Vampire Dancing, page 13
Michael watches Amber until she disappears through the door at the other end of the aisle.
The lights in the car briefly flicker.
The Jeff-thing begins to stir. Its face is a mess of black fluid.
“Okay,” Michael says, turning to the creature. He slaps the end of the bar against the palm of an open hand. “Let's get this over with.”
Amber rushes into the adjacent car. There's no sign of Stan or Wendy, but Barbara is there, sitting down and staring at the small white vase in her hand.
She looks at Amber - “He's at home now” - then opens the lid and empties the ashes before her feet.
“Barbara ...” Amber doesn't know what to say. Harold was at peace a long time ago, but Barbara seems a long way from joining him.
Barbara looks up. Fine dust particles drift past her pallid face. She opens her mouth to say something, but remains silent. Her eyes fill with tears.
Amber looks impatiently across the aisle. She wonders if Stan has caught up to Wendy yet. She really should be getting after them. “Barbara-”
“It was his heart that went,” Barbara says. “He was due for an operation, for a pacemaker, but he never held out.”
Amber remains quiet.
“We were high school sweethearts,” Barbara continues. “Almost fifty years together.” She stares at the vase. “He went so suddenly ... I wasn't ready.”
Amber realizes Barbara is beginning to mentally unravel, but doubts Wendy will last another hour - never mind fifty years - if she doesn't get a move on. “Barbara ... I really am so sorry. I have to go.”
Without looking up, Barbara says: “Everyone does ... Eventually.”
Amber knows that's not strictly true. Some people don't go anywhere, and often despite their own best efforts to leave. “I'll come back for you - or Michael will get you. Just stay here.”
She moves with haste, feeling terrible for having to leave Barbara in such a fragile state. But Wendy is young. She has her whole life ahead of her.
And Amber can't allow herself to make the same mistake twice.
She makes a mental note to collect her jacket and purse when she comes across them. There isn't anything of particular importance in her purse – besides make-up - but she does like that jacket. Also, her cellphone is in the inside pocket. It's completely disposable, but there are a few important contacts in there.
It doesn't take her long to catch up to Stan and Wendy. They're a couple of cars along, and standing near the end of the aisle. They appear to be with another person that is partially obscured from view.
She slows to a cautious stroll. “Wendy? Stan?”
Wendy turns. “Oh my God, I can totally see the resemblance. She really does look like you.”
Amber frowns. “Who does?”
“She does,” Screwball replies. He steps aside to reveal a woman standing in four inch heels, and wearing tight black jeans and a dark blue, lace-trimmed tank top. “Your sister.”
Under the radiance of a magnificent clear sky, the landscape crackled with the sounds of chirping birds and idling fauna. The afternoon breeze blew in and around the thick green forest, occasionally becoming boisterous enough to displace foliage.
One leaf twirled lazily to the ground and landed on the back of Amara's hand. She looked up and squinted her eyes. The branches of a stately tree swayed gently overhead.
She continued to paddle her feet in the cool, winding stream. Its surface glimmered in the daylight. Tilting back her head, she closed her eyes and allowed her mind to drift. The breeze toyed with her soft cotton blouse. It felt nice against her skin.
The gleeful sound of her eleven year old brother, Malkin, could be heard from somewhere close by. He was playing with their dog, Patches. The animal was appropriately named, having a predominantly black coat patterned with various sized spots of white.
Amara visualized them in her head, running through the forest and kicking up dirt and leaves. It gave her a warm feeling in the pit of her stomach, and made her smile.
“Amara!” Malkin called out.
Without moving her head, Amara replied, “What?”
“Come see Patches play with the leaves!”
“I am too busy.”
After a few moments, Malkin called again: “Amara!”
The impetuosity in her brother's voice was evident.
“Malkin, let me be.”
Amara lifted one foot from the stream. She listened to the sound of water dripping from it, then dipped her toes back below the surface.
Now Malkin was beginning to irritate her. “Malkin-”
“I found something!”
“Unless it is buried treasure, I have no interest.”
A bird flew overhead, tweeting merrily. Amara enjoyed its song and started to hum a tune. Not long into her melody, she was interrupted by the sound of Patches, barking like an animal possessed by some form of devil. She jerked forward her head and opened her eyes. The sudden intrusion of light caused her to squint. With haste, she withdrew her feet from the water.
“Malkin!” she called, plunging beyond the treeline and hurrying in the direction of the dog's frantic outburst.
It didn't take her long to track the pair down. They were standing over their discovery.
Malkin looked to Amara and shrugged. “I poked it with a stick. It moved.”
“You did what? Give me that!” Amara tore the stick from Malkin's hand. Her brother's find was clearly a person huddled in a blanket. “Patches, be quiet!”
Patches gave a subdued whimper, then reluctantly did as he was told.
Amara tossed the stick aside.
Patches considered going for it, then thought better of the action.
Malkin patted Patches on the head. “Good boy.”
Amara hitched up her delicate long cotton skirt and crouched beside the huddled form. She took the end of the brown woolen blanket and began to gingerly peel it back.
“No!” came a startled voice, and snatched it out of her hand.
The voice below the blanket was that of a woman.
“I have a condition,” the woman explained. “... strong sunlight ... it brings me out in a rash.”
Amara guessed the woman wasn't old, but it was difficult to be sure. “Can you stand?”
There was a pause, and then the woman replied, “I- I think so.”
“Malkin, help me,” Amara said. She found the outline of the woman's arm and began to help her to her feet.
Malkin did likewise from his side.
Patches growled at the figure, then looked to Amara for approval.
“Patches,” Amara warned, “stop it.”
“I don't live far from here,” Amara said to the woman. “I can provide you with shelter until the sun goes down.”
Amara didn't think her parents would mind her bringing a stranger back to the cabin. This was a person in distress, after all.
“Thank you,” the woman replied.
“This way,” Amara said, and began to guide the woman. She thought it best to avoid the sporadic shafts of light poking through the forest canopy.
They led the woman further into the wood. Along the way, Amara reassured her that their destination wasn't far.
Patches continued to growl.
It wasn't long until they stepped out into a small clearing, in the middle of which stood a log cabin of reasonable size. Smoke billowed from the stone chimney. A large ax was embedded in a chopping block several feet from the porch.
“Mother!” Amara called.
Patches began to bark loudly again.
“Malkin, do something about the dog,” Amara said.
“Patches!” Malkin shouted. “Here!”
The dog disregarded Malkin's command, and circled the group.
The door to the cabin opened and a dark-haired woman wearing a cotton blouse tucked into the waistband of
The woman below the blanket threatened to buckle at the knees.
Struggling to keep her on her feet, Amara said, “Mother, she needs our help.”
Amara's mother descended three wooden steps and hastened to the blanketed figure's aid. Together, she and her daughter helped the woman into the cabin.
Malkin followed at the rear, closing the door behind himself and leaving the protesting dog outside.
“Malkin,” Mother said, “the door to the bedrooms.”
Malkin hurried ahead and opened a door leading into a short narrow hallway.
“She can use my room,” Amara said.
They led the woman into the second room on the left and helped her onto the bed, Amara lifting her legs and her mother resting her head on the pillow.
“Close the curtains,” Mother said to Malkin.
Malkin negotiated his way past the bottom of the bed and began pulling on the curtains.
Amara's mother peeled back the blanket to reveal a relatively youthful dark-haired woman. She was wearing a blouse - not dissimilar to Amara's - tucked into a figure-hugging scarlet bodice. Below the waist, she was clad in tight black pants and tan knee-high boots.
“She is very weak,” Amara said.
Mother handed Amara the blanket - “She needs rest” - then started to remove the woman's boots.
Malkin stood by the window, watching.
“Malkin,” Amara said. “Stop staring.”
“I was not,” Malkin insisted.
“Enough of that, you two.” Mother placed the boots by the side of the bed. “Let her rest now.” She ushered her children out of the room and closed the door behind herself.
The three of them went back into the main room. Outside, Patches continued to bark incessantly.
“Malkin,” Mother said, “take care of the dog. He is making my head hurt.”
“Patches!” Malkin called towards the door. “Quiet!"
“Not like that,” Mother chided. “Outside.”
Malkin sighed and headed for the door. Patches ceased barking not long after he made his exit.
Amara's mother walked to the far end of the room and pulled a chair out from under the heavy wooden dinner table. Its feet scraped loudly against the floorboards. She sat down and invited her daughter to do the same.
Amara dropped the blanket by the side of the door and took a seat. “Is something wrong?”
Rubbing her forehead, her mother asked, “Where did you find her?”
“Malkin came across her in the forest.”
Her mother looked to the window. “Do you know why was she covered in a blanket?”
“Strong sunlight brings her out in a rash, she said.” Amara fidgeted with her hands. “Was I right to bring her here? She obviously needed help.”
Her mother continued to look beyond the window. She seemed lost to a daydream. Or perhaps it was something else. “The forest is a dangerous place.”
“I know,” Amara replied.
“Often, things are not what they seem.”
Amara pondered her mother's words for a moment. “In what way?”
Her mother faced her. She reached across the table and squeezed one of her daughter's hands. “You are a good woman, very beautiful and kind, always striving to do what is right. You will make a man extremely happy one day.”
“What day?” Amara scoffed. “I am almost twenty-nine years old.”
“Ah, you are still a child,” her mother said. Then she asked, “You are still intending to meet this man tomorrow evening?”
“Yes,” Amara replied, “but he will probably turn out to have three eyes and a tail.”
“You will see,” her mother said. “The right man for you is out there somewhere.”
“Somewhere ... I need him now.”
Showing mild signs of amusement at her daughter's comment, the older woman rose from the table. “Come, help me with the stew. Your father must not come home to an empty plate.”
Amara got up. “Shall I set an extra plate for our guest?”
“Of course,” her mother said. “I expect she shall be starved by the time she wakes.”
The sun slipped below the horizon, relinquishing its dominance over the land to a lucent full moon surrounded by a peppering of prickling stars. Nightfall had arrived once more, replacing radiance and clarity with shadows and brooding secrets.
Perched high in a tree on the edge of the forest clearing, a keen-eyed owl caught sight of an unusually large man stepping out from the treeline. The man held an oil lamp, and had a small sack draped over one shoulder. His footsteps were lumbering, and took him in the direction of a log cabin nestled in the center of the area. The owl watched until the man reached the door of the cabin, then quietly spread its wings and took to flight.
Father had returned, bringing with him the late evening chill.
Malkin, sitting on a large rug before a blazing stone hearth, turned to see him enter the room. His face lit up. He was always happy to see his father.
Mother rose from her chair by the fire. “Welcome home, Andred. You were gone some time. You must be hungry.”
Andred hung his oil lamp on a large nail to the left of the door. He noticed they had a guest.
The woman at the table locked eyes with the broad shouldered man. Standing up, she said, “I am Launa.”
Andred looked at the woman. She appeared to be ages with his daughter, and shared a similar physique. She had the palest gray eyes he had ever seen.
He put his sack down by the other side of the door.
“Your family has been very kind to me,” Launa went on. She acknowledged the older woman, who was standing before a sturdy wooden worktop and ladling stew onto a plate.
Andred hung his coat on a hook beside the lamp, then opened another button on his shirt. The cabin interior was significantly warmer than outside, and he didn’t want to perspire. He grunted and scratched his chin. The lower half of his face was buried behind a thick, graying beard. He noticed Launa briefly catch sight of the weapon he had strapped to his thigh. He removed the fourteen inch blade from its leather sheath and set it down on the table, then pulled out a chair and sat himself down.
Launa lowered herself.
“Where is the dog?” Andred said to Amara.
Feeling guilt over the animal's absence, Amara averted her father's gaze and stared into her plate of dwindling stew. A lock of hair swung in front of her face. She scooped it back behind an ear.
Mother appeared at the table. She placed a plate of steaming stew before her husband.
Launa felt uneasy. She looked to Amara, wondering if she would answer her father.
In the end, it was Malkin, still seated before the hearth, who offered a reply. “Patches is outside.”
Andred turned an ear, to better hear his son. “Outside, you say?”
“He ran away,” Malkin said. “Kept barking at Launa.”
Andred looked to Launa. He caught her gaze upon him. She quickly averted her attention.
Mother reappeared at the table. This time she brought a plate of bread. She looked at her husband. “For your stew.”
Andred grunted. He looked to Launa's plate. Her stew looked largely untouched. “You are not eating?”
"Uh- no ... I am really not hungry. I do not know where my appetite has went.” She laid down her spoon at the side of the plate and offered a smile.
The smile looked forced, but she had such wonderfully bright teeth.
Andred considered Launa's reply, then said to her, “So what is your story? I am assuming my family aided you in some way.”
Before Launa could respond, the mother, from the comfort of her chair, said, “She has an aversion to daylight.”
“I have an aversion to strong sunlight only,” Launa clarified. “I am perfectly fine by regular
“She was huddled in a blanket,” Amara said. “I dared not leave her.”
“You quite possibly saved my life,” Launa said. “You and your family. I am very grateful.”
Andred caught sight of Launa looking again at the blade he had set down upon the table. He emptied a spoonful of stew into his mouth and began to chew with strong jaws. After swallowing, he said to his wife, “Kaline, have you prepared a sleeping arrangement for our guest?”
Kaline was about to reply when Launa spoke. “Oh, I shall not be staying the night. I have already burdened you and your family enough.”
“Nonsense,” Andred grunted. “What kind of woman traverses the night? And what kind of man allows it?”
Launa shifted uneasily in her chair. “If you insist.”
“I do,” Andred said, then emptied another spoonful of stew into his mouth.
“I hope you do not think me rude,” Amara said to Launa, “but you dress rather strangely for a woman.”
Launa replied, “Would you believe me if I told you Father always wanted a boy?”
“A boy?” Amara said.
“Yes. I feel quite uneasy in a skirt or - Heaven forbid - a dress.”
“You believe in Heaven?” Andred said.
Launa looked at Andred. “Well, yes ... of course.”
“And what about Hell and its Demons, and vermin come nightfall that feed upon the living?”
Launa touched the side of her plate with the spoon. “I...”
“What kind of question is that, Father?” Amara chided.
Andred looked at his daughter. “An important one.”
“I believe if there is a Heaven, then there must also be a Hell,” Launa said. “And if there are these Demons, then there must also be Angels and a God.”
Andred looked at Launa. She held his stare.
“I am sure there is even a Devil,” she concluded.
Kaline appeared at the dinner table and started to remove plates. “Speaking of boys,” she said to Launa. “Do you have a special one in your life?” She exchanged a brief glance with Amara, who looked less than pleased the subject had been brought up.
“I do,” Launa said.
Kaline waited patiently for Andred to scoop up the remains of his plate. “And what would be his name?”