Saturday, October 11, 2008

Blood is Thicker than Water: Vampires Vs the Exorcist

As Father Stewart and I rapidly made our way along the streets, I realized what an exciting adventure this outing was turning into for me. I had never been to a jail before, in spite of the fact that I was Abby’s chaperone. Soon, I would get to see hardened criminals. Well, I was sure Mr. Forte was not a hardened criminal, but the prospect was nevertheless exciting.

“Very well,” I said as we walked. “You pop in and out of my life like some mysterious character in a novel. Perhaps before you explain what is happening, I should tell you what I’ve figured out, that we are against vampires. You and Miss LaVeau have managed to gain the vampires’ disfavor.”

Father Stewart stopped walking and grabbed my shoulders. “Very good, Pauline! You have a future in working the supernatural!” He laughed.

I laughed with him. He hadn’t attempted to hide the identities of the creatures and the clues he had left me made it very easy for an arm chair occultist like myself to discover what we were up against. I slapped him suddenly, hoping to knock the smile right off his face. “How dare you!”

He was confused. “I don’t—”

“It was purely by accident Abby and I became involved with your creatures of the night, and you leave us unprotected! Do you consider us cannon fodder? Because I can assure you that’s what we’d be—!”

He grabbed my shoulders firmly this time. “Believe me, Polly, I’ve been watching you and your niece ever since you came here. You have been safe enough, or I would have told you.”

“Rubbish!” I was outraged. “We could never be safe enough!”

“That’s why we have to take care of this business. One of the things we must do to accomplish our goals is to employ Mr. Forte.”

“You certainly have a way with the ladies,” I muttered at him. “Small wonder you became a priest.”

“That aside,” he said after a brief, reflective moment, “we must press on.” I noticed the mist come up about the same time he did. His manner changed just about as abruptly as the weather. The father was all business. He drew my attention to a man and a woman. The man was short and thick, wearing one of those evenly cut jackets that have no tails. The woman I recognized. She was Abby’s friend from the boat, her hair done in perfect ringlets, her dress a vivid white against the night. How she came to be in the company of the man I could never guess. “Do you see those two?” the father asked.


“They are vampires.”

“They don’t look like vampires,” I said.

“Well,” the father was indignant, “what do you expect? Opera capes and fangs dripping with blood?”

“It would make identification easier,” I ventured.

“I ought to leave you with those monsters,” Father Stewart said, “just so you can discuss their wardrobe with them. Obviously, these aren’t vampires in the traditional sense, but they will attempt to suck the blood from you just the same.”

“Hah! I am hardly delectable enough for a vampire!”

“Apparently your research has been very selective. You’d make a decent midnight snack. Oh, heavenly Father, they’re coming for us!”

It was true. The thick male had pointed our way, and the female’s curls bobbed up and down in obvious satisfaction. The father grabbed my hand and we zoomed down the street. We were trying to mix with the night life, so we headed for the areas where it was heavier. I had no idea where the father was taking me. “What will they do if they catch us?”

“We’ll be martyrs for the cause.”

Oh joy. Martyrs for a cause I knew the barest bones about. Here I was in a strange city with a foreign priest being chased by non-conformist vampires, with no hope of gaining help from the local police because they’d think I was crazy! And heavens, it was crazy! And if I thought it was crazy, me, the insane old maid of Abernathie, any sane person would certainly lock us up. Now that I reflect on it, this moment was a major turning point in my life, for the mayhem and panic I felt as we ran from the vampires recurs in my life to this day. But I’m getting away from the chase.

Father Stewart led me on a snake dance through the streets. The quality of the buildings decreased as we scurried. We jostled black and white citizens alike as we darted from one side of the street to the other, the vampires still hot on our tails. I was becoming rapidly exhausted. We did not travel this fast in Abernathie, and the sultry night was making me perspire all the more. When I would glance back, the two vampires, crisp and cool, still followed at a walking pace. I hated that. Perhaps they had special undead sense that enabled them to hunt us swiftly and look immaculate at the same time. This sense probably let them track their quarry, drag the hunted down, rip their throats out, and wallow in their blood. It was probably best not to think about that too much.

The father passed a street vendor who showed his wares to us. Father Stewart shook his head and led us into a side street. We were in an alley, the classic dead end scenario. I groaned. Of all the clichés to get caught in, this was not the best for the time. Father Stewart looked apologetic. “I really thought that I had memorized the map better than this. Stand behind me, Pauline.”

I ducked behind the father. The two vampires were framed in the mouth of the alley. The woman’s delicate step indicated superlative breeding somewhere in her history. “Father Stewart.” Her voice was the same music I remembered from the boat. It was like the voice of a heroine from a gothic novel, sweet and reassuring. I felt sad that such a beautiful creature would drain one of us as dry as autumn leaves.

“Dalia.” The father nodded graciously in her direction. “The company you’re keeping has lowered.”

The thick man scowled. “Yeah. Well, you Scottish jerk!”

“Pretty good retort. Marion, is it?” Father Stewart leaned toward me. “This is the part where he asks if I’m making sport of him.”

“Are you making fun of me?” the vampire asked.

“Close enough,” I remarked to the father.

“Nobody does that! Christ, I get sick of you witty victims! Laugh in the face of death sorts! You make me want to puke!” His giant fist slammed into a building wall, pulverizing bricks and sending dust and debris falling to the ground. Dalia’s cream features blushed, and he suddenly turned sheepish. “Sorry, Dal,” he said. “look what say we take care of these guys, go back home, and I’ll make it up to you?”

The woman’s crimson face turned into a sneer. I noticed the street merchant look around the corner, purse his lips, and look away. Whatever happened in the alley certainly wasn’t his business. Dalia scolded her cohort. “Why Shalimar ever wasted heavy breath on your neck, I’ll never know. Every time we go into public, you embarrass me!”

“Hey, I find ‘em, don’t I?”

“What I did in life to deserve this—!”

“I’m the best tracker, right?”

Dalia stamped her foot. “Let’s just get this done, then leave.” She kept her voice even. “We can discuss this later.” Her eyes rolled back. She lifted up the translucent veil she wore and walked forward. “Marion, the woman is mine.”

The mist curled in more thickly. The undead apparently came with their own theatrical effects. She came closer. I was vaguely aware of the other vampire moving to our right. I was also dimly aware, in the back of my mind, of hearing Father Stewart telling me not to look into Dalia’s eyes. I wasn’t paying any attention to that. I was drowning in a sea of agate blue, smooth calm, and all I wanted was the caress of a woman who promised me a wonderful life of beauty, love, and peace. I wanted to be like her—so dainty, so accepted, so—.

So what? The flood in my mind stopped. Dalia stood two feet in front of us. Her lips were pulled back to reveal elongated canines, although they were perhaps the whitest canines I had ever seen. Father Stewart wielded a large crucifix in front of us like a shining knight’s shield. I shook my head, feeling it full of cotton wool. Dalia issued a very unladylike hiss.

The father was still all business, yet he seemed pleased. “I could destroy you, but I want you to tell your mistress how you were beaten. Tell her she may have Marie, but the battle is far from over. God never sanctions evil, even, in spite of what some people think, in this city. Shalimar’s eternal days are numbered.”

“She will feast on your heart!” Dalia yelled, shielding her eyes from the cross. Marion cursed in pain.

“And Lord willing, she’ll choke on a cliché like that. Or have heartburn. Or something. Now,” he said, brandishing the cross anew, “get you gone!”

“I’ll get your for this, priest,” Marion said, backing up. Dalia too stepped back, regaining her composure and replacing her veil.

“Be silent, Marion!” she scolded. “There will be a time and a place, but it is not now.”

The mist faded and I think I faded with it, for they disappeared as my mind and the mist cleared. “They could have killed us!” I stammered. The back of my neck was cold with sweat.

“Oh ye of little faith,” said Father Stewart. “I’ve always wanted to say that to someone.” He stepped closer to my side and gave me his arm for support. “I’m truly sorry this happened, Polly. At least we had a fighting chance. That Marion, he’s a stupid one.”

“Abigail! My God, is she safe?”

“I should think so, for the moment. I expect this little incident should stir things up a bit. Now that we’ve riled them, you should probably try to send your niece back to Vermont.” He paused for a moment. “My only regret is poor Marie. She could have helped us. She knows Shalimar inside out.”

“Then don’t have any regrets. I saw Marie LaVeau at the debate.”

“You’re sure?”

“Very sure.”

“Heaven be praised!” He let go of me and I steadied myself. “Well, since she’s out, things should become much easier for us. It always helps to have some magic on your side.”

“Aren’t people in your occupation usually against that sort of thing?” I steadied myself against one of the walls for a second. The whole fright had left me rather dizzy.

“I imagine you might realize now that I’m far from ordinary in my profession. I’m an exorcist.” He headed for the alley’s mouth. “Coming?”

I opened my mouth to say yes, but found myself falling forward instead. Before I passed out, I thought perhaps this adventure might be a bit much for Aunt Polly after all.

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