“And when the sun goes hellbound and the moon goes resurrect the night,
I’ll hide within her, not much good has come out of the light.” – To Hell and Back by Metallica
Jack and Fortunatus checked into a nicer hotel and ordered a double stacked hamburger for Jack. From a cooler in the trunk of Jack’s car, Fortunatus produced several blood bags. With no other humans around to question his red eyes, he warmed up several and indulged himself.
“I want to look at the body, at Derrick, again tomorrow and I wanna know how he died,” Jack said. “I want to have as much information to give Ronan as possible.”
“What if he does not wish to help?
“I’m not giving him an option.”
“Are you going to call Crow?”
“Yeah, something is going on. Olive said lots of magical lines where swirling around my school. What happens next? We find Derrick dead in a field. Something tells me they’re related.”
“I am curious about whether we could convince Olive to cast a spell of TrueSeeing on the body?” Fortunatus mused.
Jack got up from his bed and started pacing leaving his burger unfinished.
“Calm down, Jack. Do not let yourself be overcome with anxiety.”
“I can’t help it, Fort. I feel like this is just the beginning. Something bad is happening but I don’t know what it is.”
“Becoming agitated only clouds your thoughts. Be calm,” Fortunatus said from the twin bed he lounged on littered with blood bags.
“You’re right, you’re right,” Jack said. He took a deep breath and forced himself to lie down on the other bed.
“We will get new information in the morning.”
Jack nodded. He closed his eyes and thought of the turning constellations of a world he once visited as a child and drifted off to sleep. Zephyr snored softly on the pillow next to him, a washcloth covering her. The wolf dreams came for Jack and he slipped into his other skin and raced across the grassy Plane under strange stars.
The golden sun rose to light the Material Plane, and Jack and Fortunatus headed to the police station with Fortunatus bundled in Jack’s trunk. As Jack drove he mulled over his dream unable to shake the feeling of the hunt. The hunt in the wolf dream for something or someone…maybe Ronan? Maybe someone else?
Twenty minutes later, when they drove into Dorian, Jack headed straight for the police station. In sixty years, the building remained static on the outside with little change to its gray demeanor other than a new wing on the left side and more modern cars parked in front. Here, in this gray box of a building, Jack’s grandmother, Sophie, experienced her first contacted with the spirit child, Cora. Here, in a building soaked with suffering, his grandparents, Sophie and Benj, discovered their pregnancy with Crow, the only known Dhampir in the Planes.
Jack called Blaine from the car, and Blaine let them in the back door of the station to keep comments about Fortunatus, in his long dark coat, hood and gloves, to a minimum. In his office, with the door closed for privacy, they related how they had found the body.
“So you don’t know how he died, but you know it was a magical death?” Blaine asked.
Zephyr sat on a stack of papers kicking her legs. The grim conversation kept her silent.
“And what should I expect from an autopsy?”
“I am not sure,” Fortunatus said, steepling his fingers.
“You said you’re going to call this Ronan, who inherited Manson’s powers, so I’m guessing that a quick glance over the body doesn’t give you a cause of death like ‘shot in the chest’ or something?”
“Right,” Jack said, “in fact, other than the burn marks at the guy’s wrist, he looks to be in perfect health and pretty physically fit.”
“Okay. Well,” Blaine scrubbed his face with his hand. “It’s in the queue and I have your statement. I’ll keep you posted. And let me know if I’m going to get flooded with more magical deaths. This is a hell of a jurisdiction nightmare, but I’ll figure it out. It is about time someone in Sweet Grass is brought in the loop, anyway.”
“Will do,” Jack stood up, taking Zephyr and putting her in his duster pocket. Blaine shook both their hands and they left the police station. Fortunatus shifted back into the trunk. As he drove towards home, Jack called Aunt Rose. The phone rang twice and then he heard her whispery voice.
“Hey Aunt Rose, how’d you know it was me?”
“I have the magic of the evil eye and the mirror of Sinora…”
“You also have caller ID, right?”
“Yes, child,” he heard the smile in her voice.
“Aunt Rose, I have a question.”
“Let me get Stan.”
“Um…not for him. It’s for you. Or, I am not sure he’ll want to know.”
Jack explained about the body for the second time that morning as he drove home. A sudden whim took him, and he exited the main road heading not for home but for a small cemetery.
“So, as you can see, I need Ronan’s number.”
“Yes, I do see. You do not believe I, or Olive, could answer your questions about the body?”
“Probably, but not fully, and with Olive expecting and you have Stan to take care of, I just didn’t want to bother you. Besides I wanna check Ronan out for myself.”
Rose laughed, “Dear boy, a murder by magic is no small thing, especially when it provokes a wiznit trance. But you are right, this area of magic belongs to the SoulReader. He will hear them calling out. Olive will be able to see the remains of what killed the boy, but she cannot talk with his soul. She cannot see it in the same way Ronan can.”
“So you’ll give me his number?”
“Yes. Are you ready?”
Knowing Fortunatus listened to the conversation, Jack called out the numbers as Rose gave them to him. The vampire would remember them. Jack said his good-byes as he pulled into a quiet cemetery and parked in front of a tiny white church hidden behind a massive sycamore tree. He climbed out of his car and tapped the trunk.
“Be right back.”
Headstone after headstone covered a gentle green hill. A few trees here and there shed remaining leaves like tears over the graves. Jack went through the gate and walked around to his left and up over the hill, picking his way around other peoples’ loved ones. At the top of the hill, he looked down and saw his family exactly where his heart promised he would see them. Olive bent awkwardly down to touch the ground bringing just the right seasonal mix of flowers to the beautiful plants around a set of graves. Looking down at it from the top of the hill, the small plot appeared to have captured a bright rainbow and puddled it in the middle of cold, gray stones of the dead. Jack hurried down to join them as Zephyr climbed out of his pocket, flew up to his shoulder, and grabbed his ear to keep her balance.
“Hey Dad, Mom,” Jack said as he walked up.
Olive, with Crow’s help, straightened up and gave him a big hug.
“Missed you,” she said.
He returned the hug. Crow shook his hand and squeezed his shoulder.
“You smell of death, police stations, and Fortunatus.”
“That’s nothing new,” Jack grinned.
Standing in front of the graves of Sophie and Benj, Crow’s parents, Jack told them what had happened.
Olive tapped her lip, “The magical lines still point to your school. My sense of things is not as clear as normal because of the twins.”
“Just come to the station and look at the body.”
Olive looked at Crow and Crow made one of the hardest choices of his life.
“No, Jack. The twins are coming soon and we must go to the Spirit Plane. We don’t know what they will be when they come. If they need to be in darkness, we can be close to LeVidal, or if they need to be in light, we have that too. JoyBringer will be present to help protect Olive from the darkness if we have to go to LeVidal. This is your case. You must solve this. You must forge your own path with your own powers.”
Jack flushed with anger.
“What’s the point of having two of the most powerful people in the world as your parents, if they only tell you that you have to do something on your own?” Jack said staring Crow in the eye. “It must be one of those stupid character building things.”
“Jack,” Crow said. “You can’t depend on us forever. It only makes you weaker.”
Olive shook her head and said, “I will not go to that sad place, not now. I’m sorry this makes things harder on you.”
Jack gritted his teeth but nodded in agreement, “I understand.” He hated acting mature, but they needed him to, so he did.
Olive took his hand and Crow’s and pulled them close together, holding them as they looked down on the graves carved with the line, “I will love you for always and miss you forever.”
The fall sun reached its zenith and began to set. It’s time to shine on the earth short and pale with winter blowing in on cold winds. Jack walked back across the cemetery and thought about Derrick soon to be buried here. He wondered if Blaine had called the families yet. What a crappy part of the job. Jack climbed back into the Camaro and gunned the engine, speeding home. Crow and Olive beat him, even though they were on foot. Olive hurried inside, away from the darkness coming.
Fortunatus wanted out of the trunk as the daylight faded. Jack pulled his car into the garage while Olive went and closed all the blinds in the living room and pulled the large, old velvet curtain closed. The curtain blocked off part of the living room which included a sofa. Fortunatus shifted into the small coroner of night and lay down on the couch to sleep and dream of angels as the sun set. Jack’s collection of pets raced through the house to wiggle at his feet. The mass of happy animal forced him to drop his bags and pat all the furry bodies before he could make it to his room.
“At least someone is happy you’re home early,” Crow muttered loudly.
“Hey!” Jack said.
He unpacked his luggage and put on a load of wash. Olive sent him up to the attic to bring down one of her largest pots. Covered in dust, he set the small cauldron on the stove and headed for the shower, before he crashed into bed. After a day of sparring, a night of interrupted sleep, the drive home, stopping off at the police station and the cemetery, Jack’s body demanded sleep. He drifted off surrounded by cats and listening to Olive read off a list of ingredients in the kitchen.
“A golden leaf for feeling pure, an orange leaf to burn away the pain, a red leaf to open the way with blood…”
The alarm clock blared through Jack’s dreams. It demanded his immediate attention with incessant, repetitive noise. Jack opened one eye with a groan. Clipper, the smallest, white dog, licked his nose. Jack sat up and several cats and dogs leapt off the bed. He beat the top of the clock until the noise stopped. It appeared he slept the night away, half his Saturday and wished he could sleep longer. He flipped on his bedside lamp, the day dark for mid-afternoon.
Someone knocked on his door.
“You awake?” Crow said.
“Yeah,” Jack rubbed his eyes.
“Olive needs you.”
Jack climbed out of bed pulling on some army green cargo pants, a gray t-shirt and a brown thermal with holes. He touched the wolf head earring in his ear, tied on his boots, roughed up his hair and scratched his hairy chin. He stepped out to a darker day than yesterday, and not just due to heavy clouds in the sky. The memory of Derrick, dead and cold in a ditch, followed after him.
“Storm blow in?” He asked Olive, who stirred strange goo in the pot. It glistened and bubbled. Unlike the nasty things most witches brewed in black caldrons, Olive’s potion steamed with a bright swirl of gold, orange and red mixed with a few iridescent hints of yellow, green and white.
“Yes! And such a mighty fall storm it is! Jack, this has to sit for a few hours before it is ready and I am going to go out in the rain and dance in the storm. There is one last ingredient that I need.”
“What is it? And what are you making?”
“I need you to pick it up at the tobacco shop in the mall. I already called it in and I told him you would be coming to get it. This is a potion Dream gave me to help with the birth of the twins. I’ll drink it right before labor.”
“TMI Mom. It’s Gomez, right?”
“Yes, I need the aged leaf, flavored with vanilla and just a hint of earth to finish this spell.”
She smiled at him, “Be careful and take your coat. Oh, and Jack, you have to be back by 4:28, or the spell is ruined.”
“Gotcha,” Jack went to his room. He loved how Olive sounded like everyone else’s mom and then threw a curve ball like potion ingredient shopping in the mix just to remind him of her powers. Jack clipped his holster onto his pants nestling it in the small of his back. He checked the load of his Glock 17 and slipped it into the holster. He threw a couple of extra magazines in his pocket, and pulled on his coat and gloves. He fit his Glock 19 into a secret pocket in the coat’s lining, and wrapped a scarf around his neck.
“Where are you going and can I come?” Zephyr said as she flew in the room. Jack explained his errand while he tied his black bandana around his head. She did a double flip in the air.
“Can I come?” She sang.
“Did someone give you too much honey?”
“Fortunatus and I had a drinking contest last night while you were sleeping,” she said as she climbed in his pocket.
“How old are you two?” Jack put his wallet and cell phone in the other pocket. “And why didn’t you wake me up?”
“It’s a magic thing, you wouldn’t understand,” Zephyr said kicking him in the ribs.
Jack grabbed his side with a dramatic groan.
“You still should have got me,” he said and headed out to his car.
He glanced out the kitchen window as he passed through and saw his parents dancing in the back yard. Crow sure did some strange things as the man married to the witch of seasons. Things Jack could not see himself ever doing, like dancing out in the yard with a very pregnant wife in the middle of a cold, autumn storm. Just did not make sense.
Jack drove through the rain, his windshield wipers on high, music up loud. Life seemed to pulse through him and he sang at the top of his lungs with no one to laugh at him but Zephyr, who sang too. Jack hunted for a parking spot in the busy mall, filled with teens enjoying their Saturday. He parked at the edge of the shopping complex unable to find a closer spot. The dash to the mall left Jack soaked through and through.
The tobacco shop sat on the far side of the mall. Jack threaded his way through the groups of shopping people. He passed store fronts already telling him Christmas time should be on his mind, even though Halloween was still two weeks away. Others told him how he should dress and what his girlfriend should look like. He passed booths which said he had the wrong cell phone, the wrong sunglasses and one guy offered to give him a manicure. Jack soldiered on by. He wondered if teens were listed in textbooks as easily influenced, pack animals as he navigated around large herds of them all trying to follow the instructions in the windows.
A loud laugh caught Jack’s attention and he turned to locate the noise. Sundance, surrounded by a group of giggling girls, looked right at him and laughed as she came out of Victoria’s Secret with a little pink bag.
Jack wondered if he looked funny, but from the point of view of the popular circle, everyone looked funny. He felt hot meeting all the most popular girls at school as they exited Victoria’s Secret. Wait. Sundance laughing at him? It clicked. Just a few nights ago, they rolled his house. Murder strips the non-important from the mind. He had totally forgotten the practical joke left in his front yard.
“Hey Jack,” Sundance, pranced by, “how did you like it?”
“Did your parent’s freak?” another girl asked.
“Hope we didn’t get you in trouble?”
“Did you fish that out of a dumpster?” the next girl changed the subject as she eyed his shirt with holes.
“No, Miki, it’s the shabby chic look,” said the next girl.
Jack ground his teeth together as the gauntlet of insults dressed in mini-skirts and ankle boots flowed around him. Thankfully, the football team came their way and distracted the gaggle of girls. Jack could not get out of this mall fast enough. He picked up his step and hurried to Gomez. Soon the wooden statue of a feathered Indian with cigars came into view over the heads of the shoppers.
Jack stepped into the shop and took a deep, deep breath of the sweet scent of pipe tobacco. He passed by all the silly knick-knacks of American icons, animals, dragons, fairies and things.
“Heya Jack!” the big man yelled.
“What! That’s it? What’s got you down, boy? You’re not becoming one of those sulky teens are you?”
“No, just wasn’t a good weekend.”
“Ah, my friend, you are having lady problems,” Gomez’s half Spanish heritage made it his duty to help with issues of romance, and he believed all issues were romance related.
“I wish. Just let me get Mom’s package. I’m on a timeframe.”
“Okay, okay,” he held up his hands theatrically. From behind the counter he pulled a paper sack with his logo on the front.
Jack thanked him and headed back across the mall. Just as he passed by a shop with mostly nude teens selling clothing someone grabbed his shoulder in a vice-like grip.
Jack spun around and struck out with his left hand. He saw the badge and stopped his swing. The mall cop’s eyes bulged as Jack’s hand hovered inches from his face. His hand dropped from Jack’s shoulder.
“Sorry,” Jack muttered and lowered his fist.
The cop adjusted his belt which held nothing.
“I gotta tip you have tobacco in that bag, but you’re not old enough to buy it, legally.”
Jack sighed. Laughter floated through the crowd and he caught a glimpse of Sundance’s golden hair. Man, he hated teens.
“Look, I picked up a package for my parents. My Mom is pregnant and will be going into labor soon, and so I came by to get it. I don’t smoke. I can call them and they will tell you it’s true.”
The cop shook his head, “Let me have the package and I want to see your driver’s license.”
A switch flipped in Jack. He changed from teen trying to stay out of trouble, to the man who shot demons. To the man who helped bring Manson down at the young age of eight, or twelve, or whatever age Crow found him. Every bit of training they put Jack through screamed a warning about this cop.
Zephyr hissed and wiggled in his pocket. The cop reached out, but instead of taking the package he grabbed Jack’s arm. Jack’s eyes followed the movement. He grunted in surprise to see a tattoo, a servant tattoo. In perfect detail, color and design, the image of a cat’s tail budding out covered the top of the cop’s hand. Jack knew a witch’s tattoo when he saw one. Sensing his distraction, the cop brought his other hand up towards Jack’s side. Jack turned and blocked the attack with his arm. The cop pressed against his arm trying to reach Jack with an odd taser.
“What the hell?” Jack said.
The cop released him and struck at his stomach. Jack forced the punch aside and brought the side of his other hand down on the inside joint of the cop’s elbow disabling his arm.
“I’m calling the police,” the cop said.
Jack grabbed the man’s useless arm and held it tattoo side up.
“Who do you serve?”
“How do you know what a servant tattoo is?” the cop asked, stunned.
Jack grabbed the front of his shirt and hauled him down a nearby deserted hall designed to give employees access to the back of their stores. He ignored the strange glances of the passing crowd.
“Who do you server?” Jack shoved him against the wall.
“It doesn’t matter. She’ll get you in the end.”
The cop convulsed under Jack’s hands as he turned the taser on himself.
“Live for nothing or die for something.” – John Rambo
Jack floundered, trapped under the blankets, unable to use fingered hands with opposable thumbs which moments ago were paws. He shook his shaggy head and growled. What had he been looking for? Someone? Who and why? Frustration gnawed at him. He tumbled out of bed and, after figuring out how to walk on two legs, headed to the shower. A string of cats, the two skunks and one of the dogs tagged after him. Showered and dressed, he headed to the kitchen following the smell of breakfast with his cross-body bag, duster, and dark headscarf over his arm.
“Did you see the front yard?” Crow asked.
“Not yet,” Jack said, “Did you hear them last night?”
Crow raised an eyebrow at him, “You seriously think I didn’t hear them.”
“I had a wolf dream last night,” Jack decided to not go down that road with Crow.
Olive stopped and turned from the oven. Jack highlighted the dream as he poured himself some orange juice and sat down to a plate of pancakes, eggs and bacon. The food chased away the frustration and talking about the dream helped objectify his sense of hunting for someone.
“Do you want to talk with Dream?” Olive said. She sat down to her own large plate of food with Crow’s help.
“Getting into a barstool at 36 weeks is a little hard on your own,” she muttered.
“No. Not yet,” Jack said, “It is just the first one. If it happens again, I will.
“Keep us posted,” Crow said over his mug of steaming coffee.
Jack nodded and worked on his breakfast. They talked about the magical histories he studied last night until he headed to school. Loaded up on coffee and Olive’s amazing food, Jack stepped out into a white front yard. The whole yard – lawn, trees and shrubs – lay under piles of damp toilet paper. Jack smiled. Olive would blow an autumn gale right through this mess in a second, no problem. He stepped down the walkway to his beautiful, ’68 Camaro, glad Fortunatus had picked it up from school last night. Thankfully, not one square of toilet paper touched it. Jack was willing to resend his pledge of protection for all innocents due to damage of his vehicle, if necessary. He turned to look up into the front yard and saw someone had written ‘You Suck’ in what smelled like piss. Lovely. Olive and Crow stood in the window and waved to him as he walked away. A strong wind whipped his scarf and duster out. The toilet paper gathered in a large pile. Jack smiled. He left the one place he felt comfortable, accepted, and part of something, to go to a place which made him edgy, jumpy and irritable. At least, he got to start and finish his day in a good place, something his childhood missed until Crow came along.
With a thermos of hot coffee in hand, Jack headed to school. Olive’s prophecy about the lines of magic which flowed towards the school energized him and he felt more purposed. But the wolf dream dogged him.
“Zephyr?” he said.
She climbed from his pocket and fluttered over to the radio and sat on the volume knob.
“When was the last time I had a wolf dream?”
“It had been a few years maybe,” she said.
Something nudged the back of Jack’s mind and he shuddered.
“It was two years ago. Ronan called Stan the next day to say he had inherited Manson’s powers. Well, to shout that he had inherited Manson’s powers,” Jack said. “It makes me just a little worried about what might be coming.”
“Well, maybe it’s a sign he is going to accept who he is finally.”
“Let’s hope so,” Jack said.
Jack parked his car and they approached the squat brick building. Zephyr climbed back into his duster pocket. Jack examined the school building a little more closely than normal. He wished – not for the first time – that he could see the magical lines Crow, Olive, Fortunatus and Zephyr could see. But then again, magical beings each saw the lines a little differently due to the focus of the magic within them, so he might not see them, even if he had powers.
Sundance and her gang of popular kids waited around the steps for him. They all smirked at him as he walked through them, but he ignored them. He moved through the hoards of teens to his locker. Someone grabbed his arm. He turned swiftly, clutching their hand.
The girl – the girl who had been under the vampire’s spell – gasped as he twisted her hand. Jack quickly let her go. She stood up on her tip-toes, kissed his cheek, blushed and hurried off. Jack stood frozen in the flood of students. He touched his cheek where her lips had brushed his skin. A crazy smile bubbled to the surface and Jack resisted the urge to throw an air punch. He turned to look for her, but she disappeared in the crowd.
“Maybe it is not so bad being a human vampire hunter,” he said.
“You see!” Zephyr said, “Nothing is without its perks.”
The kiss carried Jack through the day despite Sundance’s gang following him around trying to give him a hard time. The normal pushing and crowding which intimidated other teens, turned Jack’s day into a large moving obstacle course which he used to test the limits of his dexterity and sharpen his observation.
His evening passed quickly with open books and sparring with Fortunatus. No wolf dream haunted his sleep.
“I’ll be gone until Saturday evening,” Jack told Olive as he hugged her good-bye.
“Enjoy the Expo!” She called after him.
“She really does sound like a mom,” Jack whispered to Zephyr who giggled from his pocket.
He climbed on a bus with the other kids in his self-defense class, and they headed to the Martial Arts Expo in Sweet Grass, the nearest city to Dorian, Jack’s home town. Jack sat in the back of the bus with twenty-four other kids, mostly guys, but a few girls here and there, and Mr. Rells, the self-defense/drama teacher. Once there, they spent the day sparring with martial artist masters until Mr. Rells herded them all to a local buffet where Fortunatus joined Jack for the evening.
Jack woke with a start. His heart pounded and he grasped his chest trying to find some air. A quick glance at his phone showed it to be five minutes into the witching hour, five after midnight. His clothing and the hotel bed were soaked in a cold sweat. Fear shot through him as he sat up in the unfamiliar room. His stomach clenched in memory of his gunshot wound and the days he spent hiding from Manson in impersonal rooms like this. He hated hotel rooms, hated them. On top of the strange room, he dreamed of racing through the Spirit Plane – the world beyond the one he could touch, taste and see – again. Wolf dreams. Wolf dreams filled with the hunt for someone while a great darkness loomed behind him ready to swallow him up. Jack rubbed his face. The feel of skin, nose and eyes instead of fur and snout cleared his mind.
A tiny word and a glow from Zephyr lit up the hotel room. Someone groaned in protest of the light. Jack cupped her in his hands and moved her under his blankets.
“What are you doing?” he hissed.
Zephyr swayed in his hands and her white moth wings trembled. Fortunatus appeared at his bed side.
“What is it?”
“I don’t know,” Jack said. He no longer flinched at Fortunatus’ sudden appearances.
Jack climbed out of bed, Zephyr still cupped in his hands, and made his way through the maze of luggage and sleeping kids. He opened the door into the hall of the hotel and Fortunatus shifted out behind him. They looked down at Zephyr after pulling the door closed. Her eyes flew open. Jack jerked with a gasp and almost dropped her. The wiznit’s eyes turned completely black. She swayed, trembled and spoke, “She has crossed what cannot be crossed. She has killed that which she should not kill, and she has taken what does not belong to her. It is not her right. An innocent has died.”
Zephyr crumpled in his hand.
Fortunatus grabbed Jack up and shifted outside. He dropped Jack down in the grass. Jack blew on Zephyr trying to keep her warm while he hopped from one foot to the other to keep his blood flowing. Fortunatus turned and sniffed the air.
“Stay here,” he said.
He disappeared and returned in the blink of an eye with Jack’s luggage.
Jack handed the vampire the unconscious wiznit and slipped on his fitted jeans and a thermal tee with a phoenix on the front. He tied on his boots and slipped into his duster. Last, he pulled on his fingerless gloves, wrapped a large, gray scarf around his neck and tied the black bandana around his head.
“Let us go.” Fortunatus said as he handed Zephyr back to Jack.
“Let’s. Let’s go, Fort,” Jack said, slipping Zephyr into her steal protected, feather-lined pocket in his duster, “It’s a contraction. Try it, sometime.”
“Someone had died and it was a death by magic,” Fortunatus ignored him.
Jack lifted his crossbody bag. They went to the Camaro and dropped his luggage inside. Jack took his Glock 17 from the glove box, pulled back the slide to check the load, and nestled the holster in his duster pocket. He climbed into the driver’s seat and, in a spray of gravel, followed Fortunatus pointed finger out of the parking lot. Fortunatus rolled down his window sniffing the air. He tilted his head now and then to catch a change in the scent as they headed down the service street in front of the hotel which ran along the highway.
“Pull in here,” Fortunatus indicated a dirt road.
Jack killed the lights and parked the car under the deep shadows of an old tree. They climbed out and double checked their weapons. Zephyr breathed but remained unconscious in Jack’s pocket. A large plot of open land surrounded them. Jack assumed it belonged to the Peterson family. Their land sat undeveloped here and there, waiting for the homes and roads of the city employees to move their direction.
A gate with a weather beaten “No Trespassing” sign blocked their path. Jack and Fortunatus ignored it. They climbed over the cattle gate and jogged out into the field. Fortunatus led them to a copse of leafless sycamore trees, long fingered branches rubbing in the wind, mixed with haggish live oaks reaching to the night sky with twisted limbs. The body lay in a sandy depression by a dry creek bed. Jack pulled out his flashlight and shined it over the corpse gleaming in the moonlight.
“I know him,” Jack whispered.
“He goes to my school. His name was,” Jack paused and looked up at the sky thinking. “Derrick! His name is, was Derrick Gate. Weird that I know him.”
Taking a sniff, Fortunatus said, “This was a magical death. The smell still lingers,” he leaned down closer. “I cannot tell if someone killed this innocent in a magical accident or…” he squatted down getting closer and Jack, flashlight in hand, leaned over him searching for hints to explain the death. He waved the light back and forth over the body undisturbed by the open, staring eyes.
“What do you see?” he asked, wishing he could see the magical clues around them.
The vampire stared at the body for a few minutes and then stood up.
“Look at this with a clear mind. Forget what Zephyr said and tell me what you see Jack, or more importantly, what you do not see.”
Jack focused on the body trapped in the beam of his flashlight thinking it through.
“He is wearing most of his clothes, everything but his shirt so this was not a sexual attack,” Jack started, “His face is not damaged in any way, so it probably wasn’t a personal attack. There are burn marks on his wrists in almost perfect circles like…” Jack tried to imagine why someone would have perfect circular burns. “Torture?” he guessed.
Fortunatus nodded, “What else?”
“What don’t I see?” Jack said to himself. He examined the body again.
“No magical tattoos. This is an innocent.”
“Correct.” Fortunatus clasped his shoulder in congratulation.
“Damn, how did I miss such an obvious clue?”
“Always look for the simple answer first, not the most complicated one.”
“But it was a magical death?”
“So…someone magical killed an innocent. Now adding in what we do know from Zeph, and taking into account the burn marks, it would seem it was not in a magical accident,” Jack said. “Someone killed Derrick on purpose.”
“So it would seem.”
“Does that creep you out as much as it does me?” Jack asked, thinking back to the last witch who had used his power to kill innocents – Manson. How many years had he lived and how many people had died at his hands? Too many.
“I do find it disturbing,” Fortunatus said. “I served Manson for over fifty years and many good people died with my help. If Crow had not shown me mercy I did not deserve, I would never have switch sides near the end of the fight against Manson. The blood on my hands haunts me to this day.” Fortunatus held up his cold fingers as if he could see the blood still dripping from them.
“Sometimes it feels like Manson won,” Jack said. “Even though Stan killed him, we all still carry him around like a sack of garbage.”
“Even a creature like me does not easily overcome the damage to the soul and psyche Manson inflicted.”
Jack nodded. He continued to study the body trying to get a whiff of the magical smell Fortunatus kept talking about, but he only smelled cold air, dry leaves, and a tarmac smell from the freeway a little ways away.
“Guess we should call it in. Do you thing we should find Ronan? This really should be his case.” Jack said. He thought about the SoulReading powers which had manifested within Ronan complete and whole, the powers once divided between Manson and Jack’s grandmother, Sophie.
“I do not think he lives near here. And a man ignoring his duty will not appreciate a reminder of his responsibilities.”
Zephyr stirred in Jack’s duster pocket. He jumped back with a shout. Fortunatus raised an eyebrow at him.
“She startled me,” Jack said. He held out a hand to her while Fortunatus pulled his cell phone out and called Detective Blaine.
“How are you?” Jack asked the wiznit.
“Yucky,” She frowned, wrapping her arms around herself.
“I’m sorry. We found the body.”
Tears filled her eyes and she climbed back into his pocket without looking at it.
Fortunatus hung up, “Blaine wants us to come in and give him a report in the morning.”
“I think we need to find Ronan,” Jack said, again.
“Why do you think that?”
“Peace of mind. Besides, he could probably tell us who did this.”
“You think Manson has returned?”
“I just want to be sure he hasn’t. And, regardless of how much Ronan doesn’t want the powers he inherited, he still inherited them. It’s our job to report this kind of thing to him, if he doesn’t already know.”
“Agreed. Olive should be able to find him or Rose.”
“We’ll ask Aunt Rose. If I ask Olive, she’ll just try and keep me safe.”
“Olive will be too busy with the twins soon to worry about you. She should stop trying to keep you safe, because she cannot.”
“You should tell her that,” Jack muttered.
Fortunatus consider it for a moment and then shook his head.
“You’re scared of her too,” Jack laughed.
The vampire turned towards him, “She is the most powerful witch of our time. She is a new immortal creature and she is with child. It would be very unwise to, how to say it, get on her bad side.”
“Coward,” Jack whispered.
Fortunatus smiled, showing his fangs, “I must get you away from your father more often. You act more and more like him every day.”
“I take that as a compliment,” Jack smiled back.
“Now, what’s next?” Jack asked, back to business.
“We wait here. Blaine is sending a patrol car over to start getting all the physical evidence, and after we show them the body, we will return to the hotel. I will make my apologies to your teacher, and tomorrow we will go see the Detective and give him a report. After that we will call Rose.”
“Then we’ll call Ronan and see what he has to say for himself.”
“Yes. But he will not be pleased at our contacting of him.”
“An innocent is dead. I hardly give a flying shit what he thinks.”
“You are shaping up to be a powerful force in the magical world, young Jack. It has been long since one of the humans stood up for his own kind. Not many can walk along the side of the magical as an equal, and you do it with powerful backing. The Hunter’s protect the humans, but they do not know many witches, and do not have many connections in the Spiritual Plane as a whole. Your grandfather, Stan, knows of the magical world, but he does not fight for the humans. You are connected and you fight for them.”
Jack found something interesting on the ground to look at embarrassed by Fortunatus’ compliment. “Someone needs to do it,” he muttered.
Fortunatus stepped from the copse of trees as the patrol car pulled up to the fence. The officer climbed out of his car and pointed his spot light at them.
“You Fortunatus and Jack?”
“Yes we are officer,” Jack said keeping his hands where they could be seen.
“Detective Blain said not to ask any questions, just to have you two show me the body.”
“We have worked with the Detective before,” Fortunatus said.
“So he told me.”
The officer put his hands on the top of the large cattle gate and climbed over it. He walked over and Jack pointed out the body with his flashlight. Once the officer checked their identities, they headed back up the road. The stars filled the night sky over them and Zephyr slept in Jack’s pocket. He felt the tiny rise and fall of her breathing against his ribs.
“Sometimes I glance up at the stars,” Jack said, “and think they are in all the wrong places.”
“That is understandable. You spent more time than is normal in a world saturated with magic, you breathed its air, ate its food. One does not leave the Spirit Plane unscathed.”
“And I did it as a wolf. I still have wolf dreams.”
Fortunatus said nothing.
Jack shook his head, “Just one more thing that makes me different.”
“Be thankful you have not had to deal with those differences alone.”
“Yeah,” Jack said. He looked up at the familiar constellations of Orion and the Big Dipper and wondered if this was the next step. According to Fortunatus, Jack’s gifts gave him the responsibility to stand up for the humans. The humans who did not know about the whole magical, spiritual world around them, but who paid in blood anyway. A grim resolve gripped Jack. He made a fist and promised the world of innocents some protection from the things which went bump in the night, from the things far more powerful and long lived than they. Jack drove back to the hotel, and Fortunatus shifted into his hotel room. He opened the door for Jack from the inside.
“I will go wake your teacher, excuse you for a family emergency and we will find another hotel room. I do not wish to explain why I am in the trunk in the morning.”
“Okay, I’m sure he’ll be glad to see me go. Too bad Akilina’s tattoo doesn’t still give you power to walk in the sun.”
Fortunatus touched the crescent moon tattoo inked into the skin on his chest, an everlasting necklace to remind him of the gift the angel once gave him.
“It is called a curse for a reason, Jack. Get packed.”
“Your speed means nothing, when it’s death you’re running from.” – The Quick and the Blue by the Megas
He followed her from school, but he kept his distance, head down. He hoped he stayed unnoticed. A cold wind whipped the bandana tied around his shaggy hair and he pulled his dirt splattered duster closer. The trees waved naked limbs, thin as a Holocaust victim, in the air. Bits of rain spit at him from the steel sky overhead. Jack maintained visual contact with the pale girl. He did not want to make her nervous and he did not want her catching on to him. But she did not. With her enslavement to the vampire complete, her attention became his entirely. If the elite group of Hunters – Trent, Travis, Trevor and Quincy, who Jack hoped to join someday – surrounded her and walked her home as human shields, she would have remained oblivious.
The girl turned down a quiet street filled with tidy homes, good sized trees and too many cars. Jack watched her walk up a driveway and go inside a two story home. He moved to a different angle on the house and, a few minutes later, saw the girl silhouetted against an upstairs window. Jack glanced around, saw no one in the darkening day, and shimmied up the trunk of the old oak closest to her window. The deep crevasses in the old bark made the assent easy for his nimble fingers. He climbed from branch to branch until he reached her room. Checking again to make sure no one watched him, Jack climbed closer on a thick limb. He peeked in through the sheer curtains and flushed. The girl lay curled up on her bed in only her underwear. He thanked all the witches in the world the oak retained most of its leaves. Jack shuttered at the thought of saving the girl only to finish branded a peeping tom instead of a hero.
“Can you smell anything?” Jack asked the winged wiznit, Zephyr.
He made his way back to the trunk and sat down with his back against it to wait out the setting sun.
“He is not here if that’s what you mean,” Zephyr said, pom-pom antenna swaying as she peeked out of his pocket, “You better slay him before he starts to feed.”
“I know,” Jack said. He took off his leather, crossbody bag and hung it on a branch. From a secret compartment in the bottom he removed a small, black crossbow, made from synthetic polymers, with silver darts. Crow, his adopted father, gave it to him two years ago when Ronan, the SoulDefending witch, showed no signs of accepting his responsibilities. Crow worried about the human and magical creatures liable to come out of the woodwork with no witch to sense the destruction they visited on human souls. Jack decided to complain about not having his Glock 17 or 19 later. High school principals do not look fondly on gun wielding kids, and Jack was in enough trouble just missing the parent-teacher conference to hunt a vampire.
One by one, as he watched from the trunk, the rest of the girl’s family came home and the sun set. Night rode in swiftly on autumn horses. The house glimmered with love and welcoming light. Jack pushed back the guilt which nipped at the back of his mind for the amount of worry he caused his adopted mother, Olive. He munched on some snacks she had packed for him and focused on the task at hand.
Every hair on Jack’s arms stood up. Zephyr went completely still and Jack felt a small breeze pass over him pressing him against the tree. The scent of summer, flowers, honey and blood filled his nostrils. He recognized the smell of Zephyr’s spell. She had done her best to keep the undead unaware of them.
On the ledge outside the girl’s window, Jack saw a deeper darkness materialize and then disappear.
Jack took the crossbow up and crept out on the branch to the window. Inside the room, the vampire lifted the pale form. Her head rolled back and exposed her neck.
“The window,” Jack whispered tugging on it. “It’s locked from the inside.”
With no time to spare, Jack back tracked down the branch, stood up, and charged. He crashed through the bedroom window with a flying leap. He struck the glass with his shoulder and pulled into a ball. Glass exploded in every direction.
The vampire hurled the girl to the ground in disgust at the interruption and turned.
Jack slammed into the floor, followed through on his roll, and came up on his feet just as the vampire snatched him up. He threw Jack across the room and he smashed into a mirror. More glass shattered around him. He dropped down onto a desk cluttered with makeup, perfume, and metal frames. A million tiny nerves fired warnings of pain throughout his body.
Shouts filled the house.
The vampire shifted, appearing right in front of Jack, and wrapped his cold fingers around Jack’s throat. He pinned him against the wall with one hand leaving Jack’s feet to dangle. Pressure built up in Jack’s neck as it supported his whole body weight. His feet drummed the wall looking for purchase. The icy fingers smashed his windpipe as they change to hard talons tipped with long claws.
“I always appreciate a reason to kill off an entire family,” the vampire drawled, “after I have drained the blood of the daughters. Thank you for providing me with an excuse. I would have done it anyway, but now I will feel better about it.”
Unable to talk, Jack flipped off the vampire.
The vampire smiled showing his fangs while his talons cut into Jack’s neck. Blood trickled down into Jack’s white t-shirt. The vampire leaned in and sniffed him.
The vampire started, “You have a strange mixture of smells around you boy, and you are not afraid. Who are you?”
“He is my godson.”
The vampire spun around. He jerked Jack with him by the neck and held him like a shield in front of his body. Jack could not breathe. Spots darted around his vision.
“This weak animal is your godson? You must be weak as well. Who are you, human lover?” The vampire hissed. He grew taller, pulling the night up around him like a cloak. A wave of cold fear rolled away from him filling the house. The family in the rooms around them cowered in fear unable to talk with the emergency response teams on the phones.
“I am Fortunatus,” he said. His eyes flashed in the dark, two chips of star blue ice. He met the fear swelling up from the vampire holding Jack, with his own ocean of damned experience. The temperature in the room plummeted as the two male vampires vied for supremacy.
Fortunatus pushed mentally against the vampire and he took a step back. Jack sensed his opportunity. He brought up the crossbow and focused his mind on finding the sweet spot though the panic of his air deprived brain. When the tip of the silver arrow touched the vampire’s chest, Jack pulled the trigger.
The waves of fear snapped back, air filled Jack’s lungs and he crashed to the floor as the vampire crumpled. Ignoring the disintegrating monster, Jack crawled over to the girl. Zephyr flew from his pocket and cast a spell of light on herself to drive back the darkness. Jack watch the color return to the girl’s face. He reached up and pulled a pink throw off her bed and covered her up.
Fortunatus shifted to the pile of ash, once his kind, “He was young, which was fortunate for you.”
“I don’t care if he was young or not,” anger boiled in Jack, “They took my cell away at school and she was going to die if I didn’t do something. You could tell this was it. The whole family would have died.”
Sirens filled the air. Fortunatus pulled out his cell and dialed Crow’s number. A wave of dizziness passed over Jack and he dropped down on the bed. Fortunatus shifted to his side. Jack heard him talking, but it seemed far away. He could not comprehend what Fort said or if it had anything to do with him. The sirens grew louder while Jack’s world grew smaller. Fortunatus’ white face swam into view.
“You have a large piece of glass imbedded in your shoulder and one in your side as well as the wounds on your neck. I wish to take you to the hospital but the police are here. Are you able to stay awake and focused?”
“Don’t have much of a choice do I?” Jack said. His voice sounded funny. It echoed in his skull.
“Zephyr, please go wait outside to meet Olive and Crow. I will be outside too. I will retrieve your book bag.”
Within seconds, Fortunatus and Zephyr where gone and the room filled with policemen. Jack laid down his crossbow and put his hands up as high as he could. Pain raced through him as they walked him downstairs to wait for an ambulance. He asked to speak with Detective Blaine. The responding officer rolled his eyes, but did as Jack requested. He talked for a minute on his phone and then handed it to Jack.
“Jack?” A tired voice said in his ear.
“Was it a vampire?”
“His current condition?”
“She’ll be fine now.”
“Who is there and who is coming?”
“Zeph and Fort are here, everyone else is coming.”
“Alright, I’m on my way. Give me back to the officer.”
Jack looked up at the young man, “He wants to talk to you.”
Everything seemed to fade for a time until Fortunatus, Olive, and Crow stepped into his field of vision. Relief filled him and the weight of the evening slipped from his shoulders. He heard Crow talking to the police, Olive bent over him, and Fortunatus stood guard by the door. Jack felt more comfortable now than he had all day at school. This was where he belonged, with these people. He wondered how Detective Blaine had managed to get them into the crime scene, but he decided he did not need to worry about it. They were here and they would handle the situation.
Olive took his hand and warm sunshine filled him, washing him of the rough day, healing his wounds. She laid the two glass shards on the table. With a kiss on the forehead, she went off to check on the girl and her family. Crow handed him a bag of fast food and Jack’s stomach growled with ravenous hunger. Fortunatus shifted up behind him and slipped Zephyr back into her pocket inside his duster.
Detective Blaine arrived and took over the investigation, but hours passed before they could go home.
“The school is pretty mad,” Crow said. He cut into his rare stake and blood poured out on his plate.
Back at home they sat around the old, U shaped bar, etched with years of living, with more food – pizza and beer made life better. Three dogs, four cats and two skunks gathered around Jack’s feet. They waited for some tidbit to fall which they could eat. Zephyr sat next to Jack’s plate on a wine cork with a tiny cork table Jack had carved for her covered with bread and honey.
“Not as mad as I am,” Olive said. Once human, she still enjoyed human food on occasion.
“They took my cell phone,” Jack said around a mouth full of pizza.
“Use your head and find another phone,” Olive said.
“Fort found me. I don’t see what the big deal is.”
“You can’t always count on him finding you.”
“Um…yeah…he’s like y’all, forever living.”
Olive groaned and rubbed her eyes, “Listen to me. I sound like a mother.”
Crow laughed and put his arms around her.
“That’s cause you are,” he rested his hand protectively over her round womb.
“Okay,” Jack threw up his arms, “if y’all get mushy then the lecture is over.”
He grabbed his plate and started to get down from the bar.
“No it is not,” Olive pushed Crow away.
“Thanks, kid,” Crow muttered.
“Look, both of you, I’m sorry for being irritated. Jack, what you did was good and brave.”
“Thank you,” Jack gave a little bow.
“I helped too!” Zephyr said around a finger which she had dipped in honey and stuck in her mouth.
“Yes, and I am disappointed with you, too. There are still a lot of fluctuations in the magic world right now. A lot of ripples still rolling out from Manson’s death, and we don’t know where it will end. Between that and the twins it makes me very edgy and worried. There should not be a vampire in this area. It would be foolish for one to come into Crow or Fortunatus’ territory. The fact that he did, and he did it enough times to truly endanger that girl concerns me. The lines of magic still fluctuating are fluctuating around you, Jack.”
“I know that, but there is nothing I can do about it. I can’t make it stop. All I can do is be who I am.”
“Olive,” Crow said, “We can’t protect him from the world he was brought into, anymore than we will be able to protect the twins.”
Something about what Crow said got Jack’s attention more than any of Olive’s mothering. The haunted note in his voice and the faraway look in his eyes gripped Jack. Crow had fought a desperate battle to protect Jack, Olive, Zephyr, Stan, and Rose against Manson. Jack understood, in part, what Crow had seen and how much regret he carried. The list of names, magically tattooed on his arm as his family died, proved his past pains.
Olive sighed, “The last thing I am going to say is, Jack, you need to do better in school.”
“Why?” As soon as he spoke, he knew he sounded like the rest of the dumb teens he dealt with every day. He wished he could take it back.
“Cause there is magic flowing that way.”
“What?” Jack said, caught off guard, expecting another lecture.
“I am not sure what, just yet, I need to call Pathfinder, but I felt it when I got there tonight, big time. It might just be the fluctuations around you coalescing; it could mean a new witch is coming into being.”
“Other than Ronan?”
“Why would he be at your school?”
“We want you to watch for it,” Crow said.
“Finally a point to being there! This I can do,” Jack said glad to have something useful to do. It gave tomorrow a reason other than avoiding all the hormonal teens trapped in one place together.
“It’s like going undercover!” Zephyr said with a smile.
“I got your phone back with permission for you to keep it on vibrate due to family emergencies,” Crow held it out.
Jack grabbed it out of Crow’s hand and opened the text Fortunatus had sent him.
How are you?
Jack looked up at the vampire, incredulous.
“Damnation, Fort! All this could have been avoided, but no, you had to ask how I was!”
Fortunatus smiled. He twisted the stem of his blood-filled wine glass in his long fingers. “Consider it a test of your manhood.”
Jack groaned, “I don’t need my manhood tested and I have to study.”
He climbed off the stool and headed to his desk. Now an antique, it once belonged to a young man named Guinness. He died over fifty years ago, but Jack felt a strong connection to him akin to an older brother. Not to mention the random secret hiding places Jack found, each with an “I was here” note. Inside one hidden slot in the bottom of a drawer, Jack had found a pile of drawings Guinness had done of his wife, West. When Jack showed them to Crow, tears came to his eyes. Awkward. But Jack knew it meant a lot to his adopted father to see them. Both Guinness and West’s names graced Crow’s list of names tattooed on his arm, the living memorial to Manson’s murders.
“For school?” Olive said. Jack caught the twitch of a smile at the corner of her lips.
“Yeah, school,” he laughed.
He pulled out his Glock 17, his back up Glock 19, and his hand-held crossbow and started cleaning them. He practiced taking them apart and quickly putting them back together. Hours later, Jack pushed back his books, yawned, and decided to head to bed – this dual life exhausted him. After finishing his weapons training, he spent the early evening reading books on the history of vampires and magic. After he worked out, he studied the far less interesting human versions of history, math, grammar and science. His head felt ready to burst.
Fortunatus came in around 2am from checking on the attacked family and sent him to bed. As Jack headed to his room, Fortunatus tilted his head and sniffed the air. Zephyr stood up on his shoulder and Jack’s hand hovered over his Glock 17.
“It seems some of you classmates are outside.”
Jack looked at him, “What?”
“They are outside, whispering and laughing.”
Jack shut the rest of the lights off in the kitchen and office –all one open room with the bar bisecting it. He stepped up to the window and peeked around the edge of the curtain. Front and center, Sundance lead a group of guys and girls up into his yard. They carried several packages of toilet paper.
“Olive is gonna love this when she wakes up.”
“What are they planning to do?” Fortunatus asked.
“They are TP-ing my house.”
“For what purpose?”
“Probably because Little Miss Sundance found a guy who doesn’t think she is that beautiful, and doesn’t trip over himself to get to her.”
“She is one of the popular youths?”
“She IS the popular youth. How much would I have to pay you to go out and scare the crap out of them?”
“Nothing,” Fortunatus said, “but as entertaining as it would be, I will not. They are innocents too, Jack. It would be breaking the code you are trying to learn for me to use my own dark powers to scare them.”
Jack sighed, “Yeah, I know, but it sure would be funny.”
He waved good night to Fortunatus and headed to bed. Despite the teens outside he fell asleep in moments.
He sniffed the air of the lush field while strange constellations swirled over head. He ran on all fours, his sharp claws digging into the fragrant earth as he propelled himself forward on muscular legs. The wind whistled through his large ears and dark fur. Smells filled his nose – life, blood running through the veins of small creatures. He ignored the temptation to turn aside and hunt them. He must continue his mission, he must find someone…
”The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible.” – Vladimir Nabokov, Russian Author