Beat the Drum
by Kimberly Steinberg
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
We met Jordan Collister at a local coffee shop. We looked up apprehensively when he stopped at our table. He was in his fifties, tall with a thin face and a closely trimmed white moustache. He had a caring smile, and his blue eyes were old. He was lean, maybe an avid cyclist or a swimmer.
“Are you Kinsey and Oliver?” he asked.
“That’s us,” I said.
“So, how can I help you?” he asked, once we got the small talk out of the way.
We both started talking at once. “Hold on,”, said Jordan, “why don’t we start with Kinsey, and then I’ll hear from Oliver.”
After we finished telling him our story, he asked to see our home and meet the children. We would introduce him as a friend who was in town, visiting. This gave him an opportunity to observe our situation.
When Jordan arrived at the house, I settled him in the guest room. At dinner, he met the children. He had a way of putting people at ease, and the kids were soon laughing and talking, except Liam. He looked suspiciously at Jordan and stared at his plate, not eating.
Over the next few days, Jordan spent time getting to know us. On the third night, he recorded Liam’s room with a hidden camera he’d installed while the kids were at school.
We were sitting outside on our front porch. The night was cool and calm with a new moon. The air smelled clean.
“I believe you,” Jordan said. “Something outside the realm of everyday experience is happening here. I don’t know what it is yet, but I can sense a supernatural presence.”
I burst into tears. Finally, someone believed us. I had started to wonder if I was going crazy. Oliver was skeptical.
“How do you know that?” he asked.
“I have a gift. Or a curse, depending on how you look at it,” said Jordan. “I can sense phenomena that other people don’t notice. Liam’s room is unusually dark and cold. And Liam is lost, unaware of what’s going on around him. I believe a supernatural being has established itself inside him and is controlling Liam for its own purposes. In essence, she is feeding on him.”
Oliver’s face tightened up. “How can this be happening to us?” he asked.
“These kinds of beings usually target the most vulnerable member of a family. I know it’s hard to accept; most of us are taught to reject what we sense beneath the surface of daily life.”
Jack came outside and joined us on the porch. Our cover story about Jordan didn’t fool him. “Are you going to help Liam?”
“I hope so,” said Jordan. “That’s my job, to help people who are in trouble.”
“What do you think is happening?” Jordan asked Jack.
“I think someone is hurting Liam at night when no one can see,” said Jack. “I hear him crying and talking. But when I go to his room, no one’s there.”
“The whole family is going to have to try and help Liam,” said Jordan. Together you are stronger than apart.”
* * *
The next morning Jack helped Liam with his chores. After the kids went to school, we looked at the hidden camera video. Eerily we saw Liam lying awake until everyone else was in bed. He then got up and removed the garlic from his windowsill, stripped off the covers from his bed and sat waiting. At 3:00 a.m. he opened his window. After that the camera recorded only static.
We sat in silence. After a few minutes Jordan said, “Supernatural creatures are often able to manipulate technology and avoid detection. Some, including vampires, have the power to become invisible. We have no firm proof that Liam is entangled with a vampire, but we are dealing with something resembling one. If he is so entangled that he rejects and removes protective objects, it may be difficult to save him.”
Oliver stood up abruptly, choking back sobs.
Jordan spoke firmly and decisively. “We must take steps immediately to protect your other children and try to save Liam. I want to conduct a healing ceremony and surround them with protective talismans. The first thing I want to do is fill a medicine pouch with holy water for each child. They should keep it with them at all times: in their backpacks at school and in their rooms at home. I also want them to wear a St. Michael medal around their necks. St. Michael is a guardian against the devil and other forms of evil.”
Jordan told us to spread grain or seeds about to confuse the monster. “For reasons unknown, she’ll stop to count every kernel or grain, and she might not finish until dawn. Bar all the windows and doors with iron. Vampires detest iron. These steps will not totally prevent an attack, but they will discourage her.”
* * *
After the ceremony, Lucas and Jack carried talismans and wore St. Michael medals. Liam refused to put them in his backpack saying only, “It’s stupid.” The other kids stopped having nightmares, and we decided to take a family vacation. Maybe some time away would help Liam.
The wild and remote Oregon coast was a favorite destination. We rented a cabin on the beach in Waldport. We took walks on the beach, hiked and ate seafood in town. Oliver spent time with Liam, looking at tide pools and exploring the area. At night, we played board games and watched movies.
“Liam, come and play with us, it’s Pictionary, your favorite,” I said.
“No, thanks, I don’t feel good,” said Liam. “I’m going to lie down.”
Liam asked repeatedly when we were going home. He participated in most of our family activities, but his heart wasn’t in it. After a week, we went home.
Despite all our efforts, Liam never improved. He isolated himself from the other kids. His grades plummeted. He started running away and insisted he wanted to live with his mother. We tried different medications, to no effect.
As time passed, it became uncomfortable to be with Liam. He seemed like a stranger, but he stopped sleepwalking in the middle of the night. I hoped the worst was over, but I was wrong.
* * *
By the time Liam was eleven, he was a ghost of his former self, a resentful waif buffeted around by the stormy winds of the unknown. Sometimes he would look at me with his empty eyes, and the hair on the back of my neck would tingle.
One Sunday evening, Oliver asked me to drop Liam off at Ava’s house, an unpleasant experience I generally avoided. But Oliver had an appointment, and I said I would. Ava would open the door a crack and usher Liam into the gloom. Sometimes I got a glimpse of the untidy living room, but usually she shut the door in my face. Today was no different.
When I got back in the car, I noticed Liam had forgotten his backpack and I hurried up the walk to give it to him. Without thinking, I pushed the door open. What I saw changed everything.
His mother was bent over him, her mouth on his neck, her blonde hair hanging over his slack face. I glimpsed another small figure running toward the back bedroom. Was that the little boy who had disappeared?
I dropped the backpack and ran to the car, driving off with a squeal of tires. Looking in the rearview mirror, I almost crashed into a stop sign. My God, all this time it’s been her.
I frantically called Oliver as I drove home erratically, running a few red lights. When he answered and I told him what I had seen. He was stunned. “How could I not have known?” he said.
“You’re supposed to know your ex-wife has become a vampire?”
What would we do? Should we go back to court? There’s no way the judge would take away all custody from Ava. What would we say? “Your Honor, his mother is sucking the blood out of Liam and turning him into a human slave?” We had to do something, but what?
* * *
Oliver and I looked out the window at the two figures walking on the beach, one small and the other tall and black. It was hot and humid and I was sweating. The small, cheerful yellow house didn’t have electricity; we used a generator, but at least we had indoor plumbing. I could see Lucas and Jack swimming in the warm, shallow blue water farther down the beach.
The marks on Liam’s neck had faded, and he was healing, thanks to Father Ezekiel. Liam didn’t remember much of the last two years. The priest said that was normal. The rituals Father Ezekiel performed with Liam were foreign and strange, but they were working.
I remembered our escape out of the city. As soon as Oliver picked up Liam from school on Monday, we packed up quietly and left. We drove to Salt Lake City and caught the first flight to Haiti. It didn’t seem real. I realized we were criminals. We could face kidnapping charges if we ever returned. Luckily, Ava wouldn’t know for two weeks that we were gone.
We needed someplace we could hide indefinitely. Five years before, I had traveled to Haiti as a volunteer with the Red Cross during earthquake relief efforts. I had contacts, and Ava didn’t know I’d been there.
As white Americans, we would stand out, but there was so little infrastructure we could probably disappear. And our money would go a long way. Haiti was a nation of devout Catholics, many of whom also practiced the ancient religion of voodoo. Monsters were nothing new to the Haitian people.
After I’d described what I witnessed at Ava’s house, Father Joel gave us the name of a priest he knew in Haiti. Then we called Jordan, who helped us locate passports and driver’s licenses with new names. He had connections who could deal with Ava. I didn’t know when or if we would ever go home.
I closed my eyes and Oliver reached over to hold my hand. We faced an uncertain future, but our family was safe for the moment.
“Ou bat tanbou epi ou danse ankò.” — You beat the drum and you dance again. (Haitian proverb)
Copyright © 2017 by Kimberly Steinberg