“Fuck! Are you sure about that?”
Destiny nodded, her face emotionless. “When comparing folklores, things rarely exist in a one-to-one correspondence, but we have three important similarities. It rises at night, drinks blood, and only dies when pierced by a pointy stick. According to Fritz’s notes, this dwarf king Abhartach is the closest thing Ireland has to a vampire.”
Fuck. I knew this would happen if I let myself get close to Carmilla. Grumbling, I slammed my fist onto my desk, knocking my coffee cup onto its side. Hot, black coffee splattered and ran over the old wooden desk. I cursed, grabbed a paper towel, and cleaned the mess. After tossing the coffee-soaked paper towels, I slumped into my chair and cradled my forehead between my thumb and index finger.
“Fuck, what am I supposed to do? I knew this would be a conflict of interest.”
Destiny scratched behind her left ear. She pursed her lips and stared thoughtfully. Nodding, she asked, “So, does helping Carole Davis create a conflict of interest with the Janelle Swenson case?”
“No.” I shook my head.
“Okay. So did the Charleston vampire case create a conflict of interest with the Memphis haunting?”
“No. What are you getting at, Des?”
My face flushed, and my heartbeat increased. My chest heaved as my breathing became ragged and shallow. I scanned the room, searching for an exit, an answer, something. I didn’t know what, but I needed something. I gnashed my teeth.
“What the fuck are you getting at?”
Destiny sighed. She walked over and sat in the chair opposite me. Her eyes radiated compassion, and she softened her face. Nodding, she smiled and asked, “Then how does dating an Austrian vampire conflict with removing the spirit of an Irish vampire who seems connected to a property in the United States?”
I sighed and threw my hands into the air. “Can’t you see it? What happens when other people learn of this? They’ll doubt my judgment and objectivity. It’s so fucking obvious.”
She growled and narrowed her eyes. “What about Frank and Laura? She’s a city prosecutor, and he’s a public defender. Should they divorce simply because their work puts them in professional conflict?”
I thought back to when they started dating. Laura worried that she’d lose her job and the respect she fought to earn. They struggled until both their bosses learned they were dating. That said, last year, they had a beautiful wedding.
“But they worked it out so they never worked on opposite sides of the same case. Are you suggesting I never help another vampire? They need help just like anyone else, and there aren’t many people who do what I do, Des.”
She pursed her lips and pinched the bridge of her nose. A sigh escaped her lips. “This Abhartach guy is from Ireland, but his spirit is here in the United States. Countess Carmilla Karnstein lives in Austria, a country where you have no license to investigate. And before you say it, this Irish vampire spirit predates Carmilla’s stay in Ireland by a few centuries at least. I mean, the written record is spotty on the subject, but the tomb named for this guy is way older than Carmilla is. As a final point, Abhartach is not a member of the Karnstein-Bertholt vampire clan, which means he’s neither a blood relation nor an ally.”
Destiny had a point again. I knew she had a point, and I knew my fears were unfounded. At least by any present evidence. I knew during the banishing something wasn’t right. Something didn’t sit well during that night, but I didn’t know what. I sighed and massaged my temples. I chuckled.
“We both know I rushed the Waters case because of things with Carmilla. Hell, I honestly didn’t think either would turn out as they did. I thought Carmilla wouldn’t want to be around me. I thought this was just some simple spirit in a bottle—not a curse because of a feud.”
Destiny flipped through the pages, nodding. Her finger ran down the page, and her lips mouthed the words as she read them. She turned the page and repeated the process. She tapped her index finger on the page twice and smiled.
“We don’t know the exact wording of the curse,” she said, “but we know it was a curse. Which means…”
I straightened my posture. My eyes shot wide, and I said, “Which means if we break the curse, we get rid of this Abhartach. But how do we do that?”
My shoulders sank, and I sighed. I shook my head. I wasn’t a witch, a magician, or a wizard. Destiny rose and moved behind me. She patted my shoulder and said, “Well, we could bumble our way through it like we’re in a Scooby Doo cartoon. We could ask your father for help. Don’t give me that look, Sam. I know you don’t like the idea, but he’s a powerful magician.”
“And he’s an even more powerful asshole. Any other ideas?”
“Well, we could always ask a witch for help. And Rayna’s the cheapest. We can pay her in gossip.”
“What about Donna Fuera? She could help us.”
Destiny shook her head. She said, “I’m all for grabbing a pizza at Sal’s before we visit Rayna, but Donna Fuera always gives me dirty looks. I’m not sure why.”
We closed the office, drove to my apartment where we fed and played with Sandy Paws for a few moments, and then took Destiny’s cobalt Jetta to Sal’s Pastas and Pies, which served authentic Sicilian and Neopolitan cuisine and the best pizzas in the county. Being regulars, they knew our order—garlic knots, a medium Quattro, and a bottle of Chianti—when we entered. After our early meal, we headed to Rayna Rosenthorn’s cottage that sat between the larger homes. Framed by rose bushes, the gray and black stone cottage resembled a forest witch’s home from a classic storybook.
Rayna stood just over five feet tall. She kept her ringlets chin-length and dyed half purple and half silver. She wore an oversized green and blue plaid flannel shirt over her sleeveless black sundress. Her twelve pairs of combat boots stood guard by the door. We hugged in the doorway, removed our own shoes, and followed Rayna into her plant-filled sitting room, which she kept tidy aside from the stacks of unread cozy mystery novels that teetered on the edge of collapse. Destiny and I sat on the patchwork sofa, whose upholstery remained hidden behind a dozen velvet throw pillows. Her tarot cards lay spread across the coffee table with the Three of Wands the inverted Knight of Swords, and the Hermit easily visible. Rayna excused herself to the kitchen to make tea.
“Sorry that took so long,” she said in her low, slightly nasal voice as she passed out the mugs. “If I’d have known y’all were coming, I’d have insisted Corey wait until tomorrow for their Lowe’s trip.”
I sipped the rose petal and black tea and asked, “You’ll have to tell us about them. But are they just browsing or starting a new project?”
“They’re building us a gazebo and me a She Shed.” Rayna twirled a ringlet around her finger and bit her smiling lip. “Corey’s amazing with tools. Oh! And with a grill. And they’re a medical researcher with a ton of publications. We’ll have you both over for a cookout! So, will we see you at the Johnsons’ cookout this weekend?”
I smiled and sighed. Nodding, I said, “I’ll be there. Des, what about you?”
“Oh, I’ll be there for sure.” She sipped her tea and shot a pointed glance toward me. “Maybe Sam’ll bring her new girlfriend.”
Rayna’s blue eyes widened, and her jaw fell open. She leaned forward and asked, “Girlfriend? Well, how have I not known about this? Did this just happen? It’s not on your Facebook!”
I glared at Destiny. “We’re not officially a couple yet. We’ve just had a couple of dates. It’s long distance too, so we’re taking it slow.”
“Corey and I were long distance,” Rayna said, her left leg bouncing. They moved from Castle Rock, Maine, when Skype dinner dates while watching the same movie on Netflix didn’t cut it between those times one of us flew to visit the other. Even broom flights that far drain a girl.”
“Are they a witch too,” Destiny asked.
Rayna shook her head. “Their grandmother was, so Corey understands at least some of what I do. They don’t know the Johnsons and Scartellis are werewolves, though. We’ll have that conversation soon enough. Does your girl know what you do, Sam?”
I nodded. “Carmilla does. We met at The Four Winds, and Maine would be easier to handle than Austria is. And then there’s the difference in our natural schedules. She’s amazing, though. Her skills with watercolors belong in galleries. Oh,, she owns a financial investment firm that helps both mortals and supernatural beings. Carmilla is intelligent, caring, passionate, beautiful…”
“And she’s a vampire who’s almost twelve times Sam’s age.” Destiny raised the mug to her lips. The corner of her lip twitched into a smirk. Rayna’s mouth burst into a smile.
“And she’s a vampire,” I said, shrugging. “It’s not that big a deal. Vampires are people too.”
Rayna leaped from her seat. “You’re dating a vampire! Has she bitten you? Does it make you orgasm like in the books I’ve read? Are you going to become one? Have you filed the paperwork yet? Do vampires snore when they sleep?”
I brushed my hair behind my ear and swallowed hard. I whistled and then said, “We’ve kissed, and it was nice. We haven’t spent the night together—”
“Yet,” Destiny interjected.
I nodded and shrugged. “Yet. That may be on the agenda for our next date, but I don’t think I’m going to become a vampire. We did come to tell you that, but…”
“You need my help with something,” she said. “The cards said someone without direction would come for guidance, but I didn’t figure it would be you.” She paused, her eyes looking toward the ceiling. “Is this about the bumbling S-T agent who visited Cassie Waters?”
Destiny and I nodded. We then explained the case, discussed its history as we learned it from Great Grandma Walser’s diary, and the annotations the Grimms provided. I then detailed my experiences while in the house and during my makeshift exorcism. We revealed pictures of the original witch bottle and its contents. With a sigh, I mentioned Maria Johnson’s complaints that I believed pertinent to the case.
Rayna nodded as she listened. When we finished, she asked, “From what you’ve said, seems you need me to perform a curse breaking, right?”
“Yeah,” I said. “The curse summoned this Abhartach, so I figure breaking it will send him away. Right?”
Rayna circled her mug’s rim with her middle finger. “Generally, I’d recommend that, yeah. But hear me out. I think we should communicate with the spirit to see what’s going on. You said yourselves we believe a curse was involved because the diary of the victim said it was a curse. She’s probably right, but I’d like to know for sure. You know this, Sam. The more information you have, the easier it is to help everyone without that bumbling S-T agent fucking anyone over.”
Rayna was right, and I knew it. Thinking back to my exorcism, Abhartach mentioned something about me not hearing him or whatever. I let impatience blind me, and I treated this case like that time I wrote my Survey of American Lit I paper using Cliffs Notes and not even reading The House of the Seven Gables. And I still haven’t read that book. I got a C on that paper, and that led to a B in the course. Aside from that bottom-scraping C in Calculus, that was my lowest grade. Mom lectured me on cutting corners. She’d die again knowing I didn’t learn that lesson.
As my mind drifted to memories of my mom, Destiny asked, “So, are you planning to use a spirit board or a seance or something similar?”
She assented. “My spirit board. A seance is a fun parlor trick for a Halloween party. They can work, but it takes too much time to gather people and setup the room. Give me a day or so to find a suitable location, since I’m not comfortable using a spirit board in my home. Tomorrow night should work. That okay for you?”
Wednesday passed without incident. The overcast sky did little to mitigate the punishing summer swelter. Sam spent the morning conversing with the lawyers for her mortal clients and planning for their upcoming court dates next week. From calling Maria Johnson, she learned the spectral occurrences antagonizing her family have become more forceful and worrying but not yet terrifying. Sam’s mind dwelled on her last meeting with Abhartach, and she had little desire to speak to that spirit again. The clock struck four in the afternoon, and a call from Carmilla illuminated Sam’s cell phone.
“Good afternoon—er, evening—’Milla. My day’s been okay, but a bit draining. Planning with lawyers always drains me. Plus, I’m still learning to not get emotional over my clients’ situations. Beyond that, there have been minor complications with my Full Moon Special, but those should wrap up within a week. Destiny and I half-joked about maybe taking a week off and opening up a few days before the next full moon. How’s your day starting? Did you call me from the bathtub again?”
Carmilla chuckled. “No, my dear one, I am reclining with a glass of wine in my study. I rose early for a meeting with the legal team helping us expand into Dresden. I too felt drained after speaking with solicitors, but such is the requirement of business. Now I relax with wine and a recording of Brahms’ concertos, and my thoughts drifted to you. Thus, I called.”
Sam beamed, and her right leg bounced as she slipped out of her burgundy heels. She shifted her legs beneath her. “I’m glad you did, since I’ll have my phone off tonight while working on the Full Moon Special. We’re going to be communicating through a…” Sam paused in thought. “I’m not sure if telling you violates confidentiality requirements in both the contract and in law. Never thought of that.”
“Then pretend I do not care about the details of your case, my dear one. Answer me only one question. Will you be safe during this activity? If not, I can send members of my clan who have the power to aid you. I know not if I could be of any help, but I could be there within a few hours.”
Sam smiled, blinked as Carmilla’s meaning sank into her mind and heart, and blushed. “I’ll be fine. I promise you I won’t be alone, and we’re going to take all safety precautions. Thank you, though.” She exhaled. “Truth be told, I’ve been thinking a lot about your plan for our next date that you’ve hinted at. The idea of a long weekend sounds amazing. And yes, my passport is valid. Any more information you’d like to share?”
Smirking, Carmilla drank deeply from her wineglass. She chuckled, and color flashed across her cheeks. “It pleases me greatly to hear that, as I enjoy spending time at your side. I will say this. What I have planned will bring us to a city standing farther to the east both of where we dined on the Bodensee and of my home. Also, you may desire to pack a swimming suit—if you are comfortable doing so.”
“A swimsuit? Will we be at a beach or pool?” Sam tensed as she asked her questions, holding her breath as she waited for the answer.
“A pool and several thermal springs will be available, if you desire to visit them. However, my primary meaning is that we will have access to a private whirlpool. I believe the English word is bathtub Jacuzzi, no? Is that problematic? I can change the arrangements.”
Sam exhaled and shook her head. “No, that’s fine. I can handle a private Jacuzzi. Yeah.”
Destiny perked as she heard Sam mention a Jacuzzi. As Sam rose to shut her office door, Carmilla asked, “Are you certain? I do not want you uncomfortable or unhappy. There are many other options for relaxation in my homeland. Libraries, theaters, symphonies, festivals. I could focus the date around one of those events, if you would prefer?”
Sam whistled. “All of those sound lovely, ‘Milla. If you want to plan anything special, let’s do something at night.”
“Are you certain? I realize that I will sleep during most of the day, but I will try to wake as early as I can. Will you not become bored?”
“If we’re in a city, I can find something to do,” Sam said. “And I always travel with a book when I’m not on a case. ‘Milla, I’ll be fine. I mean, if we continue seeing each other, we’ll negotiate schedules and hours. But right now, let’s just enjoy each other’s company.”
“As you desire, Sam. I will make the arrangements and send you your ticket and other needed information. I know you have to work tonight, so again, please be safe.”
“I will, ‘Milla. I will.”
After work, Sam returned home and napped, snuggling Sandy Paws, who curled up on her chest. She heated a frozen chicken enchilada meal, showered, and grabbed her silver rapier. Just in case, she told herself. She drove to Destiny’s townhouse, and Destiny skipped out to meet her with a bag of double stuffed Oreos. Florence Welch’s hauntingly ethereal voice sang the final chorus of “Seven Devils” as they drove away.
“Oreos? I’ve never brought cookies to any spirit communication session before.”
Destiny carefully opened two Oreos and licked the cream before shoving all four cookies into her mouth. “Makes it easier to shut my cake hole. You’ve been listening to a lot of mopey and moody stuff lately. Thought this might sweeten your mood before you hop in a whirlpool with a vampire. So where are you going?”
“She didn’t say. And you know you can change the playlist in my car. We’re in this together. You’re my best friend, Des. Some days I think Sandy even prefers you.”
They laughed. As Destiny unlocked Sam’s phone and scrolled through her playlists, she asked, “Speaking of the baby, when are you going to introduce your girlfriend to your child?”
Sam shook her head and chuckled. “She’s joined a few of our Skype calls, and ‘Milla even talks to her. So, unless there’s a severe negative reaction when they meet in person, that’s a good sign.”
They arrived at Rayna’s house right before midnight. Rayna, a black hooded cloak draped over her shoulders, yawned as she opened the door. They passed Corey sprawled on the sofa, snoring from beneath Rayna’s pink and white panda blanket. Iron Chef droned from the television. Rayna led them into the spare bedroom she used for magical workings. Her altar stood in the room’s center. A spirit board flanked by white taper candles rested atop the altar. Frankincense, myrrh, and copal incense perfumed the room.
“Welcome to my sanctum,” Rayna said. “Didn’t expect to do this here, but someone demolished the old cottage I usually use for this type of thing. I’ll double my wards to protect us, Corey, and the house. Then I’ll do a full cleansing tomorrow.”
“Can’t say I’m surprised,” Destiny said. “That place was set to collapse at any moment. Given some of the recent storms we’ve had, it may have.”
“So, what’s the plan, Rayna,” Sam asked.
“You and I will handle the planchette. Destiny, I know how you feel about being an active investigator on these things, but would you mind recording the questions and responses?”
Destiny nodded, pulling a small notebook and pen from her purse. “I came prepared.”
Rayna nodded. She moved to a cupboard against the north wall and produced four oil lamps. Sam positioned herself on the altar’s eastern side, and Destiny stood at its southern side. After hanging one lantern at the center of each wall, she returned to the altar and lit the candles there. The three women wrinkled their noses as the charcoal’s stench that persisted until Rayna sprinkled the sweet and earthy incense resin blend. Rayna took the candle from the northeast corner of the altar and, walking clockwise, lit the four lanterns.
She returned to the altar and took a single deep breath. Rayna knocked on the southwest corner of her altar three times. With dagger, censor, and then candle, she set protective wards around them. She requested Hekate’s aid, placed her hands on the planchette, and made eye contact with Sam. Rayna nodded.
When Sam placed her hands on the planchette, Rayna circled the board three times using the wooden piece. In a firm voice, she said, “On this midnight and in this space, we call upon the spirit of Abhartach. Through this board, we seek to learn how to return you to rest. In peace we come, and in peace we ask you to join us. Are you here?”
A few moments passed, and Rayna said, “Spirit of Abhartach, in peace we come, and in peace we ask you to speak to us. Are you here?”
Destiny rolled her eyes and tapped her pen on the notebook. The three women jumped as a thud sounded. The air conditioner started cooling. Sam rolled her eyes. Destiny watched the candle flames flicker. The planchette shot to the letter S. She focused and followed its movement, writing each letter.
When the planchette stopped, Destiny checked her notebook and then said, “Sword? How does sword answer a yes-or-no question? Oh! Sam, your sword, drop it!”
“Keep one hand on the planchette,” Rayna said.
Sam nodded and unclipped her rapier’s scabbard from her belt. Keeping one hand on the planchette, she kneeled and placed the sword on the floor. The hilt faced away from her. She rose and nodded.
Rayna exhaled and nodded. “Abhartach, if this satisfies you, answer this question. Why did you come to Butcher’s Bend?”
The planchette moved. When it stopped, Destiny said, “Summoned. Vengeance.”
Rayna sighed. “Okay. You were then bound, but the binding freed you. Why do you remain?”
“Chains. Buried. Roots.” Destiny cocked her head toward her right shoulder and raised her left eyebrow. She shrugged. “Whatever that means.”
“Chains. Buried. Roots.” Destiny cocked her head toward her right shoulder and raised her left eyebrow. She shrugged. “Whatever that means.”
Rayna thought for a moment. This could mean a number of things, but I’m almost positive something used to summon and command him has been buried on the property. She exhaled and then asked, “Can you tell us where your chains have been buried?”
Cold air filled the room. The planchette sped across the board. When it stopped, Destiny’s face displayed her confusion. “I tire.”
A wind spiraled through the room. The candle and lamp flames flickered, roared, and died. Rayna, Sam, and Destiny stood in silence. They exhaled in unison. Rayna nodded, told Abhartach goodbye, and then cleansed the room.
Steam rose from the sidewalks and streets as the sun blazed on Thursday morning. Rayna Rosenthorn donned her black and white polka dot apron. Flitting about her kitchen, she sang “Hot in Here” while baking bread and dicing herbs and vegetables for a marinara. The saucepan hissed and sizzled as she dumped the onion and then the garlic into the pan. Their aromas perfumed her kitchen. She danced around the kitchen, singing into her wooden spoon. As she poured the diced tomatoes into the pot, her doorbell cawed.
Rayna tidied up her bun and dusted the crumbs from her apron. She opened the door and saw Lieutenant Smith in his ill-fitting suit, standing on her doorstep. She cocked an eyebrow while smiling and asked, “May I help you?”
He looked at his notebook and asked, “Rayna Rosenthorn?”
She nodded. “Yeah. You need something?”
He flashed his badge swiftly, returning it to his blazer’s breast pocket before she had time to read it. “I’m federal agent Lieutenant Jeffery Smith, and I’d like to ask you a few questions about reports of murders of young women in the area.”
Rayna guffawed, clutching her stomach. Lieutenant Smith turtled, his head sinking toward his shoulders. Rayna giggled, snorted, and said, “Sorry. That was just too funny. We haven’t had any murders in the Heights in a few years. You’re that S-T agent poking his nose around, right?”
His eyes darted to see empty yards and streets. “May I come inside?”
She rolled her eyes and stepped aside. They walked into her sitting room and sat opposite each other with her coffee table between them. Rayna lifted her eyebrows. “Well, ask your questions. As you can smell, I’m cooking.”
He sniffed the air. “Yes, I can. May I ask how you knew what agency I work for?”
“Well, you’re dressed like a nerdy kid using his dad’s suit for his Fox Mulder Samhain costume. You flashed your badge but didn’t name your agency. You gave me a made up reason for your appearance. Also, no gossip in this neighborhood escapes me.”
She smiled triumphantly. Lieutenant Smith narrowed his eyes and frowned. “Well, perhaps I should have come here first. Is there anything you can tell me about supernatural occurrences?”
Rayna rolled her eyes. His inexperience was clear. She sighed. “Well, you didn’t hear it from me, but Dorothea Scartelli has been spending a lot of time shopping with Tommy Schall, owner of Schall Lexus. He’s also Gino’s boss. Gino is Dorothea’s husband, but word is he’s not the father of all of her kids. Also, the Merriweather-Bently vampires are in an uproar over an interracial siring. Oh! And then—”
“That’s all fascinating,” Lieutenant Smith said, “but I’m not interested in local gossip. What can you tell me about strange happenings at the Walters house?”
“Not much, really. I heard from Maria Johnson that she hired Samantha Hain to handle something, but I haven’t been able to gain any information from her.”
He leaned forward, and his face displayed his lack of belief in her honesty. “Then perhaps you’ll tell me what Miss Hain and Miss Grimm were doing here at midnight last night?”
Rayna shrugged. “Gossip. Sam just started dating someone, so she came to give me the deets before anyone else.”
“Gossip at midnight? Couldn’t that have been done over the phone? Why the visit? And before you give me another tall tale, I would just reflect on your own relationship. Doctor Drescher is quite the respected virologist. It would be a terrible shame if her next paper on SARS viruses somehow contained false information that led to bad policy. That could destroy her career. And if word got out that you were responsible—even in a small way—well, your current happiness might disappear faster than your career as a midwife and alternative medical practitioner when it leaks that you mistook hemlock and cyanide for tumeric tincture and kava root.”
Rayna inhaled and exhaled slowly. Her muscles tensed. The S-T’s could easily do that. Yeah, poop waffles! At least they’re not automatically shooting to kill, but if they pulled that off, maybe they should. Corey said research suggested an outbreak of a SARS virus loomed and could devastate lives and economies throughout the world. I know I’d never make those mistakes. I’d never poison anyone. But an investigation could ruin my career, such as it is. I’m so sorry, Sam. I hope you work fast.
Rayna closed her eyes, and her muscles relaxed as she exhaled. Hekate, guide my path. She nodded and said, “There was something about the case that concerned her. Something that didn’t sit right. She wanted clarification, which I offered through necromantic divination.”
Lieutenant Smith noted this. “I see. That wasn’t so hard. I don’t know why you played your little game. Now, what about the case concerned her?”
Rayna shook her head. “No. She focused on her question, and I directed the spirit’s response. The planchette moved. I thought it gave a bunch of gibberish, but Sam said she thought it was Irish. I only know English and Hebrew.”
The oven timer sounded. Rayna and Lieutenant Smith rose. As he returned his notebook to his pocket, he said, “Well, thank you for your time, Miss Rosenthorn. I’ll be watching. Have a nice day.”
Rayna saw him out, and then she returned to the kitchen, removed the bread from the oven, drizzled garlic Parmesan butter over it, and set it on the counter. She stirred and tasted the sauce before starting on the tagliatelle dough. She set the pasta dough in the refrigerator and poured herself a glass of wine. Rayna returned to her sitting room, drained half of her wine, and texted Sam.
Hey. The rookie agent is getting threatening. Work fast.
As Lieutenant Smith returned to his room at the Shady Eight Motel on the corner of Salem and Pine, Maria Johnson switched from Netflix to Discovery Plus. Her three youngest children laughed and screamed as they, armed with Nerf guns, hunted each other. She sighed, and her stomach growled. Scrolling past Murder in the Family to Barefoot Contessa, taking notes on Ina’s wild mushroom risotto. The crash of broken pottery shot from the hall. Gasps and hurried footsteps followed. Maria growled, paused the program, and went to investigate.
A suburban crime scene greeted her in the hallway. Two ceramic vases, purchased at the local art market, lay shattered on the oak floor, the flowers they once held strewn about like flailing limbs. Water drenched the area. Three orange-tipped blue Nerf darts, soaked and spongy, suggested three potential causes. She shook her head and walked to the laundry room to retrieve cleaning supplies. As she passed the den, she turned off the television, sighed, and said, “If you can’t find time to cook a meal some days, pizza is fine.”
As she swept the ceramic shards into a plastic grocery bag, Maria heard a voice from behind her say in a thick brogue, “I hunger.”
She balled a handful of paper towels and pressed them into the floor, absorbing the spilled water. “I’ll order pizza when I finish cleaning.”
She frowned and narrowed her eyes. She scrubbed angrily. “If you wanted to eat sooner, then you should have been more careful. Now you have to wait.”
“I hunger now.”
The voice grew forceful. Maria cocked an ear skyward. The voice belonged to none of her children, and Janus was at work. It was adult and male by its tone, and it had an Irish accent. Her heart beat faster, and she held her breath. She leaped to her feet and spun toward the sound.
An empty hallway stared back at her.
“I will eat now.”
Sharp pain shot through Maria’s right shoulder. She screamed, triggering her instincts. Her teeth elongated, and fur sprouted from her forearms, calves, and cheeks. Maria shifted her gaze as she scanned the hall. Her chest heaved as her ragged breaths sped through her lungs. She sniffed the air. Blood. She saw none on the floor. Remaining vigilant, she slowed her breathing. Her fangs and fur retracted. She knew the dangers of revealing her nature when an S-T agent investigated in the area. She exhaled and rubbed her shoulder. Her blouse was wet.
She raced to the bathroom, her eyes wide and frantic. She hurriedly unbuttoned her blouse. One button popped and rolled across the floor, stopping when it hit the base of the toilet. She twisted her torso and saw blood flowing from a human-sized bite. She bit her lips as tears welled in her eyes. Maria took a trembling breath, cleaned and dressed the wound, and called Sam, begging her to stop whatever was happening.