Who the fuck gave eight am the right to be this hot, humid, and fucking miserable? Yes, it was the end of the first full week of August, and I lived in South Carolina. I hated being awake this early on principle, and I detested being outside and walking around in this weather. But here we were, Destiny, myself, and the multi-frequency metal detector we rented, traipsing around the picnic grounds of Joan D’Parc. Why? That’s where the O’Broin residence once stood.
We didn’t have the luxury of waking later. Sure, the heat would have been worse, and I would have complained more vehemently. Recent events forced our hand. Abhartach attacked Maria again, biting her shoulder during the early afternoon hours. Destiny and I bounced different theories off each other—supper time in Ireland, Irish sunset, and spiritual jet lag—but none stood out as the most likely.
I scanned the park and the streets as we searched. That rookie S-T agent could show up at any moment, and I had no desire to deal with him. As a P. I. licensed to handle cases involving NHMs, so I wasn’t in any danger taking on cases in the States. Unfortunately, Rayna’s partner Corey and Cassie Waters weren’t safe. They may have accepted that supernatural events and people existed, but Lieutenant Smith seemed ready to destroy lives for an incident he knew nothing about.
“Hey, Sam, remind me,” Destiny said as she wiped sweat from her forehead. “Why do we need this metal detector? This thing is heavy.”
The wide brim of her floppy white hat sagged beneath the weight of the Mario Kart enamel pins she kept around the brim. She added red, green, and blue ribbons, each tied in a massive bow, and a pair of yellow Pikachu ears to the hat for this year’s Kentucky Derby brunch party, which we used as an excuse to dress up and day drink. Sweat darkened her purple Cowboy Bebop t-shirt. It approached the hue of her faded black jeans.
I exhaled. Sweat stung my eyes. “Cold iron. We would classify Abhartach as undead. The Irish, in his time especially, would classify him as a faerie. Cold Iron protects against faerie creatures. Therefore, if the object used to bind Abhartach to this part of the world is buried on the O’Broins’ former property, then they likely placed it inside a cold iron box.”
This should’ve been a straightforward case. I got cocky and impatient and rushed things. I focused on removal instead of understanding the situation. That’s why supernatural beings trust me. I listen to them, help them, and treat them like people. This time, I acted like a pest control agent. Had I followed my standard investigative procedure, this would have been over before the S-Ts got involved. I had to make this right.
And I knew this was a needle in a haystack situation. The area that once comprised the O’Broins’ land now served as the picnic grounds. The long oak tables and benches sat beneath tin roofs, scattered throughout the young grove of mostly oak trees planted during the 1980s. Public grills poked from the grass near rusted iron garbage bins.
The first few hours of our sweep produced a little over three dollars in change, two lost keys, a discarded engagement ring, and a nail file. We found nothing that required the short-handled shovels we brought. Cars filled the parking area as the day’s peewee soccer and Little League games began. Screams, laughter, music, and referee whistles filled the air. Destiny attached the headphones to the metal detector and continued scanning the area.
Destiny tapped my shoulder and pointed. Her pace increased as she followed the signal pulsing into her headphones. My breathing grew shallow and rapid, and I realized I needed a better bra for these types of investigations. She stopped at this massive tree with dark and cracking bark, sprawling branches, and roots that spread a good twenty-five feet from the trunk’s base. Destiny stepped over fallen branches and protruding root sections until she stopped and removed her headphones.
“Right there, Sam. It’s screaming at me.”
I shook my head while scanning the tree. “Yew. Fitting.”
I drank water, wiped sweat from my forehead, and started digging. The intermittent rains of the past few weeks kept the dry soil pliable. Pushing the shovel into the soil reminded me why I avoided gardening. Gardening skills impressed me, but I had neither the strength to dig nor the passion to tolerate the required time in the oppressive heat. My arms trembled and ached. My breaths raced through my lungs. After a few minutes, we heard a heavy clank followed by grinding as the metal shovel slid across something metal. I gasped and hurriedly exhumed a rusted metal box similar in size to my shoe boxes.
Destiny picked the lock while I filled in the hole. Inside, we found the tattered remains of a red cloth wrapped around something and bound with black twine. I untied the twine knot. The cloth concealed a large skeletal bird foot connected to the remains of a red candle by a small silver chain of thirteen links. I shot Destiny a knowing glance, and she nodded.
“This has to be it. But what is all this stuff?”
“I don’t know, Des. Let’s return to the office and examine it there.”
She nodded, placed the contents in a zipper pouch, and dropped them in her backpack. We walked through the parking area when an annoyingly familiar voice asked, “Having a fun morning at the park, ladies?”
We frowned in tandem as we turned and saw Lieutenant Smith poking his nosy face from the open window in his car. I rolled my eyes and continued walking. I froze when Destiny said, “Yup. I just learned you can rent metal detectors, so I dragged Sam out here with me to try it out.”
“I see.” He grabbed a notebook and pen. “Find anything interesting?”
I tensed. Destiny shrugged and said, “Oh, just a few coins; keys; a tin can; and a balding, middle-aged, white guy in a Slayer shirt. Nothing to post on Instagram.”
I choked out a laugh and shook my head. Destiny’s humor blended German sarcasm with randomness. Lieutenant Smith blinked. His eyes looked skyward as he processed her response. He tilted his head left and then right.
“And you found nothing that could connect to an open investigation that reporting to authorities would, while not strictly required by law, be of mutual benefit?”
She shook her head. Before she responded, I said, “We currently have no open cases that intersect with your current investigation. As I have already told you, we closed our Full Moon Special two weeks ago. So, if you’ll excuse us, we’re going to lunch. Have a nice day.”
Destiny and I walked to my car before he could respond. We grabbed the Giant Slice and Salad lunch special at Sal’s before returning to the office. We locked the main door and sat at my desk. I grabbed both the oscillating fan and the box fan from the closet. I plopped into my chair, spun around twice, and then exhaled, while running my fingers through my hair.
Destiny set the box’s contents on the desk. She took a bite of her sausage and bell pepper pizza and asked, “So what do you make of all this?”
I stabbed a Kalamata olive, a curl of red onion, and a leaf of romaine as I looked over the objects inside the box. “Well, to be honest, this doesn’t look like a cursing box. I’d wager from the little chain connecting the wax seal to the ankle area of the bird claw, it’s meant to keep something bound to an area. I guess like a yard dog or something.”
“But why the bird claw? Do Irish vampire revenant creatures turn into ravens or crows or something?”
Picking a large, crispy pepperoni off the tip of my slice, I shook my head. “I don’t know. Let me grab the annotated translation of Great Grandma Walser’s diary.”
I rolled my office chair to my filing cabinet. I produced the file folder for the Waters case. Thanks to the massive page count of the annotated diary translation, I needed a hanging accordion folder instead of a simple manila folder. I scooted back to my desk. The translation thunked when I dropped it onto the desk. An annotation index would’ve been nice, but Destiny marked key passages with colored sticky notes.
I opened the document to the neon green note labeled “Abhartach” and read the annotations. I sipped my root beer and then said, “Okay, so it seems this Abhartach was a chieftain in the village of Slaughtaverty in ‘the distant past.’ So a mythic or super ancient guy. He was a jackass and tyrant blah blah blah, apprenticed himself to a druid who allegedly practiced dark magic, and his green-eyed revenant rose at night and demanded blood. Yeah, we know that. Seems the village lay in a valley called ‘The Glen’ and later Glenullin. It’s a place that’s now in Northern Ireland.”
Destiny twisted her fork inside a pepperoncini and asked, “Yeah, I read that. What’s it got to do with the bird claw?”
“I don’t know.” My pizza-filled mouth muffled my words. I flipped through the pages, skimming the annotations. My left middle finger guided my eyes. I tapped twice and gasped. “Destiny! Here’s a small footnote sandwiched between two larger notes that translates Glenullin as ‘glen of the eagle.’”
“So then the bird claw chained to the wax seal in the box…”
“Is binding the eagle to this location. It’s sympathetic. The O’Broins somehow got an eagle claw and used it to bind Abhartach’s spirit here. A generational curse. So, if we can break the magical and physical bonds keeping him here…”
Destiny leaped from her chair and raised her fork above her head. “We can send him home!”
“Are you sure you want to this in the middle of the afternoon, Sam?”
Destiny, a Bulbasaur mug in her hand, crossed her arms as she stood, watching Sam gather ritual supplies from the locked cabinet in her office. She turned and said, “I’ve got to finish this. Maria got attacked. That S-T agent is threatening to ruin people’s lives. And this Abhartach’s spirit has been trapped here for decades. He wants to go home. We want him home. And we want Lieutenant Smith gone.”
“And you want to enjoy a long weekend with Carmilla without worrying about things here.” Destiny sipped her tea.
Sam nodded and sighed. “Yeah, I do. This fucking mess started because I was in a hurry to be free for our first date.”
After placing the last of the ritual supplies in her bag, Sam zipped it closed. She glanced and saw the box they unearthed from the grounds of the old O’Broin home on her desk. She growled and rolled her eyes. Sam opened her bag and placed the box inside.
Destiny smirked. “And now you want to wrap this up so you can start planning the pre-moving to Austria yard sale.”
Sam coughed. She turned to Destiny. They locked eyes, and Sam blinked. Images flashed before her mind. She entered a fairy tale castle set atop a snow-capped mountain. When the sun set, Sam donned a sheer white nightgown and raced through the darkened halls as Carmilla chased her. She bit her lip as a smile drifted across her face. Carmilla caught her as she ran through a hedge maze, and then, in the castle garden, Carmilla ravished her. The sound of snapping fingers woke her from the dream.
“I’m not moving to Austria,” Sam said, as Destiny’s glance signaled her disbelief. Yet. Sam brushed her hair behind her right ear. “I need to focus on this afternoon’s working.”
Destiny nodded. “You sure you want to do this in your home? Something goes wrong, you could be stuck rooming with an angry blood chugger while trying to slip beneath satin sheets with a gorgeous bloodsucker. It’s a perfect sitcom!”
Sam rolled her eyes and sighed. She chuckled, admitting that Destiny’s humor was on point. She closed her eyes for a moment before saying, “It’s the safest place to do this. I’ve got protective wards set on both my room and my apartment, and I’ve got warding runes on each window and doorway in my office—including the doorway to the Four Winds. Plus, it’ll provide the most cover from a snooping federal agent. I’ve got this.”
Destiny sighed. She sipped her tea. As she returned to her desk, she said, “Just be careful. Okay?”
Sam grabbed a large coffee from White Wolf and then spent an hour sitting on a bench in Rogers Grove Park and Garden. Children laughed as they played in the play area. Young couples picnicked in the lush grass. Joggers made their way along the trails. As the rich, nutty aroma of the coffee filled her nose, she exhaled.
Destiny knows I’m nervous. If this doesn’t work, I could just free Abhartach to wander wherever he wants. He could also attach himself to me, which would be awkward, given upcoming plans with Carmilla. It could also be dangerous. This is probably the dumbest thing I’ve done. Well, after giving the fucking devil a blank check with my soul as collateral. We’ll just call this the “Summer of Dumb.”
Ignoring her full bowl of kibble and the fresh plate of Fancy Feast, Sandy Paws scratched at the office door. After five minutes, she stopped scratching and started pacing. Inside, Sam lowered both the blind and the blackout curtain on the window. She wanted neither light nor shadow entering. A deep breath glided through Sam’s lips. Her eyes closed, and she focused on her astral sight and checked her protections. Not satisfied with their strength, she repeated the protection rites her father and Magus Fingol taught her before she stormed away from her training.
Sam nodded, satisfied that she had protected herself. She arranged her altar and placed both the Third Pentacle of Jupiter and the contents of the box at its center. She exhaled again. Let’s do this, Sam. She lit the candles set on pillars at the center of each wall and then switched off the electric light. As the candle flames stood tall against the darkness, Sam lit the black and white candles on her altar, and using the white candle, she lit the charcoal tab for her censor. The charcoal sparked as it belched its putrid smoke. Sam’s nose wrinkled. She performed a final cleansing of her ritual space and then began her summoning rite.
She took a deep breath, and then Sam said, “I summon you, Abhartach, chieftain who ruled over Glenullin. By the Third Pentacle of Jupiter that I hold in my hand, I summon you. Come before me now, visibly and audibly, and stand at the edge of my circle.”
The room remained quiet. The sweet, rich scent from the thick, gray curls of incense smoke perfumed the air. Sam held her breath. She looked around the room. Nothing. She exhaled, swallowed, and breathed deeply.
Sam tensed and held the sigil higher. She raised her voice and winced as she said, “I summon you. By the power and traditions of the Hermetic Order of the Astrum Argentum, I summon you. Glenullin Abhartach, by the name you gave me, I summon you. Come before me now, visibly and audibly, I command you. Stand at the edge of my circle. Come in peace.”
All was calm. The candles stood tall. The incense curls spiraled straight to the ceiling. Fuck. I know I’ve performed this rite properly. I must be too far out of range for the leash to let him come. I guess I’ll have to close things down here and then try again in either the Johnsons’ or at Rayna’s place. Wait? What’s that sound?
Footsteps, shuffling footsteps, echoed through the room. Sam listened. An icy wind swirled about the room, but the candle flames remained unbothered. The shuffling moved clockwise toward the eastern edge of the circle. Smoke curls spread into a fog that coalesced at the circle’s eastern edge. The candle flames flickered and flashed green. The shuffling intensified, and then stopped. Two green eyes emerged, and then the short, bearded form of Abhartach stepped through the fog. He bowed.
“You called me again, witchling. I have done what you asked of me and left the girl alone. What do you want now?”
Sam nodded. “Thank you, Abhartach, chieftain, for answering my summons. Thank you, Abhartach, chieftain, for following my command. I have called you here to release you from your bondage and send you home.”
Abhartach laughed a brittle, hollow laugh. His eyes flickered like candle flames in a breeze. Sam opened the iron box and raised the bird claw chained to a wax seal. The laughter stopped. Abhartach focused his attention on the claw. His spectral body appeared to pant. He locked eyes with Sam.
He pointed his thick, gnarled index finger with its elongated, yellowed nail at the claw. His voice faltered, and he asked, “What… do you plan to do with that, little witchling?”
Sam grasped the cord that bound the cloth, held it high, and then passed it through the candle flame, setting it alight. As the cord burned, she placed it in the small cast iron bowl at the altar’s center, and said, “Glenullin Abhartach, chieftain, I burn the cord that wrapped the cloth, freeing you from any magical energies within that bind you here.”
Abhartach’s eyes widened and danced. He looked at his palms. His jaw slacked. Sam took the cloth, held it high, and set it on fire. “Glenullin Abhartach, chieftain, I burn the cloth that wrapped the sympathetic reagents, freeing you from any magical energies within that bind you here.”
A smile snaked its way across Abhartach’s face. He lifted his legs and shifted from foot to foot. Sam held the bird claw in her left hand and the wax seal in her right. The chain connecting them dangled in the cold air. She locked eyes with him, snapped the chain, and said, “Glenullin Abhartach, chieftain, I break the chain that binds you to this place. Leave now. Through my power, I have freed you. By the authority of the Third Pentacle of Jupiter, I command you. Of your own free will, leave this place and return to your grave in the Glenullin valley of Ireland, bringing harm to none, that there may be peace and goodwill between us.”
Abhartach smiled and laughed. He floated so his and Sam’s eyes stood at the same level. He licked his lips. And then Abhartach bowed. “More is required of you for that last bit to be true, little witchling. However, you’ve done me a good turn this night, and for that, I thank you. I’ll return home. One day, you’ll come home too, and then you’ll see the truth.”
The incense fog thickened around Abhartach, and he receded into the mists. The candle flames returned to their normal ruddy orange glow, and the room’s temperature rose to its normal. Sam returned the ashes and the remains of the binding charm to the iron box. She opened her circle and performed the final banishing and cleansing rites. Sam sighed in relief, took the box outside her apartment, and buried it beneath a tree.
Half an hour after sunset, the microwave beeped its pattern of three quick beeps before a two-second pause. Sam pulled a plate of leftover barbecue Maria Johnson insisted she take after the cookout. Sam spent the rest of her afternoon bathing and getting ready for the night’s virtual date. After her bath, she did her makeup and donned a white cap sleeve blouse, black pencil skirt, and black waist cinching corset with white pinstripes. Although Carmilla would see nothing below her chest, Sam dressed as she would for any dinner date.
She cleaned a rocks glass and dropped two ice cubes into it. She filled two-thirds of the glass with Heaven’s Door bourbon, grabbed both the plate of leftovers and the bourbon, and sat at her table. Sandy Paws leaped onto the table as Sam powered on her laptop. Sandy purred and drooled as Sam scratched her eyebrows. She checked the clock. She was ten minutes early. Sam sipped her bourbon and exhaled as her stomach tightened and twisted.
It’s not even an in-person date. We’re just talking over Skype, and we’ve done that almost every night. I mean, I’ll be with her this weekend. Sam’s heart beat faster. Sweat beaded on her forehead. Can’t wait to hear what she has planned. Her breaths came fast and shallow. I can’t wait to be next to her, to smell her perfume, to touch her skin, to kiss her lips. Could this work? I mean, we’re so different, and we live so far apart. I mean, I would move to Austria if I thought she’d want a future with me. Oh! That’s her call. Sam exhaled and clicked to answer.
Carmilla’s face alternated between frozen stillness and rapid movement. Her audio came clearly, allowing Sam to hear her speaking with Martin in German. Sam stifled a giggle as the low frame rate frustrated Carmilla. The vampire’s face proved unable to hide her frustration, but she looked cute when flustered by technology. A technological issue garbled Carmilla’s voice, causing her to growl.
Carmilla grabbed her cell phone and texted Sam. Give me a moment please, technological difficulties. I will return soon.
Growling, Carmilla turned to Martin. “Why is this happening now? We have had no issues with these Skype meetings either for work or with Samantha. Why, Martin? Why now?”
“I do not know, my Countess. Give me a moment to examine the situation.”
Martin kept his voice calm and even. He leaned over Carmilla’s shoulder and placed his hand on the mouse. He sighed. Carmilla moved aside and sipped her blood wine. Martin alternated between clicking icons and typing. Carmilla paced the room, sighing dramatically. Martin rolled his eyes and ignored her as he worked. After ten minutes, he rose and offered Carmilla the chair. She sat and called Sam once more.
“There are you are, my Countess. Now, I will take my leave so you may enjoy your date.” He bowed and left.
After a minute, Carmilla saw Sam shove a forkful of pulled pork and a pickle into her mouth. Carmilla smiled, sighing. “Samantha? Sam, can you hear me? Is this damned thing working?”
Sam nodded, her cheek stuffed with food. Before fully swallowing, she said, “Yeah. Problem seems to be solved.”
Carmilla sighed again, relaxing her shoulders. “Good. How are you, my dear?”
Sam sipped her bourbon. “Tired. Drained, but I’m good. You look well-rested for someone who’s been awake for six, maybe seven, hours. How are you?”
“Almost six. I slept in a bit, as I wanted to be as rested as possible for our meal together while still accomplishing all I had to do on this night.” Carmilla sipped her wine, and Sam bit into the grilled chicken thigh. Carmilla asked, “Why are you drained? Are you ill? Something to do with the complications of your case? Have you lost blood?”
Sam dabbed the vinegar-based sauce from her chin and nodded. “The case.” Her voice turned playful as she asked, “I thought you didn’t care?”
“Generally speaking, I do not care to hear about the details of your work. I have enemies who would use such knowledge against one or both of us. Also, I do not want you to run afoul of any legal entities in your country. That said, I care for your safety. Is all well? Are you in danger? Do you need assistance or protection?”
Sam nodded and then shook her head. “No, I think everything is fine. The angry spirit promised to leave. It’s, well, it’s just a green S-T agent bumbled through an investigation and threatening my friends. I’m worried about that. I don’t exactly trust our justice system to treat supernatural beings fairly, given its abysmal track record for anyone who isn’t a rich, white man. And then the spirit said something weird when it disappeared into the incense fog.”
Carmilla leaned closer as she listened. She told herself she did not care for the details of Sam’s work, but her stomach tightened and twisted as Sam narrated her concerns. She exhaled as Sam finished, sat straight, and sipped her wine. Carmilla tilted her head to the right and asked, “What did he say that concerns you?”
Sam apologized as she slurped an oversized bite of macaroni and cheese, coughing as she swallowed. She swigged her bourbon. “Not so much concerning as curious. Curious? Yeah, I’ll go with curious. He said something about me learning the truth when I went home. I don’t know, ‘Milla. I performed the rite in my home office. So, I just—”
Sandy Paws leaped onto the table and situated herself between Sam and her plate, offering the webcam an unobstructed view of her behind, tail raised, as she kissed Sam’s nose. The cat purred. A squawk escaped Sam’s lips. Carmilla laughed. Sam scratched behind Sandy’s eyebrows. Carilla laughed harder as Sandy moved every time Sam shifted positions, preventing her mom’s face from being seen on camera. Sam sighed, shook her head, and held Sandy against her chest.
“She is a lovely cat, Sam.” Carmilla’s smile broadened. She leaned forward, circling the rim of her wineglass with her index finger. “Creatures of grace and dignity who value solitude and demand affection. In her defense, snuggling you would be a lovely way to spend an evening.”
Sam’s eyes shot wide. She swallowed hard and then blushed. She brushed her hair behind her left ear with her middle finger and smiled. “Well, since my plane leaves tomorrow morning, we can do just that—and maybe more—tomorrow evening.”
“I look forward to this, our time together, on this weekend. Are you packed?”
Sam shook her head. “I’ll finish after our dinner date. So, one formal outfit, a swimsuit—You’re sure the pool is private? Anything else?”
“The swimming pool is private for the resort. The whirlpool is private for our suite, yes. And yes, formal attire for one night. You may also wish to have either a nightgown or a set of pajamas, depending on your preference. Should you desire to hike the Alps during the day, bring clothing and supplies for that. Also, I will endeavor to rise earlier than usual, but you may wish to have books or a computer for entertainment during the day. You will, of course, have access to the full suite of resort amenities.”
Sam nodded. A nightgown? Does Carmilla sleep in a nightgown? Do they still make them that aren’t flannel? I bet it’s exquisite and expensive. I wonder if it’s see-through. She sighed, gently biting her lower lip. I was hoping she slept naked like I do. Oh fuck! I should wash my sleep shirt and pajama pants. Fuck! Fuck! The pants have a few holes in unfortunate places, and I still haven’t gotten that stain out of my shirt. It’ll have to work.
Sam paused to regain her composure. She then said, “I think I’ll be fine during the day. I like to sleep late, so I might not be awake too long before you join me. And please, don’t put yourself in any danger by being out in the sunlight. I know you can, but I know you don’t physically enjoy it.”
Carmilla nodded. “I thank you for your consideration. However, I have grown accustomed to the Austrian sun, and I have less trouble in it than I did in your humid summer heat.”
They continued their conversation throughout their meal. When they ended the call, Sam began packing for their long weekend. Carmilla refilled her glass and stepped onto her balcony. Thin clouds veiled the moon and stars. She sipped her wine and stared into the darkness.
Is this not too soon? Am I pushing too hard for us to move so fast? Courtship is so different now than it was a century ago. She snorted and swirled her wine. It was so much easier when the world was less connected and when we interacted with the local mortals. They knew not what we were, but we directly involved ourselves in their lives as aristocrats. And then I ruined that, and we went into hiding. When I returned from my exile and imprisonment, I slaved to build a world for myself and my clan where we could survive and thrive in this changing world alongside the mortals.
Bloody tears streamed down Carmilla’s face as she whispered into the night, “To whomever might give enough of a damn to listen, I want this to work. Please.”