by Bill Bowler
“Did you see that?” cried Trisha.
Josey was silent.
“An old woman and a little girl. They were looking out at us!”
“Who are they?”
“I don’t know.”
“It’s giving me the creeps.” Trisha stood up, “Can we put that thing away now?”
Josey covered the globe and placed it carefully back in the bowling bag. Trisha looked around the ransacked motel cabin.
“What’s with all these feathers?”
“Listen to me, Trish. Madame Sonya, the ones Straker killed, they... change shape.”
“They’re some kind of mutants.”
“Are you nuts?”
“I know it sounds crazy.”
Trish saw the wild look in Josey’s eyes and realized it was useless to argue. Josey looked down at the floor and said, “I’m one of them.”
Trish saw that he was hurt and confused. She put her arms around him and held him close. “All I know is I love you.”
Josey kissed her softly. “I’m through running.”
“They’re murderers, and now they’ve got Sonya. I’m going back to New York.”
“I’m going with you.” Hector had been standing quietly in the room, listening to them talk. His face was radiant and serene. They could feel his tranquility now, his acceptance, his gentle yielding to inevitability.
* * *
A single lamp was lit in von Holzing’s lab. Von Holzing sat at the table, the thick musty volume of the Necronomicon open beneath the lamp. Von Holzing carefully turned the page, dry and yellowed from age, so as not to tear it. He muttered under his breath and jotted down some notes in a wire-bound notebook. Then he took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
“You know, Yanosh, it’s quite interesting.”
“I’ve just read al-Hazred’s account of the Vlad Tepes incident, Count Dracul’s impaling of the Turks during the Ottoman invasion of 1450. Al-Hazred goes into some detail. He refers to the potion based shape-shifting of Vladimir and his bodyguards. It seems more a case of lycanthropy bolstered by mass delusion and collective hallucination. The vampire legend took hold later, probably due to all the blood.”
Straker sat in the window sill polishing the silver barrel of his Colt .45. The ornate engraved “S” glittered in the lamplight. He glanced out through the window, down at College Walk. The campus was deserted except for a sleepy guard drowsing in the booth at the gate on Broadway. Lights shone from a few dorm windows, but most were dark. A lone student, returning late, hurried across the walk.
Straker holstered his pistol. The yellow eyes of a beautiful snowy owl glared silently out at him from behind the bars of a birdcage hung in the corner of von Holzing’s laboratory.
“Why doesn’t she change back?” asked Straker.
Von Holzing looked up from his notebook. “She can’t. The cage is silver. The space is too constricted for her to reassume her human form.”
“You think the boy will come?” asked Straker.
“I do,” said von Holzing. “They seem to be the last of them, these two, the boy and the fortune teller. The others are gone. She’s his last link to sanity. He’ll come. And he knows: it’s him or us. We’ve got to finish this business once and for all.”
“I couldn’t agree more.”
“But you know, Yanosh, about al-Hazred, it’s odd. In addition to Dracul’s son, the text refers to a second boy who fell under the witch’s curse, or enchantment, if you prefer — the son of Dracul’s brother, the traitor, Radu the Handsome. The traitor’s son disappears from the chronicle narrative. I’ve tried to cross reference but there is only passing mention of him in the Codex Carpathianus. His story is left dangling in the historical records, a loose end. But according to al-Hazred, Dracul’s nephew was not killed. He was banished for treason...”
“What are you getting at?” asked Straker.
“Only that once we’ve neutralized the boy and the fortune teller, the situation may still not be completely... sterilized. One last possible source of infection might still remain, if al-Hazred is to be believed, and I have found him to be a reliable source for the most part.”
“Let’s worry about that when the time comes, Professor. Now, what about the boy?”
“I’ve made all the necessary preparations.”
Von Holzing put down his pen and walked to the birdcage. The owl screeched and fluttered at his approach. He knelt in front of the stand and ran his finger along the seam in the floor where the wings of the trap door met. Straker recalled the deep hole of the unused freight elevator shaft.
Von Holzing pulled the bar from the eye-hole that sealed the trap doors shut and placed it on the floor nearby.
“I’ve taken the precaution of obtaining a silver rod to bar the doors in case we need to secure our quarry. The element of surprise should give us the edge we need. I have only to flip the switch.”
* * *
“You stay here,” said Josey to Tricia.
“Why should I?” said Tricia. “I want to help.”
“These men are violent. They’re vicious killers.”
“Then why don’t you stay away from them? Call the police.”
“You know we can’t do that.”
“Then I want to be with you.”
“I don’t want you getting hurt, Trish.”
“He’s right,” said Hector. “You wait here for us.”
“This is stupid,” said Tricia.
Josey gave her a kiss. “Don’t worry. Hector and I can take care of ourselves. You’d just be in the way.”
Josey and Hector got out of the car and walked to the entrance gate. The guard was sleeping in the booth. They slipped past to the campus and stood in the shadows of the Science building. A single light shone from von Holzing’s lab. A silhouette passed in front of the window.
“Let’s try to do this peacefully,” said Hector. “Von Holzing’s a man of science. Maybe he’ll listen to reason.”
Josey and Hector walked around to the front of the building, climbed the steps and tried the main door. It clicked open.
“Don’t they usually lock the doors at night?” whispered Hector.
“Maybe they’re expecting company,” Josey answered.
They entered the dark lobby of the building and headed for the staircase.
Back on Broadway, Tricia sat in the driver’s seat of her parked car. She gripped the steering wheel with white knuckles. She was not about to sit around doing nothing while Josey and Hector risked their lives. It was ridiculous. They could get hurt. This whole thing was crazy. Someone had to introduce a note of sanity into this mess. She opened the car door and got out.
Josey and Hector climbed the stairs to the second floor and pushed through the double doors. Past the lecture hall at the end of the hallway, the light was on in Professor von Holzing’s laboratory.
“Someone’s up past their bedtime,” whispered Hector.
Josey put his finger to his lips and they crept silently down the hall. As Josey grasped the doorknob, they heard a loud, inhuman screech and the flutter of wings from inside the lab. Josey opened the door.
The interior of the lab was dimly lit by a single lamp. Professor von Holzing was standing by the far wall next to the window. Josey felt a suffocating wave of intense anger and hate wash over him. A feeling of nausea, of senseless, meaningless emptiness permeated his being together with fear and pain and a violent urge to strike out and maim and kill.
“Good evening, young man. Nice of you to join us,” von Holzing spoke quietly from across the room. I believe you’ve already met my colleague, Mr. Straker.”
Yanosh sat on the window sill and said nothing. The closeness of his prey made him want to scream and lash out but he clamped his iron will down and held his hand. He sat, still and quiet on the surface, but his blazing eyes drilled deep into Josey. Another wave of murderous emptiness washed over Josey’s soul.
Josey heard the screech again and saw the snowy owl fluttering madly in the cage. The owl grabbed the silver bars in its talons and shook the cage in fury.
“We’ve come for Madame Sonya,” said Josey simply. “You have no right to hold her prisoner.”
“What do you mean, ‘we?’” asked von Holzing.
Hector stepped into the room behind Josey and bowed to Straker and the professor. He stood relaxed and calm, as if at home among friends and family.
“Who’s that?” growled Yanosh.
“Why, it’s the groundskeeper from the motel.”
“What’s he doing here?”
“It seems he’s taken a liking to the boy.”
“This is none of your business! Get out of here before you get hurt,” snarled Straker.
Hector smiled at Yanosh but did not move, his eyes opaque, his small figure outlined by a barely perceptible aura. Straker stared at him in disbelief. Was this ignorance? Stupidity? Something flowed from Hector and Straker’s mind stumbled in confusion. His thoughts began to swirl.
Josey went up to the caged bird. The owl was screeching frantically now, clawing, flapping its broad wings and shaking the cage loose from the stand.
“What is it, Sonya?” asked Josey. “Hold on and we’ll get you out of there.”
Across the room, von Holzing flipped a switch on the wall. The floor swung open beneath Josey and he felt himself fall through. He was dropping down a shaft, beneath the floor level, when his downward motion stopped. He was suspended in mid-air. Then he felt himself being lifted slowly back up towards the lighted room at the top of the shaft.
Von Holzing was the first to see the top of Josey’s head rising back up from out of the elevator shaft. The professor also saw the look of concentration on the groundskeeper’s face and the slight arcing motion of his hands.
“Shoot him, Yanosh!” von Holzing cried out, pointing at Hector.
Von Holzing’s voice brought Straker to his senses. Poof. He fired his pistol with the suppressor on the barrel. Hector collapsed to the floor with a stream of blood running from his leg. Josey disappeared back down the shaft and they heard the dull thud and groan as he struck the pile of debris at the bottom.
“We’ve got him,” said von Holzing.
Straker ran to the edge of the shaft and aimed his pistol down, scanning the dark bottom of the hole with his laser targeting beam. Behind them, the door of the lab opened and Trisha pushed through into the room. She saw the owl frantic in its cage, Hector lying in a pool of blood, Straker and von Holzing leaning over the shaft, Straker’s gun.
Von Holzing turned and spoke to Tricia: “You shouldn’t have come here.”
“I’ve got a bead on him,” said Straker, aiming down the shaft.
“Just a moment, Yanosh. Our guest of honor is not going anywhere. And someone else has joined the party.”
Straker turned to see Tricia standing in the doorway. His mind stumbled again.
The owl was shrieking and fluttering in the cage. It threw itself against the bars with such force that the stand tipped over and the cage crashed to the floor. The hinge broke on impact and the cage door snapped open. A flash of white shot out and the snowy owl flapped about the lab, screeching.
Poof. Poof. Poof. Straker shot wildly at the owl but could not hit the bird in flight.
From the bottom of the shaft, Josey heard Trish scream, the owl screech, and the sounds of Straker shooting. Josey crouched and leapt with all his might up towards the light at the top. He flew twenty feet up the shaft, grabbed hold of the edge, and vaulted into the room.
Poof. Click. Click. Straker had emptied the clip. He slid the empty magazine out and reached into his pocket to reload.
Josey grabbed the silver rod from the floor, leaped across the room in one bound, swung the rod with full force and struck Straker behind the knees. Straker’s legs buckled and he crumbled to the ground.
Von Holzing tried to step forwards to separate Straker and the boy but found himself unable to move his arms and legs. They seemed bound by invisible cords. He saw the old groundskeeper across the room, sitting now with Trisha’s help, holding his arm up with the palm towards von Holzing. The professor felt the psychic force fluctuate as the wounded and bleeding groundskeeper fought to stay conscious and hold his concentration.
The owl landed and began to transform.
Straker struggled to his feet and pushed Josey to the floor. He pulled his knife from the ankle holster and held the point to Josey’s chest.
“It’s over,” said Straker.
Hector could hold von Holzing but he was too weak from loss of blood to halt a force as powerful as Straker in the physical plane. Hector was close to helpless but his compassion and pity emanated out and drifted through the psychic channels.
A vision floated in the chaos of Straker’s confused and tortured mind, a source of light, far in the distance. But a shadow fell at once across it. A pale, phantom face seemed to hover in the air before him, long, flowing black hair, a dark moustache over a cruel mouth, a sharp-toothed wolfish grin, hypnotic, almond shaped eyes. Straker’s mind clouded over...
“Yanosh, spare the boy.” In the owl’s screech, the fortune teller’s voice could be heard. Madame Sonya, still covered with loose feathers, her arms still wings, her face still birdlike, beaked, distorted from the incomplete transformation, implored Straker.
“Please,” sobbed Tricia, “don’t kill him.”
About to plunge the silver blade into Josey’s heart, Straker hesitated. The love these others felt for the boy seeped through the wall Straker had built around his heart. Something exploded in his skull. He remembered. He understood. The room grew fuzzy and seemed to fill with a dim glow. Mercy. Weakness. Shame. The words floated through his mind like phantoms. The pain of his own aching soul became almost unbearable.
Straker dropped the knife.
“Come with us, Yanosh,” said Madame Sonya, trying with both hands to hide her nakedness, loose feathers still tangled in her long hair. “The egg can’t be unscrambled, but the souls freed by your unwitting hands have fled this violent crucible and found rest where ours may hope to join them some day. What’s done is done. Enough. The path forks, do you see? One direction leads home.”
Straker fell to his knees and buried his face in his hands.
Josey put his arms around him and said gently, “I remember, too, Yanosh.”
“Well, well,” said Professor von Holzing. “Who would have thought? And the lion shall lie down with the lamb. My dear Madame Sonya, would you be so kind as to ask your associate to release me from his telekinetic grasp. I have a terrible itch at the tip of my nose.”
Madame Sonya nodded. Hector lowered his hand and fell back against Tricia. His wrinkled brow smoothed out, his opaque eyes stared blankly, and the struggle to concentrate was replaced again by his customary smile of peace and contentment. Trish tore strips of cloth from her blouse to bind his leg wound and staunch the bleeding.
Von Holzing felt the psychic bonds release and, free again, he scratched his nose. Madam Sonya came up to him, fully human now, her skin radiant, eyes shining, a few loose feathers in her silver hair which fell in waves to her shoulders. Von Holzing took off his tweed jacket and wrapped it around her like a robe. She was a handsome woman, he thought, a fine looking woman.
“Now, Professor,” said Madame Sonya, “you’re not about to go starting more mischief are you? You can see the situation has reached a certain state of... equilibrium.”
“Not to worry, Madam. My interest has been purely academic. The entire affair has yielded a rich mass of new information. All my previous hypotheses have been invalidated. Sorting through the new data will keep me fully occupied for the foreseeable future, which, in your case, is a rather long time, indeed.”
Madame Sonya smiled and took von Holzing by the arm. “Have you ever tasted my home-made stew, Abraham? It’s an old family recipe.”
“No, I don’t believe I have.”
Copyright © 2008 by Bill Bowler