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Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/716584-Inside-the-Darkness
Rated: 13+ · Novella · Horror/Scary · #716584
The light in the center of darkness. Maybe a vampire isn't all that bad.
          I was only nine years old then. And on this starless night, I was outside in the dark when a nocturnal gale -like an awkward speaker- blustered every so often. Floating in my nightgown and urged by impulse and my adventurous nature, I ran, cart-wheeled, and turned somersaults on the pasture where the aroma of the green and brown heather permeated through the air.

          Driven by a powerful whim, I had sneaked out of my warm bed inside the Gevan Castle of Loch Gevan, my family's ancestral estate. The environs around the castle had a mixed love-and-hate relationship with rest of the area. People were afraid to set foot on the grounds for fear of a sword-wielding, tartan-wearing ogre of a ghost. This was totally a superstition but some believed it, and my family members didn't deny it for the sake of their privacy.

          I loved those dark bitter espresso nights for they carried the vibrancy of the unknown inside them, making my thoughts and impressions twist, turn, and feel the currents of other souls. And I was innocent, as innocent as my age claimed that I--Violet Martye Wishart--the red-headed, sky-eyed, precocious child with string-like limbs, can be. For the simple reason of that innocence alone, I didn't know I was sensitive. In other words, I neither recognized nor acknowledged my psychic abilities.

          In those days, nothing scared me for I had my own philosophy of sorts. I thought if one thrived in the night, he became ever so strong. I thought these quaint black nights only crowned the day and formed the enigmatic essence of the creation. I thought, like the night, all was dark before anything was created. I thought the entire universe stirred in darkness until the stars burst out. I thought night had more substance, more tangibility than daytime when people were obliged to do things they didn't want to do, like schoolwork or being polite and proper. I thought night was the time of opportunity to be the way I wanted to be, to do what I wanted to do. I thought, at nights, I affirmed my existence, and my independence lay in the night's obscurity.

          Usually on such nights when I succeeded to escape into the open, I stayed out until I got so sleepy that my legs trembled and refused my weight; only then, I sneaked inside into my bed without anyone noticing my absence. But tonight would be very different. During those minutes when I was dashing through the pasture and turning cartwheels and somersaults, however, I didn't know how different this dark blustery night would be.


          "You are some hot-blooded little girl. Don't you feel the icy wind?"

          A shadow or rather the form of a tall man who had to have been veiled by the old elm tree's dying shape ventured forward. I gasped. Something was not right.

          "Please, don't be afraid. I came to ask for help."

          Being a psychic, my senses have been sharper than most people's, but I have to close my eyes and look through my inner eye to see something in its entirety. At the time, as a child, I did that through instinct without being aware of my gifts. What I spotted was a dark figure but he was also someone who looked and dressed like a warrior of olden days. Then, I noticed his eyes, dark brown or almost black, with large pupils, and haunting like that of a night-owl. Before I could gaze any further, I felt him shaking me.

          "Don't be a traitor; open your eyes. Look at me with the eyes of the body. Can't you see I am real?" he demanded, as if he read into me. I opened my eyes in surprise.

          He changed his tone abruptly. He sounded like such a gentleman now. "I am Iain Kilarnock. Call me Iain. Pleased to make your acquaintance."

          Upon saying that he bent down in reverence and kissed my hand as if it was the most precious thing his lips ever touched. Hadn't Mums told me not to talk to strangers? But at that specific moment, my heart raced against my will and blocked any responsible behavior. No one had ever kissed my hand like that before. I gloated inside myself; I was feeling so grown-up.

          "I'm Violet Martye Wishart, Sir."

          "Yes, and such a beautiful name that is."

          His next words were confusing and even more than that; they were shocking.

          "Violet, and I dare call you by your first name for it's so splendid. You are the only one who can do it. Help me. Please!"

          "You must be afraid of the Castle Ghost. He doesn't exist... Really."

          "Not that. But you are right. I'm rather uncomfortable here."

          "Then, it must be the chitty thing you're scared of. Don't worry, Sir. My clan never hurts strangers."

          "No, not your clan either. Please, please, not here. And hurry I must. May we go and talk somewhere better, somewhere in town?"

          "Why in town? What if they find I'm missing? I'll never be able to get out of the castle again."

          "That won't happen. I assure you. Please, I truly need your help. Only you can help me."

          My senses were paralyzed from getting any kind of input. I had no way of weighing the truth in his words. I shook my head to overcome my benumbed state, which was of no use.

          "Say, you must like pizza. All young ladies like pizza."

          "Yes. Yes, Sir. Definitely. Pizza will be just fine."

          "Then, Pizza Hut will be where we'll talk."

          To this day, I haven't figured what had helped me to make up my mind to go with him that night; the lure of the pizza at the Pizza Hut in town or the curiosity awakened in me by the urgency and desperation in Iain's voice. Sometimes we decide but not think, until too late, until something important is lost forever.

***


          His horse was tied to the rail-fence close to the entrance of our stables.

          "Come, I'll take you."

          "I have my own horse, Sir."

          "If we take your horse, the stable hands will wake up."

          He was right, and I was scared of being found out for my nightly escapades. I nodded in agreement.

          I sat very still, sideways, on top of his horse and he held me gently with one hand as the horse trotted along. My head felt funny with a kind of dizziness; similar to the dizziness I had felt several months ago when the airplane had first taken off when Mums and I flew to London. But, I was oddly calm. I rested my head in Iain's chest and closed my eyes.

          A lingering fragrance of pine filled my nostrils and I felt carried into a forest from long times gone. A battle had taken place and a desperate group of warriors hid among the trees. From the sloping ground, I guessed it had to have been a forest on a mountainside. A figure took a step forward and cried. "You must keep your promise." He was Iain.

          "Violet, open your eyes. Please. You must never close them around me."

          "Why?"

          "Because... Because... Because I need someone to watch the road. I don't want the horse to stumble in the dark."

          "Your horse is fine. I know. I feel him."

          Iain sighed. "All right. Just don't close your eyes." The smooth cadence of his words had eased into a harsh command.



***



          The place was practically empty. Wearing his vest over my flannel nightgown, I sat across from Iain. In this well-lit corner booth of the Pizza Hut, I could see him better now. His glossy black hair, probably shoulder-length or even longer, was tied at the back, making his broad forehead strikingly visible. His high cheekbones and chiseled nose formed a direct contrast to his wide full mouth with large white teeth that glistened in the light. His long arms reached into the pizza tray and served me a hefty slice.

          "I asked them to put extra garlic into the sauce," he said.

          "Great! Aren't you having any?"

          "Since I'll do the talking, I better not eat. I prefer fresh things, anyhow."

          Then bending his head, "I am in great danger," he whispered. "I might have been attacked by a vampire or I keep getting attacked by one; I can't tell. That is why I wanted to avoid the darkness of the pasture and brought you here."

          "What? Vampire?"

          Ooops! I knew I shouldn't talk with my mouth full. But maybe it would be easier on both of us to just let him talk. Such craziness ought to have been burdening him down.

          I cradled another slice inside my palm and sank my teeth into its cheesy softness, my intense gluttony accelerating with every bite. The scent and the taste of each morsel bombarded my senses; so I said nothing else, but kept on chewing and chewing, slice after slice, until he stopped talking.

          "I have this nightmare. It keeps repeating itself each time I sleep. A savage vampire pounces on me in a feeding frenzy, sinking his fangs into me. When blood spurts out of my pores from the weight of his body, he drinks it all. Because of this, in the mornings I am so drained that I can't even stand up. You must help me. You must catch this vampire. Only you can do this. Only you can succeed. Only you. Because you are a very powerful girl, although you aren't aware of it yourself."

          What? Me powerful? Quirky, secretly defiant, full of mischief... Yes. Powerful? No way!

          "Sir, you're making a big mistake. I am not powerful," I protested in total sincerity.

          "First, call me Iain. Let me hear you say it."

          "Iain, Sir, I am not powerful. And there are no vampires. I haven't seen any. Ever."

          "That we don't see someone doesn't mean he doesn't exist."

          He had a good argument there. At that time in my young life, I wasn't really sure of the existence of vampires, but whether I believed they inhabited the earth or not, I was sure of one thing; I wasn't powerful. I wasn't powerful enough to catch a vampire. Actually, I didn't believe I was powerful for anything at all.

          "Trust me, you are powerful." Then, he leaned forward to serve me the last slice. As he did that, through the slit of an unbuttoned section of his shirt, a necklace dangled out.

          What an unusual piece of jewelry it was! A big crystalline stone, it looked as if someone broke it in shards and then glued them together. A pale light filtered through it, and it was hanging from, not a chain, but a thin leather strip.

          "What is that?" Impulsively I stretched my hand as he tensed right back into his seat without serving me the slice.

          "Nothing, just a piece of rock. Finish your pizza." Obviously, he did not bother with the niceties once my intention was clear to him.

          He was very quiet on the way home but this time he made me sit up straight and ride forward seat to the front of him. I couldn't close my eyes, trying to steady my balance as his horse galloped fast all the way back to the castle.

          "Is there any way you can change your mind?" he asked for the last time while he was helping me dismount.

          "Sorry, but no," I said. "You are mistaken about me. Really."

          Without another word, he mounted the horse and galloped away.

          "Thank you for the pizza," I yelled after him, but I don't think he heard that. After I tiptoed inside, I realized I was still wearing his vest.

***


          I couldn't go out at nights anymore. Mums ordered all doors to the castle be double-bolted at dusk, because one of the servants reported that she heard hoof beats in the middle of the night and the creaking sound of a door closing. Of course I knew about what she said she heard, but for obvious reasons, I couldn't tell the truth to Mums.

          To top that off, another maid found Iain's vest in my closet. When Mums asked me about it, I faked ignorance but Lachlan, our groundskeeper and one of the castle guards said, on the road leading to the castle, he had seen a man with a suit of similar material and color. He said he saw the same man in town on his night off. He remembered it because the cut of the suit seemed foreign and its color was a distinct reddish brown like dried blood. That did it for Mums. She was sure Lord Wishart's enemies were out to get his only daughter, me. So I was allowed to play outside only during daytime with a maid chaperoning me, and I didn't like this one bit.

          During the days that followed, I was watched and monitored not only by the family and the domestics but also by an unknown being. The feeling of an unseen someone creeping behind me to observe me was too persistent to shake off. That was not a figment of my far-out-across-the-universe imagination either. I always felt a burning tingling sensation at my fingertips when trouble headed my way. And those few days, I kept dropping things down like rag cloths because of those sensations. Was all this the leftover debris of that one night when I accepted to listen to Iain? If it was so, it was too high a price to pay for a pizza pie. I felt cheated and tossed about like a cork on a wave at sea. Because of my pinned-down situation and the shaky ground I was on, I started to reflect on the vampire issue.

          Did vampires really exist? I debated the question inside my mind repeatedly.

          Maybe I could see both sides of the argument if I tried hard enough. Then, maybe not. If they did exist, what would vampires be like? Lesser than people? Better than people? Maybe they were just intense people like Aunt Arlene with breast implants and dyed blonde tresses who insisted on rare steaks and hot debates. Could the vampires' continuous increase in numbers become a growing danger to society? According to Iain, the answer was yes. I imagined a roomful of Aunt Arlenes, in flesh and blood. Especially in blood. Now, that would really stir up trouble.

          It could be the impact of all this thinking and figuring out that gave me an unforgettable jolt one night. But no, I don't think so.

          A few evenings after I had met Iain, at bedtime, Mums tucked me in and left, and I was just dozing off to sleep.

          Suddenly, a loud bang blasted into the night as if a large metallic object was hurled around. I tried to open my eyes and look, but a burst of light blinded my sight. Then, out of nowhere. a huge bumpy panel like that of a movie screen darted at me and enveloped me within its frames. I groped around inside that panel. But each bump I touched produced a bat-like creature with wings similar to square-rigged sails, their glaring eyes lit with infrared lights, and their screechy shrieks that scraped my eardrums to no end. I didn't feel them biting me but they scratched my skin with their claws and tossed me around like a beach ball. "You are obligated to enjoy this," someone whispered.

          Enjoy this? How can one be obligated to enjoy anything? How could I enjoy something so horrendous? I was awake now, but kept my eyes closed. Wet with perspiration, I felt shredded as if they put me through the paper shredder in the castle's library. I recognized the nightmarish reality inside what I had experienced only moments ago. Although it was a dream, those creatures had to have been vampires. Before all this, I had thought, 'No way! Vampires cannot be existing at all.'

          Yet, they were, as it was just shown to me. I started praying. "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee..."

***


          I must have fallen asleep again. Feeling an impending malaise or rather an out-of-the-ordinary and disturbing premonition, I opened my eyes.

          It was dark in the room but I could distinguish the outline of a form bending over me; the form of a man with a big head and very broad shoulders. With one quick gesture, he gagged my mouth with his palm and lifted me up in one arm. "If you open your mouth or resist, your mother will be killed," he whispered into my ear. I froze with the fear of being responsible for another dreadful catastrophe, even more dreadful than the one that was happening to me at the moment. I couldn't move anyway, even if I intended to. This powerful person with arms like iron rods had me in his mighty grip.

          "Walk," he ordered when he put me down, his one arm still enclosing my body. He used his other hand to gag my mouth while he dragged me down the stairs, through the curvature of each landing, past the hallways, and into the foyer. Suddenly I smelled garlic. What was this?

          At the front door, the man made a hissing sound like that of a milk snake. The doors, obviously unbolted earlier, opened inwards with two men holding each wing from the outside. Only one faint light shone in place of our several powerful outdoor lights at the entrance. That's when I saw Lachlan who was on guard duty that night. The poor man was made to sit on the floor of the landing, all bound, gagged, and with blinders on.

          Suddenly that smell of garlic became extraordinarily pungent and it made me sneeze. Distrusting my sneeze, these three men shoved me forward, down the front stairs outside, and into the castle's parking lot. There, I saw the unfamiliar silhouette of a mid-sized car. In the dim light of a half-moon, I discerned the figure of another man to the side of the car; a man I knew, Iain.

          The men surrounded me, one of them holding a cross to my face and another one sprinkling me with water from vials attached to his belt. One of them pointed a stake at my chest and said:

          "We know who you are: you, the sinister one hiding in a child's body; you, who has disregarded the past; you, who dishonored the future of mankind; you, who frolics and feeds in the darkness of the night."

          Had they just accused me of being a vampire? Were they lunatics or what? All of a sudden, the fear left me. What I felt was anger so intense that it almost rattled my speech, but my words emerged anyway.

          "I am not too crazy about you either," I ridiculed him. "Darn! You must be such dimwits for grown men. I'm not what you accuse me of. How dare you do this? Iain, how dare you! If you wanted your vest back, you could have said so."

          I heard a faint giggle as I noticed Iain's hand rise to his mouth to cover it. Another man said, "Shut her up and let's go!"

          One idiot pushed me inside the car pinning me down on the backseat, while the other one walked around and sat near the opposite window. The third man took the wheel and Iain sat in the front passenger seat.

          "Where to, Boss?" the driver asked.

          "Headquarters," Iain ordered.

          The half moon was emanating enough light for visibility, which was a blessing, because the man who snatched me out of my bed drove without turning on the headlights until the car left the road leading to the castle.

          "If you make even a tiny sound or do the slightest thing to attract attention, we'll kill your entire family," the man to my right cautioned me, when we were passing through the Main Street. "Do you understand?"

          "Yes, I do," I said. "But who are you? What do you want from me?"

          Ian turned around and looked at me. "We're a group of vampire hunters. That's who."

          I turned my head to the man on my right and then to the one on my left. There was enough light from the store fronts and street lamps in town for me to make out their features now.

          The man to my right--the one in red and black plaid woolen shirt and blue denims--had a square jaw with a wide mouth and a Roman nose. He was stocky, muscular, and wore a determined face.

          The one to my left, the one with the vials on his belt took off his thick leather bomber jacket because it had become so warm in the car. When I watched him closely, I noticed, to my surprise, that he was not a he, but a she. She wore tightly fitted army fatigues over a turtleneck. Without the thick jacket, her slender shape gave her away. She was the one who had never spoken before. Next, she removed her cap and let her hair unfurl around her shoulders. In that light, I wasn't really able to distinguish the exact shade of her hair but she was probably a light blonde.

          She spoke to me first.

          "Why are you looking at me like that, Violet?" Her voice was weak but sweet enough to make me think that she was the only one among the group not to hold a grudge against me.

          "You know my name?" That was a dumb question to ask. Of course she did, thanks to Iain.

          "I know a lot about you." She held my left hand and gave it a little squeeze. Encouraged, I edged toward her and leaned against her. "What are your names?" I asked.

          "Hush, you in the back!" Iain ordered and nobody answered me.

***



          What they called headquarters was a regular red-brick Queen-Anne style townhouse with a gabled roof in a residential neighborhood in town.

          "Deanna, take Violet with you and attend to her needs. Then bring her to the conference room," Iain ordered again.

          Deanna took my hand and led me to the back of the house into the kitchen. "Are you hungry?" she asked. I stopped at the threshold and gasped. I had never seen so many cloves of garlic braided all the way from the ceiling down to the floor on the walls. No wonder these people smelled.

          "Does this house have a bathroom?" I asked. "My system can take only so much."

          "Of course, Sweetie. Here, come with me."

          Afterwards, we sat in the kitchen, and I downed several scoops of Heavenly Hash. I still hadn't gotten over their accusations, but at least, Heavenly Hash was a much better treatment.

          "Do you really believe I am a vampire, Deanna?" I asked her right out, finding encouragement in her tenderness.

          "To tell you the truth," she swallowed her next breath. "No, but I do so wish you'd help us. We're all in some dire situation here."

          I observed her carefully. With her light blonde hair, amber eyes, and very white skin she resembled a daisy swaying in the wind. Even inside her fatigues, she looked so beautiful, yet so pale and sad.

          "What makes you so upset?"

          "A vampire. Vampires are what unite us as a group. We all have our individual sob stories."

          "What is your story, Deanna?"

          "Years ago, I fell in love with a man I met at a New Year's Eve ball. I saw him every night afterwards, but during daytime, he was unreachable. I didn't make much of it for he had told me he was in the Queen's secret service. Look," She pulled the collar of her turtleneck down. I almost shrieked with horror. The right side of her neck had turned purple and her jugular vein was in the process of caving in. There was a small Band-Aid covering a spot.

          "What's under the Band-Aid?"

          "There's a hole, which is always open and blood drips through it. There is plug under the band aid to prevent it from dripping out. A vampire comes to me every night and takes my blood in small quantities. I beg him to finish it off and be done with it, for I prefer death to such a life. But he says he wants to keep me for eternity, because my blood tastes like lemon and it is only good in small quantities as a seasoning. The worse thing is, I'm desperately in love with him."

          "Does he love you too?"

          "No, he doesn't. He never has. But I understand. Twenty years ago, he fell in love with another woman before he met me. He can't forget her."

          "What happened to the other woman? Did he kill her?"

          "No, that woman scorned him. Then, she married someone from among the nobility."

          "How come he lets you be part of a vampire hunting group?"

          "No group can deter him, because he has me under his power. But maybe you can help me and help others as well."

          "But I'm a kid; I can't do anything..."

          "You're a kid with powers. At least, Iain says so. When you close your eyes, you can sense a lot of things."

          "Doesn't everybody?"

          "No, Violet. When other people like me close their eyes, they fall off to sleep or they go inside their own minds. But you set out to anywhere in the cosmos and up and down the timeline of creation."

          "I didn't know. I thought anybody could do that."

          This was so odd. If I was so special, why didn't Mums ever tell me that? Why did she keep insisting that I do my homework to perfection and learn to play the piano? If this was the case, and it obviously was, I didn't need to play the piano or do any homework. I was already perfect.

          "Well, now you know," Deanna stood up. "If you're finished with that ice-cream, let's head to the conference room. Don't let them in on the fact that I believe you're not a vampire. You have to convince the other guys all by yourself."

          I trusted my dreams because they always came true. But Deanna's neck and her story of sorrows convinced me, right there in that kitchen, more so than any dream. Whoever these vampires were, they sure belonged in some kind of an eternal loony bin.


          What they said was a conference room was only a tiny dining room with a long rectangular oak table and several chairs with stiff backs. Iain sat at the head of the table. The man with the big head and broad shoulders who dragged me out of my bed and the man who was to my right in the car now sat side by side. Deanna showed me the chair opposite the two men and she sat at the end across from Iain.

          "How did she do in the kitchen?" Iain asked.

          "She passed. The garlic didn't bother her one bit."

          Iain turned to me. "Because of your unusual behavior on the night you and I met, our group has a good reason to believe that you are a vampire."

          "What unusual behavior?" I shifted uneasily in my chair.

          "First you were out playing on the pasture on a dark night and enjoying yourself. That is vampire behavior to start with."

          "What is wrong with a dark night? I love the nights. If being out at night is vampire behavior as you put it, then the stars, the moon, the wind, the rain, and even the angels have to be vampires also. Don't you think?"

          "Makes sense," one of the men said.

          "I'll buy that," Iain nodded. "Then, how do you account for the fact that you could eat so much pizza?"

          "I always eat too much. I think everybody should eat all the pizza they can get their hands on. It is the best food ever created, only to be served to creatures who like heavenly things."

          "She did eat quite a few scoops of Heavenly Hash," Deanna spoke, constructing her words delicately.

          "Then, why did you drop your pizza when I suddenly said vampires? You were caught unawares, weren't you?"

          I looked at Iain calmly without getting tangled up in his accusations. "You're the vampire, Iain," I yelled abruptly.
He sprung up like a rocket in one frightened motion, knocking down his chair.

          "You see, Iain, I got you. But, no; I'm not saying you're a vampire. Unlike what you have done to me, I'm not accusing you of anything. I only wanted to demonstrate how people react to sudden unexpected words."

          One of the men straightened the chair up. and Iain collapsed on it with a moan.

          "I am so sorry, Violet," the man with the big head glanced at me. "I believe you."

          "I believe her, too," The other one said. "She also passed all our tests, remember? The cross, the holy water, the garlic. And she eats everything. Vampires can be quite choosy, you know."

          "Even so, she has powers and she's refusing to help us," Iain grumbled.

          "How can I help people if I'm not introduced to them properly?" I demanded.

          The two men across the table from me stood up and stretched their hands.

          "I'm Danny," the big-headed child-snatcher said.

          "I'm Neil," said the man in the red and black plaid shirt who hesitatingly shook my hand after Danny. Then, they looked at Iain for approval.

          "Violet Martye Wishart," I said.

          "Enchanted," they mumbled in unison. Iain smiled

          "Danny's wife and son were abducted by a vampire, never to be seen again as was his entire herd of dairy cows," Iain explained with regret in his voice. "That's Danny's reason to join our group."

          "My wife," Neil hesitated for a fraction of a second, then spilled his sorrows. "She... she was captured and her blood drained. Eventually, she turned into a vampire herself. She has been visiting our cottage to see our three young children every night. Now, any woman I start going out with ends up dead. I'm afraid our children will grow up without the care of a proper mother figure." He bent his head and sobbed in agony.

          For a moment there, I only wanted to leave; not to harm anyone because I could never do that, but to be blameless, free as before, not accountable for anything, and to be back home without Mums inserting several more restrictions into my life. But Deanna... Deanna's moist eyes and her sad love story... Also, wasn't I approaching that 'tender age' as Aunt Arlene had warned Mums? What if I had my heart broken like Deanna? No, I could never handle that. If vampires broke women's hearts (and at that moment I believed that they hurt women more than anyone else), their necks should be broken by law. Why should they stay as the privileged members of a privileged closed society just to lord it over to the rest of the creation?

          I looked at Deanna again only to catch her staring at Iain with teary eyes. Everyone in this room lacked inner smoothness. Even though my eyes weren't closed, I could pick up on their vibrations. But, more than the gloomy men who sat with dejected postures in this dining room--pardon--conference room, Deanna's story melted my heart. After all, she was of my gender. As far as I was concerned, there weren't seventy some nations in the world. There were only two. Men and Women. No, make it Women and Men. Silly me! The weaker gender should always get the second billing.

          With a decisive gesture of grace, I rose from my seat and announced in a determined voice. "I'll help you. I don't how, but I will. Though, first you have to find a way that I return to my bed without Mums finding out. Also, we must do something about Lachlan, so he won't make things difficult for us."

          "Don't worry," Iain said. "If we can, we'll put him in his bed and he'll think he dreamt the whole thing up."


          "That isn't such a good idea," Danny said, as he stared at his hands resting on the tabletop. "What if her family has already found out Violet is missing and Lachlan is tied up? Violet may not be able to leave home again, and we'll be caught red-handed. Let her come with us now when we have her."

          "Remember your dream, Iain," Neil said, "and what we already uncovered. I agree that now's the time."

          "But what can we do right now? What dream? What have you uncovered?" I asked, afraid of a complex response, which again could test my comprehension.

          Iain ran the back of his hand across his mouth while fidgeting slightly in his seat. "Yes, of course, Violet. Of course, you should know. The one vampire who has been hanging around in this area, the one we suspect of most of those atrocious acts, lives right around here in the next town, only thirty-five minutes to us by car."

          Deanna spoke for the first time. "We found where his house was because Iain witnessed it in a dream. Then, Neil checked on Iain's dream. And it was so."

          "Most people in that town are pale and weak," Iain said. "They all complain of itches. The local authorities thought there was a mosquito infestation and they sprayed the whole area to no avail."

          "But we can get rid of him quite easily," Neil said, staring at me. "Danny has spent hours studying the latest Vampire Hunting Technology. It's got to work."

          "I quite believe in the new method," Danny agreed.

          "Vampire Hunting Technology? The new method? What are you saying?" I asked.

          "The society called Vampire Huntsmen International--after many years of research and discussion and taking into account the differences between vampires worldwide--has come up with an all-around method," Deana explained.

          "What?"

          Well, I guess I shouldn't be surprised. Since I had finally accepted the existence of vampires, there had to be true-to-life hunters of them since everything in existence was based on the premise of the hunter and the hunted. I knew this from the times when I closed my eyes and ventured about.

          "This technology is based on the power of blood," Danny explained. "It has to do with DNA formations. I learned the technique and figured out its fine points. A hunter has to take all of the different kinds of blood in existence. He has to keep this mixture in the fridge for some time and let it go bad. Oh, I forgot. He also has to find a family member of the vampire and take his blood and mix it in with the rest; then, dare to go near him and douse him with it. Since a vampire's skin is more absorbent than a normal human skin, it will soak up the blood and its stench. The vampire will never be able to wash it off. You know vampires are very sensitive to smells. This way he'll drive himself crazy and will go off in a bat form until he dies as a bat. And he'll never be able to assume human form again."

          "Do you have such a mixture ready?"

          "Yes, we do," Danny said.

          "How could you get that?"

          "I took a job in the blood bank for a few months and just deposited a few drops of each new sample into a small container and brought it here. In time, we had the entire chromatic scale. People in the blood bank didn't miss anything and we had our formula. I did it for public good," Neil explained defensively.

          "All's fair in love and war," Deanna commented, her eyes clouding again.

          "What do you say to that, Violet?" Iain asked. "Do you agree to go with us tonight?"

          "What do you want me for? You already have the formula and you know where he lives."

          "Right. But you see, the house where the vampire lives has a very intricate design inside. Neil and Danny broke in once and they couldn't find exactly where the vampire was hiding. We need to find his lair in the core of that house. For that, we need your powers. We need you to go into that house with us. We need you close your eyes and lead us into where the vampire has holed in."

          "Okay," I nodded, deciding to get it over with for everyone's sake --but especially mine. There was much suffering going on in this room, and I didn't want to suffer in my life, at all. Even though I was the apple of my parents' eyes and I had a great life, that great life didn't protect me from future calamities. Keeping my environment safe from vampires or other nasty creatures and organisms would certainly lend a hand to the objectives of an ideal life I was planning for.

          "To be on the safe side, let's add some of your blood to the mixture. All of us here gave a sample of our blood also. Just a drop will do. Okay?" Deanna pleaded.

          I understood teamwork. Yet, didn't they say they had the entire chromatic scale? Still, I couldn't back out now since I was part of the team. But I also hated shots, needles, and the sight of blood. I nodded with a meek "Yes," escaping my lips. I didn't say anything else, because if I were to talk, I couldn't manage any words polite enough.

          Deanna scuttled into the kitchen and returned with a gallon-size soda bottle of brown and somewhat coagulated liquid. She pricked my finger with a needle and squeezed the flesh. My blood gushed out immediately.

          "Young blood is always bright and generous," Iain commented as if talking to himself.

          Deanna lifted the cap off the bottle and held my finger over it to make my blood drop into the mixture. Everyone in the room grimaced and Iain held his nose and covered his mouth and even his eyes. I didn't blame them one bit. As soon as the bottle was opened, the room reeked of the worst odor ever. It was ghastly. Vampires aside, confronted with such a stench, anyone would decide to leave his skin.

          Deanna closed the lid of the bottle and Danny opened the windows although it was freezing cold outside.

          "Let's go," Iain said, as he stood up.



***



          I was amazed at the largesse of my nerves on the narrow road curving up a hill. I didn't feel fright at all. Only boredom mixed with urgency to get this entire situation over with.

          The vampire's house on the top of a hill inside a small yard with gates couldn't be labeled a mansion, but it was a very big house with wood shingles unevenly grayed by the passage of time. The many windows surrounding an enormous double-winged front door gave the impression of a vast symmetrical complex. With its windows closed and their shutters drawn, the house resembled a sleeping giant ready to wake up and swallow its prey. Oddly enough, I still didn't experience any trepidation, neither did my fingertips burn and sting. If anything, acceptance and compassion embraced my heart. Maybe the antennae of my psychic abilities had stopped feeling the distinction between truth and falsehood.

          We parked the car across the street and walked to its outside gates. Iain stopped suddenly. "I can't go in," he said. "I'm so afraid that I'm choking."

          "Come on Iain, you worked on this project just as hard as anybody. You should go in there to finalize it."

          "No, forgive me," Iain said as he slumped and sat on the sidewalk. "My legs refuse to carry me. I'll only be a hindrance to you."

          "Would you like me to stay with you?" Deanna asked tenderly.

          "No, please Deanna, do go in. I'll be fine out here." Iain winced as if he was hurting inside.

          The four of us walked in through the gate, into the yard, and toward the house in silence as if a strong anesthetic was shot into our tongues. Under our feet, some vegetation crumbled and collapsed as we threaded our way to the front door.

***


          The place appeared empty inside. No pictures adorned the walls and no furniture could be spotted at first glance when we flicked the lights on. Yet, when I closed my eyes, I felt the vibrancy of a person, a living being. So odd! Other beings, ones who weren't in living human form--and vampires would be leading those--gave off different kinds of emissions. At the time, it was easier to treat my own abilities with uncertainty than to trust them, for it had only been a few days since I had found out that my gifts were divinely imposed upon me and not everyone had it.

          "Yes, there is a person here," I told the group, "but the vibes I'm getting, I don't know," I shook my head, "they don't feel as if they belong to a vampire."

          "Just lead us to him, Violet," Deanna said. "If we can get the blood on him, all the vampires within a 300 mile radius will escape."

          "Who has the blood?" Danny asked, suddenly becoming aware that in the group nobody was carrying the bottle.

          "Iain made me put the bottle in the trunk of the car because of the ugly smell," Neil said. "He said he'd give it to Danny."

          "No, it's probably still in the car," Danny said, scratching his forehead. "I thought he said he'd give it to you, Neil. Maybe I should go back and get it."

          "It will be too late. The blood has to be poured on the vampire before daybreak. We have only a few minutes left for that now. This vampire we have to do away with immediately," Deanna said. "Remember what Iain said? This one is the most dangerous vampire."

          "I can drive the stake through his heart and we can use the blood on the next vampire," Neil said. "Once we are here, let's not waste time. Since I have children of my own, I wouldn't want to drag Violet too much into this. She might not be able to help us next time anyway."

          "Okay then," Danny said, "Come on, Violet."

          I closed my eyelids and led the group to the stairs going up. I stopped at the second floor landing. "He's around here," I said. We searched all the rooms, but found nothing.

          "Try again," Deanna said, surprising me with her enthusiasm. Of everybody, she had been not only the saddest person but also the one who spoke the least. Maybe the ice that held her joy captive was melting as victory approached.

          I closed my eyes and let my instinct guide me to a light fixture on a side wall. "Here," I said and I opened my eyes.

          "That's a wall!" Neil said.

          "No, it is here. But I can't reach the lamp. I am too short. The door is around the lamp somewhere."

          Danny pulled the cord on the light fixture. There was a slight squeak and one half of the wall started sliding into the other half. We entered using flashlights.

          It was a small room but with furnishings. Edged to a wall were a small refrigerator, a simple metal cabinet, and an oak table with an armchair in front of it. On top of the table stood a thirteen-inch TV, a small short-wave radio, a pad, pencils, and a few books.

          On the opposite wall, I spotted a men's dresser with curved legs. I recalled Mums calling those kinds of legs "cabriolet with hoofs". At the time it was all the information I had concerning furniture. Next to the dresser was a small night table, quite like the dresser and with the same kind of legs. It was the best piece in the room because it had a marble top and it stood by the side of a four-poster bed with a canopy.

          "He must be in there," Deanna whispered pointing to the curtains on the canopy. I approached the bed on tiptoe, with Neil holding the stake in his hand and following me. From the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of the night table when, unintentionally, a flashlight was held to it. I stopped short and gasped. A shard of a gem, like a piece from the cluster Iain had on his neck and with the same pale light gleaming through it, lay on the marble top. Neil stopped also, probably thinking that I stopped because I sensed something.

          Danny lifted the curtain to make way for Neil, and shone the flashlight on the bed. A long-limbed, skinny old man was asleep without any coverings. At first sight, he seemed lifeless but very peaceful. He had a full head of soft cloudlike white hair and his pale emaciated face had an expression so gentle and endearing that I thought maybe he had fallen asleep while listening to the most loving lullaby.

          "That's him," Deanna said. "Quick!"

          "Have you ever seen a vampire asleep at night?" Danny whispered, vacillating.

          Neil lifted his arm high in the air and brought it down on the old man suddenly. I shrieked at the same instant the old man rolled over to his side. The stake had caught only the tail of his pajama top.

          "No, you're mistaken. I'm not who you're looking for," he pleaded in a feeble quivering voice. "I'm not a vampire."

          "He's telling the truth. He's not the vampire." This time I was sure of my words. Since I had begun using my abilities knowingly, they had developed sharper very fast.

          "How do you know we were looking for a vampire then?" Neil asked the old man.

          "From the smell of garlic you brought in here," the old man said. "And this stake you pierced my mattress with. Don't you see you are being used? This is an old vampire trick to send the hunters on the wrong guy."

          "How do you know so much?" Deanna asked, raising her eyebrows as if she was mocking the old man.

          The old man pulled on the chain around his neck, dragged out a big cross from inside his undershirt, and let it dangle. "I used to be a vampire hunter myself," he said. Then, to free himself, he tore away the tail of his pajama top nailed by the stake. "If I were a vampire, would I be wearing a cross? Now, please, one of you, turn on the top light so we can see each other."

          Under the light overhead, the room looked more functional and upbeat when viewed in its entirety. In addition to the large pieces of furniture, I noticed a comforter folded at the foot of the bed, several photos on the walls, one large poster-illustration of a World War II single seat fighter-bomber. Some information was printed on the side of it. It said World War II, Hawker Tempest Mark V.

          "Well, Ladies and Gentlemen, from the looks of you, I see that you've been had." The old man turned to me. "And what a sweet little girl you are!"

          "She's Violet, Sir," Danny said, "the youngest member in our group."

          "He has even used a child. Who could believe that!" the old man exclaimed.

          Watching the old man's conduct, I was sure he was telling the truth. I closed my eyes and projected my mind into him. What I saw was a brief white glow surrounding him like a halo around a saint. This old man was a fantastic human being, practically an angel. And a few minutes ago, we nearly killed him when I led everybody to him. I shuddered.

          Who had put us up to this? One didn't need to be a rocket scientist to figure it out. This time I concentrated on the guilty one's form.

          Of course, it was Iain. With a panic-stricken sense, I could see more of Iain now because he was standing just outside the gate not too far away. No wonder he forbade me to close my eyes when he was near me. Inside my third eye, though I saw darkness as darkness could get, I saw Iain's real form too and the many forms he took through the centuries. His first form was a clear one, rather respectable actually. He was a warrior in the time of the Druids.

          "This child is sleeping on foot," the old man commented after probably seeing me with closed eyes. "You come lie down here, Violet." He moved to the side to make place for me near him.

          On the bed, although I wasn't sleepy, I inched near the old man. It somehow felt good to feel him so close to me.

          "I'm so sorry, Sir. About the stake and everything," Neil apologized.

          "Well, I guess I can't complain now, since no harm's done. Now, tell me. Who made you come in here?" The old man asked.

          "Another member of our group had a dream about this house. But the house didn't look lived in. We, Neil and I, entered and checked. People told us that an old man who talked to nobody lived here and he went out only to shop for necessities. This verified our suspicions, to have a perfectly empty house yet with someone living in it. Did you say you have been a vampire hunter?" Danny asked.

          "Yes, and a little more than that. It happened quite by accident, I'd say."

          "Would you mind telling us about it?" Neil asked.

          "Let me start with how I got involved in these things," the old man unfolded the comforter and covered me with it. "I was a World War II flying ace, flying a secret night mission, when my plane took a hit and I parachuted somewhere into the Black Forest in Southwestern Germany close to the French border. The German pilot who had chased me also had taken a hit and he too parachuted in the same area.

          "There was a full moon that night and I saw that his parachute had gotten tangled among the tree branches, whereas I had been able to make it to the ground and free myself. Enemy though he was, I felt bad for him for he was also an airman like me in the middle of the night inside a dark forest. So I decided to go to his aid. But before I could reach him, I heard screeches of a bat and the shriek of a man. A dark shadow had covered the moon and then descended on the tree where the German airman was. I stopped and held my breath. Lucky that I did so. The dark thing soon sent out another terrifying screech and flew away. At that instant, I saw its exact silhouette against the full moon. It was a huge bat in flight.

          "I crept up to where the German was and saw a horrible sight. The man's neck was broken and his blood, even his flesh, was sucked out of his body.

          "I was frozen with shock. Obviously more dangers other than the Germans lay hidden in these parts.

          "You have to hide," someone said in a muted rippling voice. Without thinking, I reached for my pistol. "No, no. Please. I want to help you."

          "He was a tall strong muscular man leaning against another tree carrying a folded bundle. I couldn't see the exact color of his hair and eyes in the faint light but I guessed he was a German because of his accent.

          "I am Conrad. Come with me," he said. I had no choice but to follow Conrad to an underground dwelling at the edge of the forest. The bundle he was carrying was my parachute. "You want neither the German army nor the vampires know about your existence," he said.

          "Vampires?" I was befuddled.

          "What your eyes saw was a huge bat," the man said. "But he was a vampire. You see, the River Danube springs from the Black Forest to curve its way through Eastern Europe. And vampires flourish along its sides, more than anywhere else. You know why?" Before he could continue, we heard footsteps above us. He motioned me to be quiet. The German guards had come into the forest to hunt for me and their fallen comrade.

          "The German army of course hunted for the fallen RAF members. But, obviously much worse than the enemy, there were other hunters of fallen airmen; the vampires. A young airman all tied-up in a parachute among the fir trees and probably injured was a grand source of blood for a hungry vampire.

          "After the quiet had returned, Conrad went ahead to tell me that the reason the vampires flourished in this area the best was because of all the shards scattered along the edges of the River Danube. And he, Conrad was a collector of those shards."


          "What are shards for, Sir?" I asked the old man.

          "Each shard enriches a vampire with a specific ability. For example the shard of sunshine would enable a vampire to walk around in daylight and assume human responsibilities. You see that shard on top of the night table there. It authorizes vampires with ability to enter and leave homes without being invited. This is the last shard that I could keep and the vampire who has the rest of the shards is after this one to complete his mission of terror, as he has sent you in here to do his deed for him."

          The old man stopped to catch his breath and Danny poured him a glass of water. Everyone was very quiet now. All the evidence implicated Iain. It was evident that Danny, Neil, and Deanna were trying to get used to this new situation as well as undergoing the shock of this unexpected betrayal by their friend.

          "If the vampire hunters went after the shards instead of the vampires, they would be more successful in their quests," the old man continued. "Sure vampires would still exist, but they wouldn't be as effective in the way they terrorize people today. Conrad--my friend and teacher--collected those shards."

          "What is the origin of those shards?" Neil asked.

          The old man's mouth stretched into a thin smile.

          "All those shards used to be in one piece and that piece was called the talisman of invincibility. Eons ago, the planet earth was visited by beings from another universe. Although they were much advanced in their civilization, they were vampirical in their behavior and appearance. Each one wore a talisman, a jewel of luck, which empowered them with a multitude of abilities. But these beings didn't like what they found in our universe, so they left very soon.

          "When they were on their way out, a younger and less careful one dropped his talisman into the River Danube without being aware of it. Ages later, a gypsy found it while he was bathing in the river and started wearing it. When it was his time to go, that gypsy died and he was buried with the jewel. Yet the poor gypsy kept coming back to life no matter how many times people did away with him.

          "Soon enough those gypsies discovered the power of this talisman, and when the big plague hit Europe, being a civic-minded loving person --a vampire though he might have been, that gypsy shattered the gem into hundred pieces and gave a piece to each member of his tribe to carry it on their necks to be safe from the epidemic. It is said that some of the shards were thrown back into the river and Vlad Tepes of the infamous Bran Castle, known by most people as Count Dracula, had quite a few of those shards in his possession, but later he lost them in a drunken escapade.

          "My friend and teacher Conrad succeeded in obtaining each and every one, and glued ninety-nine of them together. Conrad and I took it upon ourselves to guard the jewel in our underground abode in the Black Forest. But Conrad became careless and a little senile toward the end of his life. He started wearing it on his neck. One day he went to bathe in the river and took off his shirt together with the talisman unintentionally. That is when a vampire, the one and the same who sent you here, stole it and killed Conrad. I had the last shard because we had been keeping that single piece inside to make our residence safe. Soon I managed to escape with the shard and returned home. But the vampire got word of that and started to patrol this area. The thing he wants is this piece so the talisman is complete and he can exert total power over every creature."


          "After the war, you didn't return home..." Neil commented questioningly.

          "For decades I didn't return home. How could I? I was declared dead in action and I didn't want anybody to know I was alive because we were guarding the talisman. My family's welfare could be used as a weapon against me."

          "My great grandfather, my father's father, died in that war, too," I said.

          "Millions of people did," the old man stroked my hair.

          "I saw Iain wearing the talisman," I said. "He wouldn't let me touch it."

          "He wouldn't come into this house with us either," Danny said.

          "Well, because he can't. He has been hanging around here, guarding the house during the last few weeks. I was afraid to leave because I knew he'd attack me. It has been ten days that I ran out of food. But even if I die of hunger and there is nobody living here, he can't come in to this house or any other house. He can't have this one last bit of the talisman. So at least, I know people will be safe in their homes."

          "Unless, he fools other people and makes them do his dirty deeds for him," Neil murmured.


          That poor old man...He had been hungry without any shepherd's pie, without any stew, without at least a tiny cream cake for so many days. And here I was not being able to stay without munching something for even a couple of hours. I took out the small chocolate bar from my pajama's top pocket and handed it to the old man. "You can have this if you like. I usually snatch food and bring it into my bed."

          "How sweet you are! Yes, I needed that badly. Thank you, Violet." The old man tore the wrapping and bit into the chocolate. Then, he turned to Danny. "But why in the world did you bring this little girl with you so late in the night?"

          "It was Iain's idea. He sent Violet with us because she is psychic," Danny said. "Where you are hiding was too complicated. Only she could lead us to your room."

          "Not true. See here on the wall. Near the night table. See the window? Then look over there carefully, between the oak table and the metal cabinet. Don't you see a door?"

          Everyone gasped. Nobody had noticed the door and the window before. Neil opened the door. True enough, it led to the corridor outside.

          "I was the one who opened all the doors on this side," Neil said. "What I found were empty rooms."

          "He played with your heads, that's why," The old man said.

          "What about the sliding walls?" Danny asked.

          The old man laughed. "One of the owners used this room as a storage place for antique furniture, and since the door was too small for large objects, he had that wall built to open up by sliding."

          Deanna stood there speechless. Poor Deanna! Probably she didn't know that Iain and the vampire she was so in love with were the one and the same. Or did she?

          This was so confusing. Not only for Deanna but for me too. Why had Iain gone to all that trouble and, of all people, dragged me into this? Only because I was playing out in the middle of the night? Since he was such a powerful vampire, he could have drained my blood right there and then. So many things didn't add up, most of all my involvement in this.

          Then Deanna spoke for the first time, "You didn't tell us your name, Sir. Your real name. The one that you were born with."

          The old man shrugged. "I had kept it a secret because I didn't want my family members harmed. I might as well tell you now. It seems as if not one of us will make it alive out of here anyhow. I am Andrew Fergus Wishart the Second."

          I felt my eyes grow big as if they would bulge out of their sockets. I blurted out, "That's my father's name except he's the third."

          "Violet..." The old man gasped and what was left of the chocolate bar fell off his hand.

          "Yes, I am Violet Martye Wishart."

          "Martye was my wife's name," Andrew Fergus Wishart murmured.

          "She was my father's grandmother. She passed away four years ago. I was five then but I remember her," I said.

          Andrew Fergus Wishart gazed into my face as if he was seeing me for the first time. "You have her eyes and her mouth." Without taking his eyes from me he kept inspecting me as if I was the tiny paper inside his fortune cookie and he couldn't believe what he was reading. "You are my great-granddaughter, Violet." He pulled me to himself and hugged me, and I felt so warm inside the touch of his bony trembling arms. Finally, he surrendered his surprise and looked away. "You know I have never seen your father. Even your grandfather was ten years old when I left to fight in the war."

          "I know they named my father after you because you were a war hero and of course because you were his grandfather," I said, still amazed at the coincidence myself.

          "But how is it that you are psychic? Nobody else in our family is -- that I remember."

          "I don't know," I replied. And I really didn't. I had no idea of how or why I had ended up being psychic.

          At this moment all I truly cared about was being so close to my great grandfather.

          "Her mother is psychic," Deanna said casually, as if she was shooting the breeze at the neighborhood pub. "Violet inherited her gifts from her mother."

          What? I never knew that. Mums never mentioned anything to anyone about being psychic and I never saw her foretell anything either. Except, it was weird the way Mums discovered the things I did before anybody else, but, "Mothers know their children well," she always said. Now, how did Deanna know that? How did she even know who my mother was?

          Deanna turned to me, "Violet, your mother was the woman Iain fell in love with. But your mother chose your father."

          "He could have killed them all: Violet, her father, everyone," Danny said. "Why didn't he?"

          "He loves her," Deanna's eyes were misty. So here came the second bombshell. A vampire with a heart and in love with Mums. "Remember how he instructed us not to hurt anybody when you took Violet out of her bed," Deanna continued. "He didn't want to hurt her in any way."

          "Y-Y-You knew about this, Deanna. How?" Neil was so shocked that he stuttered. Then he stretched his hand to her.

          "Deanna loves Iain," I swerved toward Neil, still wondering about how Deanna kept tabs on my family.

          "Leave me alone!" Deanna backed to the window and glanced out. Then, abruptly, she reached into the top pocket of her fatigues and fished out a tiny cell-phone. "Well done, Iain. They know it now," she yelled into phone. "Old Wishart and Violet know they're related."

          Danny was on top of Deanna immediately. He would have killed her if Neil hadn't stopped him. While they were at it, my great grandfather, motioning to me to be quiet, reached over me to grab the shard on top of the night table, and stuck it under his pillow.

          "If you kill me," Deanna whimpered, "Iain will be angrier, and you'll never get anywhere."

          "Yes, Danny," Neil said. "I want Deanna to clarify a few things."

          "Let Iain do the clarifying," Deanna said, gawking over the top of the night table for the shard. "Go talk to him outside," she told the men, glaring threateningly at Great Grandfather.

          "Don't trust her. Don't leave her alone with me, and don't leave the house," my great grandfather told them.

          "They can talk to him without leaving the house, from the outside door," Deanna snickered.

          I jumped down from the bed. "Yes, let's go," I said. "And to think that I accepted this because I felt sorry for you, Deanna..."

          "Deanna, walk in front of me so I can see you," Danny ordered.

          "Violet, be careful!" My great grandfather called after me as I headed out of the door after Deanna.


          Outside the front gate under the fast spreading rays of dawn, an enormous dark form of a bat -- much taller, wider, and stronger than any other creature I had ever seen -- hovered over the street. He looked rather magnificent as reddish sparkles radiated out of his eyes, forming a direct contrast to his sparkling white pointed teeth. His dark strength held the unknown within it. Who knew what that unknown was? Maybe the unknown in its essence was the ultimate of desire. Maybe the women who opted for vampires had sensed this strength in them.

          Obviously, Neil and Danny thought otherwise. "He is horrific. How ugly!" Neil said. And Danny started to murmur a prayer. "Mercy of God, encompass us, and deliver us from every plague."

          "He is awesome," I remarked. "He looks stupendous."

          Iain heard me, "Well thank you, Violet. At least, you are more gracious than your mother."

***


          Deanna tottered toward Iain with an uncertain pace.

          "Deanna don't go, don't trust him," Neil pleaded. "Deanna, he'll never love you. Not like I do."

          Imagine that! Was I discovering grown-up traditions or what? All that hush-hush mystery between these adults was that somebody always fell in love with somebody else, usually the wrong person. They all must have been living in the same internal structure of delusions instead of the real world.

          "Neil, you already have a wife," Deanna addressed him with admonition. "And she's a vampire."

          "Exactly my point," Neil said. "I don't want that happening to you also."

          Deanna retraced her steps back to where we were. "You don't need the same kind of a mother for your children, Neil," she said. "You don't need another woman in love with a vampire."

          "It can be a nuisance to be the center of so much attention." Iain sneered, staring at Deanna with eyes emitting eerie, horrible, flashing beams of red light. "I see you have failed me. You don't have the shard."

          "Don't look at his eyes," I screamed. "Please, Deanna, don't look at his eyes. He'll tear you apart now. That's what he wants." But I was too late. And so was Neil. Although, he tried to hold on to her, Deanna broke away from Neil's arms.

          I know Mums said I must never, never talk about Deanna's last minutes but I will, because in a special way Deanna has become a part of me.

          The last time Deanna went to Iain, she didn't walk; she ran. Yet, before she exited from the gate, she stopped, turned around, and tossed her cell phone to me. "Call your mother, Violet," she yelled. "Only she can help you."

          Then, obeying the orders of her heart, Deanna fell at Iain's feet and gave herself to him by yanking the bandaid off her neck. But the vampire simply scorned her -- Deanna, his prey he had lured time and time again by enhancing her desire for him. "Your blood disgusts me," he grimaced. With heightened anger, he trampled her under his feet; the sound of her bones crackling and shattering mixed together with her ululations. Then, Iain tore Deanna's body to shreds. Danny held Neil down as we stood paralyzed, watching the roaring intense arousal of Iain's wrath.

          "If you didn't want her blood, you didn't need to kill her," my great grandfather said. "Even vampires have honor."

          Now that his savagery had ebbed, Iain snarled, "I never wanted her. I hated her. She was the one to chase away my only love."

          At that instant, I understood what I had gotten wrong. Iain never pursued Deanna. She pursued him and she caught up to him donating her every weapon of self-defense to him. Deanna always knew who Iain was. Iain the vampire did not bother to hold his secret from her, his menacing side; he waited until he used her to the greatest extent, for he, the evil Iain, could wait. Evil is a consummate hunter. Evil always waits for the right time.

***


          It was daylight by now. But overhead, in the dark and cloudy sky, ominous clouds thundered.

          "Now if you give me the shard, I won't hurt any of you," the vampire roared again. "You will be free to go. If you don't, I shall stand out here and let no one pass in or out. You will die of starvation, all of you, including your great granddaughter, Old Man."

          "You want us to trust you, like Deanna did," Danny said.

          "Do we have a choice? I have children at home." Neil was wavering.

          "No," I begged. "No, Great Grandfather, please don't. Don't listen to him."

          Grandfather leaned against the door jamb looking at me with tears in his eyes. I knew for sure his feelings were ambivalent.

          "You have until tonight," the vampire howled. "After that, each day, there will one victim from your families."

          "My children," Neil moaned.


          Danny herded us inside and closed the door behind us. "I don't want him to play with our minds again," he said.

          "No one can play with your mind if you don't let him," I told him, clutching the cell phone in my hand. "He made us see and do things because we trusted him. I would have seen through Iain earlier, if I hadn't obeyed his order not to close my eyes near him."

          "Violet is right," Great Grandfather said. "None of the abilities hidden in those shards have the power over human will. But people usually don't know that. I'm so proud of you, Violet. You know a lot. You are very intelligent for your age."

          The truth was, I knew that too, but I was glad my great grandfather had witnessed it. So tucking my hand into his, I simply said, "Thank you, Sir."

          "Now what do we do?" Neil said when we were back in my great grandfather's room, "How do we get around this dilemma?"

          "Unless we get the talisman from him, consider everything to be lost," Danny said. "Even if we died here altogether, he'll find another Deanna to get it for him eventually."

          "And the next Deanna may be stronger," Neil added with his voice trembling.

          "If only I had known this, I would have dumped the rotten blood on Iain all at one time," Danny gritted his teeth. "If only I can get to my car without him seeing me..."

          "It wouldn't work anyway. It won't work as long as he has the talisman," Neil said. "We have to get that thing away from him."

          "At least we must find a way so he won't get this one shard," Great Grandfather said. "Violet, what about your parents? Probably by now they have caught on to the fact that you are missing."

          "Why don't you call your mother, Violet," Neil suggested. "Maybe Deanna wanted to do you this one favor. I felt that she had taken to you in some way."

          "I liked her a lot, too. Before I found out about her," I answered. "But I can't call Mums. I won't. She'll be in danger."

          "She already is," Great Grandfather said. "This vampire's next move will be to get your mother or your father so you or I may give in. Just the way he got you to get to me."

          Danny nodded his head in agreement. "Deanna said your mother was psychic also," he said. "Maybe between the two of you, you can figure a way out."

***


          "Of course, I knew you were in danger. Mothers feel those things," Mums said on the phone after I gave her a short account of the last few days' events.

          "I think it is more than that with you, Mums," I said, "As it is with me. We are psychic."

          "You know?"

          "Deanna told me."

          "Deanna was my cousin," Mums sighed. "She was the only girl in my family who was not psychic. She felt so left out. She turned bitter, envious, even jealous. I think that's why she went after Iain. Poor Deanna!"

          "Mums, is there any way we can all be safe?"

          "I don't know, Violet. But I'll try to make a deal with him."

          "No, he'll hurt you."

          "If he wanted to hurt me, he'd have hurt me a long time ago," Mums said, "But I'll be careful, don't worry. Besides, we have no other choice. I'll be there in about an hour."

          She hung up.


***


          Now, my whole family was in danger, and there was no knowing what Iain would do next. Because I didn't want Mums see me crying, I wiped my tears when I heard the sound of a car and I rushed to a window. The rain had stopped and the sound of thunder had weakened, but the sky was still cloudy.

          "I see Mums' car," I said.

          "I'll find a way to get to the blood," Danny said. "Maybe if she distracted him..."

          "Don't get him mad, Danny. He has the talisman. It won't work," my great grandfather told Danny. At that time Mums stepped out of her car. My great grandfather gazed at her. "Your mother is such a pretty woman. I wonder what my grandson, your father, is like," he said.

          "I am going downstairs," Danny announced. "She may need help."

          I dashed after Danny. Neil and my great grandfather followed.

          "Iain, come off it," Mums was saying when we opened the front door. "Out with the theatrics. Be a man, for once. Stop acting so pompous. "

          Sensing something important about to happen, I watched them intently. Iain shrunk himself to his human form except this time he was wearing a tuxedo with a carnation in the buttonhole. He gazed at Mums gravely. "Do you see how patient I am?"

          "Hear ye, hear ye!" Neil whispered to us. "He's trying to impress her."

          "What would it take for you to leave them alone?" Mums pointed toward us.

          "I want the last shard and they are free. I told them that. But I'd even forego that shard only if..."

          "Only if what?"

          "Only if you left everything and came to me willingly. It is never too late, is it?"

          "I could do that but I have a price."

          "Tell me, Margaret, and I'll pay," Iain said.

          "No, Mums!" I yelled.

          "Keep quiet, Violet," Mums scolded me. Then, she turned back to Iain. "I want the thing that is most valuable to you. And don't try anything funny because I know you."

          "Is this your idea or the old man's?" Iain looked at Mums as if she lacked feeling.

          "What difference does it make? It is your call now," Mums spoke calmly.

          Iain's color faded for a few seconds, but then, quickly intensified. He loosened his top button and slipped the talisman's leather strap over his head.

          "Not enough," Mums said. "Show me you won't harm them."

          Iain called out, "Danny, Neil, come out and get in the car." Danny dashed out and opened his car's doors with the remote. I tried not to gasp when I saw that the luggage door had lifted as well. Iain was watching Neil walk ever so slowly. In the meantime Danny took the blood bottle out, but to avoid its thud, he didn't push the trunk door down.

          Mums stretched her hand to Iain, "Give me," she said. Iain handed her the talisman. Mums tossed the talisman to my great grandfather. "You hold it for me," she called to him. Then, "Okay, I'm coming with you then," she said to Iain.

          I couldn't permit this. I couldn't imagine a life without Mums. I slipped away from my grandfather and ran to her crying, "Mums, Nooo," I grasped her arm and hung on. Mums started sobbing too.

          "Please, Margaret, don't cry," Iain said. "I hate to see you cry. I wanted you come with me willingly."

          "I'm not willing," Mums said. "But a deal's a deal."

          "Then, don't. A wonderful poet, one who cherished the dark and the light, once said, 'Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.' I'll wait more until you feel like it."

          As absurd as this may sound, at that moment, I was deeply impressed by Iain, seeing the glimmer of light hidden in his darkness. Suddenly, I let go of my mother and darted to Iain. "You can have my blood. I remember you admiring it when Deanna took my sample. I don't want you go empty-handed," I said.

          Iain took my hand and kissed it with chivalry. "How kind of you to... very kind," he murmured. "I'm quite dazzled, really. But I couldn't hurt you. I couldn't do that to your mother. But also how could I refuse a lady? If you permit me, I'll take just a peck. So, please, close your eyes, Violet."

          I felt something sharp pierce into the vein in my hand and I sailed into the dark, which surrounded me in all its glory only to show me the diamond-like brilliance in its midst, where the true light was defined through its own spell with its own luster. And that light enveloped me. So I learned then, at one instant, that to find the true light, one always has to dare the darkness.

          I opened my eyes in time, to see Danny behind Iain with the rotten blood concoction. Before I could scream and warn Iain, Danny poured the blood over him. All I heard was deafening cackle, and Danny was on the ground getting attacked by a furious fanatical bat. Neil darted at them holding the stake.

          "Nooo!" I bawled. "Iain, go! Fly away."

          Iain the bat listened. He let Danny slip to the ground. He flapped his wings and flew over my head several times in rhythmic patterns.

          "What's wrong with you, Violet? Why did you let him escape?" Neil chastised me.

          "Didn't you see? She was bitten," my mother said.

***


          Eventually that day, Mums and I found a chance to be alone to clarify a few things.

          "Mums, did you ever love Iain?"

          "No, but Deanna wanted his attentions. None of us suspected Iain was a vampire, except that at times he had a brusque manner. Iain thought I didn't fancy him because of Deanna, which wasn't true, but Iain wanted to believe that."

          "Mums, I don't think Iain was bad, but why did he kill Deanna like that?"

          "Deanna wanted to be a vampire. Since she wasn't a born psychic, she wanted to have something to show for to the rest of us girls in my family. Through Iain, Deanna expected to be powerful. It wasn't really Iain she loved and Iain knew that. Iain was always annoyed with Deanna."

          "Everyone needs to be loved for himself. But I liked Deanna too, Mums. She was nice to me."

          "Of course. She was your aunt twice removed."

          "Mums, I saw Iain as a warrior of long ago and in the light. What happened to him?"

          "He couldn't face defeat in a battle which had been the result of someone breaking a promise. He wanted revenge. And this want of revenge gave his being its dark thorny shell. Inside him, it is still bright."

          "Mums, now that I've been bitten and I saw inside the dark, do you think I'll have a chance for eternity?"

          "Once you're bitten with love, with respect, and with fairness, there's always a possibility. But only after this life."

          "Mums, were you ever bitten?"

          Mums pulled her hair up and pointed to a tiny red speck on her neck behind her ear.

          "See that? Just don't talk about it to anyone, okay Sweetie?"

          "Our secret," I said, smiling.

***


          So it was finally over. My great grandfather met the family he missed and he came to live with us. We broke up the talisman again and hid the pieces in safes inside the walls of the castle.

          Danny had to get rabies shots and was hospitalized for a few days.

          Neil made another blood concoction and poured it over his vampire wife one night, after the children had slept. His wife screeched and flew away never to return, leaving Neil free to marry an Irish girl. Soon afterwards, Neil moved his family to Sheffield.

          And I... Well, I grew up and learned a thing or two.

          Sometimes, when I am out in the night, I feel a brief, elusive itch on my hand and a whisper of a sound that quickens my senses and comes calling to me. I know it is an enormous power but still a lure, a spell of the dark, trying to entice me, yet once more, into the brilliance of the true light in its center.

          And once in a while, a bat with a muted plasma scent flaps his wings overhead following me around the woods or the pasture steadily, with a tiny reddish glimmer in his eyes. That's when I feel, in my blood, a wild wind swirling, singing, pulsating from a center so bright.















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