Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Blood is Thicker than Water: Epilogue


With the exception of poor Mr. Simpson, our adventures had a happy ending. Doyle returned to his life in London, and wrote a book about the death of the great detective under his pseudonym.

Juliet Armstrong returned to London herself some months later when Professor Broadstead arranged a scholarship for her in the naturalist division of her college. Our last letter from her was full of Latin descriptions that made Abby giggle with glee. We also receive frequent letters from Father Stewart, now back in Scotland, and Abby’s beau, Mr. Chip Hyland, who has come into quite a bit of money since oil was discovered on his ranch.

Mr. Forte became a press hero when our roles in averting the New Orleans disaster were discovered. He resumed his medicine show with fame as his partner, and, last we heard, was dealing with much success in the Midwest.

Abby and myself have moved onto another school, much closer to Abernathie. We are now fast friends because we are very important to each other. Our family is hale and hearty and full of love as it has never been. Soon I will be leaving Laura, Melrose, and Abby, to use some of my money to see the world, and live my fantasies as I never allowed myself to before. It took death to open my eyes to life.

So, gentle reader, I thank you for reading this memoir, and hope you find the account a credible one. Perhaps we can meet once again in the world of writing, and perhaps this memoir will reach out and touch future generations. I hope it does. My father believed that often through the most unusual adventures we discover the truth about the world, but most often we discover the truth about ourselves. I hope that your path to adventure leaves you with pleasant discovery.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Blood is Thicker than Water: Polly's End

Benjamin found me three days later. I had taken to sleeping most of the day, to avoid my blood lust, and his coming alarmed me because I was napping. “Polly? I know you’re out here.”

I was a wild thing with unkempt hair and tattered clothes. I peered at him through the branches of a cypress. “Forgive me for not serving you refreshments. I seldom have visitors.”

“I would have come sooner, but there was the funeral. Come down. We have things to discuss.”

I dropped out of the tree and made a futile attempt to smooth my dress. “Simpson, of course. I am sorry.”

“Abigail is desperate to find you.”

“Well, she won’t. I can’t trust myself around any of them. You know that.”

He nodded. “What are you going to do with yourself?”

“Take care of any vampires that are left. We may have missed some. Since I’m the only one of Shalimar’s kind here, they are my responsibility.”

“My question remains.”

“Mr. Stewart, what would you have me do? I wish you would kill me, but I will live until I have killed all of them.”

“Mr. Forte and Mr. Hyland have dealt with most of them. Father Stewart purified the bodies and gave them a blessing. You are the last one left. Something must be done about you.”

“I see.” Fear gripped my stomach, but I knew what had to be done. “You must kill me.” I drew a deep breath. “Right now. Do it right now.”

Benjamin nodded. “You niece would have given herself for you,” he said. “This would be my gift to that sacrifice. Intense light glowed from his hands, dazzling. I was surrounded by pain as the light filled me, driving Shalimar’s stain out of my body. Spots danced before my eyes. Benjamin flickered into view.

“It’s gone, isn’t it?” I said. The bayou was less hazy, less dreamlike.

He proffered a hand. “It’s a long walk back, Polly. Shall we go?”

I took his hand. “You don’t want to tell me how--?”

“You can guess.”

The swamp whispered its goodbyes around us.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Blood is Thcker than Water: The End of Shalimar

When Doyle came to, what seemed like seconds later, both he and Simpson were strung upside down, hands trussed behind their backs, like beef carcasses in a warehouse. Shalimar and Marcus watched them wake up.

“Are we conscious?” Shalimar purred. “I’m so glad you are. You see, I want you to be conscious for most of your death.” She twirled a lock of Simpson’s hair around long fingers.

“Leave him alone!” Doyle said. “He needs medical help!”

“You both will, soon enough,” said Shalimar. “No doubt, you can imagine that I’ve devised an unpleasant end for you. I intend to drain the blood from you slowly, to see the life force ebb out of you. Marcus and I will drink it as we collect it, just as it has always been good to drink the blood of one’s enemies. Of course, once you are close to death, we shall allow you to witness the death of your assistant in a most violent and bloody fashion. I want you to be conscious for all of this.” She put her hands on either side of his head and drew him close to her own face. “I want you to be extremely conscious, to feel your life flow away. You are quite conscious, are you not, Mr. Simpson?”

“I shall be quite conscious long after you are dead,” Simpson replied.

Shalimar smiled. “Such bravado. Can you keep this up all the way to the end? I wonder.”

Marcus handed Shalimar a thin dagger. Simpson gritted his teeth and his forehead beaded with sweat. She cut him across the artery, and the blood dripped down his neck, down his head, slowly, into a large goblet. Shalimar picked it up as soon as she had collected enough for a drink. “Your health,” she said, toasting the detective. Shalimar took another sip.

Doyle noticed that Simpson’s skin was tinged blue, and his eyes were glazed. Simpson began to gasp, raspy and hollow.

The goblet slipped from Shalimar’s hand and clattered on the floor. “What is wrong with me?” she gasped.

“Silver,” said Simpson hoarsely. “I have made you drink silver.

Simpson had silver poisoning! Of course! He had all the symptoms.

“What have you done?” Shalimar said.

“I have injected myself with a silver compound, and well, as you can see, it doesn’t agree with your kind.”

Shalimar sank to her knees. “I’m no vampire.”

“You have the same blood craving. You serve the same dark forces. This shall serve for you as well. Silver is a cumulative poison. You have drunk silver three times, thanks to me. The tea we served you was full of agyrol, a silver compound. The chicken you used tonight was injected, as was I. You are done for.”

Shalimar’s skin wrinkled, becoming the same tinged blue as Simpson’s. “This will weaken me,” she said, “but I still have plenty of strength to kill you.”

“No, my queen. I’ll make sure you won’t.”

Marie LaVeau stood in the doorway. “I am mistress of New Orleans once again. You will cause no more trouble here.”

“Marcus,” Shalimar gasped. “Please help me.”

Marcus stood between Marie and Shalimar. “No further, slave. No one will cause the queen further pain.” He picked up the slim dagger. Marcus knelt and drew Shalimar into his arms. “Have they hurt you?”

“I will live. Kill her.”

“I’ll take care of us all.” Shalimar felt Marcus plunge the dagger into her chest. She clutched at the handle, her face an unasked why.

Marcus cut Doyle down. He stared at Marie LaVeau. “My sister has been avenged. You will not hear from me again.” He left via the window, just as the rest of us burst into the room.

Doyle crawled over to Simpson. “You and your heroics,” he said. “Whatever shall I do with you?”

“Put this down on paper,” Simpson coughed. “It has a very emotional ending. Your readers should like that.” His eyes closed and Doyle looked away.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Blood is Thicker than Water: Abby's Resolve

Benjamin had taken Abby outside. “Will they be safe?” Abby asked.

“As safe as God will allow them to be,” Benjamin said.

“But the house? Won’t Mr. Forte set it on fire or something?”

“No. I think Mr. Forte will be most careful. They should all come out fine.”

Abby moved back toward the house. “I think we should go back in. They need us.”

Benjamin motioned her back. “Miss Raintree, I promised your aunt I’d take care of you.”

The moon highlighted Abby’s face and her forehead creased with worry. “I feel the need to take care of my aunt, Mr. Stewart. I’ve done a poor job of looking out for my own up to this point. I’d like to fix that.”

Benjamin’s face also softened in the moonlight. “There’s nothing you can do for your aunt now. She’s dead. She just doesn’t realize it.”

“That’s not true! She’s very alive! Look, you know a sort of magic. Father Stewart says you do. Is there a cure for this? I don’t believe Mr. Forte that we’ll have to kill her.”

“What would you do to return your aunt to normal? Would you take her place?”

“Would I have to?”

Benjamin’s face was blank. “Perhaps.”

Abby was quiet. The sounds of the swamp reasserted themselves. “Yes, Mr. Stewart,” said Abby, with resolve. “I would trade places with my aunt.”

“Then,” said Benjamin, “how could I be expected to do any less. With a flourish of his cape, Benjamin returned them to the house. “Come, Miss Raintree. Let us fine your aunt.”

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Blood is Thicker than Water

Hyland knocked in the front door of Marie LaVeau’s home with a shoulder, and Marie LaVeau made an audible sigh. “Sorry about that, ma’am,” Chip apologized, his ears tinging pink. “Guess I got a little carried away.”

“No matter,” said Marie. “I can add it onto the many other damages.” The rest of us followed them in. Forte cranked the gyros on his gun. Broadstead brandished a branch like a sword.

Forte glanced at him. “I’d sharpen the end of that if I were you, Hamish. It would be more effective.”

I looked around the room. I could feel Shalimar in the house, up the stairs. Where exactly I couldn’t locate. Abby touched my shoulder, interrupting my thoughts. “You really are Aunt Polly,” she said, as if she’d just come to that decision.

“Oh yes.” I didn’t show my teeth as I looked at her. That may have been a bit much.

“I’m sorry.”

“This wasn’t your fault, child. You mustn’t think so. I am to blame. I had no right to leave you. You were my responsibility.”

We were interrupted by Forte and one of his gadgets. “All the vampires out of the entry room,” he said, annoyed. “I can’t get any decent readings with some people around.”

“Are you referring to me, sir?” I was miffed.

“Yes, I am. Stupid idea to have a vampire—”

“Enough!” Father Stewart stepped in. “Polly is with us, Mr. Forte. I am inclined to think she is salvageable. Since I am your employer, that is all you need as an excuse for her presence.”

“Hey, the only good vampire is a staked vampire.”

“I hope to prove otherwise,” I said. “Otherwise, Mr. Forte, I give you free leave to kill me.”

“Dad-blamed vampire,” Forte muttered under his breath.

“Shouldn’t we be getting on with it, whatever it is?” asked Juliet.

“Of course,” said Broadstead, finished with his stick sharpening. He returned Hyland’s knife. “Bring on the aberrations!”

“Okay,” said Marion. He strode downstairs, followed by three women dressed in flowing nightclothes. Hyland was dumbfounded. Abby stomped on the cowboy’s foot, and Hyland sheepishly removed his hat. The women were regular vampires, not Shalimar’s special breed, that much I could sense.

“No problem,” said Forte, shaking his head and regaining his senses. He fired his gun. Nothing happened. Broadstead smirked at him.

“How was I supposed to know the energy pack was low?” Forte said, trying his gun and hearing a whine. Forte peeled his gun pack off his back and began turning a crank handle. “Keep ‘em busy, guys, while I crank this thing back up.”

Chip grabbed a stake from one of his belts and rushed forward. Marion became a cloud as Chip’s stake passed through him. Hyland ran through the mist, forward to engage a lady vampire. He apologized as he staked her, and she clawed at his jacket sleeve as she went down, hissing.

One of the women grabbed at Abby. Benjamin intervened. He swirled his cloak around my niece, and Abby and Benjamin were gone. I clawed the vampire, who was now clutching at air. Father Stewart backed her into a corner with his cross, and between the two of us, she was soon dispensed.

Forte’s gun throbbed to life. He pointed the nozzle at Marion and the last woman. As soon as the ray hit the woman, she powdered. The ray passed through vampire ash and shot a hole between Marion’s bushy brows. He shambled towards us.

Forte shrugged his shoulders. “Guys?”

Hyland feinted in for a second attack. Marion backhanded him and made for Juliet. Broadstead quickly crossed his path and stabbed Marion with his sharp stick. Marion, exasperated, looked at the stake in his chest. “I knew I should have killed you myself,” he said to Broadstead. The vampire fell forward.

“My hero,” Juliet beamed.

Forte smiled as he shouldered back into his gun pack. “Thank you,” he said.

Juliet ran past Forte to Broadstead. A hugged Broadstead was stunned into silence. Forte smirked. Hyland rubbed the bruise on his cheek.

“Miss LaVeau,” I asked. “Do you have an attic? That’s where I’d guess Shalimar is.”

There was no answer. Marie LaVeau had disappeared. Abby and Benjamin had yet to return.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Blood is Thicker than Water: Simpson versus Shalimar

Doyle and Simpson had skirted the proceedings at Lake Ponchartrain. Simpson had been certain that if any action were to happen that night, it would happen at the LaVeau home. Doyle had fretted over the fate of the voodoos, but Simpson contested that in order to help the poor wretches in any way, they had to reach the root of the problem. Simpson continued to be pale, and he perspired greatly; Doyle began to worry about the health of his friend rather than his relapse into addiction.

Simpson’s plan was to lie in wait for Shalimar. They entered the house through the front door and met no resistance. “Just as I thought,” Simpson said. “Everyone is too busy outside tonight. We should have a relatively easy wait in front of us.”

Doyle nodded, but fingered the holy water in his pocket nervously just the same. They climbed the stairs. Simpson knocked on the door of the study, just for form. “No one home,” he said. He sat down in the giant chair behind the desk gratefully. “We have time to wait.”

“No,” said Shalimar, drifting in the window. “I always attend to my guests promptly.”

Simpson made a move toward Shalimar, but had to clutch at the chair to steady himself. Doyle moved to Simpson.

Shalimar laughed. Finally, the old man was being worn down! “I thought you had left the city. To what do I owe the honor of such a visit?

Simpson steadied himself against the desk, motioning Doyle back. “You’re finished. I have the intent of destroying you, and keeping this vampirism from spreading any further.”

“You?” Shalimar said with mock amazement. “You are a tired old man. You look like, well, the undead. And,” Shalimar stared past the detectives, “two of you are hardly a match for the two of us.”

Doyle watched Marcus come in. He debated flinging the holy water at Marcus, but knew that Simpson could not run once Doyle did. The detective was looking more ill by the second. Marcus grabbed Doyle quickly. Simpson chose that inopportune moment to collapse. Shalimar hovered over Simpson.

“Stay away from him!” Doyle yelled.

“The tables have turned, eh, detective?” Shalimar nodded at Marcus. “Things have not gone well. We don’t have much time. Take them upstairs.”

Marcus thumped Doyle on the head and the room faded away.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Blood is Thicker than Water: Fighting at the Voodoo Ceremony

“Oh goodness, Polly,” Andrew said. “They’re bringing Abby out.”

Father Stewart and I watched from a tree where I had brought him only seconds before. My search for Shalimar had led us to the voodoo ceremony in progress. My niece was about to debut as a sacrifice. Two undead creatures dragged Abby into the circle when Shalimar called for her. Abby had obviously put up some resistance. An ugly bruise was darkening on her cheek, and the vampires who carried her forward were not without their own bruises, scrapes, and fingernail marks where she had been at them. I had never thought her fits as a child would be useful training for anything until now. Abby was yelling at Shalimar and the vampires with a string of obscenities that would make Father Stewart blush. Shalimar seemed largely unaffected.

Shalimar had a voodoo bring her forward a tray of knives. She took some time in selecting what she thought must be the perfect knife, a silver dagger. After examining the dagger’s cleanliness and pricking her own thumb on the point, Shalimar motioned for the vampires to bring Abby closer.

Father Stewart drew out his crucifix. “Your move, Polly. Do you still want to risk your control?”

“I have some will power,’ I said, “but I remember how it was when I was among them before. If I show any signs of weakening or helping them, remember Andrew, you must get Abby out of their clutches.”

“I promise that. Let’s go.”

I grabbed Andrew under the armpits. We flew over the voodoos and the vampires quickly. I dropped Andrew into the circle. A surprised Shalimar dropped her dagger. Andrew Stewart, in spite of his mild-mannered appearance, proved himself a daredevil. He splashed holy water in the faces of the vampires holding my niece. Then he pulled Abby close to him and wielded his cross, holding the vampires at bay. The holy relic even caused Shalimar to keep her distance. He gave Abby a bag of powder.

“Sprinkle this in a circle, girl!” he demanded. “It will keep the evil sorcery out!”

Abby, hands shaking, sprinkled an uneven but full circle. Shalimar’s eyes were black with anger, but her tone was casual. “You can’t hold us out forever, priest.”

“I don’t have to,” said Father Stewart. “Only until morning. Pity you killed all the locals. They could easily have crossed the circle.”

In the sky I swooped away. Abby and Andrew were safer than they’d be with me for the time being. I had to find the others and finish the job we’d started. Shalimar would find some wily way to get through Father Stewart’s circle sooner or later, and I wanted to keep that from happening. We needed Mr. Forte and his gun. Instead I found the one person I did not want to see. Rather, I should say he found me. Marcus swooped upon me from behind, his finger nails razors cutting into my back.

“Traitor!” he yelled. “I created you, and now I take your life.”

The wound knocked the wind out of me and I tumbled from the sky. My concentration deserted me and the ground came up dizzily to meet me. By the time I scrambled to my feet, he was ready for me, a vampire hundreds of years older, ready to use every skill at his disposal to make sure I had a suffering destruction.

“You wanted her place with Shalimar, and with me, didn’t you?”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t understand.”

“You killed my sister!”

His grief was genuine. I had come to think of the vampires as monsters, but that doubt I had felt that afternoon at Marie LaVeau’s house was on me again. No vampire truly chose his fate. At one time or another they were all victims. Marcus looked very vulnerable. Yet, I remembered how I’d been deceived by Marcus. That had cost me my life. If I wasn’t careful, this could cost me my existence.

“I didn’t kill your sister, Marcus,” I said gently. “Shalimar did.”

“You lie!”

“I saw your sister’s body. I was looking for Abby when Dalia took her away. The apartment reeked of Shalimar’s essence. Marion had been there too, no doubt tracking Dalia down. Think. Could I kill your sister? I can barely control my powers. I’m no vampire yet.”

The logic of this beat heavily upon Marcus, but logic would not carry the day against several hundred years worth of loyalty. “I don’t believe you.”

“Then, I give you leave to kill me.” Those words were out of my mouth before I had time to judge their wisdom. I felt a great deal for Marcus, as though he were my first real love. I wanted to truly be with him, as much as one undead could be with another. I gambled that perhaps he felt similarly toward me, because I didn’t want to believe he’d just used me.

He looked into my eyes and I let him. He was in complete control. He grabbed my hair and pulled my head back, exposing my neck. His nails taloned, and I closed my eyes, waiting for the strike that would end me. It didn’t come.

“Leave, Pauline,” he said heavily. His hand slid out of my hair.

“I’m sorry, Marcus.”

He would not face me. “Just go.”

I shot into the air. The night wind stung my back. I wiped tears out of my eyes. In the distance, Benjamin Stewart flagged me down.

“We need you,” I said, landing gently. “Father Stewart and Abby are trapped."

His cape wrapped around us, and we appeared in the circle by Abby and the priest. Abby’s face brightened when she saw me. I nodded cursorily at her. Shalimar laughed.

“A magician? Come now, Pauline, is that the best you can do? I can do tricks like that one in my sleep.”

Benjamin faced her. “Do you not recognize me?”

“I recognize you,” said Shalimar coldly. “Dalia told me that you had switched allegiance. When I am through with you, Benjamin, you will wish you had not been born.”

Benjamin laughed at her, a joke only he understood. The rest of us, friends and enemies, were startled by his laughter, uncommon with the morose man.

“You’re blind, Shalimar. Look closer.”

Father Stewart’s smiled at Shalimar with condescension. Her derision faded into an epiphany. She broke out of the circle and ran.

Confusion reigned. The rest of our troops picked that moment to arrive. Samuel Forte’s spirit gun blazed out of the night. Hyland and Father Stewart fought their way through the vampires, and Benjamin and Marie LaVeau practiced their magic. I decided to stay out of the way, especially away from Mr. Forte’s gun.

When the mayhem subsided, we had carried the day. Only Shalimar, Marcus, and Marion were unaccounted for. The time had come for us to enter the LaVeau home and take it back.

I wandered to Benjamin. I wanted to ask why Shalimar had been so frightened, but I thought perhaps I should be more discreet. “Where is Mr. Doyle?” I said, examining the scratches on my arms. “I could certainly use a doctor. What has happened to him and Mr. Simpson?”

Benjamin ignored my questions. “We should go inside,” he said.