Authors: S J Wright
|The Vampire's Warden|
|Undead in Brown County |
|S J Wright|
THE VAMPIRE’S WARDEN
By S.J. Wright
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
Copyright © 2011 by Stephanie J. Wright
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
This book is dedicated to my boys,
Devan and Cameron, for being
the sunshine that lights my world.
And also to my wonderful husband,
for bending instead of breaking
when I needed you most.
Your mother is still alive.”
He was joking. It
to be a joke. My mother had been dead for fourteen years. She had died when I was just a little girl. It was impossible. However, Dr. Chester Fleming was not the kind of person to make up such a lie. He was a typically stoic, grey-haired country doctor who had seen the worst things that life and death had to offer.
Dr. Fleming, that can’t be right.” My voice sounded strangely hollow, like the voice of a timid stranger. I am anything but timid. Those who know me well have described me as courageous. Those who do not know me well and have witnessed one of my notorious outbursts of temper refer to me to as “that crazy Sarah Wood.” At that moment, however, I felt as if I’d entered an alternate reality; some foreign landscape in which I was transformed into a mere shadow of the strong, determined woman I had become.
With those five little words, the doctor had ripped away a portion of the wall I had been building around myself since my father died.
The doctor looked up at me and shook his head sadly, “I’m sorry, Sarah. Your father told me just a few minutes before he passed.”
That was three months ago.” I replied.
I had to get more information before I came to you with this, honey. I wanted to be able to give you an address and her full name.” He hesitated at that part, slid his glasses into the front pocket of his white shirt and shook his head again, “She’s been harder to track down than I first thought.”
Track down?” I couldn’t seem to catch up.
She’s been in California for the last six years or so.”
A bitter lump had begun to form inside my chest and I pressed one hand against it, feeling the rapid beat of my heart underneath my cotton blouse. No, no. That could not be right. She was dead. If what the doctor was saying were true, then that would mean she had left on purpose all those years ago. That would mean she left to find something better. That meant that the two beautiful little girls she had given birth to had not meant anything to her. Nor the husband who had provided her with every comfort he possibly could.
Your father wanted to tell you everything himself, but he didn’t want his last days with you to be ruined by buried secrets. He told me to give you this.” He held out a small book, bound by fine brown leather and wrapped with a black cord of rawhide.
I did not take it. After a long silence, he put the book on the table next to me and rose from his seat.
I’m real sorry, Sarah.”
I heard the front screen door open and close again with a squeak and then his footsteps treading across the front porch and down the stairs. The engine of his battered Pontiac roared to life. I concentrated on the steady ticking of my father’s old wind-up clock that sat on the stone mantle of the fireplace. Tick, tock. Tick, tock.
A resounding crash and the splintering of glass from the kitchen startled me, pulling me back to the present with a wrenching clarity. I heard Nelly’s quiet curse of frustration and then, “Sarah! I need a little help here.”
I reluctantly picked up the journal and headed into the kitchen, where I found that a large glass pitcher had shattered on the floor. When I went into the pantry to get the broom and dustpan, I shoved the journal into the big pocket inside my denim jacket hanging on a peg outside the pantry door.
I would try to read some of it later, I told myself. Nevertheless, I was supposed to be running a business and there was no time to be sitting around feeling sorry for myself. Or feeling abandoned by a mother or betrayed by a father’s lies. The tears might come later. However, there was too much to do. With an enormous force of will, I held my head up and pushed my shoulders back. The journal could wait.
I had just finished folding a load of towels when I heard a commotion going on out back. It was growing very late. Normally, I would lock the doors, turn out the lights, and head up to bed by eleven at night. However, our only guests, a New York couple by the name of Greg and Maggie Purser had invited over a few acquaintances for dinner. They had all lingered after dessert, the men smoking cigars on the front porch and the women gossiping over coffee. I reluctantly tackled folding the towels to wait them out. Nelly had offered to stay up and help, but I insisted she head up to bed.
Nelly had worked for our family for nearly twenty years. Although technically not related by blood, Katie and I had always considered her an aunt, and deserving of the same warmth and consideration as a member of the family. She was a cheerful and pleasant woman, rather thick about the waist but with a pair of merry blue eyes that never failed to charm the most morose of the Inn’s guests. She was a welcome companion in the kitchen, could bake the most wonderful pies, and her quiches were to die for.
She was the one who had brought up my younger sister, Katie, and me. When I fell off the back of our old horse, she was there with a comforting smile, a hug, and a rag to clean the mud off my arms and hands. She was there at night to read to us from our favorite books and press goodnight kisses on our weary young brows.
Even at five years old, she had me eagerly fetching things for Dad, digging up potatoes from our garden, or snapping peas. As we grew older and bigger, she taught us both the more difficult chores we would be expected to do around the inn. She was patient and kind throughout our lessons and was the glue that held our routine together. It only took a meaningful glance at one of us and a jerk of her head toward the dining room to remind us that we had guests who needed tending. This was often effective when Katie and I were fussing at each other.
I heard an odd noise from the back of the house and a mild expletive. That was the voice of Joe Trotter, the long-time handyman at the Inn. He had worked for our family for generations. I often wondered how such a cranky, grizzled old man could still do such backbreaking manual labor after all those years. Though I was known to have a terrible temper, my childhood fear of “Crazy Joe” was still fresh in my mind and that helped me keep my claws sheathed anytime that Joe was anywhere nearby. Joe had a history of berating anyone he considered “fool-hardy” with a barrage of colorful insults that was sure to offend just about anyone.
Sarah, I need some help!” He called from the back porch, wrenching me away from my memories.
I hurried to the screen door and found Joe holding a bloody rag to the head of a stranger who was lying very still just outside the door. It was a young man with beautiful golden hair and a chalky white skin tone. He wore a simple brown short-sleeved T-shirt, a pair of faded, dirty blue jeans with a hole in one knee and a pair of scuffed brown work boots. His eyes were closed and his lashes swept low over his high cheekbones.
What happened?” I knelt beside Joe and took the rag from him to examine the wound.
I’m not sure. Found him by the road a few minutes ago when I was headed home. I hauled him up here in the back of my Dodge.” Joe shot a thick dark wad of tobacco juice over the railing of the porch. I chose to ignore the rude gesture, and the old man took out his handkerchief to wipe the sweat from his forehead, “He ain’t said a word yet.”
His head doesn’t look that bad, but we’d better call Dr. Fleming and have him come take a look.” I said quietly, covering the shallow scalp cut again with the rag and looking down at the stranger doubtfully, “First help me bring him in, Joe. We’ll put him in the den for now.”
Between the two of us, we managed to get him into the house, though I struggled mightily with my half of the load. After helping Joe get him onto the den sofa, I hesitantly woke Nelly and explained the situation. Before long, the older woman was out of bed, wrapped in a faded red robe and taking control, dealing out quick orders that were followed by both Joe and I. The young man was placed comfortably on the overstuffed plaid sofa in the den with clean bedding covered him.
We tended to the stranger’s wound as best we could and waited for Dr. Fleming. Nelly agreed that the cut did not look serious and headed into the kitchen to get some clean bandages and antiseptic. I sat on the edge of the sofa, studying the young man, who was still inert and unresponsive.
The golden locks of hair that fell across his forehead looked soft and silky. His face was pleasant, but uncommonly pale. The bone structure was nearly perfect in its symmetry, but the three-day’s worth of beard proclaimed his male essence clearly. His body was well formed and I imagined him to be somewhere around twenty years old. I noticed that he seemed unusually thin. I called out to Nelly, asking her to heat up some broth for him. I hoped that he would awaken and be able to eat something.
When I leaned forward to check his wound again, my arm brushed against his bare shoulder and I paused as some strange fog descended over me. A heavy crushing weight seemed to be pulling me down, dragging me suddenly to a bone-chilling halt. The room seemed to be growing darker. My chest tightened and hazy haunting images rose up before me. These figures were pure pain, a collection of tortured, hopeless souls. The fright sparked by these entities was something new to me and I cringed back in horror.
They were calling me in hopeless, dreary tones. Calling my name and pointing at some distant scene that was somehow familiar to me, even through the panic and fear that seemed to consume me from within my own heart. The moaning echoed around me, pinning me down, and holding me fast while my eyes desperately sought out some escape.
Then I saw it. A field of green, one lone oak tree, several huge boulders, and a fast-moving stream of clear water became solid things in this vision. I focused on it, trying to push my fears behind me as the field became clear. I knew every little facet of the meadow. I knew that Canadian geese liked to congregate at the edge of the stream in the early fall. I knew that the leaves of that tree turned an incredible shade of gold in late September. I knew that the three huge boulders had strange symbols on them that you could only see if you climbed to the top of each one. I knew this place so well.