…this vision felt different, smelled different. No racing fear of some poor soul reverberated through Sophie. A wide blue sky opened over her and grass rolling like waves in the wind surrounded her. No smell of blood and sweat invaded her nostrils, only earth, sky and good dirt. Was this a new trick of Manson’s? Peace sang the wind. Safety whispered the grass. Manson could not come here. If he did, he would taint it. Destroy it. Leave his obvious mark on the beauty of the open plain. She search for any blackness and found nothing but unending grass.
Movement caught her eye. In the distance, black spots moved towards her. They rushed closer and closer, until she made out the shapes of horses. Horses. The wind could not overtake them. They ran before it like ships with sails open wide to capture the breeze. A large black stallion led them in Sophie’s direction. He released a challenging neigh as they closed in on her. The thunder of their hooves crashed over her as the herd split apart to pass around her. The stallion turned back. He stopped and reared pawing the air. A child clinging to his proud neck cheered as his hooves crashed to the ground. In a flash of brilliant sunlight Sophie knew the child. A strangled cry of joy burst from her as she ran to meet him. The boy swung down from the stallion and shifted into his mother’s arms. Sophie smothered him with kisses.
“Sophie!” A voice cracked like thunder breaking her embrace. A man in white with golden wings stood in the grass. The stallion stood at his side shaking his mighty head.
“We have brought you here to give you a gift. See your son as the man he is.” The angel pointed at the boy in her arms.
Sophie released him. Another brilliant flash of light and the little boy disappeared. A muscular man with a chiseled face took his place. Dark wavy hair covered his head and hung past his ears. Gray shot through his violet eyes, sad eyes. Sophie’s tattoo, the blood soaked, torn veil and Benj’s moon-lit coffin covered his chest. On his left arm a black stallion defied the wind, a moth danced with a flame, and a constellation of stars peeked out of the night sky. The silhouette of a giant black raven with a fierce beak covered the broad muscles of his back. His fingers bore the symbols of the seasons – he served a powerful witch.
“Son?” she walked around him. “I’m guessing I’ll never see you grown or there wouldn’t be a need for this vision.”
As she came back around him she saw tears in his eyes. “No, Mom. You never see me like this.”
“I don’t know many of your tattoos, but they show courage and strange friendships. What’s this one?”
She reached up and touched his right arm. Four tattoos, connected by a river of blood and golden lines, the power sources of his parents, covered his right arm. An image of a beautiful woman sat just above his wrist. She wore a flowing gown, which ran like liquid over her beautiful figure. Her outstretched hands flowed with jewels and gold. Above it three images interwove with one another – a moon, sun, and a crown – and then a quote and a list of names. He laid his hand over Sophie’s and read the black inscription. “I love you for always and miss you forever.”
Sophie stood on her tip toes. A chill crawled over her skin. She did not want to look but she had to. She had to. Above the line her son had read, rose a list of names. A large X marked the names on his strong shoulder. She knew all those names – Guinness, West, JC, Jack and more. Horror grew, clawed, tore as her eyes darted over the list. She saw her own name with a jagged X through the swirling letters. Her name crossed out. Sophie’s heart pounded. Her knees buckled. He gripped her arm, supporting her. Sophie looked for Benj’s name, please God let him live. Only one name remained unmarked on the macabre list…
“No!” she screamed. The crossed red arms covered Benj’s name. “No!”
She dropped to the ground rocking back and forth unable to stop the mewing noise spilling from her lips. He bent down in front of her, put his arms around her, and held her close.
“Mom, I don’t know how this happened, me being here, seeing you. This isn’t what was supposed to happen.” He pointed at the words of love under the list of those who had died. “But this is our family hope.”
Sophie studied him, drank him in through her tears. She loved him more than the entire world. Her son. Sent to tell her Benj must die. She took his hand and placed it over the tattoo on his shoulder.
“Don’t you ever, ever forget this,” she said. She kissed his forehead. The pair of angels, the plain with her son, faded to gray…
Sophie woke up. Benj held her, asleep. She snuggled close to him, the weight of his arm comforting her. Tears spilled down her cheeks as she drifted back to dreamland. How much time did they had left together?
Benj stirred beside her as the sun went down.
“You cried in your sleep,” he said, kissing her on the back of her head. He ran his hands through her hair and kissed the back of her neck.
His desire for her entwined and wrapped around the constant love he had for her. Sophie rolled over in his arms, facing him. He kissed her eyes, the tip of her nose, her cheeks. His cold body warmed and the kisses lingered. Intensity formed around them. Sophie pulled her face back just a little taking a deep breath. Her vampire’s violet eyes burned. They matched the pounding of his emotions. Sophie laid her hand over where his heart belonged.
“I love you for always and miss you forever,” she whispered.
Benj blanched. His body cooled. A deep fear replaced the desire.
“How do you know those words?”
“I had a vision last night. I saw our son as a grown man. It was tattooed on his shoulder. He told me it was our family’s tattoo. It sat under a list of X’ed out names.”
She swallowed the words stuck in her throat. Benj wrapped her in his arms, skin on skin, human heart beat against vampire echo.
“I find it a cruel twist of fate to have been able to produce a son, but to never get to see him.”
Sophie’s examined the bones just under the skin of his chest too filled with sorrow to meet his eyes. With a long cold finger, Benj lifted her chin.
“I can feel him growing in you. I can feel the magic weaving you and I together to make something wholly new. I am content just to know he will survive this.”
Unable to respond with words, Sophie pressed against Benj as if the pressure would make them one being. Her larger round womb nestled between them wrapped in love. Their son slept. He slept in peace content in the knowledge that his parents loved one another.
“I am going to make a link with you and Cora tomorrow if what we have planned does not work. We have to attack. We have to stop sitting around,” Benj said, a new tone of desperation in his voice.
“You’re doing this cause you know you’re going to die?” Her throat, her heart, caught on the word. She could barely whisper it. She had seen the vision, she had seen the list, she had seen the mark through his name, but deep down she could not believe it. She could not comprehend a world without Benj.
“Yes. I believe that I will die in this game of his.”
“Then why attack? Why go after him at all?”
“I do not want the lust if I can avoid it. I do not want our love so tainted. Please give me one chance to try before just giving in and doing it.”
She rested her head on his chest. “I know. I’ll give you every chance.”
Holding her close, he ran his hands over her skin. Showing love as only a man and woman can, they expressed physically their spiritual love for the last time.
The sun dipped below the horizon. The world turned gold for one sparkling moment before it went black. When they came out of the room, it had been dark for a few hours. Stan sat at West’s desk with Jack and JC. Several guns surrounded him. They taught him the finer points of battle, loading guns, and hand to hand combat with a little bit of magical advice on the side. Stan’s wide eyes tried to take it all in as he turned several shades of pale green.
“Everyone eat.” Jack sounded more like himself.
Benj got down a bowl and poured Sophie some milk and cereal before putting several bags of blood in a pan of water on the stove. Sophie wedged and wiggled onto the barstool.
“Are you supposed to be doing that already?” Jack asked. “I mean, I’m not one to talk. Being a bachelor doesn’t really give you the right to talk about babies, but I seem to remember it taking a little longer than a few days for my Mom to get that big with my sister.”
“Well, since there aren’t any women to ask who’ve given birth to a vampire’s child…I don’t know.”
They all turned to Benj.
He shrugged. ”I do not know either. There are only whispered gypsy legends of this ever happening. Nothing substantial.”
After they all ate - Sophie even more than her usual amount –they gathered around the sofa.
“So…now Sophie.” Jack leaned forward in his chair. “Can you get us a link?”
Sophie took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Time to find Manson. Opening her eyes inside the forest of her core, Sophie adjusted to the weight of her swashbuckler coat, her guns, and her true-self body, her warrior self. She no longer looked like an expectant mother, but she sensed her son close by, just as Benj’s red eyes watched her from the trees.
“Why am I still here?” Cora asked, startling Sophie. Sophie found her sitting on a bench picking absently at the fur of a small brown teddy bear.
“I tried to help you, but you think you can find him without me,” Cora said.
“No. I don’t think we can do this without you.”
“Then why are you?”
“Because of the curse it’ll bring. I’m afraid to do it your way.”
“We can’t wait much longer.”
“We won’t have to.”
Sophie cast around for a vision, a residue, anything, but found nothing. She cast again and again exhausting her tiny supply of energy. The forest of her core began to fade, her coat became sheer…
She sat up with a start on the sofa.
“What time is it?”
Her heart pounded for no reason. Terror lit her veins.
“It is almost midnight. What has happened?” Benj said searching for the source of her sudden fear.
“Come get me,” Manson whispered in her mind. She clamped her hands over her ears, but he spoke from inside her head.
“There!” Sophie pointed due east. “He’s there!”
They scrambled for their gear and raced to the Buick, bundling Sophie in the front to lead them. Her heart beat in her chest like a frightened bird and with each beat it screamed, “It’s a trap, it’s a trap!” But she could no more open her mouth than she could free the bird trapped inside her. Benj, seated right behind her, reached up and squeezed her shoulder. He tried to feed her strength and confidence which he did not feel. The primal need to lash out at the thing slowly destroying his family overtook all other emotions.
JC drove erratically. He jerked the car at each of Sophie’s muted gestures until they pulled onto the lawn of a white house with green trim. Like a group of Hollywood gangsters, the men climbed from the car, hats pulled low, coats flapping in the wind. The pump-action of several shotguns broke the stillness of the suburban night along with the heavy click of the drum being loaded by Benj into his tommy gun. A chill nipped at them, some of it the late fall air and some of it their own fear.
“We will not have much time before the police are called,” Benj said.
He directed Jack and JC to the back while Stan followed him to the front door. Sophie came just behind, her hands wrapped under and over her large womb. Manson’s mocking voice rang in her ears. It echoed back and forth until she could not make out any specific words, only madness. Her son pushed his little soul against the voice trying to dislodge it from her, but he could not. On the porch, Benj turned the door knob. It was unlocked. He pushed it open and stepped in moving immediately to the right. Stan followed, stepping to the left.
Only after Benj’s white skeletal hand stuck out and waved at her did Sophie approach the house. The dark doorway haunted her like an open grave waiting to be filled. She shivered. Her feet, seeming not her own, stepped onto the porch steps. She hovered outside herself, watching as she crossed the porch. But she could not go in the door. She could not enter his house.
“Benj! Come see this,” Jack called from the back.
“Stay with Sophie, Stan.” Benj sensed her inability to enter the house and would not leave her alone there. He shifted to Jack. Stan stepped back out onto the porch.
She stared down a long dark corridor to the past. Manson waited at the end with his hand on the knob of a door. He opened what he had kept from her and light flooded her mind.
“I can see it. How did he keep it from me? How did I not see it before? He’s toying with us by controlling me!”
“What are you talking about?” Stan asked. He craned his neck trying to see everywhere at once.
“Benj, Jack, and JC have discovered a slaughtered family in the bedroom. Manson killed them today while we slept. He kept me from seeing it, from having a Reading. I should have seen it!” Sophie pounded the railing of the porch. Something important flitted fairy-like just outside her field of vision. Something important…
Everything stopped as she caught the willow-wisp thought.
“This isn’t Manson’s house.”
Stan stopped. She saw her own horror mirrored in his face. He jumped for the door yelling for the others.
“Get out now!”
Benj shifted as only a vampire can through the doorway and crashed right into Stan. They flew backward through the porch railing. Benj rolled and came to his feet. He dropped Jack on the ground and turned back to the house. Stan gasped for breath in the grass climbing to his hands and knees.
A scream, painful and bloody, filled the night.
“JC,” Benj whispered. His fangs and claws extended.
He shifted head down into the house, but came to a bone-breaking halt at the door. He shifted again. A magical field sealed the door to even his strength. Terror flowed from him as again and again he hurled himself at the blocked door, yelling. Bones crunched in his shoulder and skin split on his face. Brute force would rescue his friend who lay screaming just beyond his reach, right? Stan grabbed him trying to stop him. Benj, enraged, flung him back out into the yard like a rag doll.
Sophie crumpled to the floor of the porch crazed with sorrow fed by Benj’s unhinged despair. Her child cried out in fear, and called to his father.
Trembling, pale, and wasted, he dropped to his knees and hung his head. With a shudder he shifted to Sophie still on his knees. Benj held her. Their son pulled their souls together. Dark eyes watched them, young but already filled with the pain of this world. Stan and Jack stepped up. They put their hands on his shoulders ready to try to stop him if he flung himself at the house again.
The world went black, all color, all light sucked away. A wild wind filled with evil cries and senseless laughter stormed around them.
The lights came back on. Sophie cupped Benj’s face in her hands.
“They have taken him,” she said. “Let’s go home. We need to be ready so he won’t die alone.”
Benj blinked fast and glanced up at the storm covered sky. “Why? Why did he not take all of us?”
“Because he lives on the terror he brings and he is trying to make it last longer,” Sophie whispered.
Jack pushed on Benj’s back to get him moving. The vampire lunged to his feet with Sophie in his arms and shifted to the car, climbing in the back. They drove home, quiet and slow. The four remaining friends steeled their hearts for what they had to do. Small drops of water splashed on Sophie’s hand. She looked up to see tears on the face of her vampire, tears she had never seen him cry before. She pressed herself in close to him and held his hand wrapping her love around his sorrow. She could do nothing else. Anger burned deep in her son at the senseless inability to protect his parents. He wanted to fight, to fight and defend those who could not defend themselves. He wanted to be the man now that he would be later – strong, determined, hopeful. Benj stared out the window at the dark, cold world. He gently push his son away.
Back home, Sophie lit candles and placed one in each window of the little house. She rested one on the bar for West, right by her phone and notepad. She put one on Guinness’s desk next to his piles of paper and the jar of pencils reminding her of the one he always had stuck behind his ear. Last, Sophie went to JC’s desk and lit a candle. The flame burned straight and true.
“Come home to us,” she whispered over the flame. “Come home.”