Portion of Chapter Two Vampire's Trill:
My cookies had turned out beautifully. I scrounged for paper plates to use to take some to Mrs. Bench on a high cupboard shelf. Grasping the paper plates, I rocked slightly on the chair I used for a stepping stool. Dante grabbed me by the waist and brought me down to the floor in a graceful way. I wanted to turn into him and hug him, but resisted. When I looked up at him, he stepped back. Hiding my emotional hurt, I turned back to the counter and the cookies.
“I want to get these to Mrs. Bench while they're warm,” I said, feeling a tightness in my throat as I did.
“Those are for her?” Heath asked, the longing in his eyes returned.
“Yep. I wanted thank her for this morning. I don't know how you thank a witch for magically saving your butt, but this is the first time I've had someone do that for me.”
“Peanut butter cookies should get pretty high marks, I would guess,” Lief said, and his brother nodded approvingly, and I was glad the blood had softened his sour mood some. Lief's moods changed as rapidly as a chameleon's skin tone. I was glad to not to be alone with him. I hoped that we never were thrown together without a chaperon, because I knew, I knew he would cross the line.
I piled a good dozen or so cookies on a plate, covered it in plastic wrap. Dante and I threw on our coats and walked out into the chilly autumn late afternoon. The sun was about an inch from the horizon, and the sky was becoming dark in the east. I threw Dante a worried look.
“Am I going to change, again?”
“I don't know.” He'd told me that borne Weres had to go through the transformation three nights of the full moon. He wasn't sure about a bitten person. I hoped I wasn't going to go through this three nights in a row.
Once across the road, we shuffled through crisp fallen leaves—ones that Mrs. Bench hadn't gotten in her annual leaf-burning day, back in October—and strode up her cement steps to her open porch. It felt strange being here. I couldn't remember having been on Mrs. Bench's porch since my brother and I were allowed to go trick-or-treating when I was small. I'd always remembered her as being old—even back then. I never knew her true hair hair color; it was always white, to her shoulders and loosely curled. I would see her out in her yard or her gardens spring through autumn. Some times she wore a straw hat with a tie under the chin. She loved petunias and marigolds especially, but I always enjoyed watching her yard go through transformations throughout the year as one thing or another blossomed.
Dante knocked on the wooden framed screen door. There was a light on inside, and I could peer between the white eyelet curtains over the window of the door. I saw a wedge of medium blue on white kitchen. It was a tidy with all-white appliances.
After a moment, and no answer, Dante opened the screen door and rapped on the main door.
“She's old. It might take her a while to—”
The door opened, an inch. We both stared at it, then we stared at each other.
“Mrs. Bench?” I called.
The door moved inward a little more, and down about a foot from the floor I saw the white paw of a cat hooked around it and pulling it.
“Hel-l-o?” I called out through the gap in the door, which had opened about six inches. It was the same white cat who had come to our rescue early this morning, now sitting before us.
“Her familiar,” Dante whispered.
“Yeah.” I pushed the door open a little further and the cat stared up at us, made a weird-sounding meow. “Hi, there. Is Mrs. Bench at home? We'd like to see her. Look, I baked cookies!” I held out the plate, speaking as though he could understand me. For all I knew, he might.
The cat blinked green-gem eyes at me, then got up and ran into the house, making an odd sound as it went, almost as though it were trying to form words.
“Okay, I want one of those,” I told Dante.
“You already have one,” he said low.
I snickered. We stuck our heads into what looked like a small mud room, beyond which was the kitchen through an open doorway.
I was about to call out again when a willowy voice from somewhere deeper inside the house said, “Come into the parlor, my dears. I've been expecting you.”
Dante and I exchanged glances. It was a little unnerving, knowing the elderly lady who dwelled here was a real witch who could cast spells. But much scarier was the fact she was to help me get a ring to signify I was the sibyl. I had told Dante about it, but I'd been on edge about it, I simply wanted to get this over with.
We strode through a square kitchen that may have had some improvements in the '60's but not much after that, aside from coats of light tea-cup blue paint on the walls and the wainscoting of the old cupboards. The table as well as the counter were both grayish-blue Formica. It was clean and bright, and all the appliances were not less than twenty years old, by my guess. A stainless steel tea pot was stationed on the stove, a blue flame beneath it. I hoped it had water in it. Squinting to take a quick read, I knew that it did, thank goodness.
The house had interesting smells of herbs, baked bread, and possibly soup—and it was spotless. I'd have only expected as much. I'd never been able to get a read from Mrs. Bench's house, and up until I realized she was a witch, it sort of had me puzzled. At the moment, whatever reads I was getting were all hazy, or watery. It would take a strong witch to keep my inner eye from working.
Dante led me through the small kitchen, and into another square room. Because of my clairvoyant abilities, I already knew the lay-out of the house. Downstairs was mainly made up of four rooms; kitchen, parlor, a dinning room where a staircase angled up the wall and turned after a landing; a hall behind that lead to a back door, then a bedroom—where Mrs. Bench now slept—which was located at the other corner of the house, and the hallway led back to the kitchen, with a bathroom between. Upstairs there were three bedrooms situated in a short hall at the top of the stairs.
Upon entering this room we faced a fireplace; a nice, cozy fire snapping away behind the screen. I could smell the wood smoke on the air when we were outside, and now my expectations were answered. Every piece of furniture was at least twenty-five to fifty years old, and yet looked as though as nice as if she'd bought it a few days ago. The couch was camel-backed, and dark brown. An almond swivel rocker, and a dark brown wing-back chair that matched faced the couch. Doilies were displayed everywhere there was table surface. Everything I saw seemed like the typical house belonging to a very old person—who was stuck in the middle of the last century. Except for the large crystal ball on the dark wooden coffee table, four lit candles in brass candle sticks arranged at the four corners, and the Tarot cards fanned out before the aged woman seated on the couch, I would say this was your typical old-lady's house.
To say that Mrs. Bench was a frail old woman, would be like saying a duck had feathers and a bill. A network of deep lines creased her face and neck, giving her the look of someone who'd seen the other side of seventy. White hair haloed her small head. Blue veins beneath the liver-spotted skin snaked across the ridges and contours of her bony hands. She wore a rose-colored sweater over a light blue shirt that matched her sweatpants. A black, brown, and orange afghan in a zig-zag pattern was draped over her lap. She looked up at us with a brilliant blue gaze. She wore no glasses—but I knew she needed them to read print.
“Here! Quickly drink this, Sabrina!” She croaked, holding a small vial out to me in a slightly shaking hand. The liquid was somewhat brownish, like weak tea.
I gaped at her, and then darted a glance at Dante. With a small jerk of the head, he urged me to do as I was told.
“You have only moments before you change!” she said in a slightly gravely voice.
I shifted the plate of cookies to Dante's hands. He took them and set them down on the coffee table.
I took the vial from her fingers and uncorked it. I didn't want to go into my wolf-persona right there in her parlor. I tipped it back and swallowed it in one gulp. It went down, not too unpleasantly. I stood there, my gaze roving around, waiting for something to hit me. Well, nothing hit me, but maybe that's exactly what this had been for—to avoid it.
I turned my gaze onto Dante. He walked quickly toward an east window in the next room.
“Moon's up,” he called out.
“And . . . I'm not changing.” I looked back at the witch.
“Yes!” Mrs. Bench clenched her fist and pumped it. The action seemed un-old-lady-like, and earned a smile from both Dante and myself. “First time I'd ever done that spell on anyone. And you were a perfect candidate!”
“Well, thank you,” I said slowly, shifting my gaze to Dante who shrugged slightly. “I think.” What if it had gone wrong?
“Come. Sit down. We need to talk!” she croaked, her hands fluttering at us, indicating we should sit down.
Dante took the chair by the fire, I took the brown wing-back. We both leaned expectantly toward the old woman as she closed her eyes and held her hands on the crystal ball. She looked in her element. Then a frown deepened the furrows in her forehead. Her shoulders went up as she tittered uncontrollably. “Stop that Ted!” she admonished an unseen entity.
Dante and I looked at one another, not sure who she had been addressing.
“Okay . . . never mind,” Mrs. Bench said, dropping her hands from the crystal ball, and opened her eyes. “The spirits are not responding to my call, tonight,” she explained, shrugging again.
“Who's Ted?” I asked.
“Just a spirit that helps me connect.” She smiled crookedly. “Tonight he's being a pest.” She giggled a little. Sounded like her spirits liked to get a little fresh. I could feel the spirit world. I had from time to time been able to see ghosts, too. I didn't know at what level the spirits where that Mrs. Bench contacted. They might be on a higher level than those that I, a clairvoyant, could see. Many disconnected spirits didn't know they were dead and roved around familiar grounds, and were the ones most people feel, see, or hear associated with hauntings. Those were the ones I could see, and speak to. There were other levels, higher up, I'd been able to ascertain from speaking to certain spirits in my life-time. I didn't know how many levels any spirit could attain before moving on to the next realm. Mine were on a lower level, obviously than those Mrs. Bench could contact.
“Oh, I completely understand.”
“There are Wayward Spirits who can connect to the higher spirit realm, but cannot attain that realm because they are earth-bound by emotions.” Dante explained.
“You're Native American, aren't you?” she asked as though only then realizing it.
“Yes,” Dante said.
She smiled quietly, then her eyes slid to one side. “Yes, I agree. He should just deal with it.”
Dante and I exchanged glances. I had to guess that Ted was still there talking to her.
“Bill?” she called out.
“Coming,” a male voice called back. I wasn't surprised by the newcomer. I knew that there was someone else in this house—besides the cat. I'd known it for a few minutes. I didn't know who it was, or how he was related to Mrs. Bench. I thought it odd that I couldn't get a read on him, either. It was like my abilities were locked down.
Through the wide dining room entry, I spied a pair of legs ensconced in tan Dockers gliding down the stairs. He made the turn and breezed through the dinning room toward us and entered the parlor.
Dark, wavy hair that fell to his collar, was drawn off a handsome face. The greenest eyes gazed back at us. I swear they were the color of spring leaves on a tree. At six-four, Bill was built like a hard-core military man and the cream colored cable sweater fit him like second skin. Oh, boy. Out of respect for Dante, I had to pull my eyes in, and look elsewhere.
Dante and I both rose to the tall man in the sweater who she had called Bill.
“May I introduce my grandson, Bill.”
We both shook hands with him. His hand was almost twice the size of mine when he took mine, not pumping it, but clasped both his warm hands over my gloved one. He never broke our gaze to look down at my gloves. Other people would always look down at the gloves, the questioning look of why I wore them etched in their face, lips wanting to burst with the question, but never quite having the nerve—usually—to ask.
But I knew it bothered them some.
Bill's sexual magnetism rolled off him like the musk he wore. I did my best not to show how his presence flustered me as I felt the pulse in my neck begin to throb. I'm not hard up! Jeeze!
“I didn't know you had any children, let alone a grandson,” I said, surprise in my voice, my hand going to my neck, feeling the throbbing beat, and then the sweaty brow. I knew that Dante probably had picked up on the fact that the guy had my meter running. I couldn't help myself.
“This is my daughter's son,” she explained. “They're living off in Europe.” She gestured dismissively.
We all sat. Bill folded his larger frame at the other end of the couch, leaning forward, arms braced on his thighs. I shifted slightly in my chair, crossed my legs, and found it difficult to not drum my fingers on the chair arm, wondering who was going to get this conversational ball rolling.
That was when the tea pot screamed.
Bill jumped up. “I'll get the tea. Don't start without me!” He jogged passed me (I didn't look, I swear, at his tight butt), and disappeared into the kitchen (okay, I peaked a little as he sailed by). The whistling tea pot was silenced with one last screech of protest.
Mrs. Bench tittered again. “Bill doesn't want to be left out. Did you make those cookies especially for me?” She eyed the plate of cookies on the table near her.
“Yes, I sure did, Mrs. Bench,” I said. “Peanut butter. I hope that's okay.”
“Oh, I just love them. So does Bill. He cooks, cleans and takes care of the house, did you know that?”
“I've never seen Bill around your house at all,” I said, trying hard not to sound suspicious.
She smiled, leaned and peered at the cookies. “Bill, never mind the boxed cookies! Sabrina brought wonderfully fresh baked ones!”
“Okay,” came his answer from the kitchen. In a few moments we all had a cup of tea, and a saucer of my cookies to enjoy.
“I want to thank you for helping me out this morning,” I said, looking across at Mrs. Bench.
She threw an anxious glance at Bill as he returned with a silver tray with a fancy, delicate cup in a saucer for everyone.
“You know, this morning,” Bill coached. “When the motorcycles were in her driveway?”
“Oh . . . oh, that,” she said, making a dismissive wave of her hand. “That was nothing.” Somehow she didn't sound convincing enough. I got that perhaps she'd forgotten all about it, but then again, I felt as though she had no idea what Bill was talking about. Bill served the cups of tea, pouring them expertly as though he'd gone to butler school or something.
“The ward will remain on your house,” Bill explained to me. He really emphasized the
word ward, as if to trigger Mrs. Bench's memory.
“Yes, that's right, dear,” Mrs. Bench said brightly. Perhaps Mrs. Bench was a little forgetful from time to time.
“There's more,” Bill said, taking charge of the conversation. His gaze went to her, and we all waited. She seemed reluctant, and at the same time sad. She gave a weepy sigh and threw Bill a look of uncertainty.
“Go on, Emma, you have to tell her.”
“You're right, of course. I've held off long enough,” she sighed, her bony shoulders seemed to bare a greater weight on them than she should have to at her ripe age. I felt a tinge of sadness for her and felt a wash of anxiety draw over me again. I knew that whatever she had to say next would probably bowl me over. “I've neglected my duties. I haven't fulfilled my promise to your mother.”
“What do you mean?” Shocked, I put down my cup of hot tea before I spilled it.
“Before your mother disappeared, she told me she was ill. Very ill.” She paused, looking across the room, not focused on anything really. “I already had known about it.” Her eyes darted to engage my gaze and darted back to her table where the crystal ball was. “The spirits told me that she would die, leaving you, your brother, and your father alone.”
“I know about my mother,” I said reluctantly. I'd met her, as a vampire, finally, only a few weeks ago.
“But there's more . . .” she patted her cottony-soft white hair and went on, “I was informed by the spirits that a dark angel would descend over your house. He would change everything. He would change the course of things, but that was her will, not his. Do you understand?” She paused, and lifted a cookie to her mouth and bit into it, ringing her mouth with cookie crumbs.
“He?” Did she mean Vasyl?
“Mmmm, these are good, sweetie.”
“Thank you. Who are you—”
“Yes. I'm informed that his name is Vasyl,” she said. “The vampire with the wings of a bat. He visits your house nightly. Sits on the roof. I've seen him.” She sipped her tea carefully, lips crimped in a smile, lines around her mouth like several parenthesis.
“Ah,” I said, my gaze shifting onto Dante. Dante knew about Vasyl's nightly habits of standing guard outside. Apparently my neighbor lady knew too. Vasyl had never tried entering; he never interfered in my life or what I did—although occasionally he has stopped me on the stretch of road to find out where I was going, and once he challenged Nicolas and told him he was not welcomed. Vampires were terribly territorial when it came to humans. I was Vasyl's. His bite on my arm said so.
She nodded. “I'm to contact the spirit world, and—”
Bill cleared his throat abruptly, interrupting her. I was getting a bit irritated
with him, and thought that she should tell him to knock it off. But she didn't.
“I've been told about a ring?” I prompted.
Her eyes went wide. “You've seen it then? In a vision?”
“Uh. No, not really,” I said, and glanced over at Dante. I'd told him nearly everything that Vasyl had told me, omitting the part about his telling me I was to become his paramour. But that was implied. For some reason I couldn't bring myself to tell Mrs. Bench how I really came to know about the ring.
“The ring signifies you are the sibyl,” she said, sounding exited. “From what I understand, the ring controls demons, and vampires.” She made a sudden chuckle. “That would be fun, I think, controlling vampires.”
“How? Or do you know?”
“I only know that it was engraved with something called the mystic pentalpha, like a seal, a magical design, or symbol. It was lost soon after Solomon's death. In witch's circles we know that the spirits took the ring back for safe keeping, after the last sibyl died.”
“Safe keeping? Is it dangerous?” I wondered.
“The ring?” she asked.
“No. Mainly what it does is keep a vampire from enthralling you,” Bill's voice permeated the room in that low, deep purr. He looked directly into my eyes, and I noticed he didn't blink. Not once as he spoke. Speaking of thralls . . .
“Vasyl is a rogue master,” Bill went on, squinting at me but didn't blink. I found it difficult to tear my gaze away. I mentally began to tally up things about him that threw red flags all over the place, and the fact he could hold my attention like a vampire was one of them. Finally, with much effort, I tore my gaze from his and looked down. Okay, what the hell is he, if he isn't a vampire?
“How do you know this?” I asked.
He flicked a glance at his grandmother. “I have my sources.”
“I see,” I said and took up my cup of tea and sipped. The tea was made perfectly. Not too bitter, and slightly sweetened.
“We also know that you work for the vampires in Chicago. For Tremayne.”
So much for keeping that a secret.
“You know who Tremayne is?” I said.
“Yes. Any vampires within five hundred miles knows who Tremayne is,” he said.
“But you're not a vampire,” I said, a little challenge in my voice.
His smile broadened and I noticed he had dimples. Eyes going half-lidded, he pulled in a deep breath. “How do you know I'm not?” he challenged back.
“Vampires don't eat cookies and drink tea with little old ladies,” I said, and earned a snicker from Dante as well as Mrs. Bench.
“She's got you there, dear,” she said on her chuckle.
With his expulsion of a sigh he said, “You are correct. Put it this way, I'm well versed on them.”
“I understand Bjorn has a brother?” Mrs. Bench ventured.
“Did. He's dead.” I flicked my glance to the both of them. “I saw it happen.”
“Yes, yes,” she said quickly. “It was there in the crystal a while back. I'd wondered . . . that must have been why . . . oh, Bill, I'm so forgetful!”
“It's alright Emma.”
“What?” I asked, my gaze going from one to the other and back again.
“Nothing. I simply forget things, that's all.”
“She's referring to something she must have seen in the crystal. Is that right, Emma?” Bill said, looking back at her.
“Yes, of course.” Mrs. Bench looked distracted as she sipped her tea. “These are very good cookies, by the way, dear.” She munched on another one.
“Thank you,” I said—again.
Silenced, we all took sips from our tea and ate our cookies. Obviously Mrs. Bench was a powerful medium. She had her ear to the spirit world, that was for sure, but unfortunately, she would forget what exactly she'd heard.
“I'd like to thank you, Mrs. Bench and, Bill.” I engaged both of them with my gaze. “I don't know how to thank you both for watching out for me. Do I—” I broke off and darted an unsure glance toward Dante and went on. “Do I owe you anything? Money? Something?”
“No. And Bill will call you when the spirits are ready to break open a door into the nether world, so that you'll be given the ring.” Nether world?
Bill nodded. “Yes. I'll make sure and call you if something develops.”
“Alright.” Sensing that our conversation was over, I stood along with Dante.
Bill stood, stepped over and pumped Dante's hand. “I'll be seeing you around.”
“Oh, for sure,” Dante said with a smile, and then Bill's gaze slid to me, and again I had to avert my glance. I could hardly wait to compare notes with Dante.
“Oh! Before you leave, Sabrina, I need to give you the other dose,” Mrs. Bench said, and held up another of those small vials filled with brownish liquid. “I worked long and hard on it. You take it tomorrow night, as soon as the moon rises.”
“I will.” I reached to take the vial from her hand, and tucked it away in my pants pocket.
“FYI,” Bill interrupted soberly, “that ward—the protection spell—is strong. Anyone who is not invited, is barred from coming within twenty feet of the house. Everyone else who is a friend or relative, can get through it. Any vampire whom you have invited can also enter. Keep that in mind, always.” His warning went through me and made me shiver a little bit. In other words, Nicolas could still come in.
“Got it,” I said with a nod.
As Dante and I angled down the steps of Mrs. Bench's porch. I moved a little closer to him, wanting to steal his warmth.
“Wow,” I said on a gasp.
“Yeah.” We stopped at the end of Mrs. Bench's drive and looked back.
“You read his mind, I take it?” We moved a few steps away from the house, and stopped again, making glances back at the house as though the secrets within would be revealed to us. Amber wedges glowed from the windows giving the impression it was like any other house. Only it wasn't.
“Tried,” he said. Being Native American, he believed that sometimes the less said the better. This irked the hell out of me—his silence—but I'd gotten used to it. I had to know what he'd picked up from their brains, since I knew he couldn't help tapping into them.
“Tried? What's that mean?” I asked, stopping in the middle of the gravel road. The night was chilly, the sky was pristine, filled with blazing stars.
“It means I got zip.”
“Really? How can that be? He's not a vampire.” The only vampire's mind Dante could read was Tremayne's. That was because he was his scion.
“No. You know how when you try and bring in a radio station and it's all static, or maybe you get garbled stuff from two or more stations?”
“That's sort of what I got.” He shook his head and looked up into the sky. “That guy isn't merely human.”
“Yeah. Really. I don't know what he is. But, he's something else.”
I frowned at him. “You mean he's superhuman?”
“Something like that.”
“What about Mrs. Bench?”
“A witch, human, and apprehensive about something she has to do soon.”
“She's afraid it might kill her.”
copyright 2011 Lorelei Bell