Vampire Dreams (Bloodscreams #1) (2 page)

BOOK: Vampire Dreams (Bloodscreams #1)
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Ezeekial, like his son Ananias, and now Abraham Hale Stroud, had, according to the stories, unusually strong precognitive powers. In any event, the “curse/gift” gene, or whatever it was, seemed to have gotten the better of the old man in the end.

Abe often wondered if it would not one day get the better of him as well. On Ezeekial's death certificate was stamped the awful epitaph DEAD OF MADNESS. Apparently, no one ever knew just how mad ... no one but Abe's grandfather Ananias, Ezeekial's seventh and only surviving son.

Ananias was but mildly gifted with unusual abilities--save for astrally projecting himself out of body. He'd sometimes “visit” to whisper well-meaning words of encouragement to Stroud when he was in the V.A. hospital, and later whenever he felt a seizure coming on, as if they were somehow psychically connected. Ananias had not gone insane but had died peacefully and quietly in his sleep.

Abe had nearly gone mad with grief and guilt when he lost his parents. He had seen the terrible disaster before it had happened, but not soon enough to alter it. As a child he had seen plane crashes before they occurred. When he tried on occasion to warn anyone in authority, he was put off and ignored, until it was too late.

But it was not until his own brush with death that he had truly become a gifted seer. Now what he saw he also smelled, and sometimes he garnered sounds and feelings and textures as if he could reach out and rub his hands into the visual scene in his head. Since his brush with death, along with the metal plate the doctors had put in his head, there was more to see and sense on the screen of his precognitive powers than before; it was as if the metal had electromagnetically charged what nature had already given him. Without the plate, he doubted that he could have received Grandfather Ananias on his astral calls.

Newspapers in Chicago had just begun to call him the “Psychic Cop” when he had left the force as a detective. He hadn't wanted to be treated like a freak because of his gift.

The gift was a curse for the most part, won when he was nearly killed in Vietnam. Part of his skull was gone, replaced by a less than perfect substitute--a thin anchoring of pressed steel that one expert at the V.A. claimed was causing inward pressure against the neurological center of the brain known to be most active during REM sleep and during ESP and PSI studies.

For some time he was a living, breathing, walking, talking laboratory for researchers at the V.A. hospital in Chicago, until he became tired of the role. Not waiting around for a second botched job on his head, he left the V.A. and, amazingly, plate or no plate, seizures or no seizures, he made it through the police academy and all those years on the street.

Tonight's images of the boy, the dog, the clearing, the trees, and the thing in the trees were clearer, more coherent and real, and so vivid as to send him into a paroxysm of fear and loathing--fear for the boy, loathing for the monster that killed him.

Thirteen years in Chicago as a policeman and he had never so clearly put together the details of a crime scene as he did this one tonight--a crime scene he had not ever been to. So real, like high-tech resolution, on certain details--like the bizarre twist of one large tree among the stand where the boy died; the fact a handful of marbles fell from the boy's pockets along with a jackknife he'd halfway opened in his defense before it, too, fell as the boy was lifted, feet first into the air. How the killer moved with such boundless ease up and down the trunk of the tree; how the dog looked so twisted and mangled where it dangled in the branches.

Tell a local cop a hint of such details and you'll be accused of the disappearance and murder, Stroud assured himself. Hell, a Chicago cop would be hard-pressed to follow how Stroud arrived at such information. Besides, he was alone here. He had no alibi. He'd been in the dark realm of a black seizure brought on by the sudden pressure in his head--like an incubus had sat on him there--then the black world softened into images of children at play, and wound around slowly to the lost boy and his dog.

But it had taken two hours, long enough for him, in a “werewolf” or “Hyde” form, to have left the manse, killed the dog and the boy, and returned.

But he was in the same clothing, his hands and shirt unspoiled by the innocent's blood. No, there was one other witness to the attack, and whoever the fiend was, he knew the Spoon River area very well. This fact made him most likely an Andover resident.

Again he got a whiff of the boy's fear in the form of perspiration and the odor of blood as it pattered down from the carcass of the dog onto him in a diabolical shower of red. He saw the dog mutilated in a Satanic display before the boy's fear-filled eyes.

Then he saw the boy attacked in a similar manner.

Mutilated how, by what means? He hadn't seen or sensed the slightest hint of a weapon. He felt no menacing knifepoint, no axe or other cutting instrument of man's manufacture. Instead, he got the vague image of the talons of a bird of prey. It was impossible to tell exactly how the boy was attacked and how the dog met its end. They simply were covered by the inky blackness of the creature that moved in sync with shadow and darkness, up, down, around, and among the trees without a shriek or cry or warning rattle.

Passed on from generation to generation, Abraham had now taken possession of the Stroud Manse and its secrets (like this room that was both the center and the soul of the house). But had he really taken possession? Or had the house taken possession of him?

He felt weak, woozy, and defeated. He could not get back to the boy in the wood. He could see no more detail, hear no more cry or word, smell none of the odors, taste none of the flavors, feel no solid, scraping bark against his skin or coarse animal muzzle at his throat. He also was physically drained, the seizure ending in locked limbs. He fought to untangle himself from what appeared to be a drunken bout with himself, a grotesque sprawl that would make Dr. Jekyll never again turn to Mr. Hyde. Coming out of it was like surviving a plane landing on him.

He held onto the chair arm and levered himself onto the ottoman, knocking over a small table and the books atop it--books he didn't recall pulling down from their shelves. He propped himself up like a paralyzed man, his legs without feeling until he beat them with his fists where he sat on the dusty old ottoman.

“Radio,” he told himself. “Got to get to a TV or radio.” There were no such devices in the chamber. He cursed his unresponsive body and slow movements, but finally managed to find the door where he had entered and fought step by step to gain the main floor.

In ten minutes he learned of the news that had aroused every able-bodied man in Andover: a boy named Timmy Meyers was missing and presumed lost in the wood. Timmy was the second boy in two months to disappear mysteriously in the area. The other boy had never been found.

Stroud mobilized himself to join the volunteers to help in any way he could. With his police background alone, he was certain they'd welcome him along. Still, it would be the first time he'd meet most of his new neighbors, many of whom had already classed him with the reclusive Ananias who had not enjoyed the best of relations with many of Andover's 85,000 other residents. The Stroud fortune had been made in land holdings and real estate, and the family held deed to half the town who still paid land “tithes” to the Stroud Manse via the Manse Bank, which Stroud also now owned.

At the moment, however, regardless of the hammerlike jolt that streaked through his skull and the numbness in his limbs, the new millionaire rushed from the enormous house and tore down the paved path and out the iron gate which opened to the touch of his finger from his four-wheel drive Jeep.

It was nearly midnight, and tonight a small boy, helpless and alone out in the scariest forest in the whole damned state, needed all the help he could get.

-2-

The skull was so small it fit comfortably into Abraham Stroud's left hand. The poor light here made it difficult to tell if the seaweed mat atop the cranium was clinging roots that pulled out with the clay or desiccated matter and the last remnants of hair. Whatever, it clung to the skull like the last weeds on a sand dune.

It was the skull of a boy or a girl, perhaps fourteen, maybe fifteen. Impossible to determine either sex or age precisely, at least not here under the circumstances and conditions provided by the Andover Police Department. The flashlights were worthless and they hadn't a single field light or a generator to operate one. Chief Bill Briggs's only comment was that the County Sheriff's Office got all the funding. He also said, “If need be, we can run the four-by-four out and flood the area with the new floodlight we installed on her.”

Almost a hundred volunteer searchers were scouring this and another area with crummy equipment. They were looking for a missing eleven-year-old boy named Timmy Meyers. Abe Stroud had come out feigning ignorance as just another volunteer who had heard the news of the missing child. He had been paired with an insurance salesman named Carroll. Carroll had almost stepped on the skull when his flash had picked it out of a clayey runoff alongside old Route 14. The eyes of emptiness had startled the man. But Stroud bent down to pick it up as if he had expected just this. Meanwhile, the insurance man did a bit of hyperventilating. It wasn't every day that a man stumbled onto a skull alongside the highway.

“Don't fret, it's not the Meyers boy,” Stroud had told Carroll. “Been here too long for that.”

“How can you tell?”

Briggs was stumbling down toward them, seeing they'd picked something from the ground and that Carroll was distressed.

“If it was the Meyers boy's skull, it'd have flesh on it.” Stroud saw now that the stringy matter clinging to the bone was a mix of roots and a last vestige of hair. The combination had created a macabre macrame only possible in nature, he thought. Carroll was staring at him as he stared at the skull. Neither man said anymore for a moment.

Briggs had seen and heard now, and he said with a bit of forced cock-sureness, “Professor, that might be right, but you're sorta presupposing the killer didn't
boil
 it off!” Briggs's reference to Stroud as “Professor” was facetious, both a nod to Stroud's degree in archeology and a stinging accusation that Stroud was an outsider.

“Je-Jesus,” moaned Carroll. “With all you read about in the papers, things that happen in New York, Chicago...”

“Abe here's from Chicago,” said Briggs.

“You never believe it could happen here ... but it does ... and then...”

“Mr. Carroll, I assure you, this”--Stroud pointed to the skull--”is not the Meyers boy.”

Others began gravitating to them, hearing Briggs's brash remarks, sensing Carroll's anxiety, seeing the man's labored breathing.

“What the hell?” Briggs turned and asked Stroud, “How do you know, Professor? How do you know it isn't the kid?”

“The teeth for one thing. Your description of the boy said he was missing two front teeth.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Whoever this is, he's got all his.”

Stroud, an archeologist and anthropologist, had been a lieutenant detective on the Chicago Police Force for some thirteen years. Prior to his stint as a detective and sometime undercover cop, he'd been a “grunt,” a U.S. Marine in Vietnam. It was a war from which he had returned with two things other than his life: the Medal of Valor and the steel plate in his head. He sometimes felt that the steel plate had made him loco enough to become a cop and dumb enough to remain one for as long as he had.

Surrounded now by many of the volunteers gaping at the little skull, Stroud felt uneasy as he studied the contours. He revolved the eye sockets round in the light, turned the cranium and jaw upside down, staring down from the neck hole. Around him he heard the audible moan of men in close proximity to death. He knew they wanted him to say something to make it go away, and so he spoke his thoughts.

“This skull's been here for a long time.”

“How long?” asked Briggs.

“That would take lab work to determine, but from the condition, I'd say a long time.”

A whipping March wind sent a shiver along the base of the spine and through his body in pulsar fashion. He was unsure whether it was the chill, the skull, or the eyes of the others that made him involuntarily shiver. For a nanosecond he felt like the stranger and outsider that he was. Despite the fact his grandfather's fortune had kept the town alive when it would have died, they saw Abe Stroud as a peculiarity amongst them. Despite the fact he had often summered here as a boy before he had lost his parents in a car crash, and despite the fact he now owned the huge, elaborate Stroud Manse on Stroud Road along with six hundred acres of land and animals and stables and a fortune in stocks, bonds, and cash left him by his grandfather. Despite it all, he was an “outlander.” And he'd likely remain so for as long as he remained.

“There's likely to be more bones hereabouts,” Stroud told the others.

Again Briggs spoke the mind of the others, “How do you know that, Professor?”

“It's been my experience as both a policeman and an archeologist, Chief Briggs, that where you find one bone you'll find many more.”

“Makes sense,” mumbled Carroll, and some of the others agreed. Briggs worked to bring the center of command back to himself. He was calling out to men he'd known all his life, high school buddies and drinking pals, to fan out and begin a sweep off in the direction from where the skull had been found.

Stroud admitted to himself his surprise over the skull and what it portended. Skulls didn't just pop up out of the clay. In Chicago, it would have started the police off on an investigation that would most likely end in a raid of some cult group that had gotten careless with its toys. But here in quiet, sleepy little Spoon River Valley in southern Illinois? He had heard no talk of missing sheep or other livestock found gutted or beheaded, blood siphoned off. But he wasn't forgetting that such things happened. He'd keep an open mind, or try to, because the Spoon River area held what few fond memories Abe Stroud had stored away; even the suggestion that drug-crazed cult creeps were working Andover now made him angry. Everybody on the planet, it seemed, was going mad, everyone wanting a surefire, quick fix to nirvana. But nirvana turned out to be hell on earth. Could such crime exist here in his boyhood dream town of Andover? Were there drugs in every household drawer and every locker at Andover High?

BOOK: Vampire Dreams (Bloodscreams #1)
5.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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