Short Story Sunday: Fall Garden

Some of you might have read this extremely short story before, but read it again. It will get you into a good mood for October. I’ll try to have a new story soon. Things are just kind of weird these days and my brain is otherwise occupied.
~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

Fall Garden

So I’m digging away, trying to put in some sort of flower beds in my rocky garden. It is foggy. It is cold. And I am not amused. That is what happens when you live in a house built on gold mine tailings. Rocks. Nothing but river rocks coated in a tiny bit of dirt and a shit load of weed seeds.

I’ve got the pick ax out, and I’m jamming the shovel in a hole, with the cold nose of a ninety pound German Shepard in my face, when I FINALLY get the last rock loose before I can plant a small dwarf lime tree. The dog goes nuts. I push her away and pull out the rock.

It isn’t a rock.

It is a skull.

A human skull.

Shit.

My son comes out with a fresh cup of coffee for me (did I mention it was cold.) He looked at the skull and then calls up to the house.

“Hey Dad, she found another one.” Then he turns to me. “This one is small. Man, woman, or child?”

I toss the skull in my garden gloved hands. “It might be a woman but you never know.”

“Want me to put it with the others?”

“Sure,” I said, handing the skull to my sweet teenager.

I could hear him in the side yard opening the 50 gallon Rubbermaid storage container, and dropping in the skull.

He came back to me after about a minute. “Hey Mom, the container is almost full.”

I took a deep breath. “That’s a lot of skulls.”

He gave me an uncomfortable look. “It sure is. Who do you think they are?”

I put my arm around his waist and gave him a hug. “I have no idea. But thanks for the coffee sweetie. Let’s go in. I think I’m done out here today.”

Vlad’s Vampire Diary: Smoke Gets In My Eyes (Fires, Gender Reveals, and Reveries of a Vampire King)

Dear Diary,

The sky is red with smoke and fire. There is a demon wind blowing as if it wants to take the roof off of the house.

“There are too many fires,” I told my friend Randolpho. “It is like Hell has come up from the bowels of the Earth.”

“This is 2020. Welcome to the new normal. I hear there is a big fire by the airport and on some of the river levies. Add those to the fires already going on including that fire started by those fools having a gender reveal party.”

“Gender reveal party?” I asked. “What do you mean by gender reveal and why is there a party?”

“Before babies are born some people get overly excited and throw a gender reveal party. You know, to announce if they are having a boy or a girl.”

“That is ridiculous. How do they know if it is a boy or a girl? Even a witch will not be able to tell you that with a hundred percent certainty.”

“Ultra sound, or amnio. Oh my God. You don’t know about those things. Let me show you.”

Randolpho pulled out his phone and went on the Internet, where almost all information can be found. 

“Ultra sound is a way to see a baby before it is born to make sure it is developing right. ”

I looked at a photo of a tiny human being. There was a face and this one was obviously male. 

“But how is this done? The baby is inside of the mother. It would die if they cut her open.”

“They don’t cut her open. Get a clue Vlad. The technician takes sort a wand and rubs it over the mother’s pregnant belly. Then an image of the baby appears on a computer screen. Then the image can be printed out.

“This is amazing. If I had not seen it for myself I would not have believed it. Then what is amnio?”

“Amniocentesis is a procedure in which amniotic fluid is removed from the uterus for testing or treatment. Amniotic fluid is the fluid that surrounds and protects a baby during pregnancy. 

A large needle is inserted into the mother amniotic fluid around the baby is extracted. One can tell then not only the gender but if there are any genetic issues the parents should be aware of.”

“Genetic issues?”

“For example if a child will have Down’s Syndrome.”

“What is that?”

“Remember Maria? The small girl who liked to wear crowns of flowers and always had a song and a smile. She had Down’s Syndrome.”

I remembered the young Vampire maiden. She was one of my mother’s ladies. Once a cocky young Vampire called Vink called Maria an idiot and belittled her in front of the entire Vampire court because she did not understand his stories. He thought the stories were humorous. They were not.

My mother had Vink thrown into the dungeon for a week for his meanness. 

Even being a Vampire Maria passed on the next winter. We were all sad. Everyone loved Maria. Vink continued to be a fool and was banished from the court.

“Now there are people like Maria who graduate from High School and some even graduate from college.”

I thought about this for a while. There is so much I need to learn.

“Do you ever want to have kids Vlad?” Randolpho asked. I thought that was odd. We have known each other for over 670 years and we have never discussed it.

The subject made me feel somewhat uncomfortable.  I told Randolpho he needed to change the subject.

Later I tried to sleep but could only think of babies crying and keeping me awake. I thought about a baby laughing and broke out in a cold sweat, then coughed from the smoke. 

~ Vlad

Dear Diary,

The smoke is thicker today. My mind is still on children. I am in Hell.

I poured a glass of chilled blood and put a piece of fresh mint on top of it. Mint is something we did not have when I was Vampire King. After being locked in a crypt for three hundred years I have discovered many new things such as mint, chilled drinks, and viewing babies inside of their mothers. I might have missed the 18th, 19th, and 20thCenturies, but here I am in 2020.

Once when I was much younger, when I was Vampire King I went on a journey to being a group of young orphan Vampire children back to my castle. My wife had just abandoned me and I had the need to, what term do they use so often now, get away. I had to get away.

After riding for a week with some of my finest Vampire soldiers, I met my contact at an ancient castle by the edge of a large lake. The Vampire in charge approached me. He was slightly taller than I am, making him around six feet tall. His appearance was striking, not just because of his height but also because of his fashion. He was dressed all in black with dark glossy brown hair about his shoulders. He wore no wig as many men did at that time but like me, he wore his own hair. His eyes were deep golden brown surrounded by thick lashes, and a face spotted with light facial hair on his jaw line and a hint of a mustache growing in. His clothing and boots were all black except for a purple sash around his waist and a green feather in his hat. 

He introduced himself as Toby Rose, the Captain of the group, and the Captain of the ship that had brought the children from England. I immediately liked him. 

Toby Rose spoke the old Vampire language with an English accent. The women at the castle thought he was charming. Their attentions lingered more on him that on me – which was something new for I was always the one woman kept their eyes on.

Later as we walked along the edge of the lake Toby told me he had heard my wife had left. We looked towards the castle and saw a group of women walking along the road. 

“They are beautiful,” said Toby Rose.

“Yes, they are,” I replied. They were beautiful but I was not in mood for strange women.

“I love women. I love the way they feel with their warm skin, and soft lips. I love knowing how easy it is for me to please them. The are always surprised by me in the best of ways. I also love men. I do believe I love being with a man the best. I love their strong arms, and the way a man moves and smells. I love the feel of a chest covered with hair, and the brush of stubble on my neck when he kisses me.” Then he laughed a low quiet laugh. “I love to feel their stubble everywhere if you know what I mean.”

Toby Rose was quite forward. I was curious and asked him, “When did you know you desired both men and women.”

“I have always liked everyone,” he said with a laugh. “My father always told me you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit. He was a wise man, my father was.” 

I was somewhat surprised Toby Rose was so open with me in a time when those who expressed their sexuality so openly were often hung or burned alive. On the other hand we were Vampires, open to all desires and all ways of life. We rarely judged.

In fact, when my sister was born a cousin mocked my parents because my mother had given birth to a girl. We had no gender reveal at the time. My father became angry, pinned his cousin down and cut one of his balls off. Then he put it into a jar and placed it in my sister’s nursery. 

“Now my daughter has as many balls as you do,” my father said to his cousin.

My father would do things like that. I did not tell Toby Rose about that memory.

As we walked along the riverbank we spoke of the children we had rescued. We spoke of our lives and what we wanted. Toby gave me gentle words about the departure of my cheating whore of a wife, which made me feel better.

“You hungry?” Toby Rose asked.

So we went for a hunt. After we were full of warm blood and the thrill of hunting together we joined the rest of our party along with our hosts in the castle.

Everyone spoke of Toby Rose. All of the women wanted him. All of the men wanted to be like him. He was a fierce fighter, and a lover who never shared secrets. He was a leader. He was a mentor and a teacher. Toby Rose was an amazing man and an amazing Vampire.

I noticed women, as always would look at me with longing, but they boldly approached Toby Rose to let him know that they wanted him to come to them later.

Later as I was alone in my chamber, getting ready to retire, there was a knock on my door. I opened it and let in Toby Rose, who was wearing nothing but an oversized robe.

“I want you Vlad,” Toby Rose whispered, as he put his hand on my hip and stepped close.

“Toby, I am not ready for this. I do not know if I will ever be ready,” I told him.

Toby Rose kissed my neck scraping fangs across it making me close my eyes and wonder what indeed was happening. Then Toby Rose took my hand and put it under his robe. “I’m ready. I have never been more ready.”

“Toby Rose!” I said.

Toby Rose’s robe dropped to the ground and I found out that Toby Rose was a woman.

I have to admit it was one of the best nights of my life.

That is my gender reveal story.

About a year ago I tried to find out what happened to Toby Rose. Nobody knows. She might be an old Vampire content living a quiet life. She might be dead. Or she might be locked in a crypt somewhere, a prisoner of the dark. I do not know.

~ Vlad

Dear Diary,

My love Gillian is now sleeping in my bed as I write this.  I have never told her of Toby Rose, or about any of my other lovers, nor has she told me about hers.

Even after hundreds of years some things never change. Like all self respecting Vampires we never kiss and tell.

~ Vlad

This has been the 63rd installment of Vlad’s Vampire Diary. To read all of them, or find your favorites again CLICK HERE, or check out the right sidebar.

Short Story Sunday: A Night at the Crest

A Night at the Crest

Dallas Andrews was performing at the old Crest Theater in Sacramento. Jonathan Ward’s soon to be ex-girlfriend Beth told him that this guy was hot. Andrews could actually communicate with the dead. Dallas Andrews said angels walked among them. He claimed to see angels all around him 24/7.

Andrews was the darling of the clairvoyant, medium, mysticism, aura generating followers of spiritual awakening. He had been featured on most major network and cable television stations. He did radio shows, graced the covers of magazines and now was packing in full houses on a nation wide tour. He followed in the footsteps of Casey and Nostradamus. His book was on the best selling nonfiction lists.

Jonathan had tried to talk Beth out of it. He told her the guy was a fake. He told her that all of these guys were fakes, but she insisted. She told him it would be fun and enlightening.

“It would be fun and enlightening to stay home and watch The Wizard of OZ,” he replied, but she wasn’t going to budge.

Jonathan Ward, founder and editor of the West Coast Review, was 5’10 with broad shoulders on his medium build. He was in good shape for someone his age, which appeared to be somewhere in his mid 40’s. According to his drivers license he was forty-six. His sandy brown hair had soft grey streaks at the temples. His eyes were framed with long thick lashes. His prominent nose was straight and narrow, but it fit with his oval face. He was good looking enough to get noticed by women but not enough to stand out in a crowd, unless one noticed his almost unnerving pale ice blue eyes. He had almost a perpetual and too quick of a smile. “Always amused” is how he was often described.

His companion Beth McAllister was knock down drop dead gorgeous and she knew it. Aside from her occasional bizarre and childish fascinations with freaks like Dallas Andrews, she was also brilliant. Well, most of the time.

Beth chattered away as they entered the lobby of the Crest Theater. Her stiletto heels clicked on the floor. Jonathan always thought of it as her mating call. He slid his hand down over her perfect behind. She promptly slapped it away. “Who do you want to contact?” she asked.

“Judy Garland and Billie Burke.”

“No, it has to be somebody you knew.”

“There are no dead people I want to talk to.”

“Maybe Dallas can contact your parents or your brother.” She said gently.

“They have unlisted numbers”

“You aren’t funny.”

“Bitch.” he whispered then kissed her on the mouth and led her to their seats.

As they made their way through the crowd his eyes met a well-dressed, slightly handsome, thirtyish man in the lobby. Jonathan was sure it was a plant; someone sent by Andrews to listen in to the conversations in the lobby. “My brother was blown to bits in Afghanistan. Pass that one on to your boss.” The man looked calm but Jonathan knew he’d unnerved him.

The restored art deco movie palace was the perfect place for the grand show of bullshit he would witness tonight. The lights dimmed. A woman in a long green dress played a traditional Irish harp on the corner of the stage. At the other corner was a plainly dressed woman signing for the deaf.

“I bet there isn’t one deaf person in this theater.” He said to Beth. She rolled her eyes at him and squeezed his hand. The lights came up on the stage. The crowd cheered. Jonathan sat back with his arms crossed, glaring at the stage.

Dallas Andrews walked causally onto the stage dressed in a white silk shirt, cream colored tie and matching cream colored dress slacks finished off with tan Italian loafers with tassels. He was in his mid-to-late thirties with wavy dark hair and boyish good looks. He smiled sweetly at the audience showing off perfect dimples, practically glowing with goodness and concern.

“How innocent, how angelic, how phony,” thought Jonathan.

The audience clapped until Andrews blushed on command and told them to stop. Jonathan glanced at Beth. She was transfixed. He had lost her, to Dallas Andrews, at least for the next hour.

The man in white told his story with all the passion of the finest bard or worst televangelist, depending on one’s point of view. It was all bullshit about dead friends and relatives who’d ended up with tragically only to “speak” to Dallas through his new found gift.

Dallas ended his touching life story with “We can all be at peace with those we love who have passed over. I knew at that time I had to help others to find that peace and end the pain and worry.

It is a selfish thing that we expect the dead to contact us. It isn’t easy for them. But I’m trying to make it easier, as their go between. I channel. I am the messenger. I am merely a vessel to bring the message of love from the other side.”

Jonathan said nothing as the audience sat transfixed. He jotted a few notes then put his pen away. The night might not be a complete waste of time if the timing was right.

Andrews proceeded to ask questions of tearful audience members who wished to hear from departed loved ones.

“I’m hearing from Mary, Martha? I also see black and white. A nun. A policeman.” Andrews said in the most gentle and concerned voice.

“I can’t fucking believe this.” Jonathan swore under his breath. The people around him glared. He ignored them.

They heard from a dead son killed in a car accident, a recently departed grandmother, a young wife who died from cancer, a career Army officer killed in Iraq. Jonathan’s heart broke for those who came looking for answers and the hope of any small comfort. He took notes while Beth wiped tears from her face.

After about 90 minutes Andrews opened up for questions and answers. When called on, Jonathan stood up with his usual amused smile. “Be nice” Beth whispered.

Dallas Andrews saw a familiar face. He knew who the middle-aged man in the expensive black suit and distracting ice blue eyes was. Then he noticed the incredibly beautiful brunette sitting next to him. Dallas smiled sweetly at Beth, catching her off guard. She smiled back then blushed. With any luck he’d she’d be at the reception afterwards and after that in his suite at the Hyatt Regency across the street.

“Yes, you had a question.”

Jonathan addressed the clairvoyant. “You actually see angels? Show me who the angels in this room are?”

Dallas smiled and nodded “You won’t be able to see them. They are spirits who reveal themselves to me, but they are here, all around us. Open your heart and you’ll feel their presence.”

Jonathan didn’t like the answer “Tell me Mr. Andrews, are your angels from heaven or are they from someplace else? It’s often hard to tell the difference.”

The room hushed. Dallas Andrews was obviously annoyed by this man. “I sense you have a troubled soul.”

“You don’t know the half of it.” Jonathan replied in disgust.

Andrews gave a sympathetic smile and help out his hands, palms up. “Let me try to help you find out where your demons come from.” His voice was soothing as if talking to a troubled teen.

Jonathan almost laughed. “Oh you’re good. You’re very good. Mr. Andrews, where I come from we have words for people like you. A few that come to mind are liar, con man, cheat, and oh yes, more importantly sinner.”

“What is your name?” asked Andrews trying to keep his composure.

“You know perfectly well who I am,” thought Jonathan. He smiled at the man on stage. “Jonathan Ward, West Coast Review.”

Dallas Andrews pointed at Jonathan then put his finger to his chin. He smiled again. “I thought I recognized you. You’ve seen with your own eyes, heard with your own ears the news I’ve brought to these people tonight. Mr. Ward, humor me for a moment. Think of someone you’ve lost. Your parents were from Alaska. They died in a plane crash, you and your siblings survived. Would you like a message from your parents?” he asked raising an eyebrow at Jonathan.

Beth took Jonathan’s hand. He gave it a quick squeeze and let go. Parents my ass. “Why should my dead mother contact you, a stranger, when she could contact me directly?” he asked.

Dallas toned down his voice. He turned up the gentleness and compassion. “You block out the passage for her to travel with your negativity.”

Jonathan only glared. “You found the information about my mom from the bio on my web site. You’ve been following my stories for the past year.”

“You must have great pain in your heart” replied Dallas in a comforting voice, as he put his own hand over his heart.

“How do you know my mother is really dead or even has a soul?” Jonathan shot back sarcastically.

“I speak with the angels.”

“Really? You not only see, but you also speak with angels? That is truly amazing.”

“It is a gift, a blessing.”

“It’s a lie,” said Jonathan calmly as Beth sunk lower in her seat.

Dallas Andrews smiled sadly “Ladies and Gentlemen, this reaction is common from skeptics. There are angels all around us.”

“Show me.”

“There’s one right next to you.”

Jonathan ignored the comment. “Dallas, do you believe in God?”

“Of course.”

“Do you believe in hell?”

“I believe in the intrinsic goodness of all mankind. So, no, Mr. Ward, I don’t believe in hell.”

“You will Dallas, believe me you will.”

Dallas lifted his chin in defiance. “Is that a threat?”

“No Dallas, it isn’t a threat. It’s a statement of fact.” 

“What in your opinion is hell, Jonathan?” asked Dallas slowly and deliberately as if he was ready to pull out the big guns.

“I’ll give you a tour,” Jonathan thought to himself. He wasn’t going to take the bait. “I’ve seen enough. Good night Dallas. Don’t forget to check out next week’s issue of the West Cost Review for the end of this riveting story.” Grabbing Beth’s hand, he started to make his way to the back of the theater. Beth stopped and turned back.

“Just like Lot’s wife.” He whispered in her ear.

She pulled her hand away and hissed “Asshole.” He stopped by the exit door and faced the stage.

Dallas Andrews had already started to have a violent seizure. Then he started to scream and fell to his knees holding his head in his hands. Soon he’d feel pain like he’d never felt before. It was an ugly way to end the evening, but the man had to be stopped. Jonathan couldn’t kill, but he could do an amazing amount of damage to the living. Maybe, with any luck, Dallas Andrews would get the message and change his ways.

Jonathan smiled slightly and narrowed his eyes “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. Amen.” He said quietly to nobody in particular.

Beth looked at him with wide eyes.

He scowled at her “What? Don’t look at me like a frightened cat. I told you he was a fake.”

“Jon, we can’t just leave.”

“Sure we can. There isn’t anything we can do here except be in the way.” He took out his phone and dialed 911. “My name is Jonathan Ward. I’m at the Crest Theater on K Street. Sacramento. Dallas Andrews is having some sort of attack. Horrible convulsions. Oh my gosh, I think he passed out. Please, he needs help. I’m not sure…there’s a doctor or someone up on stage with him now.” He paused “Yes…you’ve had other calls…help is on the way. Thank you. Thank you so much.”

Beth stood in shock. “Oh no, oh no.” she whispered, her eyes still on the stage.

“Let’s go darling.” Jonathan told her grabbing her arm like a vice and practically dragging her out of the theater. She passed a few of her wide-eyed friends, but he didn’t let her stop. She’d be blabbering all night to them about poor Andrews. He wondered how someone as smart as Beth could be so gullible and stupid when it came to crap like this.

They walked across the Capitol Park to his car. Beth was livid.

“We should have stayed. I bet you made him have an aneurism with your stupid questions. I can’t believe how rude and mean spirited you were to him. I’ve never been so embarrassed in my life.” She tried to stop him but he kept walking.

He gave her a disgusted look. “I was rude and mean spirited? At least I was telling the truth.”

“No, if he dies it will be your fault.”

“How will it be my fault? Should I have asked for his medical history before I asked him any questions?”

She grabbed his arm. “Aren’t you concerned at all?”

He stopped and pushed her hand away. “Tell me why I should be concerned with a fraud like Andrews? Enlighten me?”

Beth was livid. “Dallas isn’t a fraud. What I saw tonight was real.”

This was going nowhere. Jonathan changed his tone. He ran his hands down her arms and gently took her hands. “Dear sweet Bethany. It wasn’t real.”

“You never respect anything I say or feel.” She cried trying to pull her hands away. “What about his visions from his cousin and dead girlfriend? He couldn’t have been making that up.”

Jonathan held on tight. “His cousin Joyce died when he was two years old. Andrews had seen her once. And there was no girlfriend Patty. She was a girl in his dorm who died of leukemia. They knew each other but they never went out.”

“He might have loved her. He might have cared for her.”

“No Beth, the guy is a liar and a fraud.”

“You don’t know that.”

““Listen to me. Remember the first time you saw the trunk that belonged to May Woosley, in the Sacramento History Museum? You were on a field trip with your nephew’s 4th grade class.”

Beth blinked, her voice turned shrill. “What are you talking about?”

“Let me jog your memory. May died in 1879. She was just a little girl. On the advice of a clairvoyant, like Andrews, her mother sealed a trunk full of May’s belongings in the wall of their home. Mrs. Woosley spent the rest of her life searching for a message from her daughter because she’d listened to the words of a con-artist rather than listening to her own heart for healing. The trunk wasn’t found again until 1979. When you saw it in the museum you cried. You went home and cried all night for the little girl and her family.”

“How did you…that was five years ago, before I even met you. I never told you about that.”

“You didn’t have to. Beth, don’t you see. You knew Mrs. Woosley was lied to. Dallas Andrews lies to people too.”

A tear rolled down her cheek. She backed away. “How do you know these things? You always know things.”

“I observe and I guess a lot.” He wiped the tear away and kissed her. “See, you aren’t as tough and shallow as you pretend to be.”

The fog had rolled leaving the night air with zero visibility. He took her hands and wrapped the car keys around them. “You’re driving.”

She took the keys knowing full well that he was practically blind on clear night and completely blind in the night fog.

“Could you even see Dallas Andrews on the stage.”

“I could see enough. Let’s go.”

“If you could have seen his face.”

“I saw his face clear enough to know every single thing he said was a lie.”

She adjusted the seat and glanced over at him. “You’re such an asshole.”

“Just drive.”

“Where are we going?”

“Your house.” Her house was closer and he wouldn’t have to drive her home in the morning.

“You expect me to let you…”

“I love you Beth. Nothing, including your faith in a charlatan like Dallas Andrews, is going to change that. Not now, not ever.” He took her hand and whispered, “You are my soul. And despite the fact that you drive me absolutely crazy, I need you.”

Another tear rolled down her cheek as she drove in silence.

When they got back to her house and made love to her like she was the last woman on earth. She asked him again about the long thin scars on his back. He told her for the 100th time that he didn’t remember how it happened. It was during the plane crash when his parents died way up in the Alaskan wilderness, hundreds of miles from anyone. So final. So tragic. It made for a good story, even thought it wasn’t true.

Beth’s amazing body was as fake as the con man he’d just put down. Beautiful store bought breasts, a dazzling smile of the best veneers money could buy, cheek implants and a slightly smaller and straighter nose than nature had given her, violet colored contacts covering her hazel eyes, the trendiest hair colorist in town, a sprayed on tan, artificial nails and a toned body thanks to grueling sessions with a sadistic personal trainer named Bruce. Jonathan thought wistfully that there was an entire generation of American men who had never felt a real female breast.

The sad thing was that at thirty-eight Beth would have been lovely without most of the work. At least her heart was real, despite her tendency to be shallow and superficial.

He knew he scared her. The only reason she kept him around was for the great sex and his political connections. What a joke – there were no real “best” connections in Sacramento or anywhere else for that matter.

Jonathan knew the best people to know where those brilliant folks who stayed away from the media limelight, away from the cultural and political wanna-bees. He often thought, “Give me the rocket scientist next door over those who claimed they partied with Arnold and Jerry, or knew the more influential elected officials and developers at the state capitol. Give me my own friends; the mom who writes historic romance novels, the high school science teacher, the master gardener and the emergency room doctor. These were the people who really know what it is like to be alive and human.”

The next morning the fog had been replaced by a grey drizzle of rain. He left Beth’s in his silver Jaguar XJR, heading off to the airport to pick up Lorna. A few years his senior, she was a golden haired, blue eyed living Barbie doll. She lived in Malibu with a view of the ocean. Tapped into the spiritual rhythm of the ocean, she fit right into the affluent new age lifestyles of her neighbors. They had to be some of the most entertaining and shallow people he’d ever met.

“Where’s the hybrid?” asked Lorna

“Dropped it off for new tires.” He thought of Lorna and her unrelenting social conscience – knew he should have driven the hybrid, then shrugged it off. This weekend he wanted style not substance. In a few hours all the substance he could ever want was going to be shoved down his throat.

“We’d better not break down. What are you listening to?” she asked in disgust when he started up the car.

“Metallica.”

She turned it off. “Have you heard today’s news yet?”

“No. I’m clearing my mind today. No radio. No TV. No newspapers. No Internet. No phone.”

“Tell me what happened last night?”

“Beth broke up with me. She said I was too intense. I recall she used also used the words weird, asshole and insensitive. Lots of tears so I think there is a good chance she’ll take me back.”

Lorna grabbed his wrist like a vice. “What happened with Dallas Andrews?”

“Let go, do you want me to wreck the car? Where did you hear about Andrews?”

“NPR, Morning Edition. CNN. Fox. LA Times.”

“Was my name mentioned?”

“They said that in the process of being interrogated by you, Andrews had a violent seizure. He is now is now seeing visions of hell and keeps mentioning your name.”

He changed the music to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. 

“Funny guy that Andrews. I heard the story on the way to the airport. Didn’t realize Dallas Andrews was so popular.” He said giving Lorna a wink. “Grab my phone, it’s in the glove box. Check my messages.”

Lorna’s beautiful mouth turned into a slight smile as she listened to the messages. Jonathan thought it was almost a snarl. “You have twenty two messages. The first three are from your office, CNN and Beth. She’s hysterical. The rest seem to be people wanting to talk to you about Andrews.” They headed down Hwy 50 towards the hills. “What are we going to do with you Jonathan?” she asked rubbing his neck with her left hand.

“Don’t do anything with me” he answered quietly. “Just let me do my job.”

They went up the hill towards Sutter Creek, to Ruth’s Ranch as he always called it, for the annual, get our heads screwed back on, clear our brains, find peace, drink a lot of great wine and solve all our problems retreat. He was looking forward to it. The past few months had been a major drain on his mental and emotional resources.

Jonathan looked over at beautiful golden Lorna dozing in the seat next to him. She was his older sister, his mentor, the one who kept him grounded. He imagined her with a halo and beautiful wings spread out in shining glory. Then he wondered if she was sleeping with her new best friend, a plastic surgeon named, Dennis O’Brian. Denny, as she called the man was nice enough, but suddenly Jonathan felt like he wanted to beat the crap out of the guy if he ever touched Lorna. Then he’d torture him and flay off his skin leaving him a quivering mass of, well, whatever. He had to stop being so protective of his sisters.

Jonathan’s mind skipped back Dallas Andrews. He felt sick to his stomach. It had been unpleasant business, but somebody had to do it. After all it wasn’t easy being angel.

Short Story Sunday: Not Going Anywhere

The conversation was always the same, no matter who I talked to.

I’m not going anywhere.

I wasn’t going anywhere either. For one thing it was too hot. 102°F. I’d done all of my gardening. My husband was up working on something in his office. Maybe he was looking up Air BNB sites but I don’t know. It isn’t like we could really go anywhere. Even in Lassen Volcanic National Park the place we usually rent was unavailable this year. Besides that there are warnings about otter attacks.

With the advent of the heat even the Neighborhood sites where people complain about the homeless camps by the parks, lost pets, and reports of gunfire and illegal fireworks were uncommonly quiet. There wasn’t much today except someone looking for a handyman, and someone else wanting to know if anyone could recommend a new pizza place.

I was sitting at my breakfast nook table reading when I smelled something vile. We’d had problems with skunks this summer. The dog had been sprayed twice after we’d taken her out in the yard to pee, resulting in late night washings in the side yard. But skunks usually don’t come out at three in the afternoon.

I looked out the window into my yard. There they were in the garden stealing my tomatoes. One was picking through the squash plants. Damn it. I’d yelled at them before to keep out of my yard.

After slipping on my sandals I went out back.

“Hey, if you want tomatoes you’re going to have to work for it. You’re going to have to grow your own fucking garden.” I was harsh and swore but there is no being nice with these guys. “You see those tools over there,” I said. “Pick out some shovels and start digging.”

They stood watching me with the eyes of the stoned. I know for a fact they go up to National Forest and State Park land and steal pot plants from illegal growers.

“I’ll be right back,” I said. “Start digging and earn your keep or I’ll call the local news station and maybe the police. I know you don’t want that kind of attention.”

They looked sad and picked up the shovels. I went went inside and came back out with a big Costco sized bottle of shampoo, a big bottle of conditioner, a couple bars of oatmeal soap, and some old brushes and combs I’d found under the sink in the bathroom.

“Before you do anything you need to clean up. I’m going to choke if I have to smell your years of stench. How can you live with yourselves?” I yelled at them.

They picked up the hose and started to clean up.

After about thirty minutes I went back outside. They were drying off and most of the smell was gone.

One of them grumbled something about the local food bank.

“You can’t go to the food bank,” I told them. “They’d have you locked up. Keep digging. I’ll make you some sandwiches and heat up some tamales for you.”

Back before Covid-19 I only had to deal with deer, or maybe wild turkeys. This year nobody was going anywhere, including the tribe of Big Foots who’d camped out in my back yard.

I knew things were going to be strange this summer, but hey it could be worse. You know, it could be worse.

~ end

 

 

Tangled Tales

 

A Lunch Date With Zombies

This event happened in 2012 but it seems fitting to retell it today, now, considering everything that is happening in a time when truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

 

A Lunch Date With Zombies

Fridays are usually my lunch hunt date. I switched things up this week and took Cody, my young “Vampire in Training” out with me today.

Lunch dates are fun ways for Vampires to hunt right out in the open. They involve fun, flirting, a bit of seduction and just enough blood to get you going for the weekend ahead. And regular humans never even suspect. They just leave the situation feeling warm and fuzzy, a little tired, and they think they’ve, well, you know.

Cody and I had arranged to meet an old friend of mine at my office with an associate of his. They were Lobbyist for the farming industry (after all we’re in the State Capitol and in the largest agricultural state).  Mike and Melissa. I’m in public relations and do work for them from time to time.

Cody is shy by nature, a sweet likeable young man, but when it comes to hunting he is extremely shy. Most new Vampires can’t wait to get hunting, but with Cody it is more of a sweet romance, rather than just taking what one wants.

So to make a short story long, a guy in a suit shows up at the door. He looks like he’s been to hell and back then I recognize him as Mike. Behind him is Melissa, who is usually the perkiest blonde I’ve ever met, looking ashen and un-perkey.

I wonder if someone died, then realize, somebody has. They don’t smell right. They don’t look right. My stomach turns. Even Cody is picking up on something.

I step back.

“Juliette” says Mike “You have to help us.”

He puts his hand on my arm and I immediately feel it – ZOMBIES.

Funny, likable and extremely smart Mike, a sixth generation California farmer, graduate of UCD (THE Farm School) and successful advocate for the farmer is now…for all practical purposes DEAD.

And don’t give me any crap about being a Vampire. My flesh isn’t rotting and I’m not craving human brains for lunch. Plus I know where my soul is.

I’m confused. Both Mike and Melissa look good, all things considering.

Plus I thought all the Zombies had been confined to a compound in the Mojave Desert outside of Barstow.

“We’ve taken massive amounts of antibiotics to help prevent the rot and we’ve been drinking a lot of embalming fluid. That keeps the smell off and slows down the rot.” Mike told us.

The pair was driving across the Imperial Valley when they were stopped at a roadblock. Little did they know what seemed to be police were actually rogue Zombies.  Later that night they were picked up by the authorities and brought to the super secret Area Z, where Zombies are kept to be monitored and studied.

I thought of long afternoons with Mike and how sweet his blood tasted. I thought of the slow seductions and languid after glows. Now here he was, doing everything he could to keep his skin from falling off in sheets. Holy crap, this was bad.

“What do you need?” I asked.

Mike put a hand to his face, adjusting his left eye back into the socket. “I want you to turn us into Vampires.”

OK, this is where the sound effects do a screeching halt. The very idea of a Zombie is revolting but putting my lips on the flesh of a Zombie and sharing blood. Putrid rotting blood.

“Has this ever been done?” Asked Cody.

“No, or at least never that I’ve heard of.” I said. “So much could go wrong.”

“Nothing could be worse than it is already.” Melissa wailed and watched as her thumbnail fell to the floor along with the tip of her thumb.

I thought about it for a moment then spoke in secret to Cody. I had an idea. If it worked we’d be heroes. If it didn’t we’d have to kill the Zombies, no matter that they were our friends.

I took Cody into the small kitchen area of the office where we bit into our wrists and let our own Vampire blood drain into two coffee cups.

The Zombies drank and before our eyes their skin went from gray to the color of their former living flesh (peaches & cream and coffee & cream – Vampires always think of everyone in terms of food, we can’t help it).

“I won’t turn you, not yet, but see if this helps. Don’t tell a soul, or anyone without a soul. Don’t tell anyone or I will hunt you down and kill you myself. Do you understand?”

They said they understood. I thought my stomach was going to drop out and my head would explode as they left the building.

Cody was about to speak when I told him. “The same goes to you Cody. If you tell a soul I will kill you and it won’t be fast or painless.”

“Got it.” Said Cody. I thought of my favorite movie line and said to Cody. “This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Cody smiled.  Then and there I knew he’d make a great Vampire.

I’ll keep you posted on Mike and Melissa – when and if I hear anything.

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman

 

Note: Yes, you might have seen this post before. We can’t forget our Zombie friends. They might be falling apart but we still love them.

Noz ~ a story by Mike Cooley

Noz

By Mike Cooley

The thump woke me up. Noz looked at me, blood dripping from his fangs. The body was on the floor in the kitchen; she looked young. The cigarette between my stained fingers was still lit and my hair was matted against the side of my face. I was lying on the ratty couch and an empty bottle of something cheap was on the carpet between me and the dark glass table. The cabin smelled ashes, spilled red wine, and fate.

“Noz. What have I told you about bringing home strangers?” I nodded toward the young lady, who was lying on her back, motionless and pale. Her hair was sandy blonde, and she was wearing a jade necklace, a turquoise blouse, and black shorts. The smell of her perfume wafted toward me, floral and ephemeral.

Nozfuratu’s satisfied grin morphed into a look of apology. He licked his left paw and smoothed his ebony hair back, trying to act nonchalant. “Mrow?” Other than the inverted white cross on his forehead, he was pitch black. It wasn’t immediately obvious how a feline of his relatively small size was able to take down a human and drag her all the way home, but I had long since given up trying to figure that part out.

I sat up with a groan, the inside of my skull pounding like a kodo drum, grabbed the kit off the table, and then beaconed Noz with a curled finger. “Come here. You know the drill.”

He sheepishly approached, after looking over his shoulder to make sure his prize was still there. Then he stopped in front of me and bared his teeth, holding still. The aura around him flickered with power.

I moved the test strip close and took a crimson drop off his incisor, then I inserted it into the tester and waited. “AB Negative? What have I told you about that, Noz?”

His ears flattened and he looked at me with apprehension. Then he gave me his best sad eyes.

“Can’t you smell the difference? I know we discussed this. If you have to hunt, you need to stick to O Positive or A Positive. I’m running out of everything else.” I wagged a finger at him. “You know how dangerous it is for me to leave.” I gestured at the walls of my cabin, nestled deep in the woods west of Duluth. There were piles of books and magazines all over and it looked like a small windstorm had just blown through. Shelves fastened to the walls contained a strange assortment of artifacts including silver rocket ships, moon rocks, and particle detectors.

Noz nodded with understanding, but his eyes were defiant and wise. His long tail twitched back and forth hypnotically.

The girl on the floor was still motionless. I stood and stretched, then rubbed the sand out of my eyes. Noz followed me into the kitchen, around the girl, and to the fridge. I opened the door, exposing row after row of blood bags, hanging from metal rods. I pushed them to the left, looking for the rare AB. There was one bag of it, near the back, so I grabbed it and then shut the door. There were dusty photos of crop circles taped to the front of the refrigerator and a few pictures of people that used to admit they knew me.

Noz trotted over to a ceramic bowl on the floor and lapped up some water.

I hooked the bag onto a metal stand near the broken television, then picked up the girl and laid her down gently on the couch. Then I wheeled the stand closer, and propped the girl’s head up on a pillow that was closer to clean than the rest of my place. Noz watched with great interest as I sterilized the needle with my lighter, let it cool, and then eased it into her arm.

Noz crept up to the side of the couch and peered up at her, his long black hair making him look bigger than he actually was. He sniffed her skin and then licked her pale face.

“Give her some space, Noz. You almost killed her. Why does a little guy like you need so much blood, anyway? You got a hollow leg?” I dodged the stack of Ancient Aliens magazines and pulled another bottle of cabernet out of a cardboard box on the floor. The cabin was a mess and smelled of damp cigarette butts, booze, and loneliness. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a real visitor.  Not many people knew where I was—and that’s how I liked it.

I sat down in my padded leather chair near a stained glass floor lamp, on the other side of the glass table from the girl. She looked like she was in her twenties, slight of build and a bit scuffed up from being dragged by Noz. I pulled the cork and poured a glass of dark red, then lit a Marlboro and took a drag. The ashtray on the night stand next to my chair was full of  filters and ash. There were empty beer cans on every horizontal surface.

Noz sniffed the girl’s hair one more time, then walked over, jumped into my lap, and curled up in a ball. His eyes closed and he began to purr. He smelled of power, like he did every time he brought someone back, and he felt heavier than he looked, like he was made of warm granite or lead.

I lifted the red, inhaled the aroma, and swirled it. Then I tilted it up, finishing my glass and pouring another. I looked around the inside of the cabin for signs that anyone had been there while I was passed out, but the haphazard clutter seemed the same as the night before. I didn’t remember when the voices had dimmed and let me fall asleep, but it had to have been hours ago.

The girl’s eyes fluttered open. They were blue and filled with confusion, which changed to awareness, and then panic as she scanned the room and stopped on me. “Where? Where am I? Who are you?”

“Noz dragged you home.” I gestured toward his sleeping form in my lap. “But he took too much blood, so I gave you back a pint.” I pointed at the metal stand and the hanging crimson bag, which was half empty.

She looked around the dirty, cluttered living room until her eyes fixed on the front door. Then she looked back at me. Her eyes shone with defiance, rather than fear. She tried to sit up and then slumped back down, closing her eyes for a moment.

“You’re not afraid.” I took the last drag from my cigarette, ashing it out in the octagonal glass ashtray to my left, then I exhaled slowly toward the front door. The window to the right of the door revealed only darkness beyond.

“Should I be?” She sat up on the couch again and groaned, reaching toward the bite mark on her throat. “Are you trying to tell me that little thing brought me here?” She pointed at Noz.

I nodded. “He’s a vampire.”

“Your cat is a vampire?”

“Would you like some wine? You lost a lot of blood.” I slid Noz off my lap onto the chair and stood slowly, then reached down into the crate for the last bottle. The girl didn’t flinch or try to scramble off the couch. “Normally they try to run when they wake up.”

“I’m not a runner.” She looked at the blood bag hanging from the metal stand, and then down at the tape on her arm.

“My cat bit you, sucked your blood, and then dragged you home; I’m a black man, somewhat disheveled, and you don’t know where you are.” I pulled the cork, poured my glass full and then poured half a glass and set it down on the table within reach of the girl.

Noz woke up and jumped down onto the dirty, wooden floor. Then he walked over to the couch and looked up at the girl as if apologizing.

“Somewhat?” She reached down and petted him. “I’m Nalia. Noz is cute. What if I leave and tell the police what happened?”

“You won’t remember me when you leave. No one does.” I rubbed my unshaven chin and took a gulp of wine. I looked down at my stained t-shirt and grungy pants. I couldn’t remember the last time I had showered.

Nalia reached for her glass, then lifted it to her lips and took a small, experimental sip.

“It’s safe. Same bottle.” I raised my glass. “Sorry about the bite and the scratches… Noz gets hungry.”

“This happens a lot? Where are the other girls?” Nalia patted the couch next to her and Noz jumped up.

“They left after I gave them some blood back. Halfway through the woods they forgot all about us.”

“So you’re magic?”

“Noz is. I’m just a man with a troubled mind.”

“Troubled, dangerous?”

“Not to you.”

“Can he turn into a bat?” Nalia scratched Noz behind the ears.

“No. But he doesn’t show up in mirrors, and rarely goes out before dark. Garlic doesn’t bother him and silver bullets can’t kill him.”

“You look a little rough. You all right?” Nalia leaned forward and looked me up and down.

“It’s been a rough couple of lifetimes. It gets a bit noisy up here.” I tapped my temple. “Why didn’t you run when you woke up?”

“My Mom says I’m different. That I embrace risk.” She took a bigger sip of cabernet and looked at the bookshelf full of Alchemy tomes against the far wall.

“And that’s what you think?” I let the voices inside wash over me like an ocean wave, and then they receded to a dull murmur. They were trying to tell me something about Nalia, but I couldn’t make it out. It was all static.

“No. Well, yes—I am different. But it’s not about risk. What about you?”

“I believe I was born under a pyramid. And I’m a patchwork of ghosts.”

“How’s that possible?”

“Sometimes when people die, and I’m close enough, their ghost passes through me—and sticks. Then I have another voice up here.” I pointed at my forehead. “I have attracted the attention of the wrong beings.”

Noz galloped across the room and jumped to the top of the bookcase, peering down at us like a gargoyle; then he closed his amber eyes.

“Is this a kidnapping?” Nalia watched Noz on his perch. She brushed her pale hair back behind her ears and continued absorbing the details around her as if cataloguing them so she could describe everything to the authorities. She sniffed the air experimentally and then her nose wrinkled.

“More of a cat napping.” I pointed to Noz, who remained still. “You are free to leave at any time. But the GeoSat rays are strong right now, so you might wanna wait…”

“Rays?” Nalia leaned forward and raised an eyebrow. Her blouse was covered with butterflies and the jade stone was fastened to her necklace with silver wire. Her fingernails were painted dark purple, matching her lips. She was wearing tennis shoes.

Noz vaulted from the top of the bookcase, stretched out to catch the air, and glided down to Nalia, landing on her shoulder.

“He’s yours now.” I took a drag of filtered death and then turned my head and exhaled away from Nalia toward the back room. The cabin had one main room with a kitchen, a bathroom, and one bedroom.

“You can’t just give me your cat.”

“Noz is allowed to have pets. But only one at a time.” I smiled. “Wanna test your legs and get me a beer?”

Nalia pulled the needle out of her arm with a grimace and then reapplied the tape to her arm where it had been pierced. The bag on the stand was nearly empty. Then she stood up, her stance belying the fact that she was ready to bolt. She wavered a bit, like a palm tree in an ocean breeze, and then stabilized. “Why did you say the rays are strong?” She turned toward the fridge.

Noz remained on her shoulder, enjoying the ride. He nuzzled against her left ear and began to purr.

“You’re an anomaly. They’ve noticed.” I pointed up toward the sky.

Nalia opened the fridge and gasped at the rows of hanging bags. “That’s a lotta blood.”

“Nozfuratu is a good hunter. Beer’s in the bottom drawer.”

Nalia grabbed two Castle Danger’s and tossed one my way. “Catch!”

I caught it and popped open the can. “Thanks.”

She nodded, walked back over to the couch, and sat down, cracking her beer open and taking a gulp. “What do you mean I’m an anomaly? What did I do?”

“It’s not what you did… it’s what you are. You’re an energy channeler.”

“A what?”

“You might be more familiar with the term, witch.”

“My parents are normal. I was born through the woods and down the hill, on the shore of Lake Superior.” Nalia pointed.

“One or both of your parents is not. One thing abnormals are really good at… is hiding it. Outsiders are in constant danger on this world.”

“How can you tell what I am?”

“The glow around your left ring finger.”

Nalia held up her hand. “I don’t see anything.”

“I see a lot of things.” I drank half the ale and lit another cigarette. “Are you feeling better?”

“A little weak. Last thing I remember is the little bastard leaping for my throat.” Nalia grabbed Noz by the scruff of the neck and shook him gently. “I was out for a walk. Getting some air. Trying to leave my troubles behind.”

“I know a thing or three about trouble.”

“What are you doing hiding in the woods?”

“Iron Ore.” I drank the rest of the beer, crumpled the can, and tossed it across the room into a basket full of empties.

“Pardon?” Nalia took another sip then set her beer down on the table. “Those things will kill ya.”

I looked down at the Marlboro, then rubbed the stubble on my chin. “It’s not that easy. The iron helps disburse the rays—from up there—so I can sleep.” I pointed at the ceiling, which was dusty and festooned with cobwebs.

“Are you one of those Flat Earthers?” Nalia laughed.

“I’m a Multiple Earther. That which you think you know is nothing more than a thin veil over what actually exists.”

“I’m not a witch.” Nalia tilted her can up and emptied it, then set it down on the table.

Noz jumped onto her lap and curled up.

“But you have powers. ”

“Not useful ones, like dodging flying vampire cats.”

“I know this is a lot to ask, but would you consider helping me?”

“How often do you have strange girls in your house?”

“Ladies.”

“Don’t change the subject.” Nalia pointed at me and her aura grew larger. There was a blue glow around her hands that crept up her arms toward her shoulders.

“It’s not polite to point.”

“Considering the circumstances, I don’t believe that you are occupying the high ground here. Right, Noz?” Nalia looked down at the dark fluff.

Noz opened one eye, then nodded and smiled.

“Could you help me transfer my energy signature to Eagle Mountain? It will be dangerous.”

“Hold on. You want me to carry your energy away from here?”

“No. I will walk there, with you. And then we will perform the ceremony. It’s the only way to break the GeoSat link. Noz will come with us, for protection.”

Noz stretched and then looked from Nalia toward the front door.

“What if he gets hungry again?”

“He won’t be hungry again for a few days. But he might bite some things.”

Nalia picked up a magazine and looked at the cover. “Why do you have all these Alien Artifact ‘Zines?” She opened it up and scanned all the handwritten notes in the margins and then the circled phrases and images.

“Research.”

“So, you’re nuts because of these GeoSat beams?” Nalia closed the magazine and set it down on the table.

“I was always nuts. But once they found me here, they’ve redoubled their efforts and I’m pinned down like a bug on a needle under a magnifying glass. They know my frequency.”

Nalia looked at the front window and then at her watch. “It’s eleven. What if we take too long and the sun comes up while we are hiking in the woods with Noz?”

I stood up, walked down the hall to the bedroom door, opened it, and grabbed the carved wooden box from the night stand. Then I turned, walked back into the living room, and held it up. “I’ll bring his nest. We can put him in it before sunrise.” I set the box down on the glass table in front of her.

“You have a coffin for your cat?” Nalia smirked.

“Your cat. Although he doesn’t much care for the idea of a human owning him. As far as Noz is concerned, you are his.”

Nalia scratched Noz under the chin. “One bite and you think you own me?”

Noz bared his teeth and pretended he was going to bite Nalia again but instead lightly nibbled.

“So you will help me? It’s not too much of an imposition? You’re not afraid… of me?” I sat down in my chair and closed my eyes, feeling the rays outside searching for me while the ghosts inside tried to escape through my breath.

“It appears that you are only a danger to yourself. And I wasn’t going anywhere when Noz bit me and drained my blood. I was just walking in the trees, trying to absorb some positive thoughts from the old ones.”

I opened my grey eyes and leaned forward. “Oh, I’m dangerous. But not to women. Right, Noz?”

Noz perked up and looked from me to Nalia, then dipped his chin.

“Why me?” Nalia held up her left hand and examined her fingers. “I don’t see any glow.”

“You have become accustomed to your power. It lies beneath the surface like a smooth lake under ice. But I am lucky Noz found you. He is wise beyond his years.”

Nalia went to the fridge and grabbed two more beers, tossing me one. Then she cracked hers open. “I’m in. But no funny stuff.”

“Hiking up a mountain with an old man and a vampire cat while being scanned by GeoSats doesn’t count as funny stuff?” I opened my eyes wide and then grinned.

“How far is it?” Nalia drank half of her Castle Danger, then set the can down. “I better use your bathroom first.”

I pointed down the hallway to the left. “It’s about four hours to the top from here. If we don’t get attacked.”

Noz ran ahead of Nalia and popped into the bathroom. There was a thump and then the light clicked on.

Nalia laughed and followed him.

I sipped my beer and smoked another death stick while Nalia took care of business. Then I slipped the remainder of the Marlboro pack into my shirt pocket along with a lighter, grabbed a knife and slid it inside my boot sheath, and then packed Noz’s carved wooden nest into a backpack.

Nalia and Noz emerged from the bathroom and came back into the living room.

Noz looked excited. He knew we were going somewhere.

“Ready?” I stood up and slung the backpack over my shoulders.

Nalia nodded.

I opened the front door and headed outside.

Nalia and Noz followed. She closed the door behind her.

Thetrees towered above us and the faint glow of the moon shone through a layer of clouds. The forest smelled of pine. I followed the winding dirt trail and scanned the thick underbrush. Nalia and Noz were close behind me. I pulled a cigarette from my front shirt pocket and lit it, then took a puff.

“What’s your name anyway? And what are you looking for in the woods?” Nalia looked over at me.

Noz hung close to her legs, his ears perked and his eyes wide. He was watching the woods, too, and smelling the air.

“Isaac. I’m watching for manifestations. Noz can smell them.”

“Manifest what?”

“The GeoSat beams know where I am. And they can produce… creatures.”

“So we are in danger? I thought it would just be bears or cougars.” Nalia looked down at Noz who was peering up at the tree tops.

“The Manifests are deadly. But I have a knife.” I pointed at my boot. “And Noz.”

“And me.” Nalia smiled. “So these ‘Sats are aliens that want to kill you?”

“In a way. But not flying saucer aliens. They know I can expose them, so they want to keep me isolated. I know where they’re from, and that they’re trying to change the future.” I walked faster. There was a smell that I recognized wafting through the air. It was like burnt cinnamon mixed with rotten leaves.

Noz growled and then shot ahead of us.

“There’re here.” I crouched, then reached into my left boot and pulled out the hunting knife.

Nalia’s eyes grew wide. She stopped in the middle of the winding trail and took a defensive stance. “I don’t see anything.”

“Open your mind.”

Three blue beams erupted from the midnight sky, piercing the darkness. There was a crackle of energy and then the creatures were upon us. They were misshaped and hairy, like melted gorillas from a different world. Their hands had too many fingers and their eyes were scattered around on their faces, asymmetrically.

“Jesus.” Nalia extended her left hand and a green glow sprang up around her, shimmering like a translucent egg.

Noz flew through the air and hit the first manifestation in the head, fangs extended. His momentum knocked the creature down and they both rolled down the hill to our left.

“Feel your energy. It springs from within. Shield us and I will take these two on.” I lunged forward and stabbed the closest creature. The steel blade pierced its cold skin. It screamed with a voice that sounded like metal ripping, and raked me with obsidian talons, tearing my shirt and drawing blood. An acrid smell filled my nostrils.

Nalia went to one knee, and the green aura extended around her like a bubble.

The second creature dashed itself against the bubble in anger, but the shield held.

“I don’t know how to do this.” Naila’s face showed fear and she was trembling; sweat ran down her forehead.

“It’s not necessary to know. It’s not something you learn; it’s something you are. Feel the flow and stay in it. You are a conduit.” I spun to my right and the second creature barreled into me, pinning me to the ground. The knife dropped out of my hand, slick with the blue blood of the creature I had stabbed.

Noz popped out of the bushes, his muzzle and head covered with the blood of the creature he had wrestled down the hill. He pounced on the back of the one that had me pinned and started biting it.

The manifest on top of me screamed like a rusty hangar door and rolled off, scrabbling at its back with both arms, trying to dislodge Nozfuratu.

The third creature battered against Nalia’s shield over and over, trying to reach her. Each time it hit the barrier, it drove her back and the shield weakened. The green glow of her power crackled and sputtered. Nalia was on both knees, sweat drenching her body. “I can’t hold it. I can’t.”

“One more minute. You can do it.” I rolled to my left, grabbed the knife, and plunged it into the creature Noz was biting. It shimmered and then dissolved into dark azure smoke, which drifted away on the night’s breeze leaving nothing but the echo of its last scream.

Noz screeched and turned toward Nalia as her shield collapsed and the last manifestation knocked her to the ground.

Nalia screamed and raised her arms, trying to knock the creature off.

The creature wrapped both of its powerful hands around her neck and squeezed. It was making a gibbering noise and its many eyes were wide open and staring.

Nalia’s screams stopped and she went limp.

Noz bit the creature, draining blood while pulling it off of her.

I stabbed it in the head and it turned to smoke like the others.

“Nalia?” I examined her neck, which was bruised but not broken. She was breathing.

Noz rubbed against her anxiously, his face near hers. Then he licked her lips.

“Wha? Christ!” Nalia’s eyes fluttered open and then she coughed and sat up, clutching her throat. “That was close.”

“Now you see why I don’t leave my cabin.”

“Thanks for saving me, Noz.” Nalia rubbed under his chin.

Noz purred like a tiny chainsaw and then licked his paw trying to clean his face of the creature’s blood.

I wiped the viscous blue off my knife and then sheathed it in my boot. “You feel well enough to keep walking?”

Nalia nodded and stood up. She rubbed her neck and moved her head around in a circle carefully, checking for pain.

I started walking along the dirt trail again. It was getting steeper as we passed the base of the mountain.

“How far to the cave? Are we going to run into any more manifestations?”

“We are getting close.” I reached for another cigarette, but the pack was empty. “The creatures don’t usually manifest again, right after an attack.”

We walked for another twenty minutes before I held up a hand. I could see beams scanning the woods all around us, and the glow of eyes watching from the trees. “We’re here. It’s off to the right, behind that outcropping.” I pointed.

“I don’t know what to do. I’m not really a witch, you know.” Nalia reached down and grabbed Noz, then put him on her shoulder.

“I know you don’t think you are. You’ve been conditioned by humans. They’ve taught you to suppress it. They’ve made you forget what you really are.”

I led the way off the trail and into the mouth of the cave.

“Now what?” Nalia pulled a flashlight out of a pocket on the backpack and illuminated the hollow.

The cave was twenty feet high and deep enough we couldn’t see the end. The rock walls were covered with moss, and the dirt floor was littered with pebbles and small bones.

“You are going to extract my essence and coat the cave walls with it. That will trick the GeoSats into thinking I’m here. You will have to nearly kill me, or it won’t work.”

“But I don’t know how.”

“Noz will help.” I laid down on the cave floor and stretched out my arms. “Reach down to my chest and find the edge of my essence.”

Nalia knelt down beside me and placed her hands on my chest. “But what—what if you die?”

“There are worse ways to die than looking at beauty.”

Noz leapt down from Nalia’s shoulder, and took up a position to my right. He looked up at Nalia expectantly.

“Close your eyes and feel the essence within me. It will feel like warm gelatin. And it will pulse with fire. It will burn.”

“I think. I think I can feel it.” Nalia spread her hands and began to pull them upward.

Noz gave a worried meep, placing his face close to mine.

I felt the warm rush of my life force draining, as if my blood was evaporating, and I grew faint. “Take my essence, and paint the walls with it.”

Nalia crouched over me, fear in her eyes.

Everything began to spin in a dreamlike spiral. I could smell freshly turned earth and pine trees. The ghosts within me sprang free and hung in the air like paper lanterns.

She spread her fingers and a pulsing glow sprang from her hands. She reached into my chest and pulled on my heart. Then she pulled her hands back and my energy flowed upward and out of me.

My eyes closed.

Nalia flung her hands upward and outward, spraying bits of my essence over the inside of the cave like spatters of gold.

Noz nuzzled my cheek. “Mrrow.”

A sigh escaped my lips and I exhaled. I felt no need to inhale anymore. The weight of the world rose off of me like a shimmer of light. There was a vibration within my chest like the rumble of faraway thunder. I could smell coffee. Memories flickered by like moths.

Nalia’s eyes widened. “Oh, no you don’t!” She pounded my chest with her fists.

“I’m not leaving you.” My voice was no more than a whisper. “But I’m too weak to walk. Noz will have to drag me far away from here before my essence is detectable again.”

Noz bit down on my pant leg and dragged me from the cave as if I weighed nothing. Above the rocky opening in the side of the mountain the GeoSat beams danced, scanning the area. They played across the cave opening while dreams of the ancients flickered into life behind my eyelids. Ghosts danced and swirled through my consciousness like flickering fireflies.

“Isaac? Are you alive?” Nalia crouched over me. Her voice sounded far away.

My eyes opened. Noz was perched on my chest and I was lying on my back. Trees rose above me and it was nearing dawn. I could hear the chirping of birds as the forest began to wake. “I am. Where are we?”

“About halfway back. Noz dragged you.” Nalia’s blue eyes showed concern and her lips were a tight line.

“And the beams?”

“They didn’t follow. They were scanning the top of the mountain behind us.”

“We need to get Noz in his nest.” I sat up and the forest swirled around me. I fought the urge to black out and squeezed my temples.

Nalia pulled Noz’s coffin out of the backpack and set it on the ground, then opened it. The outside was carved walnut while the inside was red velvet. The hinges and clasps were golden. “Time for your nap, Noz.”

A warm, red glow sprang up from the eastern horizon, filtering through the brush like blood.

I grabbed Nozfuratu and held him to my chest, grasping him tight. Then I looked into his eyes. “You take care of her.”

Noz rested his head on my shoulder for a moment, then jumped off of me and into his nest, curling into a ball. He looked up at Nalia expectantly then lifted a paw in my direction.

I held up a hand, palm open and let a wash of feelings swirl through me like an undercurrent in a fierce river.

She closed the lid and latched it. “He’s in. Can you walk?”

I struggled to my feet. “As long as I can lean on you a little. We need to get back to my cabin before my strength comes back, or the GeoSats will detect me.”

“They were scanning the cave when we dragged you out of there.”

“I think you did it, Nalia. They will believe I’m still there.” I leaned against her and walked as fast as I could. Each step was harder than the next and I was barely able to lift my feet. My bones were weary, but I wasn’t going to waste the chance.

The sun was kissing the ground to the east, red turning to golden, rays cascading through the leaves when we got back to the cabin.

Nalia pulled open the front door and dragged me to the couch where I collapsed as everything went black.

Shewas sitting on the leather chair keeping an eye on me when I woke up, a beer in each hand. Her aura was bright and undulated around her like a ghostly shell.

“Feeling better?” Nalia leaned forward. “You look dazed.”

I sat up and looked around the room, spotting Noz’s wooden nest on the glass table in front of me. “I’m feeling free. I can’t hear the beams.” I looked up at the ceiling. “Best sleep I’ve had in years. How long was I out?”

Nalia smiled. “It’s dusk. You slept all day.” She held a beer up in the direction of the front window, where daylight was beginning to fade. “What now?”

“You are free to go. I owe you my life. Take Noz with you.” I leaned forward, unlatched the coffin, and opened the lid.

Noz opened one amber eye, then the other, then vaulted out of his coffin in one swift motion. He stretched and preened, his face lighting up when he saw Nalia.

Nalia walked to the fridge, grabbed a handful of blood bags, and jammed them into the backpack. Then she pulled the pack onto her shoulders and reached down to pet Noz’s head. “You sure you’ll be okay without us?”

I nodded. “They won’t know where I am for awhile. Perhaps long enough for me to escape them.”

“I believe in you.” Nalia walked over, placed a hand on my shoulder, then leaned down and kissed my cheek.

“Be careful, Nalia. They know who you are now.”

Nalia smiled. “I will, Isaac. I will.”

Noz ran across the room, leapt up to the door handle, and turned it with his weight. He locked eyes with me and raised his chin with pride.

Emotion welled up in Nalia’s eyes. She touched a finger to her lips and looked away before her face could betray her.

The front door swung open, and then they were gone.

* * *

From Mike Cooley:

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I am a science fiction and fantasy writer by night, and a software engineer by day. I have written many science fiction, fantasy, and horror stories. I grew up in Washington State, went to college in New Mexico, and ended up in Minnesota. My top influences are Phillip K. Dick and James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Sheldon). I could name another hundred writers that have influenced me and my work, but that would be a bit excessive.

~ Mike Cooley

Tangled Tales

From Juliette:

I love this story so much.

I can’t even express how honored I am to feature this story from my friend and  author Mike Cooley. Thank you Mike.

Mike’s blog Last Writes Fantastical Tales of Madness and Mayhem can be found HERE (click here.) There you’ll find his blog, his books, contact information, and some of the best new science fiction, fantasy, and horror available today.

His work is also featured in several WPaD (Writers, Poets, and Deviants) Anthologies.

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Over the next few months I’ll be featuring other talented guest authors.

~ Juliette aka Vampire Maman