Waking Nightmares

This is part of an ongoing story that begins with The Initiative

Mina shoved her way through the revolving door and burst out into the street, the wind cool against her blazing cheeks. Damn Delancey St. Clair. Damn him. She hunched her shoulders against the gusts and walked quickly down the street, wanting to put as much distance as possible between herself and Del. It was stupid to meet with him—stupid to put herself this close to Holler, Grim, Alberich & Mors. She had given into a moment of sentimentalism and contacted Delancey when she was a bottle of wine deep and alone in her tiny apartment. Del had no idea she was living in Boston—she was sure of that much. Why would he? She had no doubt he remembered her, but she knew better than to believe he still thought about her. She wished she didn’t still think about him, the arrogant asshole. Mina’s jaw ached and she realized she was grinding her teeth.
She glanced up to see the Boston Public Library looming ahead and walked quickly up the stairs to enter the warmth. The two stone lions at the top of the marble staircase stared impassively at her as she passed them, wandering the marble halls until she came to the Abbey Room, emblazoned with paintings by Edward Abbey depicting the quest and discovery of the Holy Grail. She leaned against the doorway, admiring the vivid works and letting her mind drift.
She had finally begun to feel safe, snug in her creaking, drafty apartment. That was before she saw him—she would recognize that face anywhere. The nightly nightmares kept it fresh, undimmed by time. She heard his name—the name he used in daylight—for the first time as the bartender handed him the bill. She shouldn’t have been in that part of town—but the cobbled streets and gaslights of Beacon Hill drew her in, reminding her of home in that small Russian town, of a simple time before her home meant blood pooling on the wooden floors her mother meticulously mopped and the china from her many times great grandmother’s dowry smashed and smeared with crimson.

The wine bar had seemed cozy, welcoming, and she sat at her corner table letting the flow of conversation around her sweeten her wine. She noticed him after a quarter of an hour, sitting at the end of the bar. His silver hair caught her eye and the expanse of his broad shoulders made her fingers go cold. The slightly crooked nose and pointed chin were unmistakable and the smile that he flashed the bartender almost made her drop her glass. She turned her head to the wall and drank as he got up to leave, scarcely able to breathe until she heard the door shut and saw him walk past the windows as he disappeared into the night. Richard Moretti. The name resonated in her brain. She knew him before only as Sinistrari.
She finished her wine and waited for the tremors in her hands and knees to subside before paying and slipping quietly out of the restaurant and making her way back to her flat. She immediately got out her laptop and searched for Richard Moretti. She had no doubt he would be a man of importance. When she found out the reach of his public influence, however, she was floored. CEO of a large XYZ company, he was known for his generosity and charitable nature. Photo after photo showed him shaking hands with someone and flashing his blazing smile for the camera. She shut the laptop as a wave of nausea rushed over her. It seemed to stretch belief that he could be in the city in which she chose to hide. She did not think he would leave Europe. She cursed herself for not checking—but what would she have used? Perhaps Richard Moretti was one of his many names, just because he originated in Italy did not mean he used his real name. She panicked then and opened her computer again, hammering out an email to Delancey St. Clair—a search for him found his cocky grin smiling up at her from the website of Holler, Grim, Albrecht, & Mors. A name she saw over and over in association with Sinistrari—Moretti. His legal counsel.
Despite that, she clicked on Delancey’s company email and sent him a message from one of her many disposable addresses. It was apparently too much to hope that Del would notice the message within her chosen handle. WilHMurray. Wilhemina Murray. As an alias it was obvious to her eyes, but, apparently not to his. The library suddenly seemed oppressive and she turned away from the intricate Abbey paintings and walked slowly down the stairs and out into the blustery day. She couldn’t believe Del was working for the firm that supported such ilk as Moretti—she had to get used to thinking of him that way. The last thing she needed was to go spill the name Sinistrari to someone. Looking up at the gray sky, all the anger seemed to leech out of her. What right did she have to expect Del’s help? She drug him straight into the middle of her mess ten years ago in Budapest and left him without so much as an explanation. Or a goodbye.

At lunch, she had searched the collected and sophisticated face of the young lawyer in front of her for a sign of the impetuous Delancey—little more than a boy—that she thought she knew. She remembered the last day—the last night. Remembered the chill of the hotel room as she slid out from beneath Delancey’s encircling arm and warm sheets and slipped out of the room. They had gone to the ballet that day—she convinced him and he protested in the Louisiana drawl she found so charming. He hadn’t lost that, at least. He was still charming, of that she was sure. A face like his would win the most stable woman over—and she had been so far from equilibrium. She remembered the faintest taste of his cologne on her lips as she pressed a farewell kiss to his bare shoulder and left when the sun was just peeking over the red roofs of Budapest.
Could she really blame him? She dragged him into a world most people still didn’t know existed outside the annals of fiction. She wouldn’t have believed it herself if she hadn’t seen them herself—jaws unhinging like a snake’s and a double set of sharp teeth descending to tear out the throats of her mother, father, her brother Piotr, her sister Nastia—all snuffed out in gouts of hot crimson.
The certainty she was having a nightmare faded when one of them stepped forward, his teeth receding as his face returning to normal. Normal but for the smears of blood around his face. He bent down towards her, his sharp chin catching the dim light. The strange noises that drew her from her bed had given no warning of this—the floating, nighttime drowsiness only enhanced the nightmare effect. And so, she did not shy away from the man who crouched down in front of her, hands and face dripping with her family’s blood.
He greeted her in Russian. “Hello, little one.”
She stared mutely at him, in dreams, one could not speak.
“What is it Sinistrari?” One of the other men asked, wiping his face with a red handkerchief he pulled from somewhere inside his coat.
“A child, Valac. Only a child.”
“What are you waiting for, then?”
“This one lives.” The man in front of her tilted his silver-haired head to the side and regarded her.
“What?” The one called Valac’s voice dropped to a hiss.
“When she wakes again, this will all be as a dream.” Sinistrari’s voice never broke its deep, gentle cadence.
He leaned towards her and opened his mouth wide again. Mina shut her eyes, certain that there would be a snap of teeth and she would awaken, but there was only a rush of breath across her face—strangely cooler than the warmth of the living room—and smelling of cold earth. She opened her eyes and saw the familiar shapes of her bedroom cast into shadow by her flickering nightlight. It wasn’t until the next morning that she saw the bare, bloodied footprints that streaked her bedroom floor and recognized them as her own. The six year old Mina’s testimony of monsters was discounted with much sympathetic headshaking and murmurs of trauma. Her aunt in St. Petersburg took her in and, once Mina was stirred into the mixture of four cousins, treated her no differently than one of her own.

She walked through the Boston Public Garden—where some of the trees still clung to their colorful autumn crowns—feeling aimless. She didn’t want to return to her apartment. She thought she would meet with Del and have all her problems solved. A completely ridiculous notion–born from some lingering damsel in distress fantasy. If he couldn’t help her, it would be just another disappointment she could pencil into the column reserved for Delancey St. Clair.

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Whisky and Reminiscences

If you haven’t read the beginning of this story, go here.

          “How about that drink?” Mina turned to face him. “Call it a day. You’ve enough influence in there for that.” She jerked her head in the direction of the Firm.
          Del knew it was a waste of time to argue with her. He dialed the number for the secretary he shared with two other associates and told her he’d be out of the office in meetings for the rest of the day and to hold all calls unless one of the Partners wanted him. She wished him a happy Friday and he halfheartedly returned it. His weekend had been shot to hell since the first email from Mina.
          “Let’s go.” Del strode across Copley Square, ducking his head against the wind.
          Mina kept up easily and seemed at ease as with her short hair whipping across her face. They walked in silence to the prudential center and for once Del didn’t pause to admire the tall glass and chrome edifice. He shoved through the revolving door and was greeted by the stifling heat. They rode the escalator up and wound their way through kiosks and past boutiques, dodging smartly dressed professionals, the inevitable tourists, and sulky salespeople, passing through another revolving door before they boarded the elevator for the Top of the Hub. The elevator shot them to the 52nd floor and Del felt his ears pop at the change in pressure. They were greeted by the hostess as they exited and she led them to a table. Del couldn’t help scanning the bar for familiar faces–people from the Firm were regulars and he dreaded trying to introduce Mina to some guy he knew from daily run-ins at the espresso machine. Luckily, they were still too early for most of the lunch crowd. Del slid the leather-clad cocktail list to Mina and tried not to fidget as she looked over it with obviously false concentration. He looked out the window at the view for which Top of the Hub was known. Boston spread out around him, frosted with haze. The waitress sidled up to them and Del ordered a Johnnie Walker Black, neat. Mina closed the cocktail list, looked at Del, and said, “I’ll have the same.”

          He wondered if she did it on purpose–repeated things from the past like they were lines in a script. The glossy menus and plush carpets seemed to blur for a moment into the stained wooden counter and smoky, low-ceilinged Kocsma Kedv. The Mina that sat across from him in the vision bore little resemblance to the one he saw now. He wasn’t hungry, but he ordered the spicy lobster soup when the waitress appeared with their drinks. Mina ordered a salad. Del took a bracing sip of his drink and felt it burn along his gums and warm his belly. Mina rolled her glass between her palms, staring at the amber liquid as though it held the future.
          “Well?” Del finally asked, leaning back in his chair and taking a good look at her. Her coat hung on the back of her chair and the black sweater she wore hugged her body. It looked expensive–as had the coat. He readjusted his view of her. Again.
          “This was a mistake,” she said, so quietly he almost didn’t hear. “I knew you worked for Them and I still came.” She swore in Russian and took a gulp of her drink. She coughed and her eyes watered. That wasn’t like her; she could usually handle her alcohol.
          Del addressed the skyline, “What does my job have to do with it?”
          Mina’s dark eyebrows rose into the fringe of bangs across her forehead. “You’re joking.”
          “What’s the problem? You were the one who taught me there were things in the dark. Besides, things are different–more people know and there are records and protocol and–”
          “Things are not different, Del.” She shoved her glass aside and leaned across the table. “Not for me. Just because the monsters are out in the open doesn’t make them any less evil.”
          “I don’t–”
          Mina cut him off, “You know the people you work for represent some of the worst…people in existence? You’ve probably represented some yourself. How could you? After Budapest? After–” She fell silent as the waitress brought their food.
          Mina fumbled for her drink and downed it, wincing as she set the empty glass on the table. Her hands were shaking. He blinked several times. There was no mistaking the look in her eyes. He’d seen it the first time they met. Stark, undiluted fear.
          “What happened in Budapest had nothing to do with the Firm–I would know.” It sounded defensive even to him.
          “Would you?” she asked. “You helped me then, when I had no one and I knew it was just a matter of time before I gave up. Before I stopped running and…” Mina shoved some lettuce around on her plate. She looked up at him, spearing him with her blue eyes. “I didn’t think I’d have to run again.”
          Del’s stomach clenched. There was no way in hell this was starting up again, it was his turn to gulp his Johnnie Walker. “Tell me,” he said finally. “Tell me everything.”
          He knew he was repeating the same words he’d spoken ten years ago in the grime and chaos of Kocsma Kedv–a bar like any other in Hungary–leaning over a foaming mug of Warsteiner Dunkel and trying to comfort a complete stranger. She’d grabbed his arm in the street outside and begged for help. Del could almost smell the Szamosi cigarettes and hoppy aroma of the pub again.

          He was twenty-two, fresh out of LSU, and enjoying his whirlwind tour of Europe on the money his grandfather left him. Hungary wasn’t originally on the itinerary, but when he and his roommate Lucas met two girls in Germany, there was no choice but to accompany them. In Hungary, Chrysta made it clear she only cared about the view inside Lucas’ hotel room and Chrysta’s friend melted away before Del could decide if he was interested or not. He was walking by himself to a bar recommended by some locals when a petite blonde grabbed his jacket and demanded in heavily-accented English that he help her. At first, Del thought it was a scam–he envisioned scenarios in which he was led into a dark alleyway and mugged or woke up the next morning with no kidneys in a bathtub. The look in her eyes finally convinced him and she let him lead her to the bar. He reasoned that a room full of witnesses and a drink would be the best thing for both of them.
          “They’re after me,” she said, lowering her husky voice as they wedged themselves into a table against the wall.
          “Who’s after you?” Del looked around for Lucas–he wouldn’t put it past his roommate to pull an elaborate prank in a foreign country.
          The strange girl wrapped her fingers tightly around her glass and looked at him helplessly. “I can’t say.”
          “Where are you from? Here?” When she shook her head, he repeated, “Where are you from?”
          “Russia.”
          “And your name?”
          Her long lashes flickered once and he could tell she was thinking quickly. “Mina.”
          “Well, Mina, I’m Delancey. But my friends call me Del. If someone is…after you, I can go with you to the police–or your consulate?”
          She shook her head her head, wide-eyed, her lips moving as she muttered in furious Russian. “No, no. Not the politsiya,” she said.
          Del took a deep breath. “Are you running from the police, Mina?”
          Her blue eyes were huge as she met his gaze. “I’m running from everyone.”

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Old Friends

 

© Hannah Sears

© Hannah Sears


continuation of the story begun with the Initiative and the Firm, if you wish to avoid confusion, at least read the Firm before this one.

          Del knew the office emails were swept periodically, but nothing in his message or the spam emails should give anyone pause. No one knew about Budapest–the emails could be a past fling, or a disgruntled acquaintance. He grinned wryly at the thought. When it came to women, there was the good kind of crazy and the bad. He had no problem with the first, but he knew dabbling in the second was a good way to burn. His inbox dinged–a message from his boss. Marcus Colubra wanted to see him at 8:30 a.m. Del checked his Rolex–a gift from the Firm for earning his spot as an Associate Partner–and saw it was 8:20. The walk to Marcus’ office would take him that long. He straightened his tie and nodded to his colleagues as he walked down the long hallways that led him to the massive double doors. People joked about getting company golf carts to navigate the office. Marcus’ doors were supposedly taken from an ancient temple in Ethiopia. Del wouldn’t be surprised; Marcus was a self-proclaimed procurer of rare objects with astronomical price tags and equally complicated pasts. Del opened one of the heavy panels and peeked in.
          “Ah, Delancey. Come in, come in, son.” Marcus’ lips twitched in a small smile.
          Del gritted his teeth and tried to keep his face pleasant, Marcus was the only one who could get away with calling him “son”–and only because he paid Del disgusting amounts of money and held power over his basic existence at the Firm. He stepped forward to shake Marcus’s hand, feeling the papery skin shift over the Executive Partner’s bony fingers. Marcus waved at one of the hulking leather chairs in front of his desk and Del perched on the edge. He knew from past experience that settling back made one sink into the chair, and he wanted Marcus at eye-level.
          “Scotch?” Marcus held up a faceted decanter.
          “Ah, no thanks,” Del said. He was from Louisiana, and it was five o’clock somewhere, but in Boston it was before 10 am and he had to draw the line somewhere.
          “Not a scotch drinker?” Marcus poured a generous amount into a Waterford crystal glass.
          “Not before I have my coffee, sir.”
          “To each his own.” Marcus lifted his glass slightly in a toast before sitting in the throne-like chair behind his desk.. “I haven’t spoken to you since you wrapped up the Parkhurst case. A decisive victory, wasn’t it?”
          “Yes, sir,” Del shifted slightly under the effusive praise. “The prosecution didn’t stand a chance. Mr. Parkhurst was…very appreciative.”
          “I’m certain he was. I hope you understand the great amount of trust we placed in you, allowing you to handle Parkhurst. They are one of our oldest clients.”
          Del swallowed before answering; the switch to the “royal we” was rarely a good sign. “I appreciate your confidence in me and, if I may speak honestly, sir, I enjoyed the opportunity to work with such an important client.”
          “You exceeded our wildest imaginings, Delancey. I don’t mind admitting to you that my expectations were exceptionally high. I’ve been keeping an eye on you, my boy, since we first dredged you out of your Louisiana swamp.”
          Del knew his boss meant no offense, but the joke fell flat and he forced a smile, waiting for the older man to continue.
          “We’d like you to take on more responsibility, if you’re willing,” Marcus said.
“I’d like that very much, sir,” Del said.
          “Glad to hear it. Since you became an Associate Partner, you have been briefed on some of our…special cases.”

          Del nodded his affirmative, everyone higher than the mail-room knew about the special cases–whether they were supposed to or not. Marcus set down his glass and folded his hands on the desk, his dark eyes fastening on Del as he cocked his head to the side. Del sighed inwardly; every attorney had a flair for the dramatic, but not many enjoyed it quite as much as Marcus Colubra. Del could imagine stage directions as Marcus pursed his lips and narrowed his eyes. Get on with it, Old Man he thought.
          “We’d like you to take on a very special case, Delancey. One that will be different from anything you’ve worked before. All other cases will be delegated to your associates–we want you focused. This is one of the Big Ones.”
          Del heard the capital letters and tried to sound awed as he responded that he was honored by their notice, of course he would do whatever they asked.
          “It’s a very unique case–even for us–and it’s imperative that you exercise the utmost discretion. You’ll submit your budget, expenses, progress updates, and billable hours to my office. We’ll discuss your pay once the ink is dried, but I can assure you, Delancey, it will be well worth your time.” Marcus leaned back in his seat.
          “Yes, sir,” Del said. “Thank you sir.”
          “Very well,” Marcus’ teeth flashed white against his dark skin. “Thank you, Delancey.”

          Del nodded, knowing he was dismissed and stood, trying not to hurry out the door. If he had to say “sir” one more time, he was going to need a glass of scotch. Back in his office, the day ticked by more slowly than he would have thought possible. It was Friday and he had nothing on the books, nothing to occupy him except the tingle of unease as the clock inched closer towards 3:00 p.m. and letting his imagination run rampant about his new case. Without a name, Delancey could only guess it was one of the so-called “Big Five”–a mixture of companies, individuals, and families–who received top priority. He gave up trying to guess after a quarter of an hour combing the internet for the few names he knew. For all he knew, there were people even higher than the Big Five. Just thinking of the levels and layers of secrecy that were part of daily life at the Firm made his head ache.His clock was stuck at 11:30 a.m. and he suddenly couldn’t stand his office for another minute.
          Pulling on his coat, he slipped out of his office and down the silent elevator to the ground floor. He nodded at the security guard and pushed through the revolving door. The air that hit his face was damp from the rain the low clouds promised. Del flipped up his collar and shoved his hands in his pockets, striding down the street until he reached Copley Square. Dead leaves whirled in eddies created by the icy wind and he hunched his shoulders, staring up at the Romanesque front of Trinity Church with its stone facade, columns, and archways. The roof of the church was red and he couldn’t help but think of Budapest. It wasn’t Marcus or the new case that made him tense. It was those damn emails. He didn’t want to wait until three. He wanted to see her now so that he could wring her scrawny, little…

          “Hello, Del.”
          Fingers of cold crept down his coat collar and into his bones that had nothing to do with the biting wind. Del turned to face her.
          “Hello, Mina.”
          Mina Volkov, standing in front of him in Boston. He could hardly believe it. Her slight frame was swathed in a stylish black coat with a collar like a stovepipe that reached her chin. Her hair was black this time–he’d see it blonde, red, and even blue–and angled at her jaw, making her high cheekbones stand out. It also emphasized the stubborn jut of her pointed chin. Del grimaced.
          “This isn’t the Top of the Hub,” he said as she stared up at the church.
          “Obviously.” Her accent was barely noticeable compared to the first time they met.
          “Did you think I wouldn’t come?” he asked, resisting the urge to grab her shoulders and shake her.
          “I didn’t know.” She was still looking at the church and he wondered if she, too, was remembering their last night in Budapest.

          She was blonde then and her hair was long. They were just leaving the ballet and it was snowing and she was laughing. laughing at him, at his confused awe as the white flakes came drifting down. It was the first time he’d seen snow falling. If he didn’t know Mina, didn’t know the curve of her cheek, the set of her mouth, he would hardly have recognized her today. He could think of nothing else to say. The obvious questions–Why are you here? What’s this about?–were questions to which he already knew the answer. Budapest.

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The Firm

 

© Hannah Sears

© Hannah Sears


While you don’t need to read anything prior to this, I suggest you check out The Initiative first

          Delancey St. Clair hadn’t arrived at the law offices of Holler, Grim, Alberich & Mors later than 7:50 a.m. in five years. On his first day at Holler, Grim, Alberich, & Mors–known by employees as “the Firm”–he was ten minutes late and thought he was going to lose his job and breakfast during the earsplitting lecture from his superior. Since then, come blazing heat, deluge, or freak blizzard, he was on time. The newest receptionist smiled timidly at him, sliding through the elevator doors before they snapped shut. Del smiled back; she was cuter than the last one. He knew he made them nervous, always arriving before they opened the office. A silly tenet of office protocol, really. Some people never left, showering in the company gym’s locker-room and keeping three extra suits around. At the Firm, the lights were always on and the place was never entirely empty.
          He winked at the new girl as she settled herself behind the tall mahogany and glass desk. The walls across from her were covered in awards: Boston Business of the year, nine years running, the Beacon Award for Diversity and Inclusion, four years running, and countless other plaques and meticulously framed certificates–all polished to a mirror-like sheen. He wondered briefly when the cleaning staff came in; he never remembered seeing anyone. Shrugging it off as another of the Firm’s many mysteries, he continued down the thickly carpeted hallway to his office. In one of the offices across from his, several men in worker’s coveralls were ripping up the carpet. Del shook his head; they went through too much carpet here–especially with the new Executive Partner. He paused to admire his nameplate–Delancy St. Clair, Associate Partner–the black letters were still bold against the brass plate, barely a month old. Of course, it didn’t matter that there were dozens upon dozens of Associate Partners at the Firm, it was just another rung on the ladder.
          Del slid into the buttery-soft leather chair and started up his computer, drumming his fingers on his glass-topped desk. His law degree from Louisiana State University hung on one wall and a bookshelf of various law books lined the other. He had a few decorative items from his travels–some of his more unique cases often took him out of Boston–but no photos. No clutter, he thought, surveying the room. The third wall, behind him, was solid glass and if he glanced over his shoulder, he would see fog draping the buildings in Back Bay. It was his favorite time of year–when fall was flirting with winter and the trees still wore manes of riotous gold and flame.
          He skimmed his emails, consigning some to the trash and answering others. he’d wrapped up a tough case the week before–another “W” added to his record–and was grateful it had been a relatively slow week. He could use a few days to unwind. But the week was almost done and Del felt twitchy. He ran a hand through his dark hair–worn longer than most considered professional and certainly long enough to irritate his mother–and adjusted his silk tie. Eyeing his spam folder, he noticed it was fuller than usual and opened it, scanning through misspelled advertisements for porn sites masquerading as online dating services and phishing scams. As he reached the bottom, he saw three emails; each sent a day apart the week before from the same address. He didn’t recognize it–WilhmMurray17@aol.com–but the subject line sent his heart rocketing into his throat before sending it down to rest in the toes of his handmade Italian leather shoes. All three had a single word in the subject line: Budapest.
          Del’s mouse hovered over the first message, sent at 4:26 a.m. on October 23rd. He swiveled around to face the Boston skyline instead. The fog blurred the tops of the tallest building into the slate-colored sky and for a moment, instead of the towering glass peak of the John Hancock building, he saw the white spires and brick colored domes of Budapest’s Parliament building, and, just beyond it, the flash of the Danube. He swore suddenly, violently, and glanced over his shoulder at the thick door. Keep it together , he told himself. Turning back to the desk he rubbed his hand roughly across his chin before clicking on the first email.

D,

It’s Budapest all over again, but this time, you’re sleeping with the monsters.

M

          He exhaled slowly, it was more concise than he expected–not that it made much sense. He clicked the second.

I know who you work for. Bastard.

          This was was unsigned by even a single letter, but it was unmistakeable. After the first shock of seeing “Budapest” and realizing the sender could only be one person, Del felt calmer. He clicked the final email.

Top of the Hub, 3:00 p.m. November 8th.

          He felt chilled as he double checked the date; November 8th. Damn her , he thought. He clicked the reply button. The blinking cursor reminded him of an animated exclamation mark, silently demanding an answer.

M,
Lovely to hear from you. I can’t remember the last time we spoke–must have been at the ballet in Hungary. I apologize for my delayed response; I hope you haven’t made other plans. I will meet you at the Top of the Hub at 3:00 p.m. today.
Regards,
Delancey St. Clair

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The Initiative

A combination of my first (woefully uncompleted) NaNoWriMo challenge and a Friday Fictioneers piece, along with some other smattered blog postings have muddled together into a lengthy story idea. Since I promised more Jakob Van Helsing, I am delivering. This is only the beginning. 

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         “Jakob.”
         Jakob grunted and opened one eye. The world tipped sideways and he felt a moment’s alarm before realizing he had fallen asleep with his head on the bar. He wiped saliva from his chin as he sat up, trying to move as slowly as possible.
         “How did you find me?” he asked in English, looking at the man who had woken him.
         “Your uncle tell me this place is your favorite.” Frans carefully removed his felt hat and twisted it in his big hands.
         “Shame on Uncle Hendrick, using precious Initiative resources to track me down.” Jakob looked around for the bartender, but he was nowhere in sight.
         “I send him home,” Frans said, his misshapen face splitting in a grotesque parody of a smile.
         “On his own two feet?” Jakob asked.
         “Natuurlijk.”
         “Not natuurlijk, Frans, You’ve sent plenty of upstanding men away in boxes.” Jacob groaned and rolled his neck, trying to ease the cramped muscles.
         “This bartender not so upstanding, Jakob.”
         Jakob considered a moment before shrugging, “Perhaps not. Well, Frans, don’t just stand there, tell me what dear Uncle Hendrick wants from me today.”
         “Amerika.” Frans pronounced it with what Jakob thought was far too much undue reverence.
         “Hellfire and ashes, America? Mijn god does he want me in that speelhol of a country. I’ve just come back from Transylvania where I almost got blown up—twice—and did get shot!” Jakob felt the side of his neck where a makeshift bandage was still in place.
         “Is only a graze.” Frans shrugged.
         “The hell you know. Fine, fine, I’ll go to Amerika.” Jakob retrieved his coat from a nearby bar and shoved his arms through the sleeves, concealing the bandolier that crisscrossed his chest. “Jezus Christ, just once I’d like to have a full week in once place before Hendrick ships me off to fight another demon.”
         “Your uncle, he not like you speaking the Lord’s name so.”
         “He can take it up with the Almighty, then. Although, of the two of us, I’m more likely to see him first.” Jakob found his hat hanging on a lonely coat rack and tipped it on his head over his eyes. The weak morning sunlight already hurt his pounding head. “Lead on, Frans.”
         As Frans held open the door, Jakob double checked that his best pistol was in the concealed pocket in his coat. He rubbed his thumb over the letters etched into the polished wood handle, remembering his sixteenth birthday when his father presented it to him. Jakob Abraham Van Helsing. The V engraved below his name was not the Roman numeral but instead stood for the Latin Venator. Hunter.

         Jakob was hoping to catch up on some sleep with something other than a dirty bar for a pillow on the flight, but the briefcase Frans handed him as he prepared to board the jet would keep him occupied for the duration of the flight into Boston. It was a compendium of everything the Initiative had on a coven of Nightwalkers led by a leech known as Sinistrari. He leafed through the yellowed parchments, some of which were so stained–by what he hated to guess–that he could barely decipher the writing. Half of it was a mixture of law enforcement documents and speculation, half ancient lore, and none of it digitized. He sighed. Hendrick was the current head of the Venator Initiative and despite the old man’s hunting acumen and otherwise quick wit, Jakob could not convince this grandfather to use a scanner. He snapped photos of the documents on his iPad and managed to decipher some of the more difficult passages once he had manipulated the images. At this rate, half the Initiative’s documents would be digital from Jakob’s missions alone.
         He sipped a sparkling water as he tried to dredge something useful from pages torn out of old family bibles, cramped journal entries, and annotated newspaper clippings. The stewardess had the water and a bottle of Advil waiting and he regretted—again—that he didn’t know her name to thank her. You’d think if they were going to keep putting the same girl on his flights, they’d at least let him know her name. She had to be involved in the Initiative in some way. They didn’t hire just anyone for these transatlantic flights. Sometimes he flew commercial, but when he had this much research to do, it was best done away from prying eyes.
He got up from his seat and stretched, pacing down the aisle of the small jet. The stewardess looked up at him and asked if he needed anything. He thanked her and said he just needed to rest his legs and eyes. The information seemed seared into his corneas when he shut his eyes against the light streaming in. Nightwalkers were nasty by nature; blood-sucking parasites that were better off rotting in the ground before they became revenants. He had heard the name Sinistrari whispered by older members of the Initiative in his youth–the bogeyman that hid behind crumbling mausoleum doors. He could hardly believe this leech was the same, but the lore seemed to indicate that Sinistrari was one of the ancients. The last recorded attack by the coven was in a small town in Russia–a man and woman and their young son and daughter were slaughtered and drained, but he left one alive, the youngest daughter. Mina Volkov, age six.
         He reached for his iPad and opened the crime scene photos. The bloody footprints tracked across the wood floors looked like something from a bad horror movie set. If he hadn’t seen the work of Nightwalkers before, he would have hardly believed there could be so much blood. Where is she now? Jakob wondered. The documents indicated that she had been sent to live with an aunt and uncle. When the case was finally closed–blamed on an enraged psychopath that would never be found–there were no further notes on her. He looked back at the photos. There was one of Mina, the day after her family was slaughtered. Her dark eyes looked huge and her delicate ankles hung off the side of the bed as an investigator knelt beside her, measuring her bloody feet. It wasn’t the first time Sinistrari left a single victim alive, Jakob knew from the dossier, but it was the first time he had left one behind. Little Mina would be in her thirties now, if Sinistrari had not returned for her already. Jakob pulled out the satellite phone he kept for emergencies and dialed the Initiative.
         “Hallo Frans. Ja,  Jakob hier.” He glanced back at the stewardess, his habitual paranoia making him lower his voice as he continued in English. “I need you to find someone for me. Name: Volkov. Mina Volkov.”

NEXT

 

Graduation

If you’ve been following along, you may recognize today’s protagonist from a previous Friday Fictioneers (one photo, one hundred words, one story) piece. I hope you’ll enjoy seeing him again–as he will almost certainly return, whether in another FF challenge, or something else altogether.

Photo by Jennifer Pendergast

         Jakob pulled his hat low, shading his eyes against the sun. The archway was unchanged. A stone portal that held no meaning for ninety-nine percent of the students who passed through it. But he remembered his walk beneath it, the eve after graduation.
         His grandfather waited beyond the arch, dark eyes and hollow cheeks emphasized by the glowing light of a small brazier at his side. Jakob remembered the goose-flesh pebbling his bare chest before the fiery brand seared into the flesh over his heart.
         The V had a double meaning–V for Van Helsing and for the Latin venator. Hunter.

If you enjoyed this and want more, go here

Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door

 

“Are you sure this is the right doorway?”

“They said to look for a creepy stone face with a winged helmet.”

“But it’s not even a doorway. This is just a blank wall.”

“This is the Gateway! Have I taught you nothing?”

“I expected it to be bigger.”

Alastor closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “Serax, I brought you on this mission for a reason.”

“Yes, Master,” the little demon hung his head. “Do you get the feeling that face is watching—”

ZAP.

Michael, the archangel, blinked his flaming eyes once and retreated back into the stone.

Death and Destruction are Never Satisfied

Halloween is nigh, but this is no ghost story. A far older creature treads this path, dating back to the dawn of creation and the first cracks of destruction.

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         “People are basically evil, y’know?”
         Vita stopped polishing the glass in her hands and looked down towards the end of the bar; he sat alone, the last barfly.
         “You say somethin’, sugar?”
         “Evil. Downright, no good, rotten to the core.” He looked up at her with eyes so woeful she wondered if he was reciting something famous. “Filled to the brim with putrefaction.”
         “Uh…huh…” Vita wasn’t sure how to respond to the maudlin mumbling. “Can I get you another, hon?”
         The man stared at his empty glass as though he couldn’t figure out what to do with it. He shook his shaggy head, dark hair streaked unevenly with gray. With the big eyes and his long hair, Vita couldn’t help comparing him to the old, tired dog her parents finally put out of its misery. She slopped several fingers of whiskey into a glass and downed it after toasting poor, dead Polo’s memory.
         “Listen, I gotta close up, and if you’re not orderin’ anythin’ else…”
         “For your troubles,” the man shoved some coins across the bar.
         Vita stifled a sigh. The last customer of the night was always the worst. This guy’d been drinking top shelf vodka all night and now he was trying to pay her with change? She wished Luis hadn’t left early. She could throw the drunk out if she had to, but Luis could just scare the guy out with no fuss. Walking down to retrieve the pitiful sum and explain to the sodden stranger that the stuff on the top shelf cost more than…
         Vita blinked at the coins. They were solid gold. She looked up again at the stranger and blanched. His eyes were black–she couldn’t distinguish pupils from irises against the whites of his eyes. She backed away from the counter, leaning against the back bar when her knees threatened to buckle.
         “You ooze it, you know? Your fear, yes, but also all those little dark and tiny things you ferret away in the corners of your soul. The time you shoved little Ben Zerin down the stairs in fourth grade, the money you’ve stolen out of the register or the tip jar, the club you visit every Friday. Do you think you’re better than the average “bad” person because you never kill? Because you only steal fives and tens and not fifties and hundreds?” The man’s thin lips spread wide in a smile that exposed all of his white teeth. “You disgust me, all of you.”
         “All…who?” Vita’s breath caught in a sob.
         “Humanity!” his voice made the bottles behind the bar shake and Vita whimpered. “The whole putrescent, pathetic lot of you. You’re like pigs, wallowing in your own filth, decaying day by day.”
         Vita couldn’t look away from his face, his thin nose and high, clean-shaven cheekbones. A handsome face, except for the eyes and the loathing that twisted his mouth. His skin seemed almost translucent, his hair no longer unkempt. There was no resemblance now to the beloved family dog. Vita clutched the edge of the back counter as black spots began to speckle her vision. She was trapped in the bar with a crazy man, whose eyes were black.
         “He chose you above His favored ones–above EVERYONE. And look at you. LOOK AT YOURSELF!” His empty glass shattered as he swept it from the bar and leaned over, fixing Vita in his gaze like an insect squirming on a pin.
         She saw her pale, white-lipped face reflected in his black orbs and felt them pulling her in. She saw, in flickers, herself. Shoving Ben down the stairs and hearing his leg crack. Pocketing the money from the register with a grin on her face. Dancing with men with rings on their left hands and money in their pockets. She saw herself with her best friend’s husband, with her sister’s husband, with the earrings she stole from her mother. She was drowning in memories that tasted like thick, rotten oil and filled up her nose and mouth and the black spots became black blobs of sludge.

         Abbadon, the destroyer, looked down at the woman behind the bar, her limbs still faintly twitching. The black ooze spewing from her eyes, mouth, nose, and ears steamed slightly, pooling on the floor around her head. He wrinkled his nose; they were foul enough when the taint was inside, once the corruption spilled out it was nearly impossible to be around it.
         A faint buzzing reached his ears and he cocked his head for a moment, his entire body straightening, primed like an arrow on a taught string. As the frequency became clear he realized it was not the Master,the Morning Star. One of Them. One of His, the cronies, the kneelers, the mindless, pandering hoard. Singing His endless praises while we wade through human scum, Abbadon sneered.
        Abbadon left the gold coins on the bar. Let the lawmen with their tiny brains puzzle out how Babylonian coins from 600 B.C. connected to the bloating corpse. The Others would know what it meant–little good it would do them. The Battle was far in the future; these little skirmishes were just plain fun.
         The melted candles on the bar twirled in the breeze that signaled Abbadon’s departure. If anyone in the bar were alive to hear, they would have sworn there was the whispering sound of wings.

Abbadon – meaning and origins
Title origins: Proverbs 27:20 Death and Destruction are never satisfied, and neither are human eyes.
Disclaimer: I also watch too much Supernatural

What Never Dies

It’s that time of year when things go bump, when the thing under your bed gets bolder, and when the real masks are taken off. I originally wrote this for an online contest that was cancelled.

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         They say places have memories—not the frozen vignettes held in the minds of fragile human minds, stone- and earth-bound memories that cling to the very roots of a place. January wondered why the unhappy memories held on the longest. She blew stray tendrils of hair out of her eyes and kicked the box at her feet; it rattled in protest. A box of her father’s books—nothing fragile.
         It’s not like he’s coming back to get them, she thought.
        The breeze shivered the rusty leaves that drenched the sidewalk and sent them skittering across, like many legged creatures. January shivered and scooped up the box of books. The sooner she unpacked, the sooner she could do anything else.

——–

        The greasy silhouette of several slices of pizza—reward for her mediocre effort—shone on a paper plate. January lay on her bare mattress, staring up at the water-stained ceiling, picking out shapes and faces in the whorls and splotches. The single lamp sat on the floor and flickered every few minutes. She forgot to buy extra light bulbs and the sockets were old and she fried two before giving up. The quiet was unnerving; it seemed like another lifetime since she lived in this house, walking to Harvard Square for a coffee and giggling at the college boys. She felt her eyelids growing heavy and as she drifted into sleep, the lamp buzzed, popped, and went dark.

——–

        January jerked awake at the sound of pounding on the front door. She rolled off the mattress in surprise and landed on the dusty floor. Disoriented, she shoved her hair out of her eyes and looked blearily around. Her father’s house in Cambridge. Her new life.
         “Coming, coming!” she yelled.
        The edges of a dream lingered as she wrapped a cardigan around her wrinkled clothes. A voice—someone saying her name? She shook her head to clear it and opened the door.
        “Oh, hello,” an old woman stood at the door, wrinkled lips pursed.
         “Can I help you?” January asked.
         “I wasn’t sure if anyone was living here,” the woman looked over January’s shoulder. “The last resident left years ago.”
        “My father, yes,” January said shortly, gripping the edge of the door.
         “He did have a little girl—pretty thing,” the stranger looked her up and down.
         “Is there something I can do for you, Mrs.…?” January felt her irritation lessen as she glanced down the street. Maybe the old bat was lost.
         “I think my cat may have gotten into your shed—I haven’t seen him this morning and he always comes in for breakfast. I’m Mrs. Murtagh.”
         “I haven’t been near the shed—but it’s entirely possible. Let me put on some shoes and I’ll go out with you,” January tried to pull the door shut.
         “So kind of you, dear,” Mrs. Murtagh took a step forward and January had no choice but to let her in.
        “Sorry about the mess,” January said, not feeling very sorry at all. She found her tennis shoes and slipped into them.
        Mrs. Murtagh was bending over the box of books; the cardboard lid lay on the ground. January took a deep breath. Some old people had no concept of privacy.
         “How about we go find that cat?” January said, trying a falsely cheerful tone.
        Mrs. Murtagh showed no sign of embarrassment and put down the book she was holding with a yellowed smile. The search of the shed revealed nothing but tools rusted into utter ruin and piles of rubbish. January promised to let Mrs. Murtagh know if she spotted Clancey.
         “Idiotic name for a cat,” January said as she shut the door behind Mrs. Murtagh. She was tempted to watch the old, crabbed woman to make sure she really returned home, but that was the paranoid New Yorker in her.
        She turned back to the mess of half-unpacked boxes, stubbed her toe on the box of books and swore. She bent down to massage her throbbing foot. One had fallen to the floor, open to the middle. January knelt down to look at it. A copy of Wuthering Heights—a priceless edition the appraiser told her. Writing was scrawled across the pages in bold, black ink. January picked it up with shaking hands and began to read.
         I knew the first time I saw you, you see, that your big gray eyes and clouds of dark hair would be mine to hold, mine and no one else’s. The way you laughed—head thrown back, shoulders shaking. My angel, I knew how it would be.
        The beginning of time, genesis, my own beautiful Eve—January. My chill, icy lady, unyielding, unchanged by time. Venus, Aphrodite, January.

        January flipped through the pages in horror, the book was filled. She dropped it, her fingers burning.
         “No,” she said, scrubbing her hands frantically on her jeans. “You’re dead. You’re dead.”
        Mrs. Murtagh’s face swam before her eyes. Time spun backwards and the wrinkled face and cotton fluff hair turned to smoother skin and sleek gray hair. Not Murtagh. Mrs. Carlisle—single mother of Daniel Carlisle.
        “January,” the voice sounded like the whisper of the leaves outside.
         “No,” January said again.
         Daniel, whose always seemed to be on the edge of her play, getting the mail, raking the leaves. Daniel, who always smiled at her in a way that made her abandon her game and retreat inside to a book, unsure why the daylight seemed to dim.
         “You came back,” Daniel’s hands brushed the thin hairs on the back of her neck.
         “My father—he killed you. I saw him hit you with the shovel.” Her breath came in uneven gasps as she felt Daniel’s lips on her ear, his breath shivered across her cheek as he laughed.
         “I told him I would never leave you. That I would be here when he could no longer keep you from me. I knew you would return.”
        January looked at the hand that was creeping down her arm, caressing. It was white and puckered. Like something dead kept in a jar. The sickly smell of flowers left too long in a vase assailed her nose. Cold lips traveled down her neck. Black flakes like falling leaves framed her vision.
         “You came back,” he said into her hair, exultant. “And so did I.”

Croisée des Chemins

Come one, come all to New Orleans, where drink flows like the Mississippi and the aura of ages past still lingers.

photo found here


         “Stohm comin, big stohm.” The old woman’s face was the color of wet slate, darkening in the furrows around her white, unseeing eyes and toothless mouth. Her knobby fingers worked deftly, sorting beans as if she had perfect sight.
        Adelaide looked up at the clear sky and back at Eula. Eula was never wrong about storms, not in Adelaide’s fifteen years. The girl watched the sunlight play over the peaks and valleys of her nanny’s face. She sometimes thought Eula was old as the Earth itself, older certainly than the Mississippi and New Orleans. She knew the answers to the questions Adelaide hadn’t asked.
        “You quiet today, chile,” Eula said, turning her face towards Adelaide.
        “I was thinking about the stories,” Adelaide said.
        “Which stories be dey?” Eula bobbed her head slightly in time with the sorting; good beans went in the iron pot, bad ones into a basket. She never missed.
        “The stories they tell at night in the courtyard, ‘round the fire,” Adelaide clutched the front of her pinafore and raised her eyes to Eula’s face.
The steady cthunk of beans ceased and Eula’s hands stilled on her lap. Adelaide saw the knob in her throat bob up and down once in her thin neck, roped with veins.
        “You been walking in de dark, chile? Creepin’ out your bed in de night? How many time Maman Eula tell you, they stories not for you,” Eula’s voice dropped and she reached out a bony hand until she found Adelaide’s smooth, pale wrist and gripped it.
        “I couldn’t sleep,” Adelaide said. “They were shouting again. Maman and Papa.”
        “I tol’ you before, chile, and I tell you again, you stay in dat pretty bed o’ yours and don’ be walkin’ de house in de night. Your maman and papa—dey be talkin’ loud to make sure dey voices heard to each other, dey don’ mean nothin’ by it.” Eula released Adelaide’s hand.
        “It has something to do with why they leave out the coffee and the cigars and the rum, isn’t it?” Adelaide said, defiantly, shoving her fair hair back from her face.
        Eula’s fingers returned to sorting, and she began to hum. Adelaide knew she would get no answers this time. She leaned back on the sun-warmed steps and, through slitted eyes, tried to see again the circle around the small fire.
         The figures were wrapped in black and white, shifting shadows in the firelight and they sometimes spoke a strange tongue that she almost understood. Neither French nor creole—something else, something that made her skin pebble and her eyes grow wide in the darkness, drinking in the light like a cat’s. Her eyes snapped open as the first raindrops splattered in the dust and rolled down her forehead. The steady drumbeat of thunder sounded like an echo of last night’s chanting and she helped Eula to her feet as they hurried under the portico and out of the rain.

        She sat up straight in bed, every nerve tingling as the lightning flashed and lit the whole room. There was shouting outside. She ran to her door and shoved it open. A figure rushed past, carrying something that smelled like overturned dirt and rust. There was a high, keening sound—one of the dogs, she thought—until she thrust herself through the silver-shot darkness and into her parent’s room. The sound came from the woman at the bedside—her mother—Adelaide realized. Her honey hair was loose down her back and Adelaide spared a moment to admire the way it shone in the torchlight.
        Maman was holding someone’s hand and Adelaide leaned around her to see. Her father lay in the bed, but something pooled around him and she saw that it streaked her mother’s silk nightgown and the floors. The smell hit her again and she gagged. Blood.
        “Chile, chile, don’ go neah dere,” Leon’s strong dark hands appeared out of the darkness and held her close.
        “Papa!” she struggled, but she was no match for the big man.
        He gently bore her down the stairs and into the kitchen where he deposited her next to the fire before returning upstairs. The old rocking chair smacked the floor in a familiar rhythm but Adelaide didn’t look at Eula. There was blood on one of her bare feet. She strained to hear voices outside the kitchen door through the battle sounds of thunder and lightning.
        “Leon say he was out in de Quarter—cards, mebbe—comin’ back from dere wit gold in he pockets…” the voice grew indistinct as the servants moved away.
        Adelaide glanced at Eula, rocking placidly in the corner, her head cocked towards Adelaide.
        “Don’ be ‘fraid, chile,” she said quietly.
        Adelaide barely breathed as she pulled one of the servant girl’s coats off the hanger and wrapped it around herself. She pulled open the big kitchen door and fled back into the main part of the house. Her father’s study was silent, and even the blinding lightning didn’t penetrate the velvety shadows here. She could smell tobacco and leather. She found what she sought and shoved it carelessly in her pockets, holding up coat hem as she crept into the hallway and let herself out the front door.
        The streets intersected in a wash of mud and darkness. The street lamps flickered, fitfully illuminating small circles of driving rain around their glass cages. Cold mud pressed between her toes and her breath steamed. She pushed back her hair, plastered wetly to her face, and stumbled on the too-large coat, sprawling in the mud at the crossroads.
        “Baron Samedi!” she cried, her childish voice almost lost in the storm. “Viens ici!”
        Her hands shook as she pulled her prizes out of her pockets—the decanter of her father’s finest rum from their plantation, miraculously unbroken, and a handful of his best cigars. It would have to be enough. There was a flash of lightning so bright it made the hair on her arms sizzle.
        “Bon soir, cher,” a high, nasal voice greeted her and Adelaide blinked.
        A tall man stood before her; he tipped his gleaming top hat, leaning on a cane he seemed to have conjured out of the darkness. He flicked the tails of his coat and bent down to grab her arm. His fingers were impossibly thin and her eyes ran over his black and white suit to his face. Dark flesh stretched tightly over bones, his black eyes gleamed, and his teeth flashed bone white.
        “Ah, p’tite,” he lifted her easily by the elbow. “What you be doin’ heah at de crossroads, cher?”
        “My papa, he’s hurt—dying. I know you can keep him here, m’sieur.”
        “What you be bringin’ me den?” he asked.
Adelaide held out the items with shaking hands. “I couldn’t find any coffee, m’sieur.”
        The baron threw back his head at this and laughed and Adelaide could more clearly see the bones beneath his skin. He grinned at her and reached out to pluck the decanter and cigars from his hands. They disappeared somewhere inside his coat.
        “Merci, ma belle, merci. How you come to know me, chile?” He asked.
        “I listen to the stories the servants tell at night,” she said.
        “And den dey tell you to call for me?”
        “No,” her voice shook. “My papa was dying and none of them were doing a thing to help him. Please, m’sieur. Please.”
        “Hush now, ma belle, stop de tears,” the baron smoothed her soaked hair back from her face and tipped her chin up with his long fingers. “Your fadder, he will not pass dis way tonight.”
        It took Adelaide a moment to understand and tears streamed down her cheeks, “Oh merci, m’sieur, merci beaucoup.”
        Baron Samedi tapped her on the cheek, “Jus’ remember de service I do today, me. And remember, if you need me again…” he bent in close to whisper in her ear, “…bring de coffee, ma belle.”

Baron Samedi is noted for disruption, obscenity, debauchery, and having a particular fondness for tobacco and rum. Additionally, he is the Loa of resurrection, and y he is often called upon for healing by those near or approaching death, as it is only Baron who can accept an individual into the realm of the dead. He loves smoking and drinking and is rarely seen without a cigar in his mouth or a glass of rum in his bony fingers. Baron Samedi can usually be found at the crossroad between the worlds of the living and the dead. When someone dies, he digs their grave and greets their soul after they have been buried, leading them to the underworld.