She ran a nervous hand through her hair. “The late eighteenth century, Mr. Collins.”
Sunday, March 9, 2014
CHAPTER 102: Victims
Voiceover by Donna Wandrey: “Collinwood in the fall of the year 1968 … a time of dread for everyone on the great estate and the town below. For an ancient Enemy has risen to threaten the Collins family, an Enemy they have known in other times, other centuries … but the time of the Enemy is now, and how many will fall victim to the powers of darkness?”
“I’m sorry that I’m late,” Alexandra March said, and closed the doors to the Collinwood drawing room behind her. She was pretty this evening, Barnabas thought, with her long dark hair pulled behind her head and tied with a piece of blue yarn, just the way that Vicki used to do it. Of course, so much of what Ms. March did reminded him of Vicki.
He was trying hard not to make these comparisons.
He was failing.
“Quite all right,” Barnabas said amiably. He sat upon the hideous green couch Elizabeth professed such love for, with his hands resting on his cane, and smiled as Alex seated herself in the chair beside him. “I hope you don’t mind the hour. It’s nearly one a.m.”
“Oh, I don’t mind. I’m a night owl.”
“I took the liberty of preparing coffee. I don’t drink it myself, but I thought that, perhaps, you might –”
“Love some,” Alex grinned at him, and lifted the cup and saucer and sipped quickly from the lip. She chuckled then, a little embarrassed, it seemed, at her haste. “I’m exhausted. I’ve been running around town all day, trying to gather up any data I can from the historical society before I meet with Professor Stokes. I don’t want to look like a complete idiot, after all. The man’s a giant in his field.”
“Your interest in the past intrigues me, Miss March.”
“Alex, then.” Such a strange name for a young lady, a modern name. “Victoria” had been a fitting name; he had, as he told her when they met, hated to sacrifice a single syllable. “What exactly does your research entail? Where are you focusing, I mean?”
She ran a nervous hand through her hair. “The late eighteenth century, Mr. Collins.”
“Barnabas, my dear.”
She nodded, acquiescing prettily. “I feel as if your family – and your ancestor, the first Barnabas Collins – were instrumental in instigating certain events that continue to impact the residents of Collinsport to this day.”
His hands tightened on the head of his cane. He prayed she didn’t notice, but he couldn’t seem to make his fingers relax. “Indeed?”
“Oh, absolutely! My research actually involves an intense examination of the occult: witchcraft, demonology, that sort of thing.” She sipped her coffee delicately. “This is delicious, by the way.”
“Thank you. Don’t let Mrs. Johnson hear you say that, though. She’s convinced that her style of coffee preparation is the only appropriate method, despite the fact the nearly everyone at Collinwood simply makes their own.” They laughed together. So like Vicki, he thought; my god, even her laughter!
“Professor Stokes had an ancestor that worked at Collinwood,” Alex said after their laughter subsided. “I’m sure you must know that.”
“I didn’t,” Barnabas lied. “Was he a prominent man in the town, this … Stokes?”
“Not that you’d know,” Alex said. “He was an indentured servant for the Collins family. But he kept a consistent record of all the strange occurrences that happened during the winter of 1795-1796.”
“It’s my understanding that most servants of that era were not skilled in the art of reading or writing.”
Alex smiled wryly. “Neither was Ben Stokes. But the first Barnabas Collins taught him to read and to write. Stokes’ diaries begin after your ancestor left Collinsport for England, never to return.”
The girl knew much. He only hoped it wasn’t too much. If she did, Barnabas thought, he had absolutely no idea what he would do about it. He couldn’t abide the thought of sinking his fangs into her throat, of turning her into his slave. But suddenly he found that was all he could think about. “And these diaries,” he said swiftly to stifle the monstrous thoughts blooming in his mind, “have you read them yourself?”
“Oh no,” she said. “I’ve only read about them. Professor Stokes has the only known copies, as far as I know. I’m hoping he’ll share them with me.”
“That may prove a more difficult task to accomplish than you think,” Barnabas said with a wry smile. “The Professor is very protective of the original historical documents he has collected.”
Alex waved a dismissive hand. “I don’t think it will too much of a problem,” she said. “I have my little tricks.”
“You may need them.”
They looked at each other for a moment, and in that blink of time Barnabas was overcome by a feeling of … it wasn’t exactly déjà vu, but the world seemed to tremble and swim before him at the same time he was nearly overcome by an intense premonition – not of doom, but of change. Change was coming. And in that moment Barnabas knew this young woman who looked so much like the woman he had loved – still loved, would always love – was to be an instrument of that change.
His hands twitched involuntarily, perched there on his cane. Alex hadn’t noticed yet, as she sipped her coffee in the same delicate way that Vicki once did, but Barnabas’ hands had become monstrous sometime in the past few seconds, multi-knuckled, purple-pale, and each thin finger tapered until it ended in a horny, yellowish claw. His stomach flip flopped. He had seen claws like that before, usually attached to vicious raptors, eagles and vultures.
He removed them so quickly from the cane that it fell, striking the coffee table Edith Collins had imported from India in 1869, and clattering obnoxiously before it thumped against the rug, a gift from Andre DuPres to Joshua on the occasion of his daughter’s impending marriage to Joshua’s son.
Only none of that matters because I have the hands of a monster, a beast.
“Are you all right?” Alex asked.
Barnabas rose swiftly, too swiftly, supernaturally swiftly, but he was blustering as he went, hoping that Vicki – Ms. March, Alex, dammit, Alex – wouldn’t notice. “Yes, yes, of course,” he said. “I have been struggling with a malformation of the eye for several years –” and he blinked rapidly – “and Dr. Hoffman has been most kind, helping me, you know, but there are times when there are … twinges,” he was aware he was babbling, that the words were coming faster and faster, and the look of genuine concern creasing her face only hastened their fall from his liar’s lips, “like now, and I’m afraid they’re something of a … a shock.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Collins. Barnabas, I mean,” she said, and lowered her eyes demurely. “Is there something I can …?”
“No, no,” he said, smiling idiotically, hiding his monstrous hands behind his back. He began to back toward the drawing room doors. “I should probably … I mean, I must go … now, I’m afraid – Julia is at the Old House, and she’ll want to, I’m sure, look, just to see, a check up, I suppose –”
“It’s so late!” Alex said. “Is Dr. Hoffman awake?”
“Research,” he said, attempting blitheness in his smile, and thank god this wasn’t a lie. His hands brushed the back of the door. “She’s – that is, we’re – working on a book together.” He fumbled with the doorknobs, but his traitor beast hands refused to cooperate.
“We’ll have to get together again soon,” she said. “And thank you for the coffee!”
“Of course, my dear, of course.” Curse the doorknobs! Curse the doors! Curse his own damned family for building this filthy house! “Soon. Very soon.” There! They were open! He began to back out into the foyer.
He froze, turned back to her, keeping his awful hands hidden behind his back. “Yes?”
She was standing, coming toward him. “Your cane,” she said, and held it out before him.
He was unable to move. He was caught. There was no way around it; there was no reason not to take the cane, and he felt the fingernails warring with each other behind his back continue to lengthen. Before too long they would twist around each other and tangle together, helplessly. His gums throbbed as his fangs threatened to descend. He was going to have to … to take her, if only to erase her memory. The thought filled with equal parts guilt, shame, and a grotesque eagerness.
He took a step forward. He began to smile. In a moment his terrible teeth would frighten her into the terrified screams the devil’s part of him was anticipating.
And the front doors of Collinwood burst open, startling them both.
Quentin Collins stood there, holding the limp body of Sebastian Shaw in his arms. Tatters of clothing barely covered the unconscious man in any appropriate fashion. “Angelique,” Quentin growled. “We need Angelique, Barnabas – now.”
The room stank. Thank god, Roxanne Drew thought as she descended the stairs, it’s a basement and not on the main floor and so the stink doesn’t fill the whole house. Elizabeth Collins Stoddard had been most willing to allow Roxanne to rent it, this house-by-the-sea – “We call it Seaview,” the Collinwood matriarch told her, all smiles, “built by Gregory Collins in the 1800s, but closed for over a hundred years … until recently,” and she hadn’t elaborated beyond that – but Roxanne’s own abilities helped convince dear Mrs. Stoddard that the time was right to rent it to an outsider.
Only Mrs. Stoddard had no idea exactly how much of an outsider Roxanne Drew really was.
She grimaced now as the heel of one of her favorite pairs of saffron pumps came down with a revolting squirting sound in something soft and quite, quite wet. She said, “Oh, hell,” and stepped out of the mess, which, she now saw, was red and black and white all over. The remains of his last meal, no doubt.
And speaking of him …
“You’re looking well this evening,” Roxanne said. “Are you feeling better?”
The voice was gravelly, barely human. “Much,” it said, grating. “But not as well as I might.”
“That will change. I told you.”
“I suppose I’m lucky to be here at all.”
“You didn’t bring me anyone?”
“I have to be careful. I explained this. More than ever. The list of mysterious disappearances in Collinsport has spiked considerably in recent weeks.” And I know why, she thought sourly. Despite Gerard Stiles’ own particular appetites, there are others like me out there in the dark.
“How do you expect me to heal completely?”
“I know you will. You’ve had my blood as well, which has had a very beneficial effect. Your skin has almost completely returned. And you’re speaking in complete sentences.”
His face was capable of something close to human expression now, and she saw embarrassment and a deep, black hatred for ever having to feel that embarrassment in his swollen, distended features. He gestured helplessly with the appendages that were finally beginning to truly resemble hands. “To look like this. To feel this way. To feel at all. To return to this existence aware of my own failures, and to know that my enemies continue their blithe existence, only a mile away from me.”
“I told you,” Roxanne said steadily, “that you will have them. All. I promised you. But for now you must wait. You are not yet strong. If they knew you had returned, they would destroy you.”
Grudgingly: “You are correct, of course.”
She turned away from him, glancing around this tiny basement room and repressing a shudder. She certainly wasn’t human, but she wasn’t an animal either.
“Where are you going?”
“I brought you more meat. It’s upstairs. I’ll bring it down to you now.”
“Human?” The eagerness, the raw need shivering in his voice, was nauseating.
She forced gentleness in her voice. “I told you. Not tonight.”
“Soon.” She turned back to the stairs.
“Miss Drew, why did you summon me back?” She turned to face him, once so powerful, now this … this sloppy shell, this thing. He’ll be complete, she thought, and soon. “You haven’t told me. Why me?”
“Because,” she said. “I will need your strength. When it returns in full – and it will return, I promise you – I will need it. We all will.” She forced herself to smile. “Don’t worry. You won’t be alone for much longer. Soon, very soon, others will join you.”
“Others?” He sounded doubtful. She had, allowing herself a tiny pun, counted on this. These bad guy types rarely work well together, she thought. Doesn’t matter. I’ll make it work.
“Of course,” she purred. “For what I’m building.”
“And what is that?”
She smiled her best cat-like smile. “Why, an army,” she said, relishing the look of surprise that washed over his disgusting face. “Of course.”
“And Miss March has returned to her room at the Inn?” Quentin’s voice was grim, and Barnabas knew at once that he was as stricken by the woman’s resemblance to Vicki as he was himself. Jealousy pricked at him, sharpened his eyes and his teeth.
“It is rather late for a social call,” Chris said.
Barnabas ignored this. “She is gone, yes,” he said, then glanced down at the nearly naked man stretched out on the sofa before them. Sebastian, as tall as Quentin ordinarily, seemed shrunken somehow. His skin had grayed and tightened over his bones, his curls lay lank and limp against his skull, and his entire body gleamed with a sheen of sick-sweat. He trembled uncontrollably, and his eyes rolled constantly behind his eyelids. “Quentin, you haven’t yet told me what is wrong with him.”
“He was attacked,” Quentin said. “By some maniac with a sword. A silver sword,” he said meaningfully. “Barnabas, you didn’t tell us that there was another werewolf in Collinsport.”
“He changed,” Chris said thoughtfully. “There’s no moon, but he changed anyway. And he talked. As a werewolf. I heard him.”
“Mr. Shaw is not an ordinary werewolf,” Barnabas said reluctantly. Why do we bother to keep secrets at all? he wondered, despairing. Their censure only ends up hurting us all. “He seems more in control of his … abilities than either of you. That isn’t a slur,” Barnabas said swiftly, “I just mean …”
Quentin’s smile was tight. “I know what you mean. Before the beneficent Count Petofi interfered in my life, I had no control over my wolf-self. No memories of what I did, who I killed …” The words trailed off. Chris put a hand on his great-grandfather’s shoulder and squeezed it.
“So he’s been cut by a silver sword,” Barnabas said thoughtfully. “He’s dying, then. Why bring him here? Why not to the Old House?”
“Because Julia won’t be able to help him,” Quentin said. “And I knew you’d be here.”
Barnabas raised a startled eyebrow. “Me? What can I do for him?”
“Not you,” Quentin said grimly. “Angelique.”
Barnabas exhaled. “Angelique,” he said softly. “You tried to summon her?”
Quentin nodded. “Either she can’t hear me, or she won’t. Doesn’t matter. She hasn’t appeared to me. I hoped that she might listen to you.”
“She might,” Barnabas said slowly. “It’s possible. She’s changed.”
“I know,” Quentin sneered. “I saw her after she donned the Mask of Ba’al. I’ve seen her ‘change’ before.”
“Not like this,” Barnabas said. “I’m just afraid …”
“Of what?” Chris interjected. “Barnabas, if there’s anything you can do, do it quickly.” He gently touched Sebastian’s hands. “He’s burning up.”
“Of course,” Barnabas said, and walked to the fireplace. He stared intently into the flames. “Angelique!” he intoned. “Hear me wherever you are! Let the flames carry my voice to you so that you hear me … and appear to me! Now! Now!”
She starved, a fire burning inside of her that consumed and commanded, and Audrey knew that there was only one way to put the fire out.
A victim. Someone to feed on.
The way Barnabas fed on me.
She supposed she should hate him. She didn’t, but she couldn’t explain why
Oh, I think you do. I think it’s simple.
His eyes, penetrating, commanding, the gentle sweep of his hair across his forehead, the strength in his hands as he took her –
Her fangs curved over her lips, and she licked them like an animal. She needed a victim. Any victim now.
Poor Willie. She hadn’t wanted to hurt him, not really. But she couldn’t stay in that coffin, even as Dr. Hoffman’s injection coursed through her veins. The hunger was strong, stronger than whatever fluid lay inside the good doctor’s needle, and it had been easy – too easy – to summon Willie to her, to pet him, to stroke him with her hands and her mind, then to press her lips softly, oh so softly, against his throat –
She moaned. It wasn’t enough. She was still starving, and as she prowled the docks where she herself had nearly become a victim of Gerard Stiles seconds before she became an actual victim of Barnabas Collins, she knew that if she didn’t find someone soon she would go mad. That wasn’t hyperbole, she understood. She would rampage, crashing through windows and tearing apart the denizens of the houses inside, and so what if she were caught? She wouldn’t starve any longer.
A sound caused her to pause in her stalking through the swirling walls of mist, a human sound – a cry for help? A soft moan?
Her fangs throbbed so strongly in her gums that they hurt her. Her hands curled into claws.
She needed to feed.
She stepped through the fog and then there they were – both of them.
A man sprawled on the dock, unconscious, and the caped figure bending over him froze as it sensed Audrey’s presence, then raised its head and turned to face her with a snarl.
Audrey gasped in horror. Another vampire … how was there another vampire?
It was a woman, beautiful, young, but her beauty was marred by the blood that smeared her lips and stained her chin.
Audrey snarled involuntarily, horrified but unable to help showing her fangs.
“Get out of here,” Roxanne Drew snarled, revealing her own pair of saber fangs dripping with ruby gouts of blood, “get out of here now … before I destroy you!”
“Help Sebastian Shaw?” Cassandra’s voice was sly. She had materialized a few seconds ago, her laughter ringing out heralding her appearance, then a green glow in the far corner of the drawing room that resolved itself into the witch herself, still cackling. “Well, this is a surprise. At least you’re not asking for yourself, Barnabas.”
“Enough banter, Angelique,” Barnabas growled. “You’re the only person who can save him.”
“And what if I don’t?” She sounded bored. Examining her fingernails made her look bored as well. “Will he die?” Quentin hated her in that moment, and could easily imagine sliding his hands around her throat, pressing, the thumbs sinking into the soft flesh, enjoying the way her eyes would bulge and pop –
In an instant he was flung across the room, struck the drawing room wall, and slid to the floor in a heap. Chris screamed his name and ran to his side. He glared up at her. “Why did you do that?” he cried accusingly.
Cassandra’s eyes were smoldering black pits.
Quentin, smiling, sat up, rubbing the back of his head. “Don’t bother her, Chris,” he said. “It’s my own fault. I thought too loudly, it seems.” He stood shakily to his feet, then bowed mockingly. “My apologies, Mrs. Collins.”
“Don’t joke,” Barnabas growled.
“You needn’t apologize for Quentin, Barnabas,” Cassandra said. “Of course I intend to help you. You yourself have noted how much I’ve changed. I am perfectly willing to help restore Mr. Shaw to full health …” Her voice trailed off and she smiled prettily.
“For a price, of course,” Quentin said. His voice dripped with disgust. “You are incredible.”
“The price is simple,” Cassandra said, sweeping imperiously to the couch where Sebastian lay, groaning. His flesh continued to shrink back against the bones of his skull, and his flesh was gray, the color of ancient parchment. He had stopped sweating, however, but Chris wasn’t certain that this was anything resembling an improvement in his condition. “And,” she added, glancing up from his tortured face, “it can be collected right this moment.”
Barnabas and Quentin exchanged a glance.
Cassandra rolled her eyes. “Oh, for Hecate’s sake,” she hissed. “You two continue to think the worst of me, when I have showed you time and time again that I have changed!”
“You murdered Victoria Winters,” Quentin growled.
“I saved the Collins family,” Cassandra shot back. “I may have even saved the world!”
“And I suppose vengeance had nothing to do with it,” Quentin said, and slammed a fist against the wall. The wallpaper dented, tearing slightly, and a tiny puff of plaster rose in a cloud into the air. “Settling a score never entered your pretty little head!”
“I would advise you to tread carefully, Quentin,” Cassandra said quietly, dangerously. Black lightning began to flicker between her fingers.
“Stop it, both of you.” Barnabas stepped between them. He put a hand on Cassandra’s shoulder and stared meaningfully into her eyes. His voice was resigned. “What is your price?”
“Simple,” she whispered. “Very simple.” She held out her palm and a small glass bottle appeared from nothing and balanced perfectly there.
“You’ve been watching too much television,” Quentin said, eyebrows raised. “I suppose there’s a genie inside. If there is, I hope she’s the blonde, belly-button baring type.”
Cassandra ignored this. “I need a drop of your blood,” she said, searching Barnabas’ eyes. “Just one. From you and from Quentin.”
“That’s all you require?” Barnabas said. His eyes narrowed. “For what purpose?”
Cassandra allowed herself a small smile. “You’ll know, in time,” she said. “Do we have a bargain?”
“And if we say no?” Quentin snapped. “If we decide to seek other suppernatural sources? Someone a bit more trustworthy than, oh, say, you?”
“Quentin,” Chris said tightly. He was holding Sebastian’s hand. It had begun to tremble uncontrollably in his.
“What about it, witch?” Quentin said, thrusting his face into hers. They locked eyes, blue to blue. “I don’t trust you, and I never –”
Cassandra never took her eyes from his. Instead, she held up her other hand, still balancing the bottle in the other, and snapped her fingers.
Chris reared back with a cry. On the couch before him, Sebastian writhed, half sat up, and his eyes flew open, bulging with pain. His mouth gaped, and though no sound emerged, Chris knew that he was trying to scream. A cloud of white vapor began to knit itself around him, and after a moment Sebastian was completely obscured from their view.
“What’s happening?” Chris cried. He turned to face Cassandra, who only smiled. “What are you doing to him?”
“What you asked me to do,” she purred.
The cloud of vapor began to pulse a vivid red that, as they watched, grew steadily darker until it became a thick, arterial crimson.
“Sano,” Cassandra murmured.
The cloud blew apart.
Sebastian sat before them, upright, his cheeks flushed and pink, blinking. “Holy moly,” he gasped.
Chris sat beside him on the couch. “Are you all right?” he said.
Sebastian blinked at him wonderingly. “I feel all right,” he said, then glanced down. His cheeks began to darken. “Ah, hell,” he said, then grinned. “This kinda thing seems to keep happening to me. I don’t suppose anyone has a spare pair of jeans lying around, do they?”
Cassandra crossed her arms over her chest, then, hips rolling, she strode over to the fireplace. She stopped there and glared into the curling flames. Behind her, she could hear Chris and Sebastian exchanging introductions. Warmth, concern, shyness, soft laughter. She resisted the urge to roll her eyes.
A hand fell on her shoulder. She stayed where she was, didn’t want to turn to see their faces. Why do I think they’ll change? she thought despairingly. Why do I always think they’ll be different?
“Angelique.” Barnabas’ voice behind her was soft, almost a whisper.
She nearly admonished him, reminding him that he must always refer to her as “Cassandra,” that he mustn’t reveal her true identity. But she didn’t trust herself to speak.
Barnabas turned her gently away from the fire. She fought him for a moment, though both of them knew that, if she truly wanted, she could blast him across the room without moving a muscle. Finally she lifted her eyes.
His face was gentle, his features soft. And he was smiling. “Thank you, Angelique,” he said.
“You’re welcome,” she said, her voice as soft as his.
Quentin stood beside them, his face frozen, iron.
Barnabas glanced at him. “Quentin?”
The other man exhaled. “Fine, all right,” he said at last. “Thank you, Angelique.”
“It wasn’t a complicated spell,” she said. “Even … even before, it wouldn’t have proven too difficult.”
“Nevertheless,” Barnabas said. “We appreciate your help.”
“I told you I’ve changed,” she said.
“The blood,” Quentin said, and held out his hand. “Take it.”
Her eyes widened.
But Barnabas too held out his hand. His eyes fixed on hers.
She hesitated, then removed the lid from the bottle. But it wasn’t empty now. The bottom of the bottle was dark with liquid.
Quentin stared wonderingly at his hand, turning it over and over, searching for a mark or a scar.
“You won’t find anything,” she said. “I was very careful.”
“I won’t ask what you need it for,” Barnabas said. “Only … only that you –”
She cut him off. “You don’t have to say it, Barnabas. Some of the blood in this bottle is my own. I will tell you everything soon, I promise you.” She took one of his hands in hers and squeezed it. “Trust me.”
“I do,” he said.
She felt her breath catch. “I believe you. Just know that this –” and she gestured with the bottle before it disappeared back into one of the pockets of the blue suitcoat she wore “— will allow me to find something that I hope will help all of us … everyone at Collinwood.”
“I appreciate your help,” Barnabas said.
She smiled, then glanced over at the two men on the couch, who were already deep in conversation. “I’m not completely altruistic,” she said. “Mr. Shaw is a powerful ally, Barnabas. To lose him now …” She shook her head. “And I believe that soon – perhaps sooner than any of us realize – we will need every ally that we can get …”
The young man could only be seventeen or eighteen, but Gerard didn’t know, and furthermore he didn’t really care. He was young, and that was what mattered. He lay on the altar where Gerard had placed him, unconscious, and with all tenderness only a few minutes before, and only now were his eyelashes even beginning to flutter.
You found one. Goooood …
The Master’s voice was faint, barely stirred the air around Gerard’s ears. He frowned. That was a bad sign, a very bad sign indeed.
“Where am I?” the boy tied to the table croaked. He tried to lift his head, but it fell back with a thunk against the ancient scarred wood. If the boy had been able to turn his head, he would have seen that the wood was more than just scarred: it was stained as well, black stains, some newer than others, and some only recently dried to a frightening maroon.
Gerard ignored him. The Master was at hand.
“I tried,” he said. His eyes prickled with sudden tears. “I’ve been trying, Master, I’ve been trying so hard …”
No response. Just a sigh, the wind through dried stalks of corn, a dim rattle.
Hopefully he wouldn’t have to perform the ceremony again.
I don’t have the strength.
The boy on the table – he would be enough. He would have to be enough.
Please let him be enough.
“Hey man,” the boy said, struggling lightly against his bonds, slowly, like a stunned insect, “you said you like to play rough, but … heh … not this rough, hey?” He smiled. His words were slurred, a side effect of the draught Stiles had plied him with back at the Blue Whale. He was still unaware of the danger he was in. That was good.
Finding a victim had proven almost impossible since he lost that mouthy Moor a few weeks ago. Disappearances in Collinsport were at an all-time high, but Gerard himself wasn’t responsible. Not lately, anyway. And what had happened to the dark girl, anyway? He didn’t know. Whatever happened to her, she hadn’t led the police to him. Not that George Patterson and the Collinsport PD would ever, ever find him if Stiles didn’t want to be found. But he couldn’t afford to have anyone sniffing around. Not some mouthy Moor, not the wretched Collins family, and certainly not the Collinsport police department.
And yet here he was, this beautiful boy Stiles had picked up not an hour ago, spirited him out of the Blue Whale, down the foggy streets, and brought him here, to this rotting stone house he laughingly referred to as his “lair,” and what the Collins family in that blessed year 1840 called “Rose Cottage.” Had once been beautiful, alive with light and life. Now it belonged to the shadows, and smelled of iron and copper and wet, wet darkness.
I must be whole, Stilessssssss. I must be able to ssssssssee … and touch …
“Who are you talking to?” The boy was still smiling, but it was flickering a bit now, fading. He tried to look around again. His strength, Stiles saw, was returning.
That wouldn’t do at all.
The air swayed before him, as if a thousand, a million dust motes swirled there, dancing, before his eyes. It was the Master trying to manifest and not succeeding. His strength was waning, and though he would never cease to exist, not completely, he would find it nearly impossible to summon himself again to full strength.
He needs a victim. He needs a sacrifice. Now.
It had to be this boy.
Because otherwise Gerard knew very well who that sacrifice would be.
“Are we gonna do this?” the boy asked. “Hey, it smells in here. It’s pretty funky. Like, gross funky. Where are we?”
Gerard closed his eyes. He felt inside his coat – these modern clothes, so uncomfortable and strange, foreign to his touch, zippers for Christ’s sake – for the dagger, then pulled it out so it could taste the air again. He had carried it for a long time – had been buried with it, as a matter of fact – and when he had returned, so had the dagger. It had belonged to Judah Zachery once upon a time, or so the story went. Now he brushed his lips against it, kissing it reverently.
“Hey,” the boy on the table-altar said, “hey, man. What’s that? What is that? It stinks in here. It smells like blood and shit. What is that?” Panic was infecting him, scurrying in his voice like a rat. “It stinks like shit in here, man!” He was screaming now. “Where are we? Where are we? Where are we?”
“Emperor Lucifer,” Gerard began, intoning as he had intoned before, “master of all the revolted spirits, I entreat thee to favor me in the adjuration which I address to thee …”
“Let me go!” the boy screamed, struggling against his bonds, but they were clever knots, and Gerard had tied them tightly. “Let me go and I won’t tell nobody! Let me go, hey? Hey?”
“I beg thee, O Prince Beelzebub, to protect me in my undertaking. O Count Astaroth! Be propitious to me, and grant me the powers I require –”
The Master was nearby. The Master was listening, and the Master was pleased.
Another chance. Another chance, Sssssssstilesssssss …
Gerard turned to the boy. He saw the knife now, saw it flash in the dim light of the room, illuminated only by the thirteen black candles Gerard had lit with the same reverence with which he attended the dagger, and his eyes grew wide and he drew in a breath to scream –
The knife cut the scream off. The knife entered the boy’s heart and cut away the scream, tasted his flesh, tasted his heart’s blood, and the blood looped into the air, black ribbons in the lunatic light of the candles, and the boy arched backward and his mouth gaped –
“Thank you,” Gerard whispered, “oh thank you, thank you, oh thank you.”
His face was wet with tears of gratitude.
The Master was there, the Master was in the boy’s blood; the Master frisked and nuzzled and worried it like a dog –
Gerard began to smile.
The blood was alive in the air.
The Master was there; the Master was alive.