Still more turmoil and travail in store....

 

"COMMONPLACE EVILS" By Lorraine A. Balint

Part FOUR----CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

 

Pavlos stood behind the bar in the nearly-empty Koffeehaus, wiping the spots off some cups and glasses that he had just extracted from the dishwasher. Dimitrios, who, since Pavlos's return from Boston, was now his full-fledged partner, was on the small stage, helping the band set up their equipment for later. Afterward, while the band took a break, Dimitrios joined Pavlos in the small office.

 

"So," Dimitrios began, "Have you thought about how you want things set up here, for your wedding next week?"

 

"I will not be setting anything up here, Dimi. Due to the grave illness of my intended's sister-in-law, Janice and I will simply set out for Reverend Brand's rectory, returning, after, to my new stepdaughter's cottage for luncheon with as many of my children who care to come. Both you and Willie will be our witnesses, as Cellie has been too wrapped up with her aunt's care to represent her mother in our wedding party. Of course, you are invited for the lunch, also."

 

"I'll have to bring something from my Uncle Stavros's diner."

 

"That would be nice. Janice and I will prepare some of the food, and Cellie, if she's not too busy with Julia. I don't know what my children will bring, if, in fact, any of them come. I know how they feel about this marriage, especially my Theodore. He has, in his seminarian's zeal, gone so far as to denounce it as 'impious'."

 

"Aw, Pavlos, you know how it is with the children of divorced parents. No matter how lousy the marriage was, they always cherish a tiny hope that their folks will get back together."

 

"I am deeply sorry about the anguish my troubles with Eudoxia caused that boy, as I am about those with my first wife, Maria, and my third, Vasiliki. I can only promise not to ruin things with Janice. I am older now. I like to think I've finally grown up."

 

"Nobody who's seen how you are around Janice's family has the right to say anything different, Constantinos." Dimitrios's voice grew husky, as he addressed his partner by his Christian name. "Your son may not be willing to test the waters to find out, just yet, but with any luck, your other children will be on hand to report back to him."

 

One of the band members called out for Dimitrios. As he stood in the doorway of the office, poised to leave, he said, "Oh, by the way, Pavlos. I don't think I ever formally congratulated you."

 

"Shall you still congratulate me when I tell you I've made arrangements in my will to leave shares in this place to my new wife and stepdaughter?" Pavlos chuckled.

 

"Once they've seen what a job running this circus is, I doubt they'll be thanking you. Then you won't want my congratulations. You'll want my condolences!" Dimitrios joked, as he disappeared into the auditorium.

 

Pavlos sat at his desk, gazing at the icons of his patron saints and the Virgin, in the corner of the room. He had prayed for guidance, once it was clear there would be no reconciliation with his church in this matter, barring the timely demise of one of his previous wives. He felt a degree of reassurance, after such prayers, which he was certain was not the result of wishful thinking about God's attitude towards such a union. He and Janice were meant to be, for whatever time he had left.

 

He had also prayed, many hours, for Julia and her child, and for his Flame to have courage in the trials he now felt to imminent. He thought of the discussions he and Cellie had about Julia's condition, and how Cellie believed it was massive suggestion that caused her aunt to have the internal bleeding and wretched sleep habits that resembled a vampire's curse. Pavlos wished he could participate, with Cellie, in a foray to the depths of Julia's emotional state, but they all knew it would be fatal to him, and Pavlos didn't want to die, while he could, at least, still offer counsel to these afflicted people.

 

He did not want to die before he could reconcile with all his children, especially Theodore. He did not want to die before he and Janice could experience some of the positive aspects of marriage. After all, he wouldn't have tried it so often if he didn't feel there was some reward in that institution, and he had, in fact, known many. It was just that his pride in his gift had gotten in the way. For the first time since he had received the gift, he believed that it would only enhance this final union. Pavlos had reason to think that, at long last in his checkered marital history, his empathism had helped his new mate.

 

He recalled how Janice had behaved, the first time he'd met her, at her daughter's wedding reception. She was newly separated from Walter for the last time, and, after a gallant effort at asserting her new independence, was on the verge of relapsing into the pill addiction Cellie had confided about to him. Pavlos had insinuated himself into Janice's emotional state gently. He'd made her laugh, and walked around the early spring garden at Collinwood with her, diverting her from a similar stroll with Roger.

 

Of course Pavlos had nothing personal in mind, either against Roger, or for Janice, when he led his friend's mother to the lookout point he'd heard was called Widow's Hill. He shuddered at the omens implicit in such a name, but the view was breath-taking. And, as he glimpsed Janice's youthful, barely-lined face gazing out to sea, he suddenly decided that she was nearly as breath-taking. But he found himself tongue-tied, and shy as when he was a boy, meeting his first bride. Plus, as he'd originally intended only to put Janice at ease in her current distress, Pavlos didn't want to take advantage of her vulnerabilities. He felt Cellie would never forgive him for that.

 

It would be months before Pavlos had another opportunity to express this new feeling to Janice. Still, in spite of his temptations along the way during that period, her giddy flirtation with her boss in Boston, and the appalling circumstances under which they were to meet again, they had connected within a short time. Pavlos knew his gift performed almost the same function, keeping Janice's mind clear, as Cellie's did for Willie. Pavlos prayed that the healing process would continue in his lover, even after he was gone, and not a plunge into some other form of addiction.

 

Janice came straight from her office, after work, to pick him up. Pavlos loved the way she looked in her navy-blue suit, with her freshly-rinsed blonde hair tumbling out of its proper, businesslike bun, into delicate tendrils on her shoulders. She looked at least ten years younger to Pavlos, thirty-six instead of forty-six. Janice and Pavlos locked in one of their "this may be the last" embraces. After he thoroughly destroyed Janice's coiffure, Pavlos whispered, "So, how has Roger been treating you since he heard the news?"

 

Janice pulled away from her fiancé, and patted down her hair. "Well, Elizabeth must have him on elephant tranquilizers, that's all I can think of. He's been terribly subdued, even when we're forced to meet alone. I really feel so sorry for him."

 

"He has had a rough time with the women in his life, has Roger," Pavlos said, sympathetically. "He is like me, in a way. He never expected to feel this way for another lady. I am only sorry I cannot--what do they call it?-- 'clone' you so that he might be happy, also. I don't like to think of my joy bringing sorrow to another."

 

"That's what I love about you, Constantinos," Janice replied. "I can't imagine this much magnanimity coming from Roger himself, or even from Walter, at least not until lately."

 

"Roger is hurt. I can afford to be generous with my sympathy, as well as my empathy. Ah, well. Once you are installed as partner in this place, you won't have to see his sorrowful looks. Just don't wave your satisfaction in his face. You were in his position, once, when someone you loved left you for another."

 

Janice sighed, and nestled in his arms. "I wish there was a hopeful outlook for my daughter and son-in-law. Things are just going from bad to worse, there. I went over to the cottage this morning, before work, to pick up some coffeecake Cellie promised me, and I found Willie sleeping on the sofa downstairs. He was so embarrassed. I didn't ask, but he blurted out that they were fighting constantly now. I don't understand, Constantinos. He adores her, and she did love him. Is it over? Is it dead? You know more about these things than I do. You've said, over and over, that if they break up, Sarah Teresa will fall under some influence. What influence? Is it the same one that's making Julia sick? I remember you saying something of the kind when Maggie was having so many problems, before Walter mercifully married her, and whisked her to safety."

 

"If Sarah Teresa should come under this influence, Janice, then there will be NO safety. Willie and Cellie must reconcile. They will always have some differences, partly because of the age and educational disparities, but those were minor before, and can be made so again, if they can get past this crisis. Moreover, if they don't, things will be bleak for Julia's unborn child. Cellie will need all her husband's support to help her aunt, and to keep her uncle.... well, from making promises he shouldn't be expected to keep." Pavlos released Janice.

 

"I will make a point of talking to Willie. He tells me things he can tell no other man, or woman. I have made a mistake, Janice. Like so many other people, I have laid all the responsibility for repairing the relationship on the woman's shoulders. Willie must be made to take up his share."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

A few days later, Cellie had left her daughter with Janice, who came over to sit with Julia while Barnabas took a much-needed rest. Janice had protested, "Cellie, you know you're not supposed to practice on that motorcycle without someone to watch you!"

 

"Oh, Mom," Cellie had replied with disgust. "That's just Will's paranoia coming through. Buzz said I'm almost ready to get a permit, even without having had formal lessons."

 

"Oh, that Buzz.... He's the one who took that big fall off his bike a few years ago. Cellie! I thought you had more sense! At least, call someone who'd be willing to ride along with you."

 

"Okay, okay," her daughter said, shrugging. "God, I just have to get out of here!" She started to cry.

 

"Cellie," Janice said. "What's the matter with you, and Willie? It's not Lester, is it?"

 

"NO!" Cellie exploded. "I haven't seen him in a couple of weeks. I don't think I'm interested in him, anymore, anyway. I tried with Will, I really did! But we can't---He can't---" She clapped her hands over her mouth, and turned dark red. "I'm sorry, Mom. I'm just a bundle of nerves. So's Will. That's all it is.... "

 

Janice held her daughter, and whispered, "Look, Honey, if Willie's having some--some problems, just make him go to a doctor. It's nothing to be ashamed of."

 

"A doctor won't help," the girl protested. "It's way more than any doctor can handle, even Aunt Jule, when she was healthy. I don't know what to do. I tried to be ready for what was coming.... But I can't, without him. I need him so bad. I need.... Never mind. Mom, just let me go riding. I'll try calling Louise, okay? Maybe she has some time."

 

As it happened, Louise, when she heard the urgent, almost desperate note in her friend's voice, agreed to leave her sons at her mother's place, and come out to Cellie's and Buzz's favorite practice route. "But only for an hour or so, okay, Cellie?" she'd said. "I have to get home to heat up some dinner to take to Buzz at the Cycle shop, before I go in for my shift later."

 

Cellie strapped on her helmet, now brightly decorated with stickers Sarah Teresa had helped select. "This is for Mommy's 'Vroom-Vroom'," Cellie had explained, as the precocious infant pointed to this and that rainbow-hued stamp. "Bvooom! Bvooom!" The baby yelled, in reply.

 

Janice held up her grand-daughter now, to watch Cellie set off, cautiously, down Widow's Hill Road, from which she would pick her way through back trails to her destination, a road that ran alongside Eagle Hill Cemetery. "Meh-Meh! Bvoooom!" Sarah Teresa squealed, her arms and legs waving.

 

Meanwhile, across town, Louise Hackett jumped on her motorcycle,

 

and rode it a short distance down her parents' street. Suddenly, a sleek red car driven by a blonde woman cut Louise off, and tumbled her into some nearby rosebushes. When she managed to get up, Louise yelped in pain. She yanked off her boot, and examined her ankle. Just a twist, thank God! She hobbled to her cycle, with the intention of leading it back to her parent's house, and getting her mother to drive her to the rendezvous, so that she could tell Cellie that she wouldn't be able to join her after all, and that they would have to make it another day.

 

Once she got home, though, she saw that it was out of the question to ask her mother to take her out toward Chartville. Little Buzz had suddenly developed a fever, and began to vomit. Mrs. Baracini ended up taking her injured daughter, sick grandson, and healthy but impatient older grandson, to the emergency room, after Louise had called Cellie's mother to have Janice relay the message that she wouldn't be able to meet her friend. Hopefully, either Janice could meet Cellie, or send someone, to tell the girl it would be better to return home, to wait until Louise and Buzz, Jr. had recovered.

 

Back at Collinwood, Janice, who had both the baby and Julia to watch, discovered that Mrs. Johnson had an errand to run near Chartville, and was willing to overcome her anxiety about driving near Eagle Hill Cemetery, in order to deliver the brief message to Cellie. The housekeeper boarded her sturdy Chevrolet, and soon drove out of sight.

 

Within fifteen minutes, Mrs. Johnson, who was by no means a fast driver, but liked to get things done with dispatch, was slowing her car near the cemetery, searching for the dirt road. She remembered, that was where corteges had parked for various funerals. In the past couple of years, the bushes and smaller trees had encroached, obscuring the entrance to the simple track. Then, she noticed a series

 

of red and blue reflections blinking in the shadiest spot. Police car lights, she thought, her heart starting to pound. Perhaps Cellie had an accident.

 

In a moment, Mrs. Johnson found the road, and turned onto it. She saw Cellie's absurdly-decorated motorcycle lying along the side of the road, her equally garish helmet balanced on one of the upturned handles. The Sheriff's car, its lights flashing, was parked beside it. Mrs. Johnson was about to get out of her car to check out the situation, when she saw Cellie's and Lester's heads close together, in the back seat of the Sheriff's car. As she peered more closely, she saw something that made her face burn with embarrassment, and prompted her to turn around, rather abruptly and noisily, and return to Collinwood.

 

It was clear that nobody would have to worry about Cellie and her wretched motorcycle, Mrs. Johnson thought angrily. "Poor Willie!" she sighed.

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

 

Willie swept small twigs and the fragments of dried leaves, winter's remaining debris, from the long cement walk between Collinwood and the Old House. He'd really wanted to spend the afternoon with his daughter, but he was still upset by the argument he had with his wife this morning. He may have been angry at Cecily, but he did agree with her usual dictum that physical labor was the easiest way for him to calm down, short of her own ministrations. He wanted to mellow out as soon as possible, so as not to upset his sensitive little girl again.

 

How much he loved that baby! And what a lousy mother Cecily was turning out to be, spending so much of the time she wasn't looking after Julia, with her books and her Karate and her damnable obsession with her motorcycle! Willie was jealous of the cycle itself. Cecily actually talked to it, and patted it, calling it "Peter" like that crazy Siobhan once did, as though it was a faithful horse. Next thing, she'd be feeding sugar lumps to it, he grumped to himself. He was irked when Janice told him Cecily had left the baby, and Julia, to go for a little spin, even dragging poor Louise from her own family duties, and, later, inconveniencing Mrs. Johnson, when Louise cancelled out.

 

He shouldn't have married Cecily, he realized now. He should have been man enough to let her alone in the first place. Then he wouldn't have these problems! He wouldn't have Sarah Teresa, either, but maybe another, more mature woman might have come along, and there would have been other children, sooner or later....

 

Probably later, or, more likely, never. Willie tried to get a grip on these thoughts, sweeping harder when they were meanest and darkest. He did love Cecily, so much it was making him sick. That's what the problem was. Only last night, he tried so hard to make things up with her. She never got mad at him, or even lost patience with him, until he started in again, this morning, badgering her about Lester and David and Barnabas, and anyone else who'd glanced at her twice. He even mentioned the times he'd seen her hug Pavlos and the Professor. "Geeeez.... Oh, Will, shut up already, damn it. I'm so tired! I'm so tired!" she'd wept.

 

"But you slept like a log, after I---after we---I guess that doesn't bother you much, anymore, if you can sleep!"

 

"I just have one crappy dream after another! Indians turning into Vietnamese children turning into Maggie's baby trying to escape the doctor, and those green lights.... I guess my father's blood must have messed us up, too...."

 

"Things haven't been the same for any of us, Cecily, since then."

 

"Thank God Anissa hasn't been around, lately---"

 

Willie blew up. "THAT'S IT! Blame her for ALL our own problems!

 

It's US, Cecily, us! We don't belong together! I'm too old! You're too young, and you got an itch! I can't scratch it for you anymore.... No good. It's no good. First Barnabas didn't really need me anymore, but He was stuck with me. And now, it's the same with you! It's over! If it wasn't for my Teresa...."

 

"YOUR Teresa! SARAH Teresa is one-half mine, and don't you EVER forget it! Even Nicholas wouldn't forget that--- Oh, my God." She suddenly grew very still. Willie could hear their baby crying upstairs. Cellie whispered, "I said his name, like I was beseeching him, or something. Oh, my God. Forgive me, God...." She sobbed. "If only I didn't feel so worn out.... Sorry...."

 

He'd reached for her, but she went upstairs, and, in a few minutes, brought Sarah Teresa down, with her supply bag. The baby had stopped crying, and suffered it quietly when her mother put her, a little roughly, into her stroller. Willie crouched down, and stroked his daughter's face. She flashed her four-toothed grin, and offered him her Teddy bear. He whispered, "Teresa. Don't worry about Mommy. She's not feeling too good today, but she'll get better. You have to watch out for her, now." He kissed the baby, then rose, and pecked his wife on the cheek. "You be careful with my child," he warned.

 

"I'm always careful with my child," she sniffed.

 

As he watched Cellie wheel Sarah Teresa down the walk from Abijah's Cottage, Willie could hear his daughter gurgle happily, "Jeh-Jeh! Jeh-Jeh!"

 

If only he could hear that laugh, now. If only his Cecily would smile at him, the way she used to, so sweet and pitying, like an angel in a church window. She had tried to, last night, but the smile died in her eyes.

 

Willie swept harder and harder. He thought, at least Mrs. Stoddard and Barnabas would appreciate what he'd done today. And Carolyn wouldn't go around complaining about how she kept getting twigs and old rock salt, left over from the winter, stuck in her fancy shoes. Someone would care about what he'd done, maybe even THANK him for once!

 

There was a point on the walk, where one could look in the distance, away from the houses and the ocean, towards the old Henderson Place. Cecily had told him that it was built by descendants of Nathaniel Collins's pathetic little Indian rape victim. Willie had been disgusted by the story. It reminded him of his father and poor Fran, and that miserable Saint Dymphna with her Dad. Still, even though Tekwitha herself had come to a bad end, her daughter and descendants did well for themselves. The simple mansion, Willie was told, had just fourteen rooms less than Collinwood.

 

Twenty-six rooms seemed like a manageable number. The house didn't appear to be so complex in construction that one could really lose oneself in a maze of abandoned corridors, as one still could at Collinwood. But there had only been one occupant for so long, that some of the place must have fallen into disrepair. There was surely a ton of dust and cobwebs by now, Willie thought, remembering the condition of the Old House when Barnabas first brought him to live there.

 

Then, he heard the roar of an engine, coming from that direction. He saw a sportscar pull into the drive, right near the front door of the Henderson Place. A blonde woman got out, and looked up the hill, directly at him.  Anissa! Willie thought, dismayed. He hoped she wouldn't come up to bother him. This was just the sort of thing Cecily would chew him out for.

 

His hopes were dashed when he observed Anissa, trudging up the knoll in her sturdy boots, as agile as a mountain goat. "Willie! I didn't realize we were neighbors!"

 

"We're not," he replied evasively. "I'm just here, doing some chores for the Collinses."

 

"I don't think so," she said, pertly. "You see, I just stopped by the Antique Shoppe, to see if you had any more of those pretty old frames, and I noticed the 'Closed For Improvements Until April' sign in the window. The back of the store, where you were living, had a forlorn look."

 

"Okay, so we're living here. I don't consider us neighbors, though, even if you are living in that warehouse down there."

 

"It's not a warehouse. It's been kept up very nicely. Perhaps I can show you sometime--- with your wife, of course."

 

"Yeah, SURE, you want Cecily around." Willie turned from Anissa, and resumed sweeping. "How could you afford a huge place like that, anyway? I'll bet you just broke in and camped out. I heard about your rich old boyfriend. You haven't seen him for a while. I can't believe he's still sending you dough, since you've been seeing Lester. Even though I heard that's over. Sorry."

 

"I'm not, especially, though I can tell you are," she replied, pertly. "Lasha didn't mind, all that much. We keep in closer touch than you'll ever know. Anyway, I'm not paying the whole tab, which is quite reasonable, thank you very much. I have a housemate, a male friend who pays half."

 

"Who is he? What does he do? Why hasn't he come up to the Big House? Everybody new in the neighborhood ends up there sooner or later."

 

"Oh, I daresay you'll be seeing him soon." Anissa reached out, and rubbed Willie's arm. Her hand was very warm, and she massaged his muscles, which had gotten sore from his thorough sweeping motion. He could have stood there all day.

 

When she was finished, he joked, "Maybe you should rub the other arm. And my legs, and my back. And my neck."

 

"Everything could probably use a little rubdown, eh?" Her dark brown eyes sparkled.

 

Willie turned maroon. "That's--that's not what I meant. I don't mess around on the side from my wife. I meant, you give good massages. I had a swell massage in Japan, once. The girl who gave it was little, but boy, was she tough! She mauled me around, and walked on my back. It felt awful at first, but later, I felt like a million bucks. I'll have to get my Cecily to take lessons in that, instead of Karate!" He grinned, his embarrassment, and his irritation at his wife, easing.

 

"You're a better man than she deserves, Willie," Anissa sighed.

 

"What the Hell is that supposed to mean?" Willie demanded. "I always hear how she's too good for me! And it's true," he concluded sadly.

 

"Never mind. Forget I said that. I guess I'm just doing what I told you about, once, coveting something I don't have. Lasha is a sweetie, but he can get tiresome, which is why I'm here. A little vacation, you could call it."

 

"If he was really a good guy, he'd come and get you, and never let you go. He'd probably knock the block off that guy you're staying with, whether you two were doing something or not. I sure would, if it was MY lady."

 

"Good to hear about such old-fashioned values in this day and age.

 

I have to go. Be seeing you, Willie." Anissa trotted back down the hill.

 

Willie finished sweeping the walk, and headed toward the Great House. He was eager to see his daughter, and he wanted to check in on Julia. His personal anguish at her plight was the closest point of total agreement between himself and his wife these days. He remembered, vaguely, making some remark to Barnabas, about the happiness his employer would experience when he felt his child moving inside of Julia. That was a long time ago, before Jack Knowlton killed his mother and tried to kill both Barnabas and Cecily.

 

How happy they'd all been, just to survive those days, and what joy there was, when it turned out that Barnabas and Julia had "scooped" the fertility clinic after all. Now, all the gold had turned to rust. Barnabas actually wept whenever he felt his doomed offspring assert itself inside Julia's womb. He couldn't face the threat of Julia's ending up a vampire, and yet he couldn't stand the thought of putting an end to her dangerous pregnancy.

 

If only Willie could muster up the enthusiasm to "replenish" his wife's gift, so she could aid her stricken aunt. That seemed to be Cecily's mission (aside from protecting her own child), to help the children of others, now that she could have no more herself. She saved Margene's boy, even before Sarah Teresa was born. She had saved Maggie's unborn baby.

 

He went into the house to see his baby, and to prepare himself for his wife's return. He wished he could get Cecily one of those flimsy kimonoes, like the one his Japanese masseuse had worn. Oh, well, the turquoise gown would be enough. Surely, tonight, things would be better---Willie almost collided with Mrs. Johnson, who appeared very upset about something. When she saw him, she actually ran toward the kitchen passage. "What's the matter, Mrs. J.?" he pleaded, frightened. "Did Julia take a turn for the worse? Is it my little girl? Or did Cecily---" he broke off, with a sob "--Did Cecily have an accident?" Oh, how he regretted those angry words and thoughts---

 

Mrs. Johnson clapped her hand over her mouth, as though she was going to throw up. Her face burned red, again.

 

"Tell me, Mrs. Johnson. Something happened to Cecily! I'm gonna find out sooner or later, it might as well be sooner!"

 

"Yes," she finally said, almost in a whisper. "It may as well be sooner.... I hate to be the one to break this to you, Willie. I certainly wouldn't, if I hadn't seen the evidence with my own eyes.... Even then, I would spare you, but the thought--- the thought of that brazen--- I'm nearly as fond of you as I am of my daughter, and God knows, you sure turned out better than my own son.... I know I wouldn't even want HIM to be in the dark about something like this---"

 

"Out with it, then! What was Cecily up to!"

 

"Willie, calm down, or I won't--"

 

Willie grabbed the housekeeper roughly by the shoulders. "TELL ME!"

 

"When I went out to find her, to tell her to bring her motorcycle home, I drove down the lane by the cemetery, and I saw her, in the back seat of the Sheriff's car, with Lester Arliss.... I can't bring myself to tell you any more," she wept.

 

Willie released her, and ran out the front doors. "Willie, I'm sure they're not there, anymore!" Mrs. Johnson called after him. "I made a lot of noise, driving away, I'm sure they were scared off!"

 

David Collins drove up in his beige "Hupmobile" just as Willie was getting into his station wagon. Mrs. Johnson yelled, "Stop him!" David jumped from his car, and jumped on Willie, who fought like an animal. David had the advantage of knowing some slightly illegal tackling manuevers, and was soon sitting on Willie's back. "Now, someone tell me what this is all about!" he shouted.

 

"Gonna kill that alley-cat tramp, no-good whore," Willie mumbled beneath David. "Mrs. Johnson saw her and Lester in the Sheriff's car--"

 

"She just couldn't resist telling you, could she?" David sneered. "I'll bet she was so far away from them, she didn't get a clear view of anything."

 

"I'm afraid I got a very good look, David," Mrs. Johnson said, indignantly. "I thought Willie had a right to know. Why should any husband put up with such goings-on, I'd like to know? And think of your God-daughter, David."

 

"You know how Willie gets!" David shouted.

 

"And well he should," the housekeeper harrumphed.

 

"Okay, okay," David said. "But we can't have Willie carrying on like this, and risk getting anyone else in the house upset. Not until Cellie shows up, and has a chance to speak for herself. Keep this under your bonnet, Mrs. J., that is, if the bee in it isn't stinging too hard! I'm taking Willie to see Pavlos, to talk some sense into him."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Cellie waited a few minutes for Louise to show up. She walked up toward the main road, along the edge of the woods, looking for her, and examining the white anemones that were peeking up from under dead leaves. She didn't even hear a car drive by. Concluding that her friend had been held up by family concerns, Cellie saw no reason not to start riding back and forth on the dirt track for a little while.

 

She felt good, bumping along the ruts, hanging on tightly to the handlebars, clinging to the saddle, leaning forward to feel the welcome rush of cold air on her face. This rough solitary activity gave her more relief than climbing the jungle gym at the State Park, or practicing martial arts manuevers with Ralph Baracini. Something about the jolting even relieved the irritation caused by the green lights she saw in her mind. It was all the relief she expected to get, since she had come to believe she'd reached the end of the line with her husband.

 

She was tired of reassuring Willie that she loved and wanted only him. She was tired of his treating her like the "Negligent Mother of the Year" she'd once joked about being. She adored her child, and spent a lot more time with her, since they'd come to the cottage. But, she thought, her husband, of all people, should have realized that the onus of responsibility for facing the threat before them was on her shoulders, more than ever. Pavlos could no longer help her in the way she needed most. Barnabas was becoming more lost in his despondency over Julia's condition. The Professor made it clear she could contact him any hour of the day or night, even if he was working, but it was a thirty-mile drive from Orono. Even her father, who was no maven of the occult, but had finally developed a respectful attitude toward her beliefs, wasn't available to her. He had to stay in Boston, to protect Maggie.

 

Sometimes, Cellie questioned if Nicholas was ever really going to return, what with the curse of Ock-Wen-Uck hanging over his head. Why did he require so much time to figure out how to banish Sarah Collins's spirit from the baby's body? Perhaps, she thought, Desiree was the real problem. She had done so much harm already. Cellie thought back to baby Marcus C.'s convulsions. Such an act against a helpless infant sounded more and more like something Desiree would do. At Nicholas's direction, of course, but the means of execution was in her unique style.

 

Anissa had to be Desiree. Cellie had already figured out that Anissa may have started her campaign against the Loomises by the simple act of keeping the original receipt with Willie's writing. Still, there was the chance he might have handed her the carbon instead, so she had to have gotten her hands on something else, something innocuous, commonplace, taken for granted. Cellie had considered the Mizpah pendant, but she and Willie had removed them every time they'd attempted to make love since they were in Boston, and he still had his problem. Okay, perhaps Anissa had not only handled Willie's pendant, but something else he had on him every day.

 

Cellie wracked her brain. The answer was so simple, and stupid, she would never discover it, except by accident. Cellie recalled when the folksinger Latilda's rendition of "The Master Song" gave her the tiny hint that had prompted the revelations about Willie's relationship with Barnabas. Something about a golden string, which made her think of the ring....

 

The RING! The wedding ring! Willie's wedding ring! Anissa must have touched--- CRUNCH! Cellie's bike hit a loose pile of large rocks that had somehow accumulated in the track. She had been venturing further and further into the woods, and so, had run into them. When she tried to slow the motorcycle, she was pitched off, right onto the track. As Buzz had instructed her, she made herself shield her helmetted head and neck with her arms. "You can break an arm, you can break your jaw, or your cute little nose, Roja," he'd admonished. "Those can be fixed. But a broken neck is forever."

 

Fortunately, she fell flat, halfway into the new grass. Her legs, however, hit the rocks scattered in the track. She didn't think she'd broken anything, but she was sure to be bruised pretty badly. She began to wish she'd gone home when Louise didn't show up. She began to wish it even more, when she glimpsed a police car making its way slowly down the rutted lane. She began to wish it with all her heart and soul, when the vehicle came into full sight, and she realized this was no ordinary squad car.

 

Lester Arliss emerged from the Sheriff's car, and walked right up to her. "Oh, my God, Cellie," he exclaimed. "What happened here? Are you injured?"

 

"No, Les," she replied, sitting, painfully, near where she'd yanked herself out of the deeply-depressed track. "I had a little spill. Hurts like the dickens, but I'm okay. Honest. You can leave, now. I was just about to head home, anyway."

 

"In your condition? Maybe you didn't break anything, but I doubt you'll be able to sit on that Harley. I couldn't let you go, just like that, anyway," he said in a stern voice.

 

"Why not? I learned my lesson. I'll never ride alone again, till I have my license--- Oh!" she cried in dismay. "I guess I'm going to get a citation for riding this baby without a license."

 

"And disturbing the peace."

 

"Whose peace? The folks in the graveyard?" Cellie smiled a little.

 

Lester gazed at her face, then made himself look away. "I got a complaint, a few minutes ago, from a lady who lives in the new subdivision up the road, claiming she saw a girl fitting your description riding her motorcycle through an isolated section of her property. So while you managed to avoid riding on the public streets, you were trespassing. I just happened to be nearby, so I figured it would be expedient to handle it myself."

 

"Especially since you suspected it was me, anyway," Cellie sighed.

 

"Okay, write out the tickets, and give me a lift home. Will's going to be furious, but I'll survive his wrath."

 

"I should probably take you to the emergency room first, just in case you have internal injuries."

 

"I'm fine! Look!" She stood up, slowly, but easily.

 

"Alright, then. Come sit in the car while I write out the tickets." Lester opened the back door, and motioned to Cellie to drape herself across the wide back seat. He sat in the front, scribbling out the tickets on a clipboard he carried for the purpose. "I won't impound your motorcycle, have no fear. We'll need a pick-up truck to bring that heap back to your place. Because you're a friend, and you've

 

been so co-operative, I'll pay for that out of my own pocket. Strictly off the record, of course."

 

"I'll officially deny it to anyone who asks," Cellie giggled.

 

Lester looked back at her. "You're so pretty when you smile like that, Cellie. You know that?"

 

Cellie immediately composed her features into a grave expression.

 

"I won't smile like that again, unless it shaves some bucks off my fine."

 

Lester smiled, now. "Hmmm.... Offering to bribe the Sheriff.... That's another citation...." He flung the clipboard aside, and got out of the car, to get into the back seat with Cellie.

 

She was reluctant to move over for him. "Where's my tickets?" she laughed uneasily.

 

He gently slid her legs off the seat, sat right up against her, and put his arm around her shoulders. "Cellie...." Lester began. "I didn't really think I'd ever have this opportunity, to be alone with you, to talk.... You have to know. I stopped seeing Anissa because of the way I feel about you."

 

"You're better off not seeing her, Les. She's bad news in more ways than one. But that mustn't have anything to do with me. I'm married, and that's just the way it's going to stay."

 

"Cellie, are you really happy? You don't sound it. If you were very fond of Willie, anymore, that would be a major part of your argument against beginning something with me. Not just the fact that you're still married to him!"

 

"We have our spats, but we always make up...."

 

"Cellie, I don't want to be the co-respondent in a divorce. But there's something about you that tells me that a divorce isn't far off. Have you accomplished whatever it was you were so intent on, a couple of months ago, that you couldn't consider separating from your husband?"

 

"No---I sort of stalled out. But I'm committed---"

 

"Commit yourself to me, and I'll see to it that you can do whatever your heart desires. I love you, Cellie. I can give you and Sarah Teresa a good life, as happy, secure and respectable, as I can make it. I don't even mind that we won't have children of our own. Maybe, if you really want more, we can adopt, someday." Lester took Cellie's hand, and kissed it. He rubbed it against his cheek. He said, in a voice so low, he sounded as though he was talking to himself, "I never felt like this in my life, not with the local girls, not with my girlfriend in college.... "

 

"Oh, Lester," Cellie sighed, "You come from a nice family, you have a degree, and a good future ahead of you, as long as you don't consider the Sheriff's office a final stop on your career track. You must have met other interesting women along the way, including, for example, Anissa. I mean, she's not right for anybody, but she's certainly got a more fascinating resume than I do. What's so special about me? I'm not even twenty, and it'll be a while before I can get into the college groove, and I never really had a chance to learn much about men, before I met Will.... Not that being with him hasn't been a kind of education---"

 

"Things just haven't been the same for me, since you pranced into the police station, and browbeat Fred Beardsley," Lester replied. "I used to notice you, working at the Superette, but I would never have bothered an underage girl, like Willie apparently did."

 

"We didn't get together because he bothered me!" Cellie answered, indignantly. "I don't think I'd have wanted to even say 'hello' to him, but it turned out, he worked for Barnabas. It was a twist of fate that we met, you might say. He never pressured me. I just---I just felt sorry for him, at first. He appreciated me, and I thought he understood me, and I thought I understood him. We fell in love,

just like anyone else."

 

"I'm sorry, then, I didn't make some such gesture, you know, showing up at your door to collect for the P.A.L., or the Old Sheriff's Home, in the rain, or snow, preferably. Then you would've felt sorry for me!" Lester tried to smile. "Sorry, Cellie. That was mean. I admit, I kind of put you out of my mind, when you weren't working at the Superette anymore. I'm not exactly an antiques buff, and I believed I was just having idle fantasies, anyway. Then, we arrested your husband, and, out of the blue, you came in and made that stand for him. I was impressed, in a friendly way. But, the more contact I had with you, even when you were so hurt, in the hospital.... God, how could anyone do that to you! I relived your visit to Fred's office. I'd never thought of a pregnant woman as being pretty, let alone sexy. And you were so loyal.... I wished someone would feel like that about me."

 

"Well, this little visit speaks volumes about my capacity for loyalty," Cellie commented sadly.

 

"No, Cellie, it doesn't. It could be, you were just being loyal to the wrong person. Or, maybe, if you break off from Willie now, you won't be quite as disloyal as if you forced yourself to stay when you really didn't want to."

 

"I don't know if I want to, but he's been the biggest part of my life for a year-and-a-half, and we're crazy about our baby. He always used to tell me I'm the greatest thing in his life, and he would support all my plans, and he'd stay with me forever, in spite of our not being able to have another child. I loved him for what he was, and I admired him for what he was able to overcome. Sometimes, in spite of everything, I still don't think anyone else could do for me, or to me, what he did. You're sweet, Lester, and I do like you a lot, but I'm not sure I can give Will up."

 

"I don't want to pressure you, Cellie, but I have this love for you, that's growing like a big vine. It'll choke me, if I can't do anything about it! I know you have some of the same feelings for me, or you would have tried to leave already. I want you, and I believe you want me. I haven't been around much, and I guess, compared to someone who's been all over the map like Willie, I'm not as experienced, but I can please you. You wouldn't be sorry, in the end. Please, Cellie...." Lester held her face in his hands, and kissed her firmly.

 

Cellie's mind was a kaleidoscope of oranges and reds, colors she hadn't seen in a long time. She had held on to Willie, and back from Lester, long enough. She was certainly tired of the frustrating, humiliating nights with her husband, and she had a great need that went beyond the desire for sex. She could read Lester as easily as she read her husband (at least, she had, before her recent troubles), and his words were winning her over.

 

She thought of her "blockage." Perhaps it didn't really matter who helped her regain her empathic abilities. It wouldn't even be as if she and Lester were starting a sleazy affair. She knew already that he was sincere about loving her, and wanting to marry her, even if he was radiating a kind of desperate frenzy at the moment, much like Willie once had, and Jack--- Still, at least, Lester had the ability to maintain his self-control, most of the time. Not like Willie, with his pathetic pulling and pawing, or Jack with his brutality.

 

Of course, Cellie would never feel as free to discuss certain matters with Lester, but he had so much to offer, and he might be made to understand about the empathism. Surely, someone as intelligent and competent as he appeared to be, could help her protect Sarah Teresa. Lester, like Willie, had a strong eagerness to placate her, to do what she wanted. She didn't know if that was a good quality or a bad quality in a man, but, at this point, she figured she might as well take advantage, and see where it led.

 

Cellie kissed the Sheriff back, her lips opening under his, her body, still aching from her fall, straining for a closer embrace. She took off her leather jacket, and allowed him to fondle her. His hands shook a little. That reminded her of Willie--- she forced herself not to think about him, anymore. When Lester had pulled her sweater up, and then, reached down to her jeans, she was so lost in the the sensation, she barely wondered what would happen if he suddenly got a call on his radio. His face disappeared from her view, beneath the bunched-up hem of her heavy sweater. She felt his lips, and his hands on her skin. Her own hands traveled.

 

Once or twice the girl giggled a little when he brushed his heavy family ring against her. It first, it felt icy cold, but in a few minutes, it stung her with intense heat. She tried to remember something she had been thinking about someone else's ring, but a greenish mist formed in her mind. She gazed, blankly, out the window, as she grew warmer and warmer. The surrounding trees and bushes were such pretty colors, she thought. A hint of green, and red and white and blue, flashing and blinking---

 

"Lester," Cellie whispered, "You left the light on, up top."

 

"That's okay," he muttered against her breast. "Nobody'll see, and we won't be here that long. Long enough, though." He ran his fingers up and down her scar.

 

"Does that bother you?" she asked.

 

"Only that something similar can't happen to Jack Knowlton."  Lester straightened up, and whispered in her ear. "Cellie, I'm ready...." He kissed her ear softly. "I know you are...."

 

Cellie's heart pounded. This was the last chance she would have to make up her mind.... She murmurred, "Lester...."

 

All at once, there was a noisy spray of pebbles pelting the Sheriff's car. Cellie and Lester both shot up, and saw the scandalized expression on Sarah Johnson's face as she turned her Chevrolet around in the dirt lane, and headed back toward the main road.

 

"Oh--oh, my God," Cellie cried, pulling her sweater and everything underneath it, back into place. "That's Mrs. Johnson from Collinwood! She's kind of a gossip, and she's really fond of Will. She'll be sure to tell him---"

 

"Maybe she won't," Lester said, calmly, stroking her hair. "If she does, so what? You'll get a separation, then a divorce."

 

"What dream-world are you living in, Lester?" Cellie gasped, horrified at his lack of concern. "He'll kill me, and, at least TRY to kill you! He's always been jealous of me, even--even when he had no reason. And now--" she began to cry "--he DOES!"

 

"I'll protect you, Cellie," Lester reassured her. "And I doubt that, even in his maddest moments, Willie would seriously consider killing any police officer, at least, not the way he's been the last couple of years."

 

"This is different. He never had anything of his own before, worth killing over! Even if he doesn't, he'll try to get my baby, and run away, and he--he just can't do that! Not right now! The baby would be in terrible danger, and not just from being with a hurt and angry father!"

 

"Don't you think I wouldn't protect your child, too? Willie won't be able to keep the baby, even if he goes about it the legal way. He has a criminal record, so there's no danger he'll get custody of Sarah Teresa."

 

"You're kidding," Cellie snapped. "He's buddy-buddy with my Dad now. When my Dad hears about this, he'll probably pull out all the stops to help Will, just to teach me a lesson. That is, if something far worse doesn't happen before that!"

 

"It'll pass, Cellie. We'll be together, with the baby. We'll be together, before that. We'll just go to motels for a while, and later, you can come to my place. I want you to, sweetheart, please?" Lester pleaded, as he tried to kiss her again.

 

She pushed him away, roughly. "What the Hell's wrong with you, Les? I have to go now, to intercept Mrs. J., to make peace with my husband if it isn't already too late--- Just give me my damn tickets, and pretend you don't see me jumping back on my Hog. If you do that much, I promise I'll think over our situation, but in a rational, practical manner. As I would suggest that you do. We've been irrational for an hour, and look where it got us!"

 

Lester tried to block her. "Cellie, I'll take you. I have to---it's the law--"

 

"Isn't there also some old law on the books against adultery, Les? Let me go now, and you can slap me with another ticket, after, but I have to go!" Cellie head-butted Lester, twisted her arms from his grasp, and kicked his shins in the struggle to emerge from the Sheriff's car. Finally, she got clear, and fell out. With a sob, she evaded his grasp, got up, and stumbled to her motorcycle. She jammed her helmet on, and managed to get the Harley started by the time Lester had buttoned his shirt, adjusted his pants, and jumped from his car. He stood in the road, choking on the flying dirt the speeding Harley left in its wake.

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR

 

Willie sat sullenly in the Hupmobile as David sped downtown. "I don't know why I have to see Pavlos," the older man complained. "What's he gonna do? Give me some stupid excuse about how Cecily needs to screw around so she can do her little head tricks?"

 

"Christ, Willie, you know how Pavlos feels about you and Cellie staying together. He's gotten ticked off at her before. He will again, if she really did, um, 'do it' with Lester. Which we don't know for sure."

 

"You went out parking with girls, David. You know damn well they weren't just having a friendly talk! You really think Cecily’s gonna march right in the door, and tell the truth about something like that? You're as stupid as I used to be! My Dad warned me about what would happen with a hot young thing like that. 'Whores and bitches,' he said. Just like Melinda. Just like--- just like my Mom...." Willie began to cry. "She kept telling me, right up to last night, I was the only one! SHE LIED! She's been putting out for Lester every time she was out of my sight! I KNOW IT!"

 

David almost ran over the curb in front of the Koffeehaus. He got out of the Buick, and opened the passenger door. When Willie hesitated to get out, David yanked on his arm, and led him, weeping as he was, through the front door, past the band that was setting up, past Dimitrios at the bar, and directly into Pavlos's office.

 

Pavlos sat at his desk, perusing the contents of a box labeled, "LOST AND FOUND." He was intently examining a delicately-embossed silver compact. He wore a slightly sickened expression, but looked up at the visitors with a forced smile, as David shoved Willie into a chair near the desk. "What seems to be the problem here?" Pavlos said, in the most cheerful voice he could muster.

 

"Sorry to bother you when you're so busy, Pavlos," David began.

 

"You know I was not busy, David. I was just wondering what to do about this rather expensive-looking little accessory I've discovered in my Lost-and-Found box. You know I always make an effort to see that these items are returned to their proper owners. Why anyone should have let go of this particular item, and not come back to find it, is a mystery to me!" He shrugged, and dropped the compact into his desk drawer. "Willie.... you are upset. It is about Cellie. I can tell, you know."

 

"She--she's--she's cheating on me! With Lester Arliss! Mrs. Johnson saw them, near Eagle Hill Cemetery. She had to tell me. What the Hell am I going to do, Pavlos?"

 

Pavlos came around the desk, and placed his hands on Willie's shoulders. "What do you want to do, Willie? Tell me!"

 

"Not with David here," Willie sobbed. David stepped outside the door, and closed it.

 

"What do you want to do, Willie?" Pavlos repeated.

 

"I WANT TO KILL THEM!" Willie shouted. "I want BLOOD, and PAIN, and I think I want to get HIM first, with HER watching, before I do the SAME thing to HER! THAT'S what I want! I want them to SUFFER...."

 

"You are suffering, I know," Pavlos said soothingly.

 

"You DON'T know! You cheated on your wives. You must've sensed how they felt when they found out!"

 

"I hurt them dreadfully. I didn't enjoy hurting them, so I tried to stop, but by then, it was too late."

 

"Did they ever cheat on YOU?"

 

"Not as far as I ever knew, Willie. I doubt it."

 

"Then you DON'T really know what it's like! Cecily said she loved only ME, from the first day! She was MY GIRL, and I was HER MAN. I told her she wasn't dirty when we were together before we got married. Now we're married, and she's DIRTY! Dirty as Melinda! And even my Mom.... Good thing Cecily can't have more kids! I have to get my daughter away from that BITCH!"

 

"Willie, Willie. Cellie isn't dirty, and she is a good mother. The baby would miss her. You must calm down. I can help you, but only a little, you know...." Pavlos's face had turned red, and he clutched at his chest.

 

Willie looked afraid. "You're gonna die, and it's gonna be my fault," he mourned. "If you're dead, I won't have anyone.... Nobody really cares about me, but you and my little girl, and she's just a baby. I'm sorry, Pavlos, I'll try to be good. Don't get sick," he pleaded.

 

Pavlos took a deep breath, and his face resumed its normal color. "Stop feeling sorry for yourself, Willie," he admonished. "Have you noticed that, in all the time you've been complaining to me, I haven't spoken a word of in denial of your allegations, or in defense of your wife's activities?"

 

"You believe she's screwing around, too? But you said she isn't dirty!"

 

"I have had my own suspicions confirmed, Willie. Suspicions of her intent, but I have good reason to believe she has not acted on them."

 

"How could you know that?"

 

"This compact," Pavlos said, opening his desk drawer again. "It's no ordinary cosmetic container. The mirror within acted as a 'hidden camera' on what should have been a very private interlude. Now--" Pavlos opened the compact--- "It only shows me my face."

 

"So, you're saying, Cecily was with Lester, but they didn't---she didn't--"

 

"Mrs. Johnson interrupted them at a crucial moment. it seems."

 

"Oh." Willie's head drooped onto his chest. "That doesn't make me feel any better, then. They'll just end up sneaking off, maybe to the Bide-A-Wee, or further away. Why shouldn't Cecily want Lester more than me, anyway? He's kind of good-looking, he's got a good job, and he likes the baby. He can probably make her happy, in other ways, more than me.... If I don't get him FIRST!"

 

"Willie, you must stop talking about 'getting' either of them," Pavlos warned. "You know what lies ahead for you. Too much depends on Cellie, and you won't be able to help protect those that need it, from a prison cell. Lester wouldn't make her happy, in any case, sex or no sex. He could not share the sort of bond you have with your wife, could not discuss the matters essential to the way of life she must follow.

 

"What's more," the Greek continued, "he would not hold her interest for long, as a man. I have drawn him out, talking with him when he's come in here alone, and learned much from what little he's told me. He has spent his life walling himself off from needing a woman, the way you need Cellie, the way she requires you to need her. Perhaps it is a Patterson family trait. I understand his late uncle never even looked at another woman, from the time his wife died, until his own death, over twenty-five years later. Lester's own mother never re-married after her husband left her, when Lester was a boy, though the husband did.

 

“Lester wants Cellie, and I've no doubt he feels love for her, but his concept of love, even in the married state, is rather shallow and conventional, again, as a kind of shield. He cannot do anything for her empathism, of that I'm convinced. His heart can never open up enough.

There may even be something about him that renders her gift toxic.

 

“Willie, if what Barnabas and Professor Stokes have said about a spell is true, it's possible Lester is being incited to pursue Cellie in order to block her abilities, and make you lose control. YOU MUST RESIST! As for your current impediment, it's likely part of the same spell, which has acted on your natural fears and anxieties about your perceived inadequacies. Cellie just told you she loved you yesterday, did she not?"

 

"Last night, when I couldn't--- I couldn't do anything...." Willie replied sadly. "But I was still sore about it today, and I ragged her about every guy in town! She just wanted to get away from me. I guess it's my fault."

 

Pavlos shook his head emphatically. "No, she is guilty, too, but you and she have to work together, not to push each other away any farther than you both have. You and she had a narrow escape today, Willie. You both must forgive, and then perhaps, that which you think is lost, will return to you."

 

Willie sighed. "I guess you're right. I almost got hit on myself, today. If I'd heard from Mrs. Johnson just before that, I might've taken the girl up on it, just to get even."

 

"Who propositioned you?"

 

"Anissa Sheridan. She used to go with Lester, but he bugged her too much, talking about Cecily. She didn't really come on to me, in so many words, but I got around a lot, in my younger days. I know what she meant."

 

"Anissa.... Hmmm. Willie, whatever you decide to do, try to avoid any contact with her.  I speak based on experience.  She is not the friend we thought she was.”

 

"She lives right next door to Collinwood now. It's gonna be hard to keep her away, if she sees me working around the place."

 

"Still, even if it means breaking and running like a scared puppy when she shows up, just do it. Avoid her, as I'm sure you'll want to avoid Lester Arliss."

 

"I thought he was my friend. Pavlos, does any guy with a pretty wife really have friends he can trust?"

 

"Of course he does, Willie. You can trust myself, and David, and Barnabas, and Buzz, and many others."

 

"That's 'cause you all have someone else to keep you busy. Lester doesn't. I just hope I don't run into him at all, for a while, anyway." Willie got up. "I guess I better get home, now, and hash it out with my wife. I promise, I won't hit her or anything like that. Maybe I'll even buy her flowers, you know, to make the first move."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

 

Nicholas Blair sat before the large mirror with the fancifully-carved Baroque frame, which hung on the wall, across from his similarly-styled bed in the Henderson place. He studied the uncharacteristically glum expression reflected back at him.

 

It had been a perfect set-up, from first to last! he groused. Willie, stinging from his latest bout of impotence, driving his wife to go off on her own, to the isolated spot Nicholas and Desiree had prepared so carefully. Desiree, causing Louise Hackett to have her little accident, and ensuring her failure to warn Cellie, by arranging for Buzz, Jr. to have a bout of gastritis. (Since she'd been posing as a doctor, Desiree had become extremely precise about the nature of the ills she inflicted on her favorite targets, the offspring of her enemies. Nicholas had warned her against doing lasting harm to any but their main adversaries.)

 

Desiree had completed the puzzle, by calling Lester Arliss, and pretending to be an offended property owner who had witnessed Cellie Loomis cruising across her yard. Nicholas monitored the resulting rendezvous via his large, life-sized mirror. ("Who needs that puny invention called Television?" he laughed to himself.) He recited a spell that would ensure the appearance of the image in strategically-placed mirrors around Collinsport, and one to compell his victims to view them.

 

As he checked his mirror, though, he experienced crushing disappointment. Something, or someone, had interfered with his plans. At one time, he would not have thought it possible. But with several consecutive failures on his record, his powers must have been curtailed, as he himself had once diminished, and finally eradicated, Angelique's. He would have to learn to make do with less. In the meantime, Nicholas viewed each of his primary targets with dismay.

 

Willie, it turned out, was outdoors, not even near a glass window.  Desiree had visited him, to gauge his reactions, and had come away, to report to Nicholas her own chagrin at the fact that the dose of jealous rage she'd administered would apparently go to waste.

 

David Collins, another would-be witness, had been in the pizza parlor, an establishment oddly devoid of reflective surfaces, save for the front window, and a small mirror in the Men's room. The boy hadn't so much as gone near it, during the hour he spent there. He had been speaking, intently, to some blonde girl, and so, wasn't even facing the shiny plate-glass window.

 

As for Barnabas Collins, he sat in a chair, at Julia's bedside, clutching his reposing wife's hand, himself dozing off. From the look of his unshaven face, it was obvious that he hadn't had much involvement with any mirrors, lately.

 

Just then, Nicholas felt a glimmer of hope. He saw Mrs. Johnson surprise the would-be lovers, and delighted in the expression on her face. "I wouldn't be surprised if sweet Mrs. Loomis is made to wear a Scarlet 'A' on her lovely bosom, after Mrs. Johnson is through with her," he thought. "It would only add to the enjoyment, if poor, betrayed Willie despatched the not-so-honorable Sheriff!" Viewing that atrocity would be a treat.

 

Alas, after their discovery by the worthy housekeeper of Collinwood, Cellie and Lester did not complete their intimacy, though the Sheriff begged and pleaded. Cellie had come to her senses, and was apparently going home, no doubt to beg Willie's forgiveness. It was too late for that, Loomis having already been informed by the indignant Mrs. Johnson. David Collins had taken him off to see that obnoxious Greek tavern-owner, but, the last Nicholas checked, Willie was in a most unforgiving mood. "He'll probably knock that Pavlos over, if he defends that little slut," Nicholas thought with satisfaction. After Willie was safely locked up, or, better yet, killed by the Sheriff, and Cellie was thoroughly ostracized (Nicholas's plans called for an ultimate fate more interesting than mere death at the hands of her enraged spouse), it would be easier for Desiree to strike the necessary blow to the spirit of Sarah Collins.

 

Desiree entered the room, and sat on the bed next to Nicholas. She wound her arms around him. He kissed her forehead in an absent-minded way. "Things are going our way, after all," he commented. "Our plans had a little setback, but Mrs. Johnson seems to have bridged the gap. Nothing like an eyewitness to a scandal, if you can't have anything else."

 

"You didn't even have to put a spell on her, Nicholas. She's a self-starter."

 

"I like it when I don't have to work too hard, to achieve my goals. Letting people hang themselves can be a relaxing spectacle, as well as an entertaining one. I'd rather save the 'big guns' for the final engagement."

 

"How prudent. At least, you don't go around losing your weapons."

 

Nicholas drew away from Desiree, an irritated look on his face. "You haven't found your compact yet, I take it?"

 

Desiree hung her head. "No, Nicholas. It's no big deal, anyway. I don't know why it upsets you so that I haven't found it. It's a minor tool, at best."

 

"Aside from the fact that it was a costly antique, you have endowed it with some of your powers. If someone else had seen the images in the mirror--"

 

"Well, Lester's career would be ruined, for sure. It would have served him right for preferring that child to me, anyway," Desiree sniffed. "Would you believe, we were rolling on his bed, and I almost had him where I wanted him, when he sat up, and declared he couldn't sleep with a woman he didn't really love? How pathetic some of these mortals are. Even though we both planned to get him with Cellie in the end, I don't see why I should have been made to forgo my usual perks." She sighed. "Especially once I got a good look at his physique. There's more to that man than his silly balding head."

 

"I condole with you on your loss of the chance for a vigorous romp, my dear," Nicholas snapped, "though I'm afraid it would have put Lester out of commission for his real purpose. You have a way of draining the vitality out of your lovers, myself included. Lasha is fortunate to have this respite."

 

"You know I wouldn't be this eager, if I should gain my reward," she replied. "I would be a good deal more tractable. Easier to manage, for both Lasha and yourself."

 

"I rather doubt that! Still, you wouldn't be able to deny any request, or demand, I may make on you in the future. That's good enough for me. Back to the compact. You know, if it fell into the wrong hands, and the finder did happen to catch a glimpse of any image in that mirror, other than his or her own face, he or she would know immediately that it was enchanted. It would be in Barnabas Collins's hands, or that Professor Stokes's, in no time. And they would have no problem figuring out who it belonged to."

 

"So what? They are mortals. Do away with them, and be done with it, mirror or no mirror."

 

"Oh, Desiree. You are so simple-minded. Half my pleasure in this mission comes from the fact that I shall have to deal with Barnabas in my own inimitable fashion. Killing him outright would spoil the plans I have for him. And, as for Professor Stokes.... there's something about that man. He has knowledge far beyond even Barnabas's, if that's possible. He proved stubbornly resistant to some of your late sister's spells, and nimbly avoided my influence. He would, likely, conjure up some strategy to deflect any attempts against himself. So, I must get a little mean, and attack him in his most vulnerable area."

 

"All right, if you want to waste the time...."

 

"Just concentrate on where you left that compact."

 

"I'm thinking, I'm thinking. I lost it just after I said farewell to Lester. I went to the clothing store they have here, but I remember using the powder in their Ladies' room, after I had already tried on, and paid for a few things.... I bought gas for the Ferrari.... I went to the Koffeehaus...."

 

"Maybe you lost it, there. You'd better check! That Pavlos is as annoying as Cellie, or Angelique when she's in her 'Sainthood' mode. I almost can't wait for Sarah Teresa to mature to the point where we can begin to do away with some of these self-righteous types. In the meantime, it's high time I paid a visit to Collinwood. I'd like an opportunity to see some of the melee that is about to unfold, at first hand."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Cellie arrived back at Collinwood in record time. She parked the Harley in such a hurry, that it crashed onto its side in the small parking area near the main entrance. She heard it fall, but didn't even cast a backward glance. She had to talk to Willie, try to make him understand, a difficult thing to do when she, herself, didn't even understand what she'd done, or why. She had lusted after another man, and got caught. If Mrs. Johnson hadn't shown up, Cellie and Lester would have made love in the back seat of the car, like two horny teenagers. (Though, technically, Cellie was still a teenager, she'd hardly considered herself one for the better part of a year-and-a-half, and neither did anyone else.)

 

It didn't matter, anymore, about the empathism. In those last moments, before she'd broken free from the Sheriff's insistent embrace, Cellie was able to catch a glimpse of Lester's emotional terrain, exposed by his seeming recklessness. She filled in the many gaps with insight that had managed to develop independently of her gift.

 

What she thought she saw resembled nothing so much as a desert. In spite of Lester's declared dedication, there was nothing there to support the sort of carefully-constructed structure she had built with her husband, with room to accommodate all the bizarre facts of their lives, and a foundation cemented with their attempts at mutual understanding. A strong wind would blow Cellie's and Lester's building down, the same icy-cold, lonely wind that seared the adulterers in Dante's "Inferno", which her English tutor had made her read. She felt that cold wind in her heart, now. Her only desires, aside from having the strength to face her husband, was to have a private talk with her mother, to check on Julia and Barnabas, and to have a few peaceful moments with her child, before Willie came home to kill her.

 

Such a quiet interlude was not to be. Cellie had just reached the top step, when she heard Mrs. Johnson, below her, exclaim, "Just where do you think you're going, young woman? Get down here right now!"

 

Cellie meekly obeyed, to the housekeeper's amazement. The red-haired girl stood before her, straight and almost dignified, and gazed directly into the older woman's eyes. "I know what you're going to say, and you'll be right," Cellie said, in a dead-calm voice.

 

"Don't take that tone of humility with me, Cellie!" Mrs. Johnson admonished. "You certainly weren't humble with Lester Arliss, with half your clothes off, and letting him put his hands in places only your husband should touch! How could you do that, Cellie?" she demanded, her angry voice breaking into a sob. "How could you do that to Willie, who loves you so much, he thought, when I was so upset before, that it was because you'd had an accident!

 

“How could you do that to Lester Arliss? He was a fine man, like his late uncle! He went to school with my Phyllis, and Maggie. I recall, he was one of the top students, and voted 'most likely to succeed' and 'best-liked' in his yearbook! Did you want to ruin his career? And how could you even think of doing such a thing, with your poor aunt so ill, and your poor uncle so sad, and your poor mother taking care of your baby when she should be planning her wedding?"

 

Cellie replied quietly, "I won't say something stupid like, 'I'm sorry', because I know that doesn't even begin to cover what I did. But, for the record, I am, whether you believe me, or not. Look, Mrs. Johnson, I just want to go upstairs, and see everyone for the last time, as my old self, before I confess all, and the spit hits the fan. Unless you've taken that much away from me."

 

"No, I didn't tell anyone other than Willie--"

 

"Sweet Jesus!" Cellie wept now. "He must have been devastated--"

 

"How kind of you to think of that, now. I'll just never understand what made him think he could stay married to a hot-blooded young woman, and not expect such a thing to happen, sooner or later! It's not even as though he ever did anything to you first! I'll tell you, Cellie, my own late husband was a run-around, and didn't I know it, every time he came back from a run on the ship, or just an evening at the Blue Whale! Still, even though I was miserable, and I was already working for Mr. Malloy--- I was VERY fond of Mr. Malloy---I managed to stay faithful to Phil both before and after he died. It was for the children, mostly, though it ended up doing my son Harry no good. But, at least, I haven't anything to reproach myself for, when I meet my Maker!"

 

"I guess I have a lot to answer for, now. Thank you for not telling anyone else but Will--"

 

"Well, I had to tell David, too, so he could stop Willie from going off, half-cocked, to catch you and Lester. He took Willie to see your mother's fiancé, though what that could possibly accomplish, I have no idea. You are safe for a while, anyway."

 

 

"Okay, then. I'm going up now, if you don't mind," Cellie said, calm again. "When my husband gets here, come up and get me, and I'll go out to talk with him, away from the house."

 

Mrs. Johnson was surprised by this attitude of resignation. She recalled Willie's fury, just barely contained by David's tackling skills. She wondered, who can one call on for help, when the Sheriff is part of the problem? The housekeeper put her hand on Cellie's arm. "Are you sure you want to be alone with Willie?" she asked, concern slipping into her voice. "He was very wild, before. I certainly don't want him to kill you over this!"

 

" 'How kind of you to think of that, now '," Cellie answered with the slightest hint of sarcasm. "Sorry for being flip, Mrs. Johnson," she sighed. "Listen, if Will feels he has to do something drastic to me, I just want you to know, I accept it as my due, and you shouldn't blame yourself for doing what you thought was your duty as his friend." She patted Mrs. Johnson's hand, and turned, to go back up the stairs. As she entered the hallway passage, she brushed by Carolyn, who greeted her, only to be answered, "Better pull out those Scarlet Letters, Carolyn. Here comes Hester Prynne."

 

Carolyn stood on the landing, listening to Cellie's eerie, bitter laughter, as the younger woman disappeared around the corner that led to Julia's room. Seeing Mrs. Johnson standing below with a sorrowful look on her face, Carolyn asked, "Do you know what that was all about?"

 

"You'll find out, soon enough," the housekeeper sighed. "Carolyn, I have to go check on dinner. When Willie and David return, it's very important that you send them to see me first. Don't you and David let Willie go up to see Cellie alone. I'll go get her. Like I said, it's very important." Mrs. Johnson went through the kitchen passage.

 

Roger came downstairs, followed by Cellie with Sarah Teresa in her arms. Carolyn said, "I thought you were supposed to stay upstairs, until Willie came back. Mrs. J. just said so."

 

"I need to get Sarah's cereal, and a fresh bottle," Cellie replied. "I hope to get her fed, clean, and sleeping before--before her Daddy comes home." There was an odd note in Cellie's voice, full of both anticipation and dread. Carolyn wanted to ask her friend what the problem was, but Cellie emanated a deadly-still, attitude, like a coiled snake ready to strike. It was clear, she wasn't exactly looking forward to her husband's return. Little did Carolyn know, Cellie wasn't looking beyond it, either.

 

There was a knock at the door. Cellie froze. Her eyes quickly became black with fear. Roger put his arm around her shoulder, asking, "Whatever is wrong, Cellie dear?" The girl didn't reply. Carolyn opened the door. She gasped, herself.

 

Nicholas Blair stood on the thresh-hold, instantly recognizable to all this time, despite the lack of hair on his oddly cat-shaped face. "Well, isn't someone going to invite me in?"

 

"As if Carolyn, or I, or anyone in my family would!" Roger replied sharply. "Well, Cellie, no wonder you were so upset a moment ago. Doubtless, you sensed this weasel, my former brother-in-law, was coming to the house. I suppose introductions are unnecessary, since Carolyn told us he was harassing you at the Antique Shoppe, months ago."

 

" 'Harassing' is too strong a word, Roger," Nicholas said, evenly. "I was only offering Cellie a most unusual opportunity to 'get in on the ground floor', so to speak, on the deal of a lifetime." He peeked around, to where Roger tried to shield Cellie and the baby from his view. "So, there's your little former passenger, Mrs. Loomis. My congratulations on a job well done. She's a fine child."

 

"That's all you'll ever get to find out about her," Cellie sneered, defiantly.

 

"I want you to leave right now, Nicholas," Roger insisted.

 

"Ah, well. Perhaps there'll be a better day for a visit. I know it must be hard, what with poor Julia so grievously ill, and other troubles in your house.... I hope this little outpouring of hostility doesn't presage more disasters. Give my regards to your sister, Roger, and Barnabas, and everyone else. I'm residing at the Henderson Homestead, just a stone's throw away."

 

"Keziah Henderson meant that house to be turned into a museum, because she had no living relatives!" Roger protested in dismay.

 

"As it happened, one turned up. And he was most eager to derive some income from that white elephant his great-great aunt had left him. So, I, and a traveling companion of mine, relieved the fellow's financial worries in a big way. We gained the privilege of residing in a much more opulent setting than the simple beachfront cottage that Carolyn may have told you I occupied on my last visit to town."

 

"I also recall your hasty exit from that cottage," Carolyn said.

 

"Oh, yes. I had urgent business to attend to, and it couldn't wait on our little rendezvous. I've come to believe in leaving with a 'bang'."

 

"May your departure from the Henderson Homestead be as hasty," Roger intoned fervently, "and final."

 

"I daresay, I'll be around a while yet. Good night, Roger. Carolyn. And you, most of all, Cellie." Nicholas turned, and was gone in an instant.

 

Carolyn shut the door firmly. "Cellie, don't worry about Nicholas. We'll take care of you."

 

"I'm not afraid. I have other things on my mind right now." Cellie remembered the white anemones she'd seen in the woods, the flowers Ock-Wen-Uck had spoken of. It was definitely time to bring forth the Indian necklace. She'd left it at the cottage. She wondered if she dared to risk a quick trip, to find it and wear it. Even if Willie killed her, at least her soul would be protected from Nicholas, and, after she was gone, the same necklace would surely protect the baby. Even Willie wasn't likely to object to that. She mentioned her desire to Roger.

 

Though he'd never really completely understood the extent of his family's nearly congenital entanglement with the occult, Roger had witnessed enough strange events to convince him of the possibility. If getting an old shell necklace made Cellie and her baby feel safer, then, by all means, she should have it. "Wait a minute, Cellie. I'll accompany you, for your mother's sake. Leave the baby here."

 

"Oh, no, it'll only take us a few minutes. You can catch up, if you want."

 

"We'll both come with you," Carolyn said. "Nicholas may be waiting out there, to scare you. I just need my sweater. I left it in my room."

 

"I should get my jacket and Sarah's sweater," Cellie declared. She ran upstairs, with the baby, to the room she and Willie had shared just after she got out of the hospital. She and Sarah Teresa napped there while Julia slept through the afternoons. Cellie sat her daughter in her crib, and searched for the baby's heaviest sweater in the big basket full of clean laundry she'd brought upstairs that morning.

 

Downstairs, Roger stood in the foyer, waiting. There was a loud knock on the heavy oak door. He opened it, to admit Sheriff Arliss. "Lester, what are you doing here?" Roger asked, puzzled and a bit unnerved by the younger man's appearance. Lester's face was ashen, except around his glazed-looking, red-rimmed eyes, and his reddened nostrils. "Has there been some kind of accident?" Roger gasped, thinking of Elizabeth, who'd gone to the office to catch up with some paperwork, and whom he expected home around this time. "Or is there some criminal on the loose, that we should be apprised of? Is it Jack Knowlton?"

 

"No, no," Lester muttered. "Jack's still safely locked up at the County Jail, and, I understand, is quite docile these days. You needn't worry about him. And no, there hasn't been any accident."

 

"Are you feeling alright, Les?"

 

"Just a spring cold coming on, or maybe my allergies are getting an early start. I see that Cellie's made it home. I need to talk to her."

 

"On what business?" Roger had relaxed.

 

"I take it, that you haven't heard, yet." Lester held up a sheaf of traffic tickets. "She zoomed away before I could give these to her. She's racked up quite a few violations. Since I consider myself her friend, I thought I'd come by to serve these citations, and settle matters without causing a great fuss, while your family is going through this troubled time."

 

"Well, that's extremely considerate of you, Lester. I must say, I never approved of her little motorcycle hobby, any more than I approved when Carolyn was going through a similar phase. But, alas, Cellie is not my responsibility, as far as that goes. You may go up to see her. She's in the same room she occupied when she was recuperating here."

 

Lester made it up the stairs, and down the hall without running into anyone. He walked right into the room where Cellie, her back turned to him, was bent over a pile of clothes she'd emptied onto the bed from a laundry basket. He quietly closed the door behind him, slid his arms around her, and kissed her on the back of her neck.

 

"Will?" she asked, in a hopeful, beseeching tone. Suddenly, she noticed the tan sleeves on the arms circling her waist. She jerked around to face the Sheriff. "Les! How did you get up here? Mrs. Johnson wouldn't have let you in!"

 

"I found out you didn't confess to Roger Collins, just yet. He not only let me in, but when I showed him your scandalous collection of traffic tickets, he directed me to your room without any hesitation." Lester tried to kiss her lips, but she twisted from his grasp. "Cellie, how could you leave me like that? It wasn't necessary for you to come back here at all! You know I'll take care of you."

 

"Lester, I want you to leave, right now. You're in danger, as I am. Mrs. Johnson did tell Will. David took him somewhere to calm him down, but he'll be back soon. I must face him, alone. If we both survive the confrontation, and he forgives me, I've made up my mind that I'm staying with him. What's more, I did confess, to my Mom, and Barnabas, and Aunt Jule. If they find you here, it will only be slightly less unpleasant than if Will does. Please, Les, just leave me the tickets, and go!"

 

Cellie started to cry, as did the baby, who was watching from her crib, pleading, "Jeh-jeh. Meh-meh, Teess 'awn' Jeh-jeh."

 

Lester took the girl gently into his arms. "I don't ever want you and Sarah Teresa to be unhappy," he whispered. "I just can't---just can't stop this craving. It hurts, Cellie. I never felt so empty inside. I never even would have had such thoughts, about emptiness, and need, and all that other emotional stuff, before I got to know you."

 

"That proves I can't be right for you," she replied. "Would it help you get over it any faster if I told you that it's all part of a spell? Anissa--- she put these thoughts and feelings in your head. You were just a normal, earnest, shy young guy, with no great emotional baggage attached, waiting for the right girl to come along. Anissa played with your mind, Lester. She's--"

 

"She only helped me see the light," Lester said urgently, almost angrily. He pulled Cellie tighter. She tried to wriggle away, but he must have had some knowledge of the self-defense moves she was trying to use, because he appeared to anticipate them, holding her so close that she hadn't a chance of breaking free. "There's no 'spell'. That's just an excuse you learned from living in this mausoleum." He kissed her, forcing her lips open. She began to respond, as she had in the back seat of the Sheriff's car. He pushed her down onto the bed.

 

The baby wailed louder. Cellie came to her senses, slapping the Sheriff's face away, and struggling to sit up on the bed. Lester kept pulling her back down. "No, Les," she said, firmly. "Please, get out of here. I don't want to yell about it. But Will's going to be home, any minute.... Mrs. J.'s supposed to come up for me.... If either one of them catches you here---"

 

Too late. The door swung open. Willie stood on the thresh-hold, bearing a small bouquet of roses, wearing a sad-but-hopeful expression, which twisted into outrage, as he got a good look at the scene.

CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

 

David and Willie had made the rounds of three different flower shops before the older man made his selection. David suspected his friend was just putting off the inevitable with all this delay, but he was tolerant. "You're lucky to find such fresh-looking flowers this late on a Saturday afternoon," he said, when Willie finally paid for the roses.

 

"I just want everything to be perfect," Willie replied. "If I mess this up, Cecily'll be out the door, running off to Lester, and taking my little girl from me."

 

"You make it sound like what she did was YOUR fault. It's not. If what Pavlos said about that mirror is true, it's probably not HERS, either. Or even Lester's!"

 

Willie responded, "Cecily always told me, what she does can't work unless there's some of the feelings going on in the first place. Whatever kind of spell is going around must work from that. Remember, a long time ago, when half the town was having those crazy dreams, and the whole thing was supposed to lead back to Barnabas?"

 

"A little,” the boy replied.  “Every one's dream was just slightly different, showing each person the thing they feared most. Mine was SPIDERS, of all things, after I'd spent so many hours in the parts of Collinwood most likely to have them! I got over it since then, thank God."

 

"Right. This is the same idea, I guess. Everyone knows I'm scared Cecily's going to dump me someday. By now, everyone must've seen how Lester makes goo-goo eyes at her, and the way she acts around him. It's like when that 'Alison' girl got you and Adele to eat those cookies, and make out after. She knew you both had the hots for each other, even though Addie's still just a little kid. Whoever's doing this, Nicholas or that Desiree, knows how afraid Julia and Barnabas are that their kid's going to be messed up. They're working with the bad stuff that's already there. I'm trying real hard to be sensible about this whole thing. What do you call it, pulling back to see the whole picture?"

 

"Perspective. You're trying to look at the situation in perspective. That must be a stretch for you, Willie." David pulled into the driveway at Collinwood.

 

"Gotta grow up sometime, David. It's my time to grow up. It has to be. I have to get up pretty early in the morning, to even catch up to my Cecily." Willie looked almost happy, again, when he got out of David's beige Buick.

 

"Hey, buddy," David called through the car window, "I'm just going to put the Hupmobile in the garage. I have to change the oil in the A.M."

 

"I'll help you," Willie offered. "You helped me, today."

 

"It's a date, then. Get along inside, you lady-killer, you. I'll be in to referree, soon."

 

Willie walked up the shaded path from the driveway to the Great House. He thought he heard a noise in the bushes. He told himself it was probably raccoons, already queuing up for when Mrs. Johnson put out the garbage resulting from her dinner preparations. He went up to the granite step, and went through the door. What he didn't hear was Nicholas, hiding behind a tree, chuckling, "Have a pleasant evening, Mr. Loomis."

 

There was nobody hanging around the foyer or the drawing room, though Willie heard Mrs. Johnson making noise in the kitchen, taking the dishes from a cabinet, to set on the dining room table. Nobody stopped him, as he made his way up the stairs, with his bouquet.

 

A few minutes later, David came in. This time, Mrs. Johnson and Carolyn were milling around the foyer. "David, where's Willie?" Mrs. Johnson asked, anxiously. "He came back with you, didn't he?"

 

"He sure did. He wanted to talk to Cellie so bad, he just ran right in."

 

"Oh, dear Lord," Carolyn said. I'm sorry I got so tied up, looking for my sweater, then for better walking shoes.... I was supposed to send Willie to see Mrs. Johnson before he went upstairs."

 

"It'll be okay," David assured them. "He was hardly even upset, after Pavlos got through with him. He'll make it up with Cellie, don't worry."

 

Roger came into the foyer, from the study. "High time you got back, David. Say, you didn't run into Lester Arliss on your way in, did you? I was beginning to wonder when he'd finish lecturing Cellie about her tickets, and leave. I wanted to get her and the baby down to the cottage and back quickly, since Nicholas Blair came here tonight, and made the poor girl quite upset."

 

David, Mrs. Johnson, and Carolyn stared at Roger, mouths agape with dismay. "You said---you said Lester Arliss is here? He's with Cellie?" David asked hesitantly.

 

"Yes, for at least twenty minutes already, unless he stopped by Julia's room to pay his respects."

 

"Oh, my God," David gasped, and began to run up the steps. He heard the shouting, and the crash of crockery and overturning furniture, even as he rounded the corner to Cellie's room.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

"WHAT'S GOING ON HERE!" Willie demanded. He dropped the roses on the floor and clenched his fists, as he glowered at the couple on the bed.

 

"Will," Cellie pleaded, "I was just making Lester leave! I don't WANT him here!"

 

"Oh, SURE you don't," Willie taunted, "now that he's finishing the job he didn't get a chance to, at the cemetery. DAMN YOU, CECILY, screwing around like that, in front of a kid, yet! Even my mother never did that, and poor Melinda didn't mean to, either! YOU WHORE!"

 

Lester stood up. "Willie, Cellie was telling the truth! We didn't do anything here!" He reached for his gun. Cellie grabbed his arm.

 

Willie grasped the Sheriff's shoulders. "That's just 'cause you didn't get enough time, Lester! I know you just HAD to follow her, like a dog, crawling after a bitch in heat!"

 

Lester reached up, and, in a flash, knocked Willie's hands off his shoulders, and pinned him to the wall. "DON'T YOU EVER TALK ABOUT CELLIE THAT WAY, AGAIN, YOU BASTARD!"

 

"Who's the bastard here?" Willie gasped. "You got MY WIFE in the back of YOUR police car, rubbed YOUR hands all over MY WIFE'S BODY---MINE!" he cried. "SHE'S MINE!" He looked toward Cellie. "I was your first! I guess I'm not going to be your last---"

 

"Will, you are---"

 

"LIAR! I did my best for you, and you had to put out for this JERK!"

 

"Oh, you did your best, did you, Willie?" Lester sneered. "If it wasn't for your wife, people would still be running to the other side of the street when they see you coming, but not before spitting in your path! Cellie almost died for you! Are you even worth it? The way she was jumping all over me, I got the idea she was long overdue for a tumble! I'd say you haven't been doing your best in the sack, have you---"

 

Willie somehow flung himself from the wall, and rolled around with Lester on the floor. His rage made him quicker than the Sheriff. He rained blows on Lester's head. Lester did rock around until he was on top, and tried to pin Willie while reaching for his gun again. Willie tore it from his grasp.

 

 

At this point Cellie, unable to bring the situation under control with her empathism, jumped into the fray, banging on her husband's hand, until he released the gun, which she grabbed. She intended to threaten both men with it, in order to halt the fight. One of their heads bumped into her hand, and the gun skittered far under the trundle bed, a space so low to the floor that one would have to shove the entire, heavy bed around to find it.  Realizing she could do no more to stop the fight, Cellie jumped up, and snatched her screaming baby from the crib, edging toward the door. At that moment, the two men, their hands locked around each other's throats, bumped against it, and blocked her escape.

 

Cellie could hear rushing steps, and shouts outside the door. She heard Barnabas first, then David, and Roger, as he came up last. The three outside battered at the heavy door, shoving the combatants back into the room, almost knocking the girl over with the baby in her arms.

 

David forced his way in, just as Willie knocked Lester out. The younger man pulled on Willie's arm, just as he was about to deliver another blow to the prostrate Sheriff. "ENOUGH!" David shouted. "I didn't think it would come to this," he continued, shaking his head sadly.

 

"It's HER damn fault!" Willie said, pointing at his wife. "That SLUT--- SHE'S lucky I don't kill HER!"

 

"WILLIE!" Barnabas said. "You don't mean that! I was angered, too, when Cellie confessed, but I had a call from from Pavlos, and I believed their explanation."

 

"You just see what you want to see, Barnabas," Willie muttered. "It doesn't matter to you, what Cecily does to ME, as long as you can use her to help Julia. Well, she can't do it without me, and I don't have anything left to give her. She took it away, the minute she started giving Lester the eye." He rose slowly, and approached his wife, who still held the weeping baby. "Give me my daughter!" Willie demanded.

 

"No, Will.... You can't have her, the way you are. We're all in trouble, right now. When we can get Lester up, and try to settle this somehow, you can--"

 

"GIVE ME MY BABY, YOU TRAMP!" Willie yanked Sarah Teresa from his wife's arms, and ran to the door. The others tried to block him, until he almost dropped the baby, who was shrieking. He wriggled his way onto the landing, and ran downstairs, Cellie in close pursuit.

 

He was stopped at the door by the timely arrival of Elizabeth Stoddard, who came in with Pavlos. "Willie, where are you going with Sarah?" Elizabeth asked calmly, trying to catch Willie's eye. He turned from her, and from the equally determined gaze of Pavlos.

 

"Her name AIN'T Sarah! It was supposed to be just Teresa! Now I don't even want THAT name any more!" Willie sobbed, as he clutched his daughter to his breast. "Please, Mrs. Stoddard, let me go! I have to take her---take her to the doctor---I think---"

 

Cellie came down the steps. "Don't let him take my baby!" She rushed to Willie's side. "Will, Will, please--- Look, we can work this out. I didn't want Lester---"

 

"You know what I'm gonna do, soon as I get my baby outta here, Cecily?" Willie hissed. "I'm takin' her to South America, that's what! They got good countries there, where if a man catches his wife just lookin' at some other guy, he can kill the both of 'em! And he doesn't get arrested. He gets cheered by all the other husbands!"

 

"You mean, by all the other pathetic losers who can't hang onto their wives," Carolyn jeered as she stepped up to the couple. "And I doubt they cheer, when the man that gets killed is a cop."

 

"Shut up, Carolyn!" Willie snarled. "I didn't kill Lester. I just taught him a lesson about messing with my woman!"

 

"Willie," Pavlos began. "I won't tell you not to be angry. I can't take care of this for you. But I can ask you to think about what you are saying, and what caused this incident. Come with me, and Cellie, and David, if you want. We can settle this."

 

"Will, please," Cellie pleaded. "Leave Sarah Teresa here, and we'll go talk. I want to talk with you."

 

"You--you really want to talk to me? Would you talk to me alone?" Willie appeared to calm down. He looked at his baby. Sarah regarded him with a glazed expression of terror. "I'm scaring my own little girl," he mourned.

 

"Will," his wife urged, "I'll go outside with you, alone. I'm not afraid now. Give the baby to someone, and we'll go out to the garden."

 

Willie looked around at the small crowd now gathered around. Pavlos, Elizabeth, Barnabas, Carolyn, Mrs. Johnson, Roger, Janice, even poor Julia, who'd risen from her bed, and hobbled to the landing above. Only David was absent, having stayed behind to attend to Lester Arliss.

 

"I don't know," he whimpered. "You're all Her friends. Even Pavlos. I can't leave my baby with someone who likes Her more than me."

 

Roger declared firmly, "Leave Sarah Teresa with me, Loomis. I'm neither Cellie's partisan, or yours."

 

"You'll just hand her over to someone else, the second I'm out the door," Willie protested.

 

"I give you my word, that if you leave Sarah Teresa in my care, you will return to find her, still in my custody. I may require a little assistance to tend some of her needs, but otherwise, she will be in my room, for as long as it takes."

 

"I'll be the one to help him," Elizabeth offered. "You trust me to be objective, don't you, Willie?"

 

"I guess so," he sniffled. He laid Sarah Teresa in Roger's arms, and touched his wife's hand. "Cecily," he whispered.

 

"Are you sure you want to be alone with him, Cellie?" Barnabas asked.

 

"It'll be okay, I think--"

 

There was a noise at the top of the stairs. David was shouting, "Lester, Lester, wait!"

 

Lester Arliss brushed by Julia, who clutched at the railing to avoid being knocked over. He had found his gun, which he waved in Willie's direction.

 

Willie's eyes grew black with fear. He ran out the door, with Cellie following him, down the hill, to where the station wagon was parked near Abijah's Cottage. She jumped in beside him, as he gunned the motor. "You have to get out now, Cecily," he urged. "Lester's not after you, not anymore."

 

"I have to--- we can still talk, when we're safe--- They'll stop him---"

 

"I doubt it. I'm a marked man."

 

"I'm staying."

 

Willie jammed the car into gear, and sped out of the driveway. He headed out toward the Old Chartville Road. He went off the road, not onto the same dirt track where Lester and Cellie had met, but another, about a half-mile beyond Eagle Hill Cemetery. He drove in, until he pulled to a spot almost behind the hill itself. Cellie could see the dim outline of the mausoleum in the rapidly-gathering dusk.

 

"Will, why did you stop here? It's too near Collinwood. Lester will surely find us here."

 

"Why would Lester look for me right near the spot where he had you just this afternoon?" Willie's expression, barely visible in the gloom, became sly. "Anyway, I told you, I'm a marked man. I didn't come here to escape. I came here, 'cause there was one more thing the two of us had to take care of, before it was all over."

 

Cellie became frightened, but fought not to show it. "Will, it's not over. Between us, I mean. I don't want Lester. I only want you. I love you. Let's go on. As soon as you're safe someplace, I'll come back, get Sarah Teresa, and we'll go on the run."

 

"For once, Cecily, you sound dopier than I ever did. There's no escape for either of us, now. We're fugitives. We'll never see our kid again. And it's all your fault. Yours and Lester's." Willie edged closer. "How did it feel, when he touched you, Cecily? When he touched all the parts that belong to me? You were MY GIRL! Not his!" He pulled at her roughly.

 

"Will, I'm not afraid to die, but if you kill me now, you never will see Sarah Teresa again." Cellie jerked away from her husband.

 

"I don't want to kill you, Cecily. I love you. But you have to be taught a lesson. Barnabas was always teaching me a lesson. You tried to teach me a lesson. Now, it's my turn, to teach lessons, to Lester, and you." Willie grabbed her, and yanked up her sweater. "Take it off!" he demanded.

 

"The Hell I will!" Cellie opened the door, and was about to jump out, when she saw something in the bright moonlight that made her jump back. "Poison Ivy!" she wailed. "You drove into a huge patch of Poison Ivy! You know I'm deathly allergic to Poison Ivy, Will! How could there be Poison Ivy in March?"

 

"Something told me this would be a good place to go parking with my girl." Willie's eyes glittered. "Now, take off that sweater, and whatever else I tell you to! I'm your husband! Do it, and no fancy footwork from the Karate place, or else I'll toss you out head-first, and you'll blow up like a damn balloon and die!"

 

"Will," she pled one last time. "Don't do this. You never forced me, before. I don't want this--"

 

"Cecily," he replied, almost regretfully, "This isn't about what YOU want, anymore."

CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

 

Cellie came to, sobbing, she didn't know how much later. She was lying on a hard, cold surface. "I'm on a slab in a morgue, and I'm not dead!" She shouted. Her own voice came back to her in a dull echo.

 

She sat up, and looked around. There was a couple of lit candles on an old candlelabrum. She studied the heavy blocks that formed the room. In a minute, she realized where she was. "I'm in the 'secret room'," she thought. Willie had laid her on the marble catafalque where Barnabas's casket had once rested. Suddenly, Cellie wasn't afraid anymore. She knew David had been trapped in here once, and had escaped, as had Maggie, and her father, also. All she had to do was find the hidden switch that would open the marble door.

 

If she recalled correctly (very difficult to do with her head throbbing the way it did), the switch was under the brick steps, the place marked by David. She held a candle over the bricks, but discerned no marks or writing of any kind. She began to pull, and pry at each one, in every direction (very difficult to do, with her whole body aching as it did), but with no result, until---

 

One brick at the end of a lower step moved, and Cellie was overjoyed to see the switch. Then she cried out in dismay. The small, ancient handle had been snapped right out of the toggle, and lay next to the mechanism. Cellie tried to fit it back in, but the break was too clean. She couldn't understand why her husband had done this to her. Willie had said he didn't want to kill her, but here she was, hopelessly trapped in a tomb, like Aida and her lover from that opera.... Cellie

shuddered, at first, until she realized Willie probably intended to release her as soon as he decided she'd learned her "lesson."

 

At least, she hoped he would return. Her mind raced past the possibilities. If Willie did come back, he might be tempted to think of some other "punishment." Then again, he might just leave her, out of spite. Of course, he could run into Lester, or one of his deputies, who might have orders to shoot him on sight before he had a chance to explain anything, as they had years before, when he'd been blamed for Maggie's first kidnapping. Cellie remembered how sorry she'd felt for her husband when he first told her that story. How she'd cried, at the seeming injustice. She cried for it, now. If he hadn't been so hurt then, if she hadn't hurt him now....

 

What was she thinking about? Why should she feel sorry for Willie? He'd raped her, and dumped her in the place he'd once feared she was buried. This place had brought him so much grief that he had come back, last summer, and almost killed himself here. David had found him, and saved him then. Maybe David would figure out where she was. Or Barnabas. Sick with his own sorrow as he was these days, she remembered the note in his voice when he'd bellowed at Willie, earlier. The sound took her back to the events of a year ago, when he'd caught the two of them, on the upstairs landing at the Antique Shoppe.... Cellie feared Barnabas's anger at her husband only slightly less than she feared Lester's.

 

Cellie didn't know why she should be so concerned with anyone who had used and humiliated her as Willie did in the station wagon. Even the car itself was tainted now. If she ever got out of here, and Willie was imprisoned or killed, she would make a point of sending it to the nearest junkyard.

 

If she ever got out. Cellie wondered, for a moment, if there wasn't, perhaps, some other way to get that door open. She searched around for any more loose bricks, in the steps or the wall surrounding the door, and came to the dismal conclusion there wasn't any. She sat back on the catafalque, and wiped away one tear, then another, and another, as she waited for....whatever. She glanced at her watch, but all the abuse it had undergone in the past few hours (it had to be hours, not days!) had made it stop at 7:52. She guessed that was about the time when Willie had been bouncing her around so hard on the front seat, she tried to shield her head from the door handle, and ended up getting knocked out, anyway.

 

She wished she could call on Sarah Collins to get her out of this predicament, as she'd done for David and Walter. But Cellie feared the effect on her baby. Sarah Teresa might be suffering right now, she realized, for both her "Meh" and her beloved "Jeh". The young mother began to regret all the hours she should have spent with her daughter. Some of her activities could be justified on the basis that it was necessary to prepare, mentally and physically, for the challenge from Nicholas, who had, indeed, returned on schedule. But the motorcycle.... If she got out of here, she would sell it. It had brought her worse luck than the Ouija board Siobhan had burned, would have.

 

Cellie wondered why she felt so lively, after the horrible thing that had just happened to her. Willie hadn't been able to muster his energies for acts of love, but he had no trouble making a comeback in the name of hatred.  She almost wished Lester would shoot him. That would serve the bastard right, she thought. But instead of grim satisfaction at the mental picture that presented itself, the tears spilled from her eyes in a steady stream. The memories of Willie's former kindness filled her mind. Everything he'd ever done, up until tonight, was intended for her best interests. The capacity for this latest action may have existed inside of him all along, but it had taken extreme provocation to bring it out.

 

Cellie thought of her aunt Julia, who had suffered greatly at Barnabas's hands, and yet, had loved him and stayed beside him. Even now, Julia was paying the ultimate price of the reward for her long devotion, and still counted it all worthwhile. Perhaps there was something sick and wrong with this kind of love, but there was little either Julia or her niece, who bore the same love for her own unworthy spouse, could do about it. No, Cellie didn't want her miserable husband killed by Lester or Barnabas. She could never kill him herself, either.

 

She had to get out, and find Willie. She knew that, wherever he was, he was in danger, probably afraid, and she was the only one who could protect him. She searched, frantically, for another means of egress from the tomb. She tried to manipulate the broken switch toggle. She broke down, sitting on the floor, weeping over the exposed switch.

 

"Ye'll just rust the damn thing out, and then we'll both be stuck till doomsday!" The voice snapped at Cellie in a crisp baritone, with an Irish accent.

 

Cellie felt a sharp cold draft brush her neck. She looked around, in the sputtering candle-light. The room was empty, and she had noticed, when she'd first awakened, that the brickwork on the floor around Jason McGuire's former grave had been repaired. Still, she felt someone's eyes trained on her disheveled hair and torn clothing. She could sense contempt, and lust, with a vivid clarity that she hadn't been experiencing since she had returned from Boston.

 

"Say," the voice said, "Ye're a pretty colleen, like some of the girls I knew in the Old Sod, way back when.... What a shame ye're all at sixes and sevens right now. I always used to tell Willie, 'Treat 'em like ladies, even if they are ladies of the evening, they'll stay around longer, and charge ye less.' After all this time, he STILL hasn't learned that much. At least, he never left 'em crying, for sure.... Now don't pull that face. I know just by the looks of ye, that ye're no street-walker, unless Collinsport has changed that much in the nearly six years I've sojourned here."

 

Even without a visible manifestation, Cellie could almost see the slick, ingratiating grin in the snapshot Willie had shown her, months ago. "You're Jason McGuire, aren't you? How can you still be here, spiritually, I mean? Barnabas moved your remains," she said, in consternation.

 

"Ah, lass, even though the old bones have moved to another address, my spirit is bound to this place, as a bit of a chastisement. I gather, ye know of Barnabas, and Willie too. Just whose little girl are ye, to be tangled with two such rapscallions?"

 

"You wouldn't know my father, I don't think...."

 

"That wouldn't happen to be the fellow who got himself wedged in here, let me think.... Last October? He had red hair, like yours, and was the right age, too. I have a good memory, and the dark doesn't impede my sight. I'll bet I even know your name. Cecily. That's the name Willie was whimpering in here last summer, and that older chap seemed to know it, also. Ye do get around, my dear. Now, how is it that you know Barnabas and Willie?"

 

"Why should I tell you?"

 

"Because, Cecily, I cannot leave this place, and I crave news of the outside world, especially of those I once knew, for all the good it does me. Truly, unless there's a state secret attached, no harm will come if ye tell me."

 

Cellie decided it might be worthwhile to cultivate McGuire's spirit for a while. Maybe he knew of some alternative way to open the door, even if he couldn't leave, himself. At any rate, it would pass the time. "Barnabas Collins is my uncle by marriage."

 

"Oh, so did he wed that miserable Evans girl after all, or did Willie? Willie was quite taken with her. And here's where he took her!" McGuire laughed at his joke. "Oh, I forget. The dear girl was an only child, and couldn't be anyone's aunt---"

 

"No, actually, she's my stepmother now. Barnabas is married to someone I don't think you ever met. She was Maggie's doctor, once Maggie got away from Barnabas. My father's sister."

 

"Ah, they've been busy as the birds and bees at dear old Collinwood. Did Liz ever remarry, after my untimely departure?"

 

"Well.... I heard her ex-husband came back, and tried to make peace with her and Carolyn, but he's really dead now. I take it, he didn't come looking for you, even after he died!"

 

"No, Paul and myself didn't exactly part the best of friends. We weren't pen-pals, either. What of dear Carolyn, and David?"

 

"Carolyn's a widow."

 

"Ah, so she wed that hoodlum Buzz, and he took a spill off the old motorcycle, eh? Good riddance, I say."

 

"No, Buzz is alive and well. Carolyn married someone else who got killed. But she might remarry, soon. And David's all grown up. If you're wondering about Vicky Winters, she's dead, and so's that Burke Devlin. Separate incidents, though. That's life, I guess."

 

"I notice ye left out someone very important, to you, I should think. Good Old Willie."

 

Cellie's voice became sad, as she replied, "Oh. He's my husband."

 

McGuire's voice was full of amazement. "What, Willie married to a child like yourself, and not Maggie Evans? I can't believe Willie's married at all, the way he dropped you off here. Or, is this the way ye spice up your wedded life?"

 

"We're really married. It's almost a year. We have a seven-month-old daughter."

 

"Married twelve months and parents for seven? Now, that DOES sound like the Willie I knew." If McGuire had a face, Cellie was certain it would be wearing a smirk. "And, wed to the Boss's niece, at that! Willie did well for himself, after all. I wonder how that all came off. I recall Mr. Barnabas Collins as being mighty possessive of anything and anyone he considered his own, including Willie. I would imagine, he must also have had a hard time parting from a lovely niece to whom he confided such secrets."

 

"I don't want to talk about that,” Cellie protested. “I don't go around announcing his secrets to everyone I meet. I kind of found out by accident, myself. I must say though, without be overly judgmental, that after listening to you, I can see why you ended up dead, and why you're not considered reformed enough to leave this room."

 

"Well, ye may have done nothing to deserve this yerself, but here ye are, and here ye're likely to remain. Without our mutual co-operation, that is. Which brings me to my main point. There is a way for ye to get out of here, but only I know it, and can help ye operate it. But there's a string, a very little string, attached."

 

"And, what would that be?"

 

"Only that ye allow me the priviledge of riding out of here, tucked safely in your soul, as a jerry kangaroo is carried in his mother's pouch."

 

"Oh, no. This is the same crap you pulled on my Dad. He told me Sarah Collins stopped him from making the same deal, just in time."

 

"Very well, then, Mrs. Willie Loomis."

 

"My first name isn't 'Mrs. Willie'," Cellie protested indignantly.

 

"When you talk like a fool, it might as well be."

 

"I don't know what you mean. I'll just wait. Either my husband will come back for me, or one of my friends will figure out where I am."

 

"Cecily, I know your watch is dead. Have ye any idea how long ye've really been in here?"

 

"No, but it can't be too long. An hour or two, maybe. I don't even feel like I have to, you know, find a ladies' room or anything, not yet."

 

"Think again. I'm allowed to know the passing of the days and the hours. Ye've been in here since

 

around eight P.M.---last night! Ye've been sleeping off your husband's rough loving for over twelve hours, already!"

 

"That can't be! I don't feel hungry, or thirsty, or anything!"

 

"Ye slept like a rock till near Nine A.M., I swear! Of course ye're a bit numb in your body functions! Maybe Willie slipped ye a Mickey, and that's why you don't feel anything yet."

 

"No, he didn't give me anything.... Everything was brown-orange at first, then yellow-blue-white-white-white, and there was green fog, and I saw the eyes.... It hurt, but there were times I didn't feel the pain...."

 

"He must have given ye something, and ye just don't remember, if ye're talking like that!"

 

Suddenly, Cellie was uncertain. Maybe she had been in the mausoleum a longer time than she'd believed, though it seemed unlikely that she'd been sleeping there for twelve hours. How could she be missing all night, with none of her friends, even David, suspecting she might be here? "I don't believe you!" she shouted into the gloom. "Someone would have come!"

 

Jason sneered, "Maybe Willie's been killed, with nobody suspecting he'd want to come near here ever again, especially after the way he acted when he helped Barnabas move my sad remains. What a damned crybaby, after all these years! I don't envy ye having two of 'em under your roof. Your friends may be looking in the swamp, or below Widow's Hill, and never even give this place a second thought."

 

"No, Will can't be dead! I would know it, if he was.... He's scared, now. Scared of what he's done. Scared of Barnabas, of the Sheriff.... scared to come back for me, that I might be dead, or that I won't forgive him.... And my baby! I know something's wrong with my Sarah Teresa!" Cellie jumped up, and ran to the door, screaming, "I HAVE TO GET OUT! PLEASE!"

 

"There's only one way, lass. I vow and swear, I'll leave ye be, as soon as I see the light." There was a wheedling tone in his voice, but Cellie began to feel a queasy sympathy coming from the direction of the sound. Maybe McGuire was sincere, and he was telling the truth about how long she'd been in here. She couldn't wait any longer to find out.

 

"Okay, Jason. You've got your ticket out of here. Now, hurry," she hissed.

 

"Ye're a smart lass. It makes me wonder why ye took up with Willie in the first place," Jason laughed derisively.

 

All at once, Cellie had a rush of a pins-and-needles sensation through her whole body. She felt McGuire's presence enter her through every pore. She shared his momentary contempt for the necessity of using a female body as a vehicle for his escape. Then, she experienced his pleased surprise, and his long-unexercised lust in her heart. For a few minutes, she felt even more violated than when her husband attacked her. Realizing her mistake, she tried to push his spirit out, but her own was held in a cage in the corner of her mind. He wasn't about to leave her body after his release from his prison.

 

But he did get her out. Somehow, he caused her index finger to become as hard and tough as a metal rod. He guided the finger to the heart of the broken toggle, and caught at the point where the

 

switch connected to the hinge mechanism. The door began to creak and moan. Within moments, it swung open.

 

Jason felt the evening breeze on his face---his brand-new face!---for the first time since that fateful night, six years ago. He laughed aloud, at how easy it had been to con Willie's silly young bride into believing she'd been in the mausoleum overnight. Why, it was barely ten o'clock, a scant two hours since his former associate had carefully laid this body out on Barnabas's old marble bed, sniffled over it for a few minutes, broken the switch, and left, cringing.

 

This new body was aching from its recent abuse, but otherwise, Jason liked the vitality and health that was reasserting itself, the youthful energy he'd begun to miss, even before Barnabas finished him off six years ago. Ah, how grand it was, to be young again, but with all the knowledge of his first fifty years intact!

 

At first, Jason realized he'd forgotten the layout of the the dark, misty terrain of the cemetery, until he discovered that he could force his host to guide him out toward the road. Cellie trotted along obediently, until they both heard a distinctive sound, instantly familiar to both of them. Willie was somewhere nearby, crying his heart out. At that, the body turned on its heel, and walked back, behind Eagle Hill, to where Willie was sitting in an old station wagon.

 

The distraught man looked up, at his wife’s approach. He was momentarily grateful that he'd long since moved his car out of the Poison Ivy patch, when he decided to carry his wife to the mausoleum. "Cecily!" he exclaimed. "You're okay! How did you---how did you get out?" He sounded fearful now. "You couldn't have got out the regular way," he whispered. "I must have killed you, and now you're a ghost! I'm sorry--- I'm so sorry--"

 

"Aye, Willie, there is a ghost hereabouts, but it isn't your delightful bride."

 

Willie recognized the brogue, and the manner of speech. He shrank back into the station wagon. "Jason!" he gasped. "How did you get Cecily to let you possess her?"

 

"It wasn't all that easy, but, considering the young lady's brain power and mettle, easier than it should have been. It seems she put her pride on hold, out of her affectionate anxiety over ye! I must congratulate ye on your choice of a wife, Willie! Her loyalty to ye, though sorely tested, I'm sure, made it possible for me to escape that Hell-hole. Her mind, which seems to have some special features that I'm just discovering, will make it possible for me to gain new heights of wealth and power I could scarcely have imagined in my previous lifetime. Her body, and a lovely one it is, will surely help ease my path, when dealing with certain individuals." Cellie laughed in a dirty way.

 

"You can't have my Cecily's body! How could you even stand living that way? You're a man!"

 

"Compared to my former situation, it's an improvement, all right. Any port in a storm, ye know? I'll adjust. I'll even develop some method of putting myself 'on hold', so to speak, while she's carrying out some of my plans."

 

Willie pleaded, "NO! She's my wife, and we have a baby--"

 

"Ye should have thought of that, before ye chucked her into that tomb, Willie! But it won't be so bad. We two used to room together, when we traveled about. Consider this a similar arrangement. Forget about hugs and kisses, though, and whatever else ye were doing tonight! If ye stay on as my faithful hubby, I'll be glad to cut ye in when we hit our mark. As for the dear little one, ye can look after her, and once we're rich, we'll just hire nannies and such. Later on, we can send the brat to boarding school. If she's more like her mother, brain-wise, than yourself, that is."

 

Willie tugged on his "wife's" arm. "No, Jason. You have to let Cecily go! I'll bring you where you can find someone else to take over! I love her! She must be in there, somewhere. She must still love me and our little girl, if that's the price she was willing to pay to get out of the mausoleum. Jason, she got you out of that room! Let me have her back, now. PLEASE!"

 

"Sorry, Willie, I couldn't get out of her, even if I wanted to. And I don't. Now, I'd like ye to take me home, wherever that is. I feel the need for a good, hot shower coming on. I just can't wait to get a good look at what I've gotten myself into!" Cellie wore Jason's smarmy, leering grin.

 

"I can't take you home. I'm on the lam---" Before he had a chance to explain, Willie heard sirens in the distance. "They're coming for me!" he cried. "Jason, let her get in here with me! We have to go!"

 

"Not on your life, Willie, if ye're not going to play my game. I'm the victim of your anger, remember? They'll just take me back to Collinwood, or wherever ye were living, and they'll get ye out of my hair! I think I'll call them over---WHAT!" Cellie's body jerked around, facing the path to the mausoleum. "NO! DON'T TAKE ME BACK! I WON'T LET YOU!" Cellie rolled on the ground, twitching, as though two people were duking it out in her gut. Then she rose, firmly. "Wrench," she whispered, in her own voice. Willie pulled his wrench from the back seat of the station wagon. "Stay," Cellie said, as she marched herself to the mausoleum.

 

When she had gone, Willie sat, sniffling again, awaiting the Sheriff's arrival. He didn't believe, for a minute, that Jason would give Cecily's body up that easily. He might just kill her spirit outright, and take over, and there wouldn't be anything anyone could do about it. It would serve Willie right, for the way he'd treated her, worse than any hooker he'd ever picked up in his wild youth. It would serve him right, when either Lester, or Barnabas killed him for what he'd done. He was resigned to the inevitable. He just hoped this didn't mean that this would make it easier for Nicholas to do his dirty work.

 

He heard a rustling in the bushes. He heard David say, "Thank God I found you first, man. I got here just ahead of Lester. We have to get you out of here. Where's Cellie?"

 

Willie pointed toward the marble tomb gleaming in the moonlight. "I hurt her, and I put her in there," he muttered, ashamed.

 

"Oh, Willie you didn't kill her, did you? I thought, before you two ran out, you might still be able to square this Lester thing away."

 

"She's alive." Willie became afraid again. He didn't know how to tell David about Jason being inside of Cecily. Maybe, he thought, David would just think he was making that up to take the heat off what he, Willie, had done to his wife. He wondered what was happening in the secret room right now.

 

"Well, if you know that for sure, come get her out. We have to hurry."

 

"No. I'm going to stay," Willie replied, meekly. "Lester will get me, sooner or later. Might as well be

sooner. After what I did to Cecily, I should be locked up, like Jack. You go and get her. Only, get your own wrench. Mine is gone."

 

David ran back to his car, and found his wrench. He dashed to the mausoleum, screamed Cellie's name. He heard her calling for help to get out. "The switch in here is broken!" she cried. David fixed his wrench to the tiny chain in the brass lion's mouth, and gave it a hard tug. The door swung inward, and Cellie came up the steps, and fell into her friend's arms. "Muffinhead, thank God!" she sighed. "Is Will still out there?"

 

"Yes. He's waiting for the hammer to fall. Lester's. Cellie, what did Willie do to you, that he should act like he deserves the death penalty?"

 

Cellie became very quiet. "It's private, between me and my husband."

 

David studied her appearance in the moonlight, and thought he could guess. He got angry at Willie, but he could see it was no use trying to press Cellie for any more information. She had made the choice to live with whatever nasty thing Willie had done to her, the same way Julia made the choice to stick with Barnabas during all those years he had made her crawl. David hoped that Sarah Teresa would grow up with more of--- what did they call it?--- self-esteem, and self-respect. He sensed that was part of his job as God-father.

 

He led Cellie back to the station wagon. They both froze, when they saw Sheriff Lester Arliss holding his gun on Willie, who stared up at him with a confused look. "What did you do with your wife, Willie?" the Sheriff asked, in a harsh tone.

 

"She's okay. Just hiding," Willie replied in a dazed voice. "She's not Cecily, anymore, anyway. She's Jason now."

 

"Who's Jason? Oh, that's right. Jason McGuire. My uncle made him leave town, years ago."

 

"No," Willie insisted. "I told you. He's inside Cecily. He's dead."

 

"What the Hell are you talking about, you FREAK?"

 

"Don't talk like that, Lester. You're supposed to be my friend." Willie sounded hurt. He rose quickly, saying, "I have to show you! You just don't understand!" He began to run into the cemetery.

 

"Stop or I'll shoot!" Lester called, as he drew a bead on the fleeing older man, who remained clearly visible in the vivid moonlight. "Aw, Hell, I'll shoot anyway," he muttered.

 

At that moment, Cellie jumped onto her husband, and David grabbed Lester from behind. They were all still struggling when Barnabas's car pulled up, and he got out, with Elizabeth, Pavlos, and Dr. Hurley, who had joined their search, when she'd arrived for her usual check on Julia. She agreed to help convince Willie to go either to the Psychiatric Wing of Collinsport General, or to WindCliff, that is, if they managed to intercept him before Lester.

 

Cellie was kneeling in the frosty grass, cradling her husband's head to her breast, watching as David fought with Lester. She grew angrier and angrier. She caught Lester's eye for the briefest moment---

 

The Sheriff began to gasp, and reached for his throat. He wore an expression of surprise when he felt no human hand choking him. He still tussled with David, but within a minute, David made him drop his gun. Lester was still gagging as he shouted, "What--what happened to me! You're all interfering with an arrest! Willie was fleeing the scene---"

 

"Bullshit!" David yelled. "The scene of what? You were just ready to blow Willie away, and Cellie would have taken the bullet for him."

 

"No, no, that's not what I wanted," Lester said, rubbing his throat all the while. "I thought he'd killed her." He studied the girl's bedraggled appearance. "Cellie, I can guess what Willie did to you. Please, get away from him, and we'll take him where he'll never hurt you again, and I'll stay away from you, too, if you want."

 

"No," Cellie replied. "Will's my husband. I'm staying with him, no matter what! I love him, no matter what! He didn't do this because he's like Jack. He never did anything bad to me before, but then, I never did anything bad to him before, not on purpose, I mean. He won't be doing these things again."

 

"He assaulted a Sheriff. I have to run him in for that, alone."

 

"And why did Willie assault you, Sheriff Arliss?" Barnabas asked. "He didn't just start fighting with you spontaneously!"

 

Pavlos said, "I had Willie nicely calmed down, and eager to reconcile with his wife. What happened between the time I saw him, and the time he left Collinwood?"

 

"I came to bring Cellie her tickets--" Lester began.

 

"I talked to everyone at home," Elizabeth said sternly. "It seems that, instead of just sending a deputy out for that minor chore, you chose to follow your friend's wife back to her home, after she brought a halt to your rendezvous. Cellie tried to convince you to leave, but circumstances allowed Willie to walk into her room, and jump to the wrong conclusion! What do you EXPECT, when a husband walks in on a man he considered to be his friend, trying to make love to his wife?"

 

"It's a crime, none-the-less," Lester protested.

 

"Very well, then," Barnabas said. "Arrest Willie, put the miserable fellow on trial, and have himself, and a host of witnesses, including your would-be lover, testify as to your actions tonight."

 

"I doubt a scandal of such magnitude would be advantageous to your career, even if Willie was convicted, and all you wanted to do was run for Sheriff again, Lester," Elizabeth commented.

 

"I'll be happy to repeat what Lester said to himself, when he just pulled that gun on Willie," David said. "It puts what Old Fred Beardsley said about Willie years ago, right in the shade."

 

"You all interfere with the law, and now you're blackmailing me!" Lester yelled. "All you rich, better-than-everyone-else Collinses---"

 

"We're just stating facts, Sheriff. Willie was definitely provoked, and you've carried on this persecution beyond its reasonable conclusion," Barnabas said. "Leave him to us. He's not going scot-free by any means. From the looks of him, he could use a stay in the hospital."

 

"Cecily?" Willie whimpered, into his wife's sweater. He hugged her gently, in order not to hurt the bruises and bitemarks he'd made. "You're you, again! You said you still love me. I'm sorry. Real sorry. I hurt you so bad."

 

"I know, hon," Cellie said soothingly, as she stroked his sweaty hair. "I hurt you, and you hurt me. I guess that makes us even. But this is where it has to stop," she declared firmly.

 

"I know. I'm sorry about Lester, too."

 

"Oh, God, you're falling for this?" Lester hooted. "Why are you all protecting this nutcase, anyway? He damn near killed me, he obviously assaulted his wife, and you're all acting like he's just under the weather! I don't understand you people!"

 

"Hey, like you said, we're rich!" David taunted. "We can get away with anything, including protecting our crazy family members. Willie's one of the family."

 

"David, that's enough!" Elizabeth admonished. She turned to the Sheriff. "Lester, we understand the seriousness of the charges. But, as Barnabas and I have outlined, things could be just as difficult for you, personally, if you pursue this matter. We will care for Willie. Just let this drop, and I guarantee that he will never trouble you again."

 

"I guess I have no choice. I have no witnesses in my favor, and it's my word against Willie's. I'll have to trust in your promise, but if he ever looks my way cross-eyed, I guarantee I'll find some way to have him locked up for the rest of his life. Don't come crying to me, if you come to regret this decision." Lester turned, and walked back to his car, but not without a long backward glance at Cellie.

 

Dr. Hurley ran up alongside the Sheriff, and asked if he wanted her to check his throat for any injuries.  He forced himself to answer calmly, "No, it's fine now. I don't know how I could have been choked without that kid laying a hand on me. I know it wasn't an allergy attack, or asthma. It's just those Collinses--- my uncle tried to tell me, once, but he could never explain. It's over, now. I just want to get the Hell out of here. You should, too, if you know what's good for you." Lester slammed the car door in Virginia's face, and drove away quickly.

 

Cellie rocked her husband like she rocked her baby. Willie raised his head, and, in a subdued tone, asked Elizabeth, "Is Roger still taking care of Sarah Teresa?"

 

"Yes. She was crying very hard for a while, after you ran--- left, but Roger got her quieted down, and she was sleeping on his lap, the last I checked, before we came out here. It was David's idea to look for you here, after we exhausted the possibilities around our property."

 

Dr. Hurley walked over to the couple still kneeling in the grass, and said, "Willie, we have to keep our promise to Lester. You have to go to a hospital."

 

"WindCliff. I want to go there. I don't want people around town to know what I did. I don't like WindCliff too much, but they don't gossip out there."

 

"I talked to Julia before we came out here," the doctor said. "She still keeps track of what's going on at WindCliff, and, as soon as I check in with her, she'll call them to make sure you get in tonight. You seem a lot better now. Perhaps you won't have to stay there long."

 

"Yeah, it feels like a load was taken off my mind. I want Cecily to ride with me to the hospital. Is that okay?" Willie gazed up at his wife's face. In the moonlight, he could see the tender smile he had missed, like the angel in the church window.

 

Dr. Hurley studied Cellie's disheveled appearance, and came to her own conclusion, in favor of the Sheriff's allegations. The girl seemed to have forgiven her husband very quickly, but Dr. Hurley knew that the real effect of such a trauma sometimes took a while to manifest itself.

 

The doctor had been in the best position to clearly observe Lester's choking fit, and, after her brief consultation with him, guessed that Cellie's empathism was somehow reasserting itself. With Julia at such a low point, Virginia didn't want the niece's newly-reconstituted capacities strained, before the girl had an opportunity to help her aunt. She definitely believed that diverting Cellie from Willie at this point would be beneficial to both of them, especially if they were serious about reconciling. "I think she should come with me to our hospital, get a check-up, and rest."

 

"No, I want to go, and make sure he's settled," Cellie said. "For some reason, I don't feel too bad, anymore, either. It's like the pieces are starting to fit themselves back together. I saw a lot of green lights all day, but now, they're gone. After all the bad things that happened, it's like a miracle."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

At the Collins mausoleum, a passerby might have heard a wailing sound that could have been the result of the wind rushing around the tombs in the front room. However, if one dared come closer, he or she might have made out anguished words emanating from the secret room....

 

"DAMN IT! LET ME OUT! THE GREEN LIGHTS! THEY'RE BURNING ME! PLEASE, SOMEONE, TAKE AWAY THE DAMNED GREEN LIGHTS!"

CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN

 

Willie was safely settled at WindCliff, after his wife had grilled the doctors about the possible application of electro-shock therapy, and the use of heavy medications. The doctors, who had remained in consultation with the ailing Julia, assured Cellie that shock therapy was seldom employed in that institution anymore, and heavy drugs were prescribed very judiciously. After Willie's preliminary examination, the physicians told his wife that he would require neither. He just needed to rest for a week or two. Cellie didn't inform the doctors about her assault, and neither did Dr. Hurley, to her own chagrin, since she lacked the young wife's confirmation and consent.

 

Now, Cellie was, as she had so feared, alone on the eve of her confrontation with Nicholas. She stayed at Collinwood full-time, working off what she felt to be her great obligation, by assisting Mrs. Johnson in the kitchen, and on her rounds in the great mansion. After all that had come to pass because of her revelations to Willie, Mrs. Johnson hardly expected, or wanted the traitorous young wife to stay around at all. But as time went on, and she observed Cellie's suffering at the separation, the housekeeper softened a bit toward her. Still, some of the things her new assistant did still confounded Mrs. Johnson, such as her current tendency to run and take a shower at every chance she got, as often as four times a day.

 

Mrs. Johnson mentioned this to Julia one evening. Julia had heard every version of what had happened that night, except for Lester Arliss's, and she supposed he would have told much the same story. Cellie would only speak of what had transpired, up to the time that Willie drove into the Poison Ivy patch. (David and Barnabas had searched for it the next day, and just found an odd, blackened patch of burned vegetation where Cellie thought it had been.) Then she would

take up the story where she'd awakened in the mausoleum, and been tricked by Jason McGuire's spirit.

 

"Cellie," Julia admonished weakly, "You have to face what Willie did to you. Of course, he probably can't be prosecuted for it, the way the laws are written, which is, in your situation, a merciful thing."

 

"I would never want him arrested. It won't happen again, anyway, just like what I almost did with Lester will never happen again. It was MY fault."

 

"Don't blame yourself too much, Cellie. You were all under an influence that exaggerated your natural attractions and jealousies. But what happened will have some effect on your own behavior for some time to come. It's inevitable. I heard about all these hot showers you feel you need." Julia smiled sympathetically.

 

"Oh, it's not from what Will did, not all of it. It's from the way Jason made me feel when he got into me. Really low-down, like I was just a tool he could use. What Will did, lasted only a half-hour. What Jason wanted to do.... It would have been like a perpetual rape. He must have been something else, way back when. But I got rid of him! When he was ready to turn Will in, my personality got a jolt, either from the self-discipline routine Ralph taught me, or from some other

entity.... When I was forcing him from my consciousness, I thought I saw someone helping me push, but I couldn't make it out. He, or she, couldn't help me get out of the mausoleum the same way Jason did, though. Thank God David knew where to go."

 

"Willie does have a noticeable pattern of returning to the site of his worst traumas."

 

"Aunt Jule, I've been thinking a lot about something. If, and when, this is all over, I want my family to move away."

 

"Willie's moved from here before, and found himself drawn back."

 

"That was Barnabas's doing,” the niece asserted.  “I don't think I'm pumping myself up with a false sense of self-importance when I tell you, even with all that's happened between us, I am the primary influence on Will, now."

 

"I don't think I'm trying to shoot you down, Cellie, when I tell you that, with all his problems continuing to bubble back to the surface, I doubt Willie will ever recover enough to leave permanently. He's grateful for your forgiveness and forbearance now, and if we pass through our trials successfully, he will probably be much as he was when you first married, but what happened to his mind can never be completely undone. If you both go any distance away from those who understand his condition best, what will happen if he goes off his head again, for whatever reason?"

 

"If he stays here, it will happen again and again," Cellie declared emphatically. "This whole area seems to be the foyer of the entrance to Hell. The mud-room, actually. Demons come and wipe their boots on these otherwise ordinary folks trying to get through their lives. Look at what's happened to you."

 

"I feel marginally better, tonight. Sometimes I think all will be well with the baby, after all. I've made it to almost six months, already! But then Virginia comes, and tells me different, and I see the look in my husband's eyes.... " Julia began to cry, with pathetic, choking sobs. "They say it's no good, and I'll have to go back to the hospital soon.... They're going to take my baby from me, so I can live. But I won't want to, after."

 

"Aunt Jule.... You will. We'll all help you." Cellie took her aunt's hand, and touched her face. The heavy sorrow washed over the girl, as though she was standing on a rock jetty at the beach, and being pelted with cold, salty waves.... Only the waves weren't from the sea. They were millions and millions of tears, tears shed by bereft mothers from the dawn of time. Perhaps Eve's tears over Cain and Abel were part of those torrents.

 

"Cellie...." Julia's weak voice was strengthened by wonder. "It's come back! I can feel it.... Virginia told me she thought you did something to Lester, right there in the cemetery. He choked---"

 

"I know," her niece replied softly. "After my attack.... after I trounced Jason.... The green lights were gone.... Lester was going to shoot Will. He told me his love was like a choking vine. I guess I made it come true. But only for a short time, like now. I'm trying to build it back up, and maybe I can really help you. I just don't understand it, though, what made the green lights go away, and made the power come back with such a rush."

 

"Cellie, isn't it true that the empathism hasn't worked since you've been estranged from Willie? At least, since you were in Boston."

 

"Yes, but--but I wouldn't consider what happened at Eagle Hill a reconciliation! I mean, we'll work on getting back together, after he's out of the hospital, but when we were alone, in the Poison Ivy

patch...." Cellie felt her face flush, and turned her head away.

 

Julia reached for her niece's hand. "Cellie.... It's a natural hormonal process. For example, Nature doesn't care what kind of relationship a man and a woman have, whether they like each other, or hate each other. But if they have sex, even when it's rape, so long as both parties aren't sterile, a pregnancy can result. Something of the kind may have been set into motion when Willie attacked you."

 

"That's horrible!" Cellie cried. "And it seems unlikely. I mean, I was already sleeping with Will before Jack tried to rape me, just before you married Barnabas. I couldn't do anything to Jack then, or ever, after. I could do things to and for you, Will, and Barnabas, but only because I loved you, even when I was angry at you. If a loving relationship can't strengthen me enough to make my abilities function against a true opponent, then how can such a hateful act--- Will hated me for that time, I know that much...."

 

"If you can solve that mystery, that could be the real key to dealing with Nicholas, as well as your marital problems." Julia thought for a minute. "I don't think it's really too hard to figure out where the 'green' influence went, though."

 

"Jason.... When I tore him out, he tore out my green lights, and maybe Will's, through me. I wonder what effect they had on him. I hope nobody gets near enough to that mausoleum again, to find out. I think that's why I'm also so hung up on hot showers. That was the first worldly activity he wanted to experience."

 

Julia said, "You're doing a fine job, working these things out for yourself. I wish I could be of more assistance. But I'm starting to feel better, now. Please call Barnabas. I'd like to take a spin in the wheelchair for a while. Poor man, I have him sleeping through the days, and walking at nights, as he once did."

 

"He doesn't mind, Aunt Jule."

 

After she'd gotten Barnabas, Cellie took Sarah Teresa to her crib. The baby clutched her Teddy bear, and whimpered, "Jeh? Jeh?" as her mother rocked her, before laying her down. Sarah Teresa had regressed greatly in her father's absence. She forgot the few simple words she had been learning to say, she curled up in a ball rather than sitting, and drank only from a bottle, when she'd been chewing on her cereal with her four teeth. Cellie sang to her, and kissed her, but it wasn't the same for her daughter, as when Willie did these things. "I've ruined everything!" the young mother reproached herself, over and over.

 

She continually relived that day, and night. She lay next to her sobbing daughter's crib, wishing Willie was there to comfort Sarah Teresa as only he could. How could two empaths, mother and baby, be so far apart, emotionally? Cellie wondered. She speculated whether her child could already read minds, as she had demonstrated she could absorb feelings. If Sarah Teresa could, it was no wonder that she couldn't get to sleep right away, or even be comfortable in her mother's presence, what with Cellie's tumultuous thoughts these days.

 

Finally, Sarah Teresa quieted down, and Cellie heard her tiny sighs, as she fell into a deeper sleep.  The girl could hear her uncle wheeling her aunt down her end of the corridor, then turning, and heading toward the solarium, where they would look out the window at the moon.

 

Cellie had an overpowering urge to join them, even though she knew she really shouldn't leave her daughter alone. She snapped on her bedside lamp, and jumped up, drawing on her heavy robe. She left the door to the room open, in case the baby cried. She ran down the hall, toward the solarium. When she got there, she was surprised to find it empty, and dark. She had just decided to go back to her own room, when the light flashed on.

 

She felt his presence before he spoke. "Nicholas," Cellie hissed, without turning to look at him. "Or, should I say, Nathaniel?"

 

"Don't bother to flee, or even call out, Mrs. Loomis," he replied. "There will be no answer. You exist in a space between the seconds, just a moment before your uncle and aunt arrive here."

 

"You're having my baby stolen from me, as I'm being trapped here," she said, accusingly.

 

"No, it's not that simple. I've encountered untold resistance from the forces that guard my prize. But I am closing in. I don't mind telling you so. There will be nothing you can do about it, when it happens."

 

Cellie pulled the shell necklace from under her pajama collar. "This no longer deters you?"

 

Nicholas quailed, but recovered. "Only a little. It won't help you discover the secret, and it has no effect on my assistant."

 

"Anissa-Desiree. She has a weak spot, too. I'll find it."

 

"Not before I find all of yours. I've already found your uncle's and aunt's, and your estimable husband's."

 

"Well, I had one, but I patched it up. You're not sending another extremely eligible, attractive, lonely, horny bachelor my way."

 

"I like your sense of humor, my dear. If you were more corruptible, I might want you on my side. But there's something untouchable about you, even after your recent violation." Nicholas's voice became softer, when he said that.

 

"You sound almost wistful, Nathaniel. Maybe I remind you just a tad too much of your late wife?"

 

He resumed his air of cynical indifference. "No, you are not she. And what's past, is past. You recall my current affinity for Carolyn. I have always believed she was meant for finer things, besides tiresome earthly matrimony to that boorish lawyer."

 

"Tony's no boor, and Barnabas told me about some of the 'finer things' you once had planned for Carolyn, including marriage to some kind of slimy, snake-headed monster. How self-sacrificing of you, to offer up your dream woman as the future mother of a degenerate race of half-breed Leviathan mutants."

 

"I doubt your friend would like her late husband referred to as a 'snake-headed monster', or a 'degenerate Leviathan', Mrs. Loomis."

 

Cellie replied, "I know he found the will to break from your cult and dared to become human. He died for that choice."

 

"As you would have, yourself, I daresay,” Nicholas sneered. “You have much in common with the late, lamented Jeb Hawkes, and even more with your dear Uncle Barnabas."

 

"Good for me. So, tell me, Nathaniel, if you were so fond of Carolyn, why didn't you come back after her husband's murder, and claim her, once she got over it? Is it possible, this big surge of affection you suddenly feel for her has more to do with the possibility of some serious Collins cash coming your way if you married her? Could it be, you were in such bad odor with your Master, because you failed for the second time? How do they work things down Hades way? Three strikes and you're out?"

 

Nicholas maintained his attitude of calm, but Cellie could sense it crumbling. "I had other plans to pursue. I had to let Carolyn be, until another opportunity presented itself to come back to Collinwood. You and Willie provided an excellent one, fortunately within a reasonable time. And now, Carolyn has a far better chance of gaining the prestige she deserves."

 

"What will happen to the rest of us?"

 

"Oh, it will be much as I would have planned for the Leviathans. Those who choose to submit shall be spared, with a few notable exceptions. I shall need help raising Sarah Teresa, and managing the wealth I shall accrue."

 

"What's the plan for the 'notable exceptions'?"

 

"Oh, you'll find out, in due time. Until then, Mrs. Loomis, you must remain in the dark. And you will not have an opportunity to mention this visit. It has happened, as I said, in the space of a second. It will pass from your conscious memory, as a subliminal advertisement, inserted into a film, is not consciously remembered, until you develop a raging thirst for some revolting soft drink."

 

Cellie looked wildly around, for some object to serve as a signal to set off the memory. Nicholas knew what she was trying to do, and made the room go dark once more. "Till we meet again, sweet Cecily," he laughed.

 

The light flashed on. Julia had flipped the switch, as her husband pushed her wheelchair into the solarium. "Cellie, what were you doing here, in the dark?" Barnabas asked. "Why did you leave Sarah Teresa alone? We heard her crying, in your room. I went in there to check on her. Carolyn came in, also, and she's still there with her, now."

 

Cellie's head swam when she heard Carolyn's name in connection with the baby. There was something--something she had to tell about---what? "I'm sorry, Barnabas," she answered. "I wanted to join you two for a few minutes out here, after my baby fell asleep. I left it dark in here, so I could get a better view of the moon. It's nearly as bright, as when we were out--out in the cemetery, a couple of nights ago. I didn't mean to scare you."

 

Julia said, "Go back and rest, Cellie."

 

"I can't. I miss Will too much. Is that crazy, or what?"

 

"No, it's not," her aunt replied. "It proves you're thinking of him as he was, and could be, again, and that you're not completely fixated on what happened that night."

 

" 'The triumph of hope over experience'," Cellie whispered. She fought off an urge to run to the shower. "I don't know if I've completely forgiven him for that, but I still want to try again, with him, when I can see he's really getting better." She changed the subject. "Barnabas, it's almost the middle of March, already."

 

"I know Nicholas did come back. But you mustn't panic. Remember, the calendar was eleven days behind, in those days."

 

"You make it sound like eleven years. I need answers, now. Aunt Jule needs one, now. How much longer can she hold out?"

 

Julia felt her middle. Her face turned white, and shadows gathered under her eyes. "Barnabas," she whispered urgently, "You have to take me back to my room now. Tell Nurse O'Donnell I have to be hooked up to the transfusion equipment immediately." She began clawing at her face, in the monstrous frustration that had come over her so suddenly. She tasted the blood that rolled down her lip.

 

"All right, my love. Don't panic." Barnabas spoke reassuringly, and held his wife's hands from her face with gentle firmness, but turned his face from Julia to Cellie.  Their niece glimpsed the bottomless despair reflected therein, and realized what her uncle was thinking. Julia would have to go back to the hospital very soon.

 

Cellie followed them to her aunt's room, then headed back to her own. Carolyn rocked Sarah Teresa, who still sniffled and sobbed. The older woman handed the baby back to her mother, who cuddled her in the fuzzy warmth of her robe. "I'll get a bottle," Cellie said, carrying her daughter out the door.

 

She passed David's room, and heard his phone ring. She knew he was in there to answer it, so she walked on down the hall. His door opened behind her, and he called, "Torchtop! It's Willie's doctor!"

 

Cellie became frightened. "My God. He's taken a turn for the worse, hasn't he? He's managed to kill himself, or attacked someone else, didn't he? Oh, God," she began to weep. The baby cried with her.

 

"No, no, Cellie. Dr. Emmons just said, it's important to talk to you. Willie gave him my number. I guess he figured you'd be up in this part of the house, by now."

 

Cellie carried the baby into David's room, and took the phone. She said, "Doctor Emmons? This is Cecily Loomis.... No, my aunt is very sick right now, and can't come to the phone. Is Will okay?

 

What?.... I should come tomorrow? I thought he wasn't to have any visitors for at least a week.... I'll be there. Thanks." She hung up the phone. "The doctor said Will's been rather agitated today. He kept repeating that there was something really important he wanted to tell me. After they told him they would call me, he calmed down a little and only needed some mild medication. Emmons has been keeping Aunt Jule pretty well apprised of Will's condition, and she'd already recommended that I should be allowed to visit him, under controlled conditions, if it seemed necessary. I don't know why she thought I would be ready for such a confrontation this early, let alone Will."

 

"You want to see him, don't you, Cellie?"

 

"Yes. In spite of everything. I wonder if he told them what he did--- I guess he mustn't have, if they're willing to allow me to spend time with him."

 

"You're lucky on I have spring vacation this week. If you want to go, I'll take you. We'll take Sarah Teresa, too. I really doubt they'll let Willie see her, but Barnabas is tied up with Julia, and everyone else will be at the plant. I wouldn't want to leave her with Pavlos, what with Nicholas and his gal-pal in the neighborhood. I was afraid for Pavlos, that night. When he came in here, his lips turned blue. I sure don't want him passing away before he gets to marry your Mom this weekend."

 

"Me neither. Thanks, David."

CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT

 

The next morning, Cellie sat in the back of David's beige Buick, gazing down at the floor at Sarah Teresa, who was strapped in her carrier. Mindful of his burden, David carefully rounded curves, and stayed well within the speed limit. "There's hope for your driving, yet, Muffinhead," Cellie commented.

 

"When it's my almost-sister and my God-daughter, the most important baby on earth.... It behooves me to be cautious."

 

" 'Almost-sister'.... Does this mean you've finally gotten a handle on your feelings for me, David?"

 

"After what I saw Lester was about to do, I did a lot of thinking, Torch-Top. I'll always have a strong bond with you, but I don't think it's in that league, anymore. Having Adele for a pen-pal helps, but if I didn't have her to turn to, I still would have come to the same conclusion. Even after what happened, I'm still fond of Willie, kind of like a brother. Say...." (Cellie could see a smirk forming along David's profile.) "If you're like my sister, and Willie's like my brother, just what does that make you two, and Sarah Teresa?"

 

"Hush, David. Not in front of the most important baby on Earth!  I feel the same about you. Not like what I feel for Ernest. That's blood-deep. On the other hand, you and I are closer, in a way. Ernest is kind of remote, because of our age difference, and the fact we live so far apart. We two have been through a Hell of a lot more, together, than I ever was, with Ernest. I'm not sure Ernest would fit in with our way of living, anyhow. Thank goodness. I still need a few places to visit that aren't smack in the middle of the Twilight Zone."

 

"An oasis in a desert, that's Ernest," David commented. "Still, it touched me, when you referred to 'our way of life.' You belong to us, Cellie. You really do.... No matter what happens with Nicholas, whether we survive, or not, even if you and Willie manage to break from Collinsport, you'll always be a part of it, as he is. You'd make it back, even from the other side, if we needed you...."

 

"I have no intention of finding out if that's possible, not just yet."

 

Cellie looked out the window, and saw an elaborate stone wall. Two marble posts, topped with lanterns, flanked the entrance to a tree-lined driveway. She made out a small, gold-lettered sign affixed to one post. "I missed seeing most of this stuff, when we brought Will here in the middle of the night," she said. "So, this is WindCliff by daylight. This place is too pretty to be an asylum. Where's the barbed wire fence?"

 

"Not for another hundred feet, Torchtop. This used to be someone's estate, just like your Saint Dymphna's school. They've added all the dreary institutional touches we've all come to expect in the average asylum. But the facade of the old building remains, as well as an injunction in the previous owner's will, to keep the evidence of his old home's current use well away from the road. I guess it's kind of soothing to somebody, being brought here for the first time, not to see the fences and bars on the windows right away."

 

David drove past a substantial fence, densely formed with thick links. It was topped, not with barbed wire, but a plain one with warning signs dangling from both sides, advising any would-be escapees and intruders that the whole affair was rigged with a mild electric charge, as well as extremely loud alarms.

 

"Geez, are they allowed to electrify these fences like that? What if someone has a heart condition? A crazy person isn't going to stop and think about anything like that, before they scale the darn thing," Cellie observed.

 

"We used to have fences like that, when Collinwood had operating stables, a few years ago," her friend replied. "It wasn't really a big shock, but it discouraged the horses from hanging around the edge of the paddock. These must be a recent addition. There were some escapes, in the old days. Including a few of our relatives and friends, as you might have suspected."

 

David drove alongside the guard-house, a whimsically-designed stone structure that must have been a decorative outbuilding for the old mansion. He received a pass from the guard inside, and parked near some fenced-off gardens. He and Cellie watched orderlies supervise some of the inmates as they dug holes and planted spring bulbs. "Cheap labor," David whispered, "Most of whom are paying dearly for the privilege. I remember Willie bitching about his chores when he was here. He got to clean up after some of the messier patients."

 

"Work is still the best therapy for him, no matter how much he complains," Cellie said. "And it was good experience for him, when he worked in that hospital in Portland. Maybe he could get another job like that, if we ever move away. If he ever gets his G.E.D., maybe he could even be in charge of the janitorial department.... If only...." She sighed, and picked up the baby carrier. Sarah Teresa was whimpering again. "Sh-sh-sh, sweetie, maybe you'll get to see Daddy today, even if it's from a distance."

 

She followed David toward the white-stuccoed mansion, roofed with Spanish tiles, and fronted with a friendly-looking, wrap-around porch. Cellie hadn't noticed most of these details that night, preoccupied as she had been with consoling her husband as she'd walked him up the steps, circled by Virginia, Barnabas, and Pavlos.

 

Several patients sat on the porch with their nurses. Cellie figured they must have been close to normal, to be out in the open like that. A couple of them rose, attracted by the sight of the baby, but were gently restrained by their attendants. Beyond the late Victorian structure of the mansion, she glimpsed a plainly-built, boxy, brick annex with barred windows. She wondered which barred window belonged to her husband's room.

 

Cellie and David went though the double-set of front doors, which were fully as heavy and elaborately-carved as those at Collinwood. A nurse sat at a large, fancifully-decorated desk in the spacious front hall (complete with a wide staircase, grillework along the railing, and a finely-turned newel post.)  The girl felt dwarfed by the huge space. The foyer at Collinwood seemed cozy by comparison.

 

The nurse summoned Doctor Emmons by intercom. He appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, behind the visitors. At his greeting, Cellie was unnerved, but when she looked at him, she felt reassured. With his grey hair and beard, and his benign expression, Emmons reminded Cellie of the sad, but kindly face in the most familiar photographs of Sigmund Freud. He signalled at the young people to follow him. He led them down a long corridor to the newer wing of the building. The carved wainscoting and flowery wallpaper gave way to institutional-grey blocks. He pointed to a waiting room. "Here, Mr. Collins can wait with the baby. I don't think it would be wise for her father to have contact with her, just yet."

 

"Can't he at least see her through a window?" Cellie pleaded. "The separation from her father is proving just as difficult for Sarah Teresa, as it is for me. If she could see his face, at least...."

 

"Your attitude surprises me, Mrs. Loomis, in light of what your husband has told me about recent incidents in your relationship," Dr. Emmons said sternly. "I questioned whether I should let you near him at all, but your aunt, and Dr. Hurley, both assured me that while you are part of his problem, you are also, ultimately, part of the solution. He would not relax until I promised he could spend a little time with you. It can't be, strictly speaking, 'private time', though. I will be watching through a one-way window, and a couple of our heftier orderlies will stand guard outside the door. He will be under some physical restraint---"

 

"A strait-jacket won't be necessary!"

 

"Of course not. But he will be belted to a chair that's been bolted to the floor. And he will have

 

some tranquilizer in his system. I'm sorry, Mrs. Loomis, but we have to concern ourselves with your safety, as well as our own."

 

"He was pretty subdued, when we brought him here."

 

"Well, he's been a bit hyper, avoiding sleep while he's been figuring out this great 'mystery' he's so eager to share with you. Look, I have nothing against your seeing him, per se. If the circumstances were different, if he hadn't hurt you, I might even consider this a healing process. It's too soon, Mrs. Loomis. For both of you."

 

"Did either my aunt or Dr. Hurley tell you about my.... special attributes?"

 

"I've heard some such tale. I've looked at neurological reports, and perused brain scans, and I even got a very interesting phone call from one Doctor Levi Zandman, in Boston. I'm not sure I believe any of it. If I choose to, I'm not sure it's something in your favor. Perhaps this anomaly has really proven toxic to your husband, if this is how he reacts to his jealous feelings."

 

"We weren't getting along," Cellie replied. "Something came between us, and it wasn't just another man.... Since we've been married, most people have remarked on the positive changes in Will's emotional state, in his whole attitude. It wasn't just a fluke, and what happened that night didn't wipe it all away without a trace. I sensed he was returning to his old self, even then. If he says he's thought of something that can help us with some of the problems we've been having, then I want to hear it, and I want to help him get better, if I can."

 

"You needn't argue your case so vehemently, Mrs. Loomis. I have already agreed to let you two meet. I just want you to be careful, that's all. Don't expect too much, right away." The psychiatrist led her into a room furnished only with chairs, and a large window on the opposite wall, which displayed a smaller room, with two chairs next to each other. Cellie watched as the two orderlies brought her husband into the room. Willie submitted meekly to being strapped to a chair.

 

"It looks like he's being set up for his execution," Cellie commented bitterly.

 

"I assure you, the straps, while strong, are relatively lightweight, and he has some freedom of movement. You can hold his hand, and so forth, if you want too, of course. But I would advise against closer contact, on this visit."

 

"Geez, that makes me feel better," she said, as she entered the tiny room. The orderlies exited, and stationed themselves at the door.

 

Cellie proceeded with caution, stroking her husband's hand. Willie didn't look at her, at first. "Thank you for coming to see me, Cecily," he whispered. "I know, the way I hurt you, you could've stayed away. That's what they all said, when I told them what I did. Dr. Emmons was mad at you, too, 'cause you didn't tell him yourself."

 

"There's a lot of stuff I'll never tell him, now that I've seen how they're handling you. Will, look at me. How many tranks did they pump into you before they brought you in here?"

 

"I don't really know," he replied dully. "They stuck me with a big needle-full. I almost went to sleep. Then, I would have missed you, and then I couldn't tell you the important thing you have to know. I figured it out, all by myself." In spite of his drug-induced lassitude, Willie tried to sound proud. He picked up his head, and smiled wistfully at his wife.

 

"Well, I'm all ears, Hon," she said in the brightest voice she could manage.

 

"You sound like you don't believe I can think up real important stuff anymore," he said, accusingly. "You're making fun of me."

 

Cellie answered, calmly and patiently, "Will, I wouldn't have let David drive me and Sarah Teresa this far, if I didn't still believe you were capable of insights about us, and our problems."

 

"You brought Sarah Teresa? Where is she?" Willie asked, his over-tired mind distracted from his "revelations." "How is she?"

 

"David has her in a waiting room, down the hall. We had to bring her, since Aunt Jule's gotten worse, and the others had business away from the house. Sarah Teresa's healthy, but she's been very depressed since that night. She misses you terribly."

 

"I wish I could see my Peanut," Willie sighed. "I guess they won't allow that, either."

 

"I'll work on that, as soon as you tell me what's on your mind." Cellie clutched at her husband's hand, and gazed into his eyes. He must have sensed the return of her abilities, as he began to speak in a clearer, crisper fashion.

 

"Can they hear us?" he asked.

 

"I'm not sure. It doesn't look like there's microphones in the wall, but you never know," she replied. "Whisper in my ear. I know you won't bite."

 

His lips tickled her ear. She smiled, in spite of the seriousness of the situation. "My girl," Willie began. "My Cecily.... That's what I loved best about you. You were never scared of anything, never scared of ME, until that night...." He choked back a sob.

 

"I'm not scared of you, now, Hon. Go on," his wife urged.

 

"I had a lot of time to think about this, Cecily. I turned it around and around in my mind. How come, a woman who isn't scared, can fight someone who's hurting somebody else, but can't fight back too well when someone's hurting her? Then, I thought, what was the other thing I loved best about you?The other thing that was most different from me? It's hate, Cecily. Self-hate. Out of everybody I ever knew, you have the least self-hate. Barnabas, Julia, Carolyn, me, even David, have a lot of self-hatred going over stuff we did in the past. You never did anything to make you hate yourself---"

 

"Until Lester," Cellie replied ruefully.

 

"I don't even think that put a big dent in you. You broke off from him, without having done too much with him.... I believe that now, Cecily. I'd like to believe you would have stopped even if Mrs. Johnson hadn't caught you, but you put 'Paid' on that whole thing, in any case. You're sorry for it, you feel guilty about it, but you put it in, uh, 'perspective.' It was over for you, the minute you jumped on your scooter and came home. Home.... to me, who couldn't do anything to help you with your 'block', who picked on you about other guys, until you almost made it come true, who hated you at the same time I loved you.... I hated you that night, so much that the green lights said it was okay to--to rape you."

 

"I know, I know, Hon. But, what does all this have to do with the empathism?"

 

"Cecily, didn't you always say that you couldn't make people feel bad about what wasn't inside them already? What's empathy, anyway?"

 

"The ability to share emotions with someone, to feel what they're feeling at the same time. In my case, the emotion has to 'click' with something that's inside of me, before I can turn it back.... Oh, my God. Oh, my God---Will---"

 

"You don't hate yourself," Willie said, quietly. "Maybe you CAN'T hate yourself, Cecily. Most of the bad things you've ever done, you managed to make something good out of them. You did it for me, and Barnabas, and Julia, Carolyn, David, Paul, even my Dad.... I could go on forever. But if someone hates you, and hurts you.... You can't do anything about it. You have to hate yourself, as much as they hate you, before your gift can kick in! Since you never knew how to hate yourself, it's kind of beyond you. That may be why I was helpful to you, once in a while. You could draw on my bad feelings, as well as my good ones. That could also be why you used to get so tired whenever we had fights, in the beginning. Thank God you got over that."

 

"Will--- I don't know what to say. I had some such idea, back when Jack attacked me, but I thought it was just his hatred, itself, that stopped me. It never occurred to me that I can't process it the same way I can with hatred directed at someone else, or another person's self-hatred. I can sense it, I can see the colors, but actually working with it.... I guess some things are impossible, even for me."

 

"Not impossible. I said, you don't have self-hatred about Lester. Not yet. It takes time for it to build up. If it was for any other reason, Cecily, I would say, 'No, don't build on it, stay the way you are, with your perspective, and everything.' You're the healthiest-minded person I ever knew, but this time, you have to get mean with yourself, a little. Maybe, someday, you can go back to the way you were. But, until you get things straight with, you-know-who, you have to pull out all the stops, like the big organ in St. James's. This may help you with Julia, too, though I don't know how. But you have to try!"

 

Cellie regarded her husband with an expression of wonder. "You know, Will, until I came here, I really didn't know what to feel about you anymore. I missed you, and I felt love for you, but then I would think about what you did, and I know I didn't deserve it!" She paused, until the sudden wave of anguish subsided. Calm again, she continued. "Still, I know what really drove you over the edge. I know all this, but I didn't know if I truly wanted you back. Now, I know I want you home with me. That you were able to find the answer, that you even wanted to, in your situation.... My love. You still are, in spite of everything. This is the best present you ever gave me, except for Sarah Teresa."

 

Willie clutched at his wife's hand. "Cecily, I want to be with you so much, now that the bad time is coming. I don't know when I'll be able to get out."

 

"Maybe you'll be safer here."

 

"Not unless I turn into a raving Looney-Toon. I don't think I'll be safe, even here, so long as I keep my marbles together. Knowing too much is sometimes as bad as knowing too little. But the first chance I get, to come back to you, I'll be there. If you really mean it about still wanting me."

 

"I do. But we'll worry about that, later. I think I got what I need to go on. You just concentrate on getting better, Will." Cellie kissed Willie lightly on the lips. It felt right, in spite of the harsh way he'd "kissed" her during the attack. She wondered if that wasn't "close contact", according to Dr. Emmons. Since she wasn't interrupted, and couldn't see what was going on behind the one-way mirror, she kissed her husband a couple more times. "Now, I'll go see if you can spend time with our daughter," she whispered.

 

She left the room to find Emmons talking to a dark-haired woman wearing a white coat, like his. At Cellie's approach, the woman, another doctor, apparently, terminated the conversation abruptly, and went out of the viewing room in a hurry. "Who was that?" Cellie asked. "Another of Will's doctors?"

 

"No, no, Mrs. Loomis," Emmons replied. "That was our newest staff member, Dr. Delacourt. As it happens, she's the official psychiatrist for Jack Knowlton."

 

"What on earth was she doing here?" Cellie was indignant. "Was she listening in our conversation in there?" She pointed toward the room behind the mirror.

 

"No, no, no! There IS a microphone hooked up in there, but you two were whispering. I could hardly hear either of you. And since I'm not even consulting with Dr. Delacourt about your husband, I turned it down for the few minutes she was in here. We both observed, though, that you and Mr. Loomis were getting along pretty well. Did he share his big revelation?"

 

"Yes. But it's something private, concerning my anomaly. He believes in it, and I think I helped him, just by talking. I helped him so much, that I'm going to ask that he be allowed to see our daughter. Sarah Teresa has been suffering a lot since her father's confinement."

 

"But he tried to snatch the child from you! According to him, he felt terrible when he realized he was frightening his daughter, but he was determined to 'protect' her from you."

 

"He was very good with me in there, and I'm the one he hurt the most. He's still strapped up, and woozy from that dope he's been pumped up with. I'm not asking that he be allowed to hold her."

 

"Well.... It's highly irregular, but the safeguards are already in place." The doctor went down the hall, to fetch David and Sarah Teresa from the waiting room. When they came back, Cellie picked up her sniffling daughter, and carried her to the one-way mirror.

 

Sarah Teresa became very excited, smiling, and cooing, "Djeh! Djeh! Teess yub Djeh!"

 

Cellie, with the orderlies close upon her, and the doctor bringing up the rear with David, brought the baby into the room. Willie reached out for his daughter, but almost cried when he realized he would only be allowed to touch her lightly. Still, to Dr. Emmons's eyes, there didn't appear to be anything to be worried about, as far as either Sarah's or Cellie's physical safety was concerned. Perhaps, he thought, there would be no harm in easing up on some of Mr. Loomis's physical restraints. Close supervision was the key. He signaled to the orderlies to loosen the straps on the chair.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

 

 

By the time David turned his beige Buick onto Widow's Hill Road, Sarah Teresa was sleeping soundly in her basket, with a smile on her bow-shaped lips. "She's much better now, and I know her Daddy is, since they were together," Cellie commented. She clutched Barnabas's wolf-headed cane in her hands. Barnabas, having received word in that the repairs had been completed, had given Cellie money, so that she and David could make a quick stop in Chartville to pick it up, on the way home from WindCliff.

 

"Her little words came back, right away," David observed. "When she said, "Love Dah-dah', I guess it was, I don't think I've seen such a happy look on Willie's face. Not since Dr. Hurley told him you and the baby were both going to pull through, after Jack's attack."

 

"It would have been happier, if they told him it was okay to come home---hey, what's going on!" she cried, as an ambulance, lights flashing, sirens blaring, came barreling down the hill, nearly running the "Hupmobile" off the road. Cellie caught a glimpse of Barnabas's sorrowful expression, through the windows of the vehicle, as it sped by. "Dear God---" she breathed.

 

David arrived at the front door of Collinwood in record time. His aunt Elizabeth, his cousin Carolyn, his father, and Mrs. Johnson all stood on the great granite step, their faces masks of anxiety and sorrow.

 

When the two friends emerged from the Buick, Elizabeth spoke up, first. "Julia took a terrible turn for the worse. We're all going to the hospital, as soon as Roger brings his car around."

 

Cellie said, decisively, "Okay. We'll take a couple of you. Tell me, did Barnabas call Professor Stokes?"

 

"I don't think so," Elizabeth replied. "Everything happened so fast. What could Elliot do for Julia, anyway? I know he's interested in her case, but he's not a physician."

 

"It's not what he can do for Aunt Jule, not directly. It's what he can do for me." Cellie ran indoors, to make the call.

 

Fortunately, Elliot was home, and promised to meet her at the hospital, as soon as possible, what with the nearly thirty-mile drive. "Try to convince Virginia Hurley not to rush her into surgery, right away," he urged. "I think I know what to do for you.... No, don't call Pavlos. He will try to involve himself, with possibly fatal results. When we have the situation under control....

CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE

 

Barnabas had spent the morning following the same routine he'd also established for the evening. He'd gotten his wife to eat the liver dish and blood pudding Cellie had prepared, and read to Julia until she slipped into her death-like sleep. He was extremely careful about how he covered her with the lead aprons, and the way he pinned the curtains in the room shut. He always placed Julia's crucifix, with its long chain, on her heart, just above where their child reposed. He never had to worry about his wife turning in her sleep, and disturbing the pendant's position. After assuring himself that he had checked every detail, Barnabas adjusted the reclining easy chair Elizabeth had provided for him, and picked up a book he'd been reading. Eventually, he dozed off, holding Julia's hand.

 

He had a strange dream soon after he fell asleep. He had a confused impression of tapping and rustling sounds, and saw a roomful of prisms, all shedding their spectra upon his sleeping wife. He heard a voice that he couldn't identify, saying, "Choose.... choose...." followed by a loud crash.

 

Barnabas jumped up in the recliner. To his horror, he saw that the curtains had somehow been pulled wide open, and that Julia was crawling on the wet floor near her fallen fish-tank. He carefully picked his way around the angelfish on the floor, already wriggling feebly as they suffocated in the dry air. He grabbed his wife, and lifted her, as she reached for the curtains. As Barnabas laid the shuddering, moaning woman on the bed, he searched, frantically for the lead aprons, and Julia's cross. He saw the aprons, flung into a tangled heap across the room. He picked them up, and found the crucifix, when it dropped from the bundled fabric.

 

Barnabas rushed around, trying to put things to rights. He summoned the nurse, who'd just arrived at the house, to check Julia's vital functions. He called down the hall to Mrs. Johnson, who brought a mop, a broom and a big old vase full of water. She carefully picked through the broken glass of the tank, to rescue the few surviving angelfish.

 

As the housekeeper crouched over the wreckage on the floor, the nurse reported that Julia was in the throes of early labor, in spite of the fact that she had sunk back into unconsciousness. Barnabas rushed to the phone in David's room. When he came back, he gazed upon his wife's white face, with its frozen expression of recent suffering.

 

Barnabas wondered and wondered, who could have gotten into the room, and dared remove Julia's protection, while he lay in what he thought was a light sleep, right next to her. "Nicholas, or that damned Desiree," he thought. He was about to make another call, to Elliot in Orono, but the ambulance arrived at that moment. He had to help the attendants prepare Julia for her journey, before he got into the vehicle with her. He didn't see David's beige Buick coming up the road, as the ambulance whizzed by.

 

At the hospital, he met with Dr. Hurley. She said, "I could give Julia some medication to halt her labor, but in view of the fact that her condition has backslid to such a great extent in the last week, and that we've been considering termination all along.... Maybe this is a process we should accelerate. Bypass completely, actually."

 

"What do you mean?" Barnabas whispered.

 

"A C-section. This would save us the disagreeable necessity of introducing saline, and removing the fetus piecemeal---" Virginia stopped describing the typical late abortion-procedure abruptly, when she saw Barnabas's pale face assume an even whiter shade. "There are risks, especially from the anesthesia, with Julia's vital signs so low, but those would have to be faced if she was injured in an accident, or something similar to what happened to Cellie.

 

“We could take care of the internal bleeding as we went along. All in all, it would be a better bet than if I performed an abortion, or let her try to deliver naturally. Her labor, while inexhorable, is proceeding in a halting, intermittent manner, quite unlike the typical premature delivery. I'm not even sure the drugs we use to speed up the contractions would work, and she's certainly in no condition to respond to an obstetrician's orders to push when necessary. What's more," Virginia almost whispered, "Even though you haven't yet dared to ask, this way, you could give the baby's remains a proper burial."

 

 

Barnabas asked in broken tones, "The child.... It would be born alive, and you would just stand by and allow it to die?"

 

"It has no heartbeat right now.... for all intents and purposes, it would be stillborn. Even if it was jolted into animation, the exposure to light would cancel that very quickly, and, I have reason to think, not painfully. And remember, this is a five-and-a-half-month fetus. Even if we had the most advanced incubation equipment, it wouldn't survive for long in any case."

 

Barnabas gazed down at Julia's agonized face, as an abdominal spasm made her limp body shake grotesquely. He was briefly reminded of a repulsive experiment his uncle Jeremiah, a great reader of the scientific tracts of his day, had once performed, making severed frog legs twitch with the application of a crude Galvanic "battery." Even after all the horrors he had witnessed in his long life, Barnabas still found himself repulsed by that boyhood memory.

 

He turned to Dr. Hurley. "How long do I have, to make this decision? I wish for Cellie to be here, before it all begins. I believe her visit to WindCliff was to be a short one. And I need time, to call Elliot, and Walter, and Janice.... I wish I could bring Pavlos in on this, but he has that bad heart...."

 

"I'm sorry, Barnabas. You haven't much time at all. Julia will continue to have contractions, unless I give her drugs to stop them. Whether I do or not, I will have to proceed with the surgery within the hour, before her vital signs deteriorate any further."

 

"Fifteen minutes.... May I have at least fifteen minutes, to acclimate myself to the inevitable?"

 

Virginia checked Julia again. "You have a half-hour. No more. Where will you be? Oh, that's right, in the chapel, I guess." She squeezed Barnabas's hand for a moment. "I'm terribly sorry, Barnabas. I wish we could have had longer to work this out, especially with the resurgence of Cellie's abilities."

 

"We would have, Virginia. But some evil force saw to it that such was not to be, removing all of Julia's shields as I slept, unaware. Or, maybe aware, but unable to do anything about it, if the dream I had at that time meant anything. The dream said I must choose.... Well, there's certainly no choice now, is there?" His eyes filled with tears. "My child.... Will you let me see it, after?"

 

"If you really want to, and Julia too," Virginia replied softly. "Definitely, don't be too hasty about that decision, and try not to force your own on Julia. If you're going to stick together through this crisis, you both have to respect each other's manner of grieving. Julia's a psychiatrist, but she, too, may need a gentle reminder from me, if she recovers, that is."

 

"She MUST! If SHE goes, it's all over for me. No, Virginia, don't try to tell me differently! I wish I had time to tell you of all the times I almost lost her, and never really appreciated the consequences. Now that I do---" Barnabas burst from the room.

 

Five minutes later, Cellie arrived, followed by David, who was carrying Sarah Teresa, and Carolyn, who had elected to ride in the Buick. Doctor Hurley met them in the Emergency waiting room. Cellie gasped, "You haven't sent Aunt Jule to the Surgical Floor yet, have you?"

 

"No, not for a short while. Barnabas needed time to think about what's going to happen, before he comes back to say 'Good-Bye' to his child, and, quite possibly, his wife," Virginia announced regretfully.

 

"Dr. Hurley, you mustn't operate now. I'm here, and I think I can help her, with Professor Stokes's assistance. It'll be at least another half-hour before he gets here, if he can avoid getting stuck in traffic."

 

"I'm sorry, Cellie. I can't allow her labor to progress any further without intervention. Barnabas has all but agreed to a C-section. It won't help the baby, but at least it won't be mutilated by an abortion, and Julia will be more likely to recover if she doesn't have to endure the strain a natural delivery would place upon her condition."

 

"How did this happen? She wasn't that bad when Cellie left this morning," Carolyn asked.

 

Virginia replied, "Barnabas believes that some intruder removed Julia's protective garments and accessories, and thus, forced her to rise during the daylight. She may have been a candidate for premature labor all along, but the timing is suspicious."

 

"I'd say so!" Cellie thundered. "All the more reason to give my plan a shot. Someone wanted this baby in danger on the Ides of March. After all our discussions about the possible reasons for my Aunt's condition, I think even you can guess who's behind this, Dr. Hurley."

 

"Yes. That Nicholas who, you claim, made baby Marcus sick, and who showed up SO conveniently, just before your big blow-up with Willie and Lester."

 

"That's right. He and his assistant, Anissa, or Desiree, or Allison...."

 

"Wouldn't someone that powerful try to block you if you 'read' your aunt?" Virginia demanded.

 

"That's why I'm waiting for the Professor. Today, Will gave me a clue that could protect my own 'power'. But I may need help. Professor Stokes is one of the top parapsychologists in the world, and he's stood up to some pretty tough spells in his time."

 

Virginia looked at her watch. There were still twenty minutes left on the time limit she'd given Barnabas. She quickly went back to check on Julia. When she returned, she said, "If you are able to make some kind of connection with Julia, I'll give you until the clock strikes the next hour. Thirty-five minutes. But Elliot MUST arrive by then--- I don't want to take the chance that you won't be able to carry the burden alone beyond that time. Now, go find Barnabas, and tell him what we've decided. He's in the chapel."

 

Cellie went to the chapel. She didn't see him there. She even knocked on the Men's Room door. She rushed back down to the emergency waiting room. "Is he down here already---" She surveyed the cluster of people standing there. She saw that Elizabeth, Roger and Mrs. Johnson had arrived, to fill out the group. That wasn't whom she'd rushed down to find. "Oh, Geez," Cellie said, breathlessly. "Dr. Hurley, I think Barnabas is missing!"

 

"Perhaps he took a walk outside," Dr. Hurley said. "David and the others can look for him." Virginia took Cellie by the arm, and led her down the hall to Julia's room..

 

David handed the baby to Mrs. Johnson, who was to intercept the Professor if the others didn't return from their search in time. She settled down to feed Sarah Teresa.

 

In the meantime, Virginia and Cellie came to Julia's bedside. "What have you been telling the staff about her condition?" Cellie asked.

 

The doctor replied, "There are a number of conditions that can make one sensitive to sunlight. Lupus, for example---"

 

"That doesn't make someone go into a coma during the daylight hours."

 

"True, but if one wishes to avoid the worst effects of such an ailment, one may change his or her sleep habits to accommodate it."

 

"And the constant internal bleeding, and the sickle-celled anemia?"

 

"There are many diseases with these symptoms."

 

"What about the non-detectable fetal heartbeat?"

 

Virginia explained, "There have been some cases where the heartbeat has seemingly stilled, causing the mothers and doctors to fear death in utero, but which ended in live, healthy births. There are even cases where the mother is in such denial about the possibility of a pregnancy, she may sense little more than a weight gain, and, then, one day, gets a serious case of 'indigestion' which turns out to be labor, resulting in the rapid birth of a healthy infant. And all, apparently, without feeling fetal movement, or passing it off as 'gas pains.'

 

“I've been struggling to redefine this pregnancy at every new complication, in order to divert suspicion as to the true cause. I've made my peace with the necessity of the deception. Julia was mine and Dave Woodard's protegee, and she's been my personal friend for twenty years. I've even come to admire Barnabas's devotion to her. But I don't mind telling you, keeping up the charade, even in a good cause, has been a strain. One way or the other, we're coming to the end of it, today."

 

Cellie sat at Julia's bedside, and held her aunt's cold hand to her cheek. A contraction shook the unconscious woman's body. The girl closed her eyes, and breathed deeply. The next time a contraction began, Julia twitched slightly, then Cellie began to lurch. She clutched her abdomen. "I didn't know I could feel that, with my 'equipment' gone," she said, in some dismay.

 

"You have your ovaries, and your other organs," Virginia replied. "You're probably secreting the necessary hormones, even though they have nothing to work on. Perhaps your other muscles are compensating for the lost function."

 

"Well, if this is how it's supposed to feel, I guess I didn't miss much, having Sarah Teresa by way of the scalpel. I suppose it gets worse than this?"

 

"That depends. Some women really do 'grunt twice', bite off the cord, and get back to work in the fields. To hear Julia tell it, your late grandmother was reticent, to say the least, when it came to discussing her own labors, even with her middle-aged, physician daughter. So I don't even have any direct family history to go on."

 

"Grandma Muriel loved her family, but she was a strait-laced Calvinist to the end," Cellie said. "She probably couldn't bring herself to talk about that stuff with anyone who wasn't married. Now, if you asked my Mom.... She had a rough time with both myself and Ernest, and she might have had heart-to-hearts with Grandma back then, especially after her own mother died. You could try calling her, but remember about Pavlos."

 

"I may just do that. Are you making any other connections with Julia at this point?"

 

Cellie wished she could look into Julia's eyes, but when she gently lifted an eyelid, all she saw was white. She began to rub her aunt's temples in a rhythmic fashion. Cold, cold.... her aunt's mind was as still as death. That couldn't be.... Barnabas had retained his mental faculties, even to the point of being able to send the signals that had, first, lured Willie to his crypt, and then, held him in thrall, unable to escape, even at high noon.

 

There was something excessive, overdone, about Julia's suspended animation. After all, Barnabas had actually died before becoming a vampire. Julia certainly had not. What was more, she had been able to rise and attempt to cover her windows in the middle of the day, something Barnabas could never have done in his former state. Whoever had set this spell in motion didn't really know much about creating a vampire.

 

That, alone, pointed to Desiree's doing. Good thing, Cellie thought. She felt Nicholas would not have fumbled with such vital details, including the anemia so uncommon in those of European descent. If he was in charge, there would have been necrotic blood cells, or at least, blood cells that APPEARED dead.

 

Cellie had to find the "back door." She felt herself going down a shady path, as she had when she'd "entered" Paul Loomis's emotional state. Julia's path led through a room full of colors, at first. The sun was shining from above, and Cellie saw bright blues, reds, golds.... Then she remembered. The skylight in the tenement where Julia's grandparents lived.... A small, red-haired girl dancing in the light.... "My mother thought I was silly when I told her I was turning into an angel." At one time, Julia had felt worthy enough to imagine she could be an angel. Or, perhaps, Walter had given his little sister that idea. The tall, handsome older brother had almost been a God to little Julia, and, in her childish way, she may have believed he could confer angelhood upon her.

 

The path took more turns, through a stark, bare church painted plain white. All angelic thoughts and feelings flew out the clear-paned windows of the strict Presbyterian church Muriel had taken her children to. Grandpa August wanted to bring them to the Lutheran church he attended, but Cellie could hear Muriel's voice: "Nay, Augie. It's most impor-rtant, especially for the wee one. Walter-r's set in his ways b'now, but Julia's a female in this sinful world, and needs the extr-ra goading."

 

Goaded, goaded.... "Honors for your Julia, Mrs. Hoffman. You must be so proud---"

 

"My Julia has the brains, I'm not denying it, but one mustn't be too pr-roud.... It's her duty, after all." More honors, more school. Some friends, but with all the studying.... Even without her mother's "goading" Julia would have chosen to study, rather than going out. The reading and retention of facts was as addictive as any drug. Drugs.... Julia had already decided to be a doctor. No matter what her mother thought about a woman's place in the world, Julia had inherited Muriel's feistiness, her determination.

 

Cellie pulled back from time to time, to review the facts she knew about Julia's personal and family history, in order to find the next blaze on the pathway of her aunt's memories. Grandma Muriel had become a home-maker upon her late marriage, after earning her own keep for almost thirteen years as a nursemaid and governess in other people's houses. Once installed in her own home, she was, for the first time, the one giving the orders. Julia had seen numerous movies about nurses' lives, and thought that a nurse must feel a lot like she did when Muriel kept after her to maintain a Spartan, "hospital-like" cleanliness in their home. Once she made up her mind to enter the medical field, Julia knew that she'd just have to be the one to give orders.

 

More school.... Walter was gone, first to Harvard, then to the Army, then back to Harvard, and then married to "some puir lassie he was tutorin'. He must have had some ither lessons in mind," Muriel had commented, ruefully. Upon the birth of the first grandchild, her attitude changed. Even though Julia was still living at home, going to Boston University, her mother's attention was off her for the first time in her life.

 

Cellie knew her aunt's first love was named Mark. But she had no idea how intense and complex the sheltered Julia's feelings were for him. Julia tried to appreciate her artistic boyfriend's talent, and disdain for hard-headed professional types like Walter. But Mark hurt Julia with his own hard-headedness. "How can an artist make a living without attracting some kind of patronage from those cold-blooded bourgeousie you're always complaining about?" Julia wailed, one night when they were discussing a possible future (something she always felt obligated to do, before she inevitably fell into Mark's lumpy bed.)

 

"Why are you so hung up on the future, Julie?" an attractive, but rather unkempt young man replied. (Yuck, Cellie thought, as she relived her aunt's memory. How could her aunt have been attracted to someone who was so unhygienic? Then, the girl figured, that's how Julia developed a tolerance for her medical duties, and then, much later, for what Barnabas got her to do.) "Oh, yeah," Mark sneered. "You're going to be one of them, too."

 

"I'm going to be a doctor. I'm going to fix people's minds!"

 

"Fix people's minds. Right. Maintain them at a level you can control, you mean. Applying your own standards. For someone who already knows about Freud, you let your Ego run you around big-time, Julie. You're already trying to put the screws to me, that much is clear."

 

Another pointless argument, followed by a frenzied embrace.... Mark was soon gone, lost in the conflict between Julia, her brother, her mother, and the demands of her father's last illness. Cellie had caught glimpses of her here-to-fore unknown grandfather through her aunt's memories. August had to practically steal his children, especially his daughter, from his wife's presence. Cellie could taste strawberry ice cream, sniffed her grandfather's flowery "Cologne Wasser", felt his little kisses on the top of her head, even up to the time he got sick, when Julia was already nineteen.

 

"Liebchen," he whispered. "I know we didn't spend as much time as we would have liked, on our own. Your mother is a good woman, but she wanted her children to be the best. Her father was an old drunk, you know. Disowned by his illustrious cousins, because he wedded a farmer's daughter.... Nothing wrong with such a marriage, but it ate at your mother, through all the years of crawling at other folks' beck and call. My own people were tough-minded, but they had a soft spot. I know Muriel thinks I'm soft. Julia, I know you will be a great doctor. You've chosen a hard road, and you will have to be hard to travel upon it.... But there's something soft in you. Don't lose it, or you won't be able to help those unhappy folks."

 

"But you'll be around to see me become a doctor, Father. You'll see, I'm going to make it all come true."

 

"Perhaps.... But in this life, one never knows." Six months later, August was dead. That was the last time Julia cried for years, through all the long, hard days of med school, through more discarded romances, through troubles with her mother and her brother, until the glorious day Walter called her, his voice breaking with happiness...."Janice made it through okay, Julia.... We have such a tiny little girl, a lot like you way back when. Never mind what happened the last few years. We'd both be honored if you stood as Cecily's God-mother. I know Father would have wanted that, and Janice's mother, rest their souls."

 

Cellie looked down at her arms, and beheld the tiny, rather wizened baby she had once been, all swathed in August Hoffman's antique lace christening gown. She felt her aunt's prideful, possessive pleasure. A new mind to form, as Julia's had been formed.... For the first few years, Cellie had made the rounds of her her grandmother's home, and some of her mother's cousins.

 

And then, best of all, the two weeks every summer when her Godmother would come to stay with Walter's family at their Cape Cod cottage. Julia even eschewed new relationships, so she could focus all her free time and attention on her godchild. "If I had my own little girl, I don't know if we'd get along half as well," Julia said in her crisp way. She had the satisfaction of helping to bring up her niece, without having most of the responsibilities. It was almost enough....

 

The years Julia might have married passed by. She turned away from treating patients, and into research.... There were some theories around about physical causes of certain mental illnesses. Julia began to study blood diseases, in relation to their effect on various mental conditions.

 

Then she received the opportunity of a lifetime, to become the head psychiatrist at a venerable mental hospital in faraway Maine. She had yearned to return to treating patients, and still have an opportunity to pursue her own research. She forced herself to hold back her tears when she bade her family in Boston farewell. It hurt to part from her niece, now eleven, and smarting from the sorrow of Muriel's recent death. The mature Cellie, exploring this aspect of Julia's decision, realized her aunt had simply never felt free enough to lead her own life (though Julia had been living alone), so long as Muriel was alive.

 

Maine swallowed Julia up, it seemed. Removed from the distracting influence of her family, she became obsessed with her research, and the exotic cases she liked best to treat. She never felt the lack of sane, contemporary male companionship, in spite of gentle prodding from old friends like Virginia Hurley and Dave Woodard. She would see Walter's family every Christmas, but turned, embarrassed, from Cellie's tearful pleas for her to come back to Boston.

 

Then, the day came, just two years after Julia took over WindCliff, when she was called upon to treat the most unusual in a long line of unusual cases, a patient who wrapped up her two greatest interests in one pathetic package. Maggie Evans, with her cowed, infantile manner, the antique doll she clung to through weeks of therapy and beyond, her blood mysteriously polluted by necrotic cells.

 

Cellie understood, for the first time, the mechanisms by which Julia controlled her personal and professional frustrations, as she confronted this bizarre new condition. Through Julia's eyes, the niece saw the stacks of reference works her aunt had gathered, with the greatest accumulation in her Spartan living quarters. She and her aunt lifted a weighty tome with a Latin title, and Cellie felt a surge of almost religious fervor flow through Julia as she relived the memory. No doubt, the girl thought, her late grandmother Muriel experienced a similar thrill when she handled her gigantic Calvinist Bible.

 

 

The "spirituality" of immersion in the mysteries of the human condition also blotted out most of the need for human contact. All the disappointments and misunderstandings with men and most women melted away when Julia allowed herself to become as mired in her current project as a dinosaur in a tar pit ....

 

Trapped and flailing--- Julia stifled the tiny voice in her head that called out for love. Her father had supported her ambitions, but with a caveat not to harden her heart. It was almost impossible to be a physician and live what was considered to be a womanly life, at the time she'd become a doctor. Virginia had done it, under tremendous odds, but her George wasn't like most of the men Julia had been attracted to. In some ways, he reminded her of her father, a soft fellow. Virginia was soft, too. She happily turned down many opportunities such as Julia had accepted, and would continue to do so, while her children were young and George was tied up with his own business.

 

Julia didn't find George a compelling enough character to drop everything for, and held that opinion of most men. Then, she became so obsessed with delving into her patient's trauma that she had to come to this obscure, seemingly ordinary town, and found what she'd been looking for all her life, even if she vehemently denied she was ever looking in the first place.

 

Cellie looked through her aunt's eyes as she insinuated herself into the life at Collinwood, and faced Barnabas for the first time. There was a faint inner stirring, firmly stifled, and made to remain dormant for weeks, as Julia learned many things about her new acquaintance. He was as obsessive, domineering, intellectual, and yet, curiously repressed as she was. At least, he seemed repressed, until the day she'd discovered the shocking truth--- and decided she would uphold his secrets, all in the name of science, of course.

 

A short time later, her new "friend's" houseman had been blamed, and shot for his employer's crimes, and had survived both the surgery and Julia's half-hearted attempts to sabotage his recovery. It was during that period that she had been brought around to confront her real feelings for the bizarre, rather unpleasant being who made so many outrageous demands on her. Cellie tried to listen to her aunt's conversation with her bemused mentor, Dave Woodard, and almost couldn't hear anything because of the rushing sound in her ears, and the red colors flashing all around. He'd made some comment about the amount of time she was still spending away from WindCliff, cultivating Mr. Collins, even though the alleged tormentor of her former patient was caught, and was shortly to become a patient at her hospital, as well.

 

It was then, Cellie hit the block she'd been expecting. A gigantic hedge had sprung up, such a dark green it was almost black, in the moment when Julia was recalling the beginning of the dissonance between what she had been taught was right, what she was actually doing, and the uncomfortable reason she had let herself stray from her moral center. Julia evidently didn't believe she really deserved any favors, either from Heaven, or Nature. The "angel" had lost her wings.

A hand tapped Cellie's shoulder. "The time is up, I know," she sighed resignedly, without lifting her head, "and Professor Stokes didn't make it in time."

 

She heard a gruffly affectionate voice whisper her name. "Turn around, Cellie. I had a bit of difficulty getting here. Some totally unexpected problem with my car. But Hallie, who has no more mechanical aptitude than I, helped me fix it, properly. It was a miracle of sorts, as was the fact that I flew here, unimpeded by traffic police. Now that I'm here, we will proceed from where, I believe, you were forced to leave off."

 

The clock above their heads read 3:03, but, with the shades drawn against the afternoon sun, one would not have been able to tell whether it was day or night.

CHAPTER FORTY

 

Barnabas had gone, as Virginia had surmised, to the bare little hospital chapel. He knelt, and repeated the vow he'd made a couple of weeks earlier. He would give up anything for his wife's recovery, and his child's survival. "Without reservation, without question," he whispered. "Even my own life...."

 

He glanced at his watch, his last Christmas present from Julia, barely acknowledged during the terrible weeks when Maggie was in the hospital, and Walter had attacked him. Julia had found a timepiece with a face that, he'd gradually noticed, resembled the face of his father's great clock, which still stood in the foyer at Collinwood. There was even a tiny, perfect lunette which changed position every twelve hours, to indicate whether it was day (a golden sun) or night (represented by

a silver moon.)

 

For a few minutes, Barnabas couldn't recall what he'd given his wife in return. Then it came to him. He had gone to Lisarnold's Jewelry Emporium and bought a gold-and-pearl ring, designed and made by Lisa, herself. When he presented it to Julia, he told her the pearl, birthstone for June, was intended to commemorate their child's projected birthdate. She must have put it away, to wear when the baby was finally born.

 

She would never wear it now, he knew. First, it was because of the change in due dates wrought by her near-miscarriage. And now.... Barnabas knew he needn't look for an aquamarine ring.

 

Why wouldn't the past ever leave them alone? He wondered. He wished he had time to get Cellie, though he really wanted Pavlos, and Elliot.... Cellie was still an apprentice at these matters. Her great triumphs, with Harold, Walter, and Paul, had come about while she received assistance from Julia and the Greek. Barnabas could only speculate on what deleterious effect Willie's recent behavior had on his wife's abilities. Julia had a theory that Willie's actions might actually have stimulated Cellie's gift, but the mere suggestion was almost too revolting for Barnabas to accept. He had practiced immense self-restraint that awful night, managing to conceal his true anger at Willie, and allowing all the onus to fall upon the hapless Lester.

 

And now, because Willie had relayed some silly message about a "great discovery" he'd made while raving in the sanitarium, Cellie was absent when her aunt needed her the most.

 

Barnabas's watch read 2:40. He rose, in order to return to his wife's room and spend these last remaining minutes with Julia and the child, before they were taken from him for the last time. Perhaps Cellie had arrived by now. He thought, he must not let his impending loss prostrate him, because his niece and grandniece still needed him. He had a faint hope that someone had seen fit to contact Elliot, if not Pavlos.

 

Barnabas opened the door to the corridor outside. "Strange," he thought, "how quiet it's become out there." He looked up and down the hall. There were no nurses or aides bustling about, none of those bells summoning this or that doctor to a patient's bedside, no visitors searching for a loved one's room, or, for that matter, this chapel.

 

An eerie silence pervaded the area. Barnabas paced up and down the familiar corridor, looking in rooms, seeking out the nurses' stations. The whole place appeared to be empty. For a dazed moment, Barnabas wondered if he hadn't been so preoccupied with his thoughts, that he'd

 

missed a fire alarm. This thought made him terrified for Julia, and he called out her name, up and down the hall. The calls echoed back with a hollow sound.

 

He became frantic, and ran to the elevator. He punched and punched the button, but there was no response. He even tried the emergency exits, but they were locked. He stopped, thought his situation over, and came to one conclusion. "NICHOLAS!" he cried. "What have you done with everyone?"

 

"Ah, Barnabas. I never thought you'd ask," Nicholas said, as he came out of an examination room, wearing an impeccable white lab coat. "Now that I have your attention, my old acquaintance, let's just say, you're in the hospital, and yet, not in the hospital---"

 

"STOP THIS! Let me return to my own time, or dimension, from wherever this vortex is! Let me see my wife!" Barnabas pleaded. "You're getting your satisfaction, your revenge. If you refuse to lift any influence you may have over Julia's condition, at least let me return to her, to hold her hand until the bitter end!"

 

"You know, Barnabas, that conjures up such a charming domestic picture, you holding the hand and mourning the loss of the love of a woman whom you scorned for so many years. I rather think Julia will be better off, in the next world, even if Heaven's not exactly her destination."

 

"What do you mean? Julia's a good woman! You would see her damned? And you still haven't admitted your responsibility for her present ailment!"

 

"Oh, Barnabas. You give me far too much credit, both on an infernal level, and a physical one. I am not the one who will judge your 'good woman's' guilty soul. That decision is still, ultimately, my Master's, and, in spite of all the bad press he's gotten over the centuries, he follows a strict code of justice handed to him by, of all Beings, the very same God you were just pouring out your heart to. I am merely here to test the mettle of flawed mankind, Barnabas. I am but a cog in the wheel."

 

"Oh, please, Nicholas. False humility will get you nowhere. You enjoy your chores, including inflicting a curse on an unfortunate woman's pregnancy. And my Julia, even if she was to die, would not be damned for all time. She never committed a crime except under duress from myself, or to protect me. Surely, she would be allowed to expiate those faults?"

 

"Her catalogue of sins include facilitating your own murders, simply by the act of preserving your existence. She's helped you protect others who've killed. And, of course, she committed the gravest sin of all, usurping the Divine power of Creation, first, by animating Adam, and then, building and animating Adam's ill-fated female companion."

 

"As you know, we merely completed Dr. Lang's 'Adam' project, in an effort to end my former condition. I put that burden on Julia, over her protests. In the second instance, we were under duress from Adam, who acted at your prompting. You were the one who was entranced by the possibilities of artificial life."

 

"It doesn't matter from which direction the temptation, or provocation comes, Barnabas. You are only called upon to resist."

 

"As if you were about to allow resistance! You painted us into corners so many times, and it was only by luck, or the grace of God, that we were relieved of your presence. You know, Nicholas, your own ascendancy cannot last forever. You are NOT of infernal origin, I know that now. You cannot depend on your ability to negotiate for one more chance, indefinitely. The same Master who gave you the

 

power and license to torment humanity, will one day relent of his leniency. It was ever thus, between the great Trickster and those he lures into his service."

 

Was Nicholas's smooth, confident face actually twitching? Barnabas believed that his old adversary was, indeed, on sufferance with Satan, and permanently, this time. But Nicholas would not yield an inch. He said, easily enough, "It's true, one must keep ahead of the game, in order to retain my Master's favor. But the rewards are incredible, Barnabas. You forget, you served His cause, in your former state. What a pity you went soft. And Angelique. When she finally defected, and ended up dead, for your sake, it was one of the few unhappy times I've had to endure since I made my own bargain, so long ago."

 

"Upon the deaths of your own wife and child, I understand," Barnabas countered. "Nicholas, if you retain any memory of that time, let me go. I am no longer in a position to interfere with your plans. You see how distracted I am."

 

"Now, now, Barnabas. You accuse me of afflicting your wife and child, then you turn around, and demand that I remove their afflictions in the names of Arabella and my son." He said these last words with no detectable emotion. "The next thing you'll be doing, is appealing to me on the basis of our extremely remote blood relationship!"

 

"I doubt I will ever accept the fact that we are related, however distantly! I can't even bring myself to address you as 'Nathaniel'."

 

"That's something your luscious niece has no reservation in doing. Her voice even becomes softer, as though she would emulate her own relative, my late wife. It doesn't rattle me in the least, but I prefer the name I selected when I began my new life. I left 'Nathaniel Collins' behind, centuries ago. I wouldn't even recognize the fellow anymore."

 

"Of course you wouldn't," Barnabas retorted. "Nathaniel Collins was destroyed when he lost his family. The Nathaniel Collins you were before that moment would NOT have murdered sleeping Indians OR raped a helpless child! He would not have gone on, throughout the ages, persecuting his brother's descendants! He would not have threatened to steal infants, or driven women to end their pregnancies!"

 

"You know NOTHING of what Nathaniel Collins once was, and I am not about to enlighten you," Nicholas declared, annoyed. "And please, stop reminding me about my early excesses. I have discovered better means to attain my ends. I am no longer one to pick on children. Didn't I stop Desiree from running her clinic, and then saved Maggie Evans from flying bric-a-brac in her apartment? I daresay, that will teach the dear girl not to accumulate so much junk in her house! You say I am cruel, but in that instance I was moved by the memory of warm feelings I once possessed for her, not to mention the fact that the child she carries may also possess attributes which might serve my purposes."

 

"You made little Marcus Sherbrooke sick, almost unto death."

 

"We went through this at the time.... I wasn't going to allow the boy to die. It must have dawned on you, by now, that spells against the little ones aren't my specialty in any case. When I require such a distasteful task, I call upon Desiree. But, I tell you this, and it is the truth. Neither of us is the author of Julia's predicament. That, my acquaintance, is your doing. Your genetic doing, that is."

 

"I have no such genes! They were erased, when my curse was removed---"

 

"If it comforts you to think that, Barnabas, I shall not interfere with your delusion. But, deep inside, you know it's true. A vampire, even a former vampire, is quite capable of conceiving a vampire. It's a fifty-fifty chance, like its gender. I did not cause the situation, but I can cure it."

 

"How do I know you're telling the truth about any of this? How do I know this isn't what Cellie calls a 'head game' of some kind?"

 

"Would you like to take the chance that I'm lying, Barnabas? Your wife's symptoms are quite genuine, as you know. Your Dr. Hurley has documented the internal bleeding, the deterioration of the blood cells, the slowing of Julia's heartbeat, and the cessation of the child's. And now, she lies on a gurney, about to be cut up, and your living-dead child removed. I have heard, from your own lips, a vow you made to your God, that you would endure any punishment to ensure Julia's health and your son's safe delivery."

 

"My son?" Barnabas asked, a hopeful note creeping into his voice. "We were to have a son? How did you know---Wait! This is another trick."

 

"I knew many details about Sarah Teresa before her birth, which turned out to be true, as you well know. I also knew her sex, but I with-held that information to give her parents a pleasant surprise. You have such vanity, Barnabas. Surely, you were hoping your only foray into parenthood would produce a child of the male gender. Well, I'm here to say, you got your wish."

 

"Alistair," Barnabas muttered. "His name was to have been Alistair, after a Fraser ancestor of Julia's. Alistair Julian Collins. The only place his name will appear now, is on a memorial plaque. Nicholas, you must release me. I would give anything just to return to my wife's side now."

 

"What about your vow, Barnabas? Your solemn vow to God, that you would give anything, even your life, for your family? Breaking such a vow is a heavy sin, which is why they're discouraged in the first place."

 

"I would do it, I would," Barnabas said, with pathetic eagerness. "But if it means dealing with a servant of Satan...."

 

"I'm just a cog in that wheel, remember that Barnabas. Consider me a necessary, if noxious part of the Divine Plan."  Nicholas looked up to Heaven with an expression of exaggerated piety.

 

"Nicholas, how could I be sure that you won't sabotage my wife's recuperation, as happened when her protective covers were removed?"

 

"That was Desiree! How many times must I tell you! I can keep her in check."

 

"I can't agree to help you take Sarah Teresa from Cellie.  That cannot be part of any bargain."

 

"I already know that! But that's alright, Barnabas. That's not part of the choice you must make."

 

 

 

"A choice? What choice?" Barnabas remembered the voice in his "dream." The voice had said, "You must make a choice."

 

Nicholas drew a mirror from his pocket. "Come closer," he said. I will show you."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Elliot decided that a seance-like formation was the best way for himself, a non-empath, to "hitch a ride" when Cellie went back into Julia's mind. So, he sat on one side of the bed, with Cellie across from him. He held Cellie's hand, and they both held each of Julia's. While they positioned themselves thus, Cellie poured out some of the details she'd gleaned from rummaging through her aunt's subconscious.

 

"A classic psychological set-up for the trap she walked into," Elliot commented sympathetically. "A rigid family background, with dissension between parental attitudes, religious fervor married to enforced perfectionism, a repressed urge to free the self at the same time one is totally addicted to the repression. My own family life was a bit gentler, but quite as demanding, so I can identify with some of Julia's inner conflicts. As you might have guessed, my late brother, and I both endeavored to spare Hallie a lot of that pressure. She responded well, inspite of her former timidity. I would say your aunt is my niece's diametric opposite. Her personal strength and stubbornness have been both a blessing and a curse."

 

"Too bad she wasn't a little more like my Dad," Cellie mused. "He has a bit more of a fun-loving attitude, albeit a frantic, driven one. Maybe if Aunt Jule wasn't always trying to prove herself, she would never have come here in the first place, or brought me here, either---"

 

"If she hadn't come here, a great many more people would have ended up dead, since Barnabas would have remained as he was," Elliot declared. "Perhaps he would have been caught and disposed of eventually, but not before he finished off others, or transformed them into replicas of himself."

 

"But, when he went back in time, he kept coming back as a vampire, and still knocked off quite a few people, or wrecked their lives, before Aunt Jule had a chance to snap him out of it." Cellie studied her aunt's still, sad face, and braced herself as a contraction came on. She checked her watch; ten minutes since the last one.

 

She continued, "And I know she still beats herself up inside, over what happened to Dave Woodard, right on through what I was made to do to my Father. I remember the night she, and Barnabas, and Will, began to come clean, to tell me the truth. It was almost as if I was the Pope, or someone equally empowered to channel God's forgiveness to the three of them. Have any dirty little secrets that need a wash, Professor? Confess to Saint Cellie, patron Saint of Unforgivable Sinners." She gave a short, ironic laugh, then became contrite. "Now, I'm just a scuzzy sinner, myself. I wish I hadn't fallen. Maybe I'm not pure enough, anymore, to help my Aunt forgive herself."

 

"Have you forgiven YOURSELF, Cellie?"

 

"Not really. I don't even know how much forgiveness Will and I can muster towards each other. Well, we married 'for better or worse.' I guess this is the 'worse' part. Anyway, he told me I shouldn't forgive myself right away."

 

"How could he say such a thing, even considering his mental state!"

 

"Because, he said he figured out what my 'block' is. I have to hate myself, to fend off hatred, including the self-hatred of others, it seems. My aunt, much as she loves Barnabas and their child, hates herself, and Barnabas, unconsciously, of course, over what happened in the past. She doesn't think she deserves to bring life into the world, having been called upon to take it often enough, by her equally unworthy partner."

 

"Could it be that Julia, deep down inside, wished this fate upon herself and this pregnancy?"

 

Cellie nodded vigorously. "And hates herself for wishing it! She has love, she has that soft spot. It's also, I think, fueling this self-loathing, because of the contradictions her love has presented to her. You know, Professor, the knowledge of something like this would have killed my grandparents."

 

"Especially her mother, with whom, it seems, she was locked in a constant power struggle. Julia may have hated her mother, a little," Elliot said. "If you still buy into the Freudian theory, there was surely a competition for the Father's affections, which the Mother won, hands down. There's a lot of guilt involved, if the struggle is too intense."

 

"Maybe, a part of her hates ME, for encouraging her marriage and her tries at motherhood," Cellie mused. "She even had some reason to be jealous of my relationship with Barnabas. That was Nicholas's pet project, last summer."

 

"I remember it well. I must say, Cellie, your insight has grown by leaps and bounds since that time. Still, if you cultivate your own self-hatred, you may run the risk of premature cynicism, and, in the end, could decide hapless humanity isn't worth helping. So many of life's struggles are frought with futility. As this one may be."

 

"But, if it succeeds.... I could do even a better job of knocking out Aunt Jule's self-hatred, than I did on Paul. If this is what Desiree's spell is feeding on, I may be able to starve it out."

 

"You'd better start right now. If you sense a block, I'll help you break it. I'll cover your back, so to speak."

 

Cellie closed her eyes, and slid down the same path she'd taken before. She ran past the images she had seen already. Then, she turned, and saw the Professor huffing and puffing, as he tried to keep up with her. She stopped abruptly when she saw the hedge, and Elliot nearly fell on her. "This is amazing!" he gasped. "Almost three-dimensional."

 

"It's the emotional intensity of the memories that give them form and color," Cellie explained. "If it's just a memory of her being in the checkout line at the Superette, you'll only see something that resembles a faded snapshot. That is, unless she got angry when the customer ahead of her yanked out the old checkbook, and tied up the register for ten minutes, with no escape. Then, the colors are sharp and bright, yellow-blue like gas. The sounds and smells are there, too, even if she wasn't consciously paying attention at the time."

 

Cellie took the Professor back up the path, to Julia's first human

 

dissection in Medical school. They both inhaled the strong, slightly sour odor of preservative, along with a subtle smell that indicated the cadaver had been kept around a bit too long. Cellie, sharing her aunt's initial dismay, clapped her hand to her mouth, then, bravely forced herself to remove it. She and Elliot watched in fascinated horror as a surgical knife, wielded by the gloved hand of an unseen instructor, made a clean cut in the rubbery-looking flesh. A voice announcing changes in the cafeteria menu barked from the P.A. Cellie and Elliot listened to the repressed titters which came from the fuzzy images that represented other medical students. Cellie-Julia merely felt irritated at the interruption.

 

As they departed that memory, Elliot commented, "I can see what you mean. I feel for Julia's dedicated, humorless soul, but I admit, she accomplished her agenda then. Let's see what we can do, to permit her to finish the very necessary task ahead of her."

 

Cellie led Elliot by the hand. "There's some places, I won't take you to see, especially if they're glowing with a red or orange light.

 

I wandered into what was, for me, a really embarassing memory involving her first serious relationship."

 

Elliot smiled understandingly. They made it to the last memory before the hedge. Cellie identified the male speaker as Dr. Woodard. He addressed Julia in a warm , sympathetic manner, as he questioned her real reason for not returning to WindCliff, once Willie was apprehended. Julia made some rather defensive replies, as she became more and more uncomfortable. Yellow-blue anger at the tightly-controlled attraction she had for Barnabas polluted the red love and orange lust. "Some of this anger at herself is hindsight, I think," Cellie said. "She was truly fond of that Dr. Woodard, sort of the way she feels for my Dad. Did she ever tell you how the Doctor met his end?"

 

"I'm afraid so. Barnabas, in his former state, made Julia watch as he gave the poor man an injection she was forced to prepare. Atrocious. Even I couldn't understand why there wasn't some avenue of escape for her from that situation."

 

"She didn't WANT to, not consciously, anyway. Dr. Woodard guessed that she was falling for Barnabas, and even supported her, before he discovered the truth himself. He begged her to change her mind, but then, it was too late. She applied the same 'hard line' attitude toward preserving what relationship she had with Barnabas, as she had when pursuing her other goals. It almost broke her in half, when the consequences really started hitting home, while, at the same time, she wasn't getting the desired response from Barnabas. Far from it. He almost killed her a few times."

 

"What some people will endure in the name of Love," Elliot commented, a little acidly.

 

"Oh, Geez, you're not going to get angry at Aunt Jule and Barnabas

 

AGAIN, are you Professor? Not in here, not when we're supposed to be helping my Aunt, at least!" Cellie began to cry, and then, was rocked with another contraction.

 

Elliot relaxed. "No, Cellie. I will not pass judgment, lest I, too, be judged. We are working for Julia and Barnabas because of how they are now, the way we'd all like them to remain. I, myself, have done some questionable things, short of murder, though, in the name of the esoteric studies I pursued. If I had not, I wouldn't be able to help you as I am now."

 

"Okay, okay. We've located the real point of no return for my aunt. Why doesn't the hedge disappear?"

 

"Let's push it." Elliot and Cellie threw themselves against the dense, scratchy needles. It didn't budge. Then, Cellie had an idea. She motioned the Professor away, lifted her booted foot, and gave the trunk a swift, hard kick. The hedge tilted and creaked. She kicked it again, and clapped as it fell over. She and Elliot rolled it off the path, and went on. There were many other memories, some of which Elliot had shared, so they didn't linger. As Cellie led the way, she

 

was amazed at how much fear and anxiety her aunt had been able to endure for such a long duration. "Frasers are tough nuts to crack," she told the Professor. "Whether it's battling on Flodden Field, or facing down yet another creature of darkness."

 

Finally, they came to a path, lit at the beginning with a red-orange-silver light so bright, they had to shield their eyes. As they groped around, and struggled to follow the path in their blindness, Cellie whispered, "How much do you want to bet we're passing the memory of Aunt Jule's wedding night?"

 

"Since we are barred, both by modesty and possible damage to our sight, from discovering whether this is so, I should not like to make the wager. I suspect, though, you are correct."

 

The path of joy became an avenue of fresh sorrow, as Julia was forced to part from her niece when Cellie's affair with Willie was discovered. There was renewed resentment toward Barnabas, of an intensity that Julia was not to experience again, until he shot Walter, and then, forced Cellie to drain off her father's love for Maggie. Apparently, whenever Barnabas did these things to his niece, it reminded Julia of her own suffering during the days when he'd caused her to to break virtually every promise in the Hippocratic Oath.

 

After Cellie's return, there was happiness, fear, and sorrow--- It was very difficult for Cellie to relive hers and Barnabas's attack through her aunt's memories. Julia had to force herself to be brave while the two people she loved best on earth were in danger of death. Afterward, Cellie and Elliot were overwhelmed with the silver-pink light of an almost religious ecstasy, as Julia and Barnabas, holding hands in a doctor's office, received the joyous news they had little hope of ever hearing.

 

A short-lived joy, as it turned out, once Barnabas and his brother-in-law fell into the near-fatal conflict that had scathed all their lives. From there, the path was lit with the all-too-familiar green lights, as Julia's uncertainties about her pregnancy began to obsess her. She couldn't share her doubts with her husband, because of the foul, brownish hatred that flared up, and was instantly stifled. But it smoldered, and smoldered---

 

Cellie and the Professor followed the smoke to a room. There was a cage in the corner. Julia was crouched inside, turned away from a basket on the floor beside her. A woman sat on a chair near the cage, ramrod straight, hands folded. Cellie recognized the "jailer" instantly. "Grandma Muriel!" she cried.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Nicholas held the mirror inches from Barnabas's face. The image flickered in Barnabas's eyes. He blinked a few times, thinking Nicholas wanted to hynotize him, but he remained, he believed, in continuous possession of his faculties. He even glanced at his watch. 3:03 already. Wherever he was, he apparently existed in real time.

 

 

"Look at the mirror, Barnabas," Nicholas commanded. "You must not let your eyes stray from the image."

 

At first, it was as though Barnabas was looking at himself in any mirror. Had his face really become that haggard? So drawn with sorrow? He wondered, as he stroked his stubbled chin. Then, he realized what was different. The face in the mirror was clean-shaven. The mirror-image Barnabas turned around, and, as he walked away, the original Barnabas saw that he was dressed in his best black suit. The Barnabas-image approached a slim female figure, also dressed in black, with a black mantilla shielding her face. "Julia?" Barnabas whispered. Then, the woman reached out a shell-white hand with silvery-blue rings decorating her finger. She had to be Cellie.

 

Cellie took her uncle's hand, and they walked down a passage to a bare room with a single, covered window. Barnabas recognized the room, the tiny alcove in the cellar of Abijah Collins's cottage which had been the probable hiding place for runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad.

 

A rose-colored casket, lavishly decorated with silver scrollwork handles, rested on some cement blocks, in the middle of the room.

 

Barnabas and Cellie stood next to the casket. Cellie leaned her head on her uncle's shoulder as Barnabas said, "At least we were able to have a beautiful service for her and the baby, before--before---" He wept quietly. "I wonder what Walter and Ernest must have thought about our rushing the funeral?"

 

"I wonder what they would have thought, if they knew we managed to sneak the casket back here," Cellie said, as she stroked the smooth surface of the fancy box.

 

"I don't know how I will ever properly show my gratitude to David and Elliot for helping us get it in here. She weighed so little, towards the end...." Barnabas couldn't speak for a few minutes. "But the casket is still quite heavy...."

 

"Barnabas, are you sure you don't want them here? This is going to be so hard for you."

 

"Someone has to distract the others, at Collinwood. Pavlos can't do it alone. Everyone, however, will understand that the two of us would want to take a walk together."

 

"Why did you bring the casket here, Barnabas?"

 

"Do you think I could live in the Old House after---after--- That place has seen too much sorrow that I had to learn to live with, as it is! This is better. All will be over, soon, and then, when it's dark, we can bring her to the crypt at the cemetery. It will be as though nothing ever happened here. And by the time anyone comes to stay in this house, this room will be sealed." He lifted the lid of the casket. "You have the necessary equipment?" he asked with a forced calm.

 

"Right here," Cellie replied, picking up a tool-box. She opened it, to reveal a sharp-pointed stake and a heavy mallet. Barnabas turned away from the sight of these objects.

 

"Just a few more minutes," he whispered, with a sob. He put his arm around Cellie as they looked upon Julia reposing in her casket, clad in her lilac wedding dress. A tiny, doll-like form, completely swathed in a white blanket, lay cradled in the crook of one arm. "She would not have wanted to be separated from our son, even in death," Barnabas said, as he reached into the casket to touch her cold cheek, to stroke her free hand, which wore the pearl ring he'd given her. "Remember our wedding day, when she came down the staircase of the Old House, wearing that dress? She knew we were meant to be together in the end.... The end!  The end of everything!  I've had times when I thought my life was over, when I lost Josette, and Vicky, and Roxanne Drew, and Angelique.... This is different. This is tearing, crushing.... I want to run, and scream, and then, stand still, hoping the sorrow won't notice me for a few minutes, at least! I've already lost my past. Now, I've lost my future...."

 

"I know there can be no replacement, Barnabas. But I'm here, and Sarah Teresa ...." Cellie held her weeping uncle in her arms, trying to console him as she did her baby, and Willie (who was still stuck in WindCliff.)

 

"You're right. I do have something to look forward to, I suppose. But the spark is gone for me." Barnabas turned back to the casket, and ran his fingers through Julia's hair. "Perhaps it's best not to linger," he sighed. "I will lose my resolve." He carefully lifted the white-blanketed bundle, and gently deposited it in Cellie's arms. "It's only for a moment, Alistair," he said, kissing the the shape of his son's head under the blanket. "You'll never have to leave your Mama again." Barnabas took the mallet and the stake from the toolbox. "Thank God this 'treament' isn't necessary for him. Virginia was right about the light. She said he never even flinched."

 

Cellie asked, "Why didn't the daylight do the same to Aunt Jule? Then we wouldn't have to do this."

 

"It may be too soon. Alis---the baby was in this condition for weeks. Julia only just passed away at four A.M. When this happened to me, I died early in the day, and my mother, Josette, and Angelique all spent some time with my body, while my father made the arrangements. I didn't disintegrate in any way. Then, I was rushed to the mausoleum and didn't rise until that night. This is a preventive measure, before Julia has an opportunity to stir, and sully her soul by seeking a victim."

 

Cellie rocked the tiny corpse of her cousin instinctively, as though the one-pound infant could still feel it. Then, she stood still, as she helped her uncle steady the stake over her aunt's heart. Before he raised the mallet, he leaned over, and gave his wife one last tender kiss. Then, he firmly supported the stake, and lifted the mallet, tears streaming down his face. He brought the mallet down---

 

 "NO! NO! I CAN'T!" Both the real Barnabas, and his mirror-image cried out in unison, as the mirror Barnabas flung the mallet aside, and fell, weeping, on his wife's breast. "JULIA! I CAN'T KILL HER!"

 

"Barnabas," Cellie pleaded, "You know she's already dead! You know what will happen, once it's dark. Think of the people who will suffer. Think of Alistair, alone in the crypt, and not in his mother's arms!"

 

"I tried to kill her, and I injured her more than once, in the past. It was only her constant love, support, and forbearance that helped me endure the guilt. Even though I understand the consequences all too well, I can't finish her forever." He lifted her in his arms, which was difficult; Julia had been deposited in her casket so hastily, that her body was still locked in rigor mortis. "Perhaps, she'll get me first, if I can just wait.... She wanted me to take her, years ago---"

 

Cellie yanked her uncle as roughly as she could with one arm, from this grotesque embrace. He dropped Julia back into the casket. "Alright, Cellie, I give in. I must do this. I must--- NO!" he screamed again. "It has to be done, but I can't. I'll get Elliot.... He'll be objective."

 

"Probably. But what if he caves in? He loved her once. Shall we then call on David, and my Dad, and on down the line?" Cellie asked. "I loved her too, but I want her body to rest and her spirit to soar. Barnabas," she said urgently, "I will do it!"

 

"NO! I CAN'T LET YOU DO THIS HIDEOUS THING!"

 

"Yes, you will, Barnabas," Cellie said, gazing into his eyes. "You need to relax," she said soothingly. He began to breath slowly and deeply. "Your grief is going for a little vacation, Barnabas," she whispered as she handed him the baby's body. "Why don't you rock Alistair for a while, Barnabas? You should get to know him a little before--before we give him back to Aunt Jule." Now, she wept, as she picked up the mallet and the stake. She turned from her uncle, who crooned to his dead son in a low voice. He was singing, "London Bridge."

 

"London Bridge is falling down, falling down, My fair lady---"

 

The mallet crashed onto the stake. Surprisingly little blood spurted from the wound, but this was a dead person, after all.... or was it? Julia, roused by the unbearable pain, struggled and writhed and groaned, flashing what COULD have been fangs, as Cellie and Barnabas, who had dropped his dead child on the floor, shrieked in horror---

 

"NO!" Barnabas dashed the mirror from Nicholas's hand. It shattered into hundreds of pieces when it hit the floor. "I cannot allow any of that to happen! I WILL NOT LET MY CHILD DIE! I WILL NOT LET MY WIFE TURN INTO A VAMPIRE! I WILL NOT PUT MYSELF AND MY NIECE INTO THE POSITION OF HAVING TO EXECUTE JULIA!" He grabbed Nicholas by the shoulders, and smacked him into the wall. "Tell me what I must do, to evade the destiny you have shown me! I WILL DO ANYTHING! AS GOD IS MY WITNESS!"

 

"Easy, easy, Barnabas. Are you sure that you would do ANYTHING? ABSOLUTELY anything? You MUST be sure. You MUST be sincere. Because I CAN help you, but you MUST put yourself completely into my hands!"

 

Barnabas released him. "YES! I have sworn to my Maker. No matter what happens, I have sworn it! You want to kill me? Do so, but not before I have a chance to make sure my wife and son are safe."

 

"Oh, don't worry about that, Barnabas. What I have in mind is nowhere near as final as death. I think you know what I mean."

 

Barnabas quailed. "You can't mean--- you can't---"

 

"Oh, yes, Barnabas. I'd say, another good long spell as a vampire will be more than enough to pay off the debt you now owe me. It's only fitting, to preserve poor Julia, and little Alistair, from the same fate."

 

"That's not what I thought you wanted! Kill me, make me your slave, ANYTHING BUT THAT, NICHOLAS! Think of the innocents I will injure and kill, the negative attention I will attract, the long years of instinctively running from the threat of the stake! How will all that serve your purposes?"

 

Barnabas forced himself to calm down. "Sounds like a damned nuisance, to me," he concluded, in a shaky voice.

 

"Oh, but it will serve my purposes, in way you couldn't begin to imagine, Barnabas. Remember the neat little package I offered you months ago?"

 

"I will not consider it under any circumstances, if you are going to threaten Cellie again. I want my wife and child to live, but not if it means harming others."

 

"One can't save two lives without taking two others, I'm afraid. And look, it's not as if your victims will be pushing up daisies," Nicholas said reasonably. "All right, say we scratch Cellie from your dance card. Haven't you, in the years you've been normal, EVER lusted for the taste of a sweet young throat, either female or male, Barnabas? Haven't you ever missed that feeling of omnipotence your powers once gave you?"

 

Barnabas turned red. "I've done just fine, with the powers I possess as a human being. And I certainly don't miss the taste of blood. The mere sight of it sickens me, now. But if I DID miss it, and you made me what I once was, you'd still have the problem of control. You couldn't completely control Angelique when you made HER a vampire, any more than she could control ME. That's the risk you run with any animal, even the most domesticated, like cats and dogs. Somewhere inside, the feral urges wait for an opportunity to spring. Only, instead of an intruder, or a pest animal, the dog will bite its master, and the cat will kill the family's canary."

 

"That's because their subjugation, as well as Angelique's, was not voluntary."

 

"Neither would mine be, as it would be made under duress."

 

"Still, you have to say the word 'Yes'," Nicholas cajoled. "That makes all the difference. If you say 'Yes', I will be in total control of the situation. You need not fear making any mistakes with your choice of victims, and you also need never fear discovery. I will choose all, and, since murder does attract a lot of attention, I will be extremely judicious in allowing you to kill. After all, you need some companionship, once you are removed from the venue of the estimable Julia. Naturally, she cannot know of the fate you have chosen on her behalf. I will allow you to see her, one last time, but if you so much as blink your eyes in Morse code, I will return her to that condition. In very short order, you both will be sharing mausoleum space. And your child, as well."

 

Barnabas sighed resignedly. "Very well, then. Yes. I consent to the sacrifice. Will I be harrassed by a bat this time---" he shuddered at his memories--- "or is there another way?"

 

Nicholas walked to a medicine cabinet, and withdrew a flask containing a thick, red substance. "This is the blood of another vampire, who lived long ago. You must drink it, now, while I watch you. You will feel nothing for another night, and a day. At dusk tomorrow, you must come to the Henderson house, where I will provide all the necessary arrangements. By nightfall tomorrow, you will be reinstated as a vampire, and I will hand you an assignment that will satisfy both my agenda, and your thirst."

 

"You've already selected my first victim."

 

"There's little point in procrastinating about these matters. Don't look like that, killing isn't involved, not at this point, anyway. I think you'll be pleased with my choice, and no, it isn't your niece. Now, think of Julia and little Alistair, and DRINK!"

 

Barnabas made a horrible choking sound, as he gagged down the foul red liquid, which was as thick and difficult to swallow as molasses. When he finished, he looked around for Nicholas. He was alone in the empty hospital corridor, with an empty, red-stained flask in his hand. He threw it into the first trash basket he could find. He looked at his watch again. 3:40. He still didn't see any people. What if this was a trick over a trick, and Nicholas meant to leave him in this dimension? He decided to go sit in the chapel, while he decided what to do.

CHAPTER FORTY-TWO

 

Elliot studied the straight-backed woman, severely dressed, and who wore her thinning red-and-white hair in a bun, and turned to Cellie. "Your grandmother Muriel is making Julia behave this way?" Elliot asked, dismayed and puzzled. "I know what I said about the Freudian theory. But, in reality, most loving parents do try to support their children, and the children crave their support, no matter what the circumstances, no matter what their differences. Your grandmother, I believe, would have wanted to save Julia, not condemn her."

 

"I know. This is wrong. Grandma, what are you doing to Aunt Jule and her baby?" Cellie demanded.

 

Muriel looked away from her grand-daughter, and glanced into the cage. "Many's the time I told Julia to avoid the occasion of sin, bairnie. And now, she's gone and laid with the Devil's own. The Lor-rd told me to keep her here, and the fruit of her sin." She wailed, "My little Julia, loving an un-natur-ral creature like that! His very seed was poison!"

 

"Barnabas is no more an un-natural creature, than you were, once," Elliot replied. "Not any more! Perhaps, not ever--- If a being can exist upon this earth, and impacts on its surroundings, there probably was a place in nature for it, after all."

 

"A place that was, long befor-re men came to be!" Muriel asserted. "Julia must be kept locked up, and her bairn must pass away! HE has said so!"

 

There was a soft wailing from the bundle in the basket. Julia stirred, as though she was about to pick up her baby, and, perhaps, nurse it. But, in a moment, Cellie saw why she couldn't move. Julia was chained to the corner. When she reached out for her baby, there was an agonizing space of about six inches between her outstretched hands, and the basket. She couldn't even reach it with her foot.

 

"Let me have the baby, Grandma," Cellie pleaded. "Then you can let Aunt Jule go. I'll prove to you that it's a normal child! Then, maybe, you can go back to Heaven, and protect your daughter and grandchild instead of imprisoning them. Please, Grandma! You don't want Aunt Jule to die! Or the baby!"

 

"NAY! HE has decreed!" Muriel yelled. She did not look her grand-daughter in the eye.

 

"WHO has so decreed?" Elliot demanded. "The God you and I believe in gives many chances for sincere personal redemption, even to the worst murderers! That God canNOT have entirely cut off Julia and her child from hope of winning His favor! Think back to your Bible, Mrs. Hoffman. Didn't Jesus, the Son of God, say 'Suffer the little children to come unto Me?' Did he not say to one of the criminals crucified with him, 'This day You shall be with me in Paradise?" Did he not say, to those who would have stoned the adulteress, "Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone'? Did he not say, 'I shall make all things new again'?"

 

"Did He not also say," Muriel said slyly, "to one whom He had just declared was 'The rock on which I will build My church'--- Did he not then say to Simon Peter, 'Get thee behind me, Satan'! Did not Jesus's Father punish the innocent along with the guilty during the Flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah?" The hateful attitude she emanated began to choke Cellie, like smoke.... like brimstone....

 

"You use quotations and examples from Scripture in a most sophisticated manner, Mrs. Hoffman," Elliot commented, over Cellie's coughs. "Now, I'm not doubting that, in life, Muriel Fraser Hoffman wasn't above twisting Biblical meanings around, or that she was canny enough to apply the new meanings in certain circumstances. However, I don't believe she would have used them against her children or grandchildren, in the manner you just have. I notice that you avoid looking us in the eye. Could it be, you cannot face us? How about a symbol of the faith you claim to revere to the point of endangering your daughter's life?"

 

He reached into his pocket, and drew forth a crucifix. Cellie remembered he always had at least one on hand at all times. ("I've been in so many places where I needed one, that carrying a crucifix is like second nature to me, now," he'd confided.) She was amazed that they had each been able to bring something substantial on their journey--- her boots, and now, the crucifix. (The boots, she speculated, existed as a symbol of her will to fight, as Elliot's cross was a symbolic part of his arsenal.)

 

Elliot thrust the crucifix in Muriel's face. She cried out, and jumped out of the chair, which crashed behind her. She glared at Elliot. Cellie gasped when she looked into her grandmother's eyes.

 

"My Grandmother had brown eyes! You're DESIREE!" Cellie shrieked, as she stared into the very green eyes of the woman before her.

 

At this, Elliot pressed the cross into "Muriel's" cheek, before she had a chance to jump away. She screamed in pain, and, in a moment, her form began to shimmer and shift. The thin, elderly woman with the red-and-white-streaked bun disappeared, and a beautiful woman with dark hair took her place.

 

"This is Desiree?" Elliot asked. "If I didn't know any better, I would swear this was Cassandra. Angelique, I mean. But then, you are sisters. You must have envied your older sister a great deal, to not only follow her into witchcraft, but to emulate her appearance."

 

"Oh, you've got it the wrong way around," Desiree laughed. "It was my sister, she whom you call Angelique, but who was once called Miranda, who always tried to copy ME, not the other way around. I, Medorah, was the real star in the family."

 

Elliot tried to touch Desiree with the crucifix again, but she evaded him, and stood at the exit of the room. "What are you going to do with us?" Elliot stammered, his self-confidence slipping with the realization that his and Cellie's inner selves were now trapped with Julia's.

 

"I should let you rot here, with Julia. But alas, Nicholas has other plans for you two. However, Julia and her brat will remain thus. My presence is not necessary--- OOW!" Desiree turned around, abruptly, to face Angelique.

 

"Taking my name in vain, are you, little sister?" Angelique smirked.

 

"You have no power here!" Desiree cried.

 

"That, unfortunately for YOU, is untrue," her sister replied evenly. "You are only here in projection, your corporeal body, as well as your full consciousness, being miles from here. I, on the other hand, am fully present in my spiritual form, in the space provided for a soul. Thus, I have full power, which I shall use to force you to release Julia, then to evict you. There is nothing you can do about it. Whining for Nicholas won't help. He is elsewhere occupied, but I can't find him."

 

Elliot and Cellie looked at each other. "Barnabas!  He's missing too!" Cellie announced. Angelique turned from her sister. She regarded Cellie with a look of deep concern. Then, she grasped Desiree.

 

"What is Nicholas doing to Barnabas, Medorah?!" she demanded.

 

She dug her nails into the dark-haired woman's arms.

 

"I--I don't really know! Nicholas has something in mind, but he doesn't share his plans with me, the way I always have to share mine with him!" Desiree wailed, in pain and fear. "Let me go, Miranda. You are hurting my real body, and my mind!"

 

"Release Julia and her child NOW!"

 

"All right, all right!"

 

The jail cell sprung open. The leg irons holding Julia in her corner disintegrated. Desiree then disappeared. Cellie ran into the cell, to help her aunt rise, and to hand her the infant in the basket. Julia refused. She hugged herself, shivering. Cellie could now feel her aunt's resentment and self-hatred trained on her!

 

"I don't know if I want a child anymore," Julia whimpered. "Barnabas and I have committed too many sins to be allowed to have a family, like other people. We'll end up killing the baby, I'm sure. Cellie, why did you ever let me marry Barnabas? Why did you tell me it was all right to have a baby? Who are YOU to give ANYONE permission to do something so abominable?"

 

"It wasn't abominable," Cellie answered as calmly as she could. "Barnabas is normal, and you married him because there was nobody else that you could, or SHOULD have married. Would it have been better to marry Elliot, and keep him at arm's length so that you wouldn't have to show him that you didn't love him like you loved Barnabas? So you wouldn't have to decide to have any children?"

 

"That," Elliot declared, "would have been a grave injustice for all of us."

 

"Barnabas hurt me so many times," Julia mourned. "I hate him, sometimes, even when I love him. That's--that's very confusing. I'm a psychiatrist. I don't like to be confused! He lured me, and then tossed me aside, and wouldn't let me go, even when we both knew he didn't want me. Then, just as I was about to give up all hope, he wanted me BACK. Cellie, you once asked how I could love him and marry him, and want his baby. I thought I had it all figured out, and the past was past.... It's not. It's always around me. I can't bring up a child in that house. I can't trust that man to help me take care of it. I can't trust my child not to grow up and treat me like his father did! I can't tell my child about his father...."

 

"Aunt Jule, DON'T think like that, or you'll end up back in the cell. You DON'T deserve to die, and the baby doesn't, either. Barnabas would die, too, of a heart broken more thoroughly than it ever was for all those other women! Because what he has with you is REALITY. All he had before, was IMAGINING how life would be. Now, he has a REAL woman to be with, and there's going to be a REAL baby, keeping the both of you up all night, and driving you crazy asking 'Why?' and skinning its knees and nagging you to buy him things. And hugging you, and saying 'I wuv you' and getting honors on a report card and drawing pictures you can hang on the refrigerator.

 

“It's going to be ALL RIGHT, Aunt Jule. The baby will be OKAY. History WON'T repeat itself. You WON'T be alone, when the big problems and the hard questions come up. You were there for me, and I will be around to help YOU. It WILL be a normal life." Even if I have to KILL, to make it so, Cellie thought grimly. She felt some of her aunt's angst dissipating. She handed the infant to Julia.

 

"It's a boy," Julia whispered to her niece. "A son. Barnabas will be so happy. He said we could call a boy Alistair Julian, to please me. I always wanted to please him, in spite of all the bad times."

 

"As long as you and the baby are okay, that's the most important thing, Aunt Jule. That's all Barnabas really wants, too." Cellie kissed her aunt on the cheek, and put her arms around her. Elliot enveloped them both with his embrace.

 

Angelique now faced the trio. "Julia and her child will recover. Cellie and Elliot will return to their own minds. I will try to find Barnabas. Pray that it isn't too late." She, too, vanished.

 

"Julia, did Desiree give you any explanation why she persecuted you in this manner?" Elliot gently inquired.

 

"All she would say, was 'Those damned Frasers.' I didn't know it wasn't really my mother until she said that. My mother would have been horrified if she had known the truth, but she wouldn't have hurt us. I thank God she never had the opportunity to find out," Julia sighed, as she cuddled her baby. "Still, it's a pity she never got to see any of the new generation. She was a tough lady, but she was tender with all babies."

 

"Desiree was once Alvina, who held a fatal grudge against the Frasers," Elliot said. "I suppose she required no stronger stimulus, than that." He kissed Julia lightly on the lips. "In spite of all that has passed between us, and the fact that we have all gone on to different lives, there's a part of me that will never forget our former relationship, Julia. It wasn't all that bad, or completely unsatisfying. This is probably the only place on earth, and the only time, that I will ever be able to remind you of that."

 

"Thank God you made good use of the memory," Julia smiled. "I will always be grateful, Elliot. And Barnabas, when he learns of it. Angelique has to find him!" Julia clutched the bundle tighter, and began to sniffle.

 

"Don't get upset, Aunt Jule. We'll find him, when we go topside. Which we....are....now...." Julia and her child faded from view. Elliot was holding Cellie's hand, as a great wind seemed to sweep them up, and deposited them---

 

Cellie opened her eyes. She was sitting at her aunt's bedside, still holding Elliot's hand, their arms resting on the headboard, over Julia's head. They both still held Julia's hands. Cellie felt a cramp in the hand that held the Professor's. She released it, and, as she flexed her wrist, glanced at her watch. She read the time aloud. "That didn't take long at all!" she commented. Then, she felt something. She glanced at her aunt's hand in her own. Julia's fingers were moving! And, what was more, they were very warm! "Professor, do you feel it?" Cellie whispered.

 

"Indeed I do," he replied.

 

Julia opened her eyes, and gazed at both of them. She whispered, "Cellie, Elliot.... Open the shades...." A minute later, the afternoon sunshine filled the room. "You have no idea how GOOD that feels," she said.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

When Barnabas went back into the chapel, he sat, and closed his eyes for a few minutes, trying to track in his system the blood, or potion, he'd just swallowed. He could feel it traveling to his stomach. He could still taste it in his mouth. He decided to go looking for a working water fountain.

 

As soon as he left the chapel, he saw a blonde woman, in a dazzling white nurse's uniform. He approached her, thinking she was also a prisoner in this dimension. She turned, and fixed her ocean-blue eyes on him. A look of profound sorrow was on her face.

 

"Angelique!" Barnabas gasped. "Cellie told me, often enough, that you were trying to help us against Nicholas. I never really expected to see you again, until we met in the hereafter."

 

Angelique looked away from him. "I just want you to know--- I'm not supposed to use my current privileges in order to spend time with you, or to disrupt your marriage. I'm just here to help you, if you want. And don't worry, I have no influence on the ultimate disposition of your soul. You believe me when I say I have no ulterior motive, don't you?"

 

"Don't take the attitude of shame around me, Angelique. I believe you. I have my feelings for you, in their proper place. But you understand, my present life is with Julia. Why are you here now?"

 

Angelique reached out a slim white finger, and gently brushed some red spots from Barnabas's chin. "Too late! Too late!" she wept. "Nicholas has you in his power. I should have known, Desiree's trick was merely a delaying tactic!"

 

"Desiree's trick?"

 

"On Julia and your child.... I just helped Cecily Loomis and Professor Stokes eject my sister from her seat in Julia's soul.... You will return, to find your wife completely recovered."

 

"Julia is well? And my--my son? Nicholas kept---Oh," Barnabas said, clapping his hand over his mouth.

 

"Oh, Barnabas," Angelique mourned. "You made a deal with Nicholas, to save Julia and the child! How else would you know that it is a boy! You must tell me what Nicholas did to you. I cannot mitigate it, but I know those who can!"

 

"NO," Barnabas answered firmly. "I am prohibited from even giving a hint. The bargain is sealed, and must be kept, lest Julia and the child return to their death-like state, and Dr. Hurley is forced to cut my very premature son from his mother's body."

 

"A mirror! Nicholas showed you a mirror, didn't he? Barnabas, how did you know he didn't show you a lie?"

 

"How could I take the chance that it wasn't true? I'm sorrier than anyone will ever know. But, at least, I don't have to give him Cellie's baby, and we're both safe from having to perform the hardest task there is."

 

"Who will help Cellie protect her baby, and what guarantee do you have that Nicholas won't do something else to your child in the future?"

 

"Angelique, what else could I do? When I left my wife earlier, it was with the understanding that I was bracing myself for a final good-bye to both Julia and my child. The baby was to die from the combined effects of his prematurity and exposure to daylight. As for Julia, fatally drained from within by our vampire child---" Barnabas covered his face with his hands. "Don't ask me to think of the possibilities! The deed is done, and my family, at least, will be safe! Do not interfere! In memory of our love, do not even approach Nicholas with pleas for mercy, or threats of Divine reprisal."

 

Angelique stroked her former husband's face. "Tell me this, when will you have to turn yourself over to Nicholas?"

 

"Who said anything about 'turning myself over'? Please, go, Angelique! I thank you for your help. But, you see, the problem was solved, probably long before you, Cellie, and Elliot got involved."

 

Angelique looked as though she wanted to say more, but thought better of it. Instead, she kissed Barnabas on the forehead, and vanished.

 

Now that he was alone, Barnabas was once again aware of the terrible taste in his mouth. He walked further down the hall, searching for the fountain, when he suddenly found himself in the middle of normal hospital bustle. Nurses and Doctors with charts in hand, brushed by him in the hall.  Anxious-looking visitors stepped off the elevators, bearing vases of flowers, books, and fruitbaskets. An orderly trundled an empty gurney down the hall.

 

He felt a hand on his shoulder. "Barnabas!" David yelped. "Where have you been? I've been looking for you over an hour!"

CHAPTER FORTY-THREE

 

David all but dragged Barnabas to Julia's room, as though he feared that the older man would escape. "Please, tell me where you were?!" David asked, frantically. "Julia could have died, and you wouldn't have been there. I can't believe you were trying to run out on her at the last minute!"

 

Barnabas said, quietly, "I--I took a walk. My mind was so full, that I lost track of time. I'm terribly sorry if I worried everyone. How--how is Julia?" He had a moment of doubt. Perhaps Nicholas had tricked him, or he'd merely had a hallucination which included a vision of Angelique, and Julia had been taken to surgery after all. "Virginia didn't--didn't operate on her, did she?"

 

"No. Cellie and the Professor made it just in time---there they are!"

 

Elliot and Cellie were standing outside Julia's room. Her door was closed. Barnabas ran to the others. "Is Julia alive?" he cried. "Why is that door shut?"

 

"Barnabas," Cellie said, joyfully, winding her arms around her uncle's neck. "She's alive! Not only alive, but recovering! The baby, too! Dr. Hurley is in there, now, examining her. It's a miracle!"

 

"Not just any miracle," Elliot said. "Cellie's, and Angelique's, and, to a limited extent, mine. By our combined efforts, we ejected Desiree's influence from Julia's innermost being, as well as some accumulated emotional detritus that was hampering her ability to enjoy the life she has going on, now."

 

"She will recover?" Barnabas still sounded doubtful.

 

"As of 3:35 P.M.!" Cellie announced happily, then, became silent, as she watched her uncle's face fall.

 

"3:35. She was cured at 3:35. Five minutes before--before--- Oh, my God.... " Barnabas seemed to be in shock. Cellie led him to a small waiting area, and made him sit. In a moment, Elliot joined them, having left David to wait for Dr. Hurley.

 

"Barnabas," he began, "We know you were with Nicholas. What did he do to you? What unholy bargain did he induce you to make? Or did Angelique find you in time?"

 

"I was NOT with Nicholas," Barnabas replied slowly. "I took a long walk."

 

"Please, Barnabas, tell us," Cellie urged. "Desiree won't be bothering Aunt Jule again. She's safe, Barnabas, free. The baby will be okay. I wouldn't be surprised if Dr. Hurley announced that the pregnancy will make it all the way to June! Did Nicholas threaten to mess things up for her, even more?"

 

"Julia will probably be under the same protection as Sarah Teresa, from now on. You needn't fear a relapse, no matter what Nicholas said," Elliot assured Barnabas. He put his hand on his friend's shoulder, and looked into his eyes. "Now, what's this about 'five minutes before'? Before what?"

 

"It was to save my wife and son.... I CAN'T TELL! You two are the deluded ones. He said he would reinstate the spell, and finish Julia off.... There's nothing you, or any spirit can do against him!"

 

"He's powerful, Barnabas, but he's not omnipotent," Elliot argued. "There are forces that can break him---"

 

"Only if he's made to fail, as he did, before. I no longer see any way that could be accomplished." Barnabas sighed painfully. "I'm sorry. I'm just very, very tired. I want to see my wife, and then, I would like to go home, to the Old House."

 

"You look like you should have a check-up, yourself, Barnabas," Cellie said.

 

"NO--no. I need a good night's rest. I know you mean well, but please, don't nag me about it."

 

"I'll come down to the Old House, and stay with you for a while tonight," the girl offered.

 

"Again, no. I'll be fine." Barnabas looked up, to see Virginia Hurley's tired-but-happy expression looming over him.

 

"Thank God you're back, Barnabas,” she said. “Julia's asking for you. She's so much better, and, as far as I can tell, so is her fetus. No more lead aprons, no more drawn curtains! We took some more blood samples, but the color of the blood itself is so vivid, unlike the pale, thin liquid we were drawing before, that I have little doubt those tests will display normal results! She'll still need to take it easy, but I see no reason why this pregnancy shouldn't go to term. And all, thanks to your niece and your friend here."

 

Barnabas rose, slowly, and took the doctor's hand. "You still deserve a lot of the credit, Virginia. If you hadn't chosen to stay involved, I doubt Julia would have lasted long enough for the experiment to go forth. Without your care, she probably wouldn't have survived it. I will always be grateful. Always. Remember that."

 

"Of course I will...." Virginia was also concerned by Barnabas's stricken appearance. "After you see Julia, I want to check on you. If you'll forgive my bluntness, you look like death warmed over. Where on earth were you?"

 

"He went for a long walk. He got lost, I guess," Cellie replied. "He wants to go straight home, after he sees my aunt."

 

"Well, I can't force him to be examined." Virginia shrugged, wearily. "Go on in to Julia. Maybe you'll change your mind after."

 

Barnabas entered his wife's room alone. She was sitting in her bed, gazing at the enhanced brightness typical of late afternoon sunlight. "It's always brightest, just before the sun goes down," Julia commented, as she reached for her husband's hand. "I'm glad it's so bright, just in time for your return."

 

Barnabas reveled in her touch. Her hand, her whole arm, had been pale and grayish-looking, when he'd left her, an hour-and-a-half ago. Her skin had felt as cold and clammy as a drowning victim's. Now, her hand was warm, and rosy, as were her arms, and her face.... Her whole complexion was aglow. Barnabas wanted to study every inch, every pore. He wished to feel every hair, once faded and thinning, but now a glossy claret shade, in spite of the matted tangles from Julia's long bed rest.

 

He bent to kiss her warm lips, and reached beneath the blanket, under his wife's thin hospital gown, to feel the vigorous pummeling of his son within her. For the first time, since the morning of Julia's near-miscarriage, Barnabas experienced the joy in the motion of his child, that Willie had predicted. A poignant joy, because this would be the last time he would ever know it.

 

Even now, Barnabas could feel the blood potion oozing through his veins. He prayed that he would have all the time Nicholas had promised him, to make preparations before he reported to the Henderson house. He thrust these thoughts from his mind. He must experience this time as vividly as possible, with every fiber of his being, so he would have a beautiful memory to take with him when he went into the darkness once more. He also wanted his wife to have the same, to console and sustain her as she faced the rest of her pregnancy, and, possibly, her life, alone.

He hoped she wouldn't think harshly of him for leaving her, without a word. Maybe she would guess what had happened, after consulting with Cellie and Elliot. If she did, then, perhaps, she could raise their son to think kindly about his absent parent.

 

Julia gazed at her husband’s face. Tears slid slowly down his cheeks. "Don't worry, Barnabas," she said in a soothing tone. "I'm going to be all right. Our baby is going to be born on schedule. All the negative vibrations are gone, although, to tell you the truth, I don't have too clear a memory about what Cellie and Elliot did. I think I even saw Angelique. There was something she had to check, about you, before it was too late.. . Did she get there before it was too late?"

 

"Yes, she did, Julia. That's why we're both safe for now, and why you're going to recover."

 

"I feel stronger by the minute, and so does our--our son. I believe it's going to be a boy. A boy who already knows his father, if all that rumbling means anything." Julia smiled as she placed her hand over Barnabas's, while he felt the child's movements.

 

"My love," Barnabas whispered, as he kissed her again. "I believe it's going to be a boy, too, though either gender would be welcome. I so feared losing you both, I'm afraid I wandered away from you, in my distraction. When I returned, I thought for sure, you'd be in surgery, that you and our Alistair would be dead before I said my final good-byes."

 

"I don't foresee any final good-byes for a good, long time, Barnabas. Though, when I get home--" her eyes twinkled "--I might run you ragged with all the stereotypical demands of pregnant wives throughout history. You'll probably be GLAD to say good-bye, at least for a while, when I start sending you out for some eccentric food combination in the middle of the night."

 

"Nonsense," Barnabas replied, as he tried to smile. "You shall have whatever you crave. I want you taken care of, and I want our child to be big and healthy. I will do all I can to provide for you. You will never lack for anything, as God is my witness." He wound his arms around Julia, carefully evading her I.V. tubes, until her head rested on his shoulder.

 

"Why are you talking, and behaving this way, as though it's for the last time?" she asked, suspiciously. "Did Virginia say that there's still some problem with my pregnancy?" Now she began to cry.

 

"No, no, Julia," Barnabas whispered. He buried his face in her hair. "It's just that, we've already learned, anything can happen in this world. I just want you to know that, whatever may befall, I have arrangements in place to assure your future, and our son's. Or daughter's. Now, you must be a little tired. Just keep resting your head on my shoulder, like you've done in our bed at home. I will sit with you, until you are asleep."

 

"Oh, Barnabas, it's too early.... I'm not tired...." Suddenly, Julia yawned. "Oh, well. Maybe I am tired, a little. Normal fatigue, at last! But I won't sleep for long. You'll still be around when I wake?"

 

"Of course. I'll still be around. Just remember that, always."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Barnabas sat at his desk in the Old House, surrounded by stacks of legal papers, as he hastily scratched out a new will. Then, he found his investment certificates, as well as the deeds to both the Antique Shoppe and the Old House, and added them to the stack. Once he had all his documents assembled, he called Tony Peterson at home. Fortunately for Barnabas, Tony was alone, having forgone an evening with Carolyn out of respect for Julia's condition. Barnabas played on the lawyer's sympathy, to inveigle Tony to postpone some of his early-morning appointments in order to accomodate a long session of making financial arrangements for Julia, the unborn son, and Cellie’s family.

 

At eight the next morning, Barnabas (who'd only slept for three hours, and looked it) handed Tony the entire packet of papers, with an injunction not to assign any of the necessary paperwork to his partners, his paralegal aide, or his secretary. Tony accepted the commission, having become used such eccentric whims during his previous dealings with the denizens of Collinwood. As he perused some of the documents, he did ask, "What brought on this flurry of activity, Barnabas? Is Julia's recovery still uncertain? Or, have you, perhaps, discovered that you're suffering from some illness? I'm not asking out of mere curiosity, and I'm not questioning your competency. I just need to ascertain whether you're acting under some sort of duress, to be making so many complex decisions at once. I wouldn't want you to make mistakes you'll come to regret later."

 

"It's not that at all, Tony. It's just that, in the past few weeks, I've become acutely aware of the uncertainties of life. As of now, my wife and our child are well on the road to normalcy. But I'd like to make sure they're provided for, in case it should be my turn to face the end. It's not an unrealistic possibility at my age.

 

“And as for Cellie.... She's brilliant, brave, and resourceful, and I have every confidence that she will eventually complete her education, and settle into some successful career. But in the meantime...." Barnabas sounded a little exasperated, "She's still tied in marriage to Willie! I have no doubt he will get over this bout of mental disturbance, and return to her, to help with Sarah Teresa, and get his high-school diploma, and so forth. But I believe he'll never rise above his station in life, and, furthermore, I'm certain he will suffer relapses into his particular ailment as the years go by. It will be difficult for Cellie to carry on, financially and academically, if she has to depend on him for more than household chores."

 

"Perhaps you're right about that," Tony sighed. "Still, Cellie strikes me as being very capable of juggling her responsibilities, come what may. She will certainly need some help along the road to fulfilling her potential. I just hope she doesn't resent the implications of these provisions. Plus, she still has her parents to turn to, and, will soon have Pavlos as her stepfather."

 

"Walter will have his hands full, with his new family, and with Ernest's child, when it comes. As for Janice, she still has some of the original settlement, and house-sale money left over from her divorce, but she basically lives from paycheck to paycheck. I've heard of Pavlos's plans to make her and Cellie partners in the Koffeehaus. I'm sure they'll enjoy it immensely, but it will involve a lot of time and work. Plus, you know the instability of Pavlos's business. They may be forced to close someday, probably at a loss, or the style of the times may dictate a change, in the name of survival, to some other format both Cellie and Janice might dislike."

 

"But to put your half of the Antique Shoppe up for sale, either to Carolyn, or another buyer, with the proceeds to go to Cellie and Sarah Teresa--- Have you discussed this with Carolyn?" Tony asked. "She loves the business, but she may not want the entire responsibility, and yet, she may also be leery of selling the other half to a stranger. I know your partnership agreement provides for both of these possibilities, including channeling the profits from the sale of your share, to anyone you choose."

 

"I'll try to catch up with Carolyn to discuss the details, but in case I don't have the opportunity, Tony, you must try to explain it, and get her to agree to it."

 

"What, are you leaving the country soon, Barnabas?" Tony asked, eyeing with concern Barnabas's tragic expression, the deep shadows under his eyes. "Barnabas, are you in some trouble? You can tell me. I will hold anything you say in the strictest confidence. Perhaps I can help you, if the trouble's of a legal nature."

 

Barnabas made an effort to sound stronger. "I just may be called away, soon. But not for long, and no, I'm not in trouble. I just want to make sure my assets are securely in the hands of those who are entitled to them, and not tossed about on the waves of the probate system, to be diminished, yet still saddled with inheritance taxes. You can understand my concern."

 

"I'll accept your explanation for what it's worth. God knows, I've heard enough such explanations from various members of your family in the past. All your papers and your instructions certainly appear to be in order, with no loose ends that I can detect in this preliminary survey. I see no indications of intent to defraud, or otherwise circumvent legal procedures. I will take care of all these changes A.S.A.P., as you've requested."

 

"I appreciate your extra effort. I will pay double your usual fee, for your trouble."

 

"That's not necessary, Barnabas. Consider it a family favor."

 

"Oh, so you and Carolyn will be getting married soon?"

 

"I haven't officially proposed yet, what with all the uncertainty about Julia. But now that she's definitely on the mend, I think you two can count on an elaborately designed, extravagantly expensive invitation in your mailbox in the near future."

 

"I wouldn't wait on that, if I were you. Take it from an older, wiser man. You should get Carolyn to pack up, and elope tonight, to that Southern state where you don't have to bother with blood tests or other bureaucratic nonsense. You could be married by midnight."

 

"Now, that sounds like my kind of wedding," Tony replied, grinning, "but I doubt Carolyn would go along with that plan, nor would our mothers." He became serious, then. "Just why are you counseling such haste, Barnabas? Is Carolyn in danger, now? I know that Blair fellow has moved in, practically next door to Collinwood, but aside from his one visit the night of the trouble with Lester, she says he hasn't come around since. Besides, marriage is hardly a shield. I'm not afraid for myself, but I wouldn't want Carolyn to go through the suffering she experienced when her first husband died."

 

"I just wanted to know that she was settled with you. I myself married Julia quickly, once we made up our minds to it, after as long an acquaintance as yours with Carolyn. Even though we didn't have the wedding of the year, neither of us regretted that decision. I doubt you two would regret it, either. At least, consider it."

 

"You can count on that." Tony walked Barnabas to the door. Instead of shaking hands, he patted Barnabas's shoulder reassuringly. "You look like you could use a good long rest, Barnabas. I'm no doctor, but I would still prescribe taking it easy, now that the crisis with Julia is over. I want my favorite clients around for a long, long time."

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

 

Barnabas longed to spend his last day with Julia, Cellie, and Sarah Teresa. But he was afraid he would tell all to his niece, and he feared the consequences if he snuck in one last visit to his wife. No doubt, Julia was awake now, and wondering why he hadn't shown up, to take her for a wheelchair ride to admire the daylight, as she'd once been forced to gaze only upon moon- and star-light. Barnabas knew he would have even more difficulty hiding the truth today.

 

So, instead, he made a half-hearted attempt to find Carolyn. Mrs. Johnson told him that Carolyn had gone to town, to finalize the sale of some of the leftover items at the Antique Shoppe. Barnabas thought of seeking Elizabeth, but she, and Roger, had been called to a meeting at the cannery. David had taken Cellie and Sarah Teresa, first, to WindCliff to share the good news with Willie, then, they were to spend the rest of the afternoon with Julia. To see Elliot was out of the question. He would surely guess the truth.

 

Barnabas spent the rest of the afternoon at the Old House, ignoring the intermittent ringing of the phone, and aimlessly exploring the rooms, especially the nursery. Willie had painted the walls a soft shade of yellow, and Julia had managed to outline three walls with red and blue Noah's Ark stenciled patterns, before she became ill. Carolyn had bought a new crib, months ago. Julia protested at the extravagance, but the younger woman said, "We'd have given you mine and David's, but he learned pretty early to remove some of the bars, to escape. I had already loosened them once, myself," Carolyn giggled. "Since then, those bars have disappeared. Cribs never have just one life, anyway. When you're finished with this one, somebody else might need it. When it comes back my way, just make sure you check the bars, first!"

 

Barnabas had laughed, then. Now, even that memory brought only sharp pain. He couldn't bear to enter the bedroom he'd shared with Julia. Just before she was stricken, they'd spent more and more time sharing one bed. "Having two beds to alternate, adds to the adventure," Julia had joked. Barnabas hoped his wife would have a good long spell, recuperating at Collinwood, before she had to return to one of the beds, without the sight of her companion in the other. Perhaps she would have it removed before she came back into the Old House.

 

Barnabas glanced into Jeremiah's room, which had once been one of Cellie's. Ever since Jeremiah's spirit had joined Josette's last summer, there was a kind of loneliness hanging around the many books lining the wall. Barnabas entered the room, and ran his fingers along the spines of some of the books. "Someday, my son will read these books," he announced to the silence. If Nicholas allowed Julia and Alistair to stay on, that is. Surely, he would appreciate the advantages of having a doctor handy for Sarah Teresa's childish ailments. As for Alistair, it would surely give Nicholas a sardonic satisfaction to hold the son of his old enemy as a kind of privileged hostage, as kings had once held the sons of other kings in order to keep the rival rulers in line.

 

Barnabas worried about David and the others. The young man had been under the Leviathan spell as a child, as had Elizabeth. Roger had escaped that cloud, but he might be induced to go along, this time, for the sake of his son's and sister's safety. After all, someone had to run the Collins Enterprises. Barnabas wished there was some avenue of escape for Carolyn, but he knew she would never agree to elope with Tony. As if it would do any good! Barnabas remembered how Nicholas's lingering influence had induced one of his ruined, disgruntled Leviathan cult members to attempt killing both Carolyn and Jeb Hawkes. Carolyn had, of course, survived, but she was in a mentally-frail state for months. Buying and running the Antique Shoppe had done much to relieve her sorrow, before Tony came back into her life.

 

Barnabas doubted Nicholas would allow his new lady that kind of consolation. After removing Tony from the scene permanently, as well as anyone who opposed his takeover of everything that belonged to the Collins family, Nicholas would, likely, see an advantage in Carolyn's resulting mental distress. Barnabas had once played on such weaknesses, though he seldom enjoyed it. His greatest dread, now that his transformation was nearing completion, was that he would, under Nicholas's tutelage, enjoy it completely. He would probably even come to applaud Nicholas's exploitation of Carolyn, when it came to pass.

 

And what about Cellie? Nicholas had all but promised that he wouldn't put the girl in Barnabas's way as a victim. Barnabas had made legal arrangements for his niece's and grand-niece's living. Perhaps Nicholas would allow them to stand for Sarah Teresa's sake. There was no telling by what method Nicholas would finally wrench the child from her mother, but Barnabas hoped he would allow Cellie to live. As for Willie.... He really wasn't reliable unless he was completely under his wife's influence, and that had certainly been shaky, of late. If Nicholas disposed of Cellie, then he might as well get rid of Willie, because the man would be totally unable to function without the emollient presence of his "girls." Barnabas prayed that it would not fall to his lot to execute his former slave.

 

The Hacketts, Lester, Janice, Pavlos.... Even the Greek, with his "direct line" to his God, was really just a minor player. Gradually, Nicholas's influence would grow and spread from the confines of Collinsport like a cancer, and everyone would be swept away, including Walter, Maggie, Ernest, and Lillian in Boston. Barnabas wondered why Nicholas hadn't chosen a larger city as his base of operations. Then he remembered, many of history's greatest leaders, both good and bad, had emerged from relatively obscure towns and villages.

 

The birthplace of Sarah Teresa Loomis (whose last name Nicholas would probably change to "Blair"), the most important future leader of the millenium, would, perhaps, be as celebrated in song and story as that of another Child, born in an obscure village 1973 years earlier. The difference was, Sarah's songs would be dictated by her guardian, and their performances commanded under threats of dire punishment.

 

Barnabas had controlled his grief at parting from his wife, his niece, and his other relatives and friends, but the thought of his precious Sarah Teresa, growing up in such a corrupt milieu, brought him to his final tears. He sat right in his parlor, certain that no passer-by would see him. A shadow passed quickly behind his curtained window, but he thought it was a hawk flying too close to the house. Surely, it wasn't a bat!

 

In a moment, there was a knock on the door. Barnabas didn't know whether to be relieved, or frightened. Perhaps Nicholas was there, to force him to come to the Henderson Place early. His heart was already slowing, due to the potion, but it pounded as he timidly approached the door. He was dismayed, when he saw who his caller was.

 

"Hallie," he said, shakily. "What are you doing here?"

 

"Oh, I came down to visit with Cellie and the baby while Willie was in the hospital, and to see Julia, of course. I was so happy to hear she's going to get well! I was a little surprised to hear you hadn't gone to see her today--- Oh, I'm sorry, it's none of my business, really---" Hallie's face became very red.

 

"That's quite all right. I will be going, soon. It's just that, I haven't gotten much sleep lately, and now that Julia's better, I came home to rest. I dozed off without setting an alarm, and I slept most of the afternoon away. I only just woke up." Barnabas let Hallie in the house. He was grateful for some kind of human contact, now that his hour of departure was so close at hand. He certainly wasn't tempted to tell her his secret. She would go home, and report to Elliot that she'd found Barnabas well enough, if a little teary and tired after his great ordeal.

 

"So, Hallie, are you staying the night at Collinwood?" For some reason, the thought made him anxious.

 

"No, I'm staying at Mrs. Texeira's tonight. I've been thinking, lately, I might be interested in becoming a nurse, so, after I visit Julia later, Nurse Fatima is going to take me around the hospital and explain a little about what she does."

 

"Does this decision have anything to do with Paul?"

 

"Some, I guess. Between Paul, and what happened at the 'clinic', I realized that I would really like to help people in a direct way. I don't think I have what it takes to be a doctor like Julia, nor can I do what Cellie's able to. But a nurse gets to talk to sick people, and does the practical things for them."

 

"You still have your job at the bank? And what about your classes?"

 

"It's what they call Spring Break, even though Spring doesn't begin for another week. A lot of my classmates are going to Fort Lauderdale in Florida, but even if I could afford to go, I wouldn't.

 

I hate planes, because of my parents...." her voice trailed off. "Anyway," she said, brightening, "I like it better, right here, with my friends. As for work, I don't have to be in until the day after tomorrow. So, I'll be around for Cellie. I just talked to her, on the phone from Mrs. T's. She said she called and called you, and so did Julia, but you didn't answer. Will they be relieved to hear you were just sleeping! I take it, you couldn't hear the phone from upstairs?"

 

"Right. The volume of the signal was turned way down, and I forgot to make it louder." Barnabas changed the subject, and asked about Paul.

 

Hallie smiled, and blushed again. "I've been down to visit him twice since Cellie was there, and we talk on the phone a couple of times a week. He's got his artificial legs, and hesays it's easier to walk on them every day. He's kind of up in the air about his future plans, though. But that's okay. There's plenty of time."

 

"Do you have marriage plans already?"

 

"Oh, not until we're out of college, if we can wait that long! Paul's been practicing his old book-keeping skills. He was good at it in High School. Mrs. Stoddard said, if he managed to get a business degree, she could find a place for him at one of her companies. He's said he doesn't mind working for her as a start, since he owes her so much. And once I become a nurse, I could work anywhere, full-time, or part-time, if I have children. A wedding might not be as far off as it sounds."

 

"I'm glad to hear it. That Paul sounds like an exceptional young man. Quite unlike his brother."

 

"Oh, Barnabas, I hope you're not still mad at Willie. In his own way, he's just as special as Paul. One thing I've learned from Paul's experience, is that one can't jump right in and pass judgement, without learning all the facts. Willie's just sick, I guess. Cellie said he's getting better fast."

 

"You have the right attitude for your future profession." Barnabas glanced at his watch. It was almost four o'clock. He would have to leave soon, for the Henderson house. He politely offered Hallie coffee or tea, and was relieved when she refused, and said she had to get over to Collinwood to see Elizabeth. "Well, Hallie, thanks for stopping by. I will be heading over to the hospital. If I don't run into you there, I hope we'll see you again soon, maybe with Cellie and David." He watched as she went up the path.

 

As soon as the blonde girl was out of sight, Barnabas grabbed his cape, and his newly-repaired cane, which Cellie had presented to him when he'd finally left Julia last night. For a moment he studied the smoothly-molded silver wolf's head. Lisa's father had done exquisite work. Where the dent had been from the oak step at the Antique Shoppe, there was but a thin line that had been skillfully incorporated into the original design.

 

He realized, he'd put off saying good-bye to one more special place. He ran up the steps and down the hall, to Josette's room, long since put to rights, his first love's portrait back in its place of honor over the mantle. Barnabas looked into the bewildered eyes of the woman in the picture, and sighed, "As it was in the beginning, so it shall be in the end...."

 

He left a short note on the desk, directing any inquiries about his legal affairs to Tony's office. He's wanted desperately to leave some kind of note to Julia and Cellie, begging their forgiveness for his abrupt departure, but he figured that was part of Nicholas's ban on hinting at his fate. He did scribble the tiny word "Love" on a corner of the note about Tony.

 

Barnabas locked the Old House, and hurried down the steep path to the Henderson house. Mercifully, he didn't run into anybody along the way. As he approached the white, clapboarded Georgian mansion, with its front that resembled a face, Barnabas began to tremble and shake. He knew it wasn't from nervousness. As he reached the top step on the porch, he felt a tremendous ache in all his joints. He literally fell into the front hallway of the Henderson house when Nicholas answered the door.

 

Nicholas helped him up, and walked him down the cellar steps, through a storage area with shelves. After moving a wall of shelves, he revealed a heavy, bolted door, which opened into a tiny, windowless room. “See, Barnabas, I am going to be a good master!" he exclaimed, as he pointed to the shiny, new, black casket that stood on some cinder blocks. "I special-ordered it, just for you. It has a full-sized spring mattress and real silk tufting! Talk about state-of-the-art!"

 

"How comforting," Barnabas gasped, clutching at his chest. "OOH!" he moaned. "I am suffering as much as I did the other times, when I began to change!"

 

"I am sorry about that, Barnabas. I spared you the indignity of a bat bite, but I fear the rest of the process will be tiresomely familiar to you. You will be dead within an hour. An hour after that, you will be ready to rise, and I shall direct you to your victim."

 

"Who is it! Who is it!" Barnabas cried, as Nicholas laid him, writhing, in the casket.

 

"I don't think I'll trouble you with that knowledge, while you're dying, Barnabas. I'm not totally inhumane. But I can promise you, in two hours, you won't care who it is, anyway."

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR

 

"Where is he, where is he?" Julia wept into her pillow.

 

"I don't know, Aunt Jule," Cellie answered, anxiously. She reached over, and smoothed her aunt's hair. Then, she tried to turn Julia's face toward her own, the better to make a connection to relieve the older woman's distress.

 

"No, no, Cellie," Julia snapped, pushing her niece's hand away. "You mustn't wear yourself out, trying to soothe me. Your powers have only recently returned, and I know you already made a tremendous effort for me, already. I'll only be unhappy again in an hour, if Barnabas doesn't show up by then, anyway." She reached for the tissue box, and dabbed at her eyes. "He lied to me," she concluded, sadly. "He said Angelique stopped him from falling for Nicholas's schemes in the nick of time. I know now, he must have made some kind of a deal that means I'll never see him again."

 

"I'm inclined to agree with you, and so would Elliot," Cellie said. "I remember, when I told him the exact time you started getting better, he muttered something about 'five minutes'. 'Five minutes' made all the difference. Now, whether it was five minutes before we routed Desiree, or after...."

 

David came into the room at that moment. He had evidently heard some of the conversation on his way, because he said, "I remember when Barnabas said that, and the expression on his face. He almost looked---I don't know if this is the right way to put it--- disappointed."

 

"He most certainly was NOT disappointed at such good news!" Cellie replied, indignantly. "But then I was so distracted by my own relief, that I wasn't really reading him, anyway," she admitted.

 

"He was very loving, and gentle, and extremely affectionate, when he was with me," Julia said, as her eyes welled up again. "In fact, he gave me the impression that he was being extra sweet, because there was something he and Virginia weren't telling me about my condition, and that the baby and I were still in some kind of danger."

 

"It wasn't you who was still in danger, Aunt Jule. He must have been thinking of his own danger. Five minutes.... " Cellie mused. "If he knew he'd made the deal BEFORE you were cured, he might have been able to control his reactions better, bearing the knowledge that his sacrifice had made you well...."

 

David completed her thought. "But what if it turned out that YOU, the Professor, and Angelique scooped his efforts, and had already cleaned Julia's clock by the time he signed himself over? What if he found out that Julia was safe for a whole five minutes before he made his last stand, and that it was all in vain? That he'd given his all for something that was a foregone conclusion?"

 

"Nicholas tricked him!" Julia said, with certainty. "But in what way? Why couldn't he have given me a hint, or one of you? And why can't I see him now? Is this forever?" she whimpered. "Is this the choice he had to make? To make me well, and our child, but to be separated from us?"

 

Just then the phone rang. Julia's hand flew to the receiver. "It's Hallie," she announced to the others, an expression of hope on her face, as she listened intently. When she'd hung up, she declared, "I guess we were all worried over nothing. Hallie was calling from Collinwood. She stopped at the Old House for a while, before she went to see Elizabeth. She said she spent about

 

a half-hour talking to Barnabas. She said he seemed a little sad around the edges yet, but that he was okay."

 

"What's his excuse for not coming by today?" Cellie asked. There was doubt in her voice.

 

"He told her he'd fallen asleep, and didn't even hear the phone downstairs. I'm sure he was exhausted, after all these weeks of maintaining his vigil. I suppose, if either of you had troubled to go to the Old House, you would have found this out for yourselves."

 

"I'm sorry about that, Aunt Jule. Did he say he was coming at all?"

 

"According to Hallie, yes, but he didn't say when. It shouldn't be long, now." Julia was a little happier, but Cellie knew she was still uneasy. There was something about Barnabas's "explanation" that didn't wash. It was possible that Barnabas was tired enough to oversleep, but not this late!

 

Cellie now regretted that, in her rush to get to WindCliff, and after, to leave Sarah Teresa with her mother and Pavlos, she hadn't thought to stop by the Old House sometime before she and David had come to the hospital. She felt sure that she could have "diagnosed" the true cause of Barnabas's absence.

 

Cellie and David left the room while Julia had her dinner. "You don't buy that bull story about Barnabas sleeping all day," David said, "And Julia doesn't either, much as she pretends otherwise."

 

"I know. When he finally gets here, we have to corner him, and make him tell us, before he goes in and cons my aunt. There MUST be SOME way to help him, if he really cut a deal with Nicholas."

 

The two friends met up with Tony and Carolyn, who were speaking quietly in the waiting room down the hall. "You saw Barnabas this morning, and only now you're telling me?" Carolyn demanded.

 

"I saw no reason to tell anyone," Tony replied, in exasperation. "He came to me as a client, with legal business to transact. If I was a doctor, you wouldn't expect me to tell you who came to my office, and on what complaint! Lawyers are expected to maintain a similar professional discretion. I only told you, finally, because you all seem to be so anxious about his whereabouts."

 

"That's right, Tony," Cellie said as she walked up to the couple. "He was supposed to come here, to spend his first full day with my aunt since her recovery. I can't believe YOU'VE forgotten so completely, the way it used to be around here, years ago. I wasn't around then, but I've heard an earfull. There's always something about being missing around here, that goes beyond the ordinary worries."

 

"Yes, I remember," Tony groused. "I was a bit concerned about Barnabas, myself, after he came to me this morning. But he had a rational explanation for his behavior and activities."

 

"What was he up to?" David asked.

 

"He was squaring away some of his legal affairs, and he wanted the job done right away. Apparently, the crisis with Julia churned up some concerns he had, regarding the disposition of his assets and investments. He wanted to revise his will, and other papers, to cover any contingency. He was especially concerned about your future, Cellie."

 

"I appreciate it, honest I do," she replied. "Still, he didn't offer up a better reason for wanting to rush through such an important task?"

 

"No, but he hinted that he might be taking some kind of trip in the near future. A lot of people do the same thing, putting their affairs in order, especially if they're going to be traveling by airplane. Never mind that one is far more likely to die in an auto accident.... There's something about the threat of a plane crash that brings out the fatalist in a lot of people. I began to think, once he assured me he wasn't in some kind of a jam, that he was planning some kind of buying trip, for when the Antique Shoppe finally reopens. I doubt he's going on a vacation without your aunt, especially after he made a serious pitch about the virtues of hasty weddings, including his own. I certainly don't believe that he's about to skip the country. He did seem fatigued, so I advised him to go home and rest."

 

"Which, if he wasn't lying to Hallie when she visited him this afternoon, he really did," Cellie said. "That's right, she called my aunt as soon as she saw him at the Old House, and he claimed he was coming here straightaway. I'll give him another half hour to get here."

 

"What will you do if he doesn't show?" Carolyn asked.

 

"I'm going to look for him," Cellie said. "Aunt Jule will have a relapse if she doesn't get to see him soon."

 

"What do you think happened to him that could keep him away?" This from Tony.

 

"I don't know exactly what," Cellie replied, "but I would suspect Nicholas Blair was somehow to blame. You know he and Barnabas never got along, so to speak. Just what they've got going now, though, I have no idea.... Just pray that Barnabas shows up tonight."

 

A half-hour, then, thirty-five minutes, forty minutes.... "Three quarters of an hour!" Cellie announced, exasperated. Julia was so upset, she was in danger of vomiting up the first full meal she'd eaten in weeks. "I'm going to get him, Aunt Jule," Cellie told her. "David's coming too, so don't worry about me."

 

The two friends drove straight to the Old House. The light was still on in the parlor window. Cellie searched her large purse for her keys, as David said, "The days when I used to just break in here are long gone, what with all the new locks on the windows."

 

"Welcome to the modern world, Muffinhead," Cellie muttered, as she fished the keyring up from the bottom of one of the compartments in the purse. She opened the double doors. She and David immediately fanned out, searching different parts of the house, and the maze of cellar rooms. They met, back in the parlor, near Barnabas's fancy, pigeon-holed desk. Cellie scanned the note her uncle had left atop his collection of legal papers. "Well, it's clear he knew he was going somewhere, even when Hallie talked to him," she said. She glanced at the note again, and saw the tiny word, "Love," scrawled in the corner. Her eyes misted up. "He didn't want to go," she wept.

 

"Where did he go?" David asked.

 

"There's only one place I can think of," she replied. "We have to go to the Henderson house."

 

"Are you sure that's such a hot idea, Cellie? Maybe Nicholas will punish you in some awful way, if you invade his turf."

 

"I have to see if Barnabas is there! I know, we'll call the Professor. He's staying at the Texeiras' with Hallie. Discreetly, on the couch, of course." Cellie smiled faintly. She dialed the number.

 

Jorge Texeira answered, and told Cellie that his mother and the Professor had gone out for dinner. "Our schedules are so messed up, and we were all so worried about your aunt, that none of us were up to cooking, the last couple of days," Jorge said. "They're at the Collinsport Inn."

 

"I hate to bother them at dinner...."

 

"Oh, they may have finished quite some time ago. They already told me that they would be heading up to the hospital to see your aunt, afterward."

 

"Maybe I can reach them there. Thanks, Jorge."

 

"You're welcome. I hope your aunt will be completely well, soon, and there's one more thing I want to say, Cellie. We sure miss you down at the Superette! You are often imitated, but have never been duplicated."

 

"Thanks again, Jorge. That's a thought I will definitely carry through my darkest hours.... Maybe you can put it in a letter of recommendation." Jorge chuckled a bit at that, as he hung up.

 

Cellie then called her aunt. Julia, whose voice reflected a practiced, enforced calm, said that Elliot had not yet arrived, and neither had Barnabas.... The calm crumbled slightly, as Julia quizzed her niece for clues concerning her missing husband's whereabouts. Cellie evaded the questions. "Just tell Elliot to get back here A.S.A.P.," she urged.

 

"Okay, now what do we do?" David asked.

 

"My Mom and Pavlos were supposed to bring Sarah Teresa over to the Great House, about now. I'll jump in the car, and drive over to check on her. I'm not taking any chances on the pathway. You stay here. I'll call when I get there, and I'll head back for you the instant the Professor gets to Collinwood."

 

Cellie met her mother and Pavlos, who was carrying a whimpering, sniffling Sarah Teresa, at the oak doors of the Great House. Cellie took the fretful baby from her future step-father, and cuddled her, as she discussed some of the situation with Janice and the Greek. Then Janice went to the study, in search of Elizabeth, and Cellie was able to pull Pavlos aside for a private talk.

 

"I wish you had told me of all this, when the crisis started," he admonished. "I have caught your uncle, at least once, making impossible vows to God, in his despair. I would rejoice at your aunt's improvement, if I did not believe it came at the cost of fulfilling his vow. He has made a terrible choice, that much I know."

 

"It's worse than that," Cellie said sadly. "I believe that, in fact, Barnabas was TRICKED into fulfilling his vow, after the Professor and I, with help from a friendly spirit, had already routed the evil influence from my aunt's pregnancy."

 

"This still doesn't tell us what kind of a deal he's made. I understand your Nicholas is a very subtle fellow, who plays on fears and longings, as though he was an infernal concert pianist. He once forced your uncle to face up to desires he had denied to himself."

 

"That was Nicholas's favorite question. 'What do you fear, and what do you desire?' " Cellie quoted. "He told me, I would find out they were one and the same thing. In a way, it was true. I realized I had a powerful affinity for Barnabas. Much of it was good, but there were some unfortunate things I discovered in myself, when I invaded his consciousness. I wanted raw, unrestrained power, like he once had as a vampire. I was him, as a vampire, for a few minutes. I almost drove my husband to kill himself, when I bit him. I almost wrecked Aunt Jule's and Barnabas's marriage."

 

" 'What do you fear? What do you desire?' " Pavlos mused. "I wonder if Nicholas had an opportunity to pose the question to Barnabas again. You must watch your steps, Cellie. Barnabas wanted you once. Of course, he may have buried this lust under the nobler emotions he has for Julia and their child, but Nicholas could have forced him to confront it again, in order to win a reprieve for his family. You may be faced with an uncomfortable choice, yourself, as a punishment for your presumption in defeating Desiree. That is, if you find it so uncomfortable."

 

"If you're implying that I want Barnabas in that way, you're way off base!" Cellie insisted. "I fought off my very real desire for Lester. I can tell you, with certainty, that I would never have such a relationship with my uncle, even if Will wasn't still in the picture."

 

"If you have a choice," Pavlos warned. "And what of the Professor? You have both opposed Nicholas and Desiree, with some success. That means he is also a target of their displeasure."

 

"Elliot is highly resistant to such influences."

 

"He has his soft spot."

 

"Oh, Geez. Hallie."

 

"Where is she now?"

 

"She was here visiting---" They both heard the front door slam. (Occasionally, the great oaken doors of Collinwood swelled up when it was humid, as it was tonight, and one would have to force the doors open or shut.) Cellie gave Pavlos the baby, ran out to the foyer, and looked out the door. "Hallie's gone," she announced flatly, "Well, she was just going straight to the hospital, anyway. Her uncle must be there by now."

 

The phone in the drawing room rang. Cellie answered, and whispered to Pavlos, "He is." To the Professor, she said, "I was going to ask you to come back here tonight to join me in a visit to the Henderson place, but wait for Hallie, before you do. Mrs. Texeira is there with you, right? She and Nurse Fatima will stick with her while you're gone.... Good. Oh, it was just a thought I had. You've had the same thoughts?.... I agree. She should go back to Orono, first thing in the morning. I'll send David after her right now, if you like...." Cellie hung up, and called David at the Old House.

 

After convincing David to follow Hallie, Cellie went back, to sit with Pavlos. She asked about the wedding plans. He said, "I've given up any idea of a regular celebration, now that this has happened," he said regretfully. "The most important thing now, is to be with your mother in a committed, above-board manner that is acceptable in the eyes of God. Janice and I have our license. First thing in the morning, we are going to visit the good Reverend Brand. By tomorrow, noon, we shall be married, come what may. I am sorry about one thing, though. You will miss this opportunity to become acquainted with my son Theodore. As of this afternoon, he called me, to tell me that he's thought it over, and that he would try to accept my new marriage, and that he would visit, as soon as his schedule at the seminary permits. I asked him to pray for all of us."

 

"What about your other children?"

 

"If we should pass unscathed through the hazards before us, I will see to it that we all have a glorious Easter. In my church, that is the most beautiful celebration, my Flame, for it is the most important in any Christian's calendar. One tends to forget that, in all the commercial hoopla over Christmas. Of course, our Lord had to be born, and thus, be set upon His earthly path to His Destiny. But it is His Resurrection, following his Death, that is the basis of our faith.

 

“Even though I will be barred from Sacraments, there is no reason we could not follow the midnight ceremony that is held on Holy Saturday. We all carry candles, and follow the priest as he searches the flower-filled church for the Tomb. When he 'finds' it, he looks inside, and announces to the congregation that Christ has risen! No matter how many times one participates in this ritual, there is always the suspense, followed by the relief, and pure joy one feels when we are reassured that He has fulfilled His Destiny, and that there is still hope for the rest of us."

 

"I wish all the churches did that," Cellie said fervently. "I don't think the Unitarians are completely convinced of Christ's Divinity. The Episcopalians are, but they don't get too emotional about it. As for the Catholics, well.... Based on what I saw at St. Dymphna's, and what I've read, they still do, but with all the changes in their rituals lately, it's an on-and-off thing. I guess, what I'm really trying to say, is that I crave external signs of an internal process. I can detect faith now, even when I don't share it. But I must still be immature in my skills, if I need candles and chants and shiny robes and icons to pump mine up."

 

"Then I am the most immature fellow going!" Pavlos laughed. "People need their symbols. Most of them cannot do what we do. The advantage of our position, is that we can function without symbols. But we cannot be reading our fellow humans all the time, as I have taught you. And you certainly cannot read all of them at once! That is where symbols come in. You can appreciate them on the very basic level of their beauty, and you can understand that they represent a unity of faith, the common ground with your fellow worshippers. For, remember, you are not there to focus on the people, anyway. You are there to share a Divine Mystery."

 

" 'I am the Resurrection, and the Life. He who believes....'" Cellie's voice trialed off. "I believe. I know Barnabas believes. But to WHOM is he giving his faith NOW?" She glanced briefly at her watch. "I'm taking the munchkin up to her crib," she said. Sarah Teresa had fallen asleep on her shoulder. "Thank God, she's finally settled down. She must have worn herself out," Cellie commented, kissing her daughter's soft cheek. "I wonder if a part of her knows what's

happening to Barnabas now, and can do nothing about it, lest it threaten her own existence."

 

"She should not be alone," Pavlos intoned.

 

"She almost never is," Cellie said, with asperity. "When Professor Stokes arrives, I will make sure she's rooming in with someone, even if it's Roger." She smiled. "He's really become fond of her, you know? I guess he's finally getting the message that there are some perks to acting his age, and one of them is grandfatherhood. I hope to have him completely trained by the time David brings home Adele as his blushing bride."

 

"How sad that Roger cannot have a blushing bride of his own. If I had never gotten involved with your mother, he would have had a chance. But destiny is destiny, and you must believe there is a Plan for Roger, too. It is good to hear you projecting any kind of a future, for Roger, David, anybody. It will fuel your determination to make sure there is a future."

 

"There WILL be a future," she replied. "We just might not LIKE it that much." At that, there was a knock on the door. Pavlos answered it. When he saw it was Elliot, he took Sarah Teresa upstairs himself.

 

"Hallie arrived at the hospital in one piece, followed closely by David," Elliot said. "My Fatima and Nurse Fatima have them well in hand."

 

"How's my aunt, now?"

 

"From the heights of grateful ecstacy, to the depths of despair again.... But Virginia said, as long as Julia continues to eat and rest, there's no immediate danger to her or the child. Many mothers have had to survive such crises, and borne healthy children. It's unfortunate that this has come on the heels of her miraculous survival. If all had been well, Julia would have been released the day after tomorrow, with assistance, of course. Now...." Elliot sounded depressed, himself. "We must find Barnabas. No matter what condition he's in, Julia will surely be grateful for any news. Let's get down to the Henderson house now."

 

Cellie asked, "Are you sure Nicholas will let us in?"

 

"I'd say it's a possibility. He had no hesitation in showing his last grand home to me. Of course, then it was part of a trick, to defeat some plans Barnabas had against him, years ago. We have no specific plans at this point. So, not only might he be willing to show off his decidedly schizophrenic taste in interior decor---"

 

"What do you mean by that?"

 

"As I recall, his 'public' rooms were always laid out in a restrained manner, but as for his personal sleeping quarters--- The last time, Louis the Fourteenth came to mind. Louis the Fourteenth in an opium den, that is. Nicholas must enjoy the contrast between the elegant, and the decadent. It's both a distraction FROM, and a signpost TO, his true nature. That brings me to the second reason he'll likely be willing to open his home, to deflect suspicion. That's also the reason we'll probably be quite safe."

 

Cellie grabbed her leather jacket, and ran upstairs to tell the others she was going with Elliot. She leaned over her daughter's crib in Mrs. Johnson's room, and touched Sarah Teresa's red-gold fluff. The baby wore the same slightly sad expression Willie sometimes did in his sleep, before a bad dream came on. A bad dream, Cellie thought, remembering her husband's night terrors. A bad dream about Barnabas....

 

CHAPTER FORTY-FIVE

Cellie went back down, to join her friend, trotting briskly down the path between the Great House and the Old House, that overlooked the Henderson mansion. They eased themselves down the dewy hill, until they reached the front gate. There were lights on in the eye-like windows that appeared to glare at them in the gloom.  The night sky was overcast, concealing the moon and the stars, emphasizing the staring appearance of the house.

 

Elliot and Cellie mounted the steps to a tiny porch topped by a small, black awning over the door. "You know," the girl commented, "from a distance, the whole thing looks like Hitler's face, only with five eyes!"  She rang the doorbell. There was no answer right away. Cellie said, "Now I'm starting to consider breaking in--" when the substantial, but plainly-carved door opened.

 

Nicholas, dressed with uncharacteristic casualness, in a ski sweater and corduroy pants, stood in the doorway, blinking and yawning. "I wasn't expecting any visitors," he growled, in the manner of one who had been forced to awaken from a deep sleep. "You should have called, first. I'm not listed in the phone book, but you could have gotten the number from Information!"

 

"I rather doubt that you would have invited us over, had we called," Elliot said. "There's no point in pretending you were napping, Nicholas. I believe you know why we're here."

 

"As a matter of fact, I don't." Nicholas sounded puzzled. He even scratched his head, ruffling his ordinarily impeccably-groomed hair.

 

"You're carrying this charade just a bit too far," Cellie snapped.

 

"We know you saw Barnabas yesterday, before my aunt suddenly got better."

 

"Julia is better? And the precious little one also, I presume. That's marvelous news! But what does all this have to do with me? Why should you automatically assume, that since your aunt is recovering, and your uncle is missing, that I had anything to do with either happenstance?"

 

"Don't give me that CRAP, Nicholas! Oh, I forgot, your real name.

 

Nathaniel! You must know that the Professor and I went into Aunt Jule's mind, and---" Nicholas reached out, and put his finger to to Cellie's lips. She fell silent, but maintained an angry, frustrated look on her countenance.

 

"Poor girl!" Nicholas said, sympathetically. "All the stress of her recent ordeals have unhinged her. Imagine, calling me 'Nathaniel', of all things. What gave her that idea, I wonder?"

 

"Cellie has never been unhinged in her life," the Professor replied. "Allow her to speak, Nicholas."

 

"I want her assurance, and yours, that she will cease these outbursts! I must say, if I was a social worker, and heard her little tirade just now, I would have some doubts about her mental fitness, especially in regard to her care of her child. She certainly has no hesitation in leaving Sarah Teresa, in order to harass me with her allegations!"

 

"Nicholas, let us get to the main point," Elliot said, as calmly as he could. "There's no use denying that you know anything about Barnabas's disappearance. You gave it away, almost immediately, when you referred to the fact that Barnabas is, indeed, missing."

 

"All right, I admit, I did see him for a while, yesterday. He was wandering aimlessly around the hospital building, in the unseeing manner of a zombie."

 

Cellie shot Nicholas a look that said, "I'll bet you know just what THAT looks like!" He ignored her glare as he continued.

 

"I apprehended at once that he was distracted over his wife's condition. I confronted him, and guided him back toward an entrance. Unfortunately, we had a short argument, wherein he made some of the same accusations just leveled by his niece. That's the last I saw of him. I did try calling at the Old House this afternoon, to settle our dispute, but if he was there, he wasn't answering the door. I did notice your charming niece heading in that direction. I doubt she had more success than I did---"

 

"As a matter of fact, she DID see him, and he seemed to be in good shape, but he was still distracted," Elliot said. "That still doesn't tell us why he didn't see his wife at all today, after having sat at her bedside faithfully for weeks, awaiting her recovery! Or, for that matter, why he felt compelled to see Tony Peterson this morning, to put all his legal affairs in order. He knew he was going on a journey from which he might not return, and we believe you know his final destination!"

 

"Oh, Professor. You must know your friend's history by now. He's been know to 'disappear' before. He invariably returns. Perhaps the strain of monitoring Julia's condition got to him, and he's escaped, in order to reconnoiter his mental and physical resources."

 

"If it were any other man, I might say that's a possibility," the Professor conceded. "But this is a world in which even a Willie Loomis pulled himself together in order to comfort his badly-injured wife, when it became necessary."

 

"It's also a world where, if I'm not mistaken, that same Willie Loomis went to pieces, and battered that same wife, on the basis of what one HOPES were unfounded suspicions." Nicholas looked directly at Cellie when he said that, and smirked when her eyes filled with tears.

 

Touche, his look told HER. "In such a world, a Barnabas Collins could even ABANDON his pregnant wife, temporarily, one also hopes."

 

"Still, we would like to come in for a while, until we are assured that Barnabas is not on your premises, if it doesn't inconvenience you too much," Elliot wheedled.

 

"As a matter of fact, it does, but I suppose that, if I refuse, I will probably be receiving a visit from our esteemed Sheriff, who's bound to still be interested in what happens to Mrs. Loomis. It seems, I am a prime suspect, though of what crime, I'm not sure. If you're bent on investigating everyone who's seen Barnabas Collins in the last twenty-four hours, I hope you're prepared to have your niece interrogated, Professor Stokes. After all, who knows? He may have made a pass at the pretty little thing, and she may have over-reacted, and then, burned the remains in the fireplace of the Old House!" Nicholas laughed derisively. "It's always the quiet ones you have to watch out for!"

 

"Leave Hallie out of this, and allow us to see your house!"

 

"I take it, neither of you fears encountering the same fate you believe I may have meted out to your friend Barnabas."

 

"You have more subtlety than that, Nicholas. And anyway, there's a large number of people at both Collinwood and the hospital, who know that Cellie and I were coming here. They will surely summon the authorities, if the two of us are missing for an appreciable length of time. If I recall correctly, there's a folksong Cellie used to sing at the Koffeehaus, with the line, 'You can't kill all the unbelievers'."

 

"Not all at once, that's very true," Nicholas sighed. "Very well then, enter at your risk." He finally stood aside, to let them pass. As Cellie brushed by him, he said, "I shouldn't let you view all the improvements I've made in my latest quarters, without allowing you to express your admiration in words, Sweet Cecily."

 

Cellie gagged a little, as she began to spit out some words. "You---you---" She gave a hacking cough. She seemed to be fighting for control of her temper. She said. "Thanks.... I guess."

 

"I'm sure you'll come to appreciate my favor even more, Cecily." Nicholas led the way through the foyer, bravely, if dimly, lit by a modest chandelier, to the rest of the ground floor. "There are twenty-six rooms here, as well as a large cellar. It's not as spacious or befuddling as the floor plans of Collinwood, but it is a tiresome lot, especially if you consider the closets!"

 

"We can keep up with you. Let's get this over with," Cellie said.

 

Nicholas flipped on every light switch as he came into each room. In the dining room, there was a magnificent crystal chandelier. "I discovered this in a back room," Nicholas informed them. "Real Waterford crystal! Now, I won't say the late Miss Keziah Henderson allowed her home to deteriorate like Miss Havisham's in 'Great Expectations'. But she did put most of the follies and excesses of her immediate ancestors into storage, as though to erase the evidence of ill-gotten gain. And ill-gotten much of it was! I discovered that

 

some of her part-Indian ancestors, themselves descended from an oppressed race, were heavily involved in the slave trade!" Nicholas sounded indignant.

 

Cellie wanted to cry out, "Why should we be surprised! They were YOUR descendants, after all!" All she said was, "Well, I suppose letting it gather dust and cobwebs would have been a waste."

 

"Exactly. I found many such pieces, of great antiquity, piled haphazardly, around the unused rooms, in the rear wing of the house.

 

It was no real trouble to redistribute them properly. It was a great necessity, in any case. Without some semblence of order, this house was little more than a gigantic kindling box waiting for a spark to set it off."

 

The Professor said evenly, "There's much about the arrangement of these rooms that reminds me of the layout of furnishings in the Old House."

 

"I suppose you could say, I share some of the same tastes as Barnabas and his ancestors. I studied his arrangements closely, the few times I've been in his home. Now, how could I harm a man with whom I have so much in common?"

 

Cellie wanted to say, "Do you REALLY want an answer to that question?" but bit her lip. All she said was, "You two go back a long way. You couldn't have achieved a closer affinity of taste if you were, indeed, related."

 

Both Nicholas and Elliot looked at her, Nicholas with annoyance, the Professor with warning. Cellie flashed her very best Superette cashier's smile, guaranteed to soothe the most irritated customer short of troublemakers like the late Melinda Knowlton. Both men smiled half-heartedly in return, and continued the tour.

 

They walked through the upstairs rooms. Nicholas generously allowed Elliot and Cellie to view his bedroom. Cellie gazed in wonder at the large mirror facing the foot of the bed, the bright red satin sheets and the huge variety of similarly-hued pillows in many sizes that were strewn across it. "I'm a bit of a restless sleeper," Nicholas temporized. "Of course, I occasionally have a little company now and then, including my housemate. But you understand. We're all adults here. Ah, this is my housemate's room," he said, as he flipped on a switch in the room next to his.

 

"Who is your housemate, and where is she now?" Elliot demanded, as he and Cellie surveyed the neatly-kept room with the surprisingly restrained plaid flannel sheets on the bed.

 

"She's a professional woman, with whom I share some of my interests."

 

"Anissa," Cellie stated flatly.

 

"Well, actually, she's out of town right now. There's another friend who shares my hospitality, another woman, unhampered by ties to a wealthy, elderly, demanding lover who harrasses her with constant overseas calls to come home."

 

"You wouldn't like to tell us her name, would you?" Cellie inquired.

 

"I would not. She's quite ordinary, and has no conception of some of my past activities."

 

"Somehow, I can't picture you with an ordinary woman," Elliot said.

 

"I like to break up the monotony of pursuing lovely heiresses, actresses, and sorceresses. There's nothing like the satisfied sighs of a Plain Jane. And there's nothing they won't do for you in return, to show their appreciation." Nicholas wore the same smarmy grin Cellie had seen in her husband's old picture of Jason McGuire. Slime was slime, she reflected, even if it used out big words and lived in a mansion.

 

Within a surprisingly short time, the trio had covered the ten rooms on the first floor, the ten rooms on the second, and six cramped attic rooms, which had once been occupied by the upstairs servants. Half the rooms were not wired for electricity, but, when surveyed with Nicholas's flashlight, they appeared innocuous enough, and the closets were mostly empty.

 

Nicholas finally took Elliot and Cellie down to the cellar. Cellie instinctively clutched the Professor's hand, as they followed their host into the dimly-lit, dank-smelling depths. The cellar was a large, open space, largely unfinished, unlike the cellars at the Old House and the Great House of Collinwood. Ordinary fieldstones,

 

of no particular form or color, were cemented with the most ancient kind of mortar. When Nicholas trained his light on a wall. Cellie could actually see what looked like straw, or thick hairs, between the stones. She started a little, when she saw a thickly-petrified spiderweb plastered across some of the stones. The snowflake-shaped web, grey with mold and dust, could have been a hundred years old, she thought.

 

As if to allay their suspicions about secret rooms, Nicholas led them directly to a couple of shelf-lined alcoves. As though demonstrating what a good sport he was about all this nonsense, he actually removed a couple of shelves in one obscure corner, to reveal the plain stone wall behind.

 

Still, Cellie was unsatisfied. Nicholas hadn't removed all of the shelves they saw. But she knew better than to say so. She had made good use of the time spent on the tour, anyway, memorizing the layout of the house, for future reference. She just hoped he wouldn't think of some trick to erase the memory, as he had nearly cancelled out the one about his visit to the solarium at Collinwood. That memory had been revived when he said the words, "Sweet Cecily." She looked for similar trigger clues, on her travels, picking up on his most-used phrases and idioms as he described his home with the sprightly attitude of a seasoned real-estate agent.

 

Finally, Nicholas led them back to his front door. "Are you satisfied, now, that Barnabas is not sojourning in my home, either voluntarily or involuntarily?"

 

Cellie hung her head, as if in shame. All of a sudden, she stumbled in the hallway, near the door. "I must have a worn spot on the heel of my boot," she explained, as the Professor gently lifted her from the flagstone floor. She held up each of her boots, and, indeed, the heels of both were run down, the left one showing more wear than the right.

 

"There's an excellent shoemaker in town," Elliot said. "I'll take you there tomorrow. He'll start the job right away, at my request. We're old schoolchums." They bade Nicholas a quick farewell, and made their way hastily back up the hill. "Cellie, you've been walking on those heels with no trouble, probably for weeks already," Elliot said, as they approached the doors of the Great House. "Why did you trip on them at the last minute in Nicholas's foyer?"

 

"Because I saw this," Cellie replied, thrusting her hand into her jacket pocket, and then, showing the contents she'd extracted, to the Professor. Under the light that beamed onto the granite step, Elliot saw a gold tie-tack in Cellie's palm. "If you look closely, you can see the Roman helmet stamped into the gold," she said.

 

"The Collins family crest!" her friend exclaimed. "Barnabas's, I trust?"

 

"You bet. I bought it for him, in Boston, the first Christmas after he and my aunt were married, at the same place I bought mine and Will's Mizpah pendants. This thing had a backing that clipped to the post, like a pierced earring, only a lot stronger. Barnabas actually complained about how hard it was to yank the backing off at the end of the day, but he wore the tack often, to please me." Tears shone in Cellie's eyes. "It must have taken considerable stress to pop that clasp."

 

 

"Well, unless Nicholas's shared taste with Barnabas extends to the style of his tie clips, I'd say that was conclusive proof that Barnabas was on his premises recently. Very recently, if Nicholas or his companion didn't have a chance to discover it. I'd say, shortly after Hallie saw him."

 

"You saw the place, same as I did. Do you think he was hiding there, while we were visiting? I didn't 'read' anything, but Nicholas has told me, in the past, that he can block me. He even covered a memory of one of his visits, which he revived with some signal I absorbed at the time."

 

"It's possible. There must be some nook or cranny we missed on our Grand Tour. But, Cellie, don't you or David get a notion to perform any heroics, a-la James Bond, or 'Mission Impossible'. We will get to the bottom of this mystery, hopefully without endangering anyone else, or involving the police."

 

"You may be hoping for too much, at this point, Professor."

 

"I'm an incurable optimist in some respects, even if the cause calls for little optimism. I've told you often of my personal sorrow over Julia's predicament. Like you, I hate the thought of my efforts going to waste, and we did make a magnificent one yesterday. I fear for Barnabas, but mostly for her sake. We've had more successes than failures, in our past adventures, and I think there's a chance of success, if we find Nicholas's weak spot."

 

"It's not his choice of women," Cellie commented. "I think that whole thing about his homely girlfriend is B.S. He really wants Carolyn, and the Collins bread. That's what I remembered. He's going to make her the foster mother of my baby. Not that I would argue with the suitability of his choice, but you would know more about his past treatment of Carolyn than myself. I take it, he wasn't too considerate."

 

"Attempting to coerce someone to mate with a snake-headed demon,

 

and turning the person into a like demon in the process, DOES demonstrate a low regard for the dignity of the individual involved. Perhaps it goes back to what happened to his wife and child, though I'm inclined to think Nicholas, or Nathaniel if you will, was simply BORN bad. A sociopath. Amoral. It can happen in the best of families." The Professor sighed, as he looked at his watch. "Visiting hours at the hospital are surely over by now. I don't know how much time Nurse Fatima was able to spend showing Hallie around tonight. Hallie must be back at my Fatima's house by now. I must convince her to go back to Orono, first thing in the morning."

 

"But she'll be alone there."

 

"She has a couple of girlfriends out there, who didn't high-tail it to Florida, and might let her stay over. I believe she's safer there, in any case."

 

"What will happen to the Texeiras themselves?"

 

"Fatima and I have an understanding about these matters. I will separate from her, for now, and she has places to go, just in case. Agnes the Bide-A-Wee maid, who knows so much about witches, for one. But I still believe that Hallie would be Nicholas's first choice for victimization."

 

"You want to come in, to call Mrs. Texeira's house?"

 

"No, that's all right. I'm going straight over there, now. I'll call you from there." Elliot kissed Cellie on the cheek. "Now, get in there, and watch your baby, my dear. If your mother and Pavlos are still there, give them my best wishes for their wedding tomorrow."

 

Cellie went, and rushed to Mr. Johnson's room. The crib wasn't there. Mrs. Johnson said it was in Carolyn's room. Cellie walked into her friend's room, to find Carolyn rocking the baby while watching a news program on T.V. "So, you got to see Nicholas's new digs," the older woman said.

 

"Aren't you worried, Carolyn? Don't you remember what almost happened the last time he was in town?"

 

"Yes, I remember." A dreamy look came over Carolyn's face. "He came into the Antique Shoppe, and he kissed me, and he touched me, just lightly, up and down my throat, like a silky feather. He made me--" she shook her head, violently "--he made me want him! I was going to meet him, to let him take me...." She began to tremble, and Cellie took Sarah Teresa from her arms. "David and Willie came, just in time, to keep me out of the cottage! And then, he went away. Why didn't he blow up in there, when that white light came? Now, he's just a short distance away. Sometimes, I WANT to go there, but so far, I've been good about sticking with Tony. Today, he actually proposed that we jump on a late flight to South Carolina, and be married by the morning."

 

"Do you want to? I think your mother, at least, would understand, if we both explained it to her."

 

"I would have, but I was still stinging from our argument about Tony's not telling me that Barnabas had seen him this morning. I just don't know what comes over me, when we fight these days, Cellie! It's like I'm in another room in my mind, listening to the stupid, immature spats I used to start with Tony, years ago. I drove him away with my bratty antics, and my confusion over the kind of relationship he had with Cassandra, and those I had with Barnabas and, later, Adam.... Yet, underneath it all, I guess I longed for normalcy, all along. Now, I'm on the verge of finding it, and it's about to get blown out of the water, again."

 

"There's half a townful of people around here who feel the same way, Carolyn. You need to have faith. You need to pray for the strength to steer clear of Nicholas when he comes a-calling. I recall, Barnabas wanted to enlist your assistance when we were speculating about how to deal with Nicholas upon his return. I told Barnabas then, I didn't like the idea, and now, as the de facto leader of the Resistance in his absence, I believe it's vital that you avoid Nicholas at all costs, and Anissa, too, if you see her. Maybe it's not a good idea for you to try to skip town, after all. Neither of us would want innocent people brought down because they were in Nicholas's way when he was really after YOU. I'm thinking in terms of a plane or train crash."

 

"What about Tony?"

 

"Tell him what's bothering you, if you haven't already. I don't know how much of the supernatural stuff he believes, but even he would recognize that you're under pressure from someone who does. He'll have to make the final choice about how much risk he's willing to take for your sake. I don't think you'll have to worry about his leaving you over those arguments, anyway. He appears to have gotten over a lot of the arrogance that you used to tell me about. He's waited long enough for a second chance with you, and he must remember some of the nasty things from the past. If Nicholas can't drive you apart as a couple, that's another loose end that will end up sinking his whole project."

 

Carolyn sighed resignedly. "If you and the Professor think he's done something to Barnabas, that's almost all Nicholas needs." A blinkling light on the television caught her eye. She and Cellie fell silent, as distracted by the sight of emergency lights on the news program, as they would have been at an accident site they were passing by along the road.

 

The camera pulled back from the massed ambulances and police cars, to a serious-looking young woman standing in front of the main building of a prison building. "This is Patricia O'Brien, reporting for WBAM Action News. A bizarre and puzzling incident took place at the County Jail tonight, as the defendant in two of the most grisly crimes in recent memory, attempted to slash his throat, on the eve of the first of his two trials. John Albert 'Jack' Knowlton, aged nineteen, stands accused in the murder of his mother, Melinda Briggs Knowlton, and attempted murders of his former girlfriend, Cecily Hoffman Loomis, and her uncle, Barnabas Collins, all of Collinsport, Maine, in mid-August of last year. His trial for the murder was set to begin next Monday. Guards at the jail reported that Mr. Knowlton had been unusually calm in the past few weeks, in spite of the ordeal before him---"

 

"HIS ordeal!" Cellie said, irritably. "That's American Justice these days, for you!"

 

"---Recent improvement in his initial violent behavior, was credited to his court-appointed psychiatrist, Dr. Allarice Delacourt, who took over Mr. Knowlton's case, after his first doctor was seriously injured in an auto accident---"

 

"Wait a minute!" Cellie gasped. "This Dr. Delacourt was his second doctor? His first was in a car crash?" Something about that detail set off a memory, something her husband had told her, last summer, when Nicholas had posed as Bernard Neville.... The real Neville had perished in a mysterious auto accident, at the time Cellie was living in St. Dymphna's Home.... Dr. Allarice Delacourt. What was it about that name? There was once another doctor, with a French-sounding name--- Andrea Dessaureau, the abortion "doctor"! The dark-haired doctor Cellie had seen, fleeing the viewing room, when she was visiting

 

Willie.... "A professional woman, with whom I share some of my interests...."

 

"That's no doctor!" Cellie all but shouted. "She's Anissa-Desiree!"

 

"Shshsh, there's more," Carolyn whispered, as she strained to listen.

 

Penelope O'Brien picked up the story. "Dr. Delacourt had just completed a visit to Mr. Knowlton. She told prison authorities that he was quite calm, lucid, and resigned to the likelihood of conviction in his first trial, but that he also complained of sleep difficulties. She personally administered a sleeping pill, and left him as he appeared to become drowsy. It seems that he either resisted the effects of the pill, or, what was more likely, simply hid it beneath his tongue, while he feigned drowsiness.

 

“About an hour after the psychiatrist departed,” the reporter continued, “guards responded to complaints from other prisoners, about strange noises coming from Mr. Knowlton's isolated cell. They discovered Mr. Knowlton, writhing and gurgling on the floor, clutching at a small but deep wound that, fortunately, missed a vital artery. Even so, he had lost quite a lot of blood. There was a broken knife blade on the ground, nearby. How he came to possess this weapon is unknown at this time...."

 

"You have to call Lester, if you think you know who that doctor really was," Carolyn said. "Maybe he can't do anything to her, but if he finds her, he can track her movements."

 

"Oh, yes, he'll believe my story, and we'll be in constant, rational communication as, together, we bring down this threat to the community," Cellie commented ruefully. "Sorry, Carolyn. It's not just the bad blood between myself and Lester, you understand.... I tried to tell him, before he went after Will, that we were all under a spell. In return, he implied that living in this house had curdled the common sense portion of my brain. If I called the warden of the County Jail itself, I suspect I might get the same response. What's more, Lester's been out with Anissa. If he runs into her again, there's no telling what kind of advantage she might take of the situation."

 

"There has to be something else we can do...."

 

"I know! She was at WindCliff, the first time I went to see Will there. God forbid, she should get anywhere near him. That, I might be able to do something about! I'll call my aunt, or Dr. Hurley, and they can contact WindCliff. Dr. Emmons can have 'Dr. Delacourt' suspended, or he can send Will to another asylum for the time being. Maybe he can warn the other authorities, but I doubt they'll be seeing 'Dr. Delacourt' again, in any case."

CHAPTER FORTY-SIX

 

Dr. Delacourt had sped the fifteen miles to the County Jail, to make her appointment with Jack Knowlton. She felt fortunate not to run into any other cars along the way. She turned to her passenger. "You understand the drill, don't you?"

 

"Yes. You let me out, a half-mile from the Jail. I must wait, and not draw any attention to myself, until you return, and then, you'll tell me just where I must go."

 

"You take orders surprisingly well. But there's something amiss in your attitude. You should be pleased with this assignment. I've been told, this has long been a cherished, if repressed, desire of yours."

 

"I was willing to stay within the boundaries of established legal procedure, since, in this instance, I've been assured that it would work in my favor."

 

"When it comes to human justice, it's wise not too trust even the most sincere promises. The outcome of your actions, tonight, will be guaranteed. Even if Jack Knowlton is freed, he will never be truly free, just like another man of your, shall we say, 'acquaintance'? He will never be a threat to your family again."

 

"I wonder why Nicholas is granting me this boon?"

 

"Just to show you, he is a master worth serving. You know, he could have given you another first assignment, far less to your liking."

 

"I believe I know what you mean. Or, rather, who."

 

"You're catching on. Well, he hasn't made a final decision about that one, but he thought, since this is your first, and your hunger is so fierce, you might as well expend it on someone you both hate. After all, Jack nearly destroyed Nicholas's objectives with his actions. Once that feral urge is out of your system, you can be trusted with other targets."

 

"I will have to thank Nicholas. You're sure, I will not be killing this time?"

 

"Oh, quite sure. The medicine I gave you, will contain your thirst, first, so you don't attack anyone else, and second, so you won't be tempted to go 'full throttle' with Jack."

 

"Thank you, Desiree. You have some skills beyond those of your late sister."

 

"I always appreciate hearing such compliments, dear brother-in-law." "Dr. Delacourt" pulled over, to an isolated rest area, and Barnabas got out of her car. She sped away.

 

For over an hour, Barnabas sat patiently on a bench, lulled by the potion Desiree had given him. Still, he worried that someone would pull off at the rest area, and he'd surely have to fight off the urge to attack the individual with the same ferocity he intended to administer to Jack. Finally, he saw the oddly-shaped headlights of Desiree's car plunging back down the small gully where the rest area was located.

 

"I left him sleeping," she said. "He won't give you any trouble." She explained the layout of the prison, and the location of Jack's current cell. "He's being kept in isolation, more or less, in an area of the jail barely visible to the other prisoners. In fact, his own guards have to look through a small window cut into the heavy door of his cell, to see what he's up to. And trust me, that's not a chore they perform with any frequency. Mortals are so funny, you know, Barnabas? Guards and hardened criminals either keep away, or are being kept away from him, for the same reason. In the strange pecking order of jailers and prisoners alike, apparently the nature of his combined crimes is abhorrent to both groups."

 

"And well they should think so, Desiree. But of course, you've probably committed many of the same crimes, yourself."

 

"As you will, ere long, Barnabas. Now, there's a tiny vent just outside of the bars on Jack's cell window, operated by a small button. When Jack fell asleep, I opened it as far as it would go. You will be able to approach and enter it, but there's no chance he will be able to escape through it! You'd better be on your way, now. The guards will be performing routine bed checks in another hour, though in Jack's case, it's a mere formality."

 

Barnabas turned from Desiree, and spread his cape. A few minutes passed. "I can't change," he said, in dismay.

 

"You can, don't worry. It may take another minute, because of the drug. All the more reason, to get this over with as soon as possible. Whatever you see fit to do with Jack, don't linger! And don't forget where I hid that knife, under his mattress. That will conceal the true nature of the wounds."

 

As she said that, there was a sound like wind blowing through leaves that hadn't yet grown on the trees. In the blink of an eye, there was a large bat flying from where Barnabas had been standing. Desiree tracked its movement in the night sky, as it headed toward the jail.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Jack had been sleeping soundly for about a half-hour, when he was roused by the loud flapping noise outside his vent, as though a bird had somehow gotten caught in the hinge. When he tried to get up to check, he fell back, as drowsiness grabbed at his mind. The flapping went on for a few minutes, as he struggled to rise. Finally, it stopped, and a soft whistling sound came through the vent.

 

Jack, still fighting the pull of sleep, thought, at first, that he was having some kind of hallucination. In the beam of light from the window slit in the door of his cell, which penetrated the darkness (all lighting in the cells was controlled by a master switch in the warden's office) he saw a tall man in the dark cape standing above his bunk. Jack had often had such nightmares, wherein his late mother, blood dripping from her throat and chest, would glare at him with her green cat-eyes, and berate him, NOT for killing her, but for interrupting her pursuit of Crazy Willie. Or, sometimes, Cellie would look down upon him, bruised and broken as he'd left her, crying that Crazy Willie didn't want her anymore with all the marks, and that she'd be thrilled to give Jack a tumble. In his dream, Jack would respond to her pleas with a contemptuous sneer. "Go down to the Koffeehaus and sing for that greasy Greek now! I'll bet he'll be happy to jump your bones, bitch!"

 

Those dreams always disappeared when Jack opened his eyes and sat up. The dream-Melinda and dream-Cellie never held him down on his bunk as this apparition did. The shaft of light from the hall outside flashed across the dark man's face. Jack had a brief glimpse of the man he'd almost killed along with Cellie: her uncle, that Gloomy Gus he'd often seen at the Superette with his wife, the doctor. What was his name again? "Barn--" he choked, then was petrified into silence when the dark man's lips parted, and the light, which suddenly seemed unbearably bright, gleamed across his bared teeth.

 

Cellie's uncle had.... fangs? He was ripping the collar of Jack's prison-issue shirt, and was lowering himself over the younger man's throat. In spite of his dopey state, Jack fought even harder to wake from this dream, than he'd ever done with any other. It was a dream, wasn't it? Wasn't it? Jack tried to cry out, but Cellie's uncle had his hand over Jack's mouth.

 

The pain.... the pain.... Jack couldn't move at all now. He was alive, he could still see the tiny light from his window slit, could still see Cellie's uncle looking down on him, with an infinitely sad expression on his blood-stained face. He didn't really want to do this, Jack thought, with an unusual insight that had suddenly come to him. It didn't matter anymore, anyway. Jack felt an odd combination of anxiety and calm, a kind of anticipation. The warm trickling of his blood down his neck, onto his pillow, distressed him only mildly. He did know a moment of fear when Cellie's uncle held a knife to his throat, and ran it between the fang marks, as though he was connecting the dots in a child's activity book. But it didn't hurt nearly as much as when he'd pressed his lips to Jack's throat.

 

When Cellie's uncle rose,and turned to the vent over the bed, Jack managed to whisper, "Don' go.... Take me too...."

 

All Cellie's uncle said was, "Forget. You must forget. You need to rest."

 

"You'll be back, won' you?" Jack began to sniffle and whimper. He felt as though he was about to suffer a great personal loss.

 

"Barnabas...."

 

Cellie's uncle's face collapsed with a look of shame. He shook his head, as he pressed the knife into Jack's hand. Jack fainted. The knife fell on the floor. For some reason, the blade broke.

 

When he came to, a doctor was leaning over him, and he could see a half dozen police and ambulance workers crowded into his tiny cell. The doctor was saying to the others, "Something odd about this slash.... It's so short, and it seems deeper at the ends. Like he couldn't make up his mind if he really wanted to go...."

 

There was something Jack wanted to tell him, about a bad dream he'd had, but when he tried to summon the memory, he drew a blank. He couldn't talk too well anyway, with his throat messed up like that. Maybe the memory would come back to him by the time his throat healed.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

Barnabas was silent for most of the ride back to Nicholas's house.

 

Desiree asked him how it felt, to finally get his revenge. "You don't appear to be gloating, that much is clear," she commented.

 

"There was a time, when such an action would have brought me untold satisfaction," he replied, after a while. "Now, all I can see, is the way he looked, so defenseless, lying on his bed. Like a child."

 

"A murdering child, who killed his mother, very nearly killed your niece and grand-niece, not to mention yourself, though that hardly counts anymore!"

 

"He is only nineteen years old. He will spend the rest of his life in prison anyway, but there's a chance he could have done something worthwhile with that time. Cellie told me he was one of the brightest students in her class, once. What I have done to him this night, even if he manages to forget the details, will destroy much of any capacity he ever had, not only to learn something useful, but to defend himself from his fellow inmates."

 

"On the other hand, perhaps you've prevented his attacking the other inmates, and the guards. You certainly wiped Willie's aggression away, like chalk from a blackboard."

 

Barnabas winced. "Please don't remind me of that. I wasn't completely successful with that, either, as it turned out. I wonder how much 'attacking' Jack would have done anyway. It seems that he did the most damage when he had the advantage of surprise. His intimidating presence was what kept people in fear of him. His current status leaves him with little opportunity for either, even without my influence."

 

"Those are the breaks," Desiree shrugged. "And he did stand in for some less-deserving individual."

 

"Yes. I have to comfort myself with that knowledge."

 

"Don't fret too much, Barnabas. You feel bad now, but the regret will fade, and you'll soon be back to pursuing your victims without conscience or reservation."

 

"I wonder if that's at all possible, anymore."

 

"It had better be, my dear brother-in-law. Or else. You know the consequence of disobeying Nicholas's orders."

 

Barnabas made no reply. Desiree turned her car down a dirt lane, about a quarter-mile from the Henderson house. This led to the beach, and a set of doors hidden in some scrubby bushes. Desiree emerged from the car, and opened a lock that held the doors shut. She then led Barnabas through an underground, dirt-floored tunnel to a heavy door, directly into the cellar. "This will be the route to your hiding place," she said, as she went to the door of the hidden room, and bade him to enter.

 

"Wait!" he cried. "Why are you locking me in right now? The night is still young! Mayn't I walk through the house, or read a book, at least? I shall go mad, if I am so confined."

 

Nicholas came down the steps, apparently in response to the argument. "Hush! This noise is why I don't want you wandering about. What's more, the secret will not be safe for long, even in this house, if you are glimpsed passing in front of a window. Your niece and the worthy Professor were sniffing about my domicile this evening, shortly after you left. I couldn't deny them a tour, without exciting their suspicions further. I can't even jumble their memories. Everyone knows they were here, and the layout of this house is not complex enough to induce confusion."

 

"You were in a bit of a spot, weren't you, Nicholas?" For the first time since he'd come to this house, Barnabas smiled.

 

"You are going to be the only one to suffer for my discomfiture. Into the room, Barnabas!" Nicholas ordered. "Think of Julia, and your child---" At that, Barnabas complied. "You will have the rest of this night to think about your allegiance," Nicholas continued. "In the meantime, I will be finalizing plans for your next assignment. If you fulfill it to my satisfaction, AND WITHOUT COMPLAINT, I will consider allowing you some amusements to pass the hours you must spend alone. I can't have you ranging about this house. I had too much trouble keeping Angelique in line, during her 'off hours', as you, yourself, reminded me." Nicholas shut the heavy door.

 

Barnabas didn't know how sitting awake in total darkness for hours would affect his eyesight, even in his condition. So he sat on the stone floor next to the cinderblocks that supported his casket, and forced himself to keep his eyes closed. He could not fall asleep anymore, as he once had. He repeated to himself, "There must be a way out of this. A way out...."

CHAPTER FORTY-SEVEN

 

The next morning, Cellie rose early, to help Mrs. Johnson prepare breakfast, and to dress for her mother's wedding. (Pavlos and Janice had reinstated her as a witness.) She also dressed Sarah Teresa in her best frilly frock, one of Willie's last selections for his daughter, before the "incident."

 

Cellie had protested when he brought home a bagful of clothes from a roadside tag sale, but changed her tune when she reviewed his choices. "Geez, did the Royal Family need to clean its closets, or what?" she'd exclaimed, as she pored over the satiny, lacy jumpers and blouses.

 

"They're all a size or two larger. You have to think ahead with this stuff, the way Sarah Teresa's growing," Willie had declared, proud of his foresight. "I want my girls always dressed nice, but without breaking the bank." Cellie wished her husband was there, to admire Sarah Teresa in the dress.

 

David, who had spent most of his Spring vacation week driving Cellie here, there,and everywhere, met her at the foot of the stairs. He was out of breath, as though he'd been running a marathon.

 

"You know, Muffinhead," Cellie said, "You should really spend this time with your Dad. You know, as well as I do, how he feels about my Mom. This is going to be hard for him, what with all the other upsets around here, lately."

 

"I realize that, Torch-Top, and if I was of drinking age, I probably would be with him right now. The Blue Whale opens at ten A.M., you know."

 

"No, I didn't. I can't believe he still patronizes that dive."

 

David declared, "It's a Collins Family tradition, to go down there to drown one's sorrows."

 

"As long as he doesn't get behind the wheel of a car and, well, you know---" Cellie turned red, realizing she had just crossed a line referring to Roger’s long-ago accident with David’s mother Laura and their “friend” Burke Devlin.

 

David was not offended. "I know! Just to be on the safe side, I DID follow him there, while you were getting Sarah T. ready. He wouldn't come home with me. So, I told the barkeep to alert the house, in case he needs a ride home. I even told the man to take Father's keys, if necessary."

 

Cellie shook her head. "If only you folks could think of a more constructive way to deal with your problems! Well, I'll be available to help out. Mom and Pavlos are going straight back to the Koffeehaus, afterward. They wanted me to come with them, but I have a feeling I should stay close to the house, after I go to the hospital to see my aunt."

 

Twenty minutes later, David held Sarah Teresa as Cellie stood behind her mother, and Dimitrios stood behind Pavlos, in Reverend Brand's parlor in the St. James rectory. Within another fifteen minutes, the Reverend pronounced the older couple husband and wife, prompting sentimental tears from his own wife, as well as the three others present. Afterward, Mrs. Brand served tea and cookies. David proposed a toast, as he awkwardly raised his teacup. Cellie began to cry in earnest. Pavlos and Janice both held her, as the girl shook with her sobs. "This reminds her too much of her recent travails," Pavlos told the Reverend, who nodded sympathetically.

 

"Sometimes, a sudden joy in the midst of sorrow hurts as much as a thorn discovered in a beautiful bouquet," the minister replied. "Still, Cellie, you must consider that this event may be the turning point, for the better."

 

"I know," she sniffled. "It's just that this seems so poor, compared to my father's and Maggie's wedding. Then, we were all there, Will and Ernest and Lillian, and all the Collinses, in the church. My aunt was still healthy, and Barnabas wasn't--wasn't missing. I guess that's the last time we were all unreservedly happy. Not that I'm not happy.... Am I making sense?"

 

"I feel it, too, Baby," Janice said softly. "But we're not really alone here. Julia managed to wake up early enough this morning to call us, to extend her best wishes. She even added that Barnabas would have done the same, would do the same, the instant he returns. Ernest and Lil called, and your father and Maggie. Elizabeth cornered me in Brewster's earlier this week, and told me there were no hard feelings on her part, as regards Roger.... I AM sorry about him, but he'll recover. Most important, I really feel God's on our side, no matter what the 'opposition' dishes out."

 

Pavlos said, "I think Cellie needs a symbol." He looked at Reverend Brand, who nodded.

The minister led the company from the rectory to the church, which he opened with keys on his belt. Before the altar, he repeated the marriage ceremony. "I can't imagine why we didn't just do this in the first place," was all he said, after.

 

* * * * * * * * * * *

 

 

 

Janice wiped the counter at the Koffeehaus, while Pavlos pulled a rack of clean cups from the dishwasher behind her. "This is a daringly different way to spend a wedding day," she commented.

 

Pavlos put the rack on the counter, and took his bride in his arms. He whispered, "Ah, but later, I shall show you a daringly different way to spend a wedding night!"

 

Janice became serious. "I feel so guilty, thinking about such things when there's so much trouble around us. I do understand one thing better now, though."

 

"What, my little one?"

 

"Now I know why people marry in the midst of wars, and why they still make babies in the midst of famine. It's the chance that they'll have something solid to show for their suffering when peace breaks out, or the harvest comes in."

 

"That," Pavlos replied, "may be the greatest lesson to be learned in this distressing time. Now, let me put the cups in their proper place, and you go to the kitchen, and check our supplies in the refridgerator. If the inventory comes up short, we shall round out this day of celebration with a trip to the Superette."

 

"Now, I never thought of grocery shopping as a honeymoon activity," Janice chuckled, as she walked back to the kitchen.

 

"You must use your imagination, Janice!" her groom called after her. Pavlos began to stack the coffee cups on the shelves beneath the counter. Then, he made neat piles of saucers next to the cups. While thus engaged, he saw Elliot Stokes come in with Hallie. They appeared to be arguing, but ceased when they saw Pavlos. They came right up to the counter.

 

Elliot began, in a jovial enough tone, "I admit, I didn't expect to see this place opened at all. But Hallie insisted that Dimitrios, at least, would be on duty. I am surprised to see you here! What, is the honeymoon over already?"

 

"Oh, no. We are just carrying on business as usual. We have done the most important thing, anyway."

 

"That's right," the Professor said. "Congratulations. Where's Janice?"

 

"In the kitchen, of course!" Pavlos's eyes twinkled. He called for her. When she appeared, beaming, at her new husband's side, she accepted the Stokeses's congratulations, then announced that the Koffeehaus kitchen was only low on hard rolls. She offered to make a quick solo trip to the Superette to pick up a few dozen. Pavlos took her into the kitchen to kiss her good-bye.

 

"Walter never kissed me like THAT, when I used to go shopping," Janice teased gently.

 

"Well, I am, emphatically, NOT Walter!" Pavlos growled with mock ferocity.

 

"So I've noticed," she giggled back. "But I'll bet Walter kisses Maggie like that, when SHE goes shopping."

 

"Better to learn the lesson later, than not at all." Pavlos went back to the counter, to continue his conversation with the Professor and Hallie.

 

"Pavlos," Elliot said, with some exasperation, "Please help me convince this girl to go back home to Orono by this evening."

 

"Why, will she be late for something?" the Greek asked.

 

"No!" Hallie answered with asperity. "If I leave here by seven-thirty tomorrow morning, I'll be at work in the bank in plenty of time. My uncle is simply spooked by Barnabas's disappearance, so soon after I saw him. I admit, I found it scarey, but it seems to me, if whatever or whoever is responsible, was out to get me, yesterday would have been the perfect time to snatch me. I was alone, after all, on the path both to and from the Old House. Or, better yet, 'they' could have gotten me while I was right there with Barnabas. I didn't see anything out of the way the whole time, in any case."

 

"Hallie, haven't we been having a series of discussions about the unusual occurrences in this area, over the years?" Elliot pleaded. "Haven't we built up to the fact that, for whatever reason, they seem to be on the rise again? You are still quite vulnerable, my dear, in spite of the recent strides you've made, increasing your level of courage and confidence. Remember how you were when your parents passed? I fear your return to that state."

 

"Uncle Elliot, if you're so worried about me, why aren't you as worried about, say, Nurse Fatima?"

 

"She's only peripherally involved, as are her mother and brother. I am worried about them, but, fond as I am of them all, you are the greatest concern of my life. You have evolved into the daughter I myself would have liked to have, the same way Cellie came to be as much to Barnabas. Whatever happens to you, happens to ME. Whoever spirited Barnabas away, may believe you know something about the incident, and therefore, have an excuse to strike at you."

 

"What makes you think he, or she, won't get me in Orono?"

 

"There's no guarantee, but you are less likely to run into those who might be involved. I've told you of that scoundrel Nicholas Blair, and you recall Anissa. What's more, if Cellie was correct in her suspicion of the doctor who was treating Jack Knowlton, Anissa may be posing as a psychiatrist, or there may simply be another woman in on this madness."

 

"Why would they take any chances, assuming it was them? You went to Nicholas's house. He didn't hurt you or Cellie, and there's still no hard-and fast proof that the psychiatrist actually did anything to Jack Knowlton. Maybe he really did try to kill himself. God knows, he's got enough on his conscience, and his chances of acquittal are almost non-existent."

 

"Hallie," her uncle pleaded, "Just do this one thing for me. Then, in a couple of weeks, maybe, all will be as it was. There was once a time, when I thought I'd lost you before---" he stopped abruptly.

 

"What do you mean, 'lost me before'? I've lived with you for over a year, already, and before that, I lived at Collinwood for a year after Mom and Dad died. We saw each other as often as possible, when you weren't at the University."

 

Elliot looked embarrassed, and sorrowful, and confused. He sputtered, "I didn't mean---didn't

 

mean anything. I guess I really meant, you could have been with your parents on their trip, and I would have lost you, as I lost them---"

 

"I don't think you're telling me the truth, Uncle Elliot. We hardly knew each other at all, before I came to Collinsport. I'm sure you would have been sad if I died, but you didn't feel that strongly about me, when I first came here. I sort of felt like you were dropping me off at Collinwood, because I got in the way of your studies and your class preparations and your lecture tours...." Hallie began to sniffle. "Not that I'm ungrateful. I came to love all the Collinses, and Maggie, a lot, but I never thought I'd ever become that important to you."

 

At this point, Pavlos spoke up. "Perhaps, you only got in the way of your uncle's grief. Expressing such things does not come easy to him, I believe."

 

"No, no, it doesn't, that's true," Elliot admitted. "I keep this sturdy, impeturbable, New England veneer, as a kind of shield, I suppose. I rationalize all emotional ups and downs. Until my broken engagement with Julia, I wasn't one to break down, even under the greatest loss, which was when Herbert and Emily died. Shortly after that terrible event, came the time I feared losing my niece. I kept my rationality then, because it was necessary, in order to help solve the problem. Afterward, our relationship blossomed."

 

"What problem?" Hallie asked. "When was I almost lost? I don't recall anything, except feeling bad about my parents, and some scarey, but dopey dreams I used to have. I know you set a store by my dreams, and some of them DID come true, but those I had, just after coming to live in Collinwood, about living in a dollhouse...." She tried to smile. "I always thought they were just a reaction to feeling like a small part of that very big, spooky place!"

 

"It was more than a dream, Hallie," Elliot said urgently, clutching his niece's hand. "I suppose I should tell you. Perhaps then, you'll be more agreeable to going home early." He saw Pavlos rise from his chair. "No, Pavlos, stay. You know much already. I want you to hear this, and judge for yourself."

 

"I will get coffee for all of us, then. We still have some time, before the band shows up."

 

When cups full of steaming hot, bitter espresso were set on the table, Pavlos sat between Elliot and Hallie. Elliot began, "I remember when you told me of your dreams then, Hallie. It's true enough, that if they were interpreted on a worldly level, the concept of living in a dollhouse could symbolize feeling lost and small. But you and David had similar dreams. The interpretation makes a little less sense in his case, since, presumably, he should have been USED to living in that huge house. As it turned out, the dreams and visions had nothing to do with a normal psychological phenomenon. There was a terrible influence over Collinwood in those days, the revival of a great tragedy that occurred there one hundred-thirty years previously. Why that should have occurred, is a mystery, but it seems that, by a series of coincidences, circumstances came together, to create a similar situation in the Collins home, as existed in 1840---"

 

"1840!" Hallie exclaimed. "I remember that old diary Cellie found, the one written by our ancestor, Ben Stokes.... I had such a hard time reading it, but I know it ended in 1840, just before he died."

 

"Then you didn't read certain portions that dealt with the nature of the troubles. They began, simply, if tragically enough, with the presumed loss of the master of Collinwood at the time, with his young son, and the appearance of an adventurer who plotted to marry the suddenly wealthy widow. Before long, an evil influence was brought onto the scene, which destroyed most of the family, save for a few survivors who managed to continue the Collins line. When you came to live in Collinwood, you represented one of the innocents who perished, as did David. In time, in spite of taking every measure available to myself, Barnabas, and Julia, YOU, David, and Elizabeth passed away, and Roger left town in his grief. Carolyn, and Quentin Collins--- you remember him, don't you? He was fond of you, in a brotherly fashion--- Well, the two of them stayed around, after the disaster, but lost their minds. Julia disappeared. At first, I thought she'd been killed somewhere in the house---"

 

"Uncle Elliot!" Hallie gasped. "I don't believe a word of this!

 

Nothing happened, like that! How could I be dead, and still be here? Or David? I think all this worry about Barnabas and Julia and Cellie is causing you to snap! Oh--" Her tone became apologetic. "I didn't mean to insult you! I'm worried about you! Maybe you should talk to Dr. Hurley, when we go over to the hospital, later."

 

"No, he is not rambling," Pavlos said quietly. Hallie looked at him. Pavlos was turning beet red, as he did when she saw him work with Cellie and Paul.

 

She recalled that he'd collapsed then, from the intensity of Paul's memories. "Okay, I believe you, Uncle Elliot. Pavlos, please try not to do that, again. I don't want you to get sick."

 

"I have no intention of falling ill on my wedding day," the Greek said, smiling, his face resuming its ruddy-olive shade. "I needed to know what your uncle said was true, as much as you did."

 

Elliot said, "I thank you for your support, Pavlos, but, like my niece, I have no desire to see you collapse. Whether she chooses to believe me, or not, shouldn't depend on her anxiety about your blood pressure. If I had known you would be exercising your empathism in this manner---" The Professor shook his head. "Perhaps it was a miscalculation on my part, telling this story about 'almost was'."

 

"No, Elliot. I will heed your concern," Pavlos assured him. "Please, continue."

 

"Very well. As I said, Hallie, after your--- the funerals, the destruction of the remnants of Collinwood began in earnest. The force summoned the most vile and destructive individuals that could be found, to lay waste to the place, and to kill any inhabitants who dared to remain. Julia, we believed, was lost, first. The last Barnabas saw of her, she was being driven into the cellar at Collinwood.

 

"Now, there's something you must understand, not only about Collinwood, but about this whole area," Elliot explained. "It lies in a vortex, a spot that appears innocuous enough, but encompasses within, an odd confluence of electro-magnetic charges and ionic disturbances. Such a locus is a gateway for spiritual influences, both good and evil. It can also, under certain circumstances, be the site of a tear in the time continuum. It's as though time doesn't move forward like a river, with nary a backward glance, but sloshes back and forth like a tidal wave, occasionally taking someone or something that was standing on the shore."

 

"That's rather beyond the physics I've learned in High School," Hallie said. At first she looked puzzled, then an expression of understanding grew on her face. "I think I'm starting to get it. There was a way to go back in time."

 

"You are proving to be a true Stokes, now. You see, we had found an odd 'stairway to nowhere' in a forgotten cellar room in Collinwood. There was a door at the top of the steps that opened on an empty space. The whole affair had been erected by a family member who had somehow discovered the vortex. Well, Julia went into that room, and took a chance, opening that door. Barnabas had been separated from her, but freed himself, and chose to follow her soon after, when he discovered that she was in danger back in that time. Before long, I joined them,

in hopes that whatever we did, would somehow change what had already happened."

 

"What did you do?" Hallie and Pavlos both spoke in unison.

 

"Julia led the way, creating a cover story for Barnabas, and then, myself. We infiltrated the daily life of the house. I was more involved in the research end. Alas, the weight of suspicion fell more heavily upon Julia and Barnabas, than upon myself. There were casualties, some regrettable, including our ancestor Ben, whom I just missed meeting by days. Our combined efforts DID prevent the deaths of the young people who resembled yourself and David, as well as the master of the house, and some friends and acquaintances.

 

“When we finally felt it was safe to come home, we discovered that none of the deaths and destruction we left behind had occurred at all. And even though we spent the better part of three or four months, running into the early part of 1841, according to our 1971 family, we had not been absent for more than an hour." Elliot gazed into his niece's eyes. "I can see that, Pavlos's empathism notwithstanding, you still don't believe me. I know it is outlandish. But there are some traces of proof."

 

"When we get home, you can show me," Hallie said.

 

"Definitely. I can show you portions of Ben's diary. There's several explicit references to Julia and our Barnabas's coming from the future. They had to take him into their confidence for their plan to succeed. There may be allusions in old Collins family letters from that time, if I can get Elizabeth to turn the material over to me. There's the burnt-out remains of an old, dilapidated house on the outskirts of the Collins property, the inspiration of the design of the dollhouse that appeared in your dreams. There was once a real dollhouse, but we've looked for it, in vain, since. It was meant to represent the place where Ben Stoke's grand-daughter and the Collins boy were to be kept, until the adventurer, who'd become possessed, decided on their ultimate fate."

 

"Oh, my God!" Hallie exclaimed. "NOW I know why--- I know why---"

 

Her face turned a deep shade of maroon.