SCIENCE FICTION SHORT STORIES VOLUME VIII

Written by DTYarbrough

8 SCIENCE FICTION SHORT STORIES

Copyright 2011 All rights reserved

CONTENTS
THE RESEACHER AND THE LIBRARIAN . . . . . . . 1 THE RESEACHER AND THE LIBRARIAN II . . . . . 39 WILD AS THE WIND . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62 TIME IN A BOTTLE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 87 BACKROADS OF MY MIND . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90 THE BEAST OF THE BAYOU . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 101 THE VORTEX . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 111 THE VORTEX II . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 127

The RESEARCHER & The LIBRARIAN
the supernatural, she spent most of her spare time scanning through obscure volumes of ancient text. She had never cared for fiction, though there were those that would argue that what she read was fiction or even fantasy. Many of her favorites had been donated to the library and were stored away from prying eyes and greasy fingers, available to the public only by special request and at the judgment of the librarian. Most knew nothing of these books and Vivian preferred it that way. At any given time, she would have as many as five or six books at her residence where she would wile away the hours engrossed in legends and folklore. She paid little attention to the myriads of readers that passed through the library on a given day, but recently one had caught her eye. For almost a week now, he had come to the library early and stayed late. Obviously engrossed in some sort of research, he had never spoken to her and never checked out a book though he seemed to be reading many. Shy as she was, she was determined to strike up a conversation with this gentleman and fellow booklover. What was it that held his interest so firmly? She must find a reason to work near his table today. “Quiet,” she said to the group of youngsters. “Shh. This is a library you know. I hope they were not disturbing you, Sir.” “Not nearly as much as you,” said the gentleman without glancing up from his many books. Books of the supernatural and the occult were scattered over the table. “How rude,” she thought as she quickly departed and returned to her desk. Still, she could understand his dismay at being distracted. Poor timing. They obviously had a great deal in common, but how was he to know that? …............................ “Pardon me, Miss,” said the gentleman. “Perhaps you can help me?” Vivian peered over her horned rimmed glasses. “Ah,” she said. “You do have manners.” “Have we met?” the gentleman inquired. “No, I think not,” replied Vivian. “I was just admiring your manners.”

Vivian had been a librarian since college. An avid reader of the occult and

1

“If we could get back to the subject at hand,” he said. Vivian closed the book she was reading and sat up straight, her posture the envy of any finishing school graduate. Removing her glasses, she placed them upon the large tome. “How may I assist you, Sir?” she asked with a slight smile. “That book!” he spoke loudly. “Will you be finished with it any time soon?” “Quiet, Sir,” she prompted, placing her finger on her pursed lips. “This is a library, you know!” “Oh! It's you again,” he replied. “I must apologize for my rudeness. But that book. I've just got to read it.” “It isn't normally available to the general public,” she replied. “But I suppose I could make an exception in your case. I assume you will be reading it here, like all the others.” “Of course,” he replied. “What is your name, Sir?” asked Vivian. “And what is your keen interest in this book?” “I'm looking for an ancient translation,” he answered. “I'm afraid this book will be of little use to you, in that case,” she replied. “If you could show me a copy of the original text, perhaps I could recommend a book or even translate it myself.” “That would be wonderful,” he said. “But I don't carry it around with me. Are you busy after the library closes?” “What did you have in mind, Sir?” she asked. “I don't believe I caught your name?” “Van Helsinger,” he replied. “Oscar Van Helsinger. At your service.” “Vivian Wilcox, librarian. At your service,” said Vivian. “And what is your line of work, if you don't mind my curiosity.” “I'll bet you're a cat person,” replied Oscar. “So you know about curiosity.” “But secrecy among colleagues?” said Vivian. “I've offered to assist you.”

2

“Ah. A promise yet unfulfilled,” said Oscar. “I must insist, until we know each other better.” “I do love a mystery,” said Vivian. “But I must insist now. What do you have in mind, Sir?” “Come with me to my home,” said Oscar. “To see your etchings, no doubt,” replied Vivian. “To be perfectly honest, yes,” he replied. “But it's not as you imply. I wish you to translate them.” “Yes, of course,” said Vivian. “Your ancient text. And how did you come by these etchings?” “An inheritance of sorts,” said Oscar. “I'm afraid that's all I can say at this time.” “You seem to be a gentleman,” said Vivian. “So I must assume that we will not be alone in your home.” “The servants will be there,” said Oscar. “But we must have our privacy. Trustworthy servants are hard to come by these days.” “As are trustworthy gentlemen, I'm afraid,” said Vivian. “I must insist on knowing you better before such a rendezvous can be arranged.” “But there is so little time,” said Oscar. “Then you must sweep me off my feet,” said Vivian. “I must admit that I find you quiet attractive in a strange sort of way,” said Oscar. “But I can assure you it was never my intention to toy with your affections.” “Strange?” asked Vivian. “Would you please elaborate?” “While you are beautiful beneath those trappings,” said Oscar. “You strike me as a spinster with little time for romantic feelings, especially toward the opposite sex.” “So much for sweeping,” said Vivian. “How are you with a mop?”

3

“Is honesty not what you desired?” asked Oscar. “Since we're being brutally honest,” said Vivian. “You strike me as a man only interested in women who throw themselves at your feet, no doubt impressed by your wealth. You're unwilling to put forth the effort to find true love and meaningful relationships.” “And now that we know each other so well,” said Oscar. “Will you accompany me. My carriage awaits?” “Come back in an hour,” said Vivian. “I have to close up.” “I'll wait. May I use the phone. I'll have the servants prepare dinner,” said Oscar. “Don't go to too much trouble,” said Vivian. “It's the least I can do after taking you away from your busy social life,” said Oscar. “Can we both stop with the sarcasm?” asked Vivian. “Let's make this as painless as possible.” …............................ “It truly is a carriage,” said Vivian. “I thought it was just a figure of speech.” As they walked toward the carriage, one of the footmen opened the door and greeted them with a bow. Taking her hand, he helped her into the carriage before again joining the coachman atop the carriage. The clip clop of the horses' hoofs echoed loudly through the night air as the carriage rocked and swayed its way along the city streets. After an hour or so the carriage turned down a tree lined drive where gas lanterns cast eerie shadows as they hung from ornate lamp poles. The hoot of an owl and the howling of a lone wolf silhouetted against the full moon could be heard above the clatter of the hoofs. “Is it much farther?” she asked. “Are we still in the city limits?” “Not exactly,” said Oscar. “My property was never annexed by the city. We're almost there. Just a little farther.” “Is that it?” asked Vivian as she looked out the carriage window.

4

“The servant's quarters,” said Oscar. “Any minute now.” As the carriage came to a halt in front of a large fountain, the carriage door swung open and servants pulled a small cart alongside. Resembling a Chinese rickshaw but with an European flare, it was pulled by two servants. As they traveled a winding path up the hill toward the large mansion, the flowering plants along the path filled the air with the aromas of spring, masking the smell from the stables below. “You must have a million questions,” said Oscar. “But please, save them for later. We must hurry. Our dinner is served.” “Whatever you say,” said Vivian. “I doubt I'd believe the answers anyway.” “Welcome home, Sir,” said the butler. “Will our guest be staying the night?” “I don't want to put her on the spot just yet, Humphrey,” said Oscar. “Check back with us later. After you, my dear.” “Walk this way, my Lady,” said Humphrey. “You've got to be kidding me?” said Vivian as she looked around at the vastness of the great room. “I feel so underdressed.” “Shall I have her dressed for dinner, Sir?” asked Humphrey. “I believe she would feel more at ease.” “You're probably right, but hurry it up,” said Oscar. “I wouldn't want her meal to get cold.” “Please follow the maid,” said Humphrey. “I'll inform the chef to hold off dinner for a few minutes. Please take your time.” “Thank you, Humphrey,” said Vivian. “You've been too kind.” …............................ As she entered the dining room, Oscar was already seated at the head of the table. As he arose to greet her, Humphrey held her chair at the opposite end of the table. Wearing an evening gown right out of Gone With The Wind, she was lovely beyond words. “You honor us with your presence,” said Humphrey. “If you will please be seated, dinner is about to be served.”

5

“Sorry I took so long, Oscar,” said Vivian. “You must be starving.” “Perfection should never be rushed, my dear,” he replied. “What? I couldn't hear you?” replied Vivian. “Not at all, my dear,” said Oscar. “Please enjoy the meal.” “You too,” said Vivian as she sipped one of the wines. …........................... “Will you be wanting dessert?” asked Humphrey. “Or will you be retiring to the study with the master.” “I couldn't eat another bite,” said Vivian. “Has he gone already? I hadn't noticed.” “Quite some time ago,” said Humphrey. “He didn't wish to disturb you.” “Please, show me to the study,” said Vivian. “I've kept him waiting long enough.” “Go right on in,” said Humphrey. “He's expecting you.” Oscar got up from his chair and greeted her. “Welcome to my study,” he said. “How was your meal?” “Heavenly,” said Vivian. “Simply heavenly. Sorry I wasn't better company.” “Those large rooms take some getting used to,” said Oscar. “That's why I like the study. We can talk and it's not long distance.” “You've been a perfect host,” said Vivian. “I'm afraid I've been a little selfindulgent. Shall we get to the business at hand, as you like to put it. Where's the text you wish me to translate?” “I must say that you look … well … you're beyond words,” said Oscar. “I'm speechless.” “That's very kind of you,” said Vivian. “The text ?” “On the table,” said Oscar. “See what you can make of it.”

6

“The spell of the three candles,” said Vivian. “I thought it was a myth. Where did you find this?” “It was my father's,” said Oscar. “It's been in the family for centuries.” “So it was your grandfather's and his father's before him,” said Vivian. “That's amazing. I've dreamed of finding this spell.” “No, it's always been my father's,” said Oscar. “But now he's gone and I don't know how to translate it.” “If you're saying what I think you're saying, then the spell must work,” said Vivian. “How long have you been a young man?” “Centuries,” said Oscar. “I'm not sure how many. I watched my father throughout his final decades. Aged and alone. Watching those around him age and die while time creeped up on him, ever so slowly. Everyone but me, his blood descendant.” “So, now you need to renew the spell,” said Vivian. “But you only need speak these words.” “Don't say them, whatever you do,” Oscar pleaded. “The spell is still in effect. I want to cancel it. I want a normal life. Will you help me?” “Think of what you'd be giving up,” said Vivian. “I've had it. I don't want it anymore. I want to grow old with someone who loves me,” said Oscar. “And I want to go first. I've buried too many loved ones.” “Do you have children?” asked Vivian. “Think of them.” “I'd never wish this on my children,” said Oscar. “You sensed I was unwilling to make a commitment. Now you know why.” “I can never have children,” said Vivian. “So romance has been farthest from my mind, as you so nicely pointed out.” “There's more to us than meets the eye, I guess,” said Oscar. “Can you translate the fine print?” “I can tell you before I begin that removing a spell or curse will require black magic,” said Vivian. “I can't help you with that, but I might know someone. I strongly recommend against it. You may put your soul at risk.”

7

“At risk?” asked Oscar. “Of eternal damnation. I fear that has long been my curse. Please present me with my options and I will weigh the consequences.” “Very well,” said Vivian. “This could take some time. Tell Humphrey that I will be staying the night, as I assume you do not wish this book to leave the premises.” “Nor can I allow you to make any copies,” said Oscar. “I will remain diligently at your side while you are in possession of this volume.” “And when my job is done?” asked Vivian. “While your secret is safe with me, you must know that I intend to cast the spell on myself. I have a photographic memory.” “I pray I can convince you otherwise,” said Oscar. “A reward for your services would of course be in order.” “My services are free,” said Vivian. “My discretion comes at a price.” “There is no one I would trust more,” said Oscar. “Begin your translations.” “Very well,” replied Vivian as she sat down at the table. “You rang, Sir?” asked Humphrey as he entered the study. “Prepare the princess suite for Miss Wilcox,” said Oscar. “The coachmen will no longer be needed tonight.” “Very good, Sir,” said Humphrey. “Will there be anything else? Something to drink, perhaps?” “That will be all, Humphrey,” said Oscar. “I believe I can find the kitchen if we get thirsty.” “Good night then, Sir,” said Humphrey. “Good night, Miss. I trust you will enjoy your stay. I'll leave the light on and the door open to your suite. Pleasant dreams.” ............................ “This is interesting,” said Vivian. “It says that the spell can not be cancelled. It can only be transferred. Where you aware of that?” “I suspected as much,” said Oscar. “Can it be transferred to just anyone?”

8

“Don't know yet,” said Vivian. “But I would think you would be a little choosy about whom you would trust with it.” “I would, of course,” said Oscar. “But will I have to narrow the choices even more?” “It says that they must be aware of and willing and capable of fulfilling the duties that go along with the spell,” said Vivian. “What duties?” “Just a few minor details,” said Oscar. “What else does it say?” “Once the spell is removed, the body will immediately return to it true chronological age,” said Vivian. “I can see where that could put a cramp on any future romances.” “Are you sure about that?” asked Oscar. “That's not fair. Damn it to hell. Well, that's that. You've been very helpful. I'll see you to your room.” “I am a bit tired,” said Vivian. “But we're not finished yet. We'll discuss this in the morning.” “As you wish,” said Oscar. ….......................... “Have a pleasant night,” said Oscar as he left her at the door to her room. “I'll see you in the morning.” “Don't give up hope,” said Vivian. “We'll find a solution. Where there's a will, there's a way.” “Goodnight, Miss Wilcox,” said Oscar. As Vivian entered her suite, she was impressed by the antiques that filled the room. A large four poster bed was the first thing she noticed. A cotton nightgown lay across the foot of the bed, not unlike the ones she remembered her grandmother wearing. On a nightstand beside the bed was a bowl and a pitcher of warm water. A towel and washcloth were neatly folded beneath a translucent bar of lavendar scented soap. As she sat on the side of the bed, drying her face with the towel, she wondered at the portraits hanging on the walls. The antique frames and the subjects with their turn of the century attire made the Smithsonian look like

9

the Museum of Modern Art. Then she recognized one of the subjects. It was Oscar, a few years younger, but him none the less. “What a fine figure of a man,” she thought, “and a true gentleman.” As she nodded off to sleep, the chimes from the grandfather's clock were striking the midnight hour. Then there was silence, an almost deafening silence. Soon she was dreaming of carriage rides in the park in spring and strolls through the garden in the moonlight, hand in hand with the man she loved. But who was this man beside her with whom she felt such comfort, such contentment. He spoke to her of days gone by and days to come. Days that would be filled with the joy of each other's company and nights of passion that would make Aphrodite blush. In her dream she lay beside him on satin sheets and downy pillows. In the darkness she still could not see his face. As she caressed his face and ran her fingers through his hair, she felt the two scars beneath his ear. Taking her hand in his, he gently kissed it. Vivian awoke in a cold sweat. Vivian knew of the ancient ones. But she could never feel this way toward the undead. Something was terribly wrong for she longed for his caress, his warm hands, his ... warm hands? How is that possible? Vivian sat up in the bed, wide awake and fully aware of the dream she just had. She quickly lit the candle on the nightstand, slipped on the slippers, and walked to the door. As she silently descended the stairs and made her way toward the study, the chimes of the grandfather clock startled her. She sat down on the stairs and caught her breath. It was 4:00 AM and the house was silent as a tomb once more. Her heart still pounded. Surely it would awaken even the soundest of sleepers. After a moment she continued down the stairs and across the great room toward the study. The candle cast eerie shadows on the walls as the flame flickered in the drafty air. Entering the study, she found the book just as they had left it. There were still answers to be learned from this book and this could be her last chance to discover them. Placing the candle on the table, she began to turn the pages. ........................ “Good morning, Miss Wilcox,” said Oscar as he entered the study. “Trouble sleeping?” “Please call me Vivian,” she said. 'What time is it?” “It's still early,” said Oscar. “I couldn't sleep either.”

10

“I had a dream or possibly a nightmare,” said Vivian. “I had to learn more about this spell.” “What have you done?” asked Oscar as he saw the three black candles, their wicks still smoldering. “You didn't cast the spell?” “I told you I would,” said Vivian. “How could I not. It's always been my dream.” “It may be your nightmare,” said Oscar. “Do you know what you've done?” “I knew I couldn't allow you to transfer the spell to me,” said Vivian. “It would have meant your death.” “There are responsibilities that go along with the spell,” said Oscar. “The book doesn't spell it out,” said Vivian. “You said they were minor details.” “I removed those pages,” said Oscar. “You had no need to know, until now.” “So tell me,” said Vivian. “You are now next in line to become The Slayer,” said Oscar. “You should have listened to me. Why did I get you involved? I'll never forgive myself.” “It's not your fault,” said Vivian. “We're slayers of the undead, the ancient ones. Is that what you're telling me?” “We're Vampire slayers,” said Oscar. “You can speak the word. It won't bite.” “But they will,” said Vivian. “Will they try to kill us?” “Worse,” said Oscar. “They'll try to turn us.” “Hold still,” said Vivian as she lifted his raven black hair from his neck. “It's you. You're the one in my dreams. But your blood is warm and I've seen you in sunlight.” “They failed in their attempt,” said Oscar, “thanks to my father. He captured the one who tried to turn me and forced me to drink his blood. Quite an experience for a ten year old.” “Why don't they just kill the slayer?” asked Vivian.

11

“As long as I am alive, the next slayer will not possess all of my powers,” said Oscar. “And while I was the only one, I was invulnerable. I couldn't die except from old age, and I mean very old age.” “But now I've changed all of that,” said Vivian. “I'm so sorry.” “I shouldn't have hidden it from you,” said Oscar. “Or I should have hidden it all. It's my fault for getting you involved.” “So I'm not invulnerable?” asked Vivian. “Either of us can die from decapitation,” said Oscar. “But the other will become invulnerable should that happen. And the survivor will possess all of the powers of the slayer.” “Do we share those powers equally now?” asked Vivian. “Not equally,” said Oscar. “I've been around a lot longer. We will each gain in power with each slaying we perform, until we reach maximum level. At that point, we become invulnerable again. I received full power when Father died.” “What powers are we talking about?” asked Vivian. “Strength, speed, and night vision just to name a few of the more important ones,” said Oscar. “We must move your things into the house before sunset today.” “I beg your pardon,” said Vivian. “I never said I was moving in.” “But I must train you,” said Oscar. “You'd be almost helpless against a vampire, even a young one.” “I'm not going hunting for vampires,” said Vivian. “I'd be willing to assist you. It's the least I can do until you get your full power back, but I'm no slayer. I couldn't swat a fly in self-defense.” “You have little choice,” said Oscar. “They're drawn to you like a moth to a flame. It's unavoidable.” “So you don't just hunt them down and kill them while they sleep?” asked Vivian. “They're much too clever for that,” said Oscar. “They're evil, not stupid.”

12

“What else have I read that isn't true?” asked Vivian. “Pretty much everything,” said Oscar. “Slayers seldom write their memoirs, and no one else lives to tell about an encounter with a vampire.” “How long is this training going to take?” asked Vivian. “I have a couple of weeks vacation coming.” “A normal lifetime,” said Oscar. “Assuming you're a fast learner. Then you might stand a chance on your own.” “What about my day job?” said Vivian. “Consider it early retirement,” said Oscar. “I can promise you that your life will not be too dull. I have a feeling mine has just become more interesting.” “Is it true they can't come out during the daylight hours?” asked Vivian. “I never was much of a night person, but I'll be damned if I'll hide during the daylight.” “The sunlight would blind them,” said Oscar. “Other than that, not even a sunburn.” “Really,” said Vivian. “Can't they wear sunglasses?” “If they are dark enough to block out all sunlight,” said Oscar. “In any case, they would not be able to see.” “So you could possibly see some of them walking around with canes,” said Vivian. “But no seeing eye dogs,” said Oscar. “In fact, any dog would be likely to attack them. It's unlikely they'd be stumbling around in broad daylight.” “What else?” asked Vivian. “Teach me everything.” “We could talk nonstop for a year, and you would just forget ninety-five percent of it,” said Oscar. “First hand experience is the best way to learn. But I'll give you a heads up where appropriate.” ................................ “Well, welcome to my humble abode,” said Vivian. “I just have a few things

13

to pick up here. And those library books will need to be returned to the library.” “I think you'll find my library interesting,” said Oscar. “If you can't find what you like, we'll get it.” “Sounds like the neighbors are having an argument,” said Vivian. “I don't believe I've ever heard them before.” “Acute hearing,” said Oscar. “Another of your new powers. You'll get used to it.” “I've got another six months on this lease,” said Vivian. “I think I'll sublet it with all the furniture.” “Have you been here long?” asked Oscar. “A few years,” said Vivian. “Since college.” “Then I'd leave it vacant for a while,” said Oscar. “They'll be coming around here looking for you for a few months at least. You wouldn't want them to find one of your friends by mistake.” “I can see where they are going to be a pain in the neck,” said Vivian. “No pun intended.” “Is this everything?” asked Oscar. “We won't even have to make two trips.” “We can come back if I forgot anything,” said Vivian. “Do you have cable?” “I don't even have a TV,” said Oscar. “Is that going to be a problem?” “We'll see,” said Vivian. “Depends on whether you're interesting company or not.” “You'll find that we'll be doing a lot of traveling,” said Oscar. “Most hotels have TV and WiFi and the servants' quarters are wired. You'll be staying in the main house, of course.” “Sounds interesting,” said Vivian. “I won't even ask why we travel so much. I'm sure I'll find out soon enough.” “Patience is a virtue worth cultivating,” said Oscar. “All in good time.”

14

“Ignorance is bliss,” said Vivian. .......................... “I'm going to miss my old colleagues at the library,” said Vivian as they drove away in the carriage. “Maybe I can keep in touch.” “That will eventually lead to problems,” said Oscar. “Too many questions about how you stay so young. But I suppose there's no harm for a while. You'll get used to saying goodbye to old friends.” “I hope we will become very old friends,” said Vivian, “and much more.” “Nothing would give me greater pleasure,” said Oscar. “If someone was going to complicate my life, I'm so glad it was you.” ......................... As the carriage pulled up in front of the fountain, they were met once again by the servants with the rickshaw. “Carry these things up to the house,” said Oscar. “It's a nice day for a walk. May I take your hand, Vivian?” As they strolled the winding path toward the main house, they paused at a point overlooking the stables and pasture where several horses were grazing. “How many horses do you own?” asked Vivian. “Do you ride often?” “A dozen or so,” said Oscar. “Not as often as I'd like. Do you ride?” “I've always wanted to,” said Vivian. “Never had the opportunity. Is it hard to learn?" “Let's find out,” said Oscar as they left the path and started down the hill toward the stable. “We'll start you out with a gentle one.” “Race you to the gate,” said Vivian as she released his hand and made a dash down the hill. She had never run so fast before. Cutting in and out, dodging small trees and brush, her footing was like that of a mountain goat while her speed was that of a cheetah. Oscar held back so as not to pass her. Watching her every move, he was amazed at her beauty and agility. “You cheated,” he said as they came to a stop at the gate. “Give me more warning next time.”

15

“Would you still let me win?” asked Vivian. “You were holding back, weren't you?” “Maybe a little,” said Oscar. “I liked the view from back there.” “You dirty young man,” laughed Vivian. “Are you ever going to kiss me?” “Catch your breath,” said Oscar. “No,” said Vivian as she leaned back against the fence, her arms at her side. “Take my breath away.” ............................ “I didn't know I could hold my breath that long,” said Vivian as she gasped for air. “Yesterday you couldn't,” said Oscar. “So there are some benefits to these new powers,” said Vivian. “Vampires can't hold their breath underwater,” said Oscar. “Oh. Well ... that too, I guess,” said Vivian. “Are you ever going to kiss me again?” “Got your breath?” asked Oscar. “Don't wait for . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . me,” said Vivian. ........................... “You're a natural horseback rider,” said Oscar. “You amaze me.” “I'm starting to amaze myself,” said Vivian. “Do you think my new powers have something to do with it.” “Hard to say,” said Oscar. “Does it really matter?” “I guess not,” said Vivian. “Something is spooking my horse, and me. Do you feel it?” “I was afraid of this,” said Oscar. “I think we've had a visitor.”

16

“One of them?” asked Vivian. “Is it still here?” “You can count on it,” said Oscar. “Although she's probably sleeping now.” “She?” asked Vivian. “How can you tell?” “You'll learn to tell the difference,” said Oscar. “I'm not sure I can explain it.” “What if she's in the main house,” asked Vivian. “Would you be able to sense her presence?” “They lose their powers if they're not in the moonlight,” said Oscar. “I wish she would come into the house.” “There's a full moon tonight,” said Vivian. “Is that significant?” “They're at their strongest during the full moon,” said Oscar. “That's the ideal time for them to try and take on a slayer. And a good time for us to avoid being out after dark.” “So, we're just going to hide?” asked Vivian. “Even at full strength, an elder vampire would be tough to handle during a full moon,” said Oscar. “She'll still be around in a week or so.” “But isn't she likely to feed?” asked Vivian. “Someone is going to die.” “They feed when they are at their weakest,” said Oscar, “unless they just happen to stumble upon an easy meal. One meal a month is usually sufficient, around the new moon. Although some have been known to take captives while they are strongest and hold them for later.” “What if it's overcast tonight?” asked Vivian. “Would that help?” “Their strength seems to wax and wane with the lunar cycle, but the amount of moonlight also seems to make a difference,” said Oscar. “But it would be too dangerous. We haven't even begun your training.” “Have you tried using magic against them?” asked Vivian. “Most white magic is only good for protection,” said Oscar. “If I want protection, I stay inside.”

17

“Do they have weaknesses?” asked Vivian. “Like holy water or silver crosses?” “They're not demons,” said Oscar. “They're diseased animals, bereft of human morals.” “Is there no such thing as a good vampire?” asked Vivian. “A dead one,” said Oscar. “That's our job. To make good ones out of bad ones.” “That's not funny,” said Vivian. “Is there no hope for a cure?” “If there were a cure, it would be like canceling our powers,” said Oscar. “Most would age rapidly and die, pretty much the same thing that happens when you kill one.” “But the younger ones might have a chance,” said Vivian. “A chance that they wouldn't die of old age,” said Oscar. “But would they become model citizens or just murderers free to roam around in broad daylight?” “Sounds like the thought of a cure has crossed your mind, too,” said Vivian. “My father spent years searching for a cure,” said Oscar. “For my mother. He became obsessed with it.” “What a dreadful childhood you must have had,” said Vivian. “I can't even imagine what it must have been like.” “I had a father's love for over five hundred years,” said Oscar. “I could have done a lot worse.” “Let's return to the house and begin my training,” said Vivian. “We're wasting precious time.” “Precious time,” said Oscar. “It's been a while since I thought of it in that sense. Let's take the back way to the house. The servants can bring the horses back to the stables.” …..........................

18

“That was a beautiful lake,” said Vivian. “We'll have to visit it again when we can stay longer.” “It's like I'm seeing the world for the first time, through your eyes,” said Oscar. “And it's almost as beautiful as you.” “I'm seeing it too,” said Vivian. “And part of it frightens me.” “It's just the unknown that frightens you,” said Oscar. “Together we'll learn all the secrets.” .............................. “Basketball! You want to teach me to play basketball!” exclaimed Vivian. “We don't have enough players for soccer,” laughed Oscar. “Hand-eye coordination, stamina, and leaping abilities will all come in handy. Shooting will strengthen your wrists and improve your accuracy.” “If we ever get into a pickup game with a couple of vampires,” laughed Vivian. “I must warn you. I was quite an athlete in high school.” “Then we can skip the basics and get right down to some one on one,” said Oscar. “Your ball.” …............................ “I was never this good in school,” said Vivian. “It's much more fun when your body can do what your mind is thinking.” “Beginner's luck,” said Oscar. “Best two out of three.” “Good thing you're the teacher, cause you haven't learned a thing,” said Vivian and she drove toward the basket. Oscar quickly blocked her path. She leaped over his outreached hands and slammed the ball into the basket. “Did you see that?” asked Vivian. “I guess not. You were still looking the other way.” “Two points is two points,” said Oscar as he attempted a long range shot. “One three pointer and I'm ahead. Hey! Get down from there. Basket interference.” “Are there rules when you're fighting for your life?” asked Vivian as she sat

19

on the rim, spinning the basketball on one finger. “Two hundred laps around the court,” said Oscar. “And no cutting across the corners. Join me in the hot tub when you're done.” “Why don't you have to do laps?” asked Vivian. “I'm the coach,” said Oscar. “How about a little respect.” “Sore loser,” said Vivian under her breath. “I heard that,” said Oscar. “Acute hearing. Remember?” …......................... “Hurry it up,” said Oscar. “I'm starting to shrivel.” “Oh, blow it out your other end,” thought Vivian. “One hundred and eighty-five,” smiled Vivian. “Be there in a minute, couch.” “That's coach,” said Oscar. “I don't get no respect.” …........................... “This feels wonderful,” said Vivian as she slipped into the hot tub. Oscar had removed his shirt and Vivian couldn't help but stare at the dark hairs on his muscular chest. “What a hunk,” she thought. “Time to hit the weights,” said Oscar. “Follow me.” “But I just got here,” said Vivian. “What took you so long?” asked Oscar. “What a shit,” thought Vivian. “I'm gonna kick his butt.” “When do we get to do some hand to hand?” asked Vivian. “All in good time,” said Oscar. “Patience my dear.” “Patience my ass,” thought Vivian as she leaped on his back and pulled him

20

to the floor. Oscar quickly rolled over and pinned her to the floor. “One day and the student challenges the master,” said Oscar, “or did you simply wish to wrestle. Maybe in a nice soft bed where you won't hurt yourself.” “Let me up, you big bully,” said Vivian. “Or what?” asked Oscar. “Or else!” said Vivian as she kneed him in the groin. “Would that work on vampires?” “Very well, I suspect,” grimaced Oscar. “If it's a male.” “Are you okay?” asked Vivian. “I lost my temper. I guess wrestling in bed is no longer an option for a while.” “Very funny,” said Oscar. “I need some aspirin.” “I'll just start on the weights, Coach,” said Vivian. “Hurry back.” ….............................. For days her training continued. On the day Oscar stopped walking with a limp he announced, “We're going into town today.” “Great,” said Vivian. “It'll do us good to get out of the house. Going shopping, are we?” “Continuing your training,” said Oscar. …........................... “Are we looking for vampires?” asked Vivian as they walked down the poorly lit street. “Not exactly,” said Oscar. “Listen!” Vivian gazed into the dark alley. A couple of thugs had pulled an elderly couple into the alley and were threatening them at gunpoint. “Vampires aren't the only things out at night that could use a good butt kicking,” said Oscar. “Now there's only two of them, and they've probably never come up against an ex-librarian, so be gentle.”

21

“Yeah, right,” said Vivian as she approached the two men. One of the men saw her and turned his gun on her. Vivian kicked the gun out of his hand and stood there with her foot inches from his nose. “Excuse me Sir, but could you tell me what I stepped in?” asked Vivian. As the other man turned, she kicked away his gun and smiled. “Maybe it was this foot?” she said. As she lowered her foot from his nose, the two men moved forward. Vivian stiff-armed both of them, sending them to the ground. Standing on their chests, her high heels resting just beneath their ribcages and her weight distributed on her toes, she said. “Never mind, I seem to have stepped in slime.” “Are you two okay,” she asked the elderly couple. “I believe these two gentlemen were about to apologize.” As she shifted the weight to her heels, the two thugs each let out a cough. “Or they might just be trying to blow smoke up my skirt. Don't even think of looking up. I'll slap you so cross-eyed you'll be able to see what color your eyes are. Oh, that's right. I already did that.” She stepped back dangerously close to their privates and repeated, “Do you have something to say to this lovely couple?” “We're sorry. It was a terrible misunderstanding,” said one of the thugs. “We thought you were someone else,” said the other. “Please except our apologies.” “Now isn't that better?” said Vivian. “Don't you have somewhere else to be?” The two thugs scrambled to their feet and exited the alley without looking back. “Can I escort you somewhere?” asked Vivian. “That won't be necessary,” said the gentleman. “I don't think they've stopped running yet, and I've got their guns. But thanks for everything.” “Glad I could help,” said Vivian. …............................ “You've got a mean streak in you,” said Oscar.

22

“No, I've got a temper,” said Vivian. “Jerks like that make me so mad.” “I'm glad you were able to hold back,” said Oscar. “The hospitals are busy enough.” “Are we going home now?” asked Vivian. “It's not safe on the grounds at night, remember?” said Oscar. “I thought we'd stay at your place.” “But I only have the one bed,” said Vivian. “We could wrestle for it,” said Oscar. “I thought you'd never ask,” said Vivian. “I know a shortcut.” …............................ “You know I'd ask you to marry me, but we'd never be able to get a license,” said Oscar. “My birth certificate would confuse the hell out of them down at city hall.” “Yeah,” said Vivian. “How many times have I heard that one?” “You were amazing,” said Oscar. “Just one more of my many powers,” said Vivian. “I have you to thank for those. What more could a girl ask for?” “A ring, perhaps,” said Oscar. “Oh, Oscar,” said Vivian. “It's beautiful.” “It was Mother's,” said Oscar. “I hoped you would like it.” “It's simply incredible,” said Vivian. “I'll cherish it always. Put it on my finger.” “With this ring I thee wed,” said Oscar. “Till death do us part.” …........................... “Wake up, Darling,” said Oscar. “We need to get back to the estate. I just talked to Humphrey. One of the dogs didn't return this morning. I'm afraid

23

she's starting to force the action.” “The vampire?” asked Vivian. “Are we prepared to take her on?” “We'll have to,” said Oscar. “The horses could be next.” “That's just mean,” said Vivian. “The dog might have been self-defense, but to kill a horse just to get our attention, that's beyond evil.” “She wants to battle while she still has the advantage,” said Oscar. “She knows we were stalling. This one is a wise one. She could be extremely dangerous.” “Do you ever set traps?” asked Vivian. “Surely we can outwit an animal.” “When I called them animals, I was referring to their morals,” said Oscar. “Don't underestimate their intelligence and wisdom. Some have been around longer than I have.” “What do they do when they're not feeding?” asked Vivian. “Surely they don't sleep all night too.” “When they are out of the moonlight, they are no different than you or I,” said Oscar, “at least in physical appearance. Even a dog couldn't tell the difference. But they are also as powerless as a normal human.” “Do they hang out together?” asked Vivian. “Not so much,” said Oscar. “They're typically loners. They like to hang out in nightclubs.” “Party animals,” said Vivian. “I should have known.” “Not really,” said Oscar. “They never drink alcohol, and they won't feed on anyone that's overly intoxicated. But they find it easier to lure a drunk out into the moonlight where they can capture them for later.” “So you could pretty much find them at any nightclub?” asked Vivian. “Unless it has ultraviolet lighting,” said Oscar. “It's the ultraviolet light that gives them their power. They'd stand out like a sore thumb.” ..........................

24

“Welcome home, Sir,” said Humphrey. “We found what was left of the dog.” “Which one?” asked Oscar. “Not Igor?” “I'm afraid so, Sir,” said Humphrey. “Will you be needing my help tonight?” “No, Humphrey,” said Oscar. “I'll handle this one all by myself.” “Hey!” said Vivian. “What do you mean all by yourself?” “You're not ready,” said Oscar. “You need more training.” “Two heads are better than one,” said Vivian. “Not when this head is worried about your neck,” said Oscar. “I don't need any distractions.” “But she's almost at full strength,” said Vivian. “And you're not. Please let me help.” “Not this time,” said Oscar. “And that's final.” “Talk to him, Humphrey,” said Vivian. “The Master knows what he's doing,” said Humphrey. “Shall I lock her in her room, Sir?” “Will that be necessary, Vivian?” asked Oscar. “No, Darling,” said Vivian. “I'll do as you ask. But I don't like it.” “Let's go to the gym,” said Oscar. “I could use a warmup.” ........................... “Try to attack me,” said Oscar. “But you're wearing a blindfold,” said Vivian. “Try to be as quiet as possible,” said Oscar. “Do it!” Vivian dove at Oscar, and he sidestepped her, causing her to do a bellyflop onto the mat.

25

“Quietly, I said,” insisted Oscar. “That's better.” Oscar slipped out of her grasp and with a sweep of his leg he sent her to the mat again. “You're breathing too loud,” said Oscar as he pinned her neck with his foot. “And your heartbeat. It's like a drum.” “Teach me,” said Vivian. “I want to be useful.” .............................. “It's time for me to go,” said Oscar. “You stay here with Humphrey.” “Better get us something to drink, Humphrey,” said Vivian. “I could use a strong one.” “Don't leave the house, no matter what,” said Oscar as he opened the door. “I'll be back soon.” “How about some ice and soda,” said Vivian. “I can't take it straight.” “I'll only be a moment,” said Humphrey. ........................ “Oh dear,” said Humphrey. “The master will kill me. Miss Vivian! Where are you?” “Give me back my keys, Oscar,” yelled Vivian as she stumbled across the lawn. "I can drive. “Oops. Who moved that tree?” Vivian could sense the vampire breathing down her neck. “So you're the other woman,” said Vivian. “Damn, you're ugly.” The vampire sniffed her breath and sent her sprawling with a strong backhand to the face. “When I get up from here, I'm gonna kick your scrawny butt,” said Vivian. “Hic. Over here, Oscar. Help me up.” The vampire quickly turned her back to Vivian and scanned the darkness for Oscar. Vivian silently leapt to her feet and plunged a wooden stake into the back of the vampire, between her spine and shoulder blade. As the vampire

26

fell to the ground, Oscar came running. “Is she dead?” asked Vivian. “You smell like a liquor store,” said Oscar. “Just a little Jim Beam mouthwash,” said Vivian. “Is she dead?” “No, you've only stopped her heart,” said Oscar. “She's in a state of hibernation. Help me carry her into the house.” ........................ “Why are we putting her into this cage?” asked Vivian. “Is she going to wake up?” “You'll find out,” said Oscar. “Place your right hand on the stake and your left hand on her forehead. Now close your eyes and concentrate.” “What are these visions?” asked Vivian. “Concentrate until the visions stop,” said Oscar. “Okay. Did you sense when she last fed.” “Yeah,” said Vivian. “I know all about her last victim.” “Good,” said Oscar. “We may not have much time. Where do we find him or her?” “It was a him,” said Vivian. “He lives in Kingston Falls.” “That's a couple of hours drive,” said Oscar. “We'll take the Maserati.” “Can I drive? Please?” asked Vivian. “Sure,” said Oscar. “I think I let my license expire.” “Why are we looking for him,” asked Vivian. “Does he have to die?” “Not if he hasn't fed,” said Oscar. “Maybe we can still save him.” “How?” asked Vivian. “I thought you said there was no cure.” “There isn't, once he's turned,” said Oscar. “But if his first feed is from the

27

vampire that tried to turn him, he'll be free of the curse.” “Well, what are we waiting for?” asked Vivian. “Morning,” said Oscar. “We're not in that much of a hurry.” ........................ “It's okay, Darling,” said Oscar. “It's just a nightmare. I should have warned you. After a mind link with a vampire, nightmares are to be expected, for a couple of nights at least.” “It was horrible,” said Vivian. “How could anyone do such things?” “She won't do it again,” said Oscar. “You can take comfort in that.” “Hold me for a little while,” said Vivian. “I'm not sure I'll be able to get back to sleep.” ........................ “We'd better get up,” said Oscar. “It's almost noon. Who knew a sleepless night could be so much fun.” “I don't know where I got all that energy,” said Vivian. “From stopping the vampire and from the mind link,” said Oscar. “I told you that your powers would increase.” “Let's eat,” said Vivian. “I'm starving.” …....................... “Help me put the vampire in the trunk of the car,” said Oscar. “We don't want to bring the victim back to our house.” “She looks so beautiful now,” said Vivian. “Last night she was skin and bones.” “They usually are beautiful in their human form,” said Oscar. “Vampires only turn those that they find sexually attractive.” “Let's take the back roads,” said Vivian. “I know the way and it's so beautiful this time of year.”

28

“You're driving,” said Oscar. “Just keep it between the ditches.” “I'm an excellent driver,” said Vivian. “I've never had a ticket.” ….................... “Now where did he come from?” asked Vivian as she glanced into the rear view mirror. “I think I was speeding.” “No kidding,” said Oscar. “The white lines looked like a picket fence.” “He wants me to pull over,” said Vivian. “What if he checks the trunk?” “He's already got the license number,” said Oscar. “No sense trying to outrun him.” …....................... “Where's the fire, ma'am?” asked the officer. “Was I speeding, Officer?” asked Vivian. “We were just enjoying the scenery. I wasn't really paying attention to my speed. Sorry to interrupt your day.” “That's mighty kind of you ma'am, but there's another little problem,” said the officer. “Your tags have expired. Five years ago, from the looks of it. May I see your license, registration, and proof of insurance.” …....................... “You have one phone call, ma'am,” said the officer. “You or the gentleman. Would you like to place the call now? I'd recommend a good lawyer.” “Oscar?” asked Vivian. “Know any good lawyers?” “I'll call Humphrey,” said Oscar. “He'll make the necessary arrangements.” “What were you thinking?” asked Vivian. “Five years?” “I haven't driven it in ten,” said Oscar. “It slipped my mind.” …....................... “You're bail has been posted,” said the officer. “You're free to go.”

29

“Sorry we had to bother you on your day off, Humphrey,” said Oscar. “No problem, Sir,” said Humphrey. “We had all the necessary papers and plates. If I had known you would be driving it today ...” “You've already got it out of impound,” said Vivian. “Where's your car?” “Back at the impound lot,” said Humphrey. “If you could just give me a lift.” “Not so fast,” said the officer. “I've got a search warrant. Could either of you explain those crossbows and wooden stakes in the back seat?” “We've been hunting wild boar,” said Oscar, “on our private reserve.” “Do you have a license to hunt wild boar?” asked the officer. “Are you also the game warden?” asked Vivian. “Just open the trunk,” said the officer. “You don't mind if I look at that warrant,” said Vivian. “Be my guest,” he said, “but don't take too long. I've got other work to do.” “We may want a lawyer to look at this,” said Vivian. “The officer is going to think you've got something to hide,” said Humphrey as he winked at Vivian. “You're right, Humphrey,” said Vivian as she handed the keys to the officer. “Be my guest.” “I need you to open it ma'am,” said the officer as he handed the keys back to Vivian. “Which key is it, Oscar?” asked Vivian. “Try them all,” said Oscar. “Don't keep the officer waiting.” “I broke it off in there,” said Vivian. “Oh dear. Now what do we do?” “Allow me,” said Humphrey as he opened the rear door and folded down the rear seat. Climbing into the trunk, he soon had it unlocked and opened.

30

“It seems to be quite empty,” said Humphrey. “See for yourself, Officer.” “Sorry about your key, ma'am,” said the officer as he walked away. “There's a locksmith just down the street. Have a nice day.” “You too, Officer,” said Vivian as she looked at Humphrey and shrugged. “Shall we go, Miss Vivian?” asked Humphrey as he closed the trunk and climbed into the back seat. “Humphrey,” said Vivian as she got behind the wheel, “you're a magician.” “No, Miss Vivian,” said Humphrey. “I simply removed it earlier as per the master's instructions.” “You knew!” shouted Vivian. “I ought to hit you!” “I just wanted to see how you would get out of this one,” said Oscar. “Not bad, actually.” “So where is it?” asked Vivian. “In my trunk,” said Humphrey. “We're almost there.” …......................... “We'll have to put her in the back seat,” said Oscar, “now that the trunk doesn't work.” “Well, who's fault is that?” asked Vivian. “You could have told me it was empty.” “And miss that look on your face when the officer handed you the search warrant,” said Oscar. “It was worth it.” “But now I have to drive the speed limit,” said Vivian, “and it's almost dark.” “That could be a problem,” said Oscar. “I had hoped to find him before dark.” “There's only one night spot within miles of Kingston Falls,” said Vivian.

31

“Her memories?” asked Oscar. “I guess so,” said Vivian. “I've never been there before.” “Do you think you'll recognize him?” asked Oscar. “It could be a problem with his clothes on,” said Vivian. “But I could pick him out of a nude lineup. Our friend back there has some fond memories of showering with him.” “You'll just have to visualize everyone with their clothes off,” laughed Oscar. “That should be interesting,” said Vivian. “Does that include you?” “The sooner we get this done,” said Oscar, “the sooner you'll get to see the real thing.” “Be still my beating heart,” said Vivian. “That's what she said,” said Oscar. “Well, that's what she got, anyway. Careful what you ask for.” “How will we know if he's already fed?” asked Vivian. “You'll have to get him into the moonlight,” said Oscar. “If his eyes are yellow, he's already fed. But he's going to be even more dangerous if he hasn't.” “How do I get him into the moonlight?” asked Vivian. “Use your imagination,” said Oscar. “You're a beautiful woman. Just let me know before you go outside.” “So we're not staying together when we go in?” asked Vivian. “They don't like competition,” said Oscar. “He'll be looking for a single girl who is alone and vulnerable. But not too drunk.” “What are you going to be doing?” asked Vivian. “Point him out to me as soon as you recognize him,” said Oscar. “I'll be keeping a close eye on him just in case he slips out with someone else.” “You let me know if you go outside,” said Vivian. “I'm not sure I'd trust you with the woman he chooses over me.”

32

“This is serious, Vivian.” said Oscar. “Don't look directly into his eyes for more than a few seconds while he's in the moonlight. If his eyes are yellow, kill him and don't hesitate.” “And if they're not?” asked Vivian. “We'll need to capture him if possible,” said Oscar. “But if it comes down to someone dying tonight, he's the one.” “Wouldn't that be murder?” asked Vivian. “Self-defense,” said Oscar. “Now you see why I was willing to give this all up.” “We're trying to do the right thing,” said Vivian. “That's what counts.” “Is it?” asked Oscar. “Is that all that counts?” …....................... “That's him. His name is Jason,” said Vivian. “The one dancing with the girl in the red dress.” “Got it,” said Oscar. “Now you be careful.” “You too,” said Vivian. “Stay away from the one in the green dress.” …........................ As the dance ended, Vivian made her way over to the side of the room where Jason was standing. The girl in the red dress had returned to her table and was sipping on a cocktail. Vivian watched as Oscar walked up to her table and struck up a conversation, offering to buy her another drink. Vivian sat down at a table near where Jason was standing. Glancing in his direction, she smiled. Jason glanced over at Oscar and his previous dancing partner. As the waiter brought her another cocktail, Jason glanced back in Vivian's direction. “Would you like to dance?” asked Jason. “I'm not a very good dancer,” said Vivian. “Maybe after a few drinks.” “You don't need that,” said Jason. “I'll teach you.”

33

“Well, I don't know,” said Vivian. “Are you a good dancer?” “I try,” said Jason. “I'm just learning. Let's give it a whirl. What have you got to lose.” “You're right,” said Vivian. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” …..................... “Not bad for a beginner,” said Jason. “I told you that you didn't need that drink.” “But now I really need a cigarette,” said Vivian. “How about yourself?” “Those will stunt your growth,” said Jason. “God, I hope so,” said Vivian. “You coming?” “I guess I could come along and keep an eye on you,” said Jason. “There's some real weirdos that hang around here.” “That's really sweet of you,” said Vivian as they walked past the table where Oscar was sitting. “The fresh air will do you good.” “Excuse me,” said Oscar as he excused himself. “Now don't you run off. I'll be right back.” Oscar pulled a large cloth sack out from under his shirt and waited for Vivian to flick her bic. As she lit her cigarette, the vampire closed his eyes. Oscar quickly pulled the bag over his head and shoulders. “Help me hold him down until he changes back to human form,” said Oscar. “Did you see his eyes?” “I'm not sure,” said Vivian. “I didn't see any yellow.” “You would have noticed,” said Oscar. “They would have been glowing. Help me get him into the alley where it's dark. Then get the rope out of the car.” “You want me to tie him?” asked Vivian. “Start with his feet,” said Oscar. “Don't let him kick you.” “That's good,” said Oscar. “Help me get him into the car.”

34

…......................... “Where are we going?” asked Vivian. “Do you know where he lives?” asked Oscar. “Yeah,” said Vivian. “I think I can find it.” “Does he live alone?” asked Oscar. “Not exactly,” said Vivian. “It's a college dorm. But he doesn't have a room mate.” “Perfect,” said Oscar. “Take us there.” ….......................... “Which floor?” asked Oscar. “Fifth floor,” said Vivian. “I was afraid you were going to say that,” said Oscar. “We're going to have to carry them up five flights of stairs. We'll have to wait till about three in the morning. We don't want any witnesses.” “It's one-thirty,” said Vivian. “What do we do until then?” “Why are you doing this?” asked Jason in a muffled voice. “What are you doing?” “We're going to need to gag him,” said Oscar. “Find a dark place to park the car out of the moonlight.” ….......................... “How's this?” asked Vivian as she pulled into an enclosed parking area. “There's the stairway right over there.” “This is easier than I thought,” said Oscar. “We'll make him carry her.” “Jason, if you want to live, you'll do exactly as you're told,” said Oscar. “We're going to untie the ropes and you're going to carry someone up to your room. Don't try to remove the sack and don't make a sound, or it will be your last. We'll help you find the way.”

35

“You're not going to kill me?” asked Jason. “Did the guys put you up to this?” “Quiet, or we'll have to gag you,” said Vivian. “I promise that we don't want to harm you. But make no mistake, we're fully capable if you give us no choice.” “Then what's this all about?” asked Jason. “What part of be quiet don't you understand,” said Vivian as she slapped him in the back of the head. “Shut up!” …............................ “I can't go any farther,” whispered Jason. “How many more floors?” “This is the last one,” said Oscar. “You can do it.” “But I'm tired,” whispered Jason. “Can't I rest for a minute?” “When you get to your room,” said Oscar. “Move it.” …........................ “Where's your key?” whispered Oscar as they arrived at his door. “In my right front pocket,” whispered Jason. “Get the key out of his pocket,” said Oscar, “and open the door. Jason, don't move.” “It's open. Put her on the bed,” said Oscar. “Tie him up again, Vivian.” “Okay,” said Vivian. “He's not going anywhere. What are you doing in the bathroom?” “This is a high intensity ultra-violet light,” whispered Oscar. “I'm replacing the ceiling light. Now help me put her in the bathtub.” “Should I run some water,” asked Vivian. “We're not going to bathe her,” said Oscar. “Not that she couldn't use one. Now help me carry him in here.”

36

“Now turn on the light switch,” said Oscar as he pulled the sack off of Jason and exited the bathroom, closing the door behind them. “Now what?” asked Vivian. “We wait,” said Oscar. “See what's on TV. This could take a while.” “He's going to feed, isn't he?” asked Vivian. “He won't be able to help himself,” said Oscar. “But she's completely helpless,” said Vivian. “No more so than an innocent human,” said Oscar. “But she's not innocent. If he didn't kill her, we'd have to. At least this way Jason's life can be saved along with all of his potential victims.” “I could use a nap if you're sure he can't escape,” said Vivian. “You tied him, and I've blinded him,” said Oscar. “What do you think?” “Wake me when it's over,” said Vivian. “I may nod off myself,” said Oscar. “Set the alarm for five AM.” …......................... Vivian felt a warm feeling of comfort. She could feel Oscar holding her. She opened her eyes to see Oscar on the other side of the bed, the female vampire bending over him. Then she saw Jason's eyes. Blood dripped from his lips. Her blood! Vivian tried to scream but as Jason sank his teeth into her neck once again, all she could do was lie there. Her life began to pass before her eyes. Memories long forgotten began to surface. She could feel her heart racing. Suddening the alarm clock sounded and Vivian screamed and sat up in the bed. "Another nightmare?" asked Oscar. "Hopefully that's the last of them, until you kill another vampire." "It was terrible," cried Vivian. "I thought I was losing you." "I'm here," said Oscar. "Calm down, and shut off that alarm clock. I think you've already awakened everyone in the building."

37

"Let's see how Jason is doing," said Vivian. "Do you think he's fed?" "We'll soon find out," said Oscar as he opened the door to the bathroom. "She's gone!" said Vivian. "Only her clothes are still there. Is he sleeping?" "He's fed," said Oscar. "He'll be sleeping it off for a while. He won't remember anything after he was first bitten. Untie him but try not to wake him. I'm going to put the original light back in the socket." "What do I do with these clothes?" asked Vivian as they descended the stairs. "I think I saw a dumpster near where we parked," said Oscar. "But we'll hang on to these ropes. We'll probably be needing them again." "Just so you know," said Vivian. "I'm not into that kinky sex stuff." "Then we'll just have to find another use for them," said Oscar. "We could add jumprope to your training regimen." "On second thought," said Vivian. "If it's not too kinky ..."

38

The RESEARCHER & The LIBRARIAN II

Vivian, how fast can you be ready to travel?” asked Oscar.

“I'm already packed,” said Vivian. “When do we leave?” “Aren't you even curious about where we're going?” asked Oscar. “You told me we would do a lot of travelling,” said Vivian, “and we haven't left the house since. Anywhere will be a nice change.” “You know how important your training is,” said Oscar. “We've had little time for pleasure trips.” “Is this a pleasure trip?” asked Vivian. “I'll have to throw in a few other items.” “Don't bother,” said Oscar. “We're going to Romania. An old friend is in need of our help.” “Not Transylvania?” asked Vivian. “I figured we would go there someday, but on our first trip?” “I'm afraid so,” said Oscar. “Better pack your hiking boots and warm clothes.” “Which airline?” asked Vivian. “Are we taking our crossbows?” “I never fly,” said Oscar. “We're taking a train to the coast. My yacht will take us to France, and then more trains until we reach the Carpathian Mountains. It should take a little over two weeks. I hope you don't get seasick.” “Trains and boats,” said Vivian. “How quaint. What have you got against flying?” “Aside from not being able to get our equipment past security, I've got so much metal in my body, I could pass for a robot,” said Oscar. “What sort of problem is your friend having?” asked Vivian. “I hope he's not in a real hurry.” “He's in no immediate danger,” said Oscar. “but there's no time to waste. We need to leave now. Humphrey is driving us to the rail station.” 39

.................... “You didn't tell me you had your own sleeper car,” said Vivian. “I told you I do a lot of travelling,” said Oscar. “It belonged to my father.” “It's very nice,” said Vivian. “Tell me about this friend of yours that we are going to see.” “He's actually an old friend of my father,” said Oscar. “I haven't seen Nikoli since I was a small boy.” “Wait a minute,” said Vivian. “You haven't been a small boy for centuries.” “He's one of us,” said Oscar. “My father trained him. He's gotten too old to fight anymore. That's why he's asked for our help.” “Why doesn't he train someone?” asked Vivian. “He did,” said Oscar, “but he didn't last long. Nikoli suspects a master vampire he drove off a century ago has returned to seek vengence on his family.” “I didn't realize there were other slayers,” said Vivian. “How many are there?” “One per continent, minimum,” said Oscar. “Although I'm not sure about Antartica. I've met most of the others.” “Will I get to meet them?” asked Vivian. “We try to get together twice a century,” said Oscar. “I still haven't met everyone, and the trainees don't always stay around that long.” “I plan on being around for a while,” said Vivian. “I'm really proud of your progress,” said Oscar. “You might just stand a chance if you keep up the hard work.” “I can't do much training here,” said Vivian. “I've got a gym on the yacht,” said Oscar. “I should get in some training myself if we're going up against a master.”

40

“Let's get dressed up and go to the dining car,” said Vivian. “We haven't eaten out in months.” “Getting tired of chef's cooking?” asked Oscar. “No, it's not that,” said Vivian. “It'll be nice just to select something from a menu.” “We'd better hurry,” said Oscar. “It closes in two hours.” .................... “Wake up, Darling,” said Oscar. “We'll be at the coast in a couple of hours.” “I slept like a baby,” said Vivian. “I think I'm going to like travelling.” “Maybe you'll have some time to study magic,” said Oscar. “I've got a pretty good library on board the yacht. I usually get a lot of reading done on these ocean voyages.” “That would be nice,” said Vivian. “I haven't had much time to read lately. I really think magic could be useful in our work. But I'm going to miss the horseback rides and canoeing on the lake in the early morning mist.” “Me too,” said Oscar. “It was never quite as enjoyable until you came into my life. Even travelling is going to be enjoyable now.” “If we can get the job done quickly, we'll be home in a month,” said Vivian. “Just think of it as a working vacation,” said Oscar. “But the cleanup work could take days or even weeks.” “Freeing his last victim,” said Vivian. “I almost forgot about that.” “Or his victim's victim if we're too late,” said Oscar. “Does this vampire have a name?” asked Vivian. “Count Demitri Carlophicus,” said Oscar. “Father and I almost crossed paths with him once. He's somewhat of a legend around Transylvania.” “Then that should make us the legendary slayers when it's all said and done,” said Vivian.

41

“One legendary slayer is enough for that continent,” said Oscar. “We're not here for the credit. The power we'll gain will be reward enough. Besides, only slayers and vampires will ever hear of us and the latter is never a good thing.” .................... “You were right,” said Vivian. “This is a really nice library you have here.” “Don't start reading yet,” said Oscar as he handed her a box.. “We've got to make an appearance in the ballroom. Here's a little something for you to wear.” “What is it?” asked Vivian. “A formal evening gown?” “Open it up,” said Oscar. “I hope you like the color.” “It's a wedding gown,” gasped Vivian. “It's lovely. White is my favorite color for wedding gowns.” “It was Mother's wedding gown,” said Oscar. “The captain can make it official if you would do me the honor of becoming my wife.” “Get out of here,” said Vivian. “I beg your pardon,” said Oscar. “Go,” said Vivian. “You're not supposed to see the bride before the wedding. Give me a couple of minutes to put on the gown. Then send a steward to escort me to the ballroom. Here's the ring. Don't lose it.” .................... Oscar stood in amazement as Vivian walked down the aisle. He had never seen anything so beautiful, so elegant. .................... “. . . . . You may kiss the bride,” said the Captain. .................... “Welcome to the honeymoon suite,” said Oscar as he carried her over the threshold. “Vivian Van Helsinger. That sort of has a ring to it.”

42

“Speaking of rings,” said Vivian. “I'll never forget that look on your face when you thought you'd lost the ring.” “I was nervous,” said Oscar. “It's not every day that I marry such a beautiful bride.” “You smooth talkers are all alike,” said Vivian. “You just want one thing.” “Yeah, so what are my chances?” asked Oscar. “Keep talking while I change into something a little more comfortable,” said Vivian. “I haven't decided yet.” “Have I ever told you what I like best about you?” asked Oscar. “It's your ability to make quick decisions.” .................... “Oscar,” said Vivian. “You've got to look at this.” “What is it?” asked Oscar. “I've been practicing some spells and this one is working a little bit better than I expected,” said Vivian as she dropped the feather onto the desk. “It always points in that direction.” “What spell is it?” asked Oscar. “It's a detect evil spell,” said Vivian. “The feather points in the direction of the nearest evil. But there's nothing but ocean for hundreds of miles. I've never been able to make this work over more than a few hundred feet.” “Maybe the evil is aboard ship,” said Oscar. “But I don't understand why we wouldn't have detected it with our slayer powers. Besides, I've known the members of this crew for years.” “You said we can't detect vampires unless they are in the moonlight,” said Vivian. “Maybe this spell can.” “Maybe we have a stowaway,” said Oscar. “Can you pinpoint the location of the evil a little closer?” “If we perform the spell at several different locations on the ship,” replied

43

Vivian, “we can triangulate the exact location.” .................... “I don't understand,” said Vivian. “This should be the spot but there's no one here.” “Could it be a ghost or some other form of evil that we can't see?” asked Oscar. “I suppose that's a possibility,” said Vivian. “But I've never detected invisible evil before. But come to think of it, I've never detected evil of any sort with this spell.” “Wait a minute,” said Oscar. “How do we know it's not on a different level?” “You mean on a different astral plane?” asked Vivian. “No,” said Oscar. “This ship has three levels. The deck, the cabins, and the hold. A stowaway isn't likely to be walking around on deck, and he's not here in the cabins.” “How many entries are there to the hold?” asked Vivian. “And how is the lighting down there?” “We have the advantage in the dark,” said Oscar. “A vampire will have no powers, but we still have ours. There's only one way in, through the hatch. Bring your feather.” “What's stored in the hold?” asked Vivian. “A few supplies and lots of sand bags for ballast,” said Oscar. “There's really nowhere to hide.” “I'm going to bring a silver-tipped arrow just in case it's a werewolf,” said Vivian. “Good idea,” said Oscar. “But don't be fooled. They don't have to change unless it's a full moon.” “What if there's more than one?” asked Vivian. “Bring more than one arrow,” said Oscar. “If you're afraid. You can stay on deck.”

44

“Don't be silly,” said Vivian. “I just want to know if we're trying to capture or kill and under what conditions that decision could change.” “Only kill in self-defense,” said Oscar, “until you're sure without a doubt that it's evil. Then you don't hesitate even if it seems defenseless.” “What if it pisses me off?” laughed Vivian. “You can't just kill it because it's stupid,” said Oscar. “You'd never get a day off.” “I was only kidding,” said Vivian. “That seems sort of harsh to kill a defenseless creature.” “It wouldn't hesitate if the situation were reversed,” said Oscar. “Look at Nikoli. He had a chance to kill Count Demitri but chose to exile him. Now the tables have turned.” “Why did he do that?” asked Vivian. “It's a long story,” said Oscar. “Given the circumstances I might have done the same when I was young and not so cynical.” “Let's do this,” said Vivian. “Do you want me to go first?” “I'll go,” said Oscar. “Give your eyes a chance to adjust before we start the search. I've got a flashlight in case we need it.” As they descended the ladder into the darkness, Vivian could hear heavy breathing. “Listen,” she said. “I can hear it breathing. What do you think it is?” “I can't say,” said Oscar. “But it must be injured. You'd never be able to hear it breathing if it were healthy.” “It's right over there,” said Vivian. “Use your flashlight.” As Oscar shined the flashlight in the direction of the sound, a shot rang out. Before the first echo, Vivian had fired the crossbow. As Oscar fell to the floor, the flashlight came to a rest at her feet. Picking it up, she shined it across the room where she saw a body lying in a pool of blood, her arrow through its heart. Looking down, she saw Oscar. “Van Helsinger!” called the steward. “Do you require assistance?”

45

“Yes,” yelled Vivian. “He's injured. Help me get him out of here.” As the lights turned on, Vivian could see Oscar's bloodsoaked shirt. His breathing was labored and shallow but he was still breathing. “Hurry!” she shouted. “I'm here,” said the steward. “Should we move him?” “Is there a doctor on board?” asked Vivian. “No,” said the steward. “The first mate was a medic. I'll get him right away.” “Wake up, Oscar,” cried Vivian. “You're going to be fine. Just hang in there.” Oscar opened his eyes slowly. “I'm so tired,” he said. “I just need to rest.” “Don't go to sleep,” said Vivian. “You might not wake up.” Oscar closed his eyes and his breathing almost stopped. Vivian lifted him up across her shoulder and began to climb the ladder. “Get out of my way,” she shouted as the steward stepped onto the ladder. “Place him on the stretcher,” said the first mate. “We'll take it from here.” “Turn the ship around,” said Vivian frantically. “We've got to get him to a hospital.” “Don't force me to sedate you,” said the first mate. “Get yourself cleaned up. He's in good hands now. There's nothing you can do. After you've cleaned up, you can tell me what happened.” “There's another body down there,” said Vivian. “Make sure it's dead.” “We'll take care of it. Now go,” said the first mate. “You're just in the way. Let us do our jobs.” Vivian stood there as they carried Oscar away. “What the hell happened?” she thought. “Vampires don't use guns. Neither do werewolves. This doesn't make any sense.” .................... “He's sleeping now,” said the first mate. “We removed the bullet. All we can

46

do is wait. Get yourself some rest. You look like you could use it. Would you like something to help you sleep?” “I'm fine,” said Vivian. “He's not going to die, is he?” “I would think you of all people would know the answer to that question,” said the captain. “Don't lose your head.” “Don't lose your head?” thought Vivian. “Of course. Oscar had told her that the only way either of them could die was if they were beheaded. How had she forgotten?” “Thank you, Captain,” said Vivian. “I'd forgotten.” “Forgotten what?” asked the first mate. “He'll never leave me,” said Vivian. “He promised.” “Get some rest,” said the captain. “We'll let you know if he needs you.” .................... Vivian awoke to find Oscar lying next to her. “Why didn't you wake me?” asked Vivian. “How are you feeling?” “Sore,” said Oscar. “Sticks and stones may not kill me, but they still hurt.” “What was a vampire doing with a gun?” asked Vivian. “Or was it a werewolf?” “Neither,” said Oscar. “It was an escaped murderer trying to leave the country. Vampires and werewolves aren't the only evil creatures, I guess.” “Is he dead?” asked Vivian. “He's dead,” said Oscar. “Nice shooting.” “It was more instinct than skill,” said Vivian. “Is that how it's going to be?” “I'm afraid so,” said Oscar. “The slayer instinct is becoming dominant. But it's an instinct that will keep you alive.” “God help the other guy,” said Vivian.

47

“If anyone is going to help them, it's the devil,” said Oscar. “How long before you're 100% again?” asked Vivian. “Are we going through with our mission?” “I'll be with you in your next workout,” said Oscar. “I'll just have to work through the pain. We can't cancel the mission. A fellow slayer is depending on us.” “Will you be ready in time?” asked Vivian. “We're going to slow down for a couple of days,” said Oscar. “There's a storm up ahead, and we'll give it time to dissipate. That'll give me a little time, and we can get in some sport fishing.” “Sounds like fun,” said Vivian. “Will you bait my hook?” “You've got to be kidding,” said Oscar. “You're a slayer for heaven's sake. Suck it up.” “I can't help it,” said Vivian. “I can't stick a hook in a helpless worm.” “We don't use worms,” said Oscar. “A small squid or octopus is more like it.” “Ew!” said Vivian. “No way!” “Okay,” said Oscar. “I'll bait your hook. But you have to clean the fish.” “Maybe I'll just watch you,” said Vivian. “I'm kidding,” said Oscar. “The crew will clean the fish and help you land it if it's a big one.” “Well, maybe I'll catch just one,” said Vivian. .................... “How many is that?” asked Vivian. “You've caught seven,” said Oscar. “And how many have you caught?” asked Vivian. “Hey! I've been too busy baiting your hook,” said Oscar.

48

“Excuses,” said Vivian. “Who's the fisherman?” “We're out of bait,” said Oscar. “Where did you hide that other bucket?” asked Vivian. “Other bucket?” asked Oscar. “I thought that was chum. I tossed it overboard.” “Talk about your poor losers,” said Vivian. “Well, I am getting tired.” “You've caught enough to feed the whole crew,” said Oscar. “Save some for the trip home.” “You're a good teacher,” said Vivian. “Like they say, those that can't do, teach.” “Nobody says that,” said Oscar. “You made that up.” .................... “Is that the coast of France?” asked Vivian. “We'll be in Port La Rochelle in a few hours,” said Oscar. “Have you got your things packed for the train?” “I was going to leave room for a few necessities we can pick up in Paris,” said Vivian. “Necessities?” asked Oscar. “Like a new purse, some high heels, and a designer gown or two,” said Vivian. “Maybe on our way back,” said Oscar. “We're in a bit of a hurry now.” “I was only joking,” thought Vivian, “but I could pick up a few items while we're here.” ....................

49

“So you don't have your own sleeper car?” asked Vivian. “We'll just have to rough it,” said Oscar. “What do you think?” “It's bigger than my apartment,” said Vivian. “I love it.” .................... “Wake up, Oscar,” said Vivian. “I sensed something on the roof.” “I don't sense anything,” said Oscar. “Well, I don't sense it now,” said Vivian. “But it was there. I'm sure of it.” “Get dressed,” said Oscar. “We're going up there. Which way was it moving?” “That way,” said Vivian. “But the train must be going seventy or eighty mph.” “You want to just go back to sleep?” asked Oscar.

50

“No, of course not,” said Vivian. “Someone's going to die if we don't do something. I'm sure of it.” “Bring your crossbow,” said Oscar. “And remember, it'll be able to sense us if it hasn't already.” .................... “I can smell its scent,” said Oscar. “Can you see anything?” “It's impossible with the wind in my eyes,” said Vivian. “But I can smell it too. It's definitely in that direction.” “Stay low to keep down the wind resistance,” said Oscar. “Let's go.” .................... “He's inside this car,” said Vivian. “I can sense him. But how is that possible?” “He must be near an open window on the moonlit side of the train,” said Oscar. “You go in that end and I go in this one. Wait for my signal.” As Vivian reached the end of the car, she looked back to see Oscar at the other end. Oscar waved to her and began his descent to the platform near the door. Vivian did the same. Looking through the glass in the door, she could see the aisleway was clear. As she saw the rear door open, she opened her door and went inside. “The vampire had not been through this door,” she thought. She began to walk toward Oscar. “He was in this car, and he didn't leave through that door,” said Vivian. “I can't sense his presence.” “He didn't go into the car behind us,” said Oscar. “Unless he jumped from the platform, he's still in here. He could be any one of these passengers.” “He's not on the moonlit side,” said Vivian, “and when he was, he was probably near the rear of the car. There are still a few people awake that would have noticed him near the front of the car.” “That narrows it down a bit,” said Oscar. “That man wearing the brown hat. What do you think?” “Could be our man,” said Vivian.

51

“You'd be wrong to assume that,” said Oscar. “What is this? A test?” asked Vivian. “Why can't it be him.” “The hat,” said Oscar. “He could never have kept it on while he was on the roof. And it matches his outfit so well, I don't believe he stole it from someone else.” “What about that lady? She seems to be all alone,” said Vivian. “You yourself have been referring to the vampire as a he,” said Oscar, “Are you doubting your instincts now?” “No, you're right,” said Vivian. “It's definitely male. But that only leaves the old man and his grandson.” “The old man is French and the boy is German,” said Oscar. “Is that his grandson?” “Oh no,” said Vivian. “He looks like such a sweet old man.” “He probably is,” said Oscar. “It's the boy.” “No!” said Vivian. “Are you sure.” “Look at the knees of his pants,” said Oscar. “Then look at mine.” “He was definitely on the roof,” said Vivian. “What do we do?” “Sir, there seems to be a problem with your ticket,” said Oscar in his best French accent. “Will you please come with me.” The old man opened his eyes and looked at the boy for a moment, then began to stand. The boy stood up and stepped into the aisle as if to let the old man pass. Suddenly the car became dark and the boy bolted for the door. Vivian and Oscar quickly followed. As they opened the door, they saw the boy climbing to the top of the car. As Vivian raised the crossbow, the boy stood up to run. There was a thud and the headless body fell onto the platform. Vivian watched as the body turned to dust leaving only the clothes fluttering in the breeze. “He was only a young boy,” cried Vivian.

52

“Think of all the lives we've saved tonight,” said Oscar. “He was dead long ago.” As the train exited the tunnel, Oscar and Vivian made their way back to their car, the crossbow behind her back. .................... “It's neverending, isn't it?” said Vivian. “We hardly seem to make a difference.” “Unfortunately,” said Oscar. “But there are other so called vampire hunters that manage to kill a few before they become overconfident and get themselves killed.” “Doesn't it get frustrating?” asked Vivian. “Once you realize that we do make a difference, it's not so bad,” said Oscar. “Try to imagine what it would be like without us.” “But if we don't kill one every day,” said Vivian. “I feel like we're not doing our job.” “We don't have to go looking for trouble,” said Oscar. “It will find us. For every one we kill, thousands of lives are saved.” “And for every one we don't hunt down?” asked Vivian. “You can't think of it that way,” said Oscar. “You'll make yourself crazy.” .................... “Oscar Van Helsinger to see Nikoli Corsikov,” said Oscar. “Come in,” said the butler. “He's expecting you. This must be Vivian.” “Vivian Van Helsinger,” said Vivian. “And you are?” “The name is Bentley,” said the butler. “Please come in. The master is in the study. Please follow me.” “Master, your guests have arrived,” said Bentley. “Shall I bring some wine?” “Our finest,” said Nikoli. “This is a very special occasion. Welcome to my

53

home. You look just like your father. Oscar, isn't it?” “Nikoli, it's so nice to see you're still around and kicking,” said Oscar. “I'm still around,” said Nikoli, “but I stopped kicking years ago. I'm just an old man now. An old man that needs your help.” “You saved my father's life more than once,” said Oscar. “It's the least I can do.” “Your father saved mine just as often,” said Nikoli. “You owe me nothing, and I have nothing to offer you except my gratitude.” “It will be an honor to serve you, Sir,” said Oscar. “Vivian, this is the legendary Count Nikoli Corsikov, Vampire Slayer to the Czars.” “It's an honor to meet you, Sir,” said Vivian as she offered her hand. “She's as beautiful and gracious as your mother,” said Nikoli as he kissed her hand. “I was so sorry to hear about your father's passing.” “It was his time,” said Oscar. “Please sit down. Let's have a toast to the old days.” “There were so many,” said Nikoli. “To your father, my oldest and dearest friend.” “To my father,” said Oscar. “To your father,” said Vivian. .................... “Bentley will show you to your room,” said Nikoli. “It's late and you've had a long trip. We'll speak of my problem after you've had a good night's rest.” “I enjoyed hearing your stories about Father,” said Oscar. “It brought back a lot of old memories for me.” .................... “How did your father become the slayer for the New World?” asked Vivian as she closed the door to the room.

54

“After he trained Nikoli, he was chosen by the slayer's council to come to the New World. The first vampires reached the New World around 1000 A.D. aboard a Viking ship. By 1500, they were widespread throughout New England,” said Oscar. “That's when my father became the New World slayer.” “Did he continue to share his powers with Nikoli?” asked Vivian. “No,” said Oscar. “The council created a new set of candles, the ones you used when you cast the spell on yourself.” “Does South America have its own slayer?” asked Vivian. “They do today,” said Oscar. “She was appointed in 1750.” “If Nikoli dies without an heir, will another slayer be selected by the council?” asked Vivian. “At the next 50 year convention,” said Oscar. “But any slayer or assistant slayer can take over temporarily. If they do a good job, they will most likely be selected as the permanent slayer.” “Why don't they just put slayers in every country, or every city for that matter?” asked Vivian. “There's a limit to the power the council can distribute. With each new set of candles, the power is spread thinner,” said Oscar. “And whenever more than one slayer uses the same candles, as we did, their individual powers are reduced. Of course you can gain power as a slayer, but if your initial power is too low, you stand little chance of gaining more.” “If I could find a way to increase the power of the candles,” said Vivian, “then we could have more slayers. That's going to be my goal. I'll have several lifetimes to find it.” “That would be a worthy quest,” said Oscar. “I'll assist in any way possible.” “Goodnight,” said Vivian. “Sleep tight.” “Goodnight, Darling,” said Oscar. “Pleasant dreams.” .................... “Good morning,” said Nikoli. “I trust you had a pleasant night.”

55

“Indeed,” said Oscar. “Oscar said you feared that Demitri would harm your family,” said Vivian. “I don't understand. If you have family, why aren't they slayers?” “They are my brother's descendants,” said Nikoli, “and I can't protect them all. There are thousands spead all over Romania.” “How does Demitri know they are your relatives?” asked Vivian. “Even I don't know all of them,” said Nikoli. “But if their last name is Corsikov, Demitri has threatened to kill one a day if I don't face him. He's given me until the next full moon.” “That doesn't give us much time,” said Oscar. “Where does he want to meet with you?” “Castle Keep,” said Nikoli. “In the Dark Forest region of Carpathia. It's an old ruin that once belonged to his family. It's in the middle of nowhere. It will be a difficult hike in mountainous terrain. The forest is too thick for horseback. I'll see that you get a map.” “Where can we get a pair of Russian Wolfhounds?” asked Oscar. “I have a fine pair,” said Nikoli. “I trained them myself.” “Excellent,” said Oscar. “Then we can leave at once. We'll need supplies for at least three days. We can't carry more than that anyway.” “I assume you brought your own equipment,” said Nikoli, “but feel free to use any of mine. I wish I were going with you, but I would only slow you down.” .................... “It looks like there's only one logging road that will get us anywhere near the Dark Forest,” said Oscar. “I'm sure Demitri is also aware of that. We need to stop at this bridge.” “Do you think he's set a trap?” asked Vivian. “Nikoli is of little threat to him. You'd think he'd want him alive.” “I think he'll be checking the area near the end of the road to see if anyone has come to challenge him,” said Oscar. “I don't want him to know we're here

56

until we know where he is. Once he discovers there are two of us with two wolfhounds, he'll be very difficult to find.” “You don't think he'll run, do you?” asked Vivian. “That would put Nikoli's family in grave danger.” “We're slayers,” said Oscar. “He won't be able to resist the urge to kill or turn us. But once he knows what he's up against, he'll be far more dangerous.” “What are we up against?” asked Vivian. “What did Nikoli tell you about Demitri?” “He's 26 years old physically and even Nikoli doesn't know how old he really is,” said Oscar. “He's trained in the deadly art of Pencak Silat Serak. It's a style of karate found in Indonesia. Even in human form, he'll be a worthy opponent.” “Why doesn't he just walk into Nikoli's home and kill him?” asked Vivian. “In human form, he can be temporarily incapacitated by bullets just as I was,” said Oscar. “Did we bring any guns?” asked Vivian. “He can smell gun oil and spent gunpowder a mile away,” said Oscar. “We'd never get within range.” “If that's the deadliest form of karate,” asked Vivian, “why didn't we learn it.” “It's only deadly against humans,” said Oscar. “It's no more effective against vampires than any other form. We use our karate mainly for self-defense. I never expected to come up against a vampire that could challenge me in human form. But trust me, that will only happen if he has no other option.” “That looks like the bridge on the map,” said Vivian. “Do you want me to park here?” “That's fine,” said Oscar. “I'll release the dogs. They're trained to stay within sight and not to make a sound unless they are attacking.” “As thick as those woods are, we'll have to be careful not to trip over the dogs,” said Vivian. “They won't be far away.”

57

“We need to make it to the ruins before sunset,” said Oscar. “Unless the dogs can pick up his scent, we'll need to be inside when it gets dark.” “What if they pick up his scent?” asked Vivian. “Are we going to try to find his lair?” “We'll try,” said Oscar. “Maybe he will be careless if he thinks that he need only be concerned with one old man.” “What do you mean by careless?” asked Vivian. “Vampires try to cover their tracks near their lair,” said Oscar. “In a city he would use the rooftops when he's near his lair. Here, he'll most likely use the trees.” “Then how will we track him?” asked Vivian. “The dogs can't climb the trees. Will we be able to sense his trail?” “Not likely, if he's in the trees,” said Oscar. “But the absence of scent can be just as important when tracking a vampire. If you find tracks everywhere except in one general area, chances are that's where his lair is.” “That sounds easy enough,” said Vivian. “Especially with the help of the dogs.” “Ah, but a really smart vampire will leave false trails leading past his lair,” said Oscar. “Close but not too close.” “So you're hoping he didn't bother to leave a false trail?” asked Vivian. “Or he didn't bother to cover the real one,” said Oscar. “But with a master, it's more of a instinct than an afterthought. Chances are we'll have to do this the easy way.” “The easy way?” asked Vivian. “We'll have to let him find us,” said Oscar. “Easy to do, but extremely dangerous. The element of surprise will be on their side.” “Their side?” asked Vivian. “There's more than one?” “A master vampire usually has at least a couple of mates,” said Oscar. “The dogs should be able to keep them occupied for a while, but we'll have to kill them ourselves once Demitri is immobilized.”

58

“So. The dogs aren't just for tracking,” said Vivian. “I thought our senses were as good as theirs.” “They're extremely light sleepers,” said Oscar. “They make excellent watchdogs.” “Why is that one frozen like a statue?” asked Vivian. “She's letting the other dog know that she's picked up the scent,” said Oscar. “There, the other dog's joining her. We need to pick up the pace.” “I can sense a male and a female, maybe more,” said Vivian. “Yesterday's trail,” said Oscar. “But let's follow it as far as it leads. It's heading in the right direction toward the keep. It can tell us how cautious they are about covering their tracks.” .................... “The trail ends here,” said Oscar. “They must have taken to the trees.” “Maybe we'll pick up the trail again,” said Vivian, “if we continue in the same direction.” “We need to hurry,” said Oscar. “It's getting late. It's taking longer than I thought because of all the thick brush.” “I think that's the keep up ahead,” said Vivian. “It's in worse shape than I had imagined. The walls are grumbling and some of the roof is caved in. It doesn't look very safe to go inside.” “We'll need some cover,” said Oscar. “His mates will be far less formidable if we can get them inside and out of the moonlight.” “Okay,” said Vivian. “Let's go in over there. It looks a little more stable. Call in the dogs.” As Oscar gathered the dogs, Vivian entered the archway leading into the keep. “Oh no,” said Vivian. “I left the candles in the car by the bridge.” “What candles?” asked Oscar as he stood outside the archway and attempted to leash the dogs.

59

“Nikoli loaned me his candles,” said Vivian. “If things looked too bleak, I was going to cast the spell and get my power from his candles. That would give you exclusive and full power from your candles.” “You should never have brought those out here where Demitri might possibly get his hands on them,” said Oscar. “If he ever discovered the words to the spell, it would be a disaster. He would have slayer strength and skills in human form. And he could give his mates the same powers.” “We've got to get back to the car right away,” said Vivian. “Nikoli had the words engraved into the candles.” “My god, Vivian,” said Oscar. “What have you done? Hurry, there's no time to lose.” Demitri stepped out of the shadows, a smile on his face. He motioned to the two females and off they went into the woods. .................... “We're almost there,” said Vivian. “Be careful in case they've beaten us here.” “It looks like the car doors are open,” said Oscar. “The lights are on.” “Do you sense their presence?” asked Vivian. “Maybe we should send the dogs down there.” .................... “The dogs have found something on the ground near the car,” said Oscar. “Let's check it out.” “Looks like Demitri didn't waste any time trying out that spell,” laughed Vivian. “You think this is funny?” asked Oscar. “What do you think?” asked Vivian as she pointed to the three vampires asleep on the ground. “Those were my own special candles and that was a sleeping spell.” “Why didn't you let me in on it?” asked Oscar.

60

“It was the panic in your voice that really sold the trick,” said Vivian. “You can't fake that.” “Stake 'em and read their memories,” said Oscar. “Boy, are you going to have nightmares, but you'll gain quite a bit of power.” “Are you sure you don't want one of them?” asked Vivian. “Not until your powers are comparable with mine,” said Oscar. “But I don't know why we bother. You're just going to outsmart them. What do you need with powers?” “Are you mad at me?” asked Vivian. “I didn't want to take a chance on losing you.” “Of course not,” said Oscar. “If I could, I'd always outsmart them. You're amazing, simply amazing. How did you know he could hear us back at the keep?” “I sensed his presence,” said Vivian. “He was ready to strike when I called to you. I guess no one ever told him about a bird in the hand.” .................... “None of them have left any live victims behind,” said Vivian. “I guess we're done.” “Not just yet,” said Oscar as he handed the sword to Vivian. “You've got to finish the job.” “Can't you do it for me?” asked Vivian. “Please?” “We're not baiting hooks here,” said Oscar. “Do your job. No one else can do it for you.” “Well, I don't like this job,” said Vivian. “Welcome to my world,” said Oscar. “I hope you never like it.”

61

WILD AS THE WIND

J

enny was dressed and ready for school early this morning. “I've finished

setting the table, Mom,” said Jenny. “What else can I do to help?” “Make sure Jesse and Ruby are up,” said Mom as she stirred the gravy. “What's up with you girl. You want something. I can always tell.” “Oh, Mom,” said Jenny as she headed for the stairs. “Can't a girl help her mom without wanting something in return.” “Jesse! Ruby! You up?” yelled Jenny from the foot of the stairs. “I could have done that,” yelled mom. “Go on up and check on them.” “What's all the yelling?” asked Dad as he stuck his head out of the bathroom. “Good morning, Sweetheart. Don't you look pretty today.” “Thanks, Dad,” said Jenny as she knocked on Jesse's door. “Breakfast is almost ready.” She didn't dare to open the door. “Jesse! Get up. Breakfast is getting cold.” “I'm up!” her older brother yelled back. “Who died and made you the alarm clock?” “Mom said for you to get your butt downstairs,” said Jenny. “Don't kill the messenger.” “Hi, Baby,” said Jenny as she entered her baby sister's room. “Ruby! You can't wear that to school. Dad will have a fit. Let me help you find something nice to wear.” “I'm almost thirteen,” said Ruby. “I can wear what I want.” “Ruby, please don't upset Dad today,” pleaded Jenny. “Johnny asked me for a date tonight and I haven't asked Dad yet.” “A date!” said Ruby. “Just the two of you. You know what Dad will say.” “Maybe,” said Jesse. “But if he's in a good mood?”

62

“Okay,” said Ruby. “But you owe me one. How does this look?” “Perfect,” said Jenny. “Thank you, Baby.” “Don't call me baby,” said Ruby. “I get enough of that from Mom and Dad.” “What's taking you girls so long?” yelled Dad. “Let's eat. You're gonna miss the bus.” “Jenny's been up for a while,” said Mom. “She even set the table.” “Really,” said Dad. “I didn't think she knew how.” Jesse laughed as he reached for the biscuits. “Wait for your sisters, young man,” said Dad. “But Dad. I'm gonna be late,” said Jesse. “You all ride the same bus,” said Mom. “If you miss it, I'll drive you to school. And take off that jacket at the table.” “Oh, Mom,” said Jesse as he removed his letter-man jacket. Jesse wore that jacket everywhere. It was his prized possession. “Baby,” said Dad as the girls entered the room. “You look nice today.” “Thanks, Dad,” said Ruby. “Jenny helped me pick it out.” “Sit down, girls,” said Mom. “You want orange juice or milk?” “Chocolate milk,” said Ruby. “Me too,” said Jenny. “Why don't I ever get chocolate milk?” asked Jesse. “You're a growing boy,” said Mom. “Dad,” said Ruby. “You look very handsome today. Jenny wants to ask you something.” “Ruby!” said Jenny as she nudged her sister.

63

“What is it, Jenny?” asked Dad. “Well … I … uh ...that is … Johnny asked me to go with him to the county fair tonight,” said Jenny. “If that's okay with you, Dad.” “Do I know this Johnny?” asked Dad. “Does he have a last name?” “Wolfson,” said Jenny. “Johnny Wolfson.” “I went to school with his dad,” said Mom. “Strange boy. Wild as the wind. I think he married Mary Lou Watkins. You remember him, Jack.” “I remember Mary Lou Watkins,” said Dad. “Wasn't she homecoming queen in 89?” “You would,” said Mom. “Probably a nice family,” said Dad. “Jesse, do you know this boy?” “He's got a nice Harley,” said Jesse. “Doesn't play any sports.” “Just how old is this young man?” asked Mom. “He's barely seventeen,” said Jenny. “I'll be sixteen my next birthday.” “That's eleven months away,” said Dad. “I guess it will be okay if your brother comes along on a double date.” “Dad,” said Jesse. “I've got a game tonight.” “Oh yeah,” said Dad. “Why don't you guys come to the game with us. You wouldn't want to miss one of your brother's games.” “As much as I'd hate to,” said Jenny. “I kinda wanted to see the fair. The stock car races are tonight.” “Damn,” said Dad. “I wanted to see those. You see to it that he gets you home by 10:30 and not a minute later.” “10:30!” said Jenny. “It's not a school night.” “If it was, you'd be home by nine,” said Dad. “You could stay out later if your brother could go along.”

64

“I want to meet him when he comes by to pick you up,” said Mom. “He's not picking you up on his motorcycle, is he?” “We've got to run, Mom,” said Jenny as she hopped up from the table. “We don't want to miss the bus. Come on, guys.” “Bye,” said Ruby as she grabbed Jesse's jacket and ran out the door. “Come back here, you little brat,” yelled Jesse as he ran after her. Jenny couldn't wait to get to school to give Johnny the good news. She had had a crush on him for a few years now. He had mostly ignored her until recently. When he asked her for the date, she thought she was going to pass out right there in the cafeteria. It wasn't that he had other girl friends, at least none that she knew about. She wasn't sure what took him so long to come around. She knew that several girls would have jumped at the chance to go out with him, but he seemed to ignore them too. “Jenny … Jenny Carpenter,” said the voice from the front of the room. “Present,” said Jenny. “I called the roll thirty minutes ago, Jenny,” said the teacher. “I asked you to sit up straight and pay attention.” “Sorry, Miss Brooks,” said Jenny. Jenny had been daydreaming. She wondered what her mother would think of Johnny. She wondered what their kids would look like. Would they have her blonde hair or Johnny's dark brown hair. She hoped they would have his eyes. “Jenny Carpenter!” said the teacher. “Yes,” replied Jenny. “That's correct Jenny,” said Miss Brooks. “I didn't think you were paying attention.” Jenny sat up straight in her seat and turned her attention toward classwork. She was an excellent student and realized her daydreaming would have to wait. She would see Johnny at lunch. Only three more hours. Would they be boys or girls? One of each would be nice. And a June wedding. Not in that order she hoped. Who would be her bridesmaids?

65

“Jenny, sit up straight,” said Lucy as she nudged her from behind. “You're going to get into trouble if you don't pay attention.” .................... Jenny wasn't hungry as she sat at the table with her friends. “Hi, Jenny,” said Johnny as he walked over to the table. “Are we on for tonight?” All of the girls at the table looked up dreamy-eyed at the 6'2” senior. Jenny tried to speak but a nod was all she could muster as she smiled up at him. “Then I'll pick you up around 7:00,” said Johnny as he turned and walked away. “You've got a date?” asked Lucy. “With Johnny Wolfson? I don't believe it.” “It's true,” said Jenny. “He's taking me to the fair. What should I wear?” All of the girls at the table began talking at once. “He'll be wearing black,” said Lucy. “He always wears black.” “You can't wear a dress if you're riding on his Harley,” said Missy. “Shorts and a tank-top. That's what I would wear.” “It gets chilly at night, especially on the back of a Harley,” said Vicky. “Bluejeans with a denim jacket.” .................... “He's here, Jenny,” screamed Ruby. “I can see the dust in the lane.” Jenny ran to the window and peeked through the curtains as Johnny pulled up in the drive. The sound of the motorcycle had King barking at the top of his lungs. “Hush boy,” said Jack as he sat on the front porch steps. “Evening Johnny. Hush!” King ran toward Johnny still barking loudly. Johnny turned around and King stopped barking and began to whine as he backed away. “Evening Mr. Carpenter, Sir. Going to the big game tonight? I see you're wearing the colors.” “Yeah,” said Jack. “My boy's playing. Can't miss it. Who do you think will win the stock car races?” “Josh Petrey is my favorite,” said Johnny. “Car 24.” “Better watch out for my cousin in car 17,” said Jack.

66

“Wayne Mayner is your cousin!” said Johnny. “I had no idea. He's a pretty good driver, but Josh has got the engine to beat.” “Sounds like you know your stock cars,” said Jack. “Better come on in. Janet wants to meet you. I don't know what's got into that dog.” “He probably smells my dog,” said Johnny. “Wolf was climbing all over me when I left the house.” “How's your mom and dad?” asked Jack. “I don't see much of them.” “Everyone's fine,” said Johnny as he followed Jack into the house. “Mrs. Carpenter. So pleased to meet you. So this is where Jenny gets her good looks. No offense, Sir.” “None taken,” said Jack. “Have a seat Johnny,” said Janet. “So you're a senior this year. Any plans for college?” “I've been giving it some thought, ma'am,” said Johnny. “I hope we're not keeping you from the game. I would have been here earlier, but I had to finish my chores around the house.” “A young man with responsibilities,” said Janet. “That's refreshing. Here she is. You kids have a great time tonight. Jenny, what time will you be home?” “10:29,” said Jenny. “That's my girl,” said Jack. “Keep it under the speed limit, son.” “Sure thing, pop … uh … Mr. Carpenter.” said Johnny as he and Jenny headed outside. “Call me Jack,” said Jack. “Hush, King. Ruby, chain the dog. Janet, you ready? We're gonna be late for the game.” .................... “You ever ridden on a motorcycle before?” asked Johnny. “On my brother's moped,” said Jenny as she hopped on behind Johnny and wrapped her arms tightly around his waist. “I'm ready when you are.”

67

“You look nice in denim,” said Johnny. “Nice boots too.” “Thanks,” said Jenny. “So do you … I mean … You look nice too … in leather.” “Hang on,” said Johnny as Jenny squeezed even tighter. “Don't be afraid. I'll take it easy.” Jenny lay her head against his back to try to keep her hair from blowing too much. She should have worn a scarf, but she didn't want to mess up her hair. So much for that idea. She could hear his heartbeat in one ear and the roar of the engine in the other. As they pulled onto the paved road that led into town, they began to gain speed but the ride was much smoother. She loosened her grip around his waist and relaxed. As they leaned into a sharp curve, she re-tightened her grip. .................... As they neared town, the speed limit dropped, and she could see the lights of the fairgrounds in the distance. The giant ferris wheel towered over the other attractions. Johnny parked the motorcycle near the entrance and removed his chains from the saddlebags. He secured the wheels to the frame and closed the lock. Taking her hand, he walked to the ticket booth. Hand in hand they strolled toward the midway. Jenny was tall for her age but felt small beside Johnny. But on the other hand, she felt ten feet tall. “Step right up and try your luck. Win your girl a stuffed panda,” shouted the man at the basketball concession. “Jenny, would you like a panda?” asked Johnny. “Sure,” said Jenny. “Step right up, son,” said the carny. “Three shots for a dollar. Make all three and win a prize.” Johnny handed him a dollar and calmly sank the three baskets. “We have a winner,” said the carny as he handed Johnny a small stuffed teddy bear. “Make three more and win a panda.” “Come on, Johnny,” said Jenny. “This is a ripoff.” “Just a minute,” said Johnny as he handed the man another dollar and sank three more baskets.

68

“A big winner,” said the carny as he handed Johnny a giant panda. “Move along, son. One panda to a customer.” “You should be on the basketball team,” said Jenny. “Wow, this is almost as big as I am.” “You want me to carry it for you?” asked Johnny. “No way,” said Jenny. “I love it. I just love it.” .................... “I can't believe you got me on the ferris wheel,” said Jenny as she took a bite of her corn dog. “I've had a wonderful time tonight.” “Me too,” said Johnny. “You didn't seem to be frightened.” “I wasn't,” said Jenny. “That's the amazing thing. Even Dad could never get me to ride it before. I thought I had a fear of heights.” “Too bad your dad's cousin lost the race,” said Johnny. “He put up a good effort.” “How are we going to get this home?” asked Jenny. “I hadn't thought about that,” said Johnny. “Wait a minute. Hank, over here.” “Johnny,” said Hank. “How you doing, man?” “I need to borrow your Mustang,” said Johnny. “Here are the keys to my Harley.” “Picked up some extra cargo, did we?” asked Hank. “And who's this pretty little lady?” “Jenny,” said Johnny. “I like you to meet my Uncle Hank. Hank, this is Jenny Carpenter.” “You must be Jack's daughter,” said Hank. “Tell ole Jack I said hi. Here are the keys. Row J10. Where did you park the Harley?” “Front gate. Stop by the house later tonight and we'll swap back,” said Johnny. “Thanks a lot, Hank.”

69

“No problem kid,” said Hank. “Y'all be good now.” .................... “Did you hear something?” asked Jenny as they walked through the dimly lit pasture that served as a parking lot. “Watch your step.” “Probably just a cow,” said Johnny. “There we are. That car with the coon's tail on the radio antennae.” “Your uncle might be a redneck,” laughed Jenny as she placed the panda in the backseat. “What this hanging from the mirror.” “A 32 magnum bullet,” said Johnny. “Is that silver?” asked Jenny. “I've never seen a silver bullet before.” “Could be,” said Johnny. “Buckle up.” .................... “They're not home from the game,” said Jenny. “I don't have to go in yet.” “Find something on the radio,” said Johnny. “We'll wait in the car.” “There's a sock hop at the school next Friday night,” said Jenny. “Are you going?” “There's a full moon that night,” said Johnny. “I promised Mom I'd help her plant her garden. She always plants it by the light of the full moon.” “Here they come,” said Jenny. “I've got to go in.” “Don't I get a kiss goodnight?” asked Johnny. “Hurry,” said Jenny as she leaned toward him. “They're almost here.” “I meant hurry up and start,” said Jenny, “not hurry up and finish. You want to try that again?” .................... “Knock, knock.”

70

“Uh oh,” said Jenny as she looked and saw her father standing outside the fogged up windows. “Whose car?” asked Jack as Johnny rolled down the window. “Who's that in the back.” “You gotta see this, Dad,” said Jenny as she opened her door and ran around the front of the car. “Open the door, Dad.” As Jack opened the backdoor, the lights came on and he saw the half empty bottle of Jim Beam lying on the floor. “Johnny, would you please step out of the car,” said Jack. “Dad, the panda. I'm talking about the panda,” said Jenny. “We didn't even know that was there. It must belong to his Uncle Hank. Oh yeah, Hank said to say hi.” “Where did you see Hank?” asked Jack. “If you took her to a bar ...” “He was at the fair, Dad,” said Jenny. “He let us use his car so we could get the panda home.” “What's going on?” asked Janet. “Is there a problem, Jack?” “Just a little misunderstanding,” said Jack. “But I'll have to take that bottle. I can't have you breaking the law, now that you know it's in there.” “I understand, Sir,” said Johnny. “I'll tell Uncle Hank that you said hi.” .................... “Who won, Mom?” asked Jenny as they walked to the house. “We did darling,” said Mom. “Did you have a good time?” “Oh, Mom,” said Jenny. “I think I'm in love.” “Don't let your dad hear you say that,” said Mom. “I was about your age when I met your dad. It was love at first sight too.” “And you got married and lived happily ever after,” said Jenny. “Hell no,” said Mom. “We broke up after about six weeks. We didn't get back

71

together until after college.” “But this is serious, Mom,” said Jenny. “It always is, honey,” said Mom. “It always is. Did he ask you to the sock hop?” “No,” said Jenny. “There's a full moon that night.” “I see,” said Mom. “He promised to help his mom plant her garden,” said Jenny. “What a sweet boy,” said Mom. “I think I'm in love too.” .................... “Where does Johnny live,” asked Janet as she passed the biscuits. “I don't even know, Mom,” said Jenny. “I never asked him.” “On county road near Tifton,” said Jack. “I ran a trace on his license plate.” “Dad,” said Jenny. “You didn't.” “There's been reports of werewolf sightings out that way,” said Jesse. “Don't you start that foolishness,” said Jack. “Freddy Harris said he almost hit one last month during the last full moon,” said Jesse. “Was he drinking?” asked Jack. “There's been rumors of werewolves around Tifton since long before I became sheriff. I think there's something in the moonshine besides corn.” “I'd get me some silver bullets if I had a gun,” said Jesse. “Silver bullets?” asked Jenny. “Why silver bullets?” “That's the only thing that can kill one of them,” said Jesse. “And bigfoot wears tennis shoes,” said Jenny. “You're making that up.”

72

“Go on line and check it out,” said Jesse. “Dad,” said Jenny. “Can I use your computer?” “What's this sudden interest in werewolves?” asked Jack. “If Johnny's in some sort of danger, I want to warm him,” said Jenny. “Okay, but hurry it up,” said Jack. “I've got to work today. I'll need my laptop.” .................. “Full moons and silver bullets,” thought Jenny. “Just like Jesse said. They eat raw meat and sometimes they attack humans during a full moon. The rest of the time they're mostly normal, although they tend to be loners. Dogs tend to react strangely in their presence. That's got to be a coincidence. He explained why he couldn't come to the dance during the full moon. And that redneck uncle probably just got tired of looking at those stupid dice and decided to hang something else from his mirror. There's a perfectly logical explanation.” “Jenny,” shouted Mom, “it's for you. I think it's Johnny.” “I'll take it in here,” said Jenny. “Hello?” “Hi, Jenny,” said Johnny. “How are you doing?” “Fine,” said Jenny. “You?” “I'm fine,” said Johnny. “I was just wondering if you'd like to go for a ride. Mom wants to meet you if that's okay.” “Let me ask Mom,” said Jenny. “Mom!” “What is it Jenny?” asked Mom as she entered the room. “Johnny wants me to meet his mom,” said Jenny. “Can I, Mom?” “Have you got homework?,” asked Janet. “Not that much,” said Jenny. “I can do it Sunday after church.” “You be back before your dad gets home, you hear,” said Janet.

73

“Thanks, Mom,” said Jenny. “It's okay, Johnny. But I've got to be home by 4:30.” “See you in one hour,” said Johnny. “Bye.” Jenny turned off the computer and hurried to her room to find something to wear. She needed something to impress his mom that wouldn't look stupid on the back of a motorcycle. She couldn't wear the same outfit she wore last night. “Mom! I don't have a thing to wear!” yelled Jenny. .................... “He's here,” yelled Ruby. “Aren't you ready yet?” “Almost,” said Jenny. “See if you can calm the dog.” “King!” yelled Ruby. “Quiet! What's the matter with that dog?” “He doesn't like the motorcycle,” said Jenny. “He doesn't act like that when Jesse rides his motorcycle,” said Ruby. “He's used to Jesse's motorcycle,” said Jenny. “This one's louder. Probably hurts his ears.” “He shut it off two minutes ago,” said Ruby. “Dumb dog,” mumbled Jenny as she headed for the front door. “How do I look, Mom?” “You look nice, Dear,” said Mom. “Have fun.” “Nice?” asked Jenny. “I spent an hour getting ready and I look nice?” .................... “Hi ,Jenny,” said Johnny. “You look really nice.” “Thanks, Johnny,” said Jenny. “You ready?” “Hop on,” said Johnny. “Hang on tight.” ....................

74

After about an hour of steady driving, Johnny pulled off the road and into a parking lot with several automobiles. “Looks like Mom's busier today than she expected,” said Johnny. “Let's go on in and see when she'll be done.” “What does your mom do?” asked Jenny as they approached the door. The sign read “Tifton Veterinary Hospital.” “She's a veterinarian,” said Johnny. “Wait here in the lobby. I'll go see how she's doing.” Jenny looked around the waiting room at all of the people with their pets. “Dear, are you an assistant?” asked an elderly woman. “I think Felix has a headache.” “Oh, is this Felix?” asked Jenny. “Naw, this is Tiger,” said the lady. “Felix is my husband. He's out there in the pickup.” “Sorry, ma'am,” said Jenny. “I'm just visiting.” “What do you recommend for fleas?” asked the gentleman with the dalmatian “This collar really chaifs, and it's not working all that well.” “Shouldn't the dog be wearing that?” asked Jenny. “Excuse me. Johnny's back.” “Mom's going to be tied up for a couple of hours at least,” said Johnny. “She asked if we would wait for her at the house. And she said Dad was looking for me.” “That's fine,” said Jenny. “You don't have any aspirins, do you?” “Got a headache?” asked Johnny. “I'm sure I can find some up at the house.” “It's not for me,” said Jenny. “It's for Felix.” Johnny looked around the waiting room. “Pet or person?” he asked. “He outside in the pickup,” said Jenny. “This lady's husband.” “Brenda, you got any aspirin?” Johnny asked the receptionist.

75

“I've got some percodan,” said Brenda. “But I'll have to ask your mom if it's okay for you to take one of these?” “I've got a headache too,” said the gentleman with the flea collar. “I'm sorry, sir,” said Brenda. “We only treat animals here.” “Never mind,” said Johnny. “Felix will just have to go to the drugstore. Come on Jenny.” “Was that the animal coroner?” asked the lady with the cat. “He was dressed all in black.” “No ma'am,” said Brenda. “Nobody's pet has died. Would you guys like to watch some TV?” .................... “I'll just pull it around back,” said Johnny. “We can walk back to the house. It's just a little ways up the lane. Wolf hates the sound of the motorcycle.” “Wolf?” asked Jenny. “You have a wolf?” “He's half German shepherd and half timber wolf,” said Johnny. “You'll like him once he gets to know you.” “You mean once I get to know him?” asked Jenny. “No, he's a little weird around strangers until he gets to know them,” said Johnny. “Don't worry. I'm right here.” “Is he in the house?” asked Jenny as they reached the steps at the front porch of the large rustic cabin. “No, he must be out chasing rabbits,” said Johnny. “Let's go on in and you can meet Dad.” As they entered the cabin, the walls of the living room were covered with beautiful pictures of exotic places and people. A lush sofa and bookcase lined one wall and a fireplace with a massive mantle filled another. A chandelier hung from the beams of the vaulted ceiling. Lovely drapes covered the windows. The kitchen was ultramodern with the latest in appliances. The dining room

76

was somewhat small but well-decorated. The house was spotless. “Dad's probably in the den,” said Johnny as they walked past a stairway leading to the upper level. “This way.” “You don't have any brothers or sisters, do you?” asked Jenny. “It's just me,” said Johnny as he opened the door to the den. “I'm an only child.” “Now this is more like I expected to see in a cabin,” said Jenny as she looked around the room. “Well, maybe a little bit more than I expected.” “You mean all the stuffed animals?” asked Johnny. “It is a bit much,” said Jenny as she looked at the assortment of heads hanging on the walls and the bearskin rug in front of the fireplace. “Is your dad a hunter?” “We go hunting every now and then,” said Johnny. “He really loves to fish. He must be be working down in the basement.” “Working?” asked Jenny. “What kind of work can you do in a basement?” “Taxidermy,” said Johnny. “Best in the county.” “Dad, you down there?” yelled Johnny from the top of the stairs. “Yeah, I'm here,” said Dad. “Where have you been? I thought you promised to help me skin that bear today.” “Oh gee, Dad, I forgot,” said Johnny as they started down the stairs into the dimly lit basement. Johnny's dad was working intently at his workbench beneath the only light. “This is Jenny, Dad. Jenny, this is my dad.” “Pardon me if I don't shake hands,” said Roger. “My hands are a little messy right now. I'm very glad to meet you Jenny. I went to school with your mom.” “She told me,” said Jenny. “I deny everything,” said Roger. “She's prettier than all the others, Son.” “Others?” asked Jenny. “I'm only kidding,” said Roger. “I think you're the first one I've met.”

77

“Mom's tied up at the office,” said Johnny. “We're gonna hang around here for a while.” “If you've got a few minutes to spare, I could use your help with that bear,” said Roger. “You want to watch, Jenny?” “Watch you skin a bear?” asked Jenny. “I think I'll pass on this one. I'll just wait upstairs if that's okay.” “Wolf won't come near me for a week after I do this,” said Johnny. “And Jenny may not either.” “Stop your whining, Son,” said Roger. “We've got work to do.” “Let me just get Jenny settled in,” said Johnny, “and I need to change my clothes.” “Hurry up, Son,” said Roger. “We should have already had this part done.” .................... Jenny sat down in front of the TV and flipped through the channels. As she watched a commercial for ibuprofen, she thought about Felix. Jenny walked to the bathroom and opened the medicine cabinet. She grabbed the bottle of aspirins on the middle shelf and headed out the door toward the clinic. As she reached the parking lot she could see the old man behind the wheel of the pickup. He looked pale and was clutching his heart. Jenny rushed over to the pickup and tapped on the window. The old man looked at her through glassy eyes. “Are you Felix?” she asked. “Need an aspirin?” The old man managed to nod and began to roll down the window. After he had barely cracked the window, he seemed to pass out and slumped over the wheel. Jenny opened the door and lifted his head from the wheel and back against the headrest. Taking an aspirin from the bottle, she forced his mouth open and placed it under his tongue. “Be right back,” she said as she ran into the waiting room. “We need a doctor. I think he's having a heart attack.” “Who,” said Brenda. “Not Johnny?” “It's Felix,” said Jenny. “Outside in the pickup.”

78

“Not my Felix!” exclaimed the lady with the cat as Brenda ran into the back room. “Oh dear.“ “I gave him an aspirin,” said Jenny as the doctor rushed into the waiting room. “Where is he?” she asked. “Out there in the pickup truck,” said Jenny. “I'll show you.” “You say you gave him an aspirin?” asked Johnny's mom as she listened to his heartbeat. “You may have just saved his life. He's coming around. Help me get him inside, Wilbur. Wilbur, why are you wearing that flea collar? Never mind, give me a hand with him.” “Calm down, Gladys,” said Johnny's mom. “Get the door. I think he's going to be fine.” Jenny watched as they helped Felix out of the truck and into the clinic and then headed back to the house. As she took her first step onto the lawn, Wolf came around the corner of the cabin running and barking. As he stopped about six feet away, he began to snarl and bare his teeth. “Easy, Wolf,” said Jenny in a calm and soothing voice trying desperately to hide her fear. “You looking for Johnny?” Jenny knelt and held out her arms as she had often done with King when he would meet the bus as they returned home from school. Johnny had heard the barking and rushed upstairs to see what was happening. When he couldn't find Jenny, he rushed outside. Wolf had Jenny pinned to the ground and was barking loudly. “Wolf!” yelled Johnny as he ran across the lawn, “Heel boy! Heel” Johnny leaped onto Wolf, grabbing him by the neck and pulling him off of Jenny. Smelling the bear scent, Wolf went into a frenzy of growling and barking. “Let him go!” shouted Jenny. “You're scaring him. Johnny! We were only playing.” “He doesn't play,” said Johnny. “He could have killed you.” “Let him go, Johnny!” insisted Jenny. “He didn't hurt me and he's not going to. I tell you we were playing.”

79

Johnny released Wolf, and Wolf snapped at him and backed away. “Come here, Boy,” said Jenny. Wolf ran over to Jenny, his tail wagging, and stood up with his paws on her shoulders and began licking her face. “I seem to have a way with animals,” said Jenny. “Well I'll be damned,” said Johnny. “I've never seen anything like that. Wolf doesn't like anyone. He just learns to tolerate them after a while.” “You like me, don't you Wolffie?” said Jenny. “Yes, you do.” “Please don't call him Wolffie,” said Johnny. “It's embarrassing to have a dog name Wolffie?” “You're just a big puppy dog,” said Jenny. “Aren't you Wolffie?” “I've got to get back to the basement,” said Johnny. “Dad's waiting on me.” “I'd better go in and wash my hands and face after playing with the dog,” said Jenny. .................... Jenny had just finished watching an episode of Twilight when she was startled by a noise in the kitchen. “It's probably Johnny,” she thought as she started toward the kitchen. As she exited the den, she almost ran into Johnny's mother. “Hello Mrs. Wolfson,” said Jenny. “How's Felix doing?” “You should have introduced yourself,” said Mary Lou. “I didn't know where you had run off to. Gladys wanted to hug your neck. Felix is going to be fine.” “That's good,” said Jenny. “You were a little bit busy. You didn't seem to have time to get acquainted.” “It has been a busy morning,” said Mary Lou. “Where's Johnny? Is he helping his dad?” “Yeah, he's skinning a bear,” said Jenny. “Just finished,” said Johnny as he opened the basement door. “I'm going to take a shower and change clothes. I see you've met.” “Oh, we met earlier when she saved Felix's life,” said Mary Lou. “Quite a girl you've found, Johnny.”

80

“Must have been a really bad headache,” said Johnny. “You should have seen her playing with Wolffie … I mean Wolf.” “Pee yew!” said Mary Lou. “Go on and get your shower while we get acquainted. Dear, would you like a cup of hot cocoa?” “If it's not too much trouble,” said Jenny. “Johnny says you're planting a garden this weekend.” “Oh, I don't think I'll do that this year,” said Mary Lou. “It's so much trouble and the rabbits and deer eat more of it than we do. I thought Johnny and I talked about that. ” “He said you always plant by the light of the full moon,” said Jenny. “Is that some sort of superstition?” “Farmer's Almanac,” said Mary Lou. “I had forgotten there was a full moon this Friday.” “And the annual sock hop at school,” said Jenny. “I was hoping Johnny could go.” “Oh, I don't think he'll be able to make that,” said Mary Lou. “I'm sure there's something else he has to do Friday night. I think his dad has fishing plans for the two of them.” .................... “You guys aren't talking about me, are you?” asked Johnny as he sat down at the kitchen table. “My ears were burning.” “We were talking about your plans for Friday night,” said Jenny. “Oh yeah,” said Johnny. “I promised Hank that I'd help him put a new motor in his Mustang.” “We thought you were going fishing with your dad,” said his mother. “After we're finished with the Mustang,” said Johnny. “We'd better head back towards your place, Jenny. It's 2:30 already.” “We'll have to do this again some time when you can stay longer, Jenny. It was real nice to meet you.” said Mary Lou. “You drive careful, Johnny. Next time I'll show you some baby pictures. He was such a cute baby.”

81

“I think he's still cute,” whispered Jenny. .................... “What do you mean you're not going to the sock hop?” asked Ruby as they got off the bus. “If you don't go, Mom and Dad won't let me go.” “But Johnny's not going, Baby,” said Jenny. “But I want to go,” said Ruby. “You owe me.” “Okay, I'll go,” said Jenny as she hugged King. “But this makes us even.” “Whatever,” said Ruby. “What are you going to wear?” “How was school today?” asked Mom as they came in the door. “Can't wait to get back,” said Ruby. “We need a ride to the sock hop.” “Jesse dear,” said Mom, “would you take the girls to the dance?” “Oh, Mom,” said Jesse, “I've got a date tonight.” “The car has a full tank,” said Mom. “Okay. I'll take 'em there and pick 'em up,” said Jesse. “But I'm not staying. What's for supper?” “Your dad's bringing home Chinese,” said Mom. “Oh Mom,” said Ruby, “are we gonna have to use chopsticks again?” “Are you volunteering to wash dishes?” asked Mom. “I didn't think so.” .................... “Pick us up at 11:00,” said Jenny as she and Ruby got out of the car. “You'd better be outside and ready to go,” said Jesse. “I'm not going inside looking for you.” “You'd better be nice to us,” said Ruby. “You wouldn't want Cindy to find out who you had a date with last weekend, now would you?”

82

“Please be ready to go,” said Jesse. “Have a wonderful time. You little brat.”
....................

“Look,” said Ruby. “There's Richie Richardson. Isn't he a dream? I've just got to dance with him.” “Good luck, Baby,” said Jenny. “You'd better take a number.” “He doesn't care about all those other girls,” said Ruby. “He smiled at me yesterday in study hall.” “No, really,” said Jenny. “You're practically going steady. Go on over there and get in line.” “You're just jealous,” said Ruby, “cause Johnny didn't want to come to the dance.” “He'd made other plans,” said Jenny. “I think he's afraid to come out on a full moon,” said Ruby. “What's that supposed to mean?” asked Jenny. “You've seen how King acts when he's around,” said Ruby, “and he always dressed in black and Jesse said ...” “Johnny! You made it,” said Jenny as she spotted Johnny. “But I thought ...” “I couldn't miss our first dance,” said Johnny. “May I have the pleasure?” “Excuse me while I go get in line,” said Ruby. “Good luck Baby,” said Jenny. “Don't call be that,” said Ruby. “See you guys later.” Jenny and Johnny danced to the next five songs without leaving the dance floor. “You look a little pale,” said Jenny. “Are you feeling okay?” “I think I need some fresh air,” said Johnny. “Be back in a few.” “I've got to keep an eye on Ruby,” said Jenny. “Hurry back. I hope you get to feeling better.” 83

“I'll be fine,” said Johnny. “Save me a dance.” “Where is that girl?” thought Jenny as she looked around the room. Ruby was nowhere in sight. Jenny walked around the room a couple of times and still there was no sign of Ruby. “Have you guys seen Ruby?” she asked a couple of girls about Ruby's age. “I saw her and Richie sneaking out that door over there,” said one of the girls. “It's not fair. She's keeping him all to herself.” “Way to go, Baby,” thought Jenny. “Oh sh*t. If Mom ever hears about this, she'll kill us both.” As Jenny approached the double doors leading from the gymnasium to the school hallway, she saw someone running towards the doors. “Run!” they screamed as they burst through the doors. “It's a wild animal! Get out of here. It's following us.” “Ruby's in there,” said Jenny. “Did you see her?” Jenny heard a scream. She looked down the hallway as Richie and Ruby ran for the doors. “It's a werewolf, Jenny. Run for your life,” screamed Ruby. “Johnny,” thought Jenny as she ran into the hallway. “Jenny, what are you doing?” yelled Ruby. “I've got to stop Johnny before he hurts someone,” yelled Jenny. “Don't worry. He'd never hurt me.” “Someone get the security guard,” yelled Ruby. “My sister's in there with a werewolf. Help her Richie.” “I'm not going back in there!” exclaimed Richie. “What's going on, Ruby?” “Johnny!” exclaimed Ruby. “But you're in there.” “Where's Jenny?” asked Johnny.

84

“She's in there with the werewolf,” said Ruby. “She thought it was you.” “Don't let anybody in here,” said Johnny as he ran down the dimly lit hallway. .................... “Johnny, it's me, Jenny,” said Jenny as the werewolf sniffed the air. “You don't want to hurt anyone. Give me your hand and let's go outside before someone gets hurt.” “Jenny,” said Johnny calmly. “Back away slowly. Don't run and don't scream.” As Jenny turned and saw Johnny, she fainted. “Stay back, Hank,” said Johnny as he slowly began to transform. “Don't make me hurt you. Go home.” “Don't move,” said the security guard. “I've got a gun and I know how to use it.” Johnny turned and roared, baring his teeth. The guard dropped the gun and ran away down the hall. Johnny turned and charged the werewolf. It turned and jumped through a window and ran off into the darkness. As Johnny slowly transformed back, Jenny began to awaken. “Johnny,” said Jenny. “I thought you were the werewolf.” “I know,” said Johnny. “Now, don't you feel silly.” “How did you save me?” asked Jenny. “Weren't you afraid.” “I guess I still haven't gotten rid of that bear scent,” said Johnny. “I'm lucky humans can't smell as well as werewolves and dogs or nobody would want to come near me.” “Wait until Dad here's about this,” said Jenny. “You can't tell him,” said Jenny. “That werewolf was my Uncle Hank. I was supposed to keep him company tonight in case he turned, and I let him down because I wanted to be with you.” “So that's why you lied about planting a garden,” said Jenny. “You had to help your uncle.”

85

“Some people have learned to control it with the help of friends and family. Hank was doing so well, I though he could handle it alone tonight,” said Johnny. “This will probably set him back.” “I saved you a dance,” said Jenny. “If the band's still here. We'd better get back out there. They're probably worried sick.” .................... “Jenny!” exclaimed Ruby. “You could have been killed.” “What were you and Richie doing leaving the gym?” asked Jenny. “Did you see the werewolves?” asked Ruby. “The security guard said there were two of them.” “It was just some kid in a gorilla suit,” said Johnny. “Looked pretty scary in the dark. But then lots of things are scary in the dark. Just ask the security guard. I scared him pretty bad when I yelled don't shoot!” “There's a werewolf in the parking lot,” yelled Jesse as he rushed into the gym. Everyone laughed except Jenny and Johnny. “Damn kid!” said Johnny. “I'll take care of this. I'll call you tomorrow, Jenny.” “Bye Johnny,” said Jenny. “What's so funny?” asked Jesse. “I tell you, I saw a werewolf.” “Somebody in a gorilla suit made a monkey out of you,” said Ruby. “Serves you right. You missed all the excitement.”

86

TIME IN A BOTTLE

Grandpa,” asked Windel. “How did you get that big watch into that little

bottle?” “Well, the bottle wasn't always that small,” said Grandpa. “Really?” asked Laurie. “Where did you get it?” “A witch gave it to me when I was a young man,” said Grandpa. “A witch,” asked Windel. “With a broom and a wart on her nose?” “She didn't have a wart,” said Grandpa. “In fact, she was the most beautiful woman I ever saw.” “A beautiful witch?” asked Laurie. “What was her name?” “Matilda,” said Grandpa. “She was a gypsy and when she danced it was as though … uh … well … never mind about that.” “But Grandpa,” said Laurie. “Tell us all about her. Did you love her?” “More than life itself,” said Grandpa. “We planned to be married, but her father hated me.” “Hated you?” asked Windel. “What did you do to make him hate you?” “I wasn't born a gypsy,” said Grandpa. “That's it!” said Laurie. “He was a bigot?” “He had plans for his daughter to marry the King of the Gypsies,” said Grandpa. “He even taught her black magic so she could cast a love spell on him.” “Sounds like she cast one on you,” said Windel. “I wondered about that myself, at first,” said Grandpa. “But she truly loved me and there was nothing to gain by making me fall in love. Eventually it cost her her life.”

87

“She died?” asked Laurie. “That's so sad. You must have been devastated. What happened? How did she die?” “First things first,” said Grandpa. “I'm telling this story.” “You tell the best stories,” said Wendel as he glanced at the antique music box on the dresser. “This is better than the one about the ballerina secret agent.” “Don't get me sidetracked,” said Grandpa. “Now where was I?” “Matilda truly loved you,” said Laurie. “Well, her father told her that she was not allowed to see me again,” said Grandpa. “We had been meeting for months behind his back and someone finally told him.” “What did you do?” asked Laurie. “Did you elope?” “She couldn't directly disobey her father,” said Grandpa. “She asked me to meet her one last time by the old oak tree. She said she would give me something to help me remember her.” “Is that when she gave you the bottle?” asked Windel. “She didn't exactly give it to me,” said Grandpa. “She was dead when I got there, the bottle clutched in her hands.” “How did she die?” asked Laurie. “She had cast a spell that placed her spirit into the bottle,” said Grandpa. “She didn't want to live if we were apart. Her body couldn't disobey her father, but her spirit did.” “What did you do?” asked Windel. “I could hear the hounds searching the woods, following her trail,” said Grandpa. “I took the bottle and ran as fast and as far as I could. I never looked back.” “That's so sad,” said Laurie. “Never to see her again.” “Oh, I see her from time to time,” said Grandpa. “All I have to do is open the bottle and think of her and I'm back in time, watching her dance or holding

88

her hand in the moonlight.” “That's so sweet, Grandpa,” said Laurie. “We've got to go now. See you next week.” “That was the best one yet,” said Wendel. “Grandpa has such a wonderful imagination. Wait, I forgot to ask him something.” As they opened the door and looked around the room, Grandpa was nowhere to be seen. The bottle had been removed from the mantle and sat there on the table, the cork barely inserted into the neck. “It looked bigger on the mantle,” said Wendel. “Where's Grandpa?” “We've got to go,” said Laurie. “They're waiting for us. You'll have to ask him next week.”

89

BACKROADS OF MY MIND

Aren't we there yet?” asked Candy. “How much farther is it?”

“Go back to sleep,” said Johnny. “I'll wake you when we get there.” “I can't believe your sister couldn't handle this,” said Candy. “You could lose your sponsor.” “She's got three kids in school and working two jobs to make ends meet,” said Johnny. “If it was Mom, she'd be here in a heartbeat, but she'd be useless trying to fill Dad's shoes.” “This is only temporary, right?” asked Candy. “A couple of weeks at the most.” “Sure,” said Johnny. “Dad's tough. He'll bounce right back.” “I bet they don't even have cable way out here,” said Candy. “What am I going to do for two whole weeks?” “Rough it,” said Johnny, “and stop bitching. We're not even there yet.” “Johnny, you never talked to me like that before,” said Candy. “I know you're under a lot of pressure, but I have feelings too.” “I'm sorry, Candy,” said Johnny. “Go on back to sleep.” Johnny thought about his younger days in Harden County before he graduated high school and joined a pit crew on the Nascar circuit. Today he was a famous formula one driver with a great sponsor and a great pit crew of his own. He had met Candy in Barcelona when she presented him with the winner's trophy. After a whirlwind romance, they were married in Paris. Johnny loved the excitement of racing but was still a country boy at heart. He would have been just as happy racing stock cars on dirt tracks but the pay wouldn't have been as good. Somehow, Candy managed to spend it as fast as he could make it. If this took more than a couple of weeks, he'd have to sublet one of the condos, maybe both. They had talked more on this trip than they had talked in any one week

90

since they met, even with Candy dozing off every thirty minutes. He was beginning to realize just how little they had in common with their clothes on. Johnny talked to his mom at least once every couple of weeks, but he had not been home since he starting driving the formula one circuit. He hadn't spoken to Dad since the last time he was home. He remembered helping his dad on the farm since he was old enough to walk. Looking back, he realized for probably the first time, that he had never been much help, but Dad never complained. He just seemed to enjoy having Johnny around. His dad had never approved of Johnny's interest in racing. He had tried to convince Johnny to go to an agricultural college. It was one of the few things they had ever disagreed on. “Honey, wake up,” said Johnny as he pulled into the driveway. “We're here.” “Louisiana plates,” said Candy. “Is that your sister's car?” “I think so,” said Johnny. “I don't see Dad's chevy. What's going on?” “Uncle Johnny,” screamed Johnny's niece and nephews as they came running up to the car. “Is this your racecar? Can you take us for a ride?” “Not right now,” said Johnny. “Maybe later. Where's your mom?” “She's inside taking a nap,” said Wendy. “She didn't get much sleep last night.” “Where's your Grandma?” asked Johnny. “Is she inside?” “She's at the hospital with Grandpa Bill,” said Ricky. “He's awful sick.” “I thought he was already home from the hospital,” said Johnny. “Mom said he was recovering.” “Mommy can explain it better,” said Wendy. “I'll go wake her up. You coming in?” “We're right behind you, sweety,” said Candy. “We'll get the bags later.” .................... “Johnny, thank God you're here,” said Sarah. “He had another stroke. They found a tumor, and they operated last night. He's still in intensive care.”

91

“What do the doctors say are his chances?” asked Johnny. “Is he conscious? Does he recognize anyone?” “You should get there right away,” said Sarah. “It's not looking good. I'll feed the kids and be there as soon as I can.” “You go ahead with Johnny,” said Candy. “I'll feed the kids.” “Sarah, this is Candy,” said Johnny. “Candy, this is my sister.” “We'd better hurry, Johnny,” said Sarah. “Kids, you mind Candy. She's the boss till I see you again. I'm driving, Johnny. I never did trust your driving.” .................... “How are you holding up, Sis?” asked Johnny. “Better than Mom,” said Sarah. “This is really hard on her. She'll be so glad to see you.” “Did anybody see this coming?” asked Johnny. “Has Dad been in poor health?” “It's just right out of the blue,” said Sarah, tears running down her cheeks. “One minute he's fine and then ...” “Maybe you should let me drive,” said Johnny. “Pull over.” “I'll be fine,” said Sarah as she wiped her eyes with her sleeve. “Have you got a cigarette?” “Stop at Orville's and I'll buy a pack,” said Johnny. “I could use one too.” “It's a chain store now,” said Sarah. “You haven't been home for a while, have you?” “It's been a while, I guess,” said Johnny. “Time flies when you're busy.” “Tell me about it,” said Sarah. “Seems like only yesterday the kids were in diapers. Wendy's in the fifth grade.” “Mom told be about Bobby Joe,” said Johnny. “When does he get out?” “Doesn't matter,” said Sarah. “We're divorced now. I hope they throw away

92

the key.” “Ever think about moving home?” asked Johnny. “Yeah, but the kids have all got their friends,” said Sarah. “Besides, there's no jobs to be found around here.” “I kinda miss the old days,” said Johnny. “It's gonna be nice to see some of my old friends.” “If they're still around,” said Sarah. “Things change. We grow up and we grow apart. Candy's even more beautiful than her pictures. How are you guys doing?” “Okay, I guess,” said Johnny. “Can't complain.” “I didn't give it a year when I heard that you two got married,” said Sarah. “She's a little high maintenance, isn't she?” “That's just the way she grew up,” said Johnny. “You have to get to know her.” “Well, I wish I had time,” said Sarah. “But as soon as Dad's out of the woods, we're heading back to Shreveport.” “I'm gonna make it a point to come and see you,” said Johnny. “I promise. It shouldn't take a family crisis to bring us together.” .................... “We're here,” said Sarah. “Try not to freak out when you see Dad.” “We never did get that cigarette,” said Johnny. “Well, I think it's gonna take more than a cigarette to solve our problems. You ready?” “Try to smile, Johnny,” said Sarah. “Momma always loved your smile.” “I'll try,” said Johnny. .................... The last time Johnny was in this hospital, he had fallen out of an oak tree and broken his arm and twisted an ankle. They had added a few more floors and several more wings since then. As he followed Sarah down the long

93

corridor to the elevators, childhood memories of Dad carrying him into the emergency room and holding his other hand as they set the broken bones rushed through his mind. “Will he be able to play the piano?” his dad had asked the Doc. Johnny had never played the piano before, and the humor in his Dad's voice had brought a smile to his face. As they rode the elevator up toward the fourth floor, the door opened and a nurse stepped in. “Johnny, Johnny Winfield. For heaven's sakes. How are you?” she exclaimed. “Betty Jean!” said Johnny. “Is that really you? You haven't changed a bit.” “Oh, I heard about your dad,” said Betty Jean. “How's he doing?” “I just got here,” said Johnny. “I'm going to see him right now.” “How long are you in town?” asked Betty Jean. “We've got to get together and talk about old times.” “Not sure yet,” said Johnny. “Sounds great. This is our floor. I'll look you up after I get settled in.” Johnny had had a crush on Betty Jean ever since they played spin the bottle at her thirteenth birthday party. But try as he may, he never got past first base with her. He had often wondered what things would have been like if he had stayed home and gone to college. “You can introduce her to Candy,” said Sarah as they exited the elevator. “Yeah,” said Johnny. “They'll hit it right off. She's just an old friend, for God's sake.” “Hey, it's me, your sister,” said Sarah. “I still remember how you followed her around like a stray puppy.” “We were kids,” said Johnny. “I'm a married man.” “Just so you remember,” said Sarah. “I already knew that.” “Little Johnny Winfield,” said Aunt Rose. “My, how you've grown. Give me a hug. You're so handsome.” “Hi, Aunt Rose,” said Johnny as he gave her a hug. “You're as lovely as ever. I think you've lost a few pounds.”

94

“No honey,” said Rose. “Your arms are just longer. Now where did your uncle go? Horace, get over here.” “Johnny, well I'll be,” said Horace as tears came to his eyes. “All grown up. You look so much like your dad at that age.” “It's good to see you again, Uncle Horace,” said Johnny. “Where's Mom?” “She in his room with your Grandma,” said Rose. “They're only letting two at a time in the room.” “Have you seen him today?” asked Johnny. “We just got here about thirty minutes ago,” said Rose. “Here comes Gladys now.” “Momma,” said Sarah as she met her halfway. “How is he?” “Is that Johnny?” asked Gladys as Sarah nodded. “He's improving. He opened his eyes.” “Mom!” said Johnny. “Have you had any sleep. You look like you're exhausted.” “You look fine too, son,” said Gladys. “You're just in time. You're dad's awake.” “Did he recognize you?” asked Johnny. “Of course he recognized me,” said Gladys. “He asked about you two.” “He can talk?” asked Sarah, “That's a good sign, isn't it?” “He's paralized from the neck down,” said Gladys. “The doctors said it's too early to tell if it's permanent or not.” “Can we see him?” asked Johnny. “Sure, Son,” said Gladys. “Let me just get your grandma, then you can both go in.” ....................

95

“Grandma,” said Johnny. “It's so good to see you. How have you been?” “You didn't come all this way to see me,” said Grandma. “Get your butt in there. We'll talk later.” “Yes ma'am,” said Johnny. “Save me a hug, cutie.” “Don't you worry,” said Grandma. “Your dad's going to be just fine.” “Thanks, Grandma,” said Johnny as he and Sarah headed for the room. .................... As they walked into the room, their dad smiled up at them. “What's a man got to do to get his family together?” asked Bill. “Hi Sissy … Son.” “How're you feeling, Dad?” asked Johnny. “You look … comfortable.” “I've been better, Son,” said Bill as he managed a smile. “How are you doing?” “I'm just fine, Dad,” said Johnny as he held his dad's hand. “We've come to bust you out of this joint. Just let us know when you're ready to go.” “Oh, they treat me pretty good here,” said Bill. “I might just stay a while.” “Did you just squeeze my hand?” asked Johnny as he looked at Sarah. “I think he squeezed my hand.” “Just a muscle spasm, the doctor says,” said Bill. “It's just a matter of time.” .................... “We had McDonalds,” said Wendy as Johnny and Sarah returned to the waiting room. “We rode in a racing car.” “That's nice, honey.” said Sarah. “Say goodbye to everyone. We've got to head back home.” “How's he doing, Johnny?” asked Candy. “He's paralyzed from the neck down,” said Johnny. “It too early to tell if it's permanent. Mentally he's fine but this could take some time.”

96

“I can't do this, Johnny,” said Candy. “I can't bear to see you so sad. I'm going home. Sarah, have you got room for one more?” “But Candy,” said Johnny. “I have to stay.” “I understand,” said Candy. “But I can't. Give me a call when everything is good and we'll talk.” “We've got room if it's okay with Johnny,” said Sarah. “I'll catch a plane for home when we reach Shreveport,” said Candy. “I'll take care of everything back there so you can help out here.” “If that's the way you want it,” said Johnny. “I'll miss you.” .................... For several weeks Johnny worked the farm by day and hung around town during the evenings. It didn't take long to find out that all of his old friends had either left town or had families and lives of their own. “Candy called today,” said Gladys as Johnny entered the house. “She asked me to give you a message. She said your replacement driver just won the French Grand Prix and they signed him to a five year contract. She said you've thrown away everything you love most. What did she mean by that?” “She probably wants a divorce,” said Johnny. “Next time she calls, just tell her to send the papers. I'll sign 'em. She's never going to move here and I can't leave.” The next day, Johnny stopped by the bar where he had seen Betty Jean hanging out after her shift at the hospital. Feeling sorry for himself, he order a whiskey with a beer chaser and nibbled on a bowl of peanuts while he waited for her to show. An hour later, he was still sipping on a beer as he stacked the shotglasses in various formations. “Johnny,” said Betty Jean as she walked up to the bar. “What's up?” “Oh hi, Betty Jean,” said Johnny. “Want to dance?” “Sure Johnny,” said Betty Jean. “Oops. You're gonna have to get up if you want to dance.” “Where have you been, Betty Jean?” asked Johnny. “I've been waiting for you for fifteen … no, thirty … a long time. Help me up?”

97

.................... Johnny woke up with a headache and a hangover worse that any he could remember. “Who are you?” he asked as he looked at the beautiful woman in bed beside him. “Where's Betty Jean?” “Betty Jean!” yelled the redhead. “He's awake.” “Be right there,” said Betty Jean. “Don't you start without me.” “Holy crap,” said Johnny as he jumped out of bed holding his head. “Where are my pants?” .................... “Where'd he go?” asked Betty Jean as she entered the bedroom. “I've never seen a man get dressed so fast,” said the redhead. “Is he a fireman?” “A racecar driver,” said Betty Jean. “He was fast,” said the redhead. “If he does everything that fast, it's just as well he's gone. Are you coming to bed?” As Johnny walked down the street towards downtown and the bar where he had parked his car, he heard a car honk. Holding his head, he looked around. “Get in the car, Johnny,” yelled Gladys. “What are you doing? Where are your shoes?” “What's going on, Mom?” asked Johnny. “Is that Dad in the car with you?” “He can walk,” said Gladys. “We're headed for the hospital. They want to run some tests. It's a miracle.” “That's great news, Dad,” said Johnny as he hopped into the back seat. “What happened?” “I just woke up and I had a pain in the neck like you wouldn't believe,” said Bill, “lying right there beside me.” “Bill!” said Gladys.

98

“All the feeling is back,” said Bill, “I'm a little stiff and sore from lying around so much, but I can walk.” “There's my car,” said Johnny. “I gotta run home and change clothes and take a shower. See you at the hospital.” “Call your sister,” said Gladys. “I will, Mom,” said Johnny as he hopped out of the car. .................... “It's a complete recovery,” said Gladys. “He'll be back in the fields in a couple of days.” “That's great, Dad,” said Johnny. “I'll just stick around for a while till you can handle it by yourself.” “What part of complete recovery didn't you understand, Son,” asked Dad. “You've got races to win.” “That's all over,” said Johnny. “You were right all along.” “It's not over till Aunt Rose sings,” said Bill. “Do you love her, Son?” “Of course I do, but ...” “My son is no quitter,” said Bill. “You tell that little girl how you feel or you'll never forgive yourself.” “But what if ...” “What if a frog had wings?” asked Bill. “He wouldn't bump his butt when he jumped,” laughed Johnny. “And I'm gonna kick your butt if you don't get out of here,” said Bill. “And I can do it, too.” .................... “If I'd known he could drive like that, I would have sent him to racecar school,” laughed Bill.

99

“I hope he doesn't get a ticket,” said Gladys. “I don't think he has enough money to pay attention.” .................... “Hi, honey,” said Johnny. “I'm home.” “It's about time,” said Candy. “You've got a new sponsor.” “Who?” asked Johnny. “I'm not going to drive for just anyone.” “Me,” said Candy. “Now I know you didn't want me to work, but I got tired of just sitting around. You're looking at the cover model of next months Style Magazine. Oh yeah. I hired a business manager.” “Business manager?” asked Johnny. “Could you come in here, Mrs. Winfield,” shouted Candy. “Sissy!” exclaimed Johnny. “What are you doing here?” “Getting to know my new boss,” said Sarah. “Quite a girl you've got here.” “You don't have to tell me that,” said Johnny.

100

THE BEAST of THE BAYOU
As Johnny poled the pirogue through the shallow waters of the bayou, he kept a close watch for snakes and gators. The local snake farm would pay him two dollars a snake for cottonmouths and the pet store would pay the same for a baby gator. You couldn't get rich doing this, but it kept his Camaro filled with gas with a little spending money left over for the weekends. Full time jobs were hard to come by in LeJeane parish, but he picked up a few bucks as a swamp guide and as a handyman. Two years out of high school, he had just turned nineteen last month. “There's another one, Blue,” said Johnny. Hearing his name, Ole Blue opened his eyes and lifted his sleepy head. “It's a big one, just like the others.” As Ole Blue got a whiff of the rancid odor, he covered his nose with his paws. “It's a real stinker, isn't it, Blue?” said Johnny as he poked the carcass with his pole in an attempt to turn it over in the murky water. “It looks like Ole Fang's bit the big one.” Johnny had names for all of the really large gators that roamed the bayou. Something or someone was killing them at an alarming rate, but whoever or whatever it was never took the meat or hides. “If I ever get my hands on the guy that did this … Wait a minute. Something took a chunk out of Ole Fang before it left him to rot. Or was that how it killed him?” asked Johnny as though he expected Ole Blue to answer. “What could do that to a full grown gator? We're gonna have to report this to the sheriff.” It was getting late and Johnny decided to head back to the house to get cleaned up. It was Friday night and he didn't want to be late for the jamboree. The prettiest girls in the parish would be there, and Johnny loved to dance and play the fiddle. .................... “I've got some leftovers in the fridge,” said his mama as Johnny combed his coal black hair and prepared to shave his day old beard, “and get those critters out of my house.” “I'll get some bar-b-que at the jamboree,” said Johnny as he picked up the two toe sacks and hung them with the others on the back porch. “Gotta run, Mama. See you in the morning. Tell Papa I found another dead gator.” Johnny's dad worked on the shrimp boats and was seldom home except on the weekends. Johnny looked forward to the end of the season when he and his dad would go hunting together. If Papa was home now, he wouldn't be

101

bothering the sheriff about the gator deaths. .................... As Johnny pulled up to the pump and the Gulf station, he saw Cindy Lou coming out of the convenience store, “Evening Cindy Lou,” said Johnny. “You home for the weekend?” “Hi, Johnny,” said Cindy Lou. “Yeah, just for the weekend.” “You coming to the jamboree?” asked Johnny. “Save me a dance if you do and tell me all about college life.” “Wouldn't miss it,” said Cindy Lou as she slowly drove away. “Especially if you're gonna be there.” As Johnny headed downtown, he saw the sheriff's patrol car parked at the Donut House. Johnny pulled into the parking lot and went inside. “Well, if it isn't Johnny Peephole,” said the fat man in one of the booths. “That's Peboe,” said Johnny. “You're just the one I wanted to talk to, if I can drag your attention away from that bag of doughnuts.” “All right, smart ass,” said the sheriff. “What's on your mind?” “I found another dead gator today,” said Johnny. “Just like the others.” “I already told you that I have more important things to worry about than a few dead gators,” said the sheriff. “What were you doing out there anyway? Better not let me hear that you've been poaching again.” “I wouldn't poach an egg,” said Johnny. “I like mine fried.” “Beat it, kid,” said the sheriff. “Don't bother me.” “Scrambled is good too,” said Johnny as he walked away. “Lazy, good for nothing …...” “Johnny,” said Betty Jo. “Will I see you at the jamboree?” “You bet, Betty Jo,” said Johnny with a big smile. “Save me a dance.” “You got it,” said Betty Jo. “See you later, Johnny.”

102

.................... Johnny had one more stop as he pulled into the parking lot at the shopping mall. “Hi, Johnny,” said Peggy Sue as he stepped up to the counter. “What can I do for you?” “I need something special for my girl,” said Johnny. “It's her birthday tomorrow.” “Jewelry, perfume, candy, flowers, what'll it be, Johnny?” asked Peggy Sue. “Jewelry I think,” said Johnny. “What can I get for forty-five dollars?” “This is nice,” said Peggy Sue as she showed him a necklace. “She's so lucky.” “You going to the jamboree tonight?” asked Johnny. “Be sure and save me a dance if you do.” “I'll do that,” said Peggy Sue. “I get off at nine and I'll come right over.” “Then I'll see you there,” said Johnny. “Thanks for the help. She's gonna love it.” .................... “You've danced with every wallflower here,” said Freddy. “How about playing a few sets so I can dance for a while.” “Hey, those are my friends you're calling wallflowers,” said Johnny. “Sure. Give me the fiddle. But don't get lost. I'm gonna dance with all of them again before the night's over.” .................... “I can't believe we didn't get to dance a single dance,” said Janet as she lay back in the hay as the wagon moved slowly down the lane. “Hey, it looked like your card was full,” said Johnny. “I didn't see you sit out a single dance.” “We're together now,” said Janet as she lay her head on his shoulder. “That's all that matters.”

103

.................... “Morning son,” said Johnny's dad as he sat down at the kitchen table. “Didn't hear you come in last night.” “Janet and I took a drive up to Kingsport Beach and watched the sun come up,” said Johnny. “We slept on the beach. I just got in a few minutes ago. You guys slept in, I see.” Johnny nudged his dad under the table and handed him the box containing the necklace. “Sounds to me like you two are starting to get serious,” said Mama. “What have you got there, Papa?” asked Johnny as his dad looked down at the package in his hand. “Is that for Mama?” “Nice try, Johnny,” said Mama. “But he remembered this time. I've already gotten my present.” “What did you give her Papa?” asked Johnny. “Now, never you mind about that, Johnny,” said Mama. “What did you get me? Give it to me, John.” “Oh, Johnny, it's beautiful,” said Mama. “You should have given this to Janet.” “You know you're still my best girl,” said Johnny. “Try it on.” “I'm just gonna go get a look in the mirror,” said Mama, trying to hide the tear running down her cheek. “Eat up. Don't wait for me.” “Did Mama tell you I found another dead gator?” asked Johnny. “The subject didn't come up,” said Papa. “How many is that?” “Five in the last two weeks,” said Johnny. “And it's only the big ones.” “Did they still have their eyes?” asked Papa. “I didn't notice. Their eyelids were shut,” said Johnny. “But now that you mention it, they did seem a little sunken.” “God! It's happening again,” said John.

104

“What's happening again, Papa?” asked Johnny. “When I was about your age, I found several large gators dead and they all were missing their eyeballs,” said John. “Before long some livestock came up missing and finally a couple of people were found slaughtered, one of them my best friend.” “Did they find out what was doing it?” asked Johnny. “The sheriff claimed it was a rogue bear, but I know better,” said John. “I saw the footprints while they were still fresh. Your grandpa and I searched the bayou for weeks but whatever it was must have moved on.” “Well, it's back,” said Johnny. “And the sheriff isn't going to even take a look.” “Your future father-in-law couldn't find his butt with both hands,” said John. “And we both know what a big target that is.” “What are my two men talking about?” asked Mama as she returned to the table. “Thinking 'bout going hunting,” said John. “You wanna come along, Louise?” “Don't you be tracking mud in here,” said Louise, “and don't stay out too late. We've got church in the morning.” “Yes, Mama,” said Johnny. “What are you gonna do today?” “Go into town and spend your papa's paycheck.” said Louise. “I'll drop those baby gators off at the pet store, but I'm not touching those snakes.” “Don't spend it all in one place, Honey,” said John. “And pick me up some hollow points.” “How many boxes?” asked Louise. “One box should do it,” said John. .................... “You get Ole Blue while I hitch up the trailer,” said John. “Do you think you can find that last dead gator you saw?”

105

“I think so,” said Johnny, “if the snapping turtles haven't finished off the carcass. It was a couple of days old when I found it.” “That was yesterday, right?” asked John. “There should be enough left to see what I need to see. There might even be some tracks. Is there any pattern to the locations of the ones you've seen?” “I wasn't looking for a pattern,” said Johnny. “I'm sorry, Papa. I should have paid more attention.” “Don't feel bad,” said John. “Papa asked me the same questions, and I didn't have any answers back then either.” “You said that you saw some tracks when you found the gators back then,” said Johnny. “What did they look like?” “They weren't quite human, but they were more human than animal,” said John. “And they definitely weren't bear tracks.” “How big were they?” asked Johnny. “I was wearing a size nine back then,” said John. “They would have made almost two of my tracks.” “Where you able to follow the tracks?” asked Johnny. “They didn't lead away from the water,” said John. “I think it only came out of the water when it was battling the gators.” “Or maybe it had a boat,” said Johnny. “Anything that big couldn't hide in the shallow swamp water. Why walk in the water when you can walk on ground?” “To cover your tracks,” said John. “I doubt if it's human. You've seen the size of the gators it's attacking.” “Maybe they're attacking it,” said Johnny. “The smaller ones may be afraid to mess with it.” “Why would it take the eyes?” asked John. “Animals don't take trophies and if it kills for food, this is one picky eater. I think there's an intelligence at work here, but I don't believe it's human.”

106

“An alien?” asked Johnny. “I didn't think you believed in E.T.” “I don't,” said John. “This is some local anomaly if you ask me.” “Then where has it been for the last twenty years?” asked Johnny. “That's a good question, Son,” said John. “Maybe in another part of the swamp.” “Game and Fish would have had some record of multiple deaths of large gators, no matter what part of the swamp it happened in. I checked with them after I found the third gator.” said Johnny. “There's been no other reports except for obvious cases of poaching.” “Is that the gator over there?” asked John as he saw the vultures take to the air. “That's it,” said Johnny. “Right where I left it.” “It's too late to determine if the eyes were already gone, now that the vultures have been here,” said John. “But there may still be some tracks around.” “Let's pull the boat ashore and have a look,” said Johnny. “Watch out for snakes,” said John. “The brush is pretty thick. Where's that dog going?” “Blue … here Blue,” shouted Johnny as Ole Blue took off like a basset hound chasing a rabbit. “He'll be back,” said John. “Let's take a look around.” .................... “Take a look at this, Son,” said John as he spotted a strange looking track. “That's just like the ones twenty years ago.” “You're not going to believe this, but Janet and I saw some of these tracks on the beach this morning,” said Johnny. “When were you going to tell me?” asked John. “It didn't seem so strange on the beach,” said Johnny. “We saw what made

107

them as they were going into the water last night just before we went to sleep.” “You saw them?” asked John. “And you were keeping this a secret because …? “In the moonlight they looked like snorkelers or divers in wet suits,” said Johnny. “You know how wet suits are reflective when they are wet.” “But you said they were going into the water,” said John. “Were they reflective before they got wet?” “Now that you mention it,” said Johnny, “that is strange. All the tracks headed into the water. We didn't see any coming out. They looked like they were made by fins that a snorkeler or diver would wear on their feet.” “Or tracks a creature with webbed feet would make,” said John. “How big were these so called snorkelers?” “They were too far away to judge size, and it was dark,” said Johnny. “But the footprints we saw this morning were just about that size.” “Sound like Ole Blue's got something treed,” said John. “Grab the gun.” “You think he's got a coon?” asked Johnny. “Or one of these creatures?” “Either way we need to hurry,” said John. “I'm not sure Ole Blue can still handle a sow with babies.” “Don't wait for me,” said Johnny. “I'll catch up.” .................... Johnny got the gun from the boat and began running to catch up with his dad. Suddenly Johnny found himself waist deep in mud and water. His father was only a few feet away. “Don't move, Son,” said John. “You'll just make it worse.” “Quicksand?” asked Johnny as he saw that his dad was in the same situation. “What do you want me to do?” “Give me a chance to think,” said John. “What would Papa have done?” “Blue … Come here Blue!” yelled Johnny.

108

“Don't worry about Blue,” said John. “We're sinking. Help me think of a way out of here.” “Take of your belt,” said Johnny as he unbuckled his. “Tie the belts together and try to lasso a bush or anything that we can use to pull ourselves out of here.” “It's not long enough,” said John. “Take off your shirt and give it to me.” “What was that?” asked Johnny. “Is that Ole Blue?” “Holy crap,” said John. “That thing's gotta be seven feet tall. What's it doing?” “It's lifting that big log and I think it's going to throw it at us,” said Johnny. “Can you turn around?” “Don't struggle, Johnny,” said John as the creature threw the log. “Look out!” The log landed directly between the two of them. Each of them grabbed on to the log and began to pull themselves out of the quicksand. “Where did it go?” asked John. “Did you get a good look at that thing?” “It saved our lives,” said Johnny. “Not what you'd expect from something that killed your friend.” “I've been thinking about that,” said John. “The sheriff was convinced that a bear killed him. Maybe he was right, after all. I just never believed that a bear killed the gators. I had assumed the same creature kill them all.” “Why haven't we seen these things before,” asked Johnny. “And why did they wait twenty years to go on another gator killing spree?” “Well, what do we know about this thing?” asked John. “It's obviously amphibious and you said you saw some of them going into the ocean last night.” “What if they live in the ocean and only come out to spawn,” said Johnny. “They're about our size, a little bigger maybe. They may have a similar life span. This one could be the offspring of the one you were hunting for twenty years ago.” “Makes sense to me,” said John. “Maybe it uses the gator eyes to attract a mate. The eyes must play some part in their mating ritual.”

109

“Hey, where've you been, Blue,” said Johnny. “Sorry we couldn't help with that coon or whatever you were chasing.” “Let's go home, Son,” said John. “Are we gonna tell anyone what we saw today?” asked Johnny. “Who'd believe it,” said John. “Besides, we owe it to the one that saved our life to keep his little secret.” “You're gonna tell Grandpa, aren't you?” asked Johnny. “I do need to talk to him,” said John. “In case I fall into quicksand again.” “Let me know what you find out,” said Johnny. “And let me know if Grandpa believes your story about the amphibian.” “I'll do that,” said John. “Get in the boat, Blue.”

110

THE VORTEX
“What year is this?” Aaron wondered as he stepped out of the time machine. “Better yet, what world is this?” Aaron had time-traveled a few times before, but he had never left Earth. But this wasn't Earth, not by any stretch of the imagination. The sky was a dull magenta with purple clouds. Multiple moons of varying sizes orbited far above. The reddish sun filled a large portion of the sky. As for the year, there was no way to tell. The time machine was inoperable. Its many read-outs were blank as though it had been drained of every last drop of power. Gravity seemed to be similar to Earth's, and there was a breeze filled with aromas, some almost familiar, some not so. The air seemed dry and the terrain arid. A few scattered bushes dotted the landscape and dust devils danced in the distance. Mountain ranges seem to encircle the entire valley and the white caps of the taller peaks told him that there would be water there. He could see the glitter of a reflective object off in the distance. Having no compelling reason to go in any other direction, he gathered his few belongings from the machine and headed off in the direction of the mysterious object. The temperature was uncomfortably warm and he soon removed his jacket. Not knowing if he would need it again, he tied the sleeves around his waist, since there was little room in his backpack. The ground was dry and cracked like mud in a dry river bed. There had been water there. Perhaps this planet had seasons similar to those on Earth. “I hope this isn't winter,” he thought. Aaron was in his mid twenties, a few years out of graduate school. His studies in physics and bio-electronics had led to his discovery of a power source capable of distorting space time. Traveling relatively short distances into the future had helped him refine his discovery. This was to be his first attempt at a leap back in time, but obviously something had gone wrong. He had checked and double checked his circuits. He could find nothing wrong except for the fact that the power source stubbornly refused to function. Aaron had been pretty much a loner, with his research taking up almost all of his time. He had a few female friends from his days at the university but never had time for a serious relationship. It wasn't that he didn't want a serious relationship. This jump would probably have been his last. Had things gone well, he would have sold his patents to the highest bidder and retired to a life of leisure.

111

The cracked mud soon gave way to dust as the floor of the valley gradually but steadily climbed to the foothills of the mountain range. No bushes or vegetation of any sort grew in this dust covered stretch of arid wilderness. With each step he kicked up a cloud of yellow dust that seemed to linger long after he had moved on. Aaron sat down on a lone boulder and removed a water bottle from his backpack. As he took a sip from the bottle, he thought he saw some motion out of the corner of his eye. As he looked around he saw a small dust cloud. Ahead of the dust cloud and headed in his direction, the level of the dust rose and fell as something was obviously moving just below the surface. Aaron drew his feet up onto the boulder just as the motion stopped a few feet away. Suddenly another cloud of dust erupted and drifted in his direction. “Damn,” said Aaron. “Who cut the cheese?” Suddenly a bright orange colored creature resembling a bull frog poked its head and forearms out of the dust as it climbed up onto the boulder. Aaron watched as the creature inhaled several times, growing larger with each breath. Then the familiar dust cloud erupted from behind as it deflated back to normal size. “You have got to be kidding me,” said Aaron. “You didn't just do that again. Death by asphyxiation. I didn't see that coming.” As the creature inhaled again, Aaron quickly hopped up and continued his trek toward the foothills. As he approached the mysterious object, it became obvious that it was some sort of vehicle, not unlike his time machine. The occupant was nowhere to be found and like his machine, this one seemed to be powerless. The instrument panel was quite different from his, but the writing was obviously English. Aaron looked around for tracks but the dust made tracking impossible. He couldn't even see his own tracks. “Surely he must have headed for the foothills,” he thought. “I wonder where and when he's from.” The sun was low in the sky now and Aaron put his jacket back on. “I'll sleep inside the machine,” he thought. “It'll cut down on the windchill tonight.” The shell of the machine was a glass bubble and Aaron could see the stars and moons getting brighter by the minute as the overall sky darkened to a deep chocolate brown. Then he saw the vortex rising slowly above the peaks of the mountain range. “What in the world?” thought Aaron. “A temporal vortex. I should have listened to my professor. He said time travel to the past would somehow be impossible. The paradox would not be permitted.” Now that Aaron knew how he had gotten here, the real question was how

112

was he going to get home. Why didn't his machine function? Maybe the traveler that arrived in this machine will have some answers. On second thought, if his machine is still here, he hasn't found the answers either. Aaron could only hope that maybe he had found the right questions and together they could answer them. Aaron ate a small snack and was nodding off when he felt a sudden cool breeze. The door was open and a shadowy figure stood before him. “Hello,” said Aaron. “Don't be frightened. I mean you no harm. I thought your machine was abandoned.” “How long have you been here?” asked the stranger in a feminine voice. “Are you from Earth?” “I am,” said Aaron. “I just arrived today. How long have you been here?” “Forever, it seems,” she said. “I lost track years ago.” “You don't sound that old,” said Aaron. “Come on in. It's got to be cold out there. You are going to allow me to stay, aren't you?” “I'm Sybil,” she said as she climbed in and closed the door. “Scoot over.” “I'm Aaron,” he replied as he tried to make room. “You must have found food and water.” “You don't need it,” she replied. “Time has stopped here, or at least aging and other bodily processes we associate with time. It's as though the clock is reset with each new day.” “Do you remember every day?” asked Aaron. “As well as I ever did back on Earth,” said Sybil. “My mental process seems to be unaffected, although I do spend a lot of time talking to myself.” “I can understand that,” said Aaron. “I've only been here one day and I've already gotten into several arguments with myself. Did you build this machine?” “It was my dad's,” replied Sybil. “Did you try to go back in time?” asked Aaron. “Is that how you ended up here.”

113

“Don't be silly,” said Sybil. “The paradox. Surely you know about the paradox.” “I knew something would prevent it from occuring, but I had no idea this would be the result,” said Aaron. “So how did you end up here.” “A stowaway,” said Sybil. “I beg your pardon,” said Aaron. “I had traveled to the future and didn't realize that several frogs had gotten into the ship while I was there,” said Sybil. “Bright orange frogs that smell like rotten eggs when they fart,” said Aaron. “I've already met one of your friends.” “Well, when I tried to go back to the present, it meant the frogs were going into the past,” said Sybil. “But we must have brought all sorts of microbes back every time we traveled,” said Aaron. “Where does the paradox draw the line?” “I don't know,” said Sybil. “Like I said, my father was the time expert.” “Have you done much exploring?” asked Aaron. “Surely there are others like us that have ended up here.” “It's a big planet,” said Sybil. “I never venture far from my machine just in case it starts working again. I think it's the temporal anomalies here that prevent it from working.” “And they might be affected by the position of the vortex relative to the planet and moons,” said Aaron. “If you say so,” said Sybil. “I'm just too stubborn to give up.” “It might be time to think about giving up if it hasn't worked after all this time,” said Aaron. “Would you be willing to help me explore?” “What the heck,” said Sybil. “It'll break the monotony.” “Aaow!” said Aaron. “Did you just pinch me?” “Just checking,” said Sybil. “You wouldn't be the first one I dreamed up.”

114

.................... Aaron awoke as the sun was rising. He could feel her head resting on his shoulder as she breathed almost silently. Her golden hair glistened in the sunlight as it lay softly against his neck. “Are you awake?” he asked softly, not wanting to wake her if she wasn't. “It wasn't a dream,” she said. “You're really here. I'm not alone.” “You're not alone,” he said. “Did you rest well?” “I'm sorry,” she said as she removed her head from his shoulder. “I slept very well. Did I disturb you?” “Not at all,” said Aaron. “I slept like a baby.” “It's a little crowded in here,” said Sybil. “Since you've been here a while, maybe you can tell me,” said Aaron. “What are the seasons like? Is this summer?” “Early summer,” said Sybil. “It's gonna get a bit hotter before it cools down again.” “How cold are the winters?” asked Aaron. “It never gets down to freezing here,” said Sybil. “But you can see from the snow on the mountains that it gets pretty cold up there, even in the summer.” “Have you found any passes through the mountains?” asked Aaron. “A few that are ice free this time of year,” said Sybil. “But it's still a pretty good climb.” “What's on the other side of the mountains?” asked Aaron. “I've never gone that far,” said Sybil. “But I'm ready if you are.” “The last time I heard those words, I was in the backseat of a volkswagon beetle,” said Aaron. “You think this is crowded.” “A volkswagon beetle?” asked Sybil. “Is that some sort of transport vehicle? I hope you didn't waste all of your time talking about it.”

115

“You're right,” said Aaron. “We should get going. What year are you from anyway?” “3525,” said Sybil. “How about you?” “2015,” said Aaron. “You may be too old for me, by about 1500 years,” said Sybil. “But you haven't lost your sense of humor.” “Have we met before?” asked Aaron. “Do you come here often?” “Maybe I spoke too soon,” said Sybil. .................... As they followed the winding mountain path, Aaron was amazed at her agility and speed. “I can't keep up with you,” said Aaron. “Give an old man a break and slow down before I break a leg or something.” “Sorry,” said Sybil. “Didn't people keep in shape in 2015?” “Some more than others,” said Aaron. “I spent most of my time thinking.” “Not about exercise, I hope,” said Sybil. “That doesn't work very well.” “About time travel,” said Aaron. “Was your father in as good a shape as you?” “I see what you mean,” said Sybil. “All work and no play. Well … You know what they say about that.” “You can afford good doctors,” said Aaron. “Yeah, right,” said Sybil. “That's what they say.” “Can we slow down a little?” asked Aaron. “What's your hurry?” “Why are you carrying that heavy backpack,” asked Sybil. “You don't need most of that stuff, just some extra clothing in case we get cold. And if we hurry, we might not get stuck up here tonight.” Aaron pulled off the backpack and began to remove the food and water.

116

“You're sure we don't need this?” asked Aaron. “You'll just have to trust me on this one,” said Sybil. “Or you can carry it around like dead weight until you figure it out for yourself.” “This is a lot better,” said Aaron as he put on the lightened backpack. “Maybe I can keep up now.” .................... “I'm getting thirsty,” said Aaron. “I thought you said ...” “It's all in your mind,” said Sybil. “Well yeah,” said Aaron. “I think I'm thirsty.” “Think about something else,” said Sybil. “Now I'm hungry,” said Aaron. “Give me a break,” said Sybil. “You'll be fine. When you wake up tomorrow you'll be as good as new.” “What about now?” asked Aaron. “I'm hungry and I'm thirsty.” “Think about sex,” said Sybil. “Anything to get your mind off of food and water.” “Really?” smiled Aaron. “Are you thinking about sex?” “I've got a headache,” smiled Sybil. “Damn! Now I'm thirsty, hungry and hor… What!” said Aaron. “Don't look at me like that.” “Shut up and keep up,” said Sybil. “We've got a long way to go before dark.” .................... “I've been thinking,” said Aaron. “Not again,” said Sybil. “What is it this time?” “No. I mean about time travel,” said Aaron. “While we have a fixed path

117

through time and into the future, I'll bet we always have the vortex lagging just behind the present, preventing us from going back in time.” “So how does that help us get home?” asked Sybil. “It doesn't yet,” said Aaron. “But I've found that the more you understand a problem, the easier it is to solve.” “My father always said Don't dwell on the past,” said Sybil. “Live for the present and embrace the future.” “Sounds like your father was a wise but impatient man,” said Aaron. “Like me, he didn't just wait around for the future.” “My mom always said Be prepared,” said Sybil, “and meet the future halfway.” “What do you always say?” asked Aaron. “Shut up and keep up,” said Sybil. “I'm only kidding. What else have you got?” “That's it for now,” said Aaron. “But hey, it kept my mind off of sex for a while.” “That's a shame,” smiled Sybil. “And just when my headache was getting better.” “Wait a minute,” said Aaron. “Shut up and keep up,” said Sybil. “I'm trying,” thought Aaron. “Believe me, I'm trying.” .................... “I didn't expect this,” said Sybil. “I guess we'll have to slow down.” “I can't see ten feet in front of me,” said Aaron. “If this fog gets any thicker, we'll have to stop.” “We certainly don't want to do that,” said Sybil. “It's practically midday and it's still cold. Imagine what it will be like tonight.”

118

“Do you think we're near the top?” asked Aaron. “Maybe we should turn back.” “I say we give it another hour,” said Sybil. “We can still turn around then if things don't look any better.” .................... “It's been an hour and the fog hasn't let up at all,” said Aaron. “But we've been going downhill for the last half hour,” said Sybil. “And the fog is getting warmer.” “You're right,” said Aaron. “It's got to let up any minute now.” “Do you hear that?” asked Sybil. “That hissing sound. It's coming from that direction.” “Let's check it out,” said Aaron. .................... “It a geothermal vent,” said Sybil. “That's pure steam coming out of that hole.” “That explains the warm fog,” said Aaron. “There's a small stream running off in that direction. We should follow it in case we need to backtrack. It will lead us downhill.” “Why would we want to backtrack?” asked Sybil. “You never know,” said Aaron. “The valley where we left our machines may be the garden spot of the entire planet.” “That's a depressing thought,” said Sybil. “But we may need to get back to the machines someday. Let's do it.” “Look,” said Aaron. “There's another stream merging with this one. Try to remember we need to take the one on the left if we backtrack.” “We should mark it somehow,” said Sybil. “Help me pile up some rocks.” “There, that should do it,” said Aaron. “Are we ready to continue?”

119

.................... “Another stream is merging,” said Sybil. “We'd better mark our way again.” As they squatted down to pick up some rocks, their heads were below the fog. “Wow,” said Aaron. “There must be hundreds of vents. They look like Grecian columns supporting a ceiling. What's causing that reddish glow?” “We'll find out soon enough,” said Sybil. “Look at that pool just ahead. It looks like a jacuzzi. Do you realize how long it's been since I've had a hot bath?” “I didn't want to say anything,” said Aaron. “But ...” “Aaron!” said Sybil. “I know,” said Aaron. “Shut up and keep up.” “Aaron! What are you doing?” asked Sybil as Aaron began to pull off his pants. “Taking a bath,” said Aaron. “You want me to keep my clothes on?” “They need washing too,” said Sybil. “You can kill two birds with one stone.” “I wasn't thinking about killing birds,” said Aaron. “I'm not ready to get to know you that well,” said Sybil. “Whatever you say,” said Aaron as he dipped his toes into the warm water. “Isn't this wonderful?” asked Sybil as she waded into the water, her fog dampened clothes already clinging skin tight against her beautiful body. “Amazing,” said Aaron. “Simply amazing.” “You're not even in the water yet,” said Sybil. “What are you waiting for?” “I'm worried about how we're going to find a way out of here,” said Aaron. “Worry later,” said Sybil. “Come on in. The water's fine.” “It is, isn't it?” said Aaron. “I guess it could be worse.”

120

“Whatever happens, I'm glad you're here,” said Sybil as she took his hands. “Promise you'll never leave me.” “Leave you?” said Aaron. “You're the only good thing I've found in this world. It looks like you're gonna be stuck with me for a long time.” “Things could be worse,” smiled Sybil as she kissed him. “I don't know about you but I'm getting sleepy.” “Let's go check out that red glow,” said Aaron, “or it's going to bug me all night.” .................... As they continued across the valley, the floor of the valley dropped farther and farther from the ceiling of fog. A wide crevice appeared in the distance. It seemed to stretch all the way across the visible floor of the valley. “It's getting warmer,” said Sybil. “My clothes are already dry.” “Mine too,” said Aaron. “Come on. We're almost there. The glow seems to eminate from the crevice.” “It's lava,” said Sybil. “Molten lava. I guess we don't have to worry about getting cold tonight.” “I guess we won't have to snuggle,” said Aaron. “We don't have to,” said Sybil. “If you don't want to.” “I didn't say that,” said Aaron. “I simply meant we don't need to snuggle to keep warm.” “There might be a draft, and we just got out of the water,” said Sybil. “We wouldn't want to catch a cold.” “My thoughts exactly,” said Aaron as he removed his blanket from his backpack. “I think I just felt a chill.” .................... “You were right,” said Aaron. “I feel completely refreshed. And I'm not hungry or thirsty.”

121

“I told you,” said Sybil. “It's a new day. What are our plans for today?” “Well, we can't cross the crevice. At least not here,” said Aaron. “I say we go in the direction of the lava flow, away from the volcano.” “Makes sense to me,” said Sybil. “The crevice will probably narrow, the farther we get from the volcano. Just in case we need to cross it.” “And it gives us a path to backtrack,” said Aaron. “We need to leave a marker here, just in case we come back this way.” “It would be worth coming back, just for that hot bath,” said Sybil. “If you're all packed, I'm ready to get started,” said Aaron. “I'm right behind you,” said Sybil. .................... “The crevice ends here,” said Aaron. “There's no landmarks to follow from here on out. Which way do you want to go?” “We were headed in that direction before the crevice diverted us,” said Sybil. “I say we go that way.” “Your guess is as good as mine,” said Aaron. “Let's do it.” .................... “We're going to be back in the fog before long,” said Sybil. “It's been a long morning. I think we should wait until tomorrow before we enter the fog.” “I guess there's no real hurry,” said Aaron. “Tell me a little about Earth where you came from.” They spent the rest of the day talking about their worlds. It was the same world of course but separated by 1500 hundred years in time. It was fascinating to think that a world could change so much yet the people had changed so little. .................... “Wake up, Aaron,” said Sybil. “The geothermal activity has stopped and the fog has lifted.”

122

“Thank god,” said Aaron as he looked around. “We never would have found our way out of here if we'd continued in this direction.” “That way looks promising,” said Sybil. “What do you think?” “Let's go for it,” said Aaron. “Lead the way. Maybe our luck is changing.” .................... As they topped a rise in the mountain trail, they found themselves overlooking another large valley. “It looks a lot like the original valley where we left our machines,” said Aaron. “I guess we'll just continue on and see what the next one looks like.” “Race you to the bottom,” said Sybil. “Wait a minute. Is that a lake in the distance?” asked Aaron. “Where?” asked Sybil. “Hey. No fair. You got a head start.” .................... “Now who's not keeping up?” asked Aaron. “You cheated,” said Sybil. “Even then, you just barely beat me.” “The key word there is beat,” said Aaron. “Nobody remembers the one that came in second. What was your name again?” “You're funny,” said Sybil. “but looks aren't everything, you know.” “Do I detect a sore loser?” asked Aaron. “Next time I'll let you win.” “I got dust in my eyes,” said Sybil. “Or I would have beat you last time.” “You mean you've got lead in your feet,” laughed Aaron. “You're just mean,” sighed Sybil. “I'm sorry,” said Aaron. “I was just teasing you. Do you forgive me?” “No!” said Sybil. “Not until you get on your knees.”

123

“Forgive me,” said Aaron as he knelt before her. “Race you to that boulder,” said Sybil as she left him in the dust. .................... “What took you so long?” asked Sybil. “Get lost trying to find a short cut?” “Very funny,” said Aaron. “Are we even now?” “Whose the best cheater?” asked Sybil. “You are,” laughed Aaron. “You win.” “Oh yeah,” said Sybil. “And what was your name?” “What's that?” asked Aaron. “I thought I heard something.” “Look up!” said Sybil. “What is that?” “It's coming down, whatever it is,” said Aaron. “I think it's some sort of spacecraft.” “Should we run?” asked Sybil. “They may be hostile.” “You may be able to outrun me,” said Aaron. “But that thing looks pretty fast.” As the spacecraft slowly descended and then hovered a few hundred yards away, Sybil and Aaron stood silently and watched. Three support legs and a transparent cylindrical tube descended the rest of the way to the ground. They watched as something or someone seemed to drift to the ground within the tube. As it reached the ground, the tube retracted leaving it's occupant there on the ground. As it began to walk in their direction, Aaron and Sybil walked forward to meet it halfway. “Kloc yar noy!” said the stranger. “What did he say?” asked Sybil. “What language is that?” “No idea,” said Aaron. “But it seems friendly.” The alien used it's slender fingers to press a few button on some sort of

124

device it wore on its wrist. “What name you?” it asked. “I think it wants to know your name,” said Sybil. “My name is Aaron,” said Aaron. “What name you … I mean what's your name?” The alien made a few more adjustments to the device. “My name is D'pryn. We saw your dust. Are you in need of assistance?” “What sort of assistance?” asked Sybil. “Are we in danger?” “Who are you?” asked Aaron. “Are you native to this planet?” “No one is native to this planet,” said D'pryn. “We're here to study the temperal anomaly.” “What sort of assistance can you offer?” asked Aaron. “We can help you find others of your kind here,” said D'pryn, “and we can remove you and your machine from the anomoly so that you can go home.” “How is it that your machine functions here?” asked Aaron. “Ours is not a time machine,” said D'pryn. “We're from this time period.” “Are we in any danger?” asked Sybil. “Assuming we decide to stay here.” “As you get farther from the anomaly, your bodies will syncronize with the time frame here.” said D'pryn. “You'll begin to age and require sustenance.” “Can this planet support life?” asked Aaron. “Why don't I let you see for yourself,” said D'pryn. “Then you can decide if you wish to stay.” “Would you stay with me,” asked Aaron. “Otherwise, we might as well go home now.” “You'll have your machines with you,” said D'pryn. “You can leave any time you're ready or stay as long as you like. It's entirely up to you. We only ask that you not return to this area.” “I'd like to give it a try,” said Sybil, “if you would.”

125

“I told you you were stuck with me,” said Aaron. “Nothing's changed as far as I'm concerned. I'm gonna get on my knee's again if you'll promise not to run away.” “I promise,” said Sybil. “Will you marry me?” asked Aaron. “Make me the happiest man on … What's the name of this planet?” “We call it Erathnia,” said D'pryn. “I will,” said Sybil, “on any planet you choose.”

126

THE VORTEX II

Look at the size of those domes,” said Aaron. “There must be thousands

of humans down there.” “Actually the humans only occupy the solid white dome in the foreground,” said D'pryn. “The other domes belong to the Gorn.” “Who are the Gorn?” asked Sybil. “An ancient race that crash landed here about 150 years ago,” said D'pryn. “We couldn't send them home because their sun went supernova.” “Are they friendly?” asked Aaron. “They seem to be friendly with the humans, but that wasn't always the case,” said D'pryn. “But I'll let the humans fill in the details. We'll drop you off about a thousand meters from the dome.” “When will you drop off our time machines?” asked Aaron. “In a day or so,” said D'pryn. “Good luck in your new life.” “Thank you,” said Sybil. “You probably saved our lives.” .................... As the spacecraft lifted off, Sybil and Aaron began their hike toward the dome. The path was covered with plants that were similar to desert vegetation on Earth and many had thorns or needles. “There must be animal life here,” said Aaron. “Otherwise the plants would never have developed a defense mechanism.” “I wonder where humans are on the food chain,” said Sybil. “We don't have any weapons, you know.” “Sounds like we may find out,” said Aaron. “Something is moving over there. Do you hear it?” “It sounds like several things are moving and they're getting closer,” said Sybil. “Should we make a run for it?” 127

“Does that howl answer your question?” asked Aaron. “Run!” As they turned to run, they were surrounded by several humanoids. They each wore headgear that hid their faces and vests of metal plates loosely woven together with what looked like leather. Their bare arms were a pale green and their hands were covered with spiked gloves. They wore loose trousers cut just below the thighs and leather boots that reached above their calves. As one of the humanoids drew his holstered weapon and pointed it in Aaron's direction, Aaron ducked. The humanoid fired a shot over Aaron's shoulder. Aaron looked around to see a bush go up in flame and a wolflike creature run off with his tail tucked between its legs. A few more shots and the howling ceased. “Welcome to Voltar II,” said the Gorn. “Come. We will escort you to your new home.” “Why didn't the humans come out to meet us?” asked Sybil. “They're restricted to the dome for their own safety.” said the Gorn. “It's not safe outside the domes.” “Are you the Gorn?” asked Aaron. “We are Gorn,” said the humanoid. “Come. You are in danger here.” .................... “Welcome, newcomers,” said the human that greeted them at the entrance to the dome. “Time travelers I presume. My name is Alex.” “I'm Aaron and this is Sybil,” said Aaron. “Are there many of you here?” “About a hundred men, women and children,” said Alex. “But there's always room for more. Come on in. Let me show you around.” “Wow,” said Sybil. “It looks even bigger on the inside.” “Where is everybody?” asked Aaron. “If they're not too old or too young, they're building you a house,” said Alex. “It sounds like you were expecting us,” said Sybil. “How did you know?”

128

“The vortex appeared a few days ago,” said Alex. “It only appears for 24 hours after someone passes through it.” “Do you get many newcomers?” asked Sybil. “Four or five a year on average,” said Alex. “But they come from throughout Earth history. Did you use a machine?” “Yeah,” said Aaron. “How else are you gonna do it?” “You'd be surprised,” said Alex. “I could tell you such stories, but they're better if you hear them from the people who experienced them.” “Are all of those plants native to this planet?” asked Sybil. “Not many, a few,” said Alex. “The Gorn supplied us with seeds for all the others. Most came from their home world of Voltar.” “They saved our lives today,” said Aaron. “We were almost attacked by wolves. Have the Gorn always been friendly?” “Not always,” said Alex. “They almost destroyed the entire colony shortly after they crash landed here over a hundred years ago.” “What caused the conflict?” asked Aaron. “They kidnapped some of our women,” said Alex. “For ransom?” asked Sybil. “I'm not sure,” said Alex. “But when the men tried to get them back, they were badly defeated and the women were never seen again.” “They killed the women?” asked Sybil. “That doesn't make any sense.” “At least one of the women must have survived long enough to teach them to speak English,” said Alex. “She may have persuaded them to cooperate with the humans. A generation later, they signed the treaty.” “Why doesn't someone just ask the Gorn what happened?” asked Sybil. “I haven't seen a Gorn since the day they escorted me to the dome,” said Alex. “That was eighteen years ago.”

129

“Surely there must be some way to find out,” said Aaron. “It's all water under the bridge,” said Alex. “This colony probably wouldn't exist today without the help of the Gorn. Why dig up old bones?” “What did the Gorn have to gain from the treaty?” thought Aaron. “Does anyone come into contact with the Gorn?” he asked. “If someone needs medical attention,” said Alex. “We don't have any doctors and no medical equipment or medicine. The Gorn take care of all of our medical needs.” “What do the Gorn look like?” asked Sybil. “The ones that we met were wearing masks.” “No one here has ever seen their faces,” said Alex. “Even their doctors and nurses wear surgical masks. It's said that they are so hideous that even they can't stand to look at their faces.” “What's it like inside their domes?” asked Sybil. “It must be more modern than this if they have hospitals.” “I guess,” said Alex. “But we're only allowed in the hospital.” “What are they hiding from us?” asked Aaron. “None of this makes any sense. Do you have electricity here?” “No,” said Alex. “But we get along fine without it.” “What about all of the time machines,” said Aaron. “Mine alone could supply enough electicity to power all of these domes for an eternity.” “I think the other aliens kept them,” said Alex. “We don't have any of them in this dome.” “They didn't need to lie to us,” said Sybil. “They could have just taken them, and we couldn't have prevented it. I think the Gorn have them.” “If that's what the Gorn get out of this, why keep us alive?” asked Aaron. “They can't operate mine without the key and no one has tried to take it from me.” “Maybe they just want the power supplies,” said Sybil. “But still, why keep

130

us alive?” “They need us for something,” said Aaron. “I think they took the time machines to prevent us from leaving.” “Everyone who's come here has had similar apprehensions about the Gorn,” said Alex. “But they all come to realize that there is no ulterior motive. The Gorn are simply our friends and benefactors.” “I guess you're right,” said Aaron. “But I'd feel better with a few more answers and a lot less questions.” “Here we are,” said Alex as they stood in front of a newly built log cabin. “It looks like they've finished your house. Let's go in and have a look.” “It's very nice,” said Sybil. “It's not much but it will give you some privacy,” said Alex. “This entire dome is like a green house so the temperature is quite pleasant year round. You only need a fire for cooking and for light at night.” “It will do just fine,” said Aaron. “But what about work. I specialize in bioelectrical research and Sybil is a gynecologist. It doesn't look like you have much demand for either.” “We have a unique system here that began when we were on our own,” said Alex. “We find it still works well. Everybody does everything.” “I beg your pardon?” said Aaron. “You'll eventually learn every skill needed in our society,” said Alex. “No one individual is indispensable. Anyone can take their place if they become ill or worse.” “When do we begin?” asked Aaron. “Take a few days to look around and get acquainted,” said Alex. “Then we'll place each of you with an individual, and you'll follow him or her through a few months' rotation, sort of like an apprenticeship.” “There's food on the table and blankets on the bed,” said Sybil. “We're home, Aaron.” “Speaking of home,” said Alex. “It's getting late. I'd better be getting home.

131

See you around.” “Thank everyone for us,” said Aaron. “We really appreciate what everyone has done.” “You'll get a chance to meet everyone on Sunday,” said Alex. “What day is this?” asked Sybil. “Friday,” said Alex. “What year?” asked Aaron. “Does it matter?” asked Alex. “I can't even remember what month it is.” “Bye, Alex,” said Sybil. “See you on Sunday.” .................... “I hate to look a gift horse in the mouth,” said Aaron. “But there's something very wrong about all of this. The Gorn are up to something. I'm just not sure what it is.” “You're from an age when the world still had separate nations, races, and religions,” said Sybil. “You were taught prejudice, competition, and capitalism.” “So you think it's normal for a race to go straight from enemy to benefactor,” said Aaron. “Not normal, but possible,” said Sybil. “Learning that they were the last of their race and that they could never go home again could have a dramatic impact on any race.” “I suppose you're right,” said Aaron. “And I assume there hasn't been any problems since the treaty was signed. Over a hundred years of peaceful coexistence is definitely a good sign. Still ...” “I know,” said Sybil. “I wouldn't trust them as far as I could throw them. Real friends don't need to keep secrets. And what about our time machines. What gives them the right to steal our machines and keep us here?” “Now we're talking,” said Aaron. “I say we go outside the dome tomorrow and keep a lookout for the alien ship that brought us here. We need to find out

132

for sure what happened to the time machines. It's possible the aliens never brought them here and the Gorn are not thieves.” “That could be dangerous,” said Sybil. “What if we run into wolves?” “We'll have to find something to use as a weapon,” said Aaron. “We have to get to the bottom of this mystery.” .................... “This looks like a good spot,” said Aaron. “We have a clear view of the area where the aliens dropped us off.” “Do you really think we'll be able to fight off wolves with these poles?” asked Sybil. “They didn't seem to be able to run all that fast,” said Aaron. “I think we can outrun them. The poles are just in case we can't. Beside, we haven't seen any signs of wolves.” “But they have to be around here somewhere,” said Sybil. “Maybe they were attracted by the spaceship yesterday.” “All we can do now is wait,” said Aaron, “and keep a close watch for wolves or Gorn.” .................... “Look,” said Sybil. “It's the spaceship. It's landing.” “Stay out of sight,” said Aaron. “Let's see what happens.” “They're unloading our machines,” said Sybil. “They didn't keep them. This may be our only chance to go home.” “I've been thinking about that too,” said Aaron. “But from what you told me, I don't think I'd fit into your world and you can't go back to mine. If we're going to stay together, it has to be in this world.” “I was hoping you felt that way,” said Sybil. “I don't want to leave either.” “Look,” said Aaron. “It's the Gorn, about a dozen of them, and look what they brought with them.”

133

“Wolves,” said Sybil, “on leashes.” “I was right,” said Aaron. “Right about what?” asked Sybil. “You remember our encounter yesterday with the Gorn and the wolves?” asked Aaron. “Yeah,” said Sybil. “What about it?” “It all happened so fast,” said Aaron, “but I was sure I saw a collar on one of the wolves.” “Why didn't you say something?” asked Sybil. “It didn't make sense,” said Aaron. “I didn't have any reason to be suspicious at the time.” “So it was all a trick to make us think it was too dangerous out here,” said Sybil. “Now they're tieing the wolves to the machines and pulling them away.” “The mystery just keeps getting deeper,” said Aaron, “and the answers just lead to more questions. We'll eventually have to get inside their domes.” “Should we tell the others?” asked Sybil. “Not until we have a better idea of what's actually going on,” said Aaron. “There's no need to worry them. They seem to be perfectly safe for now.” .................... “Let's go visit our neighbor,” said Sybil. “Alex didn't tell us what time the meeting was tomorrow or exactly where it was.” “Good idea,” said Aaron. “The more we can learn from people who have been to the Gorn hospital, the easier it will be to solve the mystery.” “I got the feeling from talking to Alex that people don't spend much time talking about the Gorn,” said Sybil. “If the subject doesn't come, don't press it.” “If you say so,” said Aaron. “So what are we going to talk about?” “I don't know,” said Sybil. “The weather.”

134

“What weather?” said Aaron. “We live in a dome.” “Just go with the flow,” said Sybil. “Talk about whatever they want to talk about.” “I'll try,” said Aaron. “But I don't know a heck of a lot about baking pies or sewing clothes.” “Something tells me you'll be learning soon enough,” said Sybil. “You heard what Alex said.” “But he didn't mean that I would have to do women's work,” said Aaron. “Women's work!” said Sybil. “And who decides what is women's work and what isn't?” “Where I came from, a woman knew her job,” said Aaron. “Well, you're the only one that came from the dark ages, I'll bet,” said Sybil. “Don't embarrass me now. Maybe you should just keep your mouth shut and listen until you've learned a thing or two.” “Well, maybe I should just stay home and mop the floor,” said Aaron. “I wouldn't want to embarrass you in front of the hillbilly neighbors.” “Surely all that junk isn't there for decoration,” said Sybil. “Maybe they're having a yard sale.” “I'm sorry I called it women's work,” said Aaron. “It just slipped out.” “And I'm sorry I called you stupid,” said Sybil. “It just slipped out too.” “What kind of an apology was that?” asked Aaron. “As long as you feel the way you do about women's work, whether you say it out loud or not, I'm gonna think you're stupid,” said Sybil. “And so will most civilized humans.” “Knock … Knock” “Get the door, June,” said a voice from inside the cabin. “We've got company. Better set a couple more places at the table.”

135

“Hi,” said June as she opened the door. “You must be our new neighbors. Well, come on in and sit a spell. You're just in time for supper.” “We couldn't impose,” said Sybil. “We'll come back some other time.” “Nonsense,” said the man stretched out on the couch. “It's no trouble at all.” “Put some pants on, Jeb,” said June. “There's a lady here and you've got holes in your underwear.” “Well, what did you do with them?” asked Jeb. “They were right there on the floor when I layed down for my nap.” “Hang on, honey,” said June as she headed for the other room. “I'll get you another pair.” “The little woman's always picking up my stuff,” said Jeb. “But what are you gonna do? Can't shoot em. Ain't got no gun.” “Will this be your first?” asked Sybil as Jeb picked up a jug off of the coffee table. “Naw,” said Jeb. “This is my third jug today. You want a sip?” “Your first child,” said Sybil. “When is she due?” “Oh,” said Jeb. “Yeah. June's about ready to pop any day now. It's our third try. Hope she gets it right this time.” “How long have you lived on this planet?” asked Aaron. “All my life,” said Jeb. “Fifth generation.” “Your third try?” asked Sybil. “Miscarriages?” “All I know is, she went to the hospital and came home empty handed,” said Jeb. “The Gorn hospital?” asked Sybil. “Was she always this far along?” “Yep,” said Jeb. “Here you go, honey,” said June as she handed the pants to him. “Why don't you join me in the kitchen while the men get aquainted. What's your name,

136

Sweetie. My name's June.” “I'm Sybil. Let me give you a hand,” said Sybil. “You should be resting in your condition.” “I wouldn't hear of it,” said June. “You're our guest. Have a seat and tell me all about yourself.” “I'd rather hear about you,” said Sybil. “And I insist on helping.” “Are you a good cook, Sweetie?” asked June. “Jeb's kind of a picky eater.” “Looks like you got a real prize with that one,” said Sybil. “Yours ain't so bad either,” said June. “How long have you two been married?” “I guess you could say we're newlyweds,” said Sybil. “Jeb said this is your third attempt at having a baby.” “I hope this one turns out okay,” said June. “It's a lot of work for nothing.” “I know a little bit about babies and pregnancy,” said Sybil. “Do you mind if I examine you after we eat. I could tell you if it's a girl or a boy.” “Oh, no,” said June. “I want it to be a surprise, like opening a present at Christmas. But you can examine me if you're curious.” .................... “Now that was interesting,” said Aaron as he and Sybil walked home. “You don't suppose Jeb's parents were cousins, do you?” asked Sybil. “I'd shoot him if he were my husband.” “No guns, remember,” laughed Aaron. “Maybe that's why there are no guns.” “You think it's funny?” said Sybil. “Well you can laugh all night on the couch.” “What did I do?” asked Aaron. “I didn't introduce them.” “It just makes me so mad,” said Sybil. “And it's just what you were

137

expecting.” “No,” said Aaron. “I agree with you. Men and women should have equal rights and responsibilities. We're not going to be like them. They're probably not even a typical family.” “You really think so?” asked Sybil. “Because I couldn't live here if they are.” “Things can change,” said Aaron. “I'll have a talk with Jeb.” “You'd do that?” asked Sybil. “I knew I couldn't be completely wrong about you.” “So am I still sleeping on the couch?” asked Aaron. “I don't want to commit just yet,” said Sybil. “You could still screw up again before we go to bed.” .................... “I hope we don't have to sit through too many speeches,” said Aaron. “These town meetings can be pretty boring.” “Well, at least we'll get to meet some other people,” said Sybil. “Alex will be there. We haven't met his wife yet.” “I wonder if they'll have food,” said Aaron. “We probably should have had a bigger breakfast.” “We'll know next time,” said Sybil. “Don't forget you're going to have a talk with Jeb.” “I'd hoped to get to know him a little better before I have that talk,” said Aaron. “You want to get to know him better?” asked Sybil. “Would you want a stranger to tell you how to live your life?” asked Aaron. “I guess not,” said Sybil. “Just make sure you change him more than he changes you.” “Do you hear cheering?” asked Aaron. “Must be a good speech.”

138

“It looks like a baseball game,” said Sybil. “Let's check it out.” “They've got uniforms and everything,” said Aaron. “Which team are we going to root for?” “It looks like boys against girls,” said Sybil. “I know who I'm rooting for.” “There's Alex,” said Aaron. “I 'm just gonna talk with him for a minute.” “Okay,” said Sybil. “See you later.” .................... “Hello, Alex,” said Aaron. “Who's winning?” “The boys are up by a run,” said Alex. “Bottom of the third. Where's Sybil?” “Rooting for the girls,” said Aaron. “Yeah, my wife's over there too,” said Alex. “Rooting for our daughter.” “And you're rooting for the boys?” asked Aaron. “Rooting for our son,” said Alex. “He's pitching today.” “Have you seen Jeb today?” asked Aaron. “He took June to the hospital,” said Alex. “He should be back before the game's over.” “He's not staying with her?” asked Aaron. “Wait until Sybil hears about this.” “The husbands aren't allowed to stay,” said Alex. “This time it's not Jeb's fault.” “Do you think June will be okay?” asked Aaron. “We haven't lost a mother yet,” said Alex. “Although we have lost a lot of babies. We suspect there's something missing in our diet.” “The ones that survived seem to be fine,” said Aaron. “Sybil may have some ideas. This was her specialty.”

139

“Everybody would certainly be grateful if she could find the cause,” said Alex. “I think it's got the Gorn stumped.” “Do you think the Gorn would allow her to use some of their medical equipment?” asked Aaron. “That would be unprecedented,” said Alex. “But under the circumstances, I don't see how they can refuse. They obviously haven't been able to find the cause. This has been going on for over six generations.” “I'm going to talk to Sybil,” said Aaron. “What happens after the game?” “We all meet over there by that big white tent,” said Alex. “We have lunch, let our food settle, and begin the races.” “What kind of races,” asked Aaron. “All kinds,” said Alex. “Marathon, relay, three-legged, wheelbarrow. You name it.” “Footraces,” said Aaron. “Sounds like fun. See you there.” .................... “... and it'll give you a chance to snoop around a little,” said Alex. “Maybe you can find out what the Gorn are up to.” “But this is too important, Alex,” said Sybil. “If they let me use their equipment to investigate the problem with the infant deaths, I don't want to screw it up.” “But you can still keep your eyes and ears open,” said Aaron. “We'll see how it goes,” said Sybil. “They haven't even agreed to anything yet. In the meantime, I'm going to talk with some of the women about their experiences at the hospital.” “June went to the hospital today,” said Aaron. “You can talk to her when she gets back.” “Did Alex tell you about the races?” asked Sybil. “And the food,” said Aaron. “I can smell it already.”

140

.................... “Alex. Who won the game?” asked Aaron. “The boys won,” said Alex. “You missed a close finish. Rose, this is Aaron and Sybil. They're the newcomers I was telling you about.' “Good to meet you, Rose,” said Sybil. “Where can I get some of these recipes? The food looks and smells delicious.” “I know a few of the recipes,” said Rose. “You'll have to come over someday and I'll show you.” “Don't they have them written down somewhere?” asked Sybil. “Nothing is written down,” said Rose. “There's no paper. You guys really are newcomers, aren't you?” “No books of any kind,” said Sybil. “How do they teach school?” “Mostly hands on and memorization,” said Rose. “The youngest ones learn music, dance, and storytelling. Later they learn agriculture, housekeeping, and sports. Then it's woodworking and construction until they reach eighteen.” “What about reading and math?” asked Sybil. “Not much call for reading,” said Rose. “And they learn math whenever it applies.” “I'm betting things haven't changed much in the last hundred years,” said Sybil. “It was the same way when I first arrived,” said Rose. “But we're happy. Isn't that what matters?” “That's really all that matters,” said Sybil. “How many people in modern life can truly say that!” .................... “How's your ankle?” asked Sybil. “It's better now,” said Aaron. “I thought we were going to win that threelegged race.”

141

“We'll get them next time,” said Sybil. “Too bad you had to sit out all the other races.” “We tried the wheelbarrow race. Remember?” said Aaron. “Oh yeah,” said Sybil. “How's your arm?” “You pushed me too hard,” said Aaron. “We were in last place,” said Sybil. “I was pacing myself,” said Aaron. “I was saving it for the stretch run.” “The leader had already crossed the finish line,” said Sybil. .................... “How was your day?” asked Aaron. “I learned how to dig irrigation ditches.” “I pulled weeds all day,” said Sybil. “And the Gorn turned us down.” “How can they do that?” asked Aaron. “I stopped and talked to June,” said Sybil. “I heard she had a healthy baby girl,” said Aaron. “But what no one knows is that she was carrying twins,” said Sybil. “I examined her Saturday, and they were both healthy. She's still unaware and the Gorn never mentioned a second baby. I don't trust them at all. I'm going to try to convince the other women to let me deliver their babies.” “We're going to have to find another excuse to get into the other domes,” said Aaron. “If not, we'll just have to sneak in next Saturday on our day off.” “If not that, you'll have plenty of excuses to go to the hospital after next Sunday's races,” said Sybil. “Very funny,” said Aaron. “But you might be onto something. We could fake an illness.” “If their doctors are any good at all, they'll see right through that,” said Sybil.

142

“And who says they're any good,” said Aaron. “We could end up dying from a fake illness, but it's worth a try.” “You can try it if you want to,” said Sybil. “But I'm going to be talking to the women on my day off.” “You're right,” said Aaron. “That's important too. I can do this by myself.” “Well, be careful,” said Sybil. “They may shoot trespassers. And from what I've seen of their guns, you won't be going to the hospital after they shoot you.” “Why do you think the Gorn didn't mention the fact that one of the twins died?” asked Aaron. “I don't know,” said Sybil. “But if it did die, then we can forget about diet being the cause. These were twins.” “What do you mean, if it died?” asked Aaron. “I'm not sure,” said Sybil. “But what if it didn't die? It seemed perfectly healthy when I examined June.” “No,” said Aaron. “What would they do with a human baby? My God! You don't think they would eat it.” “Of course not,” said Sybil. “At least I certainly hope not. But whatever they're doing is not acceptable.” “Even more reason to get to the bottom of this,” said Aaron. .................... “While you're talking to the women today, I'm going to go outside and try to sneak into one of the other domes,” said Aaron. “What do you suppose they'll do if they catch you?” asked Sybil. “I wonder if they even have a jail.” “That's one question I hope I don't find the answer to,” said Aaron. “I'll be careful. Don't worry.” “You get back before dark,” said Sybil. “Don't make me have to come looking for you.”

143

.................... As Aaron made his way toward the other domes, the red sun beat down upon the parched landscape. He stopped to scan his surroundings for any signs of movement. He spotted a band of Gorn walking along a path between the entrances of two of the domes. He watched as they marched single file along the narrow path. From behind the line of figures, he saw another figure rise from behind a group of bushes and cross the path. Slipping into a shallow ravine, the figure made its way in his general direction. Aaron looked at the path the ravine followed across the valley below. He made his way toward a bend in the path that could serve as a point of ambush. Descending into the ravine, he waited quietly and listened for the approach of the stranger. “Nice day for a walk, isn't it?” said Aaron as he got his first look at the stranger. “You scared me,” said the stranger in a feminine voice. “I thought you were a Grumble.” “A what?” asked Aaron. “What's a Grumble?” “Never mind about that,” said the Gorn. “What are you doing outside your dome. Don't you know it's dangerous out here?” “I like to ask you the same question,” said Aaron. “What with all the Grumbles running around.” “You saw one?” she asked. “How big was it?” “Let's start over,” said Aaron. “My name is Aaron. You come here often?” “That's actually quite humorous,” she replied. “My name is D'mir, and I've never been outside our dome before.” “Why are you here now?” asked Aaron. “And why do you Gorn always wear those masks?” “Why do you humans ask so many questions?” asked D'mir. “You haven't answered my question yet.” “Curiosity,” said Aaron. “That's why we ask questions and that's why I'm

144

here.” “You're curious about the Grumbles?” asked D'mir. “I'm trying my best to avoid them.” “What is a Grumble?” asked Aaron. “Why have I never heard of one?” “It's a hideous creature that eats Gorn children if they wander outside our domes,” said D'mir. “You don't look like a child,” said Aaron. “If not for the color of your skin, I'd think you were a human female in her early twenties. Of course I haven't seen your face. Why the mask?” “It's the law,” said D'mir. “Anyone leaving the dome must wear a mask.” “Why?” asked Aaron. “Can't you even remove it for a moment?” “I don't know why,” asked D'mir. “So I can't be sure it would be safe to remove it.” “Sounds like a silly superstition, just like the Grumble,” said Aaron. “You wouldn't say that if you ran into one,” said D'mir. “Most superstitions are based on some fact.” “You still haven't told me why you're here,” said Aaron. “Maybe you can help me,” said D'mir. “I'm looking for a human female called Sybil. Do you know of her?” “Maybe,” said Aaron. “Why are you looking for her?” “It is said that she knows about human reproduction,” said D'mir. “I wish to ask her some questions.” “Why are you concerned about human reproduction?” asked Aaron. “My concern is with Gorn reproduction,” said D'mir. “Our knowledge is limited, and I thought maybe she could give me some insight.” “Are you willing to go inside our dome?” asked Aaron. “I can take you to her.”

145

“I'm already in trouble for leaving our dome,” said D'mir. “Perhaps you could get her to come out and talk to me. I would be too frightened to enter your dome.” “Frightened of what?” asked Aaron. “There's nothing to be frightened of.” “The laws are for our own protection,” said D'mir. “There must be some danger. Forgive me if I don't trust you with my life.” “I understand,” said Aaron. “I'll see if I can find her. How long can you wait?” “I must be home before dark,” said D'mir. “Please hurry. I'm frightened out here all alone.” “I'll hurry,” said Aaron. “Wait right here. I promise to come back, with or without her, and I'll see that you get home safely.” .................... “She speaks perfect English,” said Aaron as they approached the ravine. “I'll bet they all do. See if you can get her to take off that mask.” “She may not be willing to talk while you're around,” said Sybil. “I've got to gain her confidence before she'll answer any of our questions. Just leave us alone for a while.” “I'll wait here,” said Aaron. “She should be just around that bend.” “I'll call you when we're done,” said Sybil. “This is so exciting.” .................... “Wake up, Aaron,” said Sybil. “It's time to escort her home.” “Did you have a nice talk?” asked Aaron. “Were you able to help her?” “We'll talk later,” said Sybil. “Let's get her home first.” .................... “So, what did you find out?” asked Aaron as they watched D'mir enter the dome.

146

“The Gorn are all part human,” said Sybil. “Descendants of the original all male crew and the humans females they kidnapped.” “So they didn't kill the women,” said Aaron. “But raping them is just as bad.” “They didn't rape them,” said Sybil. “But they did hold them against their will, at first.” “What do you mean, at first,” said Aaron. “After they learned to communicate, they explained their situation to the women,” said Sybil. “In return for their cooperation, the Gorn swore to assist and protect the other humans.” “They were the last of their race, desperate to survive,” said Aaron. “Maybe they're not so bad. But they're still hiding something. I'm sure of it.” “When the children came of age, there was a problem,” said Sybil. “There was no sexual attraction between them. They've been working on this problem ever sense, but they have little or no knowledge in that area.” “Do you know what's wrong?” asked Aaron. “Will you be able to help?” “I suspect it's a problem with feramones,” said Sybil. “We're going to meet again next Saturday, and she's bringing a microscope and some blood samples.” “That will come in handy in your work with the humans,” said Aaron. “We'll have our own hospital before you know it.” .................... “Wake up, Sybil,” said Aaron. “We've got to get to the baseball game early today. We've got tryouts.” “But I volunteered us to help out with the food preparation,” said Sybil. “It'll give us a chance to learn more recipes and you can save your energy for the races.” “We're gonna kill 'em this time,” said Aaron. “If you don't kill yourself,” said Sybil. “You'll have to teach me how to play baseball. I've never even thrown a ball before. Maybe we'll be ready for tryouts

147

the next time.” “I borrowed a couple of gloves and a ball from Alex,” said Aaron. “I can teach you now.” “Sure,” said Sybil. “We've got some time.” .................... “Why didn't you tell me you were going to throw a curve ball?” moaned Aaron. “I didn't know I could,” said Sybil. “You're such a wonderful teacher. Now hold still. The swelling has stopped. You're gonna be fine.” “Two,” said Aaron. “Two?” asked Sybil. “I see two fingers,” said Aaron. “I'm not holding up any fingers,” said Sybil. “Maybe you should lie down for a while.” .................... “What happened to you?” asked Jeb as Aaron sat down beside him on the bleachers. “She said shut up and I thought she said stand up,” smiled Aaron. “Yeah, happens to me all the time,” said Jeb. “Ever since Sybil had that little talk with June. That woman is dangerous.” “Tell me about it,” said Aaron. “Who's winning?” “The game just started,” said Jeb. “You want to borrow my sunglasses. That's quite a shiner you've got there.” “Thanks,” said Aaron. “Where'd you get these?” “Family heirloom,” said Jeb. “Passed down for generations. I'm afraid to wear them around June.”

148

.................... “Thank God it's Friday,” said Aaron as he flopped down on the sofa. “Did you have a tough day?” asked Sybil. “What was your job today?” “I was the truant officer,” said Aaron. “I tell you, those kids today will drive you nuts.” “I taught kindergarten,” said Sybil. “I think they're sweet.” “Just wait till second grade,” said Aaron. “You're gonna need shin guards.” “You just don't know how to handle them,” said Sybil. “Just wait till you have a couple of your own.” “A couple,” said Aaron. “I'll me outnumbered.” “I'll help out a little,” said Sybil. “You're just tired. Cheer up. It's the weekend. Want to toss the ole baseball around?” “Uh, sorry,” said Aaron. “I've got to go chop some wood.” .................... “Aaron, wake up,” said Sybil. “You've got to see this.” “You've got the microscope,” said Aaron as he entered the kitchen. “Why didn't you wake me. I would have gone with you to meet D'mir.” “I decided to let you sleep in,” said Sybil. “You had a rough week.” “So what did you want me to see?” asked Aaron. “Blood samples,” said Sybil. “Gorn and human.” “They look exactly the same,” said Aaron. “You must have mixed them up somehow.” “There's no mistake,” said Sybil. “And if you know what to look for, you can see minor differences.” “What are you saying?” asked Aaron. “Why are you showing me? This isn't my area of expertise.”

149

“When the original Gorn mated with humans, you would typically end up with a blood type that was half Gorn, half human,” said Sybil. “But I estimate that this blood is one part Gorn to thirty-one parts human. That would have required five generations of crossbreeding.” “Why crossbreed with humans when they must have had male and female Gorn after the first generation?” asked Aaron. “And who were they crossbreeding with?” “D'mir said that the first generation of crossbreeds had a problem,” said Sybil. “There was no sexual attraction between the males and females. I assumed this made mating difficult but not impossible.” “So who did they mate with?” asked Aaron. “The original human females couldn't have lived that long.” “What if they confined them to the area where we first landed,” said Sybil. “I mean in between childbirths. They wouldn't age.” “I didn't see any signs of that where I landed, and you said you were in that area for many years,” said Aaron. “They've got the time machines. They could have sent them ahead in time.” “But their females wouldn't have anyone to mate with,” said Sybil. “There's another explanation but you're not going to like it.” “What?” asked Aaron. “They're stealing our babies and raising them as breeding stock ,” said Sybil. “And they're telling us that they died at childbirth.” “That would certainly explain why they don't allow us in their domes,” said Aaron. “What are we going to do?” “Well, we're not going to allow them to steal any more babies,” said Sybil. “I've already convinced the women to allow me to deliver them.” “But what about all the humans they're holding captive?” asked Aaron. “We've got to set them free.” “It's sad,” said Sybil. “They've gone through all this trouble to keep their race alive, and after all that trouble, their race doesn't even exist anymore. They're as human as we are.”

150

“We need to think this through before we tell the others,” said Aaron. “They're not going to be happy and you can't blame them.” “We need to go to the hospital and get to the bottom of this,” said Sybil. “There has to be a civilized way to solve this problem without violence. I think I can solve their mating problem so they won't need the humans.” .................... “What is your emergency?” asked the Gorn security guard. “I can only allow you to enter if there's a medical emergency.” “Oh, there is a medical emergency,” said Sybil, “but the emergency is yours and not ours. We insist on seeing someone in charge and we insist on seeing them now.” “Do you indeed?” asked the guard. “Well, I'm afraid that I must insist that you turn around and leave immediately. No medical emergency, no entry.” “You don't understand,” said Aaron. “If you don't allow us to enter, you're putting your entire race at risk. They're as good as dead.” “Is that a threat?” asked the guard, “because I'll have to arrest you if it is.” “It's a fact,” said Sybil. “Take it any way you wish, but you must let us in.” “Place your hands behind your back and turn around,” said the guard as he placed handcuffs on their wrists. “It looks like you've got your wish. You're going in. But I'm afraid it'll take more than a wish to get you out again.” “You don't understand,” said Sybil. “We know your secret and if we don't return to our dome, everyone will learn it. There is certain to be a civil war.” “You know my secret?” said the guard. “I didn't even know I had a secret.” “The Gorn's secret, smart ass,” said Aaron. “And what secret would that be?” frowned the guard. “If you truly don't know, then it's a bigger conspiracy than we thought,” said Sybil. “Believe me, you don't want to know. Just let us speak to someone at the highest security levels.” “What's the problem, Sergeant?” asked a Gorn gentleman in an official

151

looking uniform. “They refused to leave, Commander,” said the guard. “They claim that they need to talk to someone at the highest security level. Something about a secret that threatens our existence.” “So you have a secret,” said the commander as he turned to face them. “Well, I love secrets. You want to tell me about it?” “It's not our secret, it's yours,” said Sybil. “But so far we're the only humans from our dome that know about it. That could change at any time.” “My secret?” asked the commander. “Look,” said Aaron. “We've already played this game with your guard here. Are you going to allow us to talk to someone in charge?” “They claim to know the Gorn secret,” said the guard. “And they made threats.” “The Gorn secret?” asked the commander, “and did they mention which secret they were referring to?” “They said I didn't want to know,” said the guard. “Well, I want to know,” said the commander. “And we have ways of finding out. Blindfold them and place them in the interrogation room.” .................... “Do you think we're alone in here?” asked Aaron. “I don't hear anyone,” said Sybil. “But I'll bet they can hear us, whether they're in here or not.” “Why don't we just tell them?” asked Aaron. “If their leaders don't wish them to know, it could be as bad as telling our fellow humans,” said Sybil. “Their leaders should make that decision.” “What's to keep them from silencing us?” asked Aaron. “Maybe telling the others would help assure our survival.” “Their very existence depends on us,” said Sybil. “They need our help to

152

solve their problem. Besides, we left that message for the humans to read if we don't return.” “Oh yeah, the message,” said Aaron. “I almost forgot. I hope we can resolve this before someone stumbles across it. That's just going to make matters worse.” “I've heard enough,” said the commander as the door to the room opened. “If you've been listening, then you know how important it is that we resolve this as quickly as possible,” said Sybil. “I've been listening,” said the commander. “I'll see if I can get you an audience with the Elders. Guard. Please escort our guests to a waiting room and make them as comfortable as possible. Once they're in the waiting room, you may remove their blindfolds.” “Would you care for some food or drink?” asked the guard. “This may take a while.” “That would be nice,” said Aaron. “Does everyone here wear masks?” “Only around visitors,” said the guard. “Unless they're blindfolded.” “What's the reason for that?” asked Sybil. “I just follow orders,” said the guard. “I don't ask why?” .................... “Please put on your masks and come with me,” said the commander. “The Elder Council will see you now. Guard, assist them.” .................... “Remove your blindfolds and please be seated,” came a voice from the front of the room. “Guard. Commander. You may leave us now.” As they removed their blindfolds, they could see about a dozen individuals in long robes and masks. They were seated at a table that almost completely encircled the area where they were now standing. As they took their seats, one of the elders addressed them. “Please state the nature of the emergency that has brought you before us,”

153

said the elder. “Your race is dying,” said Sybil. “We all die, sooner or later,” said the Elder. “I, for one, have had a long and eventful life.” “Not you,” said Sybil. “Your entire race will soon cease to exist?” “Soon?” asked the elder. “How soon?” “A few more generations, perhaps,” said Sybil. “A few more generations!” exclaimed the elder. “That hardly sounds urgent, even if we were to believe you.” “I'll get right to the point,” said Sybil. “If I may speak freely.” “Please do,” said the elder. “We only have a few more generations.” “Your attempt to prolong your race's existence by mating with humans, stolen at childbirth, has had a side effect you should have anticipated,” said Sybil. “What does she mean, stolen at childbirth?” asked another one of the elders. “She's obviously misinformed,” said the first elder. “How do you come by this information?” “Do you deny that the original Gorn mated with human females that they kidnapped?” asked Sybil. “No, I do not deny that,” said the elder. “And are you aware that the offsprings from this mating were unable to mate with each other?” asked Sybil. “I am certainly not aware of that,” said the elder. “Maybe I can clear that up for you, Kromax,” said another elder. “What she says is true and still applies to this day.” “You're telling me that my wife is a human?” asked Kromax. “She's not a

154

Gorn.” “She was stolen from the humans at childbirth and raised as one of us,” said Glok. “As were all of the so-called albino Gorn.” “Why was I never told?” asked Kromax. “Why were we never told?” asked one of the other elders. “We were adopted? We were stolen?” “You're not adopted. Well, not exactly,” said Glok. “Your parents believed you to be their own child. When they gave birth to a Gorn child, they were told that they had twins, one normal and one albino. They loved you as much as their very own.” “This really complicates things,” said Sybil. “We had hoped that when we solved your mating problem, you would return all of the humans.” “What is this side effect that you mentioned,” asked Kromax. “You are all turning into humans,” said Sybil. “Every generation more so than the one before. We have to solve your mating problem before your race is completely gone.” “That's ridiculous,” said Kromax. “I'm still Gorn. Look at my green skin. Humans don't have green skin.” “Humans have many skin colors,” said Sybil. “Green will fit right in.” “Well, I don't want to be human,” said Kromax. “What can be done to stop this?” “With the cooperation of your doctors, I believe I can find an answer,” said Sybil. “But what will we tell the other humans. You've stolen their children.” “What if we turn over the ones that are responsible for this,” said Kromax. “Now just a damn minute,” said Glok. “You wouldn't even be here if we hadn't done what we did.” “We weren't supposed to be here,” said another elder as he removed his mask. “We're not even Gorn. We never were.” As the others removed their masks, some were human and some were Gorn.

155

The green skin and yellow eyes were the only obvious difference. All other facial features were human. “Revenge isn't the answer,” said Sybil. “But neither is secrecy. This is your problem to solve. I've got to solve your mating problem because there will be no more human babies for you to steal.” “Feel free to come and go as you please,” said Glok. “But the others must remain in their dome until we decide how to handle our little problem.” “Are we free to look around?” asked Aaron. “Perhaps I can help you in other ways, assuming you need or desire help.” “Be our guests,” said Glok. “And let us know if you require assistance.” “Shouldn't you be getting back before someone discovers that note you left behind?” asked Kromax. “We never really left a note,” said Sybil. “We just wanted to impress upon you the urgency of a swift hearing.” “We could hold them here and the humans would never find out,” said Glok. “You've caused enough trouble,” said Kromax. “Are you forgetting about the humans in the council. All in favor of removing Glok from the council, raise your hands.” “I protest,” said Glok. “I was selected by the people.” “All in favor of execution,” said Kromax. “Okay,” said Glok. “I resign my commission.” “Cooperate fully with the investigation and that last vote may not be necessary,” said Kromax. “We'll expect a list of names of those that were involved in the conspiracy.” “If you'll excuse us, we'd like to look around before we head back to our dome,” said Sybil. “The guard will escort you today,” said Kromax. “When you return, we'll get you some clothing that will help you fit in and avoid security problems.”

156

“Thank you,” said Sybil. “We'll see you tomorrow.” .................... “Aside from the hospital, it's not that much different from our dome,” said Aaron as they headed back to their dome. “They don't even have electricity outside the hospital and adjoining offices.” “I wonder if that is by necessity or by choice,” said Sybil. “They obviously haven't scavenged any power supplies from our time machines,” said Aaron. “I'll bet their power source is from their original spaceship.” “Probably the only system they know how to operate,” said Sybil. “You've got your work cut out for you if they want to improve their standard of living.” “We should get some answers soon,” said Aaron. “I still wonder how the humans in our dome are going to take the news about their babies.” “It helps to know that most of the Gorn were unaware of what was happening,” said Sybil. “Still, if it had happened to me, I don't think I'd be wanting to help the Gorn.” “The Gorn are not going to give them back,” said Aaron. “They love them as though they were their own children.” “And they've been treated well,” said Sybil. “I doubt that they would want to come back.” “It's going to be difficult enough for the Gorn to tell their own people,” said Aaron. “I glad we don't have to solve this problem.” “We'll stop by the game in the morning and let Alex know that we'll be spending most of our time in the Gorn dome,” said Sybil. “We'll probably need to set up residency over there.” “We'll just tell him that the Gorn need our help,” said Aaron. .................... “Welcome back,” said the guard. “Kromax has asked to speak with you the moment you arrive. Please put on these labcoats and come with me.”

157

.................... “Please be seated,” said Kromax. “Guard. You may return to your post.” “Nice to see you again, Sir,” said Sybil. “Aaron and I are eager to begin.” “Before we get started, I have some news,” said Kromax. “I spoke with some others that were involved in the conspiracy. As it turns out, some of your assumptions were incorrect.” “Really,” said Sybil. “How was I mistaken?” “As it turns out, none of the children were stolen at childbirth,” said Kromax. “They were born dead or never born, whichever ever way you want to look at it.” “But the humans we've seen walking around here?” asked Sybil. “Where did they come from?” “They're clones,” said Kromax. “I find it hard to believe,” said Sybil. “that a society capable of cloning human life are unable to prevent infant death.” “We became very proficient at cloning long before we came to this planet,” said Kromax. “Our sun became very destructive during it's years prior to the nova. Many children died at childbirth but were later cloned.” “But you didn't have the ability to save our children,” said Sybil. “How difficult could it be. There no solar radiation here. What's the problem.” “The temperal zone,” said Kromax. “The female reproductive system was disrupted while you humans were within that area. Some never fully recovered. It seems to depend on how long you were there.” “My god!” said Sybil. “I was there for years. I may never be able to have a baby.” “Many seem to recover over time,” said Kromax. “But we can help you until then. Cloning is almost always successful.” “Why didn't you clone hundreds from a single individual?” asked Aaron. “I don't know how you do cloning. Hell, I don't know much about how we do

158

it,” said Kromax. “But I do know that the process requires a plasma created from the donors blood and there's only enough for one clone.” “It would make no sense for you to kill one baby to clone another,” said Sybil. “You're obviously telling the truth. The children were never born. Why didn't you return the clones to their rightful parents?” “We needed them,” said Kromax. “If our existance ended, there would be no one to do the cloning and the human birthrate would have been the same. We felt it was justified. The humans needed us to survive. Before we built the dome, hundreds, if not thousands had died of malnutrition and poisoning from eating wild plants.” “I would have to agree with him,” said Aaron. “The humans have benefitted greatly from their assistance.” “And if you can solve our mating problem, we can clone any future dead babies and return them to their families,” said Kromax. “If that is your desire.” “Solving your problem has just taken on a new urgency,” said Sybil. “I'll get right to work on it.” “Tell me about your power systems,” said Aaron. “Have I got news for you.”

159

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful