Song credits: "Look What You've Done" by David Gates and Bread; "Let It Be Me," by the Everly Brothers. I wrote the version of "song of Ruth" that appears here, as well as the "Eulogy". And, just in case I forgot, part 4b contained "Reason to Believe," by Rod Stewart.
The men who'd been at the courthouse now headed to the hospital,to see for themselves the results of their handiwork. Harold almost refused to join them. "I doubt I'm welcome there," he said with a regret that surprised himself.
His son-in-law was surprisingly sympathetic. "Had a real change of heart down there, because of that Medorah, huh, Harold?" Steve asked.
"I dunno," the father-in-law replied. "I guess I was really looking at a kid, and the way life's supposed to be for a kid. . . You could say, my own life flashed in front of my eyes. Now, I'm not going to get all gooey, and beg for forgiveness and stuff. It wouldn't be right, and it wouldn't be real. But when you tell Fran, and maybe Addie, if you want to, say that the old man tried to do right by a least one little girl. Maybe Fran won't think so nasty about me. I'm tryin' real hard not to think nasty thoughts about her, or your kid, or my daughter-in-law, anymore. Don't know how long this repent-and-reform stage is goin' to last, but I did work hard all my life, even if it wasn't always for my kids. I'll keep pluggin' at it, and maybe I'll get it right sometime."
"Tell THAT to your son and daughter-in-law," Pavlos urged, as he
got into Walter Hoffman's rented car with Steve. "Come with me, and I will help you." Harold reluctantly climbed into the back seat of the car with the Greek. With the two heavy bodies side-by-side, Harold felt stifled and uncomfortable. He asked Walter how far the hospital was from the courthouse.
"Three miles," Walter replied. Pavlos gave him directions that included short cuts through side streets, to reduce the amount of time they had to spend in the crowded car.
They arrived in record time, and were met at the front door of the hospital by Julia, who had been ordered by Virginia to get out of her hot, heavy suit, and take a rest in the brisk March air. She rose from her seat to embrace her brother, Pavlos, and Steve. Rather more hesitantly, she gave her hand to Harold Loomis. "I'm glad to see you could make it, Harold," she said in a forced tone. "After we parted on such sour terms the last time we saw each other---"
"Yeah, well," Harold began, shuffling his feet and looking anywhere but in his former physician's eyes, "I had a lot of time to think that all over. For a lady doc, you were right on the money then."
"He gave sterling service this day," Pavlos assured Julia. The others nodded.
"And it worked out, except for--- except for Sarah Teresa," Julia announced sadly.
"You mean, we went through all that shit, and that poor little Medorah had to die, and THAT wasn't enough to save my grand-kid?" Harold cried.
"My grand-daughter, too, Harold," Walter reminded him. "Julia, what are you saying? Is Sarah Teresa--- is she--- is she DEAD?" Tears sprang from his eyes.
"No, Walter, not yet, anyway," his sister sighed. "The other children are recovering, some more slowly than others, and some who may carry long-term effects of this epidemic the rest of their lives. But they ARE recovering. Sarah Teresa, alas, is still consumed by fever, and wracked by convulsions. . . I keep telling Cellie not to take them on anymore, but you know how she is. Her husband no longer has the influence to stop her, any more than I do."
Just then, the Sheriff's car swept up to the curb nearby, and discharged Elliot Stokes, Reverend Newton, and Marcus Sherbrooke. Lester Arliss called out the window briefly, for the latest news. "I'm so sorry," he said. "I have to get back to the station right now, but I promise I'll return by evening. Call me if-- if anything changes. For better or worse." He drove away slowly.
Elliot, Pavlos, and Julia walked together closely, ahead of the others. Pavlos asked, "Is my wife here?"
"Yes," Julia replied. "She was in the room with Cellie and the baby, the last time I saw her, trying to convince your stepdaughter to take another rest, before the next convulsion. . . She may still be there."
"That is good, in a way, and bad in another."
"What do you mean by that, Pavlos?" Julia inquired.
"What he means, Julia, is that Pavlos is under an interdict, as well as Sarah Teresa," Elliot explained. "It was the last curse Anissa-Desiree uttered, before the spirit of Medea was purged from her soul. She declared that Pavlos and Sarah Teresa would be the ones to pay for her demise."
"Is the curse still valid, Elliot? The bane on the other children must have been lifted the instant she 'passed away'. I merely assumed that the only reason Sarah Teresa's still sick, is because Nicholas himself is ushering the ailment to its inevitable conclusion. There's still a chance we can get to him, before then."
The Professor replied, "Medea was, and is, an immortal, the near-relative of the most powerful, and baleful deities of the ancient world. Her mortal forms have perished---"
"As have Angelique's," Julia mused. "Yet, her spirit once drifted about, seeking a new host---MY GOD!" She stopped in her tracks.
"Yes," Elliot said, nodding vigorously. "My thoughts exactly.
I fear we have congratulated ourselves prematurely, over the defeat of Anissa-Desiree."
"What do you mean?" Pavlos asked. The others stood behind him, at close attention.
"It did strike me, before," Elliot began, "how easy it was to capture Anissa-Desiree, but I thought that was because of what Cellie had done to expose her greatest vulnerabilities. I never suspected, until now, that Nicholas may have, indeed, set her up. There would be some risk to himself, given the Yin-and-Yang balance of their relationship, but the rewards to himself and his Dark Master would balance the risk nicely, and serve both their ends."
"What you're telling us, is that Nicholas actually intended Anissa to fail in her own objectives all along?" Walter asked incredulously.
"Not only that, Walter," Julia replied. "It's come to both Elliot and myself, that Nicholas may have wanted the Medean spirit to occupy Sarah Teresa's body, all along."
"Yes, think of the possibilities!" Elliot exclaimed. "That would be a far headier coup than the mere re-introduction of a Danielle Roget, or an Agrippina, or a Countess Bathory. . . Medea was the most powerful survivor of the 'old regime', so to speak. She was full of noxious powers that Satan would have loved to exploit, but she was too much her own woman. So, he played and played on her only soft spot.
"Then," he continued, came the opportunity of a millenium. There was to be a child, naturally gifted as another Child born two thousand years earlier, but conceived in original sin, and thus, all mortal, and therefore easily subject to the whims of the Dark Ones. What better way to unite these two forces, than to drive the Medean Spirit from her immortalized shell, and into the soft, pliable being of a helpless infant? Nicholas would have been eager to raise this child, because he, himself, has weaknesses which he has demonstrated several times. There is still, in him, a fondness for Earthly creature comforts and pleasures, as well as Earthly power and influence. There is also, in him, a fear of his greatest Earthly weakness being exposed. Once Sarah Teresa is Medea, that fear would be wiped clean, as chalk from a slate."
"So, what are we to do?" Pavlos asked, his newly-returned self confidence faltering. "I have pledged to seek the spirit of Sarah Collins. Will that be enough?"
"Anissa-Desiree has given an indication that she will make that extremely difficult for you. You will need help. Perhaps Sarah Collins will respond to another person. Who else amongst this company, has also seen her?"
"I have," Julia said. "It's been a long time, but maybe she won't turn from me."
"I KNOW I have," Walter said. "She saved me for my family, and for Maggie, just last October."
"I never saw her, but I know she appeared to my wife Margene a couple of times last year," Marcus said. "She gave Margene the medicine for our son."
"Then, all of you must spread out, and visit all the locations she's been known to appear in the past," Elliot declared. "The Old House, her tomb at the Mausoleum---"
"The Mausoleum," Julia said. "About the Mausoleum---" Suddenly,
a heavy cloud settled on her mind, blotting out the warning she'd been about to give.
"What about the Mausoleum, Julia?" Elliot said.
"Just--just be careful out there. It can be hazardous at night," Julia temporized in a tone of confusion. What was it she was supposed to remember about the place? Something about green lights. . .
"Of course we'll take the greatest care, Julia," Elliot said. "We must also go through the Antique Shoppe, the Koffeehaus, Collinwood itself. . . I know David was Sarah's little friend in the past. He will surely be willing to join the search. Is he here in the Hospital, Julia?"
"Yes. He was with Willie, the last I saw him, heading for the Cafeteria for coffee. Willie and Cellie can barely be in the same room together for long, anymore." Her tone was regretful.
"I want to see my daughter and grand-daughter, before I set out," Walter said. "Pavlos, I want you to join me when I search. I know you have a heart condition. As it happens, my daughter-in-law gave both Maggie and myself C.P.R. lessons. They must have been more for my wife's benefit than mine, since I'm closer to the age where I might be on the receiving end." He smiled sadly. "Anyway, we practiced together, and I think I can do it if I have to."
"And I, also, my friend," Pavlos assured him. "Janice and I were both made acutely aware of the necessity recently. Let us go, then, and hold back our fear." He clapped a hand on the shoulder of his wife's ex-husband, and they walked into the hospital together.
Walter peeked into the door of the chapel room. Janice hovered over their grand-daughter's bassinet, while their daughter lay on a cot nearby, staring at the ceiling. There was something about this scene, so poignantly reminiscent of Sarah Teresa's first days of life in this hospital, that Walter's eyes streamed openly. He still felt Pavlos's warm hand on his back, as they both went to don the gowns and masks.
Cellie saw her father and step-father come through the door first. She jumped from her cot and flew to her father's arms. "Daddy, Daddy," she sobbed, "she's going to die. She's going to be someone else. She's--she's--" Cellie began to cry again, a painfully restrained keening that reminded Walter of his mother's grief at the death of his father.
He cuddled his daughter gently, sitting on a chair with her on his lap, as he had in the old days, when she'd skinned her knee. "You just get it out of your system, baby," he whispered, stroking her hair. "You won't get strong again unless you do. Remember what I told you, the last time you were here."
"What doesn't kill me will make me strong," she mumbled into his shoulder. In a few minutes, her tears subsided. "Thank you, Daddy," she sighed. "Everybody else is always telling me to rest or be tough or forgive Will or something. . ."
"What exactly did he do, Princess?"
"Can't tell you, in front of Mom. . . Pavlos already knows," she whispered directly into his ear.
"Janice, could we be alone for a little while?" Walter asked. She hesitated, but Pavlos walked her firmly out the door. Walter and Cellie stood over the bassinet containing the nearly-lifeless infant, as the daughter softly related the events of the last twenty-four hours to her father.
"Oh, my God," Walter gasped, too surprised to even be angry at his son-in-law. "Listen, Cecily," he said, after further consideration. "You were there, I wasn't. But I know what a shock it must have been for you. I came home from a weekend business trip to find Madeline in bed with my junior partner in the firm. I wasn't exactly in love with her, the same way you were with your husband, but I was attached to her, and it hurt like crazy. In a way, it worked out in the end, because I did meet Maggie, but until then. . . Anyway, Cecily, I was in that courthouse when that-- that creature was destroyed, or, at least, her incarnation. I know what she was, as much as you do. Your husband's a weakling and a coward and you know I never thought he was good enough for you. But when we were all together in Boston, I saw that he really did love you terribly. If Anissa-Desiree-Medorah had been just another woman, do you really believe Willie would have chosen her in preference to you?"
"I-- I don't know. Nobody like that ever paid him that much favorable attention before, except for me. If somebody did--- Then, he was still sore about what almost happened between Lester and myself. But I DID choose Will over Lester in the end, Daddy! Even though Will beat him up, and-- and he-- he hurt me. . . I thought we were making it up okay, while he was still in WindCliff. Even when he took Sarah Teresa from my room at Collinwood, I knew it was because he was worried about her. I also knew Anissa-Desiree had put him up to it, and I went to the Antique Shoppe because I believed he needed my help. And I saw the whole thing. . . I couldn't stop them---"
Cellie began to cry again. "He told me to shut the baby up--- He interrupted me when I was trying to finish Anissa off--- I HATED him! I don't want to hate him now, but the pain hurts too much, and I can't push it aside, even though I really tried, at first, when the baby got sick, and he came to the hospital for us. I KNOW what's at stake here."
Walter wondered if Julia had shared the new theory about Medea's spirit and Sarah Teresa with his daughter. He decided not to mention it, unless Cecily brought it up first. There was no point in getting her more upset. Instead, he said, as brightly as he could, "Listen, Princess. We're all going out to look for Sarah Collins now. We're hoping that we can convince her to come back, whether or not you and Willie are ready to patch it up. Like most little children, she has to be reminded of her responsibilities--- that you can't go running off every time there's a crisis."
"Maybe you should give that lecture to Will," Cellie replied with a faint smile.
"Maybe I'll let his father give it to him," Walter smiled back.
"HAROLD'S here?" Cellie asked in amazement. "He's nobody who should be giving such a lecture to anybody!"
"I wonder about that. He showed up, out of the blue this morning, having had the same dream as the rest of us, all the way down in Florida! After some initial reservations, he joined our project, and performed his part brilliantly. I think you'll find him quite different than however he was, the last time he was up here."
"I don't think I want him in here with my daughter. You don't know about him like I do. He wasn't even sorry about what he'd done to his wife and children. Especially what he did to Fran!" Cellie's face flushed very red.
"Well, that's up to you, Princess. Now, I have to go search. Our little one here needs me to go." Walter bent over Sarah Teresa, and kissed her through his mask. The baby made some faint warbling noises in response.
"Those are the first sounds she's made in hours!" Cellie exclaimed, her face alight with renewed hope.
"I can't say I'm responsible, but I'm glad I got to hear her voice before I had to leave again." Walter kissed Cellie. "We'll do our best, Princess. And if that doesn't work, we'll do our damnedest. Whatever it takes to get the job done."
* * * * * * * * * * *
David stood with Willie, as Elliot explained the rest of the plan. "Of course I'll go," David said eagerly. "I'll take Julia right now, and we'll comb Collinwood from top to bottom. I just wish Carolyn could be in on this. She saw Sarah Collins once."
"I wish Maggie could be here, also," Willie said, dispiritedly. "They were real close, once. Sarah would have done anything for her, I'll bet."
"Willie, you know it wouldn't have been safe for Maggie to come back with Walter," Julia admonished. "Still, you're right, she might have been the one to draw Sarah back."
"I wish I could go myself," Willie sighed. "I can't do much of anything for either my Peanut or my Cecily. I still think of her as 'my Cecily'. I don't know why," he said forlornly. "If I went, and found Sarah, maybe she'd want to be mine again."
"You'll have to try to work that out here, Willie," Julia said. "If you spend enough time with Cellie, she may come around, and then, nobody will need to search anymore. Besides, what if the baby does--does pass away while you're gone? You would never get over the guilt, and Cellie probably would never forgive you, for sure."
"Okay, okay," Willie conceded. "I just feel useless, that's all.
I made this all happen, and I just wanted a chance to risk it all and make it better, somehow, like a hero. I'm just being selfish. Again."
"No, Willie, you're just trying to be a good father and husband. Those are aspirations any normal man might have," Elliot assured him.
Willie shambled back down to his daughter's room, when he heard a familiar voice call to him. It was his own voice, he knew; David had gotten a new cassette player for Christmas, and made some recordings of Willie and Cellie talking and singing to their baby, and Sarah Teresa's delighted, cooing replies. The voice Willie heard sounded like the one on the cassettes. He turned at the sound. "Dad," he sputtered, in disbelief, when he glimpsed Harold standing before him.
"Hello again, son," the older man began, "I know you said once that I shouldn't call you that, but, hey, when did I ever listen to anything you told me to do?" He smirked briefly, but his face soon fell into lines of sorrow and care, features Willie though he would never see on his father's countenance.
"You okay, Dad?" Willie asked with the slightest solicitude.
"If you mean my ticker or, maybe, did I run into a certain witchy-woman who likes to jazz up a date by poisoning a guy, it's 'No' to the first question, and 'Yes' to the second. Only, this time, we turned the tables on her."
Cellie walked from her daughter's room, as soon as she heard Harold's voice. He spoke first, before she had a chance to utter a word. "Yeah, Cecily, you heard right," he announced in a shaky tone. "I don't blame you, or even the Greek, anymore, for laying me low, last fall. I found out the truth in spades today. Ding-dong, the witch is dead. Well, not exactly the witch, but the miserable kid she was living in went to Heaven, I guess. The witch part just vanished."
Cellie had been reading her father-in-law. Was that REMORSE she saw in him, that prickly green that obliterated the sickening salmon-pink of justifiably-forbidden lust? He certainly seemed to have been deflated. Whatever experience he'd just been through had extinguished much of his cockiness. Like father, like son, she thought. Harold had evidently been through a crucible that had changed him in much the same way as being with Barnabas had changed Willie. Still, she wasn't about to let her guard down around him. "Thanks for your efforts," she said in a hesitant fashion.
"It was a waste, though," Harold complained. "Our kid's still sick."
Cellie had to control her irritation about Harold's referring to Sarah Teresa as "our kid". "You helped make the others well. That was worth something. And you can't imagine my relief when you claimed that you'd seen the light about your seizure."
"Is that all you think about?" Harold started to sound angry. "After I put in a good word for you a while ago, at the courthouse?"
"You're not hassling my wife again, are you?" Willie was getting angry, too. "She's under a strain---"
Pavlos came up behind the trio. "Willie," he said sternly, "your father gave the most of himself to rid us of Anissa. Perhaps you 'd like to show him the baby, so he pay his respects."
"Well, if you want me to, Pavlos," Willie quailed.
"It's not just what I want. It's what's right. This is NO time to re-hash old wrongs."
Willie led his father down to the nurse's station, to get some protective clothing. "I don't know why they're bothering with this stuff now," he complained to Harold. "It's not like all the rest of the kids are really sick anymore, or like they don't have a clue as to the cause."
"Your kid may still be 'catchy', though, Willie," Harold said. "You should'a' heard that Anissa, before her lights went out. She said some awful things about your-- our, ah, Sarah Teresa, that's it, and Pavlos. We're not out of the woods, yet. In fact, the Professor guy was sayin' something about her spirit floating around, until it hitches a ride in somebody's else's kid---
" 'Somebody else's'!" Willie cried. "He meant OURS! Oh, my God! What you guys did, made things WORSE! Now, we're sunk…." He began to blubber.
His father patted him awkwardly on the shoulder. "Oh, SHIT, I shouldn't'of said anything. I'm sorry, son, Christ, am I ever sorry! Maybe it won't happen. They'll find that spirit, or whatever they're looking for. Willie, snap out of it, DAMN IT!" he ordered.
After nearly twenty-two years, Willie still recognized and feared that note in his father's voice. Next thing, the old man would be reaching for his belt, the one with the studs. . . He was wearing one like it, now--- NO! NOBODY was going to beat on Willie Loomis again! he thought wildly. Even if he lost everything else, his daughter, his wife, his own life. . . "Get off my back, Dad," he snarled.
"Oh, stop looking at me like I'm going to whale the tar out of you like when you were a kid, you dope," Harold sneered. "I'm not exactly going to smack you around in the hospital, when I'm gonna go see my sick grandkid. I guess I should be proud you got some spirit in you after all, anyway, after the last time we had a little father-son chat."
"Yeah, when you asked me for money, and said awful things about my wife and my Mom---"
"Was I right then, son?"
"Only up to a point," Willie admitted. "But Cecily wasn't a whore! It was me, me, me all along, who was screwing things up. . . She didn't really want anyone else. I don't want anyone else, anymore, either. So you're still wrong about the rest of it."
His father's reply almost knocked him over.
"Good. That's real good. That witch didn't win the pot, yet, by God."
They walked into the chapel room. Cellie was reading the Catholic Bible in a strange, distracted manner; her eyes took in a couple of verses, then she stared blankly at the baby. She did come to life, when she saw her husband and his father. "Don't touch her," she warned Harold, but without much heat.
"I ain't gonna fool around with her," her father-in-law protested. "That's kind of beyond me now, anyway."
"Bullshit. You were writing to Adele, remember? Once a molester--"
"I ain't asking to take her on a weekend trip, Cecily. I tried to help her out today, and I just want to make sure she's okay. I don't like it when kids are sick, any more than you, 'specially if they got MY blood."
"Interesting how that should concern you now."
"Would you rather it was NOW, or NEVER, you self-righteous little---"
Harold pushed Willie's hand as it touched his arm. "Sorry, Cecily. Honest. Look, after this is over, I'll high-tail it back to Florida, and you won't even have to worry about me sendin' the brat a post card, okay? I dumped my last batch of kids without a thought, I admit it! Maybe after a while, I won't even think about this batch. But hey, I got the feeling today. Put up with it for now."
Willie pleaded, "Cecily, please. He's not going to touch Sarah Teresa with us right in the room. You made allowances for so many other rotten things, because you loved us. This isn't any worse than that. Just this once."
"Oh, alright," Cellie shrugged. "At least he can't pick her up."
Harold reached into the bassinet, and stroked the baby's face. Poor little thing looked starved, he thought, like those pictures of scrawny African and Indian kids they used to plug for charities. This Sarah's eyes were almost fused shut, but she made a faint noise when touched, a tiny, thin sigh. Her skin felt hard and stiff even through the rubber gloves he wore, again, a lot like those starving kids, he supposed. He felt sick now, himself. The strange sensation he'd experienced when he held young Medorah's head on his lap returned.
"Sarah Teresa, wake up," he whispered. "You can't go, like that Medorah. You ain't out of time, kid. This is YOUR time. You gotta fight, so that witch person can't get in and screw you around. You wanta make a mistake, you should be able to mess things up like a normal person, not like a witch person. Being a Loomis, you prob'ly won't be able to help it too much. You gotta get better, and grow up, even
if it's only to drive that red-headed self-righteous bi--twit of a mother of yours crazy. At least, SHE won't whack you around, or your loser Dad either, the way I would have. So, are you gonna open your eyes for your 'other' Grandpa, or what? This could be the only time I get to see 'em."
Sarah Teresa's lashes parted a bit, and, through the slits, Harold could make out black pupils filling the irises. Not too good, he thought; he'd seen dead men in his time, and their pupils were all big like that, before they rolled up into the dead guys' heads. Still, the baby HAD opened her eyes for him. THAT was something, he thought with satisfaction. Yes, sir, that WAS something, alright.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Elliot took Marcus to look for Sarah at the Antique Shoppe first. Elliot had never seen the young ghost, either, but he could smooth the way for her return with one of the many methods at his command. Besides, both Cellie and Hallie had commented on how strongly he resembled the image of his ancestor Ben Stokes, whom they'd both seen in visions. Early in their association, Barnabas had treated him with a degree of diffidence, in part because, he later admitted, the resemblance had shocked him. Perhaps Sarah Collins would respond more easily to someone who reminded her of the old servant of whom she'd been so fond.
When they got to the Antique Shoppe, Marcus and Elliot split up. Marcus remembered the upstairs section pretty well, from the impromptu tour Barnabas had given him the previous summer. Elliot covered the rabbit-warren maze of the cellar. Elliot called out, and uttered a few soothing incantations, but Sarah Collins did not appear. Into the darkness of the underground passage to the backyard shed, he pleaded in the vernacular his ancestor might have used.
"Sarah Collins, I know you were bad hurt when you were a little lass, and how ye suffered, for your brother's sake. Ye were so pure and good, ye were the only one who could have stopped him from killin' and hurtin'--- If only ye'd had more time back then! But ye ran out, and got sick, and passed away, an' THAT was when the curse took up in earnest, I believe. You were a guardian angel, like the Papists believe, but ye kept runnin' off when things got too hot, and ye kept fergettin' your job. Ye left your cousin Daniel, who was so sweet as a lad, to kill his poor silly wife, who was your best friend Harriet. Ye left for years on end, and then, when ye were supposed to keep Mr. Barnabas from hurtin' and killin' again, ye ran off because ye couldn't stand the sight.
"I'm terrible sorry nobody listened to ye when ye tried to do your duty. But we WERE listenin' this time around. And what did ye do? Ye threw away your one chance to live to be a woman, and marry and have chillren and gran'-chillren, and get old and die knowin' ye lived a full life. Far worse, ye left the world open to temptations and killin' and hurtin' the likes of which it thinks it knows, but is way beyond even the stuff people have always done to each other. We talked about this at times, Miss Sarah. If ye be here, show thyself. If not, let us know where ye be."
When he'd finished, Elliot felt dizzy. He realized he'd said some things that he'd had no personal knowledge of, such as Sarah's leaving when her cousin killed his wife, who had been her best friend when both were children together, and her afterlife chats with her old servant.
"Ben! Ben Stokes!" he murmurred. "Do YOU know where Sarah's gone?"
A faint light appeared in the darkest corner of the underground passage, and Elliot heard a voice like his, coming from that direction. "She's in chains, and she cries against the green lights," the voice said. "There's great danger for those who cross the green lights."
"Anissa's eyes!" Elliot exclaimed. "Please, Ben, tell me where the green lights are! I can deal with them. But Sarah Collins must be brought back!"
"Where Miss Cecily left them. Ye must ask Miss Cecily where she left the green lights." The faint apparition vanished.
Elliot rushed upstairs. He picked up the phone in the kitchen, but there was no dialtone; Barnabas must have had the service shut off when he closed the Shoppe. Elliot stood at the foot of the stairs to the bedrooms, calling, "MARCUS GARVEY SHERBROOKE! WE HAVE TO GET BACK TO THE HOSPITAL AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE!"
* * * * * * * * * * *
The ormulu clock on the mantel in the parlor of the Henderson house struck 5:30, just after sundown. Nicholas Blair paced impatiently around it. He'd left Carolyn upstairs to raid Anissa's abandoned wardrobe, while he awaited an important visitor he didn't want her to see. Just in case his fiancee had any notion to come downstairs, Nicholas fixed her with a spell to induce confusion. In his mind's eye, he could see her futilely pawing through drawers and closets, only to start all over again for the fifth time.
Nicholas flung himself into his favorite over-stuffed chair facing the fire. He uttered the same summons over and over again. "I know you have risen. You will come to me now. You cannot refuse." He turned his head quickly, in response to a faint, feathery rustling behind his chair.
Barnabas gazed down at Nicholas with defiance in his expression.
"Why have you called me so soon after my awakening?" he demanded.
"I thirst terribly. I wished to go forth and slake it, before I had to perform any further chores for YOU."
"Oh, Barnabas, I'm sure Lester will wait patiently enough for you. That young man palpitates for your attentions like a lover."
Barnabas sprung at Nicholas, only to be flung backwards, against the wall. When he rose from the floor, he realized that his tormentor had not even moved from his chair.
"As I was saying, Barnabas," Nicholas continued, not missing a beat, "the Sheriff certainly thrives on your favor, if not your actual caress. There must be some common, latent femininity in all the men you've ever had under your power."
"How can you even imply such a thing?" Barnabas hissed angrily.
"You are just as capable of lusting after both sexes in your condition, my old acquaintance. It's all a part and parcel of the necessity of total control. Total control requires total humiliation and submission. There must be a special satisfaction in imposing your will upon the male gender. Mortal men can have such a laughable sense of what they fancy is their dominant position in the world. Females just happen to be a more natural, acceptable target. Did you have it in mind to pursue a lady this evening, this very special evening?"
"What's so special about?--- oh," Barnabas said, remembering the date. "I suppose there's nothing such an old acquaintance as myself can do or say to dissuade you from wedding my cousin, and introducing her to a life of Darkness such as we share?"
"You should say, 're-introducing her.' She's been down a similar road before, with both of us, at different times. This time it's for keeps, and I can promise you, as her concerned relative, that she will enjoy great benefits from her new position. That is, if she passes the initiation."
"I can imagine what that will be like," Barnabas commented ruefully. "There being nothing I can do to stop it, I can only wish it goes easier for her, than it did for me. Now, what did you have in mind for me, tonight? Am I invited to the 'ceremony'?"
"On the off chance you might be tempted to interfere, I'm afraid not. But, in celebration of my nuptials, I am inclined to be generous to all my acquaintances. I already sent our Desiree out to a new life. And as for you, I have a special treat in store. Remember how I promised you an hour in the daylight, if you did my bidding in regards to Lester? Well, I believe our mutual Master will grant me the power to allow you an even more generous boon. You long for a permanent companion in your misery, don't you, Barnabas?"
"Will I be allowed to dwell with my wife, even as I am? That would be the most logical choice."
"You would inflict your curse on the mother of your son?"
"Of course not! That's why I chose this existence, to save Julia and our son from such a fate. YOU KNOW THAT! But she could guard me during the day, and I would have the pleasure of her company, and our child's, at night---"
"After a hard evening of preying upon attractive young women and pretty young boys? I doubt you'd want your son exposed to such a way of life. You WILL spend quality time with your family, Barnabas, but in the meantime you will have the advantage of a companion who shares your nocturnal interests. I'm sure you know which favored lady I mean." Nicholas's eyes glittered with cruel mirth.
Barnabas's already pale face turned parchment-white. "NO! A THOUSAND TIMES NO! I said it last year, and I say it again!"
"Barnabas," Nicholas said in a patronizingly patient tone, "things have changed since then. I am, as they say in Bridge, about to win the trick. I will have Sarah Teresa in my care by tomorrow morning. I won't be requiring any additional help to care for her at present, so that leaves you a great deal of leeway to pursue what you have always longed for, in your secret heart of hearts. And YOU WILL DO SO. Because, if you don't accept this gift, I will see to it that all the other favors I was willing to give you are permanently with-held. And, what's more, your wife and child will be left destitute and bereft, at the mercy of whatever fate Our Master deems appropriate for the family of an infidel."
Barnabas hung his head with all the human sorrow and shame he had left. "As before, I am being offered a choice which is, in reality, NO choice. And, as before, we both know there is only one answer."
"You needn't abase yourself by uttering your consent, Barnabas," Nicholas said with satisfaction. "Your very attitude implies it, and that's all that's necessary. Now, get on with your business. I'm sure Lester will be delighted to help you. Then, he'll have the devoted 'attentions' of his two favorite people in the world."
When Barnabas returned to his coffin room, he found the Sheriff already in attendance. "I'm sorry I wasn't here when you got up," Lester apologized breathlessly. "You won't be angry when you hear why!"
"Tell me, Lester," Barnabas said, without much interest. He was still smarting from his last conversation with Nicholas.
"I helped to get rid of Anissa!" Lester announced. "Aren't you pleased?"
" 'Get rid of Anissa'? What do you mean?"
"I mean that I, and Professor Stokes, and Pavlos and Walter Hoffman and Willie's father, and a couple of other men, caught Anissa, and put her on trial for witchcraft. We tied her up, and the minister put a big Bible on her, and she burned up, just like that! Then, a little girl appeared in her place, and somebody who looked like an angel made her disappear! I don't know what that all meant, but she's gone for good, I guess."
Barnabas thought. An angel, taking Desiree away--- that had to be Angelique, tending to her younger sister. Barnabas couldn't say he was displeased by this turn of events. But he was disturbed that his two servants were so easily drawn into a ritual that surely involved Christian references, in order to bring down a seemingly invincible member of the Underworld. If they could conquer Desiree, what guarantee had he that they wouldn't eventually turn against him, the way Willie and Maggie, and others, had in their time? "I'm not entirely sure you should have taken part in that event, Lester," Barnabas said at last, a menacing tone creeping into his voice.
"But, Barnabas, I thought it was what you wanted," the Sheriff protested.
"I won't miss Anissa-Desiree, make no mistake about THAT! But you are to be about MY business, not the Church's!"
"He said you'd be pleased, because she made Julia and your child sick, and now, Sarah Teresa---" Lester began to shake and sweat.
"WHO said I'd be pleased?" Barnabas snarled, ignoring the reference to his grand-niece for the moment.
"Why, Pavlos did," the younger man answered anxiously. "He all but said it was your command---"
"Barnabas, Barnabas, aren't you happy she's dead? She made a whole bunch of kids sick, not just yours and poor little Sarah Teresa. The others got better, but Sarah's still sick, the last I heard---"
"Of course she is, you IDIOT! I see it all now! Nicholas will have the baby AND Desiree under his power, in one neat package, that you and your clique of FOOLS wrapped and tied and presented to him, without realizing it! And now, there's NOTHING I can do to prevent it! I should kill you now!"
"Barnabas, you know I would never have thought up something like that on my own, any more than, say, Willie would have," Lester wheedled. "Don't kill me! It's all Pavlos's fault---"
"I WILL deal with Pavlos in due time. As for you, no, Lester, I won't kill you at this time. I need you alive. There IS only one way you can get back into my good graces, such as they are, now. " Barnabas drew close to the Sheriff, and explained.
Lester's face blanched. "NO, Barnabas. Anything but that! That's--that's INHUMAN!"
"Am I human, Lester?"
"I don't---I don't know. . . I went to college and I thought I'd seen quite a lot as a cop, but I don't understand what's happened to me, any more than Sarah Teresa would at this point. . . You WERE human once, I know that."
"Maybe I never was. . . That's not the issue here. You WILL do as I say, or you will suffer a death more painful and lingering that you can imagine."
"I don't think I will ask just what kind of death that might be," Lester said, forcing himself to a professional calm. "I don't believe I'll be able to help you, in any case. It will be impossible---"
"DON'T use the word 'impossible' to ME, of all people!" Barnabas snapped. "YOU are the Sheriff. YOU have the authority, and the trust, and the brains. You only have to get from Point 'A' to Point 'B', and I will do the rest."
"I don't know---" the Sheriff repeated.
"You will know, when you get there," Barnabas said. "Now, let us seal our 'agreement'. I know you've been waiting for this moment. I certainly have."
He drew close to the Sheriff, who'd unbuttoned his collar in preparation. Lester closed his eyes in painful ecstasy. When Barnabas pulled himself away, he said, "You'd better get upstairs, and clean that up. Then go. And don't fret, Lester, my friend. This will be to your benefit as much as it will be to mine."
* * * * * * * * * * *
David Collins stood over the bassinet, looking down at his God-daughter, trying to project some of his will to live into the tiny being. Once, he believed he had special powers of his own, a concept reinforced by his fleeting, flickering memories of his mother Laura. There had been something special about her, too, he thought; he remembered how she could "call" to him without words, from another room, or her last home in the caretaker's cottage, as long as there was a fire burning somewhere nearby. Those memories had be consumed by some overwhelming sense of a disaster survived, a catastrophe also involving fire. . . David shook the thought off, and concentrated on Sarah Teresa.
Cellie came back into the room, from the lavatory down the hall. "Thanks for watching her, Muffinhead," she said. Her use of the old nick-name was comforting to David, rather than irreverent and inappropriate. "Now, you'd better get a move on, with Aunt Jule and Steve."
David held her tight in his arms. "There's something you have to do for me in return, Torchtop," he said, hoping to convey warmth and familiarity by using Cellie's old nickname. It worked: she snuggled more closely to him. Once, that would have made him jump for joy. His feelings had changed since then. Now, her action made it imperative to say what he had on his mind. "Cellie, you've probably heard this before. You have to love Willie. I know it's damned hard. I guess all of
us are pretty pissed off at him now. But I still care for him, and everyone else, too. Even his scummy old Dad is being nice to him."
"I'm so sick of being told to love him, like it's some disgusting medicine I have to take," Cellie complained.
"I KNOW you can't force it. Just close your eyes, and let it happen. It will. It happened before."
" 'Just close my eyes'," she repeated sarcastically. "Should I click the heels of my ruby-red slippers three times, too? After all, there's no place like Home."
"Shut up, Cellie," David warned. "You're getting hard. I don't mean, in a nasty way. But you always were kind of judgmental. It's only because you were so gentle and just that we never really noticed."
"Perhaps that's because I was judging blindly, like a juror in a trial. Until now, I never really saw the ugliness, just imagined it, or watched somebody else's memory pictures. Now, I'm bearing witness. . . Now, I know what that phrase really means. It's becoming a real burden to bear my own memories." Cellie smiled sadly. "I guess I'm kind of getting like Barnabas in his wonder years, huh?"
"Maybe. You have to snap out of it."
"I'm trying every minute! Sometimes I get so close, then Will says something that drives me back. Maybe I am a 'self-righteous bitch' like Harold says."
"Admitting it is half the battle. Letting yourself give up control would be the other half. You just have to re-discover whatever the Hell it was that made you love Willie in the first place, and run with it. Now," David said, kissing Cellie on the top of her head, "I have to go find a very small, frightened girl ghost who's lost her way. In the meantime, get to work on that buried love. Happy digging." He reached into the bassinet to touch his God-daughter's right hand. Sarah Teresa's fingers flinched under his caress.
Then, David went out to find Julia and Steve. They had a lot of ground to cover: Collinwood, the old House, three cottages, the house Nicholas had once lived in when David's father was married to Cassandra, the garages and the boarded-up carriage house between the two main houses. Sarah hadn't been to all these places, but David remembered well, how the youthful spirit had loved to hide. He thought it might be worthwhile to convince his aunt Elizabeth to join the search. It would distract her from crying about Carolyn and Sarah Teresa.
He almost ran into Professor Stokes and Marcus Sherbrooke, who'd both literally burst from the elevator down the hall. "David, where's Cellie?" Elliot asked breathlessly.
"In the room with the baby, where else? You didn't find Sarah Collins, did you?"
"No, alas," Elliot replied. "But we've got a clue. We just need Cellie to fill in the blanks." He hurried down to the chapel room.
Cellie was alone with her child. "Will went to get black coffee for me," she explained. "I take it you didn't find Sarah," she observed.
"That's very true, Cellie, but I received a valuable piece of information. All I need is an explanation. I felt, and saw the presence of Ben Stokes. He told me that Sarah is being held captive in a place where there are chains and green lights. He said it was a dangerous place where you'd left the green lights. When, and how, could you have left Anissa's green lights, Cellie?"
Cellie stared into space.
Elliot shook her shoulders. "Cellie! You must tell me. Where are the green lights?"
Of course she knew! Cellie remembered--- then, a greenish fog blew into her mind's eye. "It was only a few weeks ago," she said, dismayed, "but my mind is cloggy. I know what you mean, though."
"Cellie," Elliot said firmly. He looked directly into her eyes.
"I don't know if those green lights are 'clogging' your brain now. But you must concentrate." He pulled his crucifix from his packet, and placed it on her forehead. "Remember, Cellie. Tell me."
"The green lights. . . Will hit me, and bit me, and he--he raped me," Cellie mourned. "He left me. . . in the tomb. Jason---Jason---"
"Your husband's old partner-in-crime. What about Jason?"
"He's dead. Barnabas killed him, and had Will bury him in the 'secret room' in Joshua Collins's mausoleum."
"That's the room where Willie originally found Barnabas, correct?"
Cellie nodded. "After my Dad got stuck in there, Will and Barnabas moved Jason's remains, but his spirit was still imprisoned there. Jason's spirit tricked me. . . Got into me, along with the green lights. He took me out of the mausoleum, and talked to Will through me. Then, some spirit--- a woman, I think, got into my head, and helped me wrestle him out---"
"I don't know. It seems she's more likely to go after people she
already knows. Angelique never met Jason, as far as I know. It had to be someone else who knew and loathed him, and had something on him."
"So, you had this fight going on in your head, out in the cemetery."
"But I left Will, so he wouldn't have to see me struggle."
"Where were you when the fight was over?"
"Oh. Oh, my God."
"Cellie, where are the green lights now? The ones the unknown spirit helped tear from your mind?" In a flash, Elliot recalled Julia's odd, distracted, truncated warning. . .
"JASON absorbed the green lights. Professor, you have to get out to Eagle Hill right away!"
* * * * * * * * * * *
Walter and Pavlos arrived at Eagle Hill Cemetery at eight-thirty, by the dashboard clock in Walter's rented car. "Good God," Walter breathed. "This place was misty enough in the daylight. I haven't seen this kind of pea-soup fog since London. But then, I shouldn't be surprised. There's a big swamp behind the cemetery."
"Cellie told me this was part of Indian ceremonial ground," Pavlos said. "Odd, how such places are often located near swamps and bogs. The significance is the same in both Europe and New England, a misty wet place that can give or take life."
"Like a woman's body. How Freudian," Walter commented, trying to distract himself from his anxiety.
"Certain symbols are universal. Freud was one who could see the universality, and apply it on a personal basis."
"My God, Pavlos," Walter said in amazement. "Where did you learn
"I know what you're thinking, Walter. I'm just a simple tavern-keeper from the wrong side of the ruins in Athens--- who learned to read early and often. Like your daughter."
"You're two of a kind, alright. I always thought I was pretty smart. My sister's a walking brain. I don't know if Janice ever told you this, but she had the highest S.A.T. scores recorded in her hometown. So, I sort of expected my kids to be bright. Ernest's smart and steady. But my Cecily is another manner of being altogether. It's a little humbling, and I could be jealous of anyone else who tries to teach her besides myself. I WAS for a while. But not of you, oddly enough."
"And I am not jealous of YOU, Walter." Pavlos's bright eyes twinkled in the dashboard light. "I overheard your little talk with your daughter earlier. There's some tender loving care, and guidance, she can still get only from you."
"If this was a year ago, maybe you wouldn't have said that."
"It was there all along. She wouldn't have turned to you so readily, if it wasn't."
"If this was a year ago, she wouldn't have been around to turn to me. I threatened to make her have an abortion, and send her away to school. Not very T.L.C. As it was, I made her live in a maternity home, where she almost pined away, and my grand-daughter with her. . . I disowned her when she ended up marrying Willie. . ." Walter sighed.
"You would have come around eventually, I have no doubt. You are here because you HAVE come around. We must go on, and complete the circle."
The two men emerged from the car. "The circle. My wife was part of the circle. She was in that place--" Walter pointed to the mausoleum, "--an innocent prisoner, a hostage to the fortunes of people who should have been gone on to oblivion long ago, but thanks to some bizarre atmospheric quirk---"
"You were a prisoner and hostage there, later, Walter. It brought you closer to Maggie in the end. It's part of the balance of things. Maybe this isn't a vortex, as the Professor says, but a great scale of judgement. Now, we must try to save your savior, who saved your wife once, and your grand-daughter and daughter."
Flashlight in hand, Walter, who was more familiar with the cemetery, led Pavlos down the frosty path to the mausoleum. Pavlos trained his torch on certain tombstones along the way. He recognized some of the names Cellie, Elliot and Barnabas had mentioned at various times: Ben Stokes, Josette Collins, Natalie Du Pres, Jeremiah
Collins. . . He was, as Walter and Cellie before him, surprised to discover that Maggie's father was buried in this dismal spot. But that was appropriate, the Greek reflected; Sam Evans was resting amongst members of the family that had most affected his and his daughter's life in his final years. Besides, Pavlos speculated, perhaps this particular spot was really pleasant during the day. There WAS a fresh spray of hot-house flowers, still encased in florist's plastic wrap, nestled under the tombstone.
"Maggie sends those," Walter said. "Her mother's also buried there, and it was her birthday recently. I promised I'd get someone out here to put the other name on the stone by this summer."
Pavlos commented, "The florists in these parts must be courageous souls, coming to this remote spot to drop a bouquet on a grave."
"THEY'RE not. My daughter received the flowers, and brought them.
It's not all that bad out here in the daylight." They arrived at the steps of the mausoleum. "The original pull-chain was cut away, and the latch inside the hidden room was destroyed by my extremely confused son-in-law," Walter said. "So, I brought this." He pulled a heavy wrench from his pocket. "We just have to be careful not to get stuck in the room itself. A peek inside should be sufficient."
He mounted the steps, feeling the familiar pounding of his heart, which had troubled him the last time he was here. He was worried then, and his fears had turned out to be justified. If only he could feel confidence in his present mission! All he had to go on was the memory of his wife, urging him to return to Collinsport ("Never ignore a dream about that place, Walter," those were Maggie's very words!); his daughter, crying in his arms like a six-year-old, but pulling herself together at the last minute; and his grand-daughter, her once lively, cuddly, sturdy little body now still and wizened as a mummy's. Not one of these thoughts was strengthening, but they did provide incentive, and tightened his resolve.
Walter fitted the wrench to the tiny fragment of chain, and tightened the grip. He gave the wrench a mighty pull, and was rewarded with the grating sound of unoiled hinges moving and stone scraping against stone, as the heavy door slowly opened.
Pavlos stood behind him, watching, amazement on his face. "That's quite a complex mechanism, considering this tomb was erected well over two hundred years ago."
"And yet, it's all just simple levers. Whoever designed this place was as subtle as whoever designed the Pyramids," Walter commented. "Given the history of this place, I wouldn't be surprised if it was the same fellow."
As the door opened, the two men became aware of a soft, sobbing issuing from behind it. As soon as the door was fully open, Pavlos and Walter crowded close together in the opening, to discover the source of the sound. Walter gasped. "My God! Pavlos, look!"
In the furthest corner of the hidden room, almost obscured by the stone catalfalque in its center, crouched a small figure clad in a white gown and cap. "That must be Sarah," Walter whispered, as the weeping and sniffling coming from the corner assumed a distinctly girlish tone. "This was almost too easy," he mused.
"Well, if it is she, we must get her, irregardless of the circumstances of her presence here," Pavlos urged. "Sarah!" he said softly. "Sarah Collins! It is I, Pavlos, and Walter. You know who we are. You surely know why we're here. You must come with us, and return to Sarah Teresa. She is going to die, if you don't."
"Can't," the figure in the corner muttered, without turning its head.
"Sarah," Walter said, "listen. I know my daughter and her husband aren't getting along, but they ARE of one mind, when it comes to their baby's life. If you come back now, I believe I can promise that they WILL work hard to overcome the memory of the incident at the Antique Shoppe."
"I know," came the reply. "But I can't go back. I CAN'T."
"Do you know what will happen if you don't come back, Sarah?" Pavlos asked. "There is a spirit loose in the world, the spirit of the evil witch who seduced Willie and caused Cellie to injure him. Little Sarah Teresa is barely alive now. If, and when she passes, this same witch will inhabit her body. The original spirit of Sarah Teresa Loomis, the spirit you were upholding and assisting to a sunlit way of life, will be completely gone, and the new spirit will drag her body down a path of darkness, the same darkness your brother once knew. The same one he knows now. Barnabas has returned to the darkness, Sarah." As soon as he said this, Pavlos's face darkened visibly in his companion's flashlight beam, and he clutched his chest.
Walter said, aghast, "What are you talking about, Pavlos? Barnabas is missing, that much I know. You mean he's-- he's what he was, again?" He was more grateful than ever, that Maggie had stayed home.
Pavlos nodded. Then, he drew a deep breath. "I cannot speak of it much," he whispered. "He sends me heart pains when I do. But it is necessary to convince Sarah that she must return. She was the one person who ever truly had any influence over Barnabas at his worst."
"Are you suggesting that she return to my grand-daughter, and that Barnabas should have access to her?" Walter inquired fearfully.
"God, NO! I would suggest, however, that it might be a good idea for Sarah to contact her brother BEFORE she returns to our Little Flame's body."
"THAT could be a trap! My grand-daughter may well die in the meantime."
"Time for spirits is not the same as our time, Walter. One such as Sarah could deliver the Gettysburg address in the blink of an eye."
"If she can do that, why can't she seem to move?"
"Sarah, you must get up!" Pavlos said, his voice uncharacteristically stern.
"I WANT to!" the youthful spirit asserted. "But I can't! Look closer!"
The two men stepped cautiously onto the first step, poised to flee if the door moved, or made the slightest noise. From that vantage point, they could see all of Sarah Collins's small body. To their horror, they saw thick shackles, attached to heavy chains, which didn't appear to be attached to the wall or floor, but which held Sarah's limbs in place whenever she tried to move out of the corner. "You can't help me," she sniffled. "Go, please."
"We're going to have to carry her out of here, somehow," Walter said. "But those chains are stuck in place. I don't know how we'll manage. And then, there's whole point of staying up here on the
steps--- What if the door closes on us?"
"I will go in, first, and prepare her." Pavlos pulled a cross from his neck. He slowly walked to Sarah's corner.
She gazed up at him sadly. "Please, Pavlos, you must go. It's dangerous--- " She began to wail in agony. "Can't talk---sorry---Please, go!"
Pavlos crouched at her side, and kissed her. Sarah's cheek felt like cobwebs, he thought, ephemeral and substantial at the same time. "This may break your bonds," he said, touching the cross to the shackles. To his pleased surprise, they fell easily from Sarah's wrists and ankles. "Can you stand, little one?" he asked.
"Go away," she said. "It's almost too late---"
"Pavlos," Walter said nervously, "maybe you should leave her be. She's free now, maybe she can get out on her own. She knows better about what's going on than we do."
Pavlos said, "I cannot leave her here, Walter. Something tells me, she must be carried. Come, Sarah," he said, firmly, picking her up. Sarah didn't move. She was as limp and heavy in his arms as a living child.
"Oh, damn it, Pavlos," Walter said. "I'll help you. Hold on." He went down the step without thinking. When he'd reached the corner, he heard a familiar, sickening sound. "Dear God," he whispered, as the door clanged shut. Harsh laughter in an equally-familiar baritone answered his prayer. "Jason McGuire!" Walter snarled.
The room was suddenly suffused with a bright green-yellow light. In the brightness, so intense that it stung both men's eyes, a male figure appeared. "Ah, Walter!" the spirit exclaimed happily. "Once more ye have come to keep this lonely soul company. I was making do with the little lass, but she kept sniveling and crying about Cecily and Willie and the 'bad woman'! That Willie! Just when ye think he's got it under control south of the Equator, so to speak, then he's after somebody else in a skirt. I guess his little red-head wasn't enough to satisfy his fancy! And serves her right, too, for what she did to me!" Jason said this last in a tone of wounded dignity.
"What could my daughter possibly have done to YOU!"
"Why, she went back on her bargain, she did! We made the same deal I once offered YOU, and she allowed me to enter her delightful body. But, wouldn't ye know it, the instant she sees Willie, the same bastard that dropped her in this foul hole in the first place, she goes all soft and finds a way to return me here. What's more, she had help, a vile spirit who inflicted me with these damned green lights. They tear at my ectoplasm as flails tear at human flesh! I exist in agony, but there is one lonely advantage. I can make people, and ghosts, stay with me now. She who created the lights came to me just a while ago, and vowed I'd have plenty of company in a short while."
"Her name wasn't Anissa, was it?" Pavlos asked in a faltering voice. He still embraced Sarah Collins tightly.
"The name she gave me, was Desiree! And, indeed, she was the very
picture of desire, even for a spirit! I begged to to stay, but she had other business. While she visited, this little mite--" he indicated Sarah "--showed up, crying as she is now, looking for a place to hide out. Desiree showed me how to lock her up."
"Jason! You HAVE to let us go! My grand-daughter will die, if Sarah doesn't come to see her!"
"What do I care for that, Walter?"
"Listen, Jason," Walter said urgently. "I'll make a deal. This little girl isn't going to stop crying, ever, if she stays. How annoying that must be for you! I'll tell you what. You let my friend take her out of here, and I'll stay with you, forever. I'll DIE here, if need be."
"That's BULL, Walter! Your Levantine friend here will surely send help, long before ye pass on! I will muzzle the brat, and ye'll ALL stay."
"Jason! Please!" Pavlos begged. "BARNABAS is out and about, as he was when he killed you! If HE should hear that his sister is being held here---"
"What could he do, Pavlos?" Jason sneered. "I'm already dead, and
I have to protect me, the damned green, green lights, like the green, green fields of old Eire. How I wish now, that I'd never left 'em!"
"We WILL find a way, because we MUST!" Walter declared stoutly.
He dashed to the step under which the switch to the door was located. he pulled the brick, thinking that there must be SOME way to operate it, even if it was broken. He was horrified to see the neatly-broken toggle. He had no tools to stick into the slot to move it; a trowel he found in a corner of the room had too large a handle to fit into it.
"Ye're stuck, all right!" Jason declared triumphantly. At that moment, there was a loud banging on the door.
"Walter! Pavlos!" came the muffled voice of Professor Stokes. "I saw your car out on the road, so I know you're in there! Can you hear me?"
"YES!" Walter yelled. "Sarah's in here. McGuire has us all prisoner."
"I can work this wrench," Elliot hollered back.
"NO! Not yet!" Walter answered. "Jason has the power of Anissa's green lights!"
"I WILL KILL THE LOT OF YE IF HE ENTERS!"
"Did you hear that, Professor Stokes?" Walter cried.
"Alas, I did. . . But you can't stay in there. Let me think. . ."
"Just tell us! Is Sarah Teresa still alive?"
"Yes, but barely, Walter. . . I'm thinking." A few agonizing moments passed. Then, the door opened.
"I WARNED YE!" Jason bellowed. Walter reached toward the door, when he was tossed up against the low ceiling of the hidden room. He fell, stunned, to the brick floor.
"Walter!" Pavlos yelled, carrying Sarah to where his friend lay.
"STAY IN YOUR CORNER, YE FILTHY GREEK! AND THE BRAT, TOO!"
Pavlos clutched at his chest, though he still tried to carry Sarah Collins. He gave up the effort, and dropped her to the floor. She landed on both feet, and followed as he crawled back to the corner. He fell, unconscious, his head grazing the rough back wall, which was constructed of rough granite rather than smooth marble.
Elliot peered in through the doorway, protesting "I DIDN'T TOUCH THE DOOR! LET THEM ALONE!" He was about to dash into the room to aid his fallen friends, but found he was rooted to the spot. He struggled vainly, panting with fear, when he saw that the heavy door was headed right toward him.
A soft female voice whispered in his ear. "Use your Cross." Elliot thought the voice was familiar, but had no time to speculate on whose it might be. He reached into his pocket. Whatever had worked on the Desiree in Julia's mind must surely work on this remnant of one of her spells. He tossed it at Jason's spirit, praying that it would touch him. His aim was better than he'd hoped for; the cross smacked the arrogant ghost squarely on the forehead.
Jason howled in anguish, grabbing at the simple crucifix, which had somehow adhered to his face. The bright green lights flared up with the brilliance of a nuclear blast. Elliot shielded his eyes, and shouted at his companions to do the same. A sharp, pungent odor assailed his nostrils.
A few minutes later, the odor dissipated. The light no longer penetrated Elliot's eyelids. He opened them cautiously. The hidden room was dark, except for where the dropped flashlights lay. The Professor picked one up, and surveyed the scene.
Walter Hoffman was still lying face-down. Elliot gently touched the vertebrae of the lawyer's thick neck. There appeared to be no break. He then touched Walter's pulse. There was a steady beat. "Walter, can you get up?" Elliot demanded.
"I--I think---I think so." Walter slowly raised himself with his hands, as though he was doing push-ups. Elliot lifted him to a sitting position. "How's Pavlos?" Walter asked.
Sarah Collins stood like a sentinel over where the Greek lay. Pavlos's forehead bled a little, a very little, where it had brushed against the stone wall. Walter and Elliot both knew facial wounds were supposed to bleed like crazy. This could only mean one thing. . .
Walter reached his friend first, and felt for his pulse. "Dear God," he mourned. "How the Hell will I be able to tell Janice, and Cecily. . ." He began a futile effort at C.P.R., but gave it up a few minutes later.
"Walter, it wasn't our fault," Elliot said sadly. "Janice and Cellie knew what we were trying to do. It WILL be hard, but we'll get by, somehow." He looked at Sarah Collins. "Sarah, you're free now. You must come with us."
The dainty ghost seemed to be immobilized with shock. "It's MY fault," she said in a tiny voice. "I was bad, because I ran away. I loved him. He had such nice music. He was real good to Cecily and Willie and Sarah Teresa."
"Come with us," Walter urged. "Sarah, if you really loved Pavlos, you MUST come. He would have wanted you to help Sarah Teresa." He reached for her, but she wouldn't or couldn't move.
"Let's get Pavlos out of here," Elliot suggested. "She'll probably follow." The two men grunted and struggled, as they dragged the heavy body toward the steps. "I guess we'll have to leave him, after all," Elliot announced regretfully. "Why doesn't she move from that spot, I wonder?" He looked back. "Dear Lord, there's still a little green light, like a laser beam!"
Walter ran back to Sarah, and tried again to lift her, but it was as though she weighed a ton. He gazed despairingly at Elliot.
There was a soft shuffling noise, and a white light that appeared on the steps. A shimmering female figure appeared in the light. Her face wasn't clear, but both Walter and Elliot knew she wasn't Angelique. She called out to to the child, "Sarah, you know who I am, don't you?"
The girlish spirit smiled in recognition, and nodded. "You went away for the longest time. I missed you so much when you went away."
"I was never really far away, Sarah. I was in a bad place, like this one. But we're both free now. You must come to me. Don't be afraid of the green light. I will protect you." The figure approached Sarah, and held her arms open.
Sarah gazed fearfuly at the tiny green ray in her path. Then, she swallowed hard, and forced herself to cross it. She cried out with the pain of it, but she survived. She ran to the welcoming embrace of the other spirit.
"Now, there's something that you must do, Sarah," the adult spirit admonished. "Pavlos himself must take you to Sarah Teresa. You understand, don't you?"
Sarah gazed on the fallen Greek. "Yes, ma'am," she replied. "You always knew best, even if nobody else believed in you." She knelt at Pavlos's side, and took his lifeless hand in hers. As she slowly vanished, the Greek's eyes opened, and the woman's spirit vanished also. As her nimbus faded, Elliot became aware that she must have had dark hair. Walter saw the hair, and noticed something else.
"My God," he whispered. "She sure looks a lot like my daughter."
"There's a reason for that, Walter," Elliot began, but was interrupted by Pavlos's stirring back to life. Elliot and Walter both helped him to his feet.
"I feel her inside me," Pavlos said weakly. "That must not be! She must return to the Little Flame!"
"You'll die then, for sure, Pavlos," Walter said.
"What other choice do I have, my friend?"
"None," Walter sighed resignedly. He and Elliot lifted the weakened Koffeehaus owner up the steps, and followed him closely as he stepped out into the atrium. Pavlos wandered out through the iron-grille gate to catch great gulps of the frosty March night air, while Walter closed the door to the secret room. Elliot was explaining something to the lawyer.
A growling whisper came out of the fog. "Don't move, you TRAITOR!"
Pavlos froze, his heart straining and aching, as Barnabas stepped out from behind a yew tree growing near Josette Collins's grave.
Barnabas transfixed the Greek with his penetrating gaze. Pavlos moved his lips but no sound came. "You won't be able to call your friends," the vampire admonished, "though it hardly matters whether they come to your aid, or not. It will be too late. Now, take off those crosses. You are very much weakened, I can tell. You won't be able to resist, this time."
Pavlos fumbled with the clasps of the chains. They dropped, one by one, to the ground. "May I ask one question?" he rasped. "Why do you choose this moment to do me harm, my friend?"
"You consort with ministers and exorcists and you have the NERVE to call me your friend!" Barnabas placed his hands around Pavlos's throat.
"You have always been. You still are," Pavlos gagged. "You will NOT be able to kill me now, anyway."
"Perhaps, instead of killing you, it's high time I made you my thrall, though you'll likely pass away before you have the chance to make restitution to me."
"Try it," Pavlos muttered defiantly.
Barnabas lowered his lips to the Greek's throat, as Walter and Elliot came out of the mausoleum. "NO! NO!" Walter cried. He tried to run toward the struggling pair, but the Professor held him back.
"Watch," Elliot said calmly. "You had faith when we captured and tried Anissa. Have faith now."
Barnabas touched Pavlos's throat with his teeth, then jerked his head back, as though he'd been subjected to an electric shock. "Violets," the vampire whispered. "Sarah's favorite scent. . ." He released Pavlos, and gazed, once more into the Greek's eyes. "Now I see her eyes. . . They're looking at me. . . The same way she looked at me, just before she died! How did she come to be in YOU?"
"I have to bring her back to Sarah Teresa."
"I can't allow that. Nicholas has decreed---" Barnabas howled in pain, and fell back completely, clawing behind himself futilely, at the gold cross Elliot held against his shoulder. The vampire turned on his other former friend, but cringed when he saw the cross, one of Pavlos's, which Elliot had plucked from the ground.
"You will NOT interfere, Barnabas!" Elliot cried. "We don't want to put an end to you, but we WILL keep you out of our way. You cannot destroy your sister, no matter what form she inhabits. Now, let us pass. Walter has a gun in his pocket loaded with silver bullets."
"And I know how to use it. You remember, Barnabas," Walter said.
He tried to make a convincing bulge in his coat pocket. This trick works for bank robbers--- Don't let him ask me to show him the gun, he prayed silently.
To his relief, Barnabas gasped, "Very well. Go forth, for all the good it will do. There will be retribution exacted!"
Nicholas Blair put the finishing touches on the cellar chamber. The altar/ bed was beautifully draped in black and purple silk, with a fleur-de-lys pattern embroidered in the center of the cloth. The black candles, goblets, and special knives he would need lay on an antique table. There was even a tiny crawlspace against the outside wall where he could safely build a ceremonial fire, as a beacon to his Master.
He went upstairs, to watch Carolyn parade around his bedroom in an array of Anissa's discarded lingerie. He filled two glasses with champagne, as he had promised, though he put an extra ingredient into his fiancee's libation. Finally, Carolyn came out of the private bathroom in the master suite clad in a peignoir set, with a robe that looked as chaste as a child's housecoat, but, when she opened it, revealed a strapless see-though nightgown. "This has snaps disguised
as satin buttons on both the gown and the panties, for easy removal, I guess," she giggled uneasily.
Nicholas handed her a slim crystal goblet. "That's the very one!" he exclaimed enthusiastically. "Now, let us drink to our wedding, and then, I'll leave you to change into your wedding dress. You did select one, didn't you?"
"Yes, Nicholas," Carolyn answered meekly, sipping at her champagne. "It's a good thing Anissa had so many white clothes, and in the finest fabrics. I'm sure you'll be just as pleased with my wedding dress, as you are with my wedding-NIGHT dress." She sighed with a sudden weariness that had come over her. "I do wish my mother could attend. Will you have a picture taken of us in our wedding-clothes, so I can send her that much, at least?"
"We'll get on that project, tomorrow." Nicholas watched with satisfaction, as his fiancee lay back on his red-silk covered pillows, and closed her eyes.
"Oh, dear," Carolyn said in a faltering voice, "I CAN'T go to sleep. It's nearly eleven, and the wedding's at twelve, and I'm not dressed at all. . ." Nicholas heard her preliminary snore.
He quickly went into another room to change. He put on a crisp, sulfur-pungent black robe. He had a small cap and sandals to wear. Before he went back to get Carolyn, he doused himself with musk, and took a swig of the drug with which he'd been plying her for the past week. The narcotic component had no effect on him, but he needed the aphrodisiac, just in case that odd lack of desire impeded him during the ceremony.
Nicholas slowly carried the unconscious Carolyn down the narrow cellar steps, carefully easing her head around corners. He laid her on the altar, and bolted the door. He tied her wrists to small hooks affixed to the corners at the head of the table. He drew up her knees, and trussed her ankles to more hooks, to hold them in place. He then pulled the modest robe open over her heart. He pulled the strapless bodice of the gown down to reveal her chest, but left the robe over the rest of her bosom. That could wait for later. Besides, the potion-induced lust was already pounding in his veins. If he looked at her too much, he might make a mess of the ceremony in order to possess her all the sooner. THAT would not do, at all!
After he lit the candles, he lost no time beginning the incantation. "I call upon all those Enlightened Ones whom the infidels call the Damned, and all the creatures who roam our Day, which others call the Night, to witness these nuptials and their consummation. I call upon my combined fraternity and sorority to make clear the path, and speed the arrival of Our Master, He who has borne many names, Lucifer, Satan, Hades, Beelzebub, Loki, Siva, Diablos--- That He may officiate at these nuptials, that He may grant this, our new-made Sister and Queen, eternal life, and that He shall have the Right of the First Night, in order to seal her initiation to our universal Coven, before he permits myself, His very humble servant, to reap that which I have gathered and sown for Him. May this offering of this perfect female please Him, and spur Him to grant further favors for this, His most faithful Slave."
At this, Nicholas touched Carolyn's shoulder gently. "Awaken, Our Sister. You must be aware, now."
Carolyn opened her eyes. In her dazed state, she tried to bring her hand to her face, to wipe her sleep-filled eyes. As she tugged at her bonds, realization set in. She glanced wildly down at her prone body, and up at her fiance. "WHAT--WHAT ARE YOU DOING, NICHOLAS?" she screamed, wriggling around futilely.
"You will know the truth at last," he replied, smirking. "You must be awake for the 'service', annoying as your cries of fear and pain will be for the time being. Shortly, they will turn to moans of ecstasy the likes of which you have NEVER known in your earthly relationships."
"What pain?" Carolyn whimpered.
"I promise you, my dear, the agony will be of the briefest duration. I went through it, and Anissa-Desiree, and her sister Angelique, whom you knew as Cassandra---"
"The one you once called your sister!"
"Yes," Nicholas said with distaste. "I never had a REAL sister. May Satan spare me from ever having one such! Anyway, many have gone through this crucible, to discover unimaginable rewards, including Anissa's beloved Lasha. Alas, I had to withdraw his gift of perpetual youth and health, to punish his lover, and he lies at death's door, even as we speak. If you cooperate fully, such a penalty will not fall upon YOU, as I, your protector, have been faithful to my Dark Lord for three-hundred thirty years tonight."
"You're not telling me what you're actually going to DO!"
"Do you know exactly what kind of ritual this is, Carolyn?"
"A Black Mass, I guess that's what it's called--"
"It's rather more than that. This is in the nature of those elaborate High Masses your Pope conducts in that mausoleum they call St, Peter's Basilica." Nicholas spat out the last words irritably. "All our Masses require sacrifices, but, like those of the Church, they are, for the most part, symbolic. Killing a living being, usually an animal, is reserved for our Holy Days, Candlemas Eve, Midsummer's Eve, Samhain, which you call Halloween. . . Human sacrifices are seldom called for, except when a special favor is required. That's because, even though we Infernals and our disciples are seldom caught, acquiring a suitable victim can be a damned nuisance! It's hardly because of our respect for human life!"
"You're going to kill me! NO! Nicholas, please, don't do this! I'll do ANYTHING you ask. . ." Carolyn began to cry. "I don't want to die. . ."
"But that's just it, Carolyn! It will only be for a minute! I will draw your life from you so gently, that will feel like a mere paper cut. Then, another victim will absorb your death---"
"Who? Who is going to die for me? You can't do this, Nicholas, killing two innocent people, and making one of them die twice!"
"Don't fret, my dear. The individual who will absorb your death, is nearly dead, anyway. This will liberate her spirit."
"You've killed Cellie, that's it!"
"No, someone close to her--- anyway, that's the first part of the ceremony. When your original soul is gone, your new Master will appear, in a human-like form you can comprehend, instead of in all His Infernal Beauty. He will repair your fleshly wounds, and then, will take on the far more pleasant task of completing your initiation. He has, shall we say, the 'Droit de siegneur' over those who would be immortal. You want to be immortal, don't you? With no further worries about getting old, or sick, or bearing children? As I've said, you will help me raise a very Special Little One, but she will hardly obtrude on your other activities."
"That's what I might have said, but this isn't what I meant! I don't want anyone to die. I don't want to take Sarah Teresa from Cellie! I don't want to be raped by someone you say is the Devil!"
"What about me, Carolyn?" Nicholas asked softly. "You still want me, don't you?"
"I don't know!" she wailed. "I know I don't want anyone with us on our wedding night! We've been together before, I know that, even though I don't really remember anything but the feeling. . . You've said Anissa was with us, but I can't remember that either. . . Now that's she's gone, I want to be alone with you. Then, maybe the memories of the other times will come back---"
"Carolyn, there were no 'other times'."
"WHAT?" This shocked Carolyn, almost as much as her impending sacrifice.
"I said, my dear fiancee, that there were no other times. We've never actually, to put it crudely, 'done the nasty'. There were never any other times, either with us alone, or with Anissa, though she wanted to as much as I did. Last summer, you would have been far more co-operative, and the ceremony far less complicated. But there WAS an intervention, and the game plan changed. You would have endured the same 'treatment', but you would have been fully consenting. With such a time constraint as we faced, we couldn't count on your co-operation this time around. I had to make you stay from shame, rather than from desire. And it worked beautifully."
"I can't--- I can't believe that!" Carolyn wailed. "That first night, when I rinsed myself with that water, and you took me to your bedroom, and the next morning, when you said we'd been--- and you said I had to get rid of Tony and marry you--- OH, GOD! OH, GOD!"
"STOP SAYING THAT THIS INSTANT, YOU INSOLENT BITCH!"
Nicholas smacked Carolyn with the back of his hand. "I offer you an existence that will bring you treasures and pleasures you never imagined existed, and you weep over a little necessary deception?" A large welt formed on Carolyn's face, where he'd struck her. Nicholas turned from her in disgust, and picked up an elaborately-embossed golden chalice. "Oh, well, my dear, neither your consent or your co-operation are necessary from this point on. The ceremony will go forth as my Master has decreed, you will taste of the sharpness of my knife, and then, you'd better hope that mark I had to put on your silly face doesn't dampen our Dark Lord's desire for you, or the death-transference will be aborted. In short, you will be dead for good, and at this point, I cannot say THAT will be such a terrible disappointment for ME!"
"NO! PLEASE, NICHOLAS, PLEASE, LET ME GO! PUT A HEX ON ME TO FORGET ALL THIS! YOU'LL FIND ANOTHER WOMAN WHO'LL PROBABLY WANT TO DO THIS! NICHOLAS, DON'T KILL ME!"
Nicholas replied, "I have searched the world over, and believe me if you can--- If you can't that's too bad, but it's the truth! There CAN be nobody else!" He ignored her further pleas as he walked to the fire, and raised his goblet to the ceiling. "Master, You must give me a sign that this little outburst will not turn you away from this ceremony, and that you will appear at the moment of the bloodletting. Give me a sign that SHE is still the one!"
The flames flared up, and threatened to scorch the hem of Nicholas's robe. A deep voice issued from the fireplace, saying, "BEGIN. I WILL RESERVE JUDGEMENT."
Nicholas turned back to the altar, where Carolyn's increasingly strained cries had faded. She now stared up at him with the glazed, terrifed eyes of an animal about to be run over by a truck, as she whimpered hoarsely. "I see that we WILL be able to proceed, without further sound effects," Nicholas said with satisfaction, "and the bruise is fading already. There's hope for you yet, my dear Carolyn, but understand, it's MY brand of hope that I speak of." He held the goblet over the exposed portion of her chest, and poured the contents, a golden syrup that smelled of brimstone, in a straight line from the hollow of her throat to her navel.
"Burns," she rasped, tears rolling down the sides of her face, to form tiny stains on the silk near her ears. "Please, Nicholas, for the last time, don't---" She gazed wildly toward the little fire, where she could already see a definite head-shape set on thick shoulders, which appeared to be watching the proceedings. As Nicholas lifted a long-bladed, razor-sharp-looking knife over Carolyn's chest, her back arched in her terror, and she began to hitch her rear end around the altar. Her last thought, before he brought the knife down, was, "Can't thread a moving needle---"
* * * * * * * * * * *
Walter drove as quickly as he could back to the hospital. Pavlos hunched in his seat belt, his hand clawing at his chest. When they'd arrived in the hospital parking lot, Walter glanced at his companion under a lamppost. Even under such a poor light, he could see that the Greek's lips were turning blue.
Elliot drove into the lot at that moment, and both the Professor and the lawyer conveyed their friend directly into the chapel room. Cellie and her mother, who'd been sitting by the bassinet, holding hands, rose at their entrance. Willie, who'd been leaning against the wall, came forward.
Janice took one look at her husband, and cried out in anguish at the sight of his grey face, his navy-colored lips, the blue half-moons on his fingernails as he still held his heart. "Sweetheart, we have to get Dr. Hurley," she pleaded. "Your heart is giving out!"
"Can't now, my Little One," he gasped. "I bear the one thing that might save Sarah Teresa."
"Where? Where?" Janice yelped, searching her husband's arms, and looked in his pocket.
"In my heart, weak as it it," he answered. "I carry our baby's guiding spirit. I must give it back to her---" Pavlos reached past his wife, and took Sarah Teresa's tiny hand.
"You're--you're going to die for her," Janice wept with realization. "I don't want to let you do this!"
"But you must, beloved." Pavlos turned back to his wife, and embraced her tightly.
"Yes. Of course. My God," Janice sobbed in his arms. "Why must there be these choices?"
Cellie looked directly at her stepfather. "Pavlos," she began, "give Sarah Collins to me, and I will transfer her. Perhaps you might survive, that way."
"I cannot, my Flame," he shook his head sadly. "She must come from me."
"Then let me hold your hand while you do it," Cellie pleaded. "Maybe that will help."
"No, Cecily," Willie warned. "Remember what Julia and Dr. Hurley both told you while you were having all those convulsions. Your own heart was under a strain. One more step, and it's all over."
Janice cried, "I can't risk losing both of you!"
"I must do this alone," Pavlos said.
His wife drew a deep sigh. "All right, Constantinos. I'm ready to face whatever happens."
They held each other tightly for a minute. Pavlos kissed Janice, then gazed deeply into her eyes. Without another word, he leaned over the bassinet, and held Sarah Teresa's hand, once more. He closed his eyes. All at once, he crumpled to the floor. "I--I can't do it," he said weakly. "The Other is present, and holds Sarah Collins back far more strongly than she did at the Mausoleum."
Elliot, who'd been standing outside, rushed to his friend's side. "This is the appointed hour!" he gasped, as he stared at the clock. The lights in the chapel, already dimmed, blinked on and off. Light, loose items, such as the plastic vomit basin, and cups of water, flew across the room. The machines to which Sarah Teresa was connected began to beep, blink, flair, and whir. Willie, afraid the machines themselves might kill his daughter, yelled for a doctor or nurse to remove the tubes that connected the baby to them. Dr. Hurley came running, followed by Louise Hackett, who'd been sitting with her sons' room as they recovered. They narrowly missed being hit by the aluminum water pitcher.
The Doctor and Louise quickly flicked the tubes out. Then, both hovered over Pavlos. The disturbance subsided in minutes. Elliot said, "That's not the last time that will happen. It is after ten o'clock on what would have been the Ides of March in 1643. Anissa-Desiree's spirit is near, I can feel it. She awaits the moment of opportunity to enter Sarah Teresa."
Cellie now cradled her daughter's still body, vaguely grateful she had this last chance to hold Sarah Teresa before the inevitable---
"I know your look, Cecily," Willie said. "It's NOT over. We got time. You have to be like you used to be, thinking on your feet, like He would have. He always came up with some kind of solution at the last minute, and nobody here is more like Him than You."
"Look at the solution Barnabas settled on, to work out his last problem, Will," Cellie said bitterly. "The prospect of losing his only child ruined His judgment, as it will mine. That's just the way it is! The only hope is to interrupt Nicholas's so-called 'wedding', and I'm just not clear on how we can do that!"
Elliot said eagerly, "I can contact David. He's still at Collinwood. I was meaning to call him in any case, to tell him we found Sarah Collins."
"I hope you don't mean he should storm Nicholas's gates alone!" Cellie exclaimed.
"Good heavens, no! He can get Roger. I will tell them to wait until I arrive."
"Have you any idea where in that house Nicholas will be having his party?" Cellie asked. "I doubt he'll be saying his dirty little prayers right in the living room!"
"Cellie, we've both seen his house, from top to bottom. I know the place is fairly simple in architecture. Still, it was built over a long period of years, through tumultuous times, when people were hiding out, first, from the Indians, then later, during the wars with the British, and later still, when there were stops on the Underground Railroad."
"The Hendersons were slave traders."
"Early on," Elliot agreed, "but later generations were subject to changes of heart. The point is, there MUST be a secret room there, as there are at Collinwood and the Old House. Nicholas would hardly pick a residence without at least one, given his predelictions."
Cellie didn't reply art first. She cuddled her baby to her shoulder, swaying a little, as if to rock the unresponsive infant. To Willie, his wife resembled nothing so much as a twelve-year-old girl preparing to part with a much-loved doll, to put it into a box to store in the cellar. . . "The cellar!" he shouted. "I was in his cellar, in a secret room. Hell, if I remember right, and this awful dream I had there was true, there's at least TWO! Penny--- I mean Anissa--- she brought me to a tiny room close to the downstairs living room. It wasn't too bad, there was a bathroom, even if there wasn't a window."
"That's one down, Willie," Elliot said, "but Nicholas himself may have planned on the possibility of your recalling that particular room. The other must be more obscure."
"That's the room I remember from my dream. At least, I thought it was a dream." Willie's voice fell to a whisper. Elliot drew closer to him. "I dreamed I was in a casket, like--" Willie caught himself just in time, as Janice was in the room. "--Like a dead person," he continued. "I was in a smaller room. . . I'm trying to remember how I got there. . . Oh, yeah! Nicholas dragged me in there. He must've put something in the oatmeal Pen--Anissa gave me. I was lyin' on the floor, half-dead, watchin' him move some shelves around in one corner. There was a door with a hidden bolt, so you couldn't see it if you were just looking at the shelves full of pickle jars---"
"I recall seeing those very jars!" Elliot gasped. "Now, if we only knew of some other way to get in there, besides through the house, or the garage."
Cellie finally spoke. "There ARE two ways. I saw them when I was exploring the outside of the house with Mr. Plavnicky. One's a fairly new metal door on an outer wall. But there's no door knob or even a pull-handle. It must open from the inside only. Then, there was the tunnel--- It had to be a tunnel, leading from the road in front of the Henderson place, past the front door, right up to some part of the cellar!"
"It's dark, but we'll locate this tunnel's entrance," Elliot vowed. "Now, I must make haste---"
"I'll go with you, Professor," Willie offered.
"No, Willie, you must stay here. I have the feeling the transference won't go forward without your presence. I know where the room must be."
Elliot left the chapel, and dashed to Virginia Hurley's office, where he could call David in privacy. He got the young man right away,and explained the situation. "Tell your father to wait for me," he instructed. "And is Julia there? She's resting, but not sleeping? Well, just make sure your aunt and Mrs. Johnson keep her there for the time being. The fewer people involved at this point, the better. There's no time to get Reverend Brand or Father Rondini, anyway."
The Professor ran out to the parking lot, and hurled himself into his car. He turned the key in the ignition. There was a hollow rattling sound. The engine wouldn't turn over. Elliot glanced at his control panel, and gave a cry of dismay, as he noticed his gas-tank was empty. He realized that he'd been so extremely distracted over the last few days, that he'd simply forgotten to visit a filling station.
There was no time to reflect on how such trivial matters influenced the outcome of major crises. Elliot would have to run back into the hospital to get a ride from Walter Hoffman, reluctant as he was to drag the unhappy grandfather from his family's vigil once more.
Elliot stepped out of his car. He heard the roar of a motorcycle nearby, a clear violation of hospital's "Quiet Zone." "Don't those bikers know how to read signs?" he thought, irritably.
The rider and his vehicle drew closer. The Professor recognized Buzz Hackett and his Harley. Buzz recognized the Professor as well, and eased his Hog as quietly as he could into the parking lot alongside his car.
"Buzz! You're married to a nurse! How could you be so inconsiderate of hospital rules, and at this hour!" Elliot admonished.
"Relax, Prof," Buzz replied amiably. "You know like I do, the hospital's three-quarters empty. The Kids' ward is way in back somewhere. They get more racket from Main street, down that end! I just needed a ride to clear my head, after sitting up with my kids until they got better."
"That's rather immature of you." The Professor glanced anxiously at his watch, trying to think of a way to extricate himself from this inconvenient conversation.
"What do they say in church, Prof? 'Don't judge, unless you be judged'? Anyway, Louise said my pacing around was making her antsy, so she MADE me go. She knows what's good for her Buzz-man. What's more, she knows I'm a good Daddy to our kids."
A flash of inspiration went off in Elliot's brain. "Alright, Buzz," he said in a conciliatory tone. "I've just been under such a strain, you know, trying to help solve the mystery of this epidemic. Poor little Sarah Teresa's still deathly ill, you know."
"Yeah," Buzz sighed sympathetically. "Poor Roja and Willie. That kid's their one and only shot at the parent game, too. It kind of kills my own happiness about MY kids' getting better, to know they're still suffering. That's another reason I was so antsy. I'd do anything to help if I could. But I'm no fancy doctor."
"Perhaps, this situation doesn't call for another doctor, Buzz. We've got plenty of those on hand. There is another key to solving Sarah's problem, and I was on my way to finding it, when I ran into a little car trouble. No gas!"
"I'll siphon you a little from Louise's car, if you want."
"I haven't much time. Buzz, how much weight does that Harley carry?"
"You want a RIDE? How much do you weigh, Professor? I'm not asking you to be nosy, and I swear, the truth will die with me, but---"
"Two hundred forty at my last check-up. That's down from two-seventy, I'll have you know." The Professor thought briefly, but tenderly of Fatima Texeira, and her special, low-fat version of Portuguese cuisine.
"Well. . . I'm one-seventy soaking wet. That comes to just over four hundred, but this IS the biggest Hog on the market, and I just filled it up. . . Okay. Hop on, and let's rock."
Elliot eased himself into the space between Buzz's rear end, and the sissy-bar on the back of the seat. "You haven't an extra helmet, do you?" he asked timidly, the reality of what he was about to do settling in on him.
"Nah. Sorry, but I wasn't expecting to give anybody a lift tonight. Don't worry, I haven't had a spill since before I married Louise. So, where to, Professor?"
"Collinwood. A. S. A. P., within reason, of course."
"I'm a reasonable guy," Buzz chuckled as he revved his engine to life. "Hang on, Professor-man."
Buzz made it to Collinwood in record time, wobbling all the way. Elliot came to believe that, if his heart, still overburdened with cholesterol despite his weight loss, could withstand the trauma of that ride, he could survive anything.
David Collins stood on the granite step. He tugged on Elliot's arm, pulling him into the foyer. They were followed by a bemused Buzz. "Thanks for delivering the Professor safely, Buzz-man," David said, "but you'd better get back to the hospital."
"Sure you won't need me or the Hog, anymore?" Buzz asked.
"I don't think so," Elliot said. "Thanks so much."
Buzz turned to leave, when he overheard David whisper to Elliot before they opened the drawing room doors. "Found him, drunk, wandering. . . Just stared at Henderson. . . Worried sick about Carolyn. . ."
Buzz turned back. "Now, what's this about Carolyn? What's she got to do with what happened to my kids, and Sarah Teresa?" he demanded.
"Nothing, Buzz," Elliot answered as calmly as he could. "She IS having some problems, but it's a separate issue---"
"Don't give me that bull, Professor-man. And who d'you have in that room, who's drunk 'cause he's so worried about her?" Buzz pushed past the two men, and opened the door. He stared at the disheveled man on the couch. "Tony the Legal Tiger!" Buzz shouted. "What the Hell's down with YOU!"
Tony gazed up at his former fiancee's former lover with red, runny eyes. "Nothing," he mumbled. "Don't know why I did it. Don't know why she did--- why she--- It hurts more tonight, than the other nights. Why does it hurt so much?" he pleaded. "It hurts right here," he insisted, running his hand from the hollow of his throat in a straight line to just above his groin. "Something's hurting her there, I know it!" he sobbed.
"He isn't like Roja, is he?" Buzz asked, puzzled. "I guess he's busted up with Carolyn, that much I can tell. I know how it feels. It happened to me, once."
"No, he's not empathic," the Professor replied, "at least, not naturally. And yes, he has broken from Carolyn, but that, like his pain, was neither of their doing. She was forced to leave him, but his current condition indicates they still have some kind of bond. It's very likely a clue to her own situation."
"She's in that Henderson House?"
"Yes," David said. "She's been living there with a man called Nicholas Blair, and this chick called Anissa, but Anissa's gone now."
"I remember seeing her around," Buzz said. "She even came to my shop. She cleared out fast when Louise came home in her Karate robes."
"Anyway," David continued, "Nicholas made Carolyn get engaged to him."
"And tonight's the wedding," the Professor said.
"Well," Buzz said sympathetically, "that's tough, but the lady does have a long history of changing her mind P.D.Q. about that institution."
"This isn't quite the same thing as an ordinary jilting, or an ordinary wedding, Buzz," Elliot said. "I had hesitated to take you into our full confidence, but you may be a help, at that. We believe that what ever Nicholas and Anissa have done, or are doing in that house right now, is the true reason the children became sick, and, if this wedding goes forth, Sarah Teresa Loomis will die."
"I-- I can't believe that junk!" Buzz gasped.
"Buzz, you're a native of this area, are you not?" Elliot asked.
"Sure am. My folks go back a long way around here. I even have some Indian blood, on my Mom's side," Buzz said proudly.
"That may be an advantage," Elliot said. "So, as a Collinsporter, you know the legends and rumors. Well, accept them as fact, this one night, at least. We have to move fast, and that's where your motorcycle may come in handy."
"Hey!" Buzz protested. "It's not fully paid for!"
"I'LL pay you for it," David shouted. "Are you with us, or not?"
Buzz asked nervously, "What about Louise and the kids?"
"We will give you the safest assignment we can think of," Elliot assured him. "I can guarantee, though, if we succeed, your sons' recovery will be total, as will Sarah Teresa's."
"Okay, okay! I believe! What happens now? Does Tinkerbell come back to life?" Buzz pointed at Tony. "And what about him? Carolyn's HIS girl, after all."
"Please, let me come," Tony drawled. "I won' interrupt--- I'll watch!"
"Well, if he could find the place in the dark, drunk as a sailor, in the first place, he may be of some use as a spotter," Elliot said. "But no noise, Tony!"
Mrs. Johnson came running from the kitchen passage, clutching a mug whose steaming contents she kept from spilling with her bare hand. "Quick, Tony, drink this," she urged breathlessly. "Sorry it took so long."
"We haven't time," Elliot said, glancing at his watch.
"I had a drunken sailor for a husband," the housekeeper said sternly, as she watched the intoxicated lawyer chug the cup's contents. "Tony won't be able to move, otherwise."
In a minute, Tony finished the coffee. "Okay," he said in a slightly steadier voice. "Let's get out there."
As the four men ran out the oaken doors, Elliot asked David, "Just
what DOES she put in that coffee?"
"Damned if I know," the younger man said. "But it always works. Ask my Dad!" He looked behind, to see his father emerge from the house, bearing a rifle.
Roger panted, "Sorry I'm late. I had to load the gun."
"Who did you plan to shoot, Roger?" Elliot asked.
"Well, I KNOW this won't work against my former brother-in-law, that much you've dunned into me! But the man who attacked Hallie and the other girls is still at large. Who knows where he'll turn up next?"
"All right, it's too late to put it back, and it's hardly safe to just drop it," Elliot concluded.
"What's he doing out here?" Roger asked, indicating Buzz.
"He's joined our band, and we're glad to have him," Elliot said. "He has a most valuable piece of artillery. And, now that I think about it, you will fit right in with the plans I'm making for it."
Elliot gave some instructions to Buzz and the reluctant Roger, who clung tightly to his rifle, as they mounted the Harley. "Find that tunnel door, and try to break in!"
"And watch out for green lights!" Tony shouted. He no longer sounded drunk at all.
"I know! Elizabeth told me already!" Roger yelled, as Buzz fired up the engines, and zoomed down the road.
Elliot lead the others down the path to the lookout point between the Great House and the Old House. In single file, he, David, and Tony trooped down to the Henderson house.
"No green lights, yet," Tony observed.
"Either Nicholas is extremely distracted, or something's lurking," Elliot said. "I'd bet on the latter--- What!" he shouted.
David had stopped dead in his tracks. "I see--- I see her," he whispered fearfully.
"Who do you see, David?" Elliot asked. "Not Anissa, surely. Her spirit's quite busy at the hospital now, trying to destroy your God-daughter."
"No," the shivering teenager said. "I see my mother. . . She's--she's burning!" His "special" mother stood before him, writhing in agony, as flames licked at the robe he remembered she wore when she--when she DIED! He remembered everything now! She WAS dead! Well, not yet. There was still a chance to save her, even though her blistered flesh was starting to char and flake from her outstretched arms. "Can't you see her? She's crying to me! She's in pain! I have to--to save her!" David perspired so heavily, the sheen on his face was visible in the moonlight. "Vicky stopped me from saving her before---NO! I HATE HER! SHE LET MY MOTHER DIE!" He sank to his knees, and wept brokenly. "Mother. . . she let you die. . ."
Elliot said, soothingly, "David, this isn't the time to experience a buried memory! It's an ILLUSION! And you didn't hate Vicky Winters for saving you that time! Your mother was trying to kill you!" He shook the young man's shoulders. "Dear God, I wish Roger was with us, after all. He could tell you all about your mother---"
"And his stepmother," Tony said. "She's here. Cassandra." There was something wrong with Cassandra. Her glossy black hair had turned white, and her bright ocean-blue eyes peered from rheumy sockets sunk in a wrinkled visage. Her arms, once so welcoming to him, were shaking as she reached for him. She, too, was crying. "Why can't you see her?"
"THIS IS FALSE!" Elliot yelled. A wailing noise now caught his attention. He turned to his right. Two figures, male and female, horribly burned and mangled, clawed at the air with handless arms. They approached him on footless legs. An ear was missing from the man's head. The woman's nose and one eye were gone, leaving gaping, bloody holes. "Herbert. . . Emily. . ." Elliot whimpered, recognizing his brother and sister-in-law, as they must have appeared after their plane crash. He had never actually viewed their remains; the bodies, identified by dental records, were already sealed in their caskets before their arrival back in Collinsport.
"We want to see our baby!" the Emily figure demanded shrilly. "We know where she is! We are going to see her!"
"And you can't stop us, you HEATHEN!" Herbert shouted spitefully. "You can't raise her to be a heathen too!"
"NO!" Elliot screamed. "You CAN'T see Hallie as you are! It will KILL her as dead as the both of you! She's an EXCELLENT Christian, despite, or perhaps because of my influence and tutelage! If you truly loved her, you CANNOT destroy her! She's been hurt too many times already!" As he spoke, he reached into his pocket for a cross, but recalled, to his dismay, that he'd left it at the Mausoleum.
David still knelt before the image of the late Laura Collins that only he could see. His head was bowed in despair. At that moment, Elliot caught sight of a cross dangling from David's neck, the one Cellie had given him for his birthday. "David!" Elliot hissed. "Give me your crucifix, and I shall make everything better."
At first, he thought the despondent Collins heir hadn't heard him, lost in his hellish grief. Elliot touched the boy on the shoulder. Without a word, David handed him the vermeil cross. Elliot forced himself to look away from the vision of his dead brother and sister-in-law. With an effort, he raised the cross aloft. "Remember when you respected this symbol, Herbert? Emily?" The figures quailed visibly. "Perhaps you are not they! I have no doubt they went straight to the Paradise they believed in, and that is a place from which NOBODY returns!"
He turned in the general direction, where he thought the invisible figures of Laura Collins and Cassandra must have been standing. The cross alone might not work on them. "If Angelique is near, let she who was Cassandra, and who stood in opposition to Laura, appear, and dispell these illusions, if she can!" He didn't have long to wait. The blonde spirit materialized around the image of her former self in its death throes. Elliot could see the crone clearly in Angelique's robe. The being dissipated immediately. Then, Angelique stood before Laura, whom Elliot could now view with ease. He heard the spirit utter some kind of incantation in Egyptian. Laura's image flared and vanished. Angelique said to Elliot, "You are fortunate to have gotten me. I have much to do this night. You are on your own from now on." She disappeared.
David slowly rose to his feet, aided by Tony. The three men continued their journey to the gate of the Henderson House. They were startled by yet another figure, carrying a flashlight who popped out from behind a bush. "Who are you?" Elliot demanded. "Are you a man or a spirit?"
"It's me, sir," the man said humbly. "Charles Plavnicky."
Elliot touched him with David's cross. The man didn't flinch. "You ARE Charles Plavnicky," the Professor announced with relief. "What on Earth are you doing here, this late at night?"
"I must keep an eye on this place," Charles answered. "Ever since my grand-niece was stricken, I have felt that the disease emanated from this house. Even though she's getting better, the doctors say she is deaf! It killed me to see my nephew and his wife, and my poor brother and my mother weep over it. . . Even my son showed up. He's little Bertie's God-father, and he cried too." He began to sniffle himself. "I believe God told me to come here, and wait, because I saw almost as much of this place as Cecily did. They tried to drive me away--- They made me see my late wife, with the tubes hanging from her arms, the way she looked in the hospital just before she died. She only just went away a few minutes ago. Now I can show you where to go."
"All right, Charles. Show us," Elliot said.
Charles aimed his flashlight at the mortared stones of the foundation on the right side of the house. He carefully slid the beam down to where a metal door was barely visible. "Looks new, doesn't it?" he asked.
"That must be an emergency exit," Elliot said. "Cellie thought it could only be opened from the inside."
"We can go closer. I walked up the road earlier today, and studied the layout of the front. I was surprised when no-one disturbed me."
"Our friends are headed there now," Tony said. They all could hear the roar of the Harley coming up the road in front of the Henderson House.
"But it would help if you showed us, too," Elliot said.
"Okay. I'll take you, Professor, sir."
"Very well. David, you know what you must do."
"Don't you worry, Professor, I've been doing that almost as long as Willie did."
"Doing what?" Tony asked.
"Breaking into houses."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Buzz slowly guided the Harley up the private dirt road that led to the Henderson place. "This sure takes me back," he said, almost wistfully, to his companion. "Me and the Pirates would go up and down this road all hours of the night. Bugged the Hell out of Old Keeze Henderson."
"Must you spend this tense time reminiscing about your semi-criminal past, Hackett?" Roger fumed. "And, to boast about harrassing a helpless old lady!"
"She wasn't helpless! She used to chase after us from her front lawn, in her granny-dress and toting a deer rifle, trying to pick us off! It was exciting as Hell, as much for her as it was for us, I'll bet."
"I've heard that you applied to the Chamber of Commerce, Hackett. I'm sure that they'd be delighted to hear these quaint little anecdotes, as they consider your application!"
"That's why I put my father-in-law's name on the papers, Mr. C.,"
Buzz informed him. "If we live through this, my cycle shop will be part of Baracini Enterprises,
"Now, that IS clever," Roger admitted grudgingly. "Just what I would have done!"
Suddenly, Buzz cut the lights on the motorcycle. "I don't know what kind of voodoo your brother-in-law is up to, but I don't want to make us easy to spot."
"I hope that's a good strategy," Roger said. "Have you any idea where this tunnel entrance is, and can you find it in the dark, even with the moon out?"
"Maybe. I sort of recall, just before my accident years ago, that we found a big wooden door stuck in the dirt just before you get to the beach path. We tried to bust in, but there was a big lock hanging from it. We just figured it was Old Keeze's bomb shelter, or something. We gave up on it. After that one time, I fell off my Hog, and that was the end of my Pirate days."
"Was your memory of its location erased when you hit your head?"
"I'm not sure. Even back then, it was hidden by beach-berry bushes. . . I wish it was daylight. I could probably zero right in on it."
"You have me to help."
Buzz parked the Harley at the end of the lane. After he and Roger dismounted (Roger had trouble walking; he used the butt-end of his rifle as a walking stick handle) Buzz pulled a couple of tiny, slim flashlights from his toolbox. With lights in hand, he and Roger trudged into the frosty brush. They pulled back the early-budding branches of bushes along the side of an embankment, searching for the old door. Buzz picked up a fallen tree-limb, and tapped around. Finally, he and Roger heard a dull, wooden thud. They quickly peeled back the bushes obscuring the source of the sound. "That's it, man," Buzz said, as the old door, with its lock intact, was revealed.
"Even if we get in," Roger wondered, "how can we be sure the tunnel won't cave in? That tunnel has to be at least one hundred years old, maybe more, if it was, indeed, used by runaway slaves."
"See the lock, Mr. C.?" Buzz asked, pointing. The lock on the door looked brand-new. "Someone must still use this tunnel. If they're not afraid of it's falling in, then I guess we shouldn't." He ran back to get some tools from his Harley. After Buzz had stuck half-a-dozen screwdrivers into the keyhole, Roger said, "Don't waste any more time. Now I know why I brought this gun." He and the cycle-shop owner stood back a few feet. Buzz trained his flashlight beam on the large, heavy lock, as Roger took aim. The sound of the shot echoed off the large boulders that stood along the path to the ocean cove. When the smoke cleared, the two men gave brief shouts of triumph.
The lock was broken in half, and the door stood ajar. Buzz and Roger peered in timidly. Buzz aimed his light down the tunnel. "Seems straight enough. I think I can see a door at the end. And guess what? No spiderwebs, or fallen rocks, or anything. Yeah, somebody's been in here lately, all right." He pointed to shoeprints on the dirt floor of the tunnel.
"I pray that whoever made those prints wasn't just standing there, moments ago, listening to my gunshot," Roger said. "It could probably be heard from Collinwood."
"This tunnel must lead to Old Keeze's cellar. If anybody's in there, I doubt they heard. Let's go in."
"I thought you were afraid on account of possibly getting killed, and earning Nicholas's vengeance on your loved ones," Roger said.
"What would you have said if I told you, 'just go on ahead by yourself'?"
"Of course. You're right, Hackett. I'm sorry I've misjudged you.
Come to think of it. . . I'd like to say one thing to you, before we face God-knows what. Perhaps you would have made a good husband for Carolyn, and father for her children, after all, if this is what you're willing to risk for both her sake, and that of your own children."
"Don't get all mushy on me, just yet, Mr. C." Buzz entered the tunnel first, pivoting his flashlight beam all around.
The tunnel had been hollowed out of a gravelly space between flat sections of a glacial deposit. The dirt roof, supported by heavy boards (some of which appeared to be recently-installed reinforcements), and a network of tree roots, seemed sturdy enough, though, as Buzz had observed, drifts of powdered dirt had sifted to the floor, allowing for traces of footprints. And there were many footprints, both of men's and women's shoes.
Roger, who was quite the Sherlock Holmes buff, stooped for a moment to study some of the tracks before them. "Most of the men's tracks are small, and they resemble some of my better Italian shoes," he said. "Nicholas favored Guccis, if I'm not mistaken. And those clumpy bootprints. . ."
"That Anissa wore these tough-looking cowboy-type boots, like she was used to trotting around some pretty rough turf," Buzz replied. "Pretty wierd for such a hot mama, I thought. I suggested some slick black boots."
"Spare me your fashion advice, Hackett. Well, we've established that those two have used this tunnel extensively. I was just thinking, though. . .There's a set of men's prints unlike Nicholas's, rather large. I recall the suspicions that Nicholas may have had something to do with Barnabas's disappearance. These do look like something he'd wear, but they vanish completely at certain points. Perhaps this may turn out to be a double rescue."
"Let's get on with this, man," Buzz said nervously. "Time's a-wasting."
They proceeded with caution. At every step, another wisp of dirt showered down. Still, there were all the supports, and the boulders in places along the walls. Roger strode ahead, telling himself that the dirtfalls were nothing more than stress relievers built into the tunnel system.
Finally, they stood before a wooden door similar to the one they'd entered near the beach. There was no lock on it, but it was flush to the stone foundation of the Henderson House, like the one they'd seen outside. "A dead end," Roger harrumphed quietly, fearful of being heard by whoever was inside the door.
Outside, above their heads, they could hear distinct voices. They heard Charles's earnest whisper. "Feel this grate," he said. "Very warm."
"I see smoke," came Elliot's soft reply. "An underground fireplace?"
Roger felt the door ahead of them. It was very warm, also. The warmth radiated into the close space around himself and Buzz. He had to signal to the others above them, without shouting. He gently tapped the rock wall alongside them. More dirt floated down.
"What's that?" Elliot asked.
"We two," Roger said as loudly as he dared. "We've found a door, but it has no knob."
"Don't attempt to enter. I believe you're on the thresh-hold of the ritual room." Elliot quickly gave instructions. "Let me begin the counter-ritual first," he said. "That will protect you through your part in this." They could hear him reciting what, at first, sounded like a standard prayer, but soon turned into an invocation to excorcism. "I implore the Powers above to intervene, and bring an end to this Infernal ceremony which is most abhorrent to Thee, if it be Thy Will that Thy creations not be subject to the trials that will surely follow. Give us a sign, that Thou wilt stand against He who was once Thy most favored Angel, and is now Thy greatest Enemy, and yet, necessary to Thy Plans. If these events do NOT fit into Thy inscrutable Divine Will, we, Thy humble servants, await Thy pleasure. . ."
Harsh, ragged screams issued forth from behind the underground door. Roger panicked, and began clawing at the door frantically. He was about to call Carolyn's name, when Buzz put his hand over the older man's mouth, and held it firmly. "You're gonna blow it, man," he hissed. "This is where I come in."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Nicholas brought his knife down, but missed Carolyn's heart. Instead, he slashed her along her ribcage. Angered, he put down the knife, and slapped her again. She lay still, and he raised the knife over her again. "Master, make my aim true!" he intoned. Again, Carolyn came to, and managed to jerk around. This time, she was rewarded with a deeper wound in her abdomen. There was now blood all over the silk sheets, and the floor. Carolyn now lay, trying not to gasp or pant, in an effort to stem the flow of blod that spurted from her wounds with every heartbeat. "I'm going to bleed to death," she moaned.
"It's YOUR fault!" Nicholas shouted. "This could have been so simple. . . It will be messy, but I can complete the ritual. . ." He lifted the knife again, but his hands shook. There was something about the scene that disturbed him in some deep recess of his mind, though he'd performed other such sacrifices. He closed his mind to the disturbance, and tightened his grip on the knife.
There came a roar from the direction of the fireplace. "ENOUGH! THERE WILL BE NO WEDDING OR TRANSFERENCE THIS NIGHT!"
"But, Master," Nicholas pleaded, knife still in hand. "Surely you are not deterred by this trivial bit of resistance, or the presence of a little extra blood. . . This HAS happened before---"
"We are NOT alone!" the voice snarled. "I can feel the power of Light about me! That is YOUR fault, Nicholas! You have been far too confident of success. It has made you heedless and arrogant. AND ONLY ONE OF US IS PERMITTED SUCH PRESUMPTION!"
"It's not too late," Nicholas wheedled. "A few minutes remain. . ."
"Too many mistakes," the voice said, almost regretfully. "You chose a consort who would be most likely to resist you, instead of the One for whom you were destined. 'Too much like the first One,' you protested. You did not learn your lesson about the futility of such sentimentality during your time with Margaret Evans. You did not learn the proper use of revenge during your time with the Leviathans. You went over My Head in regards to Desiree, and now, she is forever lost to Our cause! And here, you offer Me a butchered carcass to satisfy My lust! How repulsive! Hardly worth the trouble to heal! She is now suitable for nothing more than a propitiary offering. And propitiate Me you MUST, because it will soon be all over for you, Nicholas!"
"I CANNOT! The One of whom you speak has been destined for a far different fate. It is too late to interfere!"
"It had better not be, Nicholas! Or, perhaps I should say, Nathaniel! For, until you get the Other back, you will be ever- increasingly subject to the frailties attendant on the human condition you were once allowed to leave behind. Now, complete this sacrifice, and do as you've been told!"
"Yes, Master." Nicholas raised his knife one more time. His Master's beady yellow eyes shone clearly from the face now visible in the fire. Then all at once, He vanished. Nicholas had an idea about who was interrupting the ritual, but hastened to complete it; the sacrifice would be just as valid without the Infernal Presence.
"Nicholas," Carolyn pleaded, "I'm almost. . . almost dead. It doesn't hurt anymore. . . Let me die easy. . ."
"NO! HE HAS DECREED----" Nicholas stopped short. Whose voice was that? And from whence had it come? He hadn't even thought of his son's name, but he knew that voice. "Ock-Wen-Uck. . ."
"Nathaniel," Ock-Wen-Uck said mournfully, "Have a care. I am near. I will avenge the death of the Golden-haired one, as I will my daughter's, and all the deaths you've brought about, when you fail. . ."
"IT CAN'T BE OCK-WEN-UCK! THIS IS A TRICK! I KNOW YOU'RE SOMEWHERE NEAR, STOKES!"
"You have no power over me, Nathaniel," Ock-Wen-Uck intoned.
"Perhaps you have NO power anymore. . ."
Nicholas was truly afraid now. Without the special resistance his many powers had given him, he might slip up and say the name at any time. . . Maybe, he wasn't totally without power. . . Maybe, if he worked up the nerve to finish Carolyn off. . . He glanced at her. She wasn't breathing. She was already dead! The ritual would now be forever incomplete. He backed away from his altar, and ran to the bolted door.
* * * * * * * * * * *
David had some trouble getting the locks open. He'd managed to pop two out of five. Time was running out. "Willie never had a chance to show me what to do with these dead-bolt things. I'm going to break the glass," he said, finally.
"You don't think the door's alarmed, do you?" Tony asked doubtfully.
"If it was, the joint would be swarming with cops already," David shrugged. "You didn't really think Old Nick would actually have wanted to do business with silly human police, do you?"
"I suppose not. I am wondering why we haven't been interrupted, as we were on the hill, before."
"The way I figure it, every beast has moments at which he or she can't help being vulnerable. When they mate, when they give birth, when they're ill and alone. . . Those are the times it's easiest to grab them. Nicholas must be having one of those times now, I guess." David put on his taut leather driving glove, and broke the glass on the door, about a foot above the location of the locks. He brushed the shards away, and reached in, to turn the bolts. "There, Tony," he said. "You can pretend you didn't see that."
"I won't be able to see anything until I see Carolyn."
"You'll become one of us crazy Collinses yet, with that attitude, Tony."
"Nothing else I'd rather be at this point, David," the lawyer said sincerely. He followed David, as they both tip-toed down the cellar steps.
"Pickle jars. The Professor said, look for the pickle jars." They examined the jars on the shelves. At the far end, on the left. . . "Dills and gherkins!" David whispered excitedly. "And there's the door!"
They peeked into a deep alcove between the pickle shelves. There WAS a door, barely visible behind the innermost rack.
"How can there be anyone in there?" Tony wondered. "The shelves are intact!"
"Well, there COULD be a door IN the room itself, but I doubt it, or Willie would have mentioned it to the Professor," David said. "All I can say is, think of the kind of guy Nicholas is, and what he's capable of. That would probably include zapping the shelves back into place after he went into that room."
They listened carefully, and heard voices; three, to be exact. They recognized Nicholas's sharp, tones, Carolyn's weak pleading, and a gruff, angry, scolding voice they didn't recognize. That voice faded, and then, they heard a fainter one. "That sounds like Buzz!" Tony exclaimed.
"SH-SH-SH!" David admonished. They heard Nicholas, whose own tone had assumed a pleading, whining pitch. Carolyn could no longer be heard. They crouched in another alcove, and waited.
A minute later, Nicholas burst from the room, dashing the pickle-jar-laden shelves across the cellar, right in front of where David and Tony crouched just out of his view. He ran up the steps, pell-mell, his hands over his face, glancing off the walls in his headlong rush upstairs.
When they were sure he was completely gone from the cellar, David and Tony cautiously approached the door, trying to avoid the broken glass and rancid pickles rolling about. What they saw in the sputtering candlelight made them both sick. David retched through his tears of heart-break and rage. "We got here in time, we got here in time," he said stupidly. "He's gone ahead, and killed her. . ."
"CAROLYN!" Tony cried in anguish, no longer caring if he was heard. He rushed to his former fiancee's side, and used one of the knives on the small table to cut her bonds. He lifted her lifeless, blood-soaked body, and cradled her head to his chest. He kissed and stroked her matted hair, also stained with congealing blood. "I'm sorry! I'm so sorry we didn't get here sooner. . ."
"It probably wouldn't have made any difference," David sighed. Suddenly, he heard his father's voice. He looked around. There was no other door, only a tiny fireplace. He poked his head out of the door to the room. There was only a wall of open shelves separating this alcove, from the one right next to it. David could make out the shape of another door, behind another rack of shelves. The voice came from behind the door. David automatically began to remove the shelves, with the same finesse with which Nicholas had scattered the others when he ran from the hidden room. Jars of preserves, left over from Keziah Henderson's time, hit the hard-packed dirt floor and shattered. The jellies within seeped into the ground.
"Tony! David!" Roger called. "Is that you? Let us in! You must push the door out!"
David unbolted the door, and pushed it into the tunnel passage. Roger rushed in, followed closely by Buzz. Before David had a chance to prepare them, they burst into the hidden room. "Oh. . . Oh, Dear God!" Roger said sadly. He hovered by Tony, who still clasped Carolyn in his arms. "Liz will die when she knows about this," the distraught uncle wept, as he held Carolyn's still-warm hand. "I want to die, now."
Buzz strode up to where his former girlfriend lay. He gazed on her with a practiced eye.
"What are you staring at, Hackett?" Roger demanded.
"I may not be a doctor, but I've been in on a few switchblade fights. I've seen dead, and I've seen near-dead, and I had to help take care of the ones in-between." Buzz gently pulled some of the shredded material of Carolyn's nightclothes away, and studied the wounds. Then, he touched her chest, above her heart. There was a soggy, smelly yellow glop smeared across it, but he could feel the faintest beat beneath his fingers. "She's still here, but we gotta hurry to the hospital," he announced. "There's a long cut just on her ribs, but there's a deep one in her belly that's bad. I can patch it up so she won't lose more blood." He tore at the cleaner sections of the black silk, and stanched the bleeding.
Carolyn opened her eyes, and stared up at Tony. "Sweetheart, thank God," Tony breathed. "We're going to get you out of here now, and you'll be okay."
"He-- he was gonna cut me up for his Master!" Carolyn whimpered in a little girl's voice. "He didn't wan' me for his wife anymore, and the Master said, the Master said---" She began to sob, which proved painful to her wounds. "Hurts so much, now. . ."
"Sh-sh-sh," Tony said, kissing her. "Don't cry, or you'll feel worse. You can tell me later."
"Sorry I scared you," she sighed, her sobs ebbing. "He was gonna finish me off, so I played dead. Then when I heard you come in, I couldn't-- couldn't wake up right away."
"It's not your fault, Carolyn. You are badly hurt. Your being here in the first place isn't your fault. He set us both up. He knew you wanted to protect all of us, so he threatened you. And, what's more, I don't blame you for whatever else you did with him."
"Tony," she whispered, "something real importen' you should know. . . In case I die. . .Nicholas. . . and me. . . we didn't--- we didn't. . . not even once. It was trick. . . Drugged me. . . Made me believe. . ."
Tony felt his instinctive elation at this news was terribly inappropriate, so he tried to change the subject. "Don't worry about it, one way or the other, Carolyn. We have to get you out of here. I'm not sure it would be safe to call an ambulance to come here. . . We have to take you to Collinwood first."
David offered, "I can run back up the hill, and alert the household. The ambulance will be there by the time you get her home." He went up the cellar steps, then he stopped suddenly. "I thought Nicholas had up and left the house," he said. "But I hear him upstairs, saying his prayers to his Master. . ."
"No power. He has. . . no power. Not any more. . ." Carolyn said.
"Well, we still don't want to run into him. He's hopping mad, from the sound of it," David said.
"Let's look around for that emergency door, David," Elliot suggested. They made a quick circle of the cellar, tossing jars from the shelves with abandon, until it stood revealed--- with a heavy padlock holding it closed, bigger than the one Roger had shot from the tunnel doorback at the beach. He didn't want to make that kind of racket, possibly attracting his brother-in-law's attention, if it was going to prove futile anyway.
"Damn! We'll have to go back with her through the tunnel," Roger declared grimly. "I can see the door to the garage, but opening the garage door itself would make quite a noise, and likely bring him back downstairs. You all go on ahead, and I'll cover your backs. If Nicholas DOES come after us in the tunnel, and he's mortal as you say, then I'll make short work of him with the rifle."
Tony lifted Carolyn carefully in his arms. When he got to the tunnel passage, he discovered, to his horrified dismay, that the passage was too narrow to carry the wounded woman out as he'd intended. "Carolyn," he asked, "Can you walk at all, do you think?"
"Not a good idea, even if she can, Tony," Buzz warned. "Tell you what. You take her feet. I'll hold the rest of her, 'cause I'm still not sure you're all over your little bender. You might trip on a stone or something. It'll be slow, but not as slow as getting her to walk. It won't be anywhere near as slow as if she walked a bit, and then fell over." The two men picked Carolyn up, and made their formation. David walked ahead of Tony, guiding them with his flashlight. Elliot realized his still-considerable bulk might have some use as a human shield, so he positioned himself between Buzz and Roger, who, the last in the procession, walked half-sideways and half-backwards, his gun aimed back at the door. David said "Let's get the Hell out of here," and they slowly began their march.
Elliot became anxious as his big shoulders rubbed the rough sides of the tunnel, causing tiny showers of dirt and small pebbles, but assumed, as Roger and Buzz had, that the tunnel was fortified to absorb these disturbances. It was also harder for him to breathe. Even so, he kept moving, and kept peeking over and around those before him, keeping his eye on the beam of David's flashlight, which seemed so distant, yet couldn't be more than six or seven feet ahead of him.
The group made it about two-thirds of the way through the tunnel when disaster struck. The Professor stumbled a little, and put his hand on the tunnel wall to steady himself. A loose chunk of dirt, containing a rock, fell from the roof of the tunnel and hit Buzz in the head. He collapsed, dropping Carolyn, who cried out in pain. The jostling in the tunnel made more dirt and rocks fall.
Elliot and Tony clambered over to protect Carolyn, though the former feared his efforts would cause more problems. It was too late for Buzz. Elliot shook him, but the former biker remained unresponsive. "I hate to leave him, but we'll come back for him when Carolyn's safely out," Roger announced regretfully.
"No, Father, I'll stay with him," David offered.
"I'm sorry David, but we need you to run for help. I doubt that there will be a total cave-in, and I shut the door behind us, so Nicholas shouldn't discover him right away. We'll tell Charles. He or Elliot can stay with him until we return."
Roger handed the gun to his son, and scooped Carolyn off the ground. The exit to the tunnel was soon within sight. When the rescue party emerged from the tunnel, they found the faithful Charles awaiting them. "You must go back in there, and see if you can wake Buzz," Roger said to him. "He was hit with a falling rock, and he's just unconscious. We need to get my niece up to Collinwood."
Tony was now able to lift Carolyn in his arms, and told Roger, "I think I can handle her on my own. David will help me if I need him to. You go back in there, and get poor Buzz out." He carefully followed David up a beach pathway that led to Widow's Hill, and back to the Great House.
Elliot said, "I doubt I could fit back through the tunnel--- the truth is, I fear that I caused this accident, and may make matters worse. In any case, I have to report to Julia, and return with her to the hospital to see what effect this has had on Sarah Teresa and the other children who are having trouble recovering."
"Go on, then," Roger said, without resentment. "Given that Nicholas has apparently been stripped of his power, I'm not terribly worried--- my rifle wasn't damaged. And Elliot, try to console my sister. We did our best, and we got there as fast as we could. Who knew that Nicholas would lose control, and that things would come to this pass?"
Roger followed Charles back into the tunnel. They knelt by Buzz. Each took turns trying to revive him. "Dear Lord," Roger said, "that rock must have been heavier than I thought. He may have a concussion! We'll have to drag him out. Then you can go up to Collinwood and get another ambulance."
The two older men sweated and struggled and gasped as they lugged the dead weight of the younger man along the rough dirt path inside the tunnel. They yanked him out onto the frosty grass. "Go quickly, now, Charles," Roger urged. "I'll guard him with my rifle."
The other man ran up the path he'd seen the others take, but he was unfamiliar with Widow's Hill. He ran into bushes, and lost sight of the great House. Worse, he was beyond the area of the safety rail. Something fluttered near his face. He backed away from the large, dark object which had startled him. His heart, already strained, began to pound and skip in turn.
The dark object had returned, and hovered near him. It was a bat! That fact alone wouldn't have frightened Charles; he knew there were bats around the area, but he'd never seen one so large, like a raven. He turned away, to catch his breath. He rose slowly, trying to ignore the insistent creature. When he'd risen, he glanced back at it. What he saw made his heart lurch painfully. "That can't be," he whispered. "An animal can't turn into a man. . ." He recognized the man. "Oh, My God. Mr. Collins. . ."
Barnabas had alighted with every intention of gaining another victim. The townswomen were staying home in droves these days, and he didn't want to use Lester up, just yet, especially since he was out doing the very special favor Barnabas had requested. But when he saw the thin, weak cannery foreman cringing before him, he was filled with a kind of contemptuous pity. He leaned toward Charles Plavnicky, with the simple intention of hypnotizing him into forgetfulness. Unfortunately, he opened his mouth, and Charles caught sight of his fangs.
"No, please, don't hurt me," he pleaded, backing off. "I was just helping save your cous---AAAAHAAAH!" He disappeared over the exposed part of the cliff. In his last moments, he was too terrified to even think of the possible afterlife that had once so preoccupied him. The only mercy fate showed him, was that his heart stopped before he hit the boulders.
"NO!" Barnabas cried, heedless of who might hear him. Now, he HAD killed, and he didn't even mean to! It was becoming more and more like the old days. He heard Roger in the distance, shouting to Charles and struggling up the cliffside. He resumed the bat form, and flew back to his hiding place, where Lester must surely have brought the object of his desire. That would help him forget what he'd just done.
Roger stumbled to the ledge, nearly falling off it himself. "Charles? Charles?" he called. Strange, he thought he'd heard Barnabas's voice as well. But there was nobody on the cliff now. Perhaps Charles had picked his way from here to the house, after all. Just on the chance, the awful chance that Charles had gone over the side, Roger aimed his flash-light beam over the ledge. . . "No," he mourned, as he studied the rocks below. "To have survived all that, and to end like this. . ." He got up and hurried back to his home, to call the ambulance for Buzz, and the Harbor Patrol to pluck Charles's battered body from the rocks below.
Cellie sat, cradling her daughter's still body. Willie sat very close to his wife and child, but he only touched Sarah Teresa. He longed to take his wife on his lap, and lay her head onhis shoulder, but he was still afraid of her reaction. He had to content himself with bringing her all the black coffee she wanted, following the motions of her hands with his own as she tried to massage the unconscious baby, and touching her hair surreptitiously when she was looking the other way.
It was this tableau of seeming intimacy that Virginia Hurley saw when she came into the room. She announced, almost regretfully, "Cellie, Willie. . . As long as Sarah Teresa shows some sign of life, I MUST put her back on life-support. And Pavlos will be in here again, soon. Though I would prefer he NOT come in contact with the baby, he's convinced me it's necessary, so I'm going to pump him up with a heart stimulant, and pray it holds him during his next visit."
"It won't work," Cellie replied. "It's way too late. My mother shouldn't have to lose her husband and her grandchild in one night."
Virginia looked into Willie's eyes, and saw almost the same degree of resignation to fate. . .
"No, Cecily," he said suddenly, with an assertiveness that appeared to surprise himself as much as it did the doctor and his wife. "Let them put her back on the machines, and pump her up some, and then let Pavlos finish. He couldn't live with himself if he didn't at least give it a shot, and he can't live with that spirit in him for too long anyway."
Cellie gazed down at Sarah Teresa. The baby opened her eyes for the briefest moment, and looked into her mother's eyes. "Okay," Cellie assented tonelessly. "I guess she wants to stay on the planet a while yet."
The doctor laid the infant in the bassinet and affixed the various tubes herself. Then, there was a sudden buzz on the speaker, and a nurse's voice rang out. "Doctor Hurley to Emergency, STAT!" Virginia ran from the room.
"I wonder what emergency that could be, now," Willie said. "I guess a car accident. Whoever it is will sure have the most attention from the docs and nurses, with most of the hospital empty. You want me to see what's going on?" he asked.
Cellie watched their daughter's chest rise and fall with assisted breaths. "I guess she'll hold on for now. Yes, go on, and get me more coffee, please."
"You could use something to eat, my girl--- sorry. I won't call you that. But you haven't eaten since before the-- the Antique Shoppe, I guess. All that black coffee's gonna melt a hole right through your stomach."
"I couldn't keep anything down, even if I was hungry," Cellie replied. "If this is a roundabout way of telling me YOU'RE hungry, go ahead and eat, if you can. I won't get mad."
"I AM hungry", Willie said, "but I'm worried about YOU. I know you don't believe it, but you gotta admit, I always tried to take good care of you, 'specially when when you were pregnant, and when you were hurt."
"I know," his wife conceded.
"I can't do anything for our Peanut right now, but I can do something for you. If you don't eat, you'll pass out, and you won't be able to help her either, or at least--- at least stay up with her until. . . Anyway, maybe you want some crackers to settle your stomach first?"
"Yes, Will. And, on second thought, instead of coffee, see if you can get me some weak tea, with a little cream."
"Good. I'll be back in a while," Willie said, instinctively reaching out to touch Cellie's face in passing. Just as instinctively, she recoiled. He shrugged, and left the room.
Willie headed towards the emergency entrance. He watched the ambulance crew carry in their burden. At first, he didn't see the face of the victim. Then, he sank into a doorway, as the gurney was wheeled into an examination cubicle. He glimpsed a filthy shock of blonde hair, a tiny, white face. . . "Carolyn!" he thought with amazement. Somehow, the Professor, David, and their helpers had pulled it off, and got her away from Nicholas, but barely alive, it appeared.
He saw Elizabeth Stoddard, supported by her faithful brother Roger, tottering in through the door, and led down the row of cubicles, until they found the right one. Then, he came into the waiting area at last, to greet the rest of the denizens of Collinwood. Even Mrs. Johnson had come, hovering and fussing over Julia, who looked ill again, for the first time since her miraculous recovery. To Willie's surprise, he saw Lester Arliss enter as well. The Sheriff was busy inter-viewing Elliot, David, and Tony, who seemed to have aged twenty years since Willie had last seen him.
Another siren blast--- "They're bringing in the second one!" the doctor in charge (who Willie didn't recognize) announced, as the remaining staff members gathered around the ambulance bay.
The "second one" turned out to be Buzz, who lay, groaning and rubbing his dirt-covered, curly helmet of hair. "Where's Louise? How are my kids?" he moaned, as he was rushed into another cubicle.
"There's one more," the doctor said, this time in a subdued tone.
"We need a family member to-- to identify the remains. . . NOT his mother, or even his brother. His son or his nephew. . ."
That ambulance arrived without fanfare. Willie watched with the Collinwood group, as the body-bagged corpse was whisked in the direction of the hospital morgue. "Who?" he whispered to David fearfully. "Not Nicholas?"
"Don't we all wish!" David replied sadly. "No, it's poor old Charlie Plavnicky. Somehow, he fell off Widow's Hill while we were escaping from Nicholas's house. As for Nicholas, well, the last we heard of him, he was pissed off that we wrecked his wedding, but he stayed away from us. Maybe he's gone for good, now. He almost hacked my cousin to bits, but Buzz did a little biker first-aid, and she might make it."
"Is Buzz gonna be okay?"
"Yeah. He just took a nasty knock in the head when we were getting Carolyn out this crazy tunnel running from the Henderson place. Falling rock."
"I'd better get back to my wife, and tell her, before she hears it from somebody in the hall, 'specially about Charlie. She liked him a lot."
"How are you two getting on, now? How's my God-daughter?"
"All, still the same. Pavlos is gonna try putting Sarah Collins back again. Now that Nicholas's plans are all shot to Hell, it should be a snap."
Lester stalked up to his former rival. "Well, Willie," he began, amiably enough. "How's the baby? And Cellie? What made you leave them, even for a few minutes?"
"We heard the racket," Willie replied, "and since I was gonna get us something to eat anyway, I told my wife I'd check on the situation. The baby's still the same, still on machines. . . I don't know what's gonna happen to her now. Maybe she'll get better. Thanks for asking, though."
"How much do you know about what was going on at the Henderson place, tonight, Willie?" Lester asked, this time, a bit accusingly. "I know you were held there by Anissa. Did she, or Nicholas, mention anything to you about some Satanist ritual they'd planned?"
"I didn't even know I was in that house, Lester," Willie began to whine. "I had nothing to do with any of it. These guys here know more than I ever did. I just know that Nicholas is bad news, and the sooner someone gets hold of him, the better."
"I called some of my deputies and patrolmen to look for the fellow," Lester said. "I'll be joining the search myself, after I finish up here. If you don't mind, I might be popping in to see--- to see the baby."
"I know you like Sarah Teresa," Willie said in a conciliatory tone. "That part of it doesn't bother me at all, anymore, honest." He gazed at Lester's ordinary, honest, rather pale face. No, Willie told himself, all that trouble was Desiree's and Nicholas's doing. Maybe the Sheriff once had a crush on Cecily, but it had to be over. Had to be--- Willie had a funny feeling he couldn't shake off, the more he studied Lester's appearance. There was something off about him, something Willie recognized but couldn't put a name to. Lester was awfully pale,
come to think about it. Of course, he'd been busy for hours, looking for Willie first, and then pressed into service at that witch trial Pavlos had held against Desiree, but that pallor, those circles under his eyes. . . Willie would have to ask Pavlos, his fountain of all wisdom, before he had a chance to work on Sarah Teresa, before the Greek's possible death.
"Well, I'd better get my wife's snack, pronto," Willie announced.
"It'll be the first she's eaten in a while. I want her to eat before I spring all the bad news on her."
"Sure, Willie," Lester said, turning back to Elliot.
Willie whispered to Julia, "Don't you think Lester looks a little wierd?"
Julia said, "He looks sick, but considering all that's happened, we're all quite peaked by now, Willie." She felt her belly. A familiar stirring was taking place inside; Alistair was on the move. Barnabas must be in the area, she thought. She'd been awaiting his promised summons for so long. . .
"Are YOU okay, Julia?" Willie asked solicitously. "I know it's been tough, worrying about what He's been up to, lately---"
"Nothing. He's been up to nothing, Willie," Julia insisted. "No attacks, nothing, lately. Maybe his curse will pass, now that Nicholas is defeated."
"God, I hope so. But if it doesn't and He needs me to help, I guess I'll have to."
"Others must be helping Him, Willie," Julia said, evasively. "You steer clear of the problem, and concentrate on your family."
"Will you come and see us?"
"Of course. I want to be there when Pavlos attempts the transference again." If that insistent internal signal let up for a few minutes, she thought.
Willie stopped in the cafeteria. It was empty, and the kitchen closed, but someone had made fresh coffee and hot water in two large urns and restocked the condiment tray, for the unlimited use of the staff and parents during the epidemic. Willie made the tea, and searched the vending machines for crackers. He was disappointed not to find any, and was about to leave with the tea, when he glimpsed an open box of Saltines, seemingly abandoned, on a corner table. He helped himself, hoping that was why it was left in the first place, and headed back to the chapel room. When he got there, he cursed himself for dawdling around in the cafeteria, making sure his wife's tea was exactly as she wanted it, and looking for the crackers.
Pavlos was already installed in the seat nearest the bassinet, holding Sarah Teresa's hand, and talking quietly with Cellie, who was crying openly. Janice stood behind Julia, who was seated, as was Elliot. David came in after Willie, followed by Doctor Hurley.
Cellie looked up at her husband, and said with a sob, "What took you so long?"
"I got the stuff you wanted, Cecily," he replied, shuffling in his discomfort at being unjustly accused in front of so many people. "I was going to let you eat before I broke all the news to you---"
"You took a damn half-hour!"
"I couldn't have!" he protested. "I just came from the emergency room, and grabbed the tea, and somebody's crackers---"
"A half-hour!" she repeated. "They looked for you in the cafeteria! Where were you, really?"
Pavlos shushed her, and said to Willie, "You must simply have fallen asleep on your feet somewhere along your way. God knows, we are all under such stress."
"Poor Charles!" Cellie mourned. "If only I hadn't gotten him involved in the first place! And Carolyn--- if only I'd been able to leave here, maybe I could have prevented that atrocity. . .
and Buzz. . ."
"No more time for pointless regrets," Pavlos admonished. "Willie is here, and he can take his place at your side. We cannot waste any more time."
Willie set the tea and crackers on the bedside stand, and crouched at his wife's side. He nuzzled her shoulder, trying to inspire some kind of reciprocal affectionate gesture. She sat stiffly, just touching his wrist. Why was she so stubborn, he wondered, when she knew as well as he that some sincere gesture of reconciliation was vital?
"I'm sorry, Will," she whispered. "Every time you touch me, I see you and. . . HER. . . Why won't God let me forget, even for a minute?"
"It's not God that's stopping you, or Desiree or Nicholas," Pavlos replied. "Simple pride. . ."
Cellie tried to relax, and let her guard down. She watched her stepfather, who was putting his own life on the line to save her child. A line from some song she'd half-heard on the car radio popped into her mind: "Love has no pride. . . " A stupid song, she'd thought, but the sentiment was also part of a Biblical verse which used to inspire her to tears. If Pavlos had no pride in his continued existence without trying to save his step-grand-daughter, then she could do no less, much as it still hurt. She made herself stroke her husband's hand gently. Willie gripped her hand so tightly that he cracked her knuckles, as he observed Pavlos going into the same kind of trance as he had in Boston.
Pavlos's face assumed a blueberry hue. Doctor Hurley, who was taking his blood pressure, began to say, "No more," and Julia rose from her seat, to get closer, in case the Greek collapsed, but Pavlos waved them away. He began to moan, and his face contorted, as though he was passing a stone. Then, Sarah Teresa twitched, and whimpered; her body turned a deep beet-red. Julia took her temperature. "One-hundred sixteen!" she exclaimed. "NO child that I've ever heard of has ever survived a temperature surge of that magnitude." Virginia Hurley nodded in agreement.
Pavlos sputtered, "I see green lights once more---"(at this, everyone gasped) "---but I now see the lady who came to us in the tomb. She beckons Sarah to cross, as she did there. . ." All at once, his face blanched to its palest shade of olive, and sank, unconscious, into his seat. Janice nearly leapt on her husband's body, asking fearfully, "Is he--- Is he---?"
Virginia held her stethoscope to Pavlos's chest. "No heartbeat---I'm so sorry, Janice--- What?" she said in surprise, as the Greek's head popped up, and his eyes opened.
"I--I have survived?" Pavlos whispered in an awed tone. "But that
is impossible! You see, I died in the Mausoleum, and Sarah Collins was only supposed to keep me going until I gave her back to Sarah Teresa. And yet, I felt her leave me! I live. Does Sarah Teresa?"
All eyes now riveted themselves on the baby. Sarah Teresa had also faded in hue, to her normal delicate shell-white color. Julia announced, "Her temperature is down to ninety-six! A little on the cool side, but not dangerously, considering the changes she's been through. But there's no pulse---" She checked for a heartbeat. "My God. . . She's--she's gone."
"Gone?" Cellie asked in a dazed tone. "Dead? How can that be!
HOW CAN THAT BE! Sarah Collins went in, didn't she? Desiree-Medea couldn't have, or she'd come back---"
"With those green, green eyes," Willie muttered, remembering with horrified clarity, the last dream he'd had in WindCliff before his escape. He delicately pulled one of his daughter's eyelids open. Her pupil had blotted out most of the iris, but he could still make out a grey-blue ring encircling the blackness. His daughter was dead, but forever dead, never again to wake. "At least, she's at peace," he sniffled. "No Desiree, or any of the other bad women who could have taken her over. . . My little baby is dead. My little girl. . . " He cried now, wetting his wife's shoulder with his tears.
Virginia, tears running down her own face, disconnected the tubes that she'd just reattached less than an hour before. She gently lifted the tiny, limp body, and placed it in Cellie's lap.
Cellie's eyes were wet, but she couldn't cry anymore. She just lifted Sarah Teresa to her shoulder, and rocked her as she had before. Willie asked as calmly as he could, if he could hold his Peanut for a while. His wife refused to relinquish her child's body. "You can't have her! You're DIRTY, and you made her sick in the first place! You'll just make her SICKER!" she screamed.
Pavlos and Janice descended upon her, imploring her to be reasonable. "We all want to hug her 'Good-bye', honey," Janice pleaded. "Willie's her Daddy. Sarah always loved her Daddy. Let him hold her now. He can't make her sick, not anymore."
"NO! She's NOT DEAD! Don't you understand?" Cellie cried hysterically. She overheard Julia and Virginia speak in low whispers about sedatives. "You CAN'T dope me up!" Cellie said frenziedly. "I have to watch over my baby. You can't take her from me. You know I can't have any others. . ."
Walter, who'd been standing just outside the door with Harold, approached her chair. "Cecily," he said firmly, though tears ran down his face, "let Willie hold the baby. Maybe he can make her better."
"YOU wanted to take her from me, before she was born!" Cellie snarled. "And now, you want me to give her to this BASTARD who made her sick! Why is it, everybody wants what I have, the minute they see it?"
"Cecily," Willie wept. "Please. We won't have long to be with her. There's the funeral---"
"SHE'S NOT DEAD! SHE'S NOT!"
"Cecily," Willie begged, "Don't sound like me."
"I lived with you for a year! I AM you! Oh, God. . . At least SHE can't be anyone else, any more…. I have to take her with me, or you'll stick her in a box, put her in the ground---"
Julia said calmly, "Cellie, it doesn't have to be that way. I'll talk to Elizabeth. She has a new mausoleum of her own. You've seen it. She'll make room for Sarah Teresa."
"NO! I want to take her with me! I have to get out of here! I HAVE to!" Cellie ran out of the room with her child still in her arms. She rushed down the hall, to a utility elevator. She punched the button, and it slid open. Lester Arliss stood in it. Without thinking, Cellie got in with him, and made the door close, as those who pursued her approached. Lester didn't speak or make a move in protest of this behavior, at first.
When the elevator sank to the sub-basement floor, he finally spoke. "Cellie, what are you doing with your baby? She can't possibly be well enough. And she's just got a diaper and blanket on! It's cold out there." The elevator stopped. Lester pressed the button to keep the door closed.
"Oh, Lester," Cellie panted. "They--they all said my Sarah Teresa's dead, even that scumbag of a father of hers! I had to take her away, or they'll bury her! They bury people alive sometimes, you know!"
Lester studied the still, pale infant in Cellie's arms. She looked dead, but he couldn't be sure. He decided to play along. "Cellie," he said, "Remember when I told you that if you ever wanted to leave Willie, that I would take care of both you and Sarah Teresa?"
"Yes, Lester. I'm sorry I didn't listen then. My baby wouldn't have gotten sick if I had. Can you take us away now?"
"I will. But, first, we have to face the people outside."
"NO! They'll take her from me, and stick me with a needle---"
"No, they won't, after I talk to them. But I have to show them that the baby's really alright first, so they'll know you're not going to hurt her."
"Give her to me, and I'll show them. I promise I'll bring her right back."
"I don't think so," Cellie said distrustfully, clinging to the body.
"Cellie, if I don't do this, they won't allow either of you to leave this hospital. It's the law, and I'm sworn to uphold it. You believe me, don't you?"
"I--I guess I haven't a choice, do I, Lester?"
"You just made a choice to be with me, now," he whispered, kissing her passionately, as he eased the lifeless infant from her arms. "I'll make you understand it's the right one."
Cellie leaned her head against his shoulder, gazing at her child on his arm. "Take good care of our little girl," she murmurred.
"I will," he promised, as he reached into his pocket with his free hand, and extracted a damp wad of gauze. He put this arm around her shoulder, concealing the gauze in his fist until he drew his arm around her neck. He pressed the wad against her nose and mouth.
In her initial panic, Cellie struggled and kicked, but she was already exhausted, and also feared that her fighting would cause Lester to drop Sarah Teresa. So she relaxed, and the chloroform took effect. She slumped heavily in the Sheriff's embrace.
He slowly opened the elevator, expecting to see an angry mob of her relatives and friends in the dimly-lit basement. He realized that they probably thought she took the regular elevator, and were probably combing the streets for her now. That gave him an idea of what to do with the baby.
First, with one arm, he dragged Cellie into a storage room. Then, he went back upstairs by way of the stairwell. When he'd reached the correct floor, he walked quietly to the chapel area, and peeked into the room. Janice sat in there alone, by the empty bassinet, apparently on the chance that her daughter might return of her own accord.
Lester doubted that his fellow servant of Barnabas, Pavlos, would have confided his secret to his wife, or even had time to, in the last twenty-four hours. It wouldn't matter anyway; the deed would be done and over, and perhaps, he and Barnabas and Cellie could all leave Collinsport together before they were discovered. Luck had been on his side so far, from finding the pharmacy unlocked and unmonitored, to gaining access to the basement when he had to witness Mr. Plavnicky's nephew and son identifying his body, to running right into his quarry, encumbered only by her newly-dead child. He couldn't pray, but he hoped the luck would hold until he carried out the rest of Barnabas's requests.
Lester boldly strode into the room, bearing the dead baby. "Mrs. Pavlos," he said.
Janice looked up at him. "Lester!" she cried, when she saw what he carried. "Wherever did you find Sarah Teresa? Did you see Cellie?"
"I was just coming up to pay my respects, Ma'am," he explained, "when I saw Cellie running out with the poor little baby. She grabbed me, and said everyone was trying to bury her child even though she insisted Sarah Teresa's not dead. Of course I said I wouldn't let that happen, but she was so distracted, and afraid of you all, that she gave ME Sarah Teresa, and told me to shoot anyone who took her away from me. Then she ran out."
"My poor little girl!" Janice wept. "She's lost her only child, her husband, and now her mind! I almost can't believe she'd have left the baby with you, of all people--- Oh, sorry Lester, no offense, you know what I mean. . . But there's no telling what someone crazed with grief will do. She was the sanest, most sensible of all of us, until now. . ."
"The bigger they are, the harder they fall, I guess," Lester concluded in a regretful tone. "I'm so sorry, Mrs. Pavlos," he said, laying the baby on her lap. "My deepest condolences. I'll go out, and join the search."
"Thanks so much, Lester. It's been Hell these last couple of weeks, what with Barnabas missing, those attacks on the girls, Willie in and out of the asylum, and that terrible incident at the Henderson place. This is the worst that could have happened, but perhaps that's the last of it. Why my grand-child, though?" Janice cried, clutching the baby as convulsively as her daughter had before. "Why my poor baby, who can't have any more babies of her own?"
"I don't know, ma'am," Lester said, patting her shoulder. "I'll find Cellie, and then you two can discuss it with a priest or a minister." He left the room.
Janice rocked her grand-daughter's body, suddenly as reluctant to call a doctor to take Sarah Teresa to the morgue, as Cellie had been. Oh, well, she thought, it would do no harm to keep the baby for a while, at least until rigor mortis set in. Maybe Willie would return in time for a final embrace. She could keep the body warm with her own body heat for now.
Janice must have been VERY warm; the baby's body was almost as warm as a living child's now, she noticed. Perhaps, Janice thought, "I'm coming down with that fever." She felt her own forehead, and decided that she wasn't sick. But the baby was warmer still. Her limbs were still quite limp. Janice gazed into the baby's pale face, and fancied she saw a delicate blush on her cheek. That couldn't be, she told herself.
Even so, Janice held her grand-daughter's chest to her ear. That couldn't be her little heart beating, could it? She licked her finger, and held it beneath the baby's nostrils. She could feel tiny chills on the finger. Now Janice noticed the tiny chest heaving slowly, of its own accord. She jumped from her chair, and her cries of joyful shock rang up and down the empty halls.
Sarah Teresa must have heard her grandmother's shouts, and the answering rumble of feet hurrying back into the once-desolate room. Janice glanced down at her again; the baby's eyes, aware, focussed, and the brightest grey-blue, gazed back into hers.
Nicholas was relieved to discover that his powers weren't entirely gone. He could still spy on events, via his mirrors, and he could send out a message to block any transference of Sarah Collins for the time being. He could also send a summons to Barnabas Collins. Beyond that, he had no idea how much more he could do. It was imperative that he keep Barnabas away from Cellie Loomis. But he would have to rely on his glib speech and intimidating manner, and hope that Barnabas would not manuever him into a confrontation that would demand the use of other abilities Nicholas was no longer sure he had.
Barnabas was pacing in front of the parlor fireplace, when Nicholas came downstairs to greet him. "I have imperative business this night, tasks that YOU have set me to," the vampire declared impatiently. "And now, at this late hour, you call me back?"
"Yes, my old acquaintance," Nicholas replied calmly. "I've had a change in plans, and it turns out you needn't perform that chore you found so disagreeable when I first suggested it to you."
"Why not?" Barnabas said. "I've thought it over, resigned myself to the necessity, and now, I'm quite looking forward to it."
"I've had orders from our Master! You will not have Cecily Loomis for your bride!"
"What became of YOUR 'bride,' Nicholas?" Barnabas asked sarcastically. "How strange that you should take this time off from your 'wedding night', to interfere with mine! Could it be, there was a last minute cancellation of the nuptials? Did Carolyn leave you 'waiting at the altar', so to speak?" He laughed at his own joke.
"I will NOT go into specifics, but, well, you will be hearing about this sooner or later. . . It's true, I did not wed your fair cousin. Our Master came to the wedding, and decided that there was a better choice I could still make. I WILL miss the Collins millions, but I'm sure our Master will make up to me. Carolyn and I were quite relieved when we parted."
"Where is she now?"
"Damned if I know, Barnabas," Nicholas smirked. "She's certainly not here. Don't glower at me like that!" he protested anxiously, when he saw Barnabas's angry countenance. "She's not DEAD, if that's what you're worried about."
"I'm not worried," Barnabas said. "But I don't wish this turn of events to have any effect on MY plans. I have too much invested in them to cancel out now. It may be too late to cancel, in any case. I have already dispatched my agent to bring Cellie to me. And believe me, Lester is not Willie! I can trust him to do the job right."
"You WILL stay away from her!" Nicholas ordered. "I have ways to keep you here!" He pulled a pearl-handled pistol from inside his sportcoat. "Six silver bullets, Barnabas," he said, as he jabbed the gun into the vampire's ribs, and forced him against the wall. "I shouldn't like to end the existence of such an old acquaintance, especially one who is so soon to be a father. But, if you disobey this new command---"
"Why do you require a gun to hold me at bay, Nicholas?" Barnabas asked slyly. "Can you not just will me back downstairs into that cell where you've kept me prisoner?"
"Insurance, dear Barnabas, insurance, that's all," Nicholas answered uneasily.
"Insurance of what? That YOU, perhaps, covet my bride? Just what did happen with our Master when your wedding was cancelled, Nicholas? Just what club did Satan hold over your head, lest you failed to convince me to give up on Cellie?"
"That's NONE of your business!" Nicholas said with some of his old confidence.
"I'd say it is!" Barnabas said. He moved delicately, to evade the gun insistently prodding his solar plexus. He was looking for some way to divert Nicholas's attention for the briefest moment.
Suddenly, there was a surge of wind outside, which caused the branches of trees near the house to knock and scrape against the clapboard siding. Barnabas could see someone peeking in through the parlor window. Lester, he thought. The Sheriff must have returned from his errand, and having sensed his master's need, followed the signal to the Henderson house. Barnabas was uncertain whether or not his servant could see what was going on in Nicholas's parlor, but this was the opportunity he was looking for.
"Nicholas!" Barnabas gasped. "It's Ock-Wen-Uck!"
"Oh, come now, Barnabas," Nicholas said, his finger pressing on the trigger. "I was fooled by such a ruse earlier. I will NOT fall for it again."
"But I can see him, through the window, I swear!" Barnabas said.
"And even if it isn't Ock-Wen-Uck, then it's obviously someone else who's come to disrupt your plans. Why else would anyone be here at this hour of the night?"
Nicholas was concerned enough to glance back at the window. This gave Barnabas an opportunity to kick Nicholas's ankle, throw him off balance, and wrestle the gun from his hands as the warlock struggled to maintain his equilibrium. Then, Barnabas held the gun on Nicholas in triumph. Nicholas cringed visibly. "How can such a powerful sorcerer as yourself be afraid of such a meager weapon, Nicholas?" Barnabas sneered.
"Silver bullets may be just as effective against other creatures of the night than vampires and werewolves," Nicholas replied. "I don't want to find out for certain."
"If you were on top of your game, you would welcome the challenge," Barnabas commented. "You HAVE lost at least some of your powers, as I've always suspected you someday would. I daresay the next step in your descent would render you able to wield a crucifix against me. That WOULD be pathetic. Well, I'm hardly the one to put an end to you. But then, YOU are hardly the one to interfere with ME. You may have made me what I am, but I am no longer subject to YOUR orders.
I am a free agent from here on. If you have a bone to pick with the Master, that is YOUR problem. You will have to find another way to solve it without denying me the consolation of a suitable vampire bride."
"I could try to cure you---"
"If you cannot control me, it's also quite unlikely that you can undo what you have done, anymore than Angelique could, when she first cursed me. I can accept that. Now, I am going to dispose of this gun." Barnabas tossed the pistol into the fireplace. All at once, six shots rang out, which both Barnabas and Nicholas ducked to avoid. "And now, I shall go," Barnabas announced. "DON'T try to stop me." He vanished before Nicholas's eyes. The warlock turned toward the window, and saw that the figure he'd briefly glimpsed had vanished also.
He speculated on the man's identity; the haste with which he'd departed after Barnabas's departure suggested that it was the shadow of Lester Arliss.
He sank in his chair before the fire, feeling his powers ebb almost completely. His plans had been systematically destroyed, as though a virus had contaminated them. Now, he had only to wait, wonder and worry, knowing there was no way he could get to Cellie now, and that she wasn't likely to surrender to his plans without putting up a bigger fight than Carolyn had. All he could do was scan his mirrors.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Cellie opened her eyes, little by little, a blink, then a longer blink, every time. Her head felt heavy, as did her arms, when she tried to raise them. She was resting on some kind of cushion, but she could feel that it was set upon a hard base, perhaps on the floor. She felt around under her prone body. The cushion was made of some coarse material, stiffed with hard, crackly straw. In the dim, wavering light, which she supposed came from candles, she could just see the scratchy yellow filaments poking through the fabric. What was more, now she realized the cushion only extended to just beneath her pelvis; she gradually became aware that her legs were resting on the hard surface. When she moved around, she ached all over.
There were walls around her that she could just barely see over. She could see a heavily-beamed ceiling above her. She struggled to rise, gripping the wall, or whatever it was, around her. But her head still lolled upon her shoulders as though it weighed a ton, and she gently let herself fall back. She was dizzy, but her mind was clearing, and she wondered where she was. Did Lester bring her here? she wondered. This surely wasn't his apartment, and she wasn't on a bed!
There was something else, something about her baby. . . Her arms were empty, and Lester had promised to bring Sarah Teresa back to her, so the family wouldn't shut her in a box, and put her in the ground, or even in a cold, dark compartment in Elizabeth's mausoleum. . . It seemed like years ago, when she'd begged Lester for help, in her despair, and he said he'd take care of her and her daughter, and she suddenly felt so sleepy. . . The next thing she knew, she was here, in this bunk, or box--- Realization set in.
"WHERE AM I?" Cellie cried out. "WHERE'S MY BABY? WHY CAN'T GET UP?" For the first time since Doctor Hurley had pronounced Sarah Teresa dead, Cellie began to cry. She turned her face into the scratchy pillow of her bunk and wept.
A gentle hand caressed her face, a cold hand that must have been wearing a still-colder ring. There was something familiar about the touch. . . Cellie gazed up at the face above hers, and sighed in relief.
"Thank God, it's you, Barnabas," she whispered meekly. "We all thought something--something bad had happened to you. I had this really bad dream, at least, I thought it was a dream--- Nicholas had hurt you in some way. . . It's hard for me to remember much right now---"
"Don't worry, Cellie," her uncle said softly. "Nicholas DID give me some trouble, but you needn't worry about him anymore. We're both safe for now." He stroked her hair tenderly.
A little too tenderly, Cellie suddenly thought. An impression infiltrated her mind like mist. It was salmon-pink, and orange and brown and yellow-blue-violet like a gas flame. . . What did those colors mean again? She'd understand in a few minutes, she just had to wake up completely. In the meantime, she fretted. "Barnabas," she began again, "Where's Sarah Teresa? I gave her to Lester to mind, because everyone said she was dead, even Aunt Jule. He was supposed to bring her back to me. But he kept her, and left me here," she whimpered, sounding bereft. "Where am I?"
"On our special hiding place, sweet Cellie," Barnabas said. "Don't worry about the baby. I'm sure Lester is feeding her, or rocking her to sleep. He'll take good care of her for you, so you can concentrate on other things."
"How can I concentrate when I don't know where Sarah Teresa is, Barnabas?" Cellie asked anxiously. "Aren't you at all worried? Pavlos put your sister back into my baby, but the poor little thing was so sick, she just didn't wake up right away. Aren't you at all worried about either Sarah Collins, or Sarah Teresa? What if Nicholas is doing something else to them?"
"Don't worry about Nicholas again, dear." Barnabas patted her shoulder. "We're all safe from him here."
"Would you help me get up, and see where 'here' is, Barnabas?" Cellie pleaded. "Please!"
"Of course. You'll be seeing plenty of this place in the near future. You've seen it in the past."
"We're not in the Old House? Or on the wharf, or in the Antique Shoppe, then?" Barnabas helped Cellie sit up, and she looked around at the stone walls. "We're in the hidden room of Abijah's Cottage!" she exclaimed.
"Yes, the very place Abijah Collins kept the runaway slaves, before he could ship them off to a new life of industrial slavery in a country where they could barely learn to speak the language," Barnabas said. There was a queer note of satisfaction in his voice, as though he was proud of his relative's chicanery.
"Do you think it's safe, so close to Collinwood?" Cellie asked.
"Those who seek us doubtless believe we would be mad to be so close by. They've all gone looking elsewhere. Besides, this room is only known to ourselves, Willie, Julia, and Lester. Julia will be welcome here, don't worry. Willie might come, but that will be no problem at all." Barnabas smiled slyly.
Cellie's mind, after a few fits and starts, was almost fully functional now. "Barnabas," she asked uneasily, "if there's no longer any danger from Nicholas, and you're okay, why must we keep hiding, anyway?" She studied his face in the candlelight. It was paler than she'd ever seen it, and the shadows beneath his eyes were blue-black as the midnight shy.
Then she glanced down at her mirror-spangled blouse, which glittered in the flickering yellow nimbus of the sentinel candelabrum. She had an odd thought. She'd never before counted the mirrors. But now, she estimated that there were at least thirty, all reflecting the glow of the tiny flames. Just the flames, and not the very distinct silhouette of the man who stood blocking some of their light. . .
"Barnabas," Cellie said, trying to keep the panic out of her voice, "I'd like to get up, and go upstairs. Lester's upstairs with the baby, isn't he?" Oh, God, she thought, it isn't Pavlos helping Barnabas at all anymore, it's Lester. Lester, who robbed her of her baby. . .
"Lester's upstairs, guarding the house, my dear," he said. "We wouldn't want any uninvited guests, would we? And as for Sarah Teresa, well, I'm afraid you must know the truth. Lester left her at the hospital. He would have brought her to Nicholas if I'd ordered him to, but I have too much respect left for my sister's memory for THAT. She was quite dead when Lester left her, anyway. If Nicholas can still revive her from where he is, let him do so if he pleases. It's worth her survival, don't you think? Just worry about your own." Barnabas smiled at his niece. In the glow of the candle, Cellie could see his sharp, cruel-looking fangs.
She thrashed in her narrow bed, which, she realized now, was a casket, whether it was Barnabas's, or one intended just for her, she wasn't about to ask. He held her in the box with a grip like steel, but she recalled her self-defense lessons. As he pushed her, she went down, and wriggling, slid roughly from underneath his hands. As he struggled to reclaim her, she tried to climb from the casket, and toppled it over. She fell to the granite floor beneath it, and reached into the bodice of her blouse. He grabbed at the casket, just giving her enough leeway to crawl from beneath it, and force herself to her feet before him, holding out the golden crucifix she'd prized from inside her clothing. Barnabas cringed away at the sight of it.
"I wish there was something I could do to help you, Barnabas," Cellie said as she backed away from him, toward the door. "But I have to get back to my baby. A part of you must still understand how that feels."
"I understand that there are times when someone else's feelings must take precedence over yours," he said, still hiding his face in his cape. "MINE!"
"Listen, Barnabas," Cellie said, as she clasped the doorknob in her hand. "When I get back to the hospital, and find out what's really going on with Sarah Teresa, I promise I'll get Aunt Jule and Dr. Hurley together with Professor Stokes, and maybe all of us can find some way to lick your problem for good and all, now that Nicholas has gotten his come-uppance."
"Oh, that won't be necessary," her uncle replied, "or possible. You see," he continued, as he watched her turn the knob, first clockwise, then counter-clockwise, without being able to open the door, "First of all, I have come to enjoy being what I am. I no longer have a desire to change. Second, as you are now discovering, I have locked the door inside and out, and you won't be able to get the key from me. It is futile, trying to evade the destiny we both first glimpsed, last summer."
"It's NOT our destiny!" she protested, still holding the gold cross high. She was already thinking up strategies to wrest the key from him. If only she knew where it was on his person! Willie had taught her a thing or two about picking pockets. Whatever happened, she knew she couldn't give in to the same despair that had landed her in this predicament in the first place. Her baby was dead, and her marriage a ruin. But she HAD to go on, somehow---
"IT IS OUR DESTINY, IF I WILL IT SO!" Barnabas roared, as he sprung at her, and smacked the hand that held the crucifix. The force of his blow snapped the chain, and made the flimsy pendant fly across the room. He grabbed his niece in a tight embrace, trying to tear at her blouse collar. She reacted with punches, slaps and kicks, which, while they might still ultimately prove futile, WERE annoying, and kept him from holding her still enough to force her to look into his eyes.
Cellie somehow pitched herself away from him, and landed back in the corner near the casket. "I'll never give in, like Vicky Winters never gave in!" she shouted, as he ran to her. She attempted to infiltrate his emotions, and found the same inhuman, feral rage she'd sensed in the rabid dog, last summer.
Barnabas sensed what she was trying to do. "Cellie," he said with a forced calm, "You are not going to escape from this in 'the final reel', as they say in the movies. There is no escape. I want to make this transition easy for you, because of my former regard for you---"
"You loved me, and I loved you, as fathers and daughters are supposed to love each other!" she wailed. "I almost sacrificed my own father's emotional state to help you, because I loved you so much! Now, you are no better than a-- a Harold Loomis!"
"We have NO blood relationship at all, Cellie, so you cannot use that argument against me. The truth is, you are the closest to the kind of woman I've been seeking for centuries, without even knowing it! The beauty and fire of an Angelique, the sweet nature of a Josette, the thirst for adventure of a Roxanne, the brilliance of Julia, the faith and devotion of Vicky Winters--- the willingness of all of them, to stand by me when I needed them. . . These are in you. The love you
bore for Willie is no more, I can tell. He was but a stepping-stone to your true desire, anyway."
Cellie had a flash of a memory, from that time, almost a year ago, when she finally learned the truth, and Willie had warned her, "You're the kind He would have wanted, to be His bride." He'd known in his heart, even then, how things would end . . .
"Admit it, Cellie," Barnabas continued, "you've wanted to be with me all along. Unconsciously at first, perhaps, and sublimated under the guise of learning about history and the occult, but you proved it was there, last summer, even though you were large with Willie's child. Give in to it, Cellie, and you won't feel any pain.
I don't want to hurt you, of all people. Look into my eyes, and it will seem a mere pin-prick, followed by a rush of joy and longing you've never known."
"A rush of longing for other people's blood, and the insane joy of making more of them like us!" Cellie spat. "It would never end, our desires would never truly be satisfied, we would never know peace, or growth, or maturity, or creating something worthwhile to leave behind when one has to give up his place at the table of Life. . . The real purpose of life and death! Don't you see, Barnabas? You're stuck like a needle on a record scratch, and can never go forward from that need, like a helpless baby that only knows it must suckle. Instant gratification for blood, and lust that can never be fulfilled! That's what this is all about! That's why this is so scarey and yet, so sad!"
"In a way, Cellie, but it would answer some of your deepest needs, for extending your personal power beyond your limited sphere. And it would also relieve your sorrow, since that emotion would no longer exist in you."
She countered, "Will told me, on many occasions, that you became more compassionate and human, once your family began to be threatened by outside forces, and you finally identified yourself with the current Collins family interests."
"This time, it's quite different," Barnabas replied, as he pulled her closer. "I am bound by no such loyalty any longer. I am free, and I can make YOU free. Come on now, Cellie, look into my eyes. You have nothing left here. You no longer have a child or a marriage."
"I still have MYSELF---"
"You are NOTHING except in relation to me!" he snarled, as he pressed his face to hers.
Barnabas's deep brown eyes all but burned through his niece's tightly-shut lids. Cellie could feel the force of his will entering her mind, seizing a toehold in her emotional center, which was still weakened by her recent travails. She forced herself to make one last argument. "Aunt Jule. . . She'll hate you for this, maybe even destroy you herself," the girl gasped.
"Julia has always endured every single humiliation I set her to," Barnabas replied. "She will accept this, if she wants to live to raise our son."
"Alistair will despise you. . . when he grows. . . learns the truth. . ."
"I shall see that never happens, and SO WILL YOU! Now, SILENCE! OPEN YOUR EYES, CELLIE!"
The pressure on her mind was too much. . . Too much. . . She began to feel what he wanted her to feel. Or was that really what she'd felt, all along? She seemed to hear Nicholas's contemptuous, insolent query. "What do you fear? What do you desire?" he'd asked. "Wait until you find out they're one and the same thing. . . The same thing. . ."
It was the same thing, in spite of all the time she'd spent with Willie, loving him, sleeping with him, teaching him, bearing his child. . . There would, someday, have come a time when she wearied of his company, his real and imagined inadequacies, the responsibility for keeping him out of trouble, with the added burdens of raising his daughter and trying to make a little life for herself. She was
so damned tired of the drudgery of making and keeping her living, tired of seeking out distractions from her burden that the world deemed acceptable, tired of paying the price of maintaining such an unworthy relationship, when she could have held out for something or someone better, better than even Lester. . .
But Cellie HAD to feel SO sorry for her aunt's middle-aged passion, that she was obligated to unite Julia with the only man who could have satisfied her own needs. "What a mistake!" Cellie thought mournfully, the unrelenting imposition of her uncle's will finally taking over her exhausted brain, and forcing her to open her eyes for the first and last time. . . Blotting out all the rational arguments for fighting until the end, that she'd experienced with Jack. . . Barnabas had saved her from Jack then, because their united wills to survive were so powerful. . . Her will could be united with his forever, she knew now. There was nothing else she could do anyway, his eyes told her eyes.
Now, she closed her own eyes again, not in fear, but because she wanted to open them on her new life. Her new life---death---life---DEATH---"NO!" her mind shrieked, as she felt a sharp, tearing pain on her throat. . . But not just her throat, on her forehead, her wrists, her chest. . . even her ankles! Was this how it was supposed to be? Was he supposed to attack her whole body this way? She hadn't even felt him holding her! Then, she heard him cry out in agony. . .
"Barnabas!" she sputtered in panic, opening her tightly-shut eyelids. "Was this supposed to hurt you, too?"
It was then that she saw the blood, running in a thin stream down the tip of her nose. Her blood. She touched her forehead. When she saw her wrist, she nearly screamed. There was a pair of red, raw scratches in the shape of a cross, just beneath her palm. Her other wrist stung also. She quickly glanced at it, and saw it was similarly marked. Without having to check, she guessed that the pains in her other extremities came from like formations of scratches. Some force, discerning that she had no access to any other means of defense, had marked her thus, in order to prevent Barnabas from getting any kind of a bite on her.
"Padre Pio," she thought, remembering a story the nuns had told her about a priest who'd been marked with the Stigmata of the Cross. Those marks had lasted the rest of his life. Cellie wondered how long hers would hold out.
In that first minute or two of wonder at her sudden deliverance, she had been too stunned with surprise to think of Barnabas, who now huddled beneath his cape on the other side of the room. Obviously, the sight of her, covered with all those miraculous, yet hideous little cross-marks, was too much for him to even risk a glimpse. "How could this have happened?" he moaned. "The sign of the Righteous Ones. . . Nicholas could not have brought this about. . . Perhaps it was Angelique, but she does not appear to me as she did before---"
"Barnabas," Cellie said, gently. "It doesn't matter who did this. It's a message, though, that much is clear. You have to let me go, now. I was willing, for a moment, to become what you wanted. Keep that memory, and trust that I WON'T betray you. But the message was for me, too, not to give up, just yet. Please, Barnabas, I meant what I said before. I'll find a way to help you some-how, even if you want me to re-do Dr. Lang's experiments all by myself. BUT YOU MUST LET ME OUT!"
"I know you've worked against me before, Cellie," he growled. "It's getting close to dawn, now. It would be impossible for me to find another hiding place on such short notice, even with Lester's help. I cannot trust your word. You refuse to be my Bride, as Maggie once did, even though I used reason with you instead of intimidation. That being the case, you will endure the same fate I would have meted out to her, had she not been so fortunate to escape. Nobody but Lester knows you're here, and this room is quite soundproof, so he can't be tempted to plead your cause, as Willie did for Maggie. My sister is not here to protect you, and those wretched Wounds cannot deflect THIS!"
He swiftly thrust out his wolf-headed cane at the calves of her legs, rapping one into the other so sharply that she fell to the floor before she had a chance to jump out of the way. She tried to crawl away, but he dealt a glancing blow to the side of her head, not hard enough to crush her skull, but enough to knock her out. That was fine with him, because he didn't want her dead so soon. He pressed a tiny, concealed button inside the wolf-head's open jaws, a switch disguised so cleverly as one of the wolf's fangs that Lisa's silversmith father hadn't discovered it when he'd repaired the cane.
The switch separated the wolf's head from the mahogany shaft of the cane. At the end of the silver handle was revealed a needle-sharp stilletto blade.
Fortunately for Barnabas, Cellie had fallen face down, so it would be easy to avoid seeing her ubiquitous stigmata. He turned her head slightly, bared her neck, and found the jugular vein. He intended to make a small cut, and allow her to bleed to death, scooping up as much of her blood as he could cup into his hands, and get into his mouth. The blow she'd suffered was the sort that would soon let her waken briefly, with just enough time to discover how she was dying, and to collapse again, powerless to stop the process. It would be worth the mess, just to see the look in her eyes when she realized what was going on, and then to see the eyeballs roll into her head as death finally overtook her.
Then, Barnabas thought with satisfaction, it would be a treat to see Lester's face when he was ordered to take her body to the desolate road beside Eagle Hill, and bury her near the site of their assignation. It would have been even more amusing to force Pavlos, or Willie, if he was in the vicinity, to perform the task. But Pavlos had that untrustworthy heart condition, and Willie was not in his power anymore.
For the last time, Barnabas stroked his niece's red-gold hair, tresses he could have lost himself in, had she consented to his proposal. Then, he pushed every strand out of the way, and pricked the white neck beneath delicately. As a drop of blood fell, he reached out a finger to dab at it, to bring it to his lips. At that moment, he heard the sliding of the bolt outside the door, then, the careful turning of the lock. He rose slowly, pressing the head of the cane firmly into the shaft as he did so, facing the door as it opened wide.
Willie and Pavlos were the first to quit their search for Cellie and Sarah Teresa. "She must have taken the baby's body back to Collinwood," Willie concluded. "David will probably catch up with her there. I'll be headed there, next, after we check in with Janice."
"Willie, I am terribly sorry," Pavlos said. "Sarah Collins did make the transference, I know it! Perhaps, because I did not die after all. . ."
"I'm glad you didn't die, Pavlos," Willie said wistfully. "At least Cecily will have you to make her feel better, when we get her and the baby back here, and we can both say good-bye to our Sarah Teresa."
"What about you, my friend?"
"This is it for us, I guess. I would stay around with her, even without the baby. . . I told her as much, so many times, when she cried about her operation, and how she was so scared about what could happen to Sarah Teresa. But she doesn't want me anymore. Maybe she can leave this town, go back to Boston. . . I want her to have a better life, even though ours is over. I won't stop her."
Pavlos replied, "I hope she doesn't make such a decision in the haste of her blinding grief. So much of what is good in her life is here, as well as what was bad. . ."
"That pretty much covers our marriage, from first to last," Willie concluded despondently. "I still love her, though. Even if we get a divorce, and I never see her again, and I live another fifty years, I know I'll still feel the same."
"Perhaps she will come to feel that way again, after she has time to think things over," the Greek said. "A short trip away might do her some good. It would do you good, as well. Maybe, you'll be able to join her, to try to win her back. Not right away, but there will be plenty of time---"
"Yeah, without our baby to look after, we got all the time in the God-damn world," Willie replied bitterly, as he twisted his wedding-ring around.
"Willie---" Pavlos remonstrated, then, decided the younger man had to express his sorrow in his own fashion, so long as it harmed no-one, including himself. The Greek put his arm around his friend's shoulders.
Once inside, Willie was so impatient to get upstairs, he almost couldn't wait for the wheezy old elevator to descend to the lobby to pick him up. He was ready to run up the service stairs, but Pavlos was panting, and his lips were a mauve shade, so Willie stayed with him. The elevator finally arrived.
"I can hear your heart pounding, Pavlos," Willie said solicitously."As soon as we get upstairs, you gotta lie down, whether or not Cecily comes back right away."
"I can hear your heart pounding, also, my friend," Pavlos said. "Is it with hope, or perhaps, a premonition?"
"Just nervous, I guess," the younger man admitted. "I hate to face my mother-in-law, and tell her I couldn't find her daughter."
"Walter was out looking too, remember," Pavlos said. "He may have returned in failure, also. Don't worry. Cellie cannot go too far with the baby. We can always call in the Sheriff."
"I don't want Lester to treat my wife like a crook, or a nut-case!" Willie protested. "She's just real sad, but she'll get better. She HAS to!"
"I will see to it that Lester treats Cellie properly, have no fear," Pavlos replied. "As for her mental state, her aunt might recommend a stay in that WindCliff, but I'm sure they'll treat her well."
"HER, they might, because she's Julia's niece," Willie conceded.
"I was just the crazy nephew-in-law."
"But you are NOT crazy now, that much I know in my heart," Pavlos said solemnly. "You must try to keep it that way from now on. It is most important that you do not lose the ground you've gained, for Cellie's sake."
The elevator door opened, and Willie approached his daughter's room with a heavy heart. He was amazed to see a small crowd of medical staff and some of the remaining parents (a few of whom were carrying their recuperating children in their arms), all gathered around the door to the former chapel. Louise Hackett, who'd left her sleeping sons and her injured husband (in a room next to the boys', which accomodation Dr. Heard approved so that she could easily tend to her entire family), eased Willie into the room.
He couldn't believe his eyes! There was his mother-in-law, beaming joyfully at Drs. Heard and Hurley, as she cradled a kinetic, squalling bundle on her lap. Walter and Harold were patting each other on the back. Julia, who stood in a corner with Elliot, was quietly radiant, although she clutched at her belly. Elliot called to Willie in exalted tones. "Come and see your Miracle Child!" he exclaimed.
Willie approached Janice timidly, even though he could sense Pavlos following close upon him. "How-- how did she get back here?" Willie began, reaching out for his daughter, who wept loudly but with choking halts, like a newborn. "Is-- is Cecily back, too? Where is she?"
"No, Willie," Janice said regretfully. "We still don't know where Cellie is. It's kind of a long story. I'll tell you as soon as I give you the baby." She deposited her grand-daughter in her son-in-law's eager arms.
"My Sarah Teresa!" he crooned. "No, little girl, don't cry. Your Daddy's here. You always stop crying for your Daddy." He kissed her soft cheek, now warm and rosy again, and held her against his heart.
Sarah Teresa quieted, but still sniffled and sobbed. Her father's tears fell upon her face, as she gazed at him. "Dyeh-Dyeh," she wept. "Tees wan' Meh-Meh. Meh-Meh---"
"I know, Peanut, Daddy wants Mommy here, too." Willie turned to Janice, who whispered to the two doctors to disperse the crowd.
Dr. Heard led Virginia Hurley through the door. As he passed through the group of on-lookers, he annnounced, "Okay, folks, show's over! I know that you all wish the baby well, and the family appreciates it. But it's private time, now. All the little ones should be in bed at this time of the night, anyway, so they can all get well quick."
As they shuffled off, he could hear the unanimous whisper. "Where's Cellie?" The pediatrician turned to his colleague. "Where the Hell can she be, Virginia? The thought of her, roaming out there aimlessly, not even in her car, with that night-prowler still at large. . ."
"She can't have gone far, and she does have some self-defense knowledge, Tom," Virginia replied. "There are still people out looking for her, and those, like Walter, who will go out searching again. They've called the police, though they haven't been able to contact Lester Arliss, since he dropped the baby off with Janet. Well, he said he'd be out looking, too. . ."
Back in the chapel room, Willie rocked his now-healthy but unhappy daughter, as he pumped Janice for details about her return. "You said LESTER brought the baby back?" he asked incredulously.
"Oh, yes, Willie," his mother-in-law replied, as Pavlos sat next to her, squeezing her waist and listening intently. "Lester said that Cellie told him to protect the baby, before she ran off. It didn't make much sense to me, considering what happened between them, and you, a few weeks ago. But he told me he would try to catch up with her. It's been quite a while now."
"That doesn't sound straight to me," Willie mused. "Any cop worth his salt--- and I know Lester thinks he's worth his--- would have made a move to hold her in one place, and call for back-up. It shouldn't have been too hard, if she wasn't tearing the joint up. She just wanted someone to help her out. Cecily knew the Karate stuff, but she wasn't gonna fight him off, with our baby in her arms. And she wouldn't just lay Sarah Teresa down just anywhere, or give her to anyone, either, if she really thought the baby was alive at the time. She was right about THAT, all long, that's for sure. Oh, Christ, why didn't we all listen to her! Instead, I had to start all that crap about a funeral right away!"
"It's not your fault, Willie," Janice assured him. "You were just trying very hard to be sensible, when she had already been on the edge for hours. Thank God, though, when Lester brought the baby back, I decided to keep her with me for a while. Grandmother's instinct, I guess."
"Anyway," Elliot Stokes said, "to come back to Willie's observation, it does seem highly unprofessional for an experienced police officer to just set loose a deranged woman who'd been carrying around what we all presumed to be a dead baby. After all, how did he know Cellie didn't just kill Sarah Teresa herself, either inadvertantly or in a fit of frenzy related to the seeming hopelessness of the child's illness?"
"And, where are both my daughter and the Sheriff now?" Walter asked. "I know about their former relationship, but a child's death is hardly the occasion for a tryst."
"Not among humans, Walter," Pavlos said. But amongst animals, he thought suddenly--- He had read that many animals, male animals, often killed the young of a female they desired. Within a short period of time, the memory of the loss faded from the female's memory, and she was ready and willing to mate, usually with the male who'd done the killing. There WAS an animal in the vicinity, who would have no compunction about taking over any female, even one who'd suffered such a devastating loss, because he could MAKE that tragic memory fade. That animal wasn't Lester, certainly, but one to whom the Sheriff answered as a higher authority. . .
Pavlos's suspicion was fueled by a story Harold now related. "The Sheriff around here, he drives a blue-and-gold Chevy with a blinker up top, right?" Willie's father asked.
"Yes, Blue and gold are the town colors," the Professor replied, "and all the town vehicles are blue and gold. But his is more elaborately decorated than the other police cars."
"Yeah, I think I saw a gold shield with the word "SHERIFF" in big gold letters on the door," Harold said.
"What about the car?" Walter demanded.
"Well, when I was looking for Cecily in the back of the hospital, near the basement, I thought I saw that car peeling out of some sunken driveway down there, that's all. Maybe that Sheriff was searchin' down there, and gave it up so he could look elsewhere." Harold shrugged.
"I recall that his car was parked out front, when he came in with Carolyn, Buzz, and poor Charlie," Elliot said. "It seems odd that he'd take the car, just to search around the hospital building."
"Elliot," Walter said, "You don't believe that-- that Lester STOLE my daughter? To what end?"
"I can't believe such a thing, either, but we can't afford to rule out any possibility. I suggest we all join the search now, Willie, Janice, and Pavlos excepted. I'm sure Willie would like to stay with his newly-restored daughter, and Janice should think of getting a room in here for Pavlos. Where to begin, though? I doubt that Collinwood would be Lester's destination, though, if Cellie WAS on her own, it would have been hers."
"Half of us will have to cover Collinwood, and the other half, the rest of the town," Walter declared. "It's going to be hard, with the senior Collinses having to stay on here for Carolyn's sake. If she gets through her surgery okay, though, maybe Roger will be available, that is, if we don't find Cecily first." He led the others outside to discuss the matter, leaving Willie, Pavlos, and Janice alone.
"I'm taking Elliot's advice to heart, Constantinos," Janice said.
"I think I'll go out now, and find Virginia Hurley. You can be settled in a room right away, and the staff cardiologist may be available first thing in the morning." She bent to kiss her grand-daughter and her son-in-law. Sarah Teresa was still tearful, but she smiled a little when her grandmother kissed her. Janice then kissed her husband, on the lips. He responded by yanking her onto his lap, and embracing her with a bear-hug.
"You see, my beloved?" he said. "I do not need a hospital room!"
"I have to, darling," she replied. She rose and left the room.
"Thank God she IS gone," Pavlos whispered. "Willie, you must go out and find Cellie. There is NO time to waste!"
"Others are already covering a lot more ground out there than I could ever hope to do," Willie said. "And what about my baby? She needs ONE of her parents here. That's not coward talk, that's common sense."
"Willie, listen. If this was just a simple matter, even I wouldn't become unduly alarmed. But it's more than just a case of finding a distraught young woman. Willie, there's something you should know, that only you can understand, and, perhaps do something about, since I won't be able to. Lester is Barnabas's servant, as you were. As I have been, except that I, alone, was NOT bitten. He merely worked through my empathy, with but mixed success, as you can tell. But he HAS bitten Lester."
"How--how long did you know? Why didn't you tell me, earlier?"
"I've known since before Anissa's trial. But I couldn't tell another, not even Elliot. It even pains me to tell you, but there is much I needn't explain to you, so it will pass quicker. The other reason I did not tell, was because I had no inkling Barnabas would ever run into Cellie at this point."
"What they said and did, and felt, last summer became real!" Willie sounded truly hopeless now.
"Willie, you don't know if it's become real yet. You must find them. You, better than anyone besides myself and Lester, know where Barnabas may be hiding now. When I was his sole thrall, he existed in an abandoned warehouse on the wharf, but he has moved since then. I know he's not at the Antique Shoppe or at the Old House."
"I don't know. . . I could hit every building on the Collins Estate, but I'll be too late. He sure isn't going to waste time trying to brainwash her like he did with Maggie, because only Cecily can brainwash Cecily." The baby wailed loudly again, and Willie held her as tightly as he dared. He sensed that the baby would never be comforted if her mother wasn't brought back. Pavlos was right. "Christ," Willie mourned, "Now that I'm willing and able to do the right thing, the gutsy thing, I haven't a clue where to start---"
"Meh-meh-meh!" Sarah Teresa sobbed. "Meh-meh bih--bih--BITCH!"
She said this last distinctly. Her father and Pavlos glared at her in shock.
"What the Hell did she just say?" Willie whispered. "God, what a time for her to remember the awful names I called her Mommy. . ."
"Dyeh! Dyeh!" Sarah jerked around urgently in her father's arms, punching his chest with her tiny pink fist. "Dyeh-Dyeh! Bih-Bitch! Meh-meh Bitch!"
Pavlos took the agitated infant from her father, and held her face close to the light. "I can see Sarah Collins's eyes!" he declared. "I believe the baby is NOT repeating angry insults, but, rather, trying to give us a message."
"You mean, where Cecily is? My God Pavlos, if that's what she's trying to do, why can't she just come out and say it? Ghosts have talked through people before, including me. And he was a real smart ghost, too, Barnabas's uncle, saying big words through MY mouth."
"But YOU are an adult! Sarah Collins is speaking through the undeveloped abilities of a seven-month-old baby. She cannot remove herself into a more articulate host for fear of endangering your child's life again. So, we must make do, and figure this out. Bitch. . . it must SOUND like something she's heard before."
"That's MY name, I suppose," Pavlos said.
"Bavos! Bitch--Bidge!" The baby gurgled. "Biss-biss Bidge!"
"Biss-biss. . . That's what she was calling Barnabas!" Willie exclaimed. He took his daughter from Pavlos, and gazed deep into her grey-blue eyes and demanded, "Peanut! Where are Biss-biss and Meh-Meh? Where's 'Bidge'---Oh!" He said this in a tone of understanding. "Now that I'M sayin' it, I get it!" he announced. "Abijah's cottage, where we were living--- Only, I was always saying 'Bijah's cottage'!"
"But that was already searched, while you were in WindCliff. It's so small, how could he hide there for long, anyway?"
"Who searched it, do you know?"
"I believe Carolyn and Elliot did so. And, what's more, I understood that they left crosses in every place they searched, to discourage Barnabas from settling anywhere."
"With good old Lester to help him out, taking care of that was a snap," Willie asserted. "Anyway, if it wasn't me, or Cecily, or Julia who went in there, nobody would have known about the secret room in THAT cellar. That Abijah Collins built it to hide the slaves who stayed there, before the Civil War. He was real smart about it, too, hidin' it behind another secret room that everyone else learned about after a while. Barnabas didn't want anyone outside our two families, not even David, to know about it, once we found it, 'Just in case', he said, but just in case of what I guess I know now."
"Then you must go there. I will watch the baby. Take one of these," Pavlos said, as he detached a sturdy-looking chain with a substantial, non-Orthodox style crucifix from his neck, and handed it to his step-daughter's husband.
Willie put it on. "When I get to Collinwood, maybe I should get David first," he said. "Even though he wasn't supposed to know about that room, well, he always got around, and I'll bet---
"Accost him only if you see him in passing," Pavlos interrupted. "I will try to contact him. But you must make haste! Take my car, and go with God, my friend!"
Willie sped the Greek's battered but faithful Cadillac through the quiet streets of Collinsport. He glanced at the clear night sky. As was usual this late at night (or early in the morning), the constellations seemed very far away in the sky; Orion and his companion, the Dogstar Sirius, appeared to have shrunk in the hours since they first appeared. But Sirius, true-blue guardian of his Master, still twinkled, a beacon of warning, shining directly upon Abijah's Cottage, as Willie drove close to it. He cut his lights, stopped the car, and got out.
He suddenly realized he had no keys to either the house, the cellar door, or the hidden door (which stood behind an old chiffarobe in the cellar, he remembered.) Breaking in could prove noisy, and might not be possible in the case of that secret room. He WOULD have to go back to Collinwood after all, and search his wife's nightstand drawer. He was positive he'd seen the Cottage keys in there, the night he'd stolen the Antique Shoppe keys.
Willie turned to get back in his car, when he felt something hard crash into the back of his head. Still conscious, he rolled onto his back, a painful move, but one which enabled him to see his attacker. "Lester!" he whispered, as he tried not to moan from the spreading ache.
"Well, Willie, I see that I've got another 'shot' at ridding myself of you!" the Sheriff laughed, as he drew his pistol, and aimed it at the older man lying helpless at his feet.
"Lester, you-- you can't! You won't get away with it!" Willie gasped. "Pavlos-- Pavlos knows where I am, and he's gonna call---" Suddenly he fell silent. No use giving Lester an excuse to go after David and anyone else the Collins heir might bring along with him.
"Who's he going to call, Willie, the Sheriff?" Lester taunted. "I'm the Sheriff! Pretty good joke, eh?"
"Christ, Lester, if your Uncle George could see you now, it would kill him, if he wasn't already dead."
"My Uncle was an IDIOT! Not even good enough for Barnabas to
"If He took ME over, Lester, His standards weren't that high!"
"Taking YOU over was mere dumb luck, you GEEK! He CHOSE me!" Lester declared boastfully.
Willie was sickened by Lester's attitude (imagine a normal man being PROUD of what Barnabas did to one when he was a vampire!), but he persisted. If he kept the Sheriff talking long enough, he wouldn't get a chance to use his gun before Willie could get up, at least. Perhaps, if he could ignite a concern for Cecily in the heart of his former rival, he might even gain an ally, something he wished he could have done during that awful time when Barnabas had imprisoned Maggie. . .
"Lester, please. Don't shoot me, not just yet. Think of Cecily," Willie pleaded.
"I AM thinking of her," Lester smirked, "and I think she'll be just fine, from now on, without YOU. What's more, He's promised me that when she's come around to His point of view, she will change her attitude towards ME. Because Barnabas, unlike YOU, doesn't mind if His Bride has other 'friends.' In fact, He told me He encourages it. I won't mind her touching my throat, as long as she's touching everything else! We'll all be together forever, the three of us---"
"It WON'T be just the three of you, don't you get it?" Willie cried. "You'll all have to go after new people, you won't be able to help it! And you won't even care about what you used to think you wanted, until the day somebody gets wise to you, and comes after you with a stake, or silver bullets, or whatever! And you call ME a geek! YOU'RE the damn geek, Lester! Just the way I was, once, but the difference is, YOU got something wrong in you that makes you want this--this DEATH! It's death, Lester! DON'T you understand? Even I understood back then, 'cause I didn't want to die, even though I had LESS to live for THEN, than YOU do NOW! What's the matter, Lester? Don't you give a shit what He's gonna do to you? If you don't care about your own damn self, don't you at least give a shit about Cecily? What He does HURTS! Don't you remember anymore? Or did you forget that, because He tickles that A.C.--D.C. nerve in your brain when He licks your neck?"
Lester, clearly outraged now, clicked the trigger of his gun. Willie rolled away quickly, as the Sheriff's bullet hit the dirt where he once lay. Lester fired twice more, but Willie, always mindful of the last time he'd been shot, crawled swiftly to a shadowed spot behind the Cadillac. There, he grabbed at the frivolous tail-fins flanking the trunk, and managed to pull himself to his feet, only to see Lester standing before him. The Sheriff shoved the gun into his chest, and pulled the trigger.
The trigger jammed! Lester clicked and clicked, cursing, but to no avail. Willie punched him in the jaw, a move that wasn't enough to knock the Sheriff down, but gave him time to run away. Lester pursued him, while grabbing at his own jaw, and still brandishing the gun, useless now except as a means of hitting Willie again, if he could catch up to him. For a man who'd been knocked over as Willie had been, the former felon sure ran fast, Lester thought. But then, he speculated, perhaps Willie was used to being hit in the head. Barnabas had told Lester a few anecdotes about how he used to keep his former servant in line when Willie reared up in feeble defiance. "At least YOU won't require such treatment, dear Lester," Barnabas had sighed. Even his threats after Anissa's trial really had no sting; Barnabas knew he had the Sheriff right where he wanted him.
Lester ran behind the cottage, near an overgrown forsythia, newly covered with buds and tiny leaves. Now it was his turn to fall, tripped by Willie, who'd hidden behind the widespread canes of the bush. The two men rolled together, fighting, on the ground, which sank in a gentle incline from the area of the cottage, into a little gully. As they tumbled down this slope, locked in their struggle, the gun fell from Lester's hands, but not before he'd bruised Willie's face with it. He was about to deliver a final blow with his fist, when they came to an abrupt halt in their slide; they hit a tree. Or, rather, Lester hit the tree, with the back of HIS head. He fell upon Willie, unconscious.
Willie pushed the Sheriff off, and immediately checked to see if Lester was still alive. Yes, he was, Thank God, but Willie said a further prayer to God, that Lester remain oblivious for the time being. Then, Willie had a practical thought. Lester surely must have had the necessary keys on him, that is, if they didn't fall from his pocket during their tumble. Willie patted Lester down, as he himself had been frisked so many times before. In a moment, he had the keyring in his grasp.
He entered the darkened cottage gingerly, afraid every moment that Barnabas, or, perhaps Cecily, would ambush him. Willie wondered how he would react if his wife came after him as a vampire. However he behaved, though, he was positive he wouldn't be as enthusiastic about the prospect as poor stupid Lester. He WOULD feel horribly sad, that much was certain.
But he WOULD be prepared, like the Boy Scout he'd never been. He extracted Pavlos's cross from underneath his jacket, and held it before him as he went down the cellar steps. A three-taper candelabrum was the sole illumination in the basement. He approached the chiffarobe, which swung away on oiled hinges, to reveal the locked door behind, which was set into the thick stone wall. He tried every key on the ring, until he heard one shoot the bolt back. He slowly opened the door, crucifix held high.
"GET THE HELL AWAY FROM MY WIFE, BARNABAS!" Willie shouted, holding Pavlos's cross aloft. His former master cringed away from him, moving away from Cellie's prostrate body. Willie could see the blood
dripping from the wound on her neck. He forced himself not to shake, as he approached his wife's still figure. "You-- you killed her already!" Willie snarled accusingly, as he knelt by her side, still shielding himself with the cross. He couldn't stand the sight of her bleeding like that, so he reached carefully into his pocket, and drew forth a wad of tissues, which he pressed to the wound. All the while, he never took his eyes from Barnabas, save the one glance he'd cast at his wife's injury (NOT a bite, anyway, he'd observed with some relief.)
"I haven't finished her off, just yet," Barnabas said. "Perhaps it won't be necessary."
"Barnabas, please, let me take her out of here," Willie pleaded. "We won't tell a soul. I'll even get Julia to hypnotize her, if you want. Get yourself another Bride! I won't stop you, even though it'll tear me up inside, thinking about some other poor girl--- but I have to take care of my own, first. Please!"
"You are all so full of the most amazing offers of loyalty tonight!" Barnabas sneered. "Pavlos, Lester, and Cellie, and now, you, of all people! My heart would be touched, if I still had one, I have no doubt."
"You-- you're not the way you were before," Willie sputtered, his confidence flagging. "You're just the way you were when I first--- I first let you out. . . Mean, cruel, nasty, didn't give a damn about anything, even your own relatives. . . Your own wife and kid. . ."
"One must change with the times, Willie," Barnabas dared to glance
at him. "You certainly have. For all your prattle about loyalty, and acting in my best interest, it's obvious you care for neither, or else you wouldn't have somehow bested my new servant to get in here. Tell me, Willie, have you returned to being the craven little killer you once were?"
"What--what are you talking about, Barnabas? You--you know I never really killed anybody on purpose! Oh, sure, I liked to talk big about it, once upon a time, just to scare the shit out of people, but those three guys. . . Two were kinda, well, accidents, and one WAS self-defense. Not like anything YOU ever did! I'll even bet you shoved Charlie Plavnicky off Widow's Hill!"
"I WILL NOT DISCUSS THAT!" Barnabas thundered. "Did you, or did you not, kill Lester Arliss?"
"What if I did?" Willie was becoming reckless, as his anxiety increased. Was that Barnabas's old internal signal pounding in his head? He could feel a vein in his forehead twitch, as it used to in the old days. Didn't Barnabas tell him, once, that he would never be free? Not even if Barnabas was cured? Willie had, indeed, stayed on with his former master-tormentor, long after his original influence had faded. He, Willie, couldn't be falling under again! He couldn't! He COULDN'T! He had to get his wife out of here, back with their baby--- Sarah Teresa! Willie tried a new tack.
"Barnabas, let me get Cecily out of here while she's still alive. She HAS to live, now!"
"What has she to, live for, you fool? YOUR love and devotion? After you befouled your marriage bed, first by beating and raping your wife, then by mating with the most revolting witch-goddess the world has ever known?"
"I didn't know! I thought--- I thought Cecily was gonna turn you and me in, and run off with Lester! Anissa tricked me! She made me think she was someone else, and she pretended to love me! I didn't know, but when I knew, I was as disgusted with myself as Cecily was! Especially when Anissa fixed it so I would make our baby and then, the other babies, sick!"
"Well, Willie, Cellie might have forgiven your distrust, and then, your infidelity, but I doubt she would re-kindle her former love for a man who killed her only child!"
"But, I didn't! The baby's better now!"
"Sarah Teresa has RECOVERED? And it's not Nicholas's doing?"
"YES! Yes, Barnabas! Your sister Sarah went back into her, and she's almost back to her normal self! Doesn't that make you--- make you happy, or pleased, at least?"
"Well. . . perhaps. I never really wanted Nicholas to get her, you remember that. It's not costing ME anything, at any rate."
"Then let my wife go, Barnabas! See, Sarah Teresa won't get all well until she sees her Mommy. And me, too, of course. Please, Barnabas, if you ever cared for Sarah Teresa at all, let us go!"
"Ah, but you missed my point before, Willie. Sarah Teresa's recovery costs me nothing. . . Nothing, that is, unless I allow either of you to leave me now. It's too late, Willie."
"Not if Cecily wakes up and I tell her about our little girl!" Willie began to shake his wife by the shoulder. Cellie stirred and mumbled something, but didn't rise.
"You won't have the opportunity, you IDIOT!" With that, Barnabas swung out his cane, and knocked Willie's cross from his hands. Willie ran for the door, but Barnabas grabbed him in an iron hammerlock, and kicked the heavy door shut. "There's only one way to settle this, Willie, and I think you know what it is."
"No, no. . ." Willie whimpered. "Don't, Barnabas. . . I can serve you without THAT. I did it before. I'll work on Cecily, tell her she has to do it too. . . Or, maybe you should just kill me outright. But spare my wife. . ."
"How sweetly self-sacrificing, Willie! I remember your similar offers on behalf of Maggie Evans. But, in the end, you ALWAYS caved in! And do you know why?"
"I--I was scared to die. That's all. I AIN'T scared now---"
"THAT'S NOT THE REASON, EITHER! ALL who live must die, sooner or later. Some die without dying, like myself. No matter what, though, it's something you won't escape. No, Willie. It's what happens well before you die, an urge that hits you at the same time you are just starting to realize that someday you WILL die. An 'urge to merge', as they say, in some basic fashion. . .The crudest form is the sexual urge, a temporary state of insanity that may or may not result in a new life. You knew all about those urges.
"Then, there was the urge you knew when you belonged to me. . . A higher form of that other urge. Higher, because it isn't subject to change on some whim of attraction, and because there is no uncertain outcome. The result is life, but not that of another being. Just the united life of two, sustained by one life force. . . A craving in the mind for the exquisite pain, and the ethereal rush you feel when your blood is being drained slowly. . . Then it renews itself, and is drained again in time. . . All you want to do is give. . ."
"I DON'T CRAVE PAIN, OR TO GIVE YOU ANYTHING, YOU BASTARD! YOU HAD ME ONCE! YOU AIN'T GONNA HAVE ME AGAIN! I BELONG TO CECILY, AND SHE BELONGS TO ME!" Willie struggled to break free. He saw his wife moving a little, trying to get up, in response to his shouts. He would have said more, but Barnabas clapped his hand over Willie's mouth, and slammed him against the wall. They were face-to-face now. Willie could smell Barnabas's cold, dead breath, musty and foul as the tomb from which he'd once escaped.
Worse, the pressure of Barnabas's will oppressed him. The vampire easily retraced the old routes in his former slave's brain, to the place from which Willie's traumatic memories and dreams still issued forth. "This is what you want. This is what you've always wanted, Willie," Barnabas whispered, as he dropped his cane, and ripped the younger man's shirt open from the collar down. He sank his teeth right into the scar of the wound Cellie had made the year before when she'd inadvertantly absorbed his vampire essence.
At first, Willie tried to push Barnabas away, but the the mingled pain and pleasure was to much to resist. Instead, Willie sank to his knees before his once and future Master, who sank with him, still attached. . . Hot tears ran down the furrows of Willie's face, around his bizarre, ecstatic smile.
"Now, who belongs to who?" Barnabas murmurred, as he broke the connection momentarily.
"I belong to you. . . It's different now, from before, somehow. . ." Willie answered dazedly. "It's almost. . . almost nice. . . "
"Keep repeating that to yourself. You belong to me, now and forever." Barnabas fastened himself to Willie's throat again.
"THE GOD-DAMN HELL HE DOES!" Cellie shrieked from behind him.
Willie was in a daze, but his guardian instincts toward Barnabas had been reinstated. He stared up at his wife in terror. "Barnabas, watch out! She's got your cane---"
Too late! Cellie brought the silver wolf's head down between Barnabas's shoulder blades. She'd hoped to pierce him through to his heart, but he had enough warning to turn just enough. . . Still, she observed with satisfaction, she had drawn his bluish, necrotic blood, and he staggered about, trying to catch her. She believed she could get past him to the door, even though she still felt weak. But that weak-ness was a mild discomfort, compared to her horror at what she'd seen and felt, when she first came to, and saw her husband's worst nightmare coming true.
Her own worst nightmare, too, because she could feel the hateful lust with which Barnabas preyed on his former thrall. She'd looked around for a cross, or a weapon, when she spied the cane, lying where Barnabas had dropped it, during his initial struggle with Willie. She turned back to face the scene she'd been dreading. The feral lust, once emanating from Barnabas only, was met with a corresponding orange craving from Willie. "WILL wants this, too?" Cellie had thought. First, it was that WITCH, and now, it was a MALE VAMPIRE! "God, HELP me!" she prayed, as she raised the cane high, and brought it down, not just in righteous anger and for Divine justice, and not from the necessity of rescuing Willie one more time, but in a sickening frenzy of jealousy! It would be all she could do, once she'd killed her uncle, to keep from killing her wretched, confused, lust-ridden husband as well.
She almost made it to the door, the bloodied cane still in her hands, when she heard Barnabas croak an order to Willie. "Seize her," he said quietly.
"No--no, Barnabas. I can't. . . She's still my wife---"
"I SAID, SEIZE HER!"
Cellie tried the doorknob and whacked at her husband with the cane
at the same time. The door was locked again! She thrust the cane at Willie again. He deftly yanked it from her hands, and threw it to Barnabas. As Willie grabbed his wife, he kept saying, "Sorry. Sorry, Cecily. But you see, I was HIS all along. Sorry. Even though the baby--- I wanted to tell you about the baby---"
"What about her, Will?" Cellie asked. "Did they take her to the undertaker already, or what?"
Willie tried to tell her, but he felt Barnabas's eyes on him. Suddenly, he experienced a choking sensation. Finally, he said, "Nothing. Just sorry about her, that's all." He looked at Barnabas in defeat. "Now, what do you want me to do?"
Barnabas surveyed his niece in fitful glances. "As you can see, she's covered with crosses. You must conceal as many as you can, and expose a blood-filled part of her body that isn't already marked."
"I thought you just wanted to kill me!" Cellie said defiantly.
"I've changed my mind again, my dear," he replied. "Now that Willie's on hand, it will be easier, and more satisfactory to make you my Bride after all."
"No, Barnabas," Willie said. "I can't do that. Don't make me. I'll see if Lester's okay. He can help you. You wouldn't have made me watch when you were gonna do it to Maggie. Don't make me help you now."
"Lester has been superceded!" his Master declared ominously. "I can't have too many thralls roaming the countryside. It hasn't been working out too well with both Pavlos and Lester. YOU and Lester are too much of a muchness."
"What's gonna happen to HIM?" Willie asked fearfully. "And PAVLOS?"
"I'll decide that when I'm through here. I haven't a lot of time, either for a debate or defiance. Think of this as the ultimate test of loyalty, Willie. Your loss will only be momentary, and then, Cellie will return to both of us. Did you hear that, my old friend? She and I will share your services."
"She'll still want me?"
"WILL, DON'T LISTEN! YOU KNOW HOW IT'S GOING TO BE!" Cellie fought and kicked like a tiger.
"I'm sorry, Cecily. But I have to do what he wants," Willie answered in a spiritless voice. He shook her violently, and slapped her. When she was subdued, he grabbed a big hank of her hair, and shoved it into her mouth, which made her gag and wheeze. When he did that, he managed to cover the crosses on her forehead and throat. Just to be on the safe side, though, he ripped open her mirrored blouse, the blouse he himself had given her for Christmas, and exposed the unmarked shell-white of her breast in its flimsy bra.
Barnabas's eyes lit with almost uncontrollable lust, a sensation so powerful, it made Cellie moan with discomfort. He lowered his face to her breast. Just as his teeth touched it, the girl managed to twist around in her husband's grasp.
First, she brought up one of her knees sharply, and pounded Barnabas in the groin. In his rage, he smacked her face even harder than her husband had, while she was still in Willie's embrace. Then, he reached down behind him for his cane, and held it aloft, as she'd done before.
Cellie squealed in pure terror now, clawing at her husband to save her, as she'd once saved him, from the cane. "Will, please, snap out of it! You HAVE to make a choice! Me or him! Please, hon, he's gonna kill me! DON'T LET HIM KILL ME!"
Willie answered blankly, while holding her tighter than before, "I wish I could, Cecily, but I can't---" Still, tears squeezed from his eyes. He did feel bad, he did, but it was too late, with that cane coming down--- Cellie brought up her arm and tried to fend it off, but somehow her husband grabbed her wrist and she got it loose and hit his shoulder where the bitemark was and---
Willie began to scream in a horrible agony. At first Cellie thought it was because Barnabas had hit him with the cane instead, but she saw the cane on the ground, and then she was aware of Barnabas's wailing. "What the hell happened?" she shouted. Then she noticed, her wrist, with its cross-scratch meant to protect her from Barnabas's teeth, was stuck squarely on Willie's bitemark. The cross must be afflicting Barnabas through his intimate connection with his closest blood-servant! At all costs, then, she must keep it there, until she could find the other crosses, anyway.
"Hon," she whispered to Willie, much of her anger and hatred somehow having faded with this new union between them. "Will, are you okay? Are you with Me?"
"I belong to You now, Cecily," he replied, quietly. Apparently, he had adjusted to his new initiation. Barnabas, however, still moaned in agony. "I'm sorry, my Cecily," Willie continued. "Truly sorry. I let you down."
"No, Will, you couldn't help it. I can see that now. But we have to get out of here."
"Okay," he said in a docile tone. They began to move toward the door, still awkwardly connected. "I still have the keys in my pocket," he whispered.
"Wait," came Barnabas's weakened voice at the other end of the tiny room. "Wait. Cecily, there's something you must do for me. Please. I mean you no harm, so long as you stay with Willie."
Cellie began to read her uncle. There was no longer a hint of the feral nature in him, at least for the moment. In fact, there was just a lot of midnight blue and mauve, sadness and despair, and even some pink, the color of pure affection. He WAS human, and therefore, approachable. "I have to find out what he wants," Cellie told her husband.
"No, let's go," Willie pleaded. "I'm not strong enough, if he gets powerful again."
"Not as long as we stick together," she assured him. "Are you still with me?"
"Yes, Cecily. Together till the end," Willie sighed resignedly.
With that, the couple edged closer to the man crouched on the floor. "Well, Barnabas, what DO you want?" Cellie asked, kindly, but pointedly.
"Cellie. . . I am terribly sorry for this. I never, in my wildest dreams, EVER wanted this to happen. Do you believe me?"
"Aside from whatever ordinary fantasies any man, even YOU, might have about pretty women, I guess you're on the level," Cellie replied, some mistrust still in her voice.
"Cellie, you can be angry at me. This wasn't all Nicholas's idea. In fact, he changed his mind about our union. I'm not sure why."
"But, what the Hell, you went ahead anyway," she said bitterly. "And you took my husband along for the ride. But you know, Barnabas? I don't hate you. There's still something left of what we once had together."
"I know that. And that is why I am now, while this human feeling is still upon me, for how long I don't know, I am going to ask you to do me the greatest kindness a human can do for a vampire, and KILL me."
"WHAT!" Cellie and Willie cried in unison. Alone, Cellie said,"You mean, hang around here until dawn, and stake you? Or grab a gun full of silver bullets? I can't, and Will couldn't either, I'm sure."
"Of course you couldn't. It's too direct and personal, and the time for that has passed. No, I only ask that you keep me from my coffin until the sun comes up. It's only a matter of a half-hour or so, now."
"How-- how can we do that without you forcing me, or killing her?" Willie asked.
"I don't know. But it MUST be done, or else this will go on, forever and a day."
"Barnabas," Cellie pleaded, in tears now, "We might find a cure for you. And what would Aunt Jule think? Wouldn't you like to be around when Alistair is born?"
"There is no cure," he said hopelessly. "Nicholas was too strong and cunning when he laid this incarnation of the curse on me. And if you did manage to cure me this time, so what? Another of my old enemies would show up eventually, and reinstate the curse. It would go on and on. As it was in the beginning. . . ad infinitum. As for my beloved wife, and she IS my beloved, in spite of everything. . . She'll be better off in the long run. She'll come to accept it. What's more,
if I die in the light, all my vampire sins will burn away. I will only be bound to pay for the crimes I committed as a man. Perhaps I will be an earthbound spirit, able to watch my son grow up at close range. . ."
"But he won't know it," Willie said pityingly.
"Better that, than growing up to know what I am, if I should survive. You two can help Julia explain me to my son. Please, Cellie, in the name of the love we bore each other. . ."
"I don't WANT to hurt you! Not anymore!" she cried.
"Cecily, please. I can feel the pain lifting. In a minute I will be the animal I was before your blood crosses stopped me. Now, please, go get the real ones. . . A minute. . . no more---"
Cellie and Willie scrambled to find the crosses on the floor. Cellie found hers right away. Willie couldn't find Pavlos's, but he grabbed two sticks of wood, and held them together tightly. "It'll do for now, Cecily."
She was doubtful, but until the other cross turned up, it would have to serve. "Okay, Will," she said, "I'll stand between him and the casket. You guard the door. If he tries to rush you, JUMP! But for God's sake, what ever he says or does, DON'T look him in the eye, or he'll have you again!"
Barnabas rose, a vicious expression on his face. Cellie sprang before the casket, hopping about with the cross flashing in her uncle's face. Barnabas made swipes at her with his cane, but she led him around the small room, all the while wondering why a half-hour seemed like such a long time when one had to wait for something. She tried to put herself in some mental place where she could picture the sunrise, since she could not see it for real.
Willie had taken her to see the sunrise once, last summer. They'd sat upon the bench on Widow's Hill, and watched the silvery-mauve twilight give way to orange glints as the red-orange orb seemed to rise from the ocean horizon, so slowly, just a glowing line at first. . . Willie recited the seafaring doggerel he'd heard in his shipping days:
"Red sky at morning, sailor's warning,
Red sky at night, sailor's delight. . ."
Cellie timed her imaginary sunrise, wondering if Barnabas could read her mind, and see the sunrise she was conjuring up. Would that it was enough to stop him, to kill him! NO! If only he could see it, and live on. . . He'd told her how it felt to see the sun again, after the first time that Dr. Lang had treated him. . . Never to see his son, playing in the sun. . . She danced on, wearily, realizing that she would never see her daughter playing in the sun, either. . .Fate had been cruel to both herself and her uncle, punishment for pride and presumption. . . Presumption that she could keep up this mad pace. . . She stumbled!
Barnabas almost fell upon her, but Willie beat him to it, shoving his makeshift cross in the vampire's face, and keeping his eyes firmly on Cellie until she righted herself. Barnabas flew to the door, but, again, Willie got there first. Barnabas hit his servant a few times, but so long as Willie gazed at his wife, he didn't feel much pain. He gripped his cross more tightly than ever, and glanced at his watch. Just over ten minutes to go, he thought triumphantly, when the door behind him flew open, shoving him to one side, though he still held onto the cross.
"Sweet Jesus, JULIA!" Willie cried.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Julia checked in briefly with Elizabeth, Roger, and Tony for the latest word on the progress of Carolyn's operation "She's still alive, that's all we know at this time," Roger informed her, "though, before they went in, the surgeon said Buzz had done a sterling job of stopping some of the bleeding. So we have hope." Julia forebore from telling the stricken family anything about Sarah Teresa at that moment.
Then Julia returned to the Pediatric floor, where she was surprised to see Elliot Stokes standing alone, in a visitor's solarium down the hall from the chapel room. "Elliot, why haven't you joined the searchers?"
"Why haven't you done so yet, Julia?" the Professor asked in a tone of stern accusation. "Have you been getting those signals from Barnabas by way of your son? I noticed your discomfiture earlier, in spite of your relief at Sarah Teresa's recovery."
"Good heavens, NO, Elliot," Julia protested indignantly. "Can't you accept that I'm having ordinary Braxton-Hicks contractions, like any other pregnant woman, without assuming that I'm also receiving Morse Code from my husband?"
"NOTHING about our existences is ever ordinary, Julia, not even your superfluous pre-labor pains. Just like nothing is ordinary about your niece's disappearance."
"Explain THAT assertion, Elliot," Julia snapped, her hand again going to her belly. Calm yourself, Alistair, she told her fetus in her mind, soon we'll go see your Papa.
"What I mean to say, Julia, is that I suspect Barnabas may be mixed up in her continued absence. Many things lead me to believe so.
I was watching Pavlos's face during our discussion about the Sheriff. Pavlos was under Barnabas's spell for a time, you know."
"That may well be, Elliot, but it's obvious HE didn't kidnap Cellie."
"Of course not, because Barnabas never physically put his mark upon Pavlos, and thus, the power of the Light has triumphed in him. But there is another, whom HE recognized as Barnabas's thrall, though I, in my distraction at the time, did not."
"LESTER!" Julia exclaimed in amazement, recalling Willie's observations about the Sheriff, earlier. "You mean, Lester was bitten by Barnabas?"
"I have come to believe so. You should have seen Lester before Anissa's trial, Julia. Ashen-faced, great shadows beneath his eyes, his collar buttoned tightly up to his chin. . . Pavlos dealt with him alone, and convinced him to join us, though I noticed, later, at the courthouse, Lester could not handle a crucifix, at least for the length of time he would have been required to do so. We set him to less religious tasks, which he DID perform well, out of hatred of Anissa. Afterward, though, he was rather eager to get away from us. It was nearly sundown, then. . . Are you catching my drift, Julia?"
"Why didn't Pavlos say something earlier?"
"Barnabas is still capable of aggravating the poor fellow's heart condition whenever he talks about the situation to anyone, other than, apparently, a fellow-sufferer. Pavlos TRIED to help us find Barnabas, based on his previous knowledge of his whereabouts, but, save for that one brief appearance in the cemetery after we rescued Sarah Collins, your husband has proved quite elusive. Perhaps he's doubling back on his tracks, like some animals, but he can't do it without help. That brings me to another thing he might do like an animal, steal away a bereft young mother, at her moment of least resistance, to make her his Mate, as I recall almost happened last summer. Again, something he would have needed reliable assistance to accomplish."
"And, who more reliable than the bright, energetic, and youthful local Sheriff?" Julia said. "Oh, God. Barnabas is at once the same, and yet different, as when Willie first set him free. . . Whatever vampire spell Nicholas put him under has made him far cannier in his choice of servants. But his choice is still more dangerous, by far. . ."
"You are more worried about the danger to Barnabas than your niece!" Elliot exclaimed in dismay. "Julia, Julia. . . I don't want to harm Barnabas at this point, if he isn't harming anyone else. I've begun to rethink my arguments against trying for a cure. But if he has Cellie, then ALL hope is gone for both of them, because each of them compliments the other perfectly, and they WILL uphold and protect each other, once Cellie has been transformed. Then, there will be NO place for you and your son in that equation. Julia," the Professor said urgently, "if you have any inkling where Barnabas is, you MUST help me seek him out--- JULIA! COME BACK!"
He broke into a run down the hall, toward the elevators, whence Julia, who still moved swiftly in spite of her condition, had jumped into an open and waiting car. It snapped shut in Elliot's face, just as he arrived. He punched the other elevator buttons in frustration. He soon realized he would have to huff and puff down the service stairs, and call a taxi, as most of the other searchers had already driven
off, and his vehicle was still out of gas. And this time, there would be no deux ex machina, in the form of the timely arrival of Buzz or some other helpful agency.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Julia drove on through the early morning darkness, a sure instinct in her gut, given emphasis by her unborn son's internal pounding. She knew just where to go--- the secret room at Abijah's Cottage! Barnabas had shown it to her. He'd intended to move some of his valuables there, stored in a trunk almost as large as his original coffin. That must be where he slept now, she thought, with an odd pang of tenderness, close to their own home. She couldn't be too late, to keep her niece away from him. . .
Until this moment, she had successfully denied it to herself, that she was just as jealous of Barnabas's relationship with Cellie, as she had been of the others, Vicky Winters, Roxanne Drew, Angelique, even the spirit of Josette. . . All his words of thoughtful devotion, all his gentle but restrained caresses, all his halting lovemaking which had ceased so abruptly upon the confirmation of her pregnancy! HE had tried to excuse himself on the grounds that it was an old-fashioned sign of concern for their baby, but SHE knew better! "Damn, you, Barnabas! Damn you, Cellie!" she almost wept. They were together NOW, she knew it, in spite of herself, and Willie. . .
She had a dreadful thought! Elliot believed that Pavlos could only relate his distress to a "fellow-sufferer." Well, who had suffered more at Barnabas's hands (and lived to tell about it), than Willie? Pavlos wouldn't even have to say more than a few words to his friend, for Willie to go tearing after the Master he'd once loathed, and his traitorous wife! That could be dangerous, too! Julia wished she'd brought a gun. She decided to stop at the Old House, and get Barnabas's.
Armed and ready, she arrived at the cottage, to find one of her fears confirmed. Lester Arliss lay sprawled on the frosty new grass, in a shallow gully next to the small house. Julia ignored her doctor's instincts to rush to his aid; she could see that he was breathing, if still unconscious, and she had weightier matters at hand. Instead, she rushed through the parlor and kitchen of the dark cottage, to the cellar door. Cautiously, she tiptoed down.
She observed that the chiffarobe was already pushed back. She heard muffled voices, and quick steps behind the heavy door. She tried a key, when she realized the door was already open a crack. She swung it open wide, only to hear Willie's yell.
* * * * * * * * * * *
"Julia!" Willie cried. "Put the gun down!"
"Not on your life." She aimed it at him, and fired. He dropped to the ground. Whether she'd hit him or not, she didn't care--- he might simply have fainted from fright. That would suit her purposes for now. She aimed the gun, now, at her niece, who was leaning backward over the casket, but looking at Julia, and Barnabas lunging at Cellie, but fended off by the cross she carried. "Drop the Cross, Cellie!" Julia ordered. She trained her pistol on her niece's head.
"NO, AUNT JULE! I HAVE TO, YOU SEE, BARNABAS TOLD ME TO DO THIS!"
"She lies, Julia!" Barnabas wheedled, gazing into his wife's eyes. "She and Willie ambushed me as I came back for my daily rest! Shoot her NOW!"
Julia's finger touched the trigger, as she looked at her niece. Her niece, she thought, her God-daughter, the young girl she'd once seen as an extension of herself, the recipient of her teachings, the upholder of her relationship with Barnabas. . . If not for Cellie, Julia would have married Elliot, and not Barnabas. If not for Cellie, Julia would not be pregnant now, would not even be alive. . . Julia lowered the gun for a moment, considering.
"JULIA! SHOOT HER! I FEEL THE PAIN OF THE SUN'S APPROACH! I BESEECH YOU!"
Julia observed her husband's obvious agony, and clicked the trigger--- but the gun was knocked from her hands, and she was held in an iron grip. . .
"DAVID! THANK GOD!" Cellie screeched.
"Keep holding onto her, David," Willie urged the young quarterback, as he rose slowly from the floor, now clutching Pavlos's cross, which he'd found while lying on the floor. He had fallen the instant he saw Julia's finger touch the trigger, but he hadn't moved fast enough--- a bullet had grazed his arm, and it bled slowly, soaking his sleeve, to match the congealing blood on his torn collar. "You better yank out your cross, too, kid," the older man advised, as he resumed his position.
"You're both damn lucky the Professor just called me in time," David said breathlessly, as he pulled out his cross, and gingerly held the struggling pregnant woman, trying not to hurt her.
"You know what we're tryin' to do, right?" Willie asked.
"I--I guess so," David repied sadly. "I'll shut the door, for extra security--" He kicked behind himself, to push the heavy door, but lost his footing for a moment. Julia was able to reach down, and retrieve her fallen weapon.
"FIRST, THE LIGHTS!" she cried in an insane voice of triumph. She
aimed with one arm, which David tried to knock down, with Willie's help, but she successfully hit the sole candelabrum, knocking it to the ground and dousing the tiny flames. It was now pitch dark. . .
"I SEE NO CROSSES!" Barnabas roared. "BUT I CAN SEE THOSE WHO HAVE BETRAYED ME!" He reached for Cellie's throat, and proceeded to strangle her, even though she still frantically touched the cross to his face. He yelped in pain and anger, and tried to knock it from her tense fingers, but in a few seconds it wouldn't matter.
Willie stumbled toward the commotion, as David, still encumbered by Julia, tried to pry the heavy door open again, for light. Willie found, and jumped on Barnabas's back. The scent of the blood from his new wounds was impossible for Barnabas to resist, and he dropped the gasping Cellie, who crouched near the casket, listening to her husband's high, thin wail of final agony--- she even fancied she could see him, caught in Barnabas' arms, in the gloom. . .
WAIT! How COULD she see? The candles were out, the door was still stuck tightly shut, there was no window. . . YES! There was! She gazed up at a tiny, painted-over slot of a window, probably cut into the stones to ventilate the small room for the waiting runaway slaves. There WERE many layers of greyish paint, but a faint glow still shone through, not bright enough to disturb Barnabas when he was at rest in this room, but if was somehow broken. . .
All Cellie had to throw was her tiny cross, hardly enough to even scratch the thick glass and metal grillework that held it in place. She tried to grab the candelabrum, but it was too heavy, and she doubted Barnabas would let her get near the window. But one of the candles, now. . . One was still fairly intact. She yanked it from where it had stuck in its puddle of hardened wax, and chucked it upward with all her might--- it missed and hit the floor! Barnabas turned from his struggle with Willie, who, in spite of his anguish, still refused to look into his Master's eyes.
Then Cellie felt something hit her hand, which hung at her side. The cane! Somehow, her husband had kicked it up to her, from where Barnabas had laid it on the ground while they fought--- No, that was impossible. And it was impossible for David or even her Aunt to have tossed it to her--- as though Julia would have, anyway! Cellie heard a soft, slightly-familiar voice in her ear, the voice of whoever had helped extract Jason's soul from her body.
"I will make your aim true," the voice assured her. Cellie rose, and threw the heavy cane, as though it were a javelin, silver head first, at the high, tiny window, and heard the satisfying sound of it shattering, metal grille and all. A pale, golden-orange beam of light trickled in little by little. Barnabas dropped Willie, whose throat bled anew, to the ground, and clutched at his own head, and his heart.
"AAAAIIIIIEEEEEE! IT BURNS! MASTER, STOP ITS BURNING!"
He shrieked, as he tried to shield himself with his cape. He groped at his body, trying to assuage the unbearable agony. Barnabas tried to move away from the sun-beam. But Willie managed to get up one last time, forced himself to gaze into his wife's eyes, and, at her nod, shoved the vampire into its center, and held him until he could no longer move.
"BARNABAS! BARNABAS!" Julia wailed, trying to break from David's arms, to aid her husband. Great tears flew from her face, and splashed onto Barnabas's. There was steam where the tears hit his cheeks.
"JULIA! CELLIE! SAVE ME! I WAS WRONG! THE SINS ARE NOT BURNING AWAY! I WILL DIE DAMNED FOR ALL TIME! I CAN FEEL IT!" Barnabas tore at his burning face. His whole body began to glow in the light. "GOD!" He cried, "PLEASE SAVE MY SOUL, AT LEAST!", as he sank to his knees in the blistering light, now almost too bright for the mortals around him to watch.
Cellie, her heart pounding with a bewildering mixture of fear and elation, knelt by her husband, who had sunk back onto the ground, gasping in an empathic seizure with the Master he'd betrayed for her. Willie did grope for her hand. "Cecily," he whimpered, "we're both gonna die. . ."
Voices uttered by unseen beings, filled the air, squabbling female voices. "You must do it!" the voice of Cellie's invisible helper whispered loudly. "It is part of your penance!"
"But he will be with me, for millenia, as we expiate our evil deeds together!" The other voice, far more familiar, answered despairingly.
"You kept him from killing, you helped cure his wife, and you marked Cecily. That's to your credit. But you upheld him in his existence, and you failed to save one, whom he did not murder, but might as well have. If you do not do this. . . I would, if I had the power. You still have some of yours. But I agree, yours IS the choice."
"I love him---"
"Prove it, then, as you did once before."
"Did you hear that, everybody?" Cellie asked.
"Hear what?" David and Willie whispered in unison. Julia had buried her face in her hands, no longer able to bear the sight of the writhing, wailing, tortured creature before her.
"Barnabas, Barnabas, my love!" she wept. A spasm passed over her face, and she grabbed her belly. "My God," she cried. "I'm losing my child. . . again. . ."
Cellie rose to tend to her aunt, when all eyes suddenly turned toward Barnabas, who now had sunk into his cape, moaning, and starting to fade away, still engulfed in the harsh, unrelenting morning light. In a moment, there would only be ashes, maybe some teeth, and his ring. . . and his soul condemned forever for the evil he had done as a vampire.
But he wasn't alone! A swirling white light had surrounded the crouching man, shielding him from the daylight. In the light, a woman's form appeared. . . Angelique! She knelt, and embraced her dying former spouse tenderly, as the light around him suddenly became as bright as the flash of a nuclear bomb. Everybody shielded their eyes.
When they were all sure the light was gone, everybody opened their eyes to an amazing sight. Instead of a pile of ash, there was Barnabas, lying intact, sprawled in the light beam, which suddenly faded. Angelique knelt by him for a moment more, kissing his brow, then disappearing.
David released Julia, and Willie crawled near, his own pain gone, as well as most of the ugly abcess on his throat. (However, his bullet-wounded arm still bled.) Cellie came up behind her best friend, afraid to look at her uncle. But, within a minute, she reached for one of his hands. Julia held the other.
Barnabas opened his eyes, and looked upon these people, who had hated, then loved him, the most in his life. "Julia, my love," he whispered.
"Don't talk, Barnabas," his wife urged. (Cellie noticed that her aunt's hand had fallen from her belly; apparently her latest bout of premature labor had also been cured by Barnabas's release.) "We will get you to a hospital."
"Too late," he muttered. "Angelique saved my soul, but my human life is nearly over. Still, I will always be near you, and our son, my Julia. My last love. My best. . ."
"No, you can't die now!" Julia cried. "You're not a vampire anymore, never will be again, I believe it now! Live for our child, Barnabas, please. You waited so long to have one. . ." She took the limp hand she was holding, and laid it upon her middle, as Cellie once had, when she had to revive Willie after their seance with Jeremiah. But it was to no avail.
Barnabas whispered, "Not much time. . . must say farewell. . . Wish Carolyn was here. . ."
"She's at the hospital now. She will recover from Nicholas's ritual," David told him with a confidence he didn't feel.
"Dear David," Barnabas said. "So much trouble I gave you when you were younger, and yet you stood fast for me this day, and my dear ones. I DID want Cellie to do this, you must understand that. Willie will tell you. But you, David, you must help Julia, and Cellie. . . Be a credit to our family."
"I'll give it my best shot, Barnabas," David smiled, though he was crying quietly now.
"Willie," Barnabas whispered.
"I'm here, Barnabas. You know I'm always here, for you. I'm tryin' real hard to forgive you, because you always tried to make stuff up to me in the past."
"You-- you forgive me. . . That is amazing. Maybe, sometime, I can forgive myself. I am sorry. So sorry. . . Cherish your wife. Worth more than rubies. . . Rubies. . . Like my own dear wife. And tell her--- tell her--- Cellie? Where are you, my dear? I can't-- can't see you. . . It's all getting dark, and cold. . ."
"I'm holding your hand now," his niece wept. "Can't you feel it?"
"I don't know. But I hear you. That's the last thing to go,
they say." Barnabas smiled sadly in Cellie's direction. "I want to thank you, my best-- best ally. The one who understood, and wasn't afraid. . . "
"I WAS afraid, for the last couple of minutes. Sorry---"
"But you kept your head in the end, and you acted from devotion, not hatred or fear. Just like Vicky. . . I can hear her calling to me, to stay here, but I am so tired. I MUST go. I did love you all, in the end. Tell my son. And Sarah. . . Sarah?" His eyelids fell, and the rest of his body became limp.
Julia lifted one eyelid gently. "Fixed and dilated," she murmurred in her precise way. She felt his pulse. "He's--he's really gone. He's really gone, this time," she announced in a tiny voice. She tried to cry again, but it was as if she'd spent all her tears. "He has peace. . ." She crawled onto his still-warm body, shielding it from the others.
Willie and David both reached for Cellie, but she gave the secret door a mighty tug, and yanked it open. Willie went after her. He found his wife crouched on the cellar steps, shivering. "Cecily," he whispered tearfully, as he sat next to her, and tried to embrace her, "It's gonna be okay, my girl. You did a good thing, even if we have to be sad for a while."
"How CAN it be a GOOD thing?" she asked, twitching from his grasp.
"I killed the dearest friend I ever had, before you, and David, and Pavlos and Carolyn. . . I killed my spiritual father, I think. . ."
"It was what HE wanted," Willie reminded her.
"HE wasn't thinking straight at the time, either! We could have fixed him, somehow!"
"Cecily, it was impossible! He was right, every time some new bad guys would show up, that's almost the first thing they always did to Him! Now, He's safe, and we're safe, because they won't be so hot to come here anymore, with HIM gone!"
"That's bull. I just know it. So Barnabas is dead, and Nicholas is out of commission. So, wait a few years. Alistair may be the next target of whoever comes looking for his father, and discovers Barnabas is dead. How will we protect him, without his father to give us the benefit of his experience?"
"I-- I don't know. I never thought about it that way. It's too much to take in right now, anyway. . . You may not believe this, Cecily, but losing Him, even after what he just tried to do to us, hurts me something awful."
"It's like someone dying after a long battle with cancer," Cellie observed. "You try to remember the person when he was at his best, his happiest. . . When he came home from Boston, with Aunt Jule, and told us she was already pregnant---" Now, Cellie wept. Willie pulled her close, but she tore away from him, and ran up the steps.
"Cecily!" he shouted, "Where are you going!" There was no reply. He went up the steps to find her, but she was already out the door. Willie had no idea where she might run to, now. He went out on the back porch of the Henderson place, and nearly bumped into Professor Stokes.
"Professor!" Willie gasped, "did you see which way my wife went?"
"I thought I caught a glimpse of a woman running in the direction of Collinwood," Elliot replied.
"Oh, thank God!" Willie said, fervently. "I thought for sure, she was gonna jump off Widow's Hill, or something!"
"Good Lord, man, what happened here, that would cause Cellie to do THAT?"
"You gotta come see for yourself, Professor. I guess, if Cecily's gone back to her place in the Big House, I'll be able to help out here for a while. Matter of fact, I have to." Willie put his arm around Elliot's shoulder, and conducted him down to the basement room.
David had managed to pick Julia up, and was hugging her tightly, as they both watched Elliot crouch by Barnabas's lifeless body. Elliot, as well-versed in his specialty as Julia was in hers, examined his friend carefully.
"He's dead, Elliot," Julia whispered. "I checked all the vital signs. He was burned from within by the daylight. As though he was electrocuted. That's the cover story we'll have to give, for his-- his death. With any luck, an autopsy will confirm it. They'll--- they'll cut him up!" she began to wail. "They'll examine his heart! And put it-- put it in a SCALE, and his BRAIN, and his LIVER---" Julia screamed wildly, as she recounted the usual autopsy procedures. David tried to calm her, but she ranted on and on in her hysteria. It only made matters worse, when Willie responded with his own noisy grief.
"JULIA!" Elliot shouted. He rose from Barnabas's side. took a short step forward, and slapped the hysterical "widow". Julia cringed in David's arms.
"How could you do that, Professor?" David demanded.
"Because Julia must listen to me NOW! Barnabas is NOT dead!
He is in a state of suspended animation, like Sarah Teresa was, when Pavlos attempted the tranference of Sarah Collins. Something jolted her into animation--- perhaps the necessity of warning us about her mother's danger. Barnabas awaits a signal of his own. I will try to jump-start him, so to speak, with some incantations I know, but we may have to wait for his ultimate recovery. When I have secured his sentience, you MUST contact an ambulance."
Without another word, or interruption from the others, Elliot began his ritual. "I would call upon the Powers of Light that have united to save this man from falling into the infinite clutches of Darkness: The Lord GOD, all the angels and saints, and the souls of those reclaimed penitents who performed the earthly portion of this deed. Thy work is yet unfinished. He has his soul, cleansed of the foul stench and bloody stain of the walking Dead who, in their unbearable loneliness from the Light, roam the Earth to create more like themselves.
“But he has unfinished business to perform in Thy Name. Thou hast saved him for such a higher Purpose, this we know. But he must have breath, and a heart-beat, to await the return of his other faculties. Otherwise, Thy efforts in his behalf will go to waste at the hands of Unbelievers. This we beseech Thee, in the name of the Good Fight we sinners must wage for Thy Glory, and our salvation."
Julia, Willie, and David stared at Barnabas's still form with bated breath. Julia pushed David's arms away, and knelt by her husband. She gazed at his face. His nostrils began to twitch a little. Julia put her head to Barnabas's chest. "Heartbeats!" she exclaimed softly, checking the rate against the sweep-second hand of her wristwatch. "Twenty beats a minute, twenty-five, thirty. . . Holding at thirty." She examined his eyes again. His pupils contracted slightly in the ever-increasing light beam that filtered in from the tiny window. "He IS alive, but barely."
Willie asked, "What will make Barnabas get better for good and all, do you think?"
"In my opinion," the Professor intoned, "only the TOTAL destruction of Nicholas Blair. And there's only one way to do THAT, I'm afraid. He must say his son's name, and the Indian spirit will do the rest."
"And there's only one person who's supposed to be able to get him to do that," Willie said fearfully.
"Cellie. . . she ran out of here so abruptly, without a word as to where she was going," David said.
"But she went to Collinwood," Willie insisted. "The Professor saw her."
"We'll certainly look for her there," David said. "But, what if--what if she decided it was payback time for Nicholas?"
"Why would she do such a thing on impulse, without proper preparation, Willie?" Elliot asked.
"She was still real upset, and so were we," Willie said sheepishly.
"Did you not tell her she had something to live for? That your daughter was recovering?"
"I-- I COULDN'T at first. Barnabas fixed me, so I couldn't, then, we were all so miserable about him being dead, I guess it slipped MY mind, anyway." Willie turned from the Professor, and covered his face with his hands.
"It slipped ALL our minds, from one cause or another," Julia said, sounding remorseful. "In my case, somehow I became so painfully aware of all my pent-up envy about Cellie's and Barnabas's relationship, that all I wanted to do was get even. . . It was far worse than the jealousy I once felt toward Vicky Winters and the others. I almost KILLED my niece---"
"Understandable in a way, after what was revealed to all of us last summer," the Professor said. "And yet, the memory of that incident did not save any of us from coming close to what would have been the inevitable conclusion. . . Enough of this post-mortem for now! We must act to save Cellie from making any further horrible mistakes, and still have time to get Barnabas looked after. . . Is the phone still in service here, Julia?"
"No," she replied, "And not at the Old House, either. I'll have to call from the Great House."
"I'll run up there for you," David said. "But what will I tell the E.M.T.'s? And what about this room? The casket?"
Willie went into action without a word. He began to drag Barnabas from the room.
"No dragging!" Julia cried. "They can detect that!"
David and the Professor helped Willie carry the unconscious former vampire out of the room, and deposited him near the house wiring unit. Then Willie shut the hidden room, and replaced the chiffarobe. In the few minutes it took to accomplish these tasks, Julia had come up with a satisfactory cover story.
"He must have escaped from Nicholas's house, and came here instinctively in his confusion, believing that Nicholas would search the Old House first, with all its perfect nooks and crannies for hiding. By the time Nicholas thought to come here, Barnabas would have made his escape, but it didn't work out that way. He tripped down here, and hit some of those wires, which ARE still in service, giving himself
just enough of a shock to knock him out. It helps that he seems to have gotten some singe marks from those candles I shot at. We, who were looking for Cellie, who'd disappeared from the hospital, saw a light blinking in the empty house, and stopped to look, in case it was Cellie, and found Barnabas instead. He came to, just long enough to tell us about Nicholas, and went out again."
"I pray you can get him to repeat that tale, when he finally regains consciousness," Elliot said.
"I won't leave him alone for a second, not even with Virginia Hurley," Julia declared. "I CAN handle HER questions in my own way. Now, the only thing that has to be done, is damage to a couple of the wires."
"I think I can do that, without messing myself up," Willie said. Covering his hand with his jacket, he gingerly yanked a couple of wires and cables loose. For an instant, his hair stood on end; the others gasped, thinking he would collapse beside Barnabas.
When THAT didn't happen, and the cottage didn't catch fire around them, Elliot said, "Now, Willie, you must come with me to the Henderson House."
"No," David said. suddenly. "I'll go."
"Why, do you think I'm gonna whack out or something over there?"
Willie demanded angrily.
"NO!" the younger man protested. "But think, Willie. Cellie was still pretty uneasy with you, or she wouldn't have stormed out like that. What are you going to do, run into Nicholas's house, and beg her to come out, because Sarah Teresa's okay now? She'll either not believe you, or she'll be pissed off royally, because you didn't tell her right away after Barnabas, uh, 'died'. To make matters worse, NICHOLAS will know, and maybe he can still do something to hurt the baby, as well as Cellie!"
"Yes, I see!" Elliot said. "That does make sense."
"He's right, I guess," Willie said, disgruntled. "Cecily was gettin' a little warmer to me, but not enough to let such a screw-up go by. Nicholas sure wouldn't."
"There's something else," David said. "I saw the Indian once. He helped me--- well, I never told anyone this, but you might as well know--- he helped me save Adele one time, when she almost fell off Widow's Hill last autumn. I guess he likes me, as much as he likes Cellie."
"That could be VERY helpful to us. Alright," Elliot announced, "Willie can run to call the ambulance for Julia, and come back here to make sure that room's completely safe from prying eyes. David, you are young and limber. I hate to send you on, alone, but you will get down to that house in far better time than I. But don't go rushing headlong through the door! Keep an eye on the place, and wait for me."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Cellie charged down the hill to the Henderson house. There was only one thought left in her exhausted, over-wrought brain--- Nicholas had to pay for what he had done, and had made others do to destroy her friends, her marriage, her daughter. . . Cellie stifled her sobs when she thought about the harsh reality of her baby's death, the warm little body stiff with that bottomless chill. . . Never to hear her laughter, or even her cries---
Sarah Teresa would weep brokenly for her "Meh--meh" in the middle of the night, since her father had been away. Then Cellie would scoop her out of her crib, to discover that the baby was neither wet nor hungry; she just wanted to cuddle, the way she used to with her Daddy. Cellie had often fallen asleep with the baby in her arms, in the rocking chair, with one of Mrs. Johnson's never-ending supply of afghans providing a warm bower.
The housekeeper had discovered them thus, one morning. "Now, Cellie, that's just the worst thing," the experienced mother and grandmother stoutly declared. "Before long, that'll be the ONLY way she'll be able to fall asleep, and then, she'll want to sleep in your bed, and she'll just stay a baby forever."
But now, she'll be a baby forever, anyway, Cellie answered Mrs. Johnson in her mind. The young mother regretted following the older woman's advice. Cellie had forced herself to sit beside the crib while her bereft child cried in a colicky way, keeping the others awake a couple of nights, and always ending up with her diaper soiled and her stomach growling. If only Sarah Teresa was alive, Cellie thought, she could sleep on my lap until she was twenty-one, if she wanted to. . . Tears sprang to her eyes, mourning for the adult Sarah Teresa who was never to be, tears for the growing Sarah Teresa who would not be there in the meantime. . . Weakening tears. . .
Cellie forced herself to think of the last, most important reason Nicholas had to pay for what he had done, and what he'd made others do: what he'd made HER do! Nearly cheating on her husband! Getting poor Charlie Plavnicky involved in this whole mess, inadvertantly bringing about his death at the hands of Barnabas, if those two arguing spirit voices were to be believed. Punishing Willie at the moment when she should have finished punishing Anissa-Desiree, and thus putting her baby and all the others at risk! Running away from the hospital like a crazy woman, and turning to LESTER for help! Getting trapped with Barnabas, and being put into a position where she would have to KILL. . . And she HAD KILLED! "I KILLED THE OTHER HALF OF ME!" She thought, in despair. Far more than her own husband, and Pavlos, and David. . . The united will that had saved her and her uncle the night of Jack's attack. . . The instinctive eagerness with which she'd joined in Barnabas's worldly and supernatural enterprises. . . The wills united once more, first in a brief mutual acknowledgement of desire, then in a painful acknowledgement of the necessity of putting him out of his, hers, and everyone else's misery. . .
Even if it WAS necessary, even if it could be covered up and explained away to the public, it was STILL murder. Because she knew what she was doing, was eager to get it over with at the end, and experienced a moment of triumph, when it was done. It wasn't an accident, or a regrettable necessity in that instant. She knew the cold rush of the thrill of the hunt brought to a successful conclusion. She couldn't bear that rush, that thrill. Yet, she sought it this one last time, having decided on a solution that would punish both Nicholas and herself.
For she HAD gone to Collinwood first. She rushed into her room, snatching up a necessary item she'd forgotten in her mad rush to rescue her baby and her husband. Then, she ran to the garage, seeking a gas can. She found a five-gallon plastic can with a long-nosed spout, and, serendipitously, it happened to be over half full. That was just enough for what Cellie had in mind, and yet, it wouldn't be too cumbersome to carry quickly down the hill. She glanced into Roger's BMW which stood in the garage (he having taken Elizabeth's Lincoln, when he drove her and Mrs. Johnson to the hospital), and saw a pack of matches on the front seat, with an unopened box of cigarettes.
The door was open. Cellie snatched the matches. Oh, Roger, she thought, smoking's so bad for you. She smiled sadly at the irony, and then made her way down, ducking into bushes, toward the Henderson house. She got a jolt when she saw David standing on the hill, overlooking the house, now a gleaming creamy white, and innocent-looking in the early morning sun, despite the facelike formation of the glossy black shutters.
Cellie picked her way around the house, to the beach path on the edge of the property. She saw Buzz's new Harley, forlorn and forgotten near the open door to the underground tunnel to the Henderson cellar.
Rather than enter the tunnel, she carried her gas can to the front area of the house. She proceeded to sprinkle a thin stream of gasoline around the bushes, and worked her way around the house. When she thought she had enough area surrounded, she lit one of the matches. She was poised to throw it, but she hesitated. The match burned down rapidly to her clenched fingers, which opened automatically to let the charred sliver fall, harmlessly, to the ground. There was a better way, she thought. She would get upstairs, finish Nicholas off, and tork the place up from the inside!
She ran back to the tunnel entrance, and pitched herself in, still carrying her can of gasoline. She really hadn't used that much, and it would go further indoors, especially with all those empty rooms, dry as a tinderbox.
It was dark in the tunnel, and she stumbled on the fallen stones, as she groped at the dank walls. The door to the cellar was shut, but, she thanked God, not locked. She went in cautiously, following the light from windows as tiny as the one she'd broken in Abijah's cottage. First, she checked the ritual room. In the dim light which filtered into that windowless space, she could see the torn and befouled altar, the knives scattered about, the grate on the tiny fireplace still smoldering.
Nicholas didn't appear. Cellie went upstairs, through the ground floor rooms. She was starting to think that, perhaps, he had vanished after all, to escape the wrath of Ock-Wen-Uck, and / or his Master. She was about to quit, when she heard a rustling from the landing above. She ran up to the sleeping quarters. She didn't have to search too far for the source of the sound. She stood before the great, plain oak door to Nicholas's bedroom.
She tried the doorknob as quietly as she could. The door was locked. Instead of knocking, Cellie set down her gas can, and kicked the door. "NICHOLAS!" she yelled. "LET ME IN, DAMN IT!"
"Cellie!" she heard him reply. There was something wrong with the tone of his voice, she thought. There was almost an exalted manner to the way he'd called her name.
Just a trick, she decided. "NICHOLAS!" she screeched, kicking the door again. He didn't open it. She allowed herself to scan the vicinity for his empathic aura. She was able to see a little beyond the icy barrier he'd once put up against her readings. She sensed a reluctance on his part, but whether it was from fear or contempt, he must still have had enough power to conceal. Cellie would have to see Nicholas face-to-face.
"I don't think I'll allow you in, my dear," he drawled. "How revoltingly ill-bred of you, to destroy an original, two-hundred-year-old door."
"YOU MADE ME DESTROY MY TWO-HUNDRED-YEAR-OLD FRIEND!" she roared. "SCREW YOUR GOD-DAMN DOOR!"
Cellie recalled what Willie had taught her about house-breaking, even kicking in doors. There was a weak spot, where one could loosen the bolt inside the door with one kick, he'd told her. She aimed the high heel of her boot to a point just below the knob. She felt she would only get one shot at this, and made the most of it.
The bolt loosened, and the door swung inward. Leaving the gas can behind her, Cellie faced Nicholas, who stood, wearing a peculiar grin on his face, at the foot of his red-sheeted bed. He was still wearing the blood-spattered robes from the ritual with Carolyn; the spots and splotches were already brownish and dry-looking. "You wear my friend's BLOOD!" Cellie barked at him.
He merely grinned in that Chessy-cat manner, and said, "YOU wear quite a bit of blood yourself, my dear. It can't all be yours."
"Most of it is, from these CROSS-shaped scratches. Can you see?"
Cellie held up her wrists. and pushed the hair from her forehead. She'd hoped to humble him with these Christian symbols, as Barnabas had been cowed.
She was wrong. Nicholas commented, "Those? I can barely make them out. And they don't frighten me as they do one such as Barnabas. After all, some of my best apprentices were once men of the cloth, most of whom come encumbered with that symbol, only to discard it, once they have a taste of the truer joys. If they were more vivid, perhaps, I would be a trifle more uncomfortable, but there's little chance of that happening. I'd like to say, for the record, that I AM glad they were effective. I was quite dismayed when Barnabas announced he was going ahead with his own 'wedding plans', in spite of my orders, which came from Below! Thank Satan, you're alive!" His voice was almost tender.
Cellie was confused by his emotional emanations. There was a feeling inside him now, akin to the lust Barnabas had exhibited toward herself and Willie. Oh, God! she thought. He couldn't possibly want HER, after all the bad blood that had passed between them, after he'd spent so much time plotting about Carolyn, after her daughter, once his main objective, had died. . . "Listen, Nicholas, if you think this is just a friendly call, to let you know I'm not a vampire, think again. Didn't you hear me, before? You made me kill my friend! Is THAT what you wanted, all this time, to see if I could be as corrupt as YOU? Well, I'm here to keep that corruption from spreading."
"Brave words, my dear," he murmurred. "I saw your work against Barnabas, a vast improvement over the way you trounced Anissa. But, enjoyable as these spectacles were, you have NOT been corrupted by them, no matter how you claim you feel now. Because, you have GUILT! THAT is the cause of your feelings right now. What's more, it's one of the worst kinds of guilt, the one that kicks in when you regret the consequences of having done the right thing."
"I wouldn't regret having done the right thing, if I didn't enjoy it in the end."
"Ah, but you feel guilty about that, also. THAT is what keeps you from becoming corrupt. And that's the condition I would help you overcome today. Cellie," Nicholas said softly, putting his hands on her shoulders, and pulling her close to him, despite her current disheveled, filthy condition. "Cellie, don't you realize what you have been saved for? Your real destiny. . . It's here, with me. Join me now, and I shall see that your every demand is fulfilled, including bringing your child back to life with any soul you choose, even a good one."
"You're crazy!" Cellie shouted. "I will NOT deal with the man, or warlock or demon, who caused me all my sorrows."
"The sorrows came from YOURSELF, Cellie!" Nicholas declared. "You
and Willie would have, eventually, strayed from your marriage, and Willie would have gone mad again. You would have had to face your uncle, and you would have left your child behind to follow your lust for adventure. Well, all those things are now in your past, and you're free to move forward. I can take away the sting of all those pointless regrets."
"Why?" Cellie asked. "Who am I to YOU? You wanted Carolyn, for her family's wealth and what it represents to a man who was once a Collins, and her resemblence to your late, golden-haired wife. You-- you hated ME! Don't you remember? You got Desiree to plague my child unto death, and you set me up with Barnabas! What happened to the master plan, Nicholas? Or did your Master change the plan?"
"HE never changed anything!" Nicholas asserted fiercely. "It was I! Yes, Cellie, it was I who changed the plans that were made when you first became pregnant with a child my Master immediately discovered to be so specially gifted! YOU were the one I was to have had!"
"ME? The way you treated me, last summer, throwing me around the room when I was over six months pregnant? The way I had to relieve your mental torture of Barnabas, that caused me to act as a vampire and nearly drove my husband, the FATHER of this very special child, to suicide? The way your deputy failed to rescue me from an attacker who might have killed both myself AND my very special child? Are these the acts of a man, whether mortal or immortal, who wants to win over the woman selected for such a GLORIOUS destiny?"
"Those were parts of your destiny! I didn't care, because I didn't WANT to win you. I convinced my master that my alternative plan would be just as effective. Because I DID hate you! I hated your pure heart! I hated your brilliance and the way you used it in the service of the Light! I hated the way you could not be swayed! What's more, I hated your beauty and your passion. . . How many nights I watched you and your loathsome husband in my mirrors. . . It was a great relief for me, to inflict the sight on Barnabas, as much as it was a grand torture for him! Because another shared my suffering---" Nicholas turned from Cellie sudddenly. "NO!" he cried, "I should NOT have admitted that! What have you done to me?"
"It's too late!" Cellie shouted. "We had all suspected it before.
Ock-Wen-Uck saw it right away. You recall, I accused you of it, a few weeks ago, and Desiree confirmed it, that awful night! You hate me because I am the one MOST like Arabella, NOT Carolyn, or anyone else you've encountered in your past, like Maggie!"
Nicholas calmed himself, regaining some of his silky composure. "I WILL admit the resemblence IS amazing, save for the color of the hair. You Siske women were always amongst the great beauties in both the Colonies, and Scotland, whence you hailed. . . In case you were wondering, yes, Catriona Fraser was also part Siske, on her mother's side. . . But THAT had naught to do with me! THAT was a pure coincidence! If I'd known Catriona had anything to do Arabella's reincarnation, I would have done something to prevent her death at Desiree's hands, as I saved Maggie! I certainly would NOT have consented to associate myself with Desiree. Even I have my limits! But YOU are well within them!"
Cellie said softly, "You must have loved Arabella very much, to hate me, so very much."
"Swiping a few over-worked psychological concepts from your miserable aunt, are you? You are NOT Arabella! What I feel toward you is NOT what I felt toward her! I am only offering you this opportunity at my Master's behest!"
"Your inner feelings belie your words, Nicholas! The ice block in what's left of your soul is melting---"
Nicholas grabbed Cellie roughly, and flung her on the bed. Before she could scramble away, he jumped upon her with his full weight, pinning her down. Then, he reached toward his nightstand. In an instant, she squirmed in fear at the sight of the ivory-handled, sharp-bladed knife, held right above her heart. "You want to know if I think of you as Arabella?" he hissed. "Well, would I be prepared to initiate you in this manner, without your consent, without ceremony, without waiting another minute, if you were?"
"Nicholas," Cellie whimpered, "was this what you were supposed to have done to Arabella in the first place? Is this why-- why she ended as she did?"
"DON'T talk!" he ordered, as he ripped the rest of the bodice of her already-damaged blouse away. "Look into my eyes, Cecily," he commanded. "I will give you that much relief. I don't want this to end as it did with Carolyn."
"This is YOUR last chance, isn't it?" she whispered.
"Be quiet, and look into my eyes," he repeated.
Cellie relaxed in his grip, and opened her silver-grey eyes wide upon his beady brown ones. She was traveling into their centers, toward the bottom of the black pupils, where she could see that the ice block had melted enough, so there was a gap she could slip through. She rested there a moment, feeling his hands on her skin, out of her view. Though she couldn't see what he was doing, she knew he was rubbing some kind of stinging, ill-smelling balm on her bosom, an action that reminded her of the annointing of a monarch at his or her coronation. Only, she doubted Queen Elizabeth had experienced what came next.
She could feel Nicholas's hand caressing her breast. Then he stopped himself, though she saw the space in his mind fill with orange and red lights. "Can't give in," she heard him mutter. "Can't ruin it again. . . " But he did, in spite of himself. Now, Cellie could feel his lips.
She tried to tell him to stop, but her emotional state was entrenched within his. The orange lights pulsated with the increase in his desire. They illuminated another pathway that she believed would lead further into the heart of his twisted emotions. She felt him withdraw from her again, and she felt a thin, sharp pain, like a papercut, on her chest. From her fear, an idea was born. Her last chance---
"No, don't," she wept brokenly. "Please, Nathaniel, there is another way!"
"Don't call me that!" he sputtered. "You CAN'T be Arabella! You are CECILY! I MUST finish. My Master waits for His chance---"
Cellie reached up, and yanked his face down to hers. She still couldn't see outside of his mind, but her mouth sought, and found his. Now HE struggled, as she sealed her lips to his, thrust her tongue against his. In a moment, though, he responded in kind.
"Nicholas, you forget yourself!" They both heard the warning swirling through the room.
Nicholas sprung away. Cellie's consciousness slid away from his. In no time, he was all business, binding her wrists so that she wouldn't tempt him with another embrace, and her ankles to the bed posts. Then he stood over her, with the knife in his hand, and bared her entire front. It was then, he caught sight of the cicatrice of the nine-inch Caesarean scar, which divided Cellie's middle neatly, from just below her navel, to just above her pelvis. There was something about the sight of her former injury that gave him pause. . .
Cellie saw, for the first time, the midnight purples and blues of sorrow, and the grey-mauve of frustration, and a flickering, impotent anger and resentment in him--- just like her husband's, when they first met! Nicholas crouched beside Cellie, and touched the scar, muttering something about Arabella . . . Then, he caught her eye again, and she was able to jump back into his emotional center. This time, she scooted well past the gap in the ice block.
There was a dark green forest all around her. She was acutely aware that she hadn't much time, and she'd better find her way. In a moment, though, she saw a bright blue sky through the tree-tops. It occurred to her that she hadn't felt her feet touch the ground since she'd arrived here, but she was moving anyway, floating. . . Was she a spirit here? she wondered. Then she became fully aware that she was sitting on a horse that walked easily down the well-cleared woodland path. She could see her legs, straddling a saddle, and saw her hands holding the reins. . . But they weren't HER hands and legs.
They belonged to a man of small stature, but who must have been wiry and strong. The small hands, though elegantly shaped, showed signs of rough usage; they were scarred and corded. Them she noticed the clothing she wore. The make and material of the clothing were of surpassing elegance (there was ruffled lace trim on the sleeves and breeches.) But there were rents and runs, stains, and other signs of wear; obviously, the clothing had, like the hands of the wearer, been subjected to conditions for which it had not originally been designed.
Still, in spite of her shabbiness, Cellie felt elation, both her own, and that of the emotional memory she now occupied. She was one with Nicholas, or rather, the Nathaniel Collins he'd once been. This must have started out as a good day for him, though she was becoming aware of an irritation in his mind. She could hear, and see, some of his own memory of an argument he'd just had with his blood-brother. Ock-Wen-Uck! she thought excitedly, as her own personality finally merged with Nathaniel's.
That Ock-Wen-Uck! he thought with exasperation. How dare he accuse Nathaniel of raiding the new English settlement to the west, while disguised as an Indian, and then, attacking a nearby tribe, to turn the two against each other? That was just the sort of activity that Nathaniel had strenuously avoided, since his marriage, and he had even less motivation to pursue it, now that he had forged such a great working relationship with Ock-Wen-Uck's Abnaki tribe. Offending other related tribes was out of the question, as was causing further turmoil between the natives and the Europeans.
Nathaniel was, moreover, truly hurt by the accusations. He thought he'd found a kindred spirit in Ock-Wen-Uck. They were close in age (after some calculation, the Englishman determined that his new friend was something less than five years his senior.) They were both ambitious in their own ways (Nathaniel had been seeking his own fortune since he was seventeen, and Ock-Wen-Uck had been chosen as Sachem when he had attained, in his words, "twenty summers.") Both were pragmatic visionaries; they saw the possibilities of increasing their influence, while at the same time creating a peaceful ambience in which the white and red men could pursue their own ways of life, while trading and interacting amicably.
It was a heady vision, quite unlike the doctrine of subjugation to the Righteous Will of the Puritans that had banished Nathaniel from Ipswich, and, in fact, any of His Majesty's Colonies. It was a way of thinking Nathaniel himself wouldn't have come around to on his own, much as he enjoyed spending time with the Indians he'd previously known, in their rituals and raids. The very concept was part of what his marriage had brought to him.
Arabella, he thought fondly. Just the mention of her name was enough to bring a softness to Ock-Wen-Uck's attitude; he immediately said he would reconsider the matter. Regardless of what the sachem thought of Nathaniel right now, Arabella's probity was beyond question. There was something special about Nathaniel's bride, that engendered good will everywhere she went. Her special attributes were enough to keep him from being executed for witchcraft, though they could not prevent his banishment. But that had no sting, for she was with him, now and forever.
Nathaniel remembered the first time he'd ever seen her, when he first came to Ipswich, bearing pirated goods for trade, that having been his occupation for some years. He had killed with impunity and without conscience, at one time; even more, he had participated in far darker deeds….
His youthful curiosity and restlessness had gotten him involved with other religious malcontents who joined in an informal coven run by a seemingly respectable widow of Norfolk, and her son, Judah Zachery. At first, the rituals were rather silly, full of fire and brimstone and amateurish magic, as well as some awkward orgies.
But, as Nathaniel discovered, Judah was a serious student of what were supposed to be simple Earth rites, which he soon turned into explorations of Un-Earthly powers. Within a short time, Mistress Zachery had died mysteriously, after a noisy argument with her son about these changes, and he had converted the band of dilettantes to the dead-serious practice of the Black Arts. This was extremely dangerous for reasons other than the obvious risk of contacting the damned; one word of betrayal could lead to the execution of the whole coven, as well as the forfeiture of their properties. Nathaniel's father had discovered his son's participation in the cult, and threatened the boy with disinheritance if he didn't give up his activities.
Nathaniel had shown a powerful talent for spells and the summoning forth of the Dark Lord. He had also become quite addicted to the most seductive of the rituals (he had quickly developed a taste for initiating virgins.) He was entirely addicted to the potions used to enhance the rituals (as well as those which dulled his reactions to the grotesque, horrific sacrifices of both animals and hapless, anonymous beggars and whores, which Judah insisted upon.)
In short, he chose to go his own way, and left his father's house, to the dismay of his younger twin brothers, Isaac and Ishmael. He told Judah he planned eventually to come to the New World. Judah agreed that the vast wilderness on the other side of the ocean would be a perfect place to expand their belief system without interference, and promised to meet with Nathaniel again, if he managed to emigrate there. "Just remember the promises you made to our Master," Judah told him. "Your rewards will be great, no matter what evil you do, but if you turn from Him, even your most virtuous deeds will meet with catastrophe and sorrow."
Along the way, Nathaniel met many like himself and Judah, who upheld and sustained his belief, and he willingly performed any chore he felt Satan had set him to. As Judah predicted, his material success grew. He'd led a band of highwaymen in Lincoln, had operated a shady mercantile enterprise in London, and had lately come to enjoy the life of a privateer, an occupation he'd determined would finally bring him to America. Afterward, so long as he remained free from capture, there were surely many opportunities for adding to his fortunes, as well as adventure, and his other favorite occupations. . .
He had appeared at the door of the Siske residence, the most elaborate of the simple, sturdily-built houses in Ipswich. He intended to ask the merchant Siske if he wished to join in a business venture, trading a number of the less-valuable stolen items to the Indians, for the valuable goods they had to offer. He knew the Brethren were not averse to swindling the natives, when they could get away with it.
The door opened, and that was when he first saw her. . . (Cellie had followed the memory he relived, and was, in spite of her prior knowledge, shocked when she saw the degree to which she and Arabella resembled each other.) Nathaniel knew that, one way or the other, he HAD to have Arabella. But the girl was largely sequestered by her father, who was angling for her marriage to a Bradford or a Dudley or a Winthrop. What was more, Arabella, while she gradually became aware of Nathaniel's interest in her, seemed oddly untouched by even the simple, earthly carnality that inevitably surrounded one in the close-living settlement.
She listened to gossip about scandals, but would respond to requests for her reaction with the biblical injunction not to judge, lest one also be judged. She always passed by a miscreant held in the town stocks, and would regard him or her with such a tender glance, many swore afterward that the compassion she radiated made their aches and pains bearable. Known wrongdoers who spent time in her company invariably tried to reform, at least for a short while. Nathaniel soon came to feel himself one of their numbers.
One day in late February, 1642, Nathaniel had joined the local Indians for a springtime ritual, intended merely to increase the yield of the seeds the tribe was about to sow. There was to be a ceremonial dance around a bonfire in a clearing about two miles from Ipswich. That night, Nathaniel, full of the memory of a passionate kiss he'd stolen from Arabella, had changed into the leather-and- feather outfit the other dancers would be wearing. He joined them, skirting the fire, which seemed to grow as the dancing became wilder. Then, just as the shaman was about to invoke the Great Spirit, the sole white man in the group fell to his knees before the flames, which flared almost twenty feet into the night sky. This circumstance caused the other participants to flee in fear.
Only the shaman stood by courageously, as Nathaniel strained to listen to a voice he heard in the heart of the fire. "You have forgotten your purpose," it said. "You enjoy too much this simple life. You have done NOTHING to expand MY dominion in this hemisphere."
"Master!" Nathaniel had cried, "I came, NOT as a missionary. Besides, there are very few who have dared the wrath of the Brethren to join me. I fear the discovery of THESE simple native rites! There was more freedom in England, I think."
"It is NOT your place to think, Nathaniel. You grow soft. I demand a sacrifice in this New World. There is a woman. . . I believe you know which one. . . Give her to Me, and I shall reward you with more prosperity, and many women to pleasure yourself with far more ease than that upright virgin."
"Arabella!" he gasped. "No. . ."
"Yes! And make it soon. Do not worry, you'll be able to enjoy 'breaking her in', before you finish her off."
Nathaniel rose, and faced the shaman. "You go forth to do the bidding of the Evil One," the Indian said.
"What will YOU do about it?" the white man demanded.
"THIS!" The shaman raised his knife. "You have defiled our sacred place--- You must die---" Suddenly, he grabbed his chest, and fell to the ground, lifeless.
Nathaniel left him as he was, knowing that he had thus been duly warned. It would tear out his heart to somehow trick Arabella into joining the few coven members he'd been able to gather together, then seduce her, then kill her. . . Maybe there was another way. . .
There was no point in such speculation, he knew. Judah's words rang in his ears--- there was less chance of escaping the Dark One's wrath, than that of the Lord of Light. So, a few days later, Nathaniel had followed Arabella to their favorite meeting place, a spring in the woods. She'd told her mother she would wash some of their winter garments, and, indeed, she was as good as her word. Nathaniel came upon her, trying to work a bloodstain out of her father's cloak, rinsing and wringing it in the cold water.
She had turned in pleased surprise, when she heard her suitor's voice. Nathaniel was about to knock her over, and drag her away, but whenever she looked at him with those saucerlike silver-grey eyes, he could scarcely move or speak, from the emotions she stirred in him. It was so, now.
Her happy expression turned to one of concern. "There is something troubling you, Nathaniel. You must tell me what it is. I can help you feel better, and then you will think more clearly."
Nathaniel sat beside her, trembling. "I am in grave trouble, and you are in dire peril, Arabella."
"What trouble? What peril? You know you must tell me the truth!"
Nathaniel replied evasively, "There are those, with whom I once spent much time, who have come to me lately, demanding that I do you harm, in token of their former services. But what I once might have been willing to do a short time ago, I find I cannot bear to, now."
Arabella studied him carefully. "This is the Devil's work!" she whispered. "I have heard rumors about what you do some nights, and how you spend much time with the Indians, though, in truth, I fear the Indians less than some of your associates. I have heard your rites, carried upon the wind."
"You are going to tell your father, aren't you?" Nathaniel asked, suspiciously. "Your gentle understanding is merely a cover! I WILL have to kill you." He grabbed her now, and put his hand around her throat. He only choked her for a moment, when he felt a simultaneous gagging sensation in his own throat. He released her quickly, and suddenly became contrite. "I'm sorry, Arabella!" he gasped. "You-- you are HIS, aren't you? Only one who knows His tricks could defend herself thus!"
"NAY!" she cried. "It is a part of me, a gift, though not from YOUR Master. It has happened since I first had women's courses. Mayhap I was born so, as I was with gold hair and silver eyes! Like any talent, it CAN be used for good or ill. I CHOOSE to use it for the Lord of Light."
"I am surprised someone hasn't twisted it about to make it seem a curse from Satan!"
"What would they accuse me of, Nathaniel?" Arabella asked earnestly. "The crops have yet to be blighted, or the livestock smitten. When children are sick, their mothers call for me, believing my little herbal cures the true restorer of their little ones, when it is my way of banishing their fears that smooths the path to their recovery. If this was a Papist village, they would call me blessed, I suppose, though I feel burdened betimes. But I hold fast, knowing in my heart that I willingly carry out the Lord's plans. Even so, sometimes I do fear that the day will come when I am blamed for some misfortune. In a way, that puts me in the same place as you. That is why I will NOT tell on you, but there is a price. Nathaniel, you must break away from here. You are one who can never stay in one place too long, much as some of us would like you to." She blushed and looked down at the damp cloak she had dropped when Nathaniel tried to strangle her. She resumed scrubbing it in an absent-minded fashion.
" 'Some of us', or 'ONE of us', Arabella?"
"There IS one, and you know it," she replied softly. "Nathaniel, even though I know what you are, and I know what's good for me, and what my parents think is good for me--- Nathaniel, you know I love you, though you follow Satan. But it's not too late for you, so long as you are alive, and you haven't been caught by the Brethren. You can repent and be reclaimed. I wish that you would do it for yourself, but if you feel you must do it for another. . . For me. . . Would you do it for me?"
"If only it was that easy! But I have been promised a cursed existence, if I should ever stop, if I couldn't keep the faith."
"And doing me harm will help you keep your covenant," she said, bitterly.
"Why don't you try to escape from me now, Arabella? I'll give you a head start."
"You would not let me escape, if you were still bent on catching me. And I don't want to leave you, anyway. But you must make a choice. Why can't you turn to the Lord God for your help, Nathaniel? He will keep you from His enemies, sheltered under His wing!"
"He never protects His servants, haven't you noticed? The righteous perish at the hands of the evil ones, or from a vicious disease. . ."
"That is because they have no knowledge, or are too set in their ways to believe that there could be such knowledge, or perhaps they believe it would be unholy presumption to use it. . . Evil prospers when the righteous simply sit back, and allow it. I'm not sitting back now, and I will apply the knowledge to keeping ahead of whatever curse you say is upon you. You have far more knowledge than I about what you're facing. Apply it to keeping us safe. Take us away from here."
" 'Us', Arabella?"
"Us, Nathaniel. For I knew the first time I saw you, that there was to be an 'us'." She was smiling again, and held her arms out to him trustfully.
He embraced her tightly and pushed her down to the cold ground. "Would that I could take you here," he murmurred. "But of course you are too good for that."
"That is why there are beds," she replied.
"Such bawdy talk,when you claim to belong to the Godly ones!" he said in amazement.
"Even the Godly ones bundle here," she said quietly. "Nathaniel, for only a brief time would I wish to go against my upbringing. I do feel I belong to you, even without connection--- But my father is close to arranging a match for me, with the nephew of the head of the Company that brought us here. A Coffin, of all people!"
"One needn't be dead to be stuck with a Coffin, I suppose," Nathaniel chuckled, as he pushed her cap askew, and stroked her wealth of golden hair.
"Don't laugh just yet. Nathaniel, we must lie together."
Nathaniel gasped in surprise. "All the time I've spent trying to seduce you, even trying to kill you, and now it turns out you're demanding to lie with ME! Arabella, you ARE my kind of woman. But if we are discovered, you know the penalties. Even the daughter of a leading light of Ipswich wouldn't be spared the humiliation---"
"There will be a fine, and perhaps we'll have to spend a little time in the stocks, but that's better, for me, than marrying someone I will never love."
"How do you know I WILL marry you?"
"You trust me with your secrets, as I trust you never again to do me real harm. And, if you should get me with child. . . Who else would you want as the mother of your sons?"
"You have argued shrewdly, my love."
"My Nathaniel. Listen. You must come to the loft of our barn tonight. . ." That was the real beginning. When they were together, bodies united in the warm hay, Nathaniel discovered that, while Arabella was truly a virgin before he claimed her, once he showed her what he wanted to do, she responded perfectly, even anticipating his expectations. It was a strange phenomenon, an innocence full of knowledge, that molded itself to his desires, and answered a need for love that he'd denied to himself. (For her own part, Cellie was both humiliated and aroused by this memory, obviously a favorite of Nathaniel's. He relived it a couple of times while they were riding together.)
Nathaniel had cheated his Dark Lord, and began to have a new allegiance, to Arabella, and to the idea of God as expounded by Arabella. They did manage to keep their affair secret for a time, until one of Nathaniel's former witch friends turned him in. Then there was that frightening trial at the meeting house, and the climactic moment when his Arabella saved him with a swoon. For it was then, the Siskes discovered her pregnancy, and adjusted matters so that the father of their grandchild wouldn't be hanged before he wed their daughter.
Arabella and Nathaniel never had to spend time in the stocks for their "transgression", but that was all forgotten as the more serious consequences of the new husband's past came to pass. They all wept when the sentence of banishment, long delayed, was pronounced. By this time Nathaniel had cast off all but one of his former companions. Several respectable, but discontented, citizens agreed to join him in exile.
The Siskes begged Arabella to stay in Ipswich, at least until the baby was safely born, and Nathaniel had settled in a suitable spot. "No, Mama and Papa," she'd replied, "It's as Our Lord says. 'For a man shall leave his mother, and a woman shall leave her home, and the two shall cleave together'. . . Mama, you came from Edinburgh to England when you first married Papa, and chose to join him when he sailed to Ipswich. At least I won't be crossing the ocean any time soon. Maybe we'll see each other again, if it turns out we don't have to go too far."
As it turned out, they WERE forced into the Maine territory. It was colder and a good deal more wild and desolate than even the small settlement they'd left. But the scenery was fascinating, fish were plentiful, the trees would provide wood for sturdy homes, and most important, there were reasonably friendly Indians to help them learn how to hunt and grow their own crops. The sachem had been taught by a missionary some years before, and got on well with both the French and the English who came through.
His wife and eldest daughter both became attached to Arabella. The chief's wife, Winnetka, even helped Arabella deliver Nathaniel's son, and treated mother and baby with an herbal tonic, to preserve their health, as the birth had taken place in December. The chief's young daughter, Tekwitha, followed Arabella like a puppy, tending to the beautiful baby boy with such devotion, that his mother had time to make progress in her frontier skills.
All in all, Nathaniel couldn't understand why the cloud of suspicion had come over his bright horizon. It must be that Hannoc, he thought angrily. (Hannoc, Cellie thought, when she examined Nathaniel's memories of his dealings with the brave, had more that a passing resemblence to Jack Knowlton. Jack HAD once told her he had a strain of Abnaki blood, through his father.) Hannoc was jealous of the close bond his older brother, the sachem, shared with Nathaniel. Ock-Wen-Uck had even joined his blood with Nathaniel's, making him his brother, "Truer than my own parents' other son," he'd said. By the same token, Nathaniel felt closer to the worthy sachem than to his own younger brother, Isaac, who had joined him just before his departure from Ipswich. (Ishmael had remained in England with his own family, having acquired a position at the Court of Charles I.)
Isaac, now thirty and still not married, reminded Nathaniel painfully of himself just before he'd met Arabella, except that Isaac held insufferably intolerant Puritan beliefs and was clumsier in achieving his aims. His frequent plans to make his fortune were usually doomed to failure. Isaac's worst offense, though, was to forgo his courtship of the Honorable Dorothea Shand of the Plymouth settlement, whose father was a transplanted baronet, in order to join his brother in Maine, and then to make sheep's eyes at Arabella. She had retained most of her beauty throughout her pregnancy, and had regained her figure within record time afterward. But she was careful never to meet Isaac's advances with even the least hint of flirtation, as far as Nathaniel could tell.
Isaac was also a one for baiting their Indian benefactors. Ock-Wen-Uck would tell Nathaniel, "Your brother and mine are as twins." But Isaac declared he couldn't abide Hannoc. Isaac constantly suggested to Nathaniel that they acquire more weapons, even to teach Arabella and the couple of Ipswich women who'd come along with their husbands and lovers, to shoot. Nathaniel decided teaching the women to use the guns they already had wasn't such a terrible idea, if only to shoot at predators and small game when the men weren't available. Getting more guns, though, would take weeks, perhaps even months, and they had spent much of their capital on other supplies. "After the winter, I'll send for more guns," Nathaniel told Isaac, "but NOT because I would EVER use them against my friends."
Well, Isaac was absent this day, having headed to the coast to fish and forage. He'd taken with him Alf Lummis, one of Nathaniel's former partners in piracy. Just as well, Nathaniel thought; both tended to be quite idle when they hung around the settlement together. Nathaniel himself had built most of Lummis's tiny hut, because Lummis's wife appeared about to give birth any day, and her mate had vanished into the woods, with one of Nathaniel's precious casks of port. Alf returned in time to find a new house and a new son, the first child born in the cluster of makeshift cabins Nathaniel had ambitiously christened "Collin's Woods". "This is my kind of place!" he'd shouted in drunken joy. "One goes to the woods to worship Bacchus, and Bacchus rewards him!"
Nathaniel hadn't replied to that--- chastising the fool about the reference to the God of wine would have smacked too much of the repression they'd left behind. Still, he knew he had a duty to chide Alf for his lack of responsibility, and did so, to Alf's foot-shuffling, muttering disgruntlement. (From her vantage point, Cellie could see Alf through the welter of her host's yellow-blue anger. She almost withdrew from Nicholas's mind in her astonishment. Alf resembled her husband and his father to a disturbing degree; the "Loomis" clan evidently descended from this "Lummis" fellow. She pondered the significance of this new information, though, in her heart, she realized it didn't bode well.)
Nathaniel longed for the day when, as Alf promised a hundred times so far, he would take his family west, to the French settlement. "I just need a bit of cash," Alf would say. "Mayhap Hannoc will teach me to trap furs for the duchesses back in London."
That meant Alf would be around for quite some time, and Isaac as well, for Nathaniel's younger brother sometimes talked of joining his direputable friend. "But go back and get poor Dorothea, first," Nathaniel had taunted, just this morning, when his brother had blathered on about his plans. "All the ladies here are taken."
Isaac had glanced toward Arabella. "I don't know, brother, it takes a special woman to put up with the dirt and the cold. I doubt Dorothea would hold up too well, compared to your Arabella." (Cellie, watching the tall, attractive young man lolling on his bench, decided that he barely resembled the portrait that hung over the mantle of Collinwood, painted when he was past middle age. In many ways, he sketchily resembled his descendant Barnabas. Cellie knew that, as
Barnabas's father Joshua was Isaac's direct descendant, his mother, Naomi, was Ishmael's. Perhaps Isaac and Ishmael had been fraternal twins; if she could but see them together, she might find those of Barnabas's features in Ishmael, that were lacking in Isaac. At least, she now had her point of reference for Nicholas's hatred of Barnabas.)
"All of us have to endure it, at first," Arabella replied calmly. "This is the second time in the woods for me. The first time, I was a wee lass of ten from London. THAT was an adjustment. Dorothea may have been born in Plymouth, but it can't be that far ahead of Ipswich. And Ipswich isn't all that much farther along than this. Bigger houses, a meetinghouse, and wider streets, but it's still the same work, the same dirt, the same struggle," Arabella concluded sensibly. "Bring Dorothea to ME, and she'll learn in no time!" she laughed.
Nathaniel tried to pull his wife into his lap, but the baby had started to cry, and he never kept Arabella from tending the "Heir apparent" as he called his son. Arabella picked up the tow-headed, blue-eyed infant, and returned to sit in her husband's lap, as she began to nurse the boy. Nathaniel pulled them both close, holding one of his son's tiny hands, as the baby clutched at Arabella's thumb with his other.
Isaac sat on his bench, gazing upon this domestic scene with what mixture of envy and resentment Nathaniel couldn't gauge, but Arabella apparently could. She regarded her brother-in-law with a look at once sympathetic and guarded. "I am lonely for my own sisters," she sighed. "While I'm fond of Ock-Wen-Uck's womenfolk, and I get along with Alf's Mary and the rest of the Ipswich ladies, I wish I had a woman friend I could truly confide in. Bring Dorothea to us soon, Isaac."
Isaac seemed mollified by this request. "I'll consider it, when the weather's warmer, that is, if another hasn't claimed Dorothea's affections in my absence! Well, I can't bring you a sister-in-law this afternoon, Arabella, but I can bring you some of your favorite fish. Cleaned and gutted, I can promise you!" Afterward, he had departed with Alf Lummis. Nathaniel had gone to his argument with Ock-Wen-Uck, and returned in the early afternoon.
He found Arabella boiling a dinner of Indian roots and the last of the venison. Tekwitha sat close to her friend, rocking the ancient Siske cradle Arabella's mother had given to the young couple. Nathaniel peeped in. His beautiful son lay swaddled in clean-looking wraps; Arabella held certain beliefs about health and maintaining a modicum of hygeine. This was not as tall an order as it might have seemed; there were many clear springs flowing nearby, and Arabella had set aside one with a brisk current, for the settlement's laundry needs. Nathaniel reflected that Dorothea might find Arabella's ways an improvement over those she'd left behind. Maybe the baronet's daughter wouldn't be able to keep up with the forward-thinking merchant's daughter!
The thought made him turn to his marvelous wife. He grabbed her from behind, causing her to drop her ladle into her simmering pot. "Oh, Nathaniel!" she yelped, giggling. "Now you'll have to run and whittle me a hickory stick to finish stirring with!"
"In a minute, love," he whispered, turning her about so he could kiss her. Tekwitha looked up from her post, smiling shyly; Nathaniel glanced at the twelve-year old Indian maiden, and detected a blush darkening her bronze cheeks. "Tekwitha, doesn't your father ever come upon your mother, and treat her thus?" he asked, with a chuckle.
"No, not that I never seen," the girl whispered in her best English. "Our men and women, they don't talk much, or do like that. They treat each other good, but I never seen Father touch Mother. Mebbe in the dark, when everybody ain't in the fort house. Too many in the fort house, till the flower time comes." She shrugged, and resumed her chore of watching the baby. She picked up a canvas sampler Arabella had been teaching her to embroider the English Alphabet on. "My name looks funny, in English letters," she commented. "Like twigs on trees."
"Wait till you sew your father's name on," Nathaniel joked.
"Why? It looks funny, too?" The girl looked hurt. Nathaniel knew she idolized her father.
"Au contraire, little one," he replied. "His name will be magnificent, especially if I teach you to spell it in French. Quite the longest name, as well."
"That sounds nice," the Indian girl said. "I will be ready to sew his name tomorrow."
Nathaniel drew his wife aside. "You tease her too much, Nathaniel," Arabella chided.
"Nonsense, my dove. In spite of your transparent request to my brother, I will always consider Tekwitha to be the closest to a little sister you could ever have here, in lieu of your own sisters. I must thank you, though, for urging Isaac to a more responsible way of life. His behavior is truly the only real blot on our enterprise, thus far."
"And you were worried about going back on your former--er--vows,"
his wife said. "In spite of the hard work, I know I've never been so happy."
"Must be the company you've been keeping, Goodwife Collins," Nathaniel said, nuzzling her. "I feel the same way," he said, more seriously. "This has been a blissful escape from what I used to do. . . Now I know I'm building a life, for my son, and any others that may follow. And others WILL follow, you can depend on that!" His eyes glittered with desire. There hadn't been too many opportunites since their arrival, what with the struggle to start the settlement, the baby's birth, Arabella's recuperation, the night-time care of the infant, the constant presence and intrusion of the other settlers, at any hour of the day or night. . .
"Nathaniel," Arabella cooed, "My thoughts, exactly. When you return from hunting, later. . . The little fellow does sleep well through the night. We'd better do something, before he starts staying up again, cutting teeth!" She giggled. Then she said, quietly, "Besides, it wouldn't do for him to grow up without a brother or sister close in age---"
"My own brother is naught but trouble!"
"I know you have disagreements with Isaac," she said soothingly.
"That is because you are settled, and appear to have everything, while he's still drifting. . . All right, I will allow that he's rather mature to be so aimless, but once he weds Dorothea, and starts a real life with us here, things can only improve."
"You are so wise for a mere girl," Nathaniel said tenderly. "And I won't let my vexation with my brother interfere with our pleasures later, whether or not they result in a brother for the Collins heir."
"You are so shy about saying his name, and yet, you chose it!" Arabella laughed.
"I can't help it. I wanted to name my first son for my father, in spite of the way we parted. Sort of a good-will gesture, though he may never hear about it. I do plan to write to him, the next time I, or Isaac, go to the Bangor settlement for supplies. A ship arrives there from England at least once a month, I've heard."
"Still, you must say your son's name in the meantime. Perhaps, if it wasn't such an uncommon one---"
"It's Biblical, anyway."
"I appreciate that, Nathaniel. Ah, well. Perhaps, once you feel you've made an attempt at reconciling with our baby's namesake. . . Our son will surely feel the name truly belongs to him, when he hears his father calling him by it more often. Now, Goodman Collins, and a good man you are proving to be, get out there, and shoot me a deer, if you want yet MORE of my venison stew that you're always praising me for."
Nathaniel kissed her soundly, and fondled her, before he went to find his gun and crossbow. He preferred the latter, as it wouldn't frighten off any other deer or other game, should he miss his initial target, but there were still wolves and other predators about. Arabella was able to handle his pistols, and there were still a few men around the settlement, after he chose three to hunt with him. Tom Braithewaite, Abe Stokes, and Jem Drew.
They disappeared deep into the forest. They tracked a large buck they saw in a small clearing. But the deer led them off the beaten track. The men feared becoming lost; as it was, the sun was already disappearing from what they could see of the sky through the treetops. They made their way back to the Indian trail as the sky assumed a violet hue. It was then, Nathaniel spotted a doe, but she turned out to be heavily pregnant. Her personal resources were all going to feed the slender fawn growing inside her.
One of the men poked Nathaniel with the butt of his musket. The buck they'd originally sought stood before them. Again, the hunters followed it closely. This time, though it was rapidly growing gloomy around him, Nathaniel got a clear shot at it with his gun, and the buck fell. The hunters gathered round in triumph. The buck appeared young, but he already sported a fine set of antlers. The men were quite hungry by now, so they cut and cooked a little of the meat, before setting out for home.
They carried and dragged the buck's heavy carcass by turns. It was quite dark by the time they reached the outskirts of Collins' Woods. This wasn't unusual; a good hunt often kept them out late. But there was a difference between this homecoming, and the others. No sentry came out to greet them, nor did anyone else. There was no sound coming from the direction of the stockaded cluster of huts at all. A heavy odor of smoke, and some other, more unpleasant smell, filled the air. As they drew closer, they could see a yellow-orange glow over the fence. But they still heard no human voices, or even the bark of one of the dogs.
Nathaniel thought, at first, that a fire emergency, perhaps from a cooking accident, had driven the small band to the security of Ock-Wen-Uck's fort house. He led his fellow hunters cautiously through the wide-open entrance of the log fence.
What he saw revealed in the fire's glow, under the moonlit sky, made him roar with a primitive outrage that frightened even his rough companions. All the small huts and lean-to's must have been burning for hours! Most had fallen in charred heaps, over the ashy remains of their owners' possessions. Over other charred remains--- Nathaniel leapt to the nearest blackened pile of rubble, not his own home, but that of his dearest Ipswich friend, Catterly, and Catterly's wife Anna, and two of their children. . . Their charred bodies lay under the glowing embers of their tiny cabin. Nathaniel examined the least-concealed body, Anna's. Black and flaking though her skin was, he could see that her throat had been cut. . .
Nathaniel threw himself at the smoldering remains of his own home. He noticed that his sturdy strongbox (full, not only of his money, but of the plans he'd lately sketched of a commodious homestead for his family) was missing. All that was left, beneath the black timbers, was the partly-melted cooking pot, and the skeleton of the ancient Siske cradle, which had been made of some Oriental wood that resisted burning completely. But there was no human skeleton, or charred body, in the cradle, or in the hut. "ARABELLA!" Nathaniel cried with a wild hope. Perhaps his wife and baby had escaped, were hiding in the woods outside.
A female figure, bearing a tiny bundle, crept from behind another burnt-out shell of a house. "ARABELLA! Arabella! My love! Who did this?" Nathaniel cried, as he ran to the woman, his arms outstretched. Then he stopped dead in his tracks, arms falling to his sides.
Mary Lummis ("Sweet Jesus!" Cellie thought in dismay, as she studied the filthy, frowzy blonde woman. "That could be Melinda Knowlton herself!") straightened herself before him in the flickering firelight. "Oh, Master Nathaniel!" Mary wailed, clutching her whimpering baby to her breast. "It was the Injuns! Your FRIENDS!" she shrieked. "One of 'em was that Ock-Wen-Uck, I vow and swear! They came, and kilt everybody what put up any hand to protect themselves---"
"YOU escaped this fate," Nathaniel said, sharply, accusingly.
"I wasn't inside the fence at the time, sir! I was awaitin' my Alf and your brother, pickin' up twigs for the fire! They never come back in time! I wasn't goin' back into the fence, once I saw those Injuns hootin' and hollerin' some UnGodly racket, carryin' those torches! All I heard was screams, and children cryin' for their mamas, men shoutin', and squealin' like hogs when the Injuns cut 'em---" She fell to her knees and wept. "I cried and prayed that you, and Alf, and Master Isaac and the others, would come over the hill an' save us! But then, I got to thinkin', mayhap the Injuns got you already, and I'd be all alone here with my little Willie. . ."
"But, Mary," Nathaniel said in a dazed voice, "I see other bodies. Where are Arabella and my son?" Tears ran down his face, dripping down his beard.
"HER, I saw them draggin' out, with your little one, along with the horses they stole. I've heard tell, they take the prettiest girls, and sell them as slaves to other tribes up Canada way. I hid in the bushes when they made her get on your horse, cryin' for you, tryin' to keep from dropping the baby. For a second, I thought one of the Injuns saw me, but he laughed to himself, and kept movin. Mayhap I wasn't pretty enough, and he kept quiet on it. Thank God! Then I came back down here, to see if anyone else was alive. If they are, they must be hiding out someplace."
"Which path did the Indians take, Mary?"
Mary led him past the other men, who were examining the remains of their own homes and families, to the entrance, and pointed northwest, along Arabella's designated laundry stream. "You ain't gonna run after them on your own, sir!" she gasped, as Nathaniel gripped his musket.
"Tom, Abe, and Jem have tragedies of their own, as you can see," he said grimly. "You all should probably go hide somewhere until daybreak. But if they can't bring themselves to leave. . . Stick with them, they still have guns. Perhaps Alf and Isaac will turn up, with other survivors. Then, you can send them up the path, after me." He hugged her, and patted the baby, as though the infant was a good-luck charm that would ensure the safety of his own son.
The Indians must have had a head start of miles, Nathaniel thought, fearfully. He might not find them, at all! Still, he persevered, though he was already exhausted from the long day of deer hunting. He had a lonely hope that, perhaps, the thieves had lost one of the horses, and it would come his way, searching for its stable. Then he could ride. He tried to think in practical terms about his present situation, tried not to think about the happy morning with Arabella. . . He only thought of Ock-Wen-Uck, and what he would do to his former friend, if and when, he ever caught up with him. . . If Arabella and the baby were dead. . . If the marauders merely had their way with Arabella. . .
The Europeans had brought with them a rather ugly way of proving that they'd finished off their enemies, a grisly method some of their Indian allies had co-opted. Nathaniel reached into his scabbard, and drew forth a shiny, razor-sharp knife with an elaborately carved handle. Ock-Wen-Uck had given it to him, on the occasion that he'd made Nathaniel his blood brother. It was, in fact, the very same knife they'd used to draw forth the few sanguinary drops necessary.
(At that time, Nathaniel had given Ock-Wen-Uck a necklace he'd wrought, of deep-purple and pure white quahog wampum strung on the finest leather strand. It also bore a pendant of bright gold: an English Guinea inscribed with the year of Nathaniel's birth, 1610. The coin had been a christening present from his father, kept in a fancy box, until Nathaniel punched a hole in it, to give to his Indian brother.)
Nathaniel planned to kill Ock-wen-Uck, and scalp him, as he'd skinned so many animals since coming to this wretched, barbaric place. He would kill them ALL! he thought. If they killed him
first…. Well, if Arabella and the baby were already dead, he didn't want to go on, anyway. He would have to be cautious, and find out first---
She was weeping, somewhere up on the path ahead of him. He could hear contemptuous laughter, and the sound of fabric ripping. His son wailed feebly, as his mother screamed for "NATHANIEL!"
Nathaniel ran, headlong and heedless, up the path. Someone fell from a tree onto him, and tied him up, as he lay stunned on the cold, hard-packed dirt. Another man came from behind, and helped drag Nathaniel up the path, to a clearing near the stream. They tied a gag arond his mouth. In a harsh whisper, one of the attackers said, "Watch!"
Blood flowed into Nathaniel's eyes, obscuring his best efforts to identify any of the Indians under the moonlight. But he could see Arabella clearly; two of the men, covered with warpaint and feathers, held her down in the frosty grass. Another was methodically slashing at her gown, from throat to ankle. Her pale body thus exposed, a couple of the six or seven attackers knelt before her, in turn. . . She cried, but one slapped her hard across her face, and made a threatening gesture toward her squalling son, wrapped tightly in his swaddling clothes a few feet away from her.
(Cellie longed beyond measure to leap from the immobilized Nathaniel, into her counterpart struggling vainly beneath her attackers. Fortified by the extra empathic-telekinetic reach, as well as the self-defense tricks Cellie knew, the modern girl thought, "we'd give a good accounting of ourselves, alright." But, alas, the Arabella on the ground was an image in Nicholas's mind, amplified by his emotional memory, almost to three dimensions; still, she was only a moving picture without an inner life to invade. Interfering in Nicholas's memory wouldn't change the overwhelming facts of what had happened to her.)
Nathaniel wondered why the rapists didn't gag Arabella, until he saw one of them kiss her. She choked on the tongue forced down her throat, but didn't bite it or turn from it, for fear of what might happen to her baby and her husband. Powerless to help her in any way, Nathaniel tried to shut his eyes to the sight though he couldn't block his ears to her sobbing, sniffling, and retching. One of those holding him noticed. "Open your eyes, or else we'll toss that brat in the stream," he growled.
Nathaniel hadn't noticed before, but the speaker had an English accent. Suddenly, it dawned on him. . . Betrayal! One of his fellow settlers was in on this, with Ock-Wen-Uck. . . If only he could identify the sachem, amongst this group of sneering, leering, grunting beasts, taking turns with Arabella, careful to make sure only their backs were facing him. . .
Even the men holding Nathaniel were relieved, so they could have their oppportunity. Arabella had fainted twice, and been brutally revived, when they poured icy water from the stream on her face. Finally, there was one Indian, who'd been standing aside, apparently happy enough to watch the ravishment, but seemingly reluctant to join in. Now, the Indian with the English accent whispered to this last, "Have yer fun. She's still ready to go, all right. Then, it'll have to keep the lot of us until we get her to Quebec---"
Nathaniel bit through his gag. "Lummis!" he gasped.
The "Indian" quailed in dismay. "Ock-Wen-Uck, kill the bastard!" he snarled. "And you," he said to the reluctant Indian, "Give him a memory to take with him, while he's bein' sent to Hell. . . It'll mean the most, comin' from YOU!"
One of those holding Nathaniel held his own knife under his throat, as the reluctant brave covered Arabella's body with his own. She gazed upon him, looking him in the eyes, trying, with this last, hesitant attacker, what she was unable to do with the rest, to work her gentle magic on him, through his uncertainty. . . Then, it appeared, she knew him! Even Nathaniel could make out the expression of recognition on her face. The Indian intercepted this, and held his hand over her mouth firmly, as he did what he'd set out to do.
"ARABELLA! WHO IS IT! OCK-WEN-UCK?" Nathaniel screamed, even though he felt the sting of the blade on his throat.
This made his son, who'd fallen into a frozen near-slumber, shriek and squall and jerk around in his swadding. The infant rolled against his mother's arm. One of the Indians holding her down slapped it away viciously. Arabella cried out loud, now.
"SHUT UP!" Alf Lummis yelled. "I told ye fellows before, takin' the baby along was a mistake! It's just gettin' in the way!"
One of other braves stepped up to the child, drew one of Nathaniel's pistols, and shot the baby in the head.
"OTHNIEL!" Nathaniel roared in agony, his voice mingling with his wife's. "OTHNIEL! MY SON! OTHNIEL! OTHNIEL!"
The reluctant brave sprung from Arabella's body, as though from a fire. Nothing would cease her wailing at this point. Nothing, except--- One of those still holding her took out the knife he'd used to cut her gown, and stabbed her in the heart. Still, her body thrashed about for minute or two, flopping like a dying fish, spurting blood. The Indian swung himself around, and slashed her belly.
Nathaniel fought, and called out Othniel's name, and Arabella's, as he, himself, was cut in a dozen places.
It was at that moment, when he heard shouts coming from the direction of the settlement. Five surviving settlers, one of them a woman (not Mary Lummis, though), entered the clearing, heavily armed. They fired at the Indians, who scattered into the night. Nathaniel heard a couple jumping into the shallow stream, in their efforts to get away.
He knelt beside the bleeding bodies of his wife and child. He couldn't look at either directly; Othniel's pretty, soft face had been shot away, and Arabella's guts spilled into the path. Nathaniel could only gather the shattered bundle, and place it into his mother's still arms, well above the horrible wounds. Perhaps, when Arabella's body stiffened, she and their son would be frozen that way, for eternity. . . Eternity, spent with the God she had believed in, and almost convinced Nathaniel to accept. . . A God who'd ignored all their cries, and had let them die in terror and pain. . .
Nathaniel felt a hand on his shoulder. "It's Tom Braithewaite, sir," his fellow hunter announced. ("Arnold?" Cellie thought, lost in Nathaniel's haze of anguish. But it was LISA who was the Braithewaite in their family!) "Sorry. . . Sorry we didn't get here soon enough. Mary urged us, but we--we feared facing them all, just the two of us, until the others showed up--- Mary stayed behind with the children that were left. Alice Heydon, here, she's a good shot, so we brought her. The Injuns kilt her three girls, and her Andrew. . ."
"There's naught you could have done," Nathaniel said listlessly, touching his wife's blood-and-mud-covered hair. He could see dirty tear tracks on her cheeks. . . Her cheeks, once scrubbed and rosy; her lips, once eager for his kisses, now dripping blood. . . "Naught you could have done," he repeated. "The die was cast, even before I came upon them. . ." Before he'd even come to Maine, he slowly realized. Satan had, indeed, answered the disloyalty of his servant. Nathaniel could hear Judah Zachery's voice. . . "Even your most virtuous deeds will meet with catastrophe and sorrow. . ." There was only one answer to his Master's challenge.
"Has anyone gone to the fort house?" Nathaniel asked. "I know Ock-Wen-Uck was here, I heard them call his name. . . He's run off, with his helpers. Alf Lummis was with them, can you believe that?"
"Can't say as it's a surprise, sir," Tom replied. "He's been complaining and poor-mouthing for weeks. Poor Mary, though. She's lucky she escaped, but to find out her husband killed her friends!"
"I wonder how innocent she really is, Tom," Nathaniel said in a sly voice. "She claimed an Indian saw her, as they were taking Arabella way. If it was just any Indian, he surely would have taken her, or killed her on the spot. . . It must have been Alf, having a joke with his wife---"
"You AIN'T thinkin' of getting even with poor Mary, nor her baby either!" Tom cried. "They be blameless in this! If ye must get even, go to the fort house!"
"I intend to do just that," Nathaniel said, rising from his wife's side. "ARE ALL OF YOU WITH ME?"
"Aye, that we are, even myself, sir," Alice Heydon yelled. (A stubborn, stalwart woman, Cellie reflected, yet deceptively delicate-looking, with red hair like her aunt Julia.)
Nathaniel covered his wife and child with his cloak. "I shall return, my love," he whispered. "I shall bury you with the ashes of your murderer's family."
* * * * * * * * * * *
Nathaniel found a horse the thieves had missed, in a gully near the settlement. "You must guard this horse, as you would these little ones," he told Mary Lummis, who'd managed to gather together three terrified surviving children, all orphans now. He handed her a loaded gun. "If anyone but our-selves should approach, shoot first, and ask questions later. Even your wretched husband, he thought, deciding not to mention Alf's part in the raid and the rape-murder which followed. Nathaniel was still speculating on Mary's part in the tragedy, though she certainly seemed traumatized enough to follow his orders blindly. Perhaps, she might shoot her own husband before he had a chance to identify himself. Nathaniel HOPED that was what would happen.
At any rate, he had nobody else to leave with the children and the horse; Alice Heydon had turned out to be the blood-thirstiest for revenge of them all (besides himself), eager to attack the fort house without preparation. She refused to wait with Mary. Nathaniel needed the other men, as well, to gather dry branches, for the torches. Within an hour, all was ready.
By the position of the moon, Nathaniel judged it to be close to midnight. Perfect, he thought, the most rewarding sacrifices were always made in the limbo between one day and the next. Unbeknownst to his fellows, he intended this to be his propitiary offering to the Master he had scorned. He almost hated Arabella for turning him away--- NO! he thought, tears forming in his eyes again, he loved her, would love her all the days of his life and beyond, even burning blissfully in his Master's chamber. What he hated was having to face the PAIN! "Satan, I would that you accept this offering, and deliver me from my sorrows," he prayed. He knew that, unlike Arabella's master, his would happily obliterate the sorrow, in return for the favor.
It wasn't to be that easy. Nathaniel and his companions were shocked to see there was no additional activity around the fort house,
a strangely un-Indian building of stone with a thatched roof (Ock-Wen-Uck claimed that it had been built in the dim past by "tall white gods with hair like the sun, like Arabella's"; these gods had abandoned the place, or, un-God-like, died off--- the legend was unclear--- and the practical natives took it over for winter use.)
The sentries who normally guarded the place even appeared to be dozing at their posts! Their chief and fellow braves had just completed a brutal raid, and now, it was quiet and peaceful, as though nothing had ever happened? the English settlers wondered. "Must be a trap," Alice declared. "They let us think they're sleeping, and then, 'BOOM!' they're upon us like a spider catchin' a fly, the instant we approach! I'll scout for ye, Master Nathaniel. I'm small, and won't make a racket." She darted into the clearing arount the stone dwelling. Finding that, indeed, the sentries were napping, and that the rest of the way was clear, she waved at the others to come.
The guards were almost too easily overpowered. Nathaniel himself kicked in the sturdy door, surprisingly left unlatched. He thought, at first, the Indians had deserted the shelter with their leader, the lazy sentries left behind as decoys. Then he heard frightened whispers in the dark, a female scream. "NOW!" he cried to the others, his blood pounding in his veins, as he watched those indoors struggle to escape. He went inside with his people, shooting and stabbing and clubbing, in
the light from the English torches. There was some spirited attempts at self-defense, but the raid was too much of a surprise to those who had just been awakened from a deep sleep, and they fell quickly. Those who sought to clamber through the sole, small window were shot.
All through this, Nathaniel shot and slashed and pounded as one in a daze. He HAD to, he HAD to. . . This was what had happened to his own people. This was what Arabella required, as much as his Master. . .
Nathaniel and most of his party now stood outside the door. (A couple had been assigned to seal and guard the window.) There was one more promise he had to keep. Without hesitation, he tossed his torch into the heart of the group on the floor, igniting their robes and blankets, and any other flammable material the flames landed on. He signalled to his companions to do the same, in turn. The last was Alice Heydon, who spat and cursed as she hurled her revenge at the helpless Indians. Nathaniel was about to close and block the door, when he felt something scramble past his legs. He reached down, and fished up Tekwitha. "Finish sealing this door," he told the others, as he dragged Tekwitha behind some bushes and rocks.
"Nathaniel? Nathaniel? It is you! Why--why did you kill--- Where's Arabel---" Tekwitha's piteous questions were cut short by a vicious slap that nearly dislocated her jaw.