was a man, still as the night, cold and pale as the snow. In his arms, wrapped in blanket was a tiny girl in a red velvet hat, a scarf covered up most of her small face. She was also still and pale.

Ada’s heart sank. The poor souls in the bed looked to have passed on. But why were they trapped in the cabin? Had they been sick? Why were they not buried with a prayer and the proper respect? The man’s coat was obviously expensive and of the finest materials. His boots were of the most beautiful leather and style. His face was handsome and refined. Ada took off her glove and touched the back of her hand to the man’s face. He was indeed cold as ice and still as death. She called in her father.

“I know this man.” He said. “A fine man. A poet. I heard him read when I was in San Francisco. What a tragic pity to find him here with his child.”

The looked upon the bodies of the father and child when they saw the slightest movement and the man opened his eyes.

“My daughter, please help her,” whispered the man on the bed.

Ada took the girl in her arms. She weighed almost nothing. The child let out a sigh. Ada brought the girl into the other room and sat in a rocking chair by the fire Tad had built. The girl started to move and put her face against Ada’s warm neck. Ada soon fell asleep with dreams of flowers and all things good.

In the morning the poet and child were gone.

The travelers found box covered with red paper. In the box was a golden heart and a note to Ada.

Dearest Ada,

This heart belonged to my dear wife who was murdered by villains of the vilest kind. Please wear it knowing that you will always be loved and you will always be a part of us.

TK

On the table in the front room was a bounty of food. Where had it come from? There were fresh baked goods, milk and juice, exotic fruits, sausages and chocolates. Under small quilted cozies were pots with fragrant tea and coffee. Another note was slipped under the teapot.

Daniel read the note aloud to his children.

My heart thanks you for your generosity.

You saved our lives.

You never questioned who had trapped us or hurt us.

You never judged us.

You never feared us.

The love between parent and his children is burned into your heart like the fires that burn in the heavenly stars.

My daughter and I will never forget you.

Your children and their children and their children will always be safe and watched over and kept from the harm of wicked men. I owe and promise you that.

Never fear the night or the darkness for we will always be watching your back.

Wishing you a Happy Christmas.

~ Thomas Kent

As the travelers ate they talked of the sweet dreams they’d had the night before, along with stiff necks they had that morning. Daniel and his children  spoke of Mr. Kent and his precious daughter and wondered why they’d been trapped in the cabin.

Many many years later after a long and wonderful life full of romance and adventure, Ada fingered the heart, which she still wore. As she took her last breath she said, “I have never known fear, only love”.

An ocean away Thomas Kent felt an icy wind, then hope and gratitude in his cold Vampire heart.

~ End

ParrishCabin_Travelers

This story was first posted here in 2012. I think of all the stories I’ve published/written this one remains one of the nearest to my heart. 

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

The Beach House

My brother Val and I had gone to the beach house for Thanksgiving. This was 1944, before my marriage or children, when it seemed it was always just my brother and me, plus assorted friends and lovers.

Our brother Andy (Andrew) was somewhere in Europe in a USO show. Our eldest brother Max and my future husband Teddy were in London doing something secret for the American Government. Our parents were in Washington DC.

Nobody knew where our brother Aaron or his wife Verity were. They were the traditional ones who always stayed on the safe predictable road to anywhere – now we had no idea where they were. The last time anyone heard they were in France, but they could have been anywhere. They could have been dead or worse captured but we stopped guessing.

Valentine and I had our fill the night before in San Francisco. The clubs were full of servicemen on leave and women who were tired of waiting for their men to come home and people who had nothing to do with the war or missing love ones. Val was also on leave from his position in the Army – watching and finding out secrets. Vampires are good for that. Almost too good. But we had to get involved. We had no other choice. This was the world we lived in and our country too. It was our home.

We watched the fog roll in as the sun went down over the Pacific Ocean.

A car drove up to the house. We weren’t expecting anyone.

It was Nathaniel Chase. Even back then he was over 400 years old but didn’t look a day over 35. A small black cat followed at his heels.

“What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be in San Francisco,” he growled without so much as a hello to us.

“We’re not supposed to be anywhere, at least not until after Christmas,” said Val.

“I thought you were in Canada, or Hawaii or someplace…,” I started in on him until he put his hand up for me to shut up. I knew the gesture well. He’d been cutting me off my entire life.

“Valentine, please get my bag out of the car for me. Juliette I need your help, come.” He headed down the hall to the far bedroom.

Under his coat his shirt was soaked with blood. I couldn’t tell if it was his or if it belonged to somebody else.

I helped him out of his coat and then the suit jacket and shirt underneath. He’d been stabbed several times. “My heart…was nicked. I’ve lost a lot of blood…a lot.”

I held out my wrist. “Take mine. It will seal your heart.”

“I don’t know…Juliette…”

“You’ll die.”

“No. You can bring someone in later.”

“You will die. Take mine. Regular blood won’t help. You know that.”

A regular human man would have died with his injury. He’d been stabbed in the heart, not just a “nick.”

He took my wrist and sank his fangs into it. Not much happened.

“Just take my neck,” I told him and started to unbutton my shirt. “Don’t say no. You’ve done more for me than I can count. I owe you.”

Asking another Vampire to bite your neck is extreme. It is also something that happens in risky sex. It is something you don’t do lightly or with just anyone. There can be consequences.

I put my hand on his chest where the knife entered. Then I leaned in close, cold skin to cold skin and put my other hand at the back of his neck. “Take my blood Nathaniel.”

He pushed my hair aside and put his mouth on my neck. He had my blood and my feelings, my memories, my heart and everything I kept close. I could feel him searching and wanting then blanking it all out. He wasn’t interested in sucking out my souls or knowing my secrets or being my lover.  I’d done this before but it wasn’t to save a life. It was to satisfy a lover, another Vampire in passion and …whatever. But this was intense and in that realm. I felt drained. I was drained literally.

Nathaniel pulled away and lay back on the pillows. His eyes were closed. He took my hand and entwined my finger in his. We sat for maybe an hour as still as death. I brushed my lips against his cheek. He opened his eyes and gave me a slight smile. “Thank you. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry.”

Over the years he’d always been the one to save Val and me. So many times we’d strayed and he was there to get us back on track. He was always there to scold us and keep us in line. So many times I resented his presence and wished he’d go away forever.

I went out to the deck where Val sat with a bottle of wine and a cigar. He looked at my neck. “I gave him blood. Nothing else.”

My brother gave me a hug. “Thank you dear. Listen, the couple down the road are having a party. We can head on over and get you settled again. If Nathaniel needs more tonight we’ll have it.”

So we walked half a mile down the road watching the stars and listening to the waves crashing against the beach. I told Val that I knew who injured Nathaniel but it was taken care of. We were not the ones to extract vengeance. Someone else would do that. It isn’t what Val and I usually do, unless forced of course.

Nathaniel stayed with us for the rest of the month. We spent Christmas having a fire on the beach, just the three of us and Nathaniel’s black cat. Val and I were 85 and 86 at the time but Nathaniel still saw us as silly teens, or at least he saw us as still needing guidance.

Eventually we were all reunited with family and friends.

Anyway, that was a long time ago. It was a time I rarely even think about anymore. Now that my own children enter adulthood I think of more things from my current life. I hope their lives are calm and without trauma. That won’t be the case, but I’d like to think it would be.

So that is it for right now. December is almost here. Today my daughter Clara and I will hang the Christmas wreath and once again wish for Peace on Earth. I doubt if it will ever happen but we can wish and we can each do our part to help.

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

 

First published 2014 – new posts to come soon. Thank you for visiting and sharing my  memories.

 

Ocean

You never know about anything, not really.

“Nothing is certain aside from the fact that we are Vampires, and we are not like the rest of everybody else.”

So my father used to tell us when we were children.

He gave his brood of five (four boys and me) this advice, but also tried to keep us from being clannish, and prevent us from being closed minded when it came to everybody else, be they Vampires, or others. There were more “others” than I ever imagined.

I remember as a child watching in fascination and disgust at the Werewolves who’d walk along the river front in their garish but expensive clothing. They’d smirk and look as if they were going to eat everyone they saw. That was far from the truth. Despite their arrogance they rarely killed anyone while in their wolf form. I later learned that they were sort of pathetic, and sad creatures.

But enough of that. A lot has changed since the 1860’s. Most Werewolves blend in to the point where nobody notices that they’re never around on full moon nights. I mean, really, who would notice?

I’m full of busy today, but I thought I’d take a few moments to re-share a story (first shared her in 2014) of my childhood, about strangers, those who aren’t like us, and Werewolves.

 

Strange Strangers on a Full Moon Night

Mars was exceptionally bright in the sky last night. The moon was less than full but still exceptionally bright.

This morning I dropped the kids off to school. Garret’s car is in the shop so mom gets to drive. Anyway, I drop them off behind some temporary classrooms (that have been there for 45 years) because Clara doesn’t want to have to walk by the large group of “Stoners” who hang out every morning at the logical drop off point. So this morning she tells me she over heard one of the Stoners saying “That woman stops and turns around every morning. Weird. I guess she doesn’t want to stay here.” They had no idea I was dropping off kids. Sigh.

So the moon, teens, clueless thoughts… what does that all lead to? It made me think of a distant memory of when my brothers Val, Aaron and I were teens.

Go back to 1873. We lived in a city that had regulairly flooded, burned down, flooded again and survived illness and lawlessness and all sorts of disasters (Sacramento of course.) It was enough to make anyone want to leave, but instead people thrived and it grew. Railroads made kings. Agriculture was starting to boom. It was a city with growing art and culture and the new capitol building was almost finished. But to us it was home and our concerns were not those of adults or even most people. We were teens, comfortable in our own skin, a little less Victorian than most our age, a little more independent than most. My brothers and I lived in a tight knit community of Vampires, part of the Modern Vampire Movement. But you already know that.

One night, under a full moon, my brothers Aaron (age 17), Valentine (age 14) and I (age 13) were taking a stroll along the Sacramento River. We were always out looking for vagrants and activity from any riverboats. We were on the prowl, three well heeled Vampire kids who could use our innocence and charm to get in and out of any situation before our prey ever knew we were there.

With our stomachs full and our dark little souls throughly amused we walked home through a grove of trees on the edge of the riverbank. There we came upon a camp. Two figures were hunched over half a dozen large fish, I believe stripers or maybe steelhead. They grunted and tore at the fish. At first glance we thought they were coyotes or large dogs, but then we realized they were something else.

“Werewolves,” whispered Aaron holding his hand out to signal us to stay still.

We watched in fascination, with a bit of disgust, as the two turned back into their human form – a young man and a young woman. They were about our age and completely naked. He was skinny, unlike my muscular brothers. His skin was pale under the moonlight like the bellies of the fish he’d just devoured. She was also thin with ribs sticking out and knobby joints. Her grayish unhealthy looking skin was covered with red welts. Long dark hair hung below her waist. But what surprised us most was the hairless tail that hung down about 6 inches on the end of her spine.

I elbowed Aaron and he gave me a quick look that said “don’t move.”

“She has a tail,” Val whispered a little too loud. Aaron put his hand over his younger brother’s mouth.

The Werewolves put on their clothes, plain and worn compared to our fashionable togs. We had a home and parents. These two were obviously strays just trying to survive their miserable condition.

Val and I wanted to approach the Werewolves but Aaron was against it. He said we should just let them be and they’d be dead more sooner than later. There was a prominent pack of well-heeled Werewolves in town but we had little to do with them and it was obvious that these strays were not part of their pack.

Occasionally my parents would deal with the Werewolves, but always held them at a distance and with considerable contempt. One thing that stood out about the well to do Werewolves was their fondness for velvet. No kidding. Those Werewolves loved their velvet.

This isn’t going to be a moral story where we went back and helped the young Werewolves. We went back and they were gone. None of our friends had ever seen them. We told our parents about them. In turn they mentioned the strays to the pack leader in town and he had never heard of the young Werewolves.

It was just one of those weird things. Ships that pass in the night.

I asked my friend Adam, who is a Werewolf, about the pair when I stopped by his studio this morning (he is a photographer by trade.) He’d never heard of them. The tail on the girl turned out to be something extremely rare, just like a tail on anyone who is remotely human like.

“Why didn’t you help them?” Of course he had to ask.

“I don’t know. We were just kids. We thought they were dangerous. Beside that, maybe they didn’t need or want help. My parents asked around. Nobody knew anything, or if they did they weren’t telling us about it. I’m talking both Werewolves and Vampires. Nobody knew anything.”

I knew there would be nothing online about them but I after I left Adam I checked anyway. There was nothing.

This story has no moral or reason behind it. Just a story of something that happened a long time ago that I’ll tell my kids about and maybe they can find a moral in it.

It might be a mystery forever. But I have a knack for finding people and things so you never know. You never know about anything, not really.

 

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

 

 

 

 

The Travelers: A Tale of Mystery, Love and Hope

A Christmas Tradition at Vampire Maman

The Travelers

A Christmas Tale of Mystery, Love and Hope
from Juliette Kings

The night was falling on the travelers, Daniel and his son Tad and daughter Ada. They had to stop before the dark of night and freezing snowfalls. The father and his children were finally going home, from the broken dreams of gold to the city where Daniel had found a job in his profession of typesetter and reporter. When his wife had passed on he followed his dream to the California gold fields taking his teenage children with him. For good or bad they’d made the new state their home.

As the snow began to fall they came upon a cabin, the door boarded up from the outside, the windows shuttered. It looked deserted and like shelter for the night. Dan and his son pried the nails off of the boards, which secured the door and went into the two-room structure. Inside was a cozy room with a fireplace, comfortable chairs and a wall full of books. Dan sent Tad out to bring in firewood.

Ada went to the bedroom and called her father. On the bed was a man, still as the night, cold and pale as the snow. In his arms, wrapped in blanket was a tiny girl in a red velvet hat, a scarf covered up most of her small face. She was also still and pale.

Ada’s heart sank. The poor souls in the bed looked to have passed on. But why were they trapped in the cabin? Had they been sick? Why were they not buried with a prayer and the proper respect? The man’s coat was obviously expensive and of the finest materials. His boots were of the most beautiful leather and style. His face was handsome and refined. Ada took off her glove and touched the back of her hand to the man’s face. He was indeed cold as ice and still as death. She called in her father.

“I know this man.” He said. “A fine man. A poet. I heard him read when I was in San Francisco. What a tragic pity to find him here with his child.”

The looked upon the bodies of the father and child when they saw the slightest movement and the man opened his eyes.

“My daughter, please help her,” whispered the man on the bed.

Ada took the girl in her arms. She weighed almost nothing. The child let out a sigh. Ada brought the girl into the other room and sat in a rocking chair by the fire Tad had built. The girl started to move and put her face against Ada’s warm neck. Ada soon fell asleep with dreams of flowers and all things good.

In the morning the poet and child were gone.

The travelers found box covered with red paper. In the box was a golden heart and a note to Ada.

 

Dearest Ada,

This heart belonged to my dear wife who was murdered by villains of the vilest kind. Please wear it knowing that you will always be loved and you will always be a part of us.

TK

 

On the table in the front room was a bounty of food. Where had it come from? There were fresh baked goods, milk and juice, exotic fruits, sausages and chocolates. Under small quilted cozies were pots with fragrant tea and coffee. Another note was slipped under the teapot.

Daniel read the note aloud to his children.

 

My heart thanks you for your generosity.

You saved our lives.

You never questioned who had trapped us or hurt us.

You never judged us.

You never feared us.

The love between parent and his children is burned into your heart like the fires that burn in the heavenly stars.

My daughter and I will never forget you.

Your children and their children and their children will always be safe and watched over and kept from the harm of wicked men. I owe and promise you that.

Never fear the night or the darkness for we will always be watching your back.

Wishing you a Happy Christmas.

~ Thomas Kent

 

As the travelers ate they talked of the sweet dreams they’d had the night before, along with stiff necks they had that morning. Daniel and his children  spoke of Mr. Kent and his precious daughter and wondered why they’d been trapped in the cabin.

Many many years later after a long and wonderful life full of romance and adventure, Ada fingered the heart, which she still wore. As she took her last breath she said, “I have never known fear, only love”.

An ocean away Thomas Kent felt an icy wind, then hope and gratitude in his cold Vampire heart.

 

 

~ 2012 JK

parrish snow

 

Today is the 6th time I’ve published it here. It is also featured in the WPaD holiday story collection Tinsel Tales.

This story is near and dear to my heart. It is my gift to you. I hope you enjoyed it, and paused to think about the mysteries, acts of kindness, and love in your own life.

Merry Christmas everyone and may all of your mysteries be good ones.

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman