Monday, April 14, 2014
Sunday, April 13, 2014
CHAPTER 107: Gathered
Voiceover by Kathryn Leigh Scott: “Night falls on Collinsport, a town besieged by dark forces. A dark place, on a dark evening … where those seeking information will attempt to make important discoveries … and those discoveries may destroy them.”
The darkness parted for a moment, and in that moment Barnabas remembered his name. Foolish, he thought, that he should ever forget; and yet, somehow, he had. Forgotten many things, it seemed, pertinent, relevant details, such as: what time is it? Where am I? And how did I come to be here?
He tried to open his eyes, but spears of light pierced them.
“Your spells are potent, witch.”
“I’m a little out of practice.”
Women’s voices, and one familiar, a voice he had heard recently, and yet, he couldn’t quite place it.
“He’s waking up.”
“Let it happen. It will eventually, anyway.”
“Are we ready?”
“I think so. As ready as we’ll ever be.”
The light, he wanted to snarl, the light, the light! But the words refused to come. The pain did, though; like fire burning inside every branch of vein within his body, boiling, it seemed, within his very blood. He felt as if his skin were dissolving, breaking up, under an onslaught of chewing ants. He thought his mouth might be open, but the only sound that emerged was a feeble gurgling sound.
How did I come to be here?
“Are you with us, Mr. Collins?” That voice … so familiar, goddamnit! But who …? “You disappoint me,” she said, whoever she was, her voice soft and low. “Surely you recognize me. Weren’t we conversing only a bit ago in that fabled land from which you’ve just returned … what does your Professor Stokes call it? Parallel Time?”
He tried to make another sound, tried to say her name as it just occurred to him, but all he could say was, “Rrrrrr …”
“Close enough,” she said. “Roxanne, darling, that’s right! And good for you for remembering! It’s truly unfortunate that you were acquainted only with that … that other version of myself, especially since she’s so dead and all. I wouldn’t want you thinking that our goals were anywhere nearly related, she and I.”
His eyes were able to open now, and he could see … begin to see … the two pale faces that loomed over him, squinting down at him. Roxanne Drew he recognized, appearing exactly as she had that last dreadful night in Parallel Time, but the other … she vaguely resembled, he thought, Beth Chavez, but this woman’s face was colder, the cheekbones higher, and her expression was one of aristocratic haughtiness.
“Oh, pardon me,” Roxanne tittered. “You must excuse me. I’m afraid I have failed to introduce my companion, and she so wants to meet you. Or re-meet you, I should say. Your paths have crossed before, after all.” Roxanne nodded her head in the blonde woman’s direction. She was holding a dagger, Barnabas saw, covered with intricately carved runes … and disturbingly rusty stains.
“Edith Collins,” the blonde woman said. “Restored to my prime, despite everything your –” and she spat the name “— everything your Miranda tried to do to stand in my way. If it were up to her, I’d still be boiling in hell’s fire, consigned to the flames with the demons and the filth and the –”
“Edith,” Roxanne said in a low, reproving tone, and placed a hand with fingers that, Barnabas perceived, dug like bits of iron into the other woman’s arm, startling her and cutting off the torrent of words that was swiftly growing into a howl, “Edith, darling. There is time. Remember, there is time.”
“Why,” Barnabas managed to growl, “why have you … you brought me here?” He glanced around his surroundings, but could make out little through the darkness. There were, he thought with dismay, other shapes moving about; they weren’t alone after all.
“We have much to discuss,” Roxanne purred, “and you have much to tell us. Though honestly, I hope you resist.” Her hand moved swiftly through the darkness and took the knife from Edith’s hand before the other woman could resist; it danced before Barnabas’ eyes, what little light there was in this place flashing off the blade, which was wickedly sharp. “Honestly, I do. Because I really – desperately – want to cut the information out of you myself.” And she grinned, and when she grinned, Barnabas saw how the light that danced on the blade she held danced with equal beauty on the twin fangs that protruded from between her pretty pink lips.
“We were friends once,” Chris said; beside him, on the comfortable, and, he thought, very, very expensive couch, Professor Stokes was shooting him encouraging looks. He’s confident, Chris thought, and he understood that the confidence the Professor felt must be bolstered by the amulet he carried. “It proved very successful in saving my hide in the past,” Stokes had assured him before they set out on this mission, his eyes twinkling with mirth, “but let’s hope we needn’t use it this time.”
Across from them, pouring tea calmly, Maggie Evans didn’t meet his gaze. “I suppose,” she said at last. “Though I have to tell you, Chris, I don’t have many friends who just up and leave town without so much as a goodbye, abandoning their family – especially their very little sisters – and leaving everyone to fend for themselves. Leaving them to pick up the pieces. Nope, I don’t have many friends that do things like that.”
“I know,” Chris said. He was beginning to sweat, as he usually did when he was nervous or felt especially guilty, two emotions he thought he would someday come to live with, to hand with some measure of success, but that day, he thought ruefully, was apparently not today. “I know, Maggie. But you understand the circumstances now.”
“Circumstances,” Maggie said thoughtfully, delicately, and handed Chris his cup of tea. “Lemon, Professor?”
“Please,” Stokes said, smiling graciously. Maggie smiled back with equal graciousness.
“We’re all in danger,” Chris said. He tried to force the desperation he felt down and away because he could hear it in his voice, how shrill he sounded, how afraid. And how angry. And it didn’t help that this was not the Maggie Evans Chris remembered from his youth. That girl had been everyone’s pal, but no one’s friend, as Tom had described her to him once. They’d dated for a brief time – just as Maggie had dated Joe Haskell, Chris thought belatedly – and Tom told him how unreachable she really was beneath that friendly and sometimes hard-bitten exterior. She had always reminded Chris of a young Eve Arden, quick with a comeback, sharp, funny, witty in the way that small-town waitresses were supposed to be witty, but there were times that Chris remembered looking into her eyes – and finding them shadowed. Haunted.
This woman was refined, her auburn hair pulled back and held by a silk band studded with diamonds; the dress she wore was vaguely Asian, also silk, watered, and painted, Chris understood, by hand: cranes and beautiful golden fish. But her eyes were the same. Haunted. Shadowed. She could destroy me right now if she wanted to, Chris thought, and the interior of his throat went dry. She wouldn’t even have to bat an eye or lift a finger.
“We’re always in danger,” Maggie said. “We live in Collinsport.” She sipped her tea and grimaced. “Hot,” she said.
“We’re beginning to put the pieces together,” Stokes said. “Julia Hoffman’s experiences in the future have given us a direction to begin our search, but clues are frustratingly few.”
“You have your own witch,” Maggie said, sipping. Her large brown eyes regarded them somberly over the edge of her teacup. “Why come to me?”
“Cassandra is … otherwise engaged,” Stokes said. To be honest, he wasn’t at all certain what Cassandra was up to, only that Julia Hoffman insisted that her intentions were honorable. Seemed to be honorable. But time consuming. And dangerous, of course. It was, Julia assured him, best not to interrupt her. And since Stokes wasn’t even sure if Cassandra currently resided on this plane of existence, that was a very reasonable request to make.
“Things are happening fast now, Maggie,” Chris said. “And it isn’t just this Enemy thing anymore.”
“Do tell.” Was she amused? He wasn't sure.
“Julia and Barnabas saw my brother the other night.”
And for the first time, a flicker of emotion played on Maggie’s face, though Chris couldn’t tell exactly what it was. “Tom,” she said softly. Her eyes moved back to Stokes and narrowed slightly, accusingly. “You know,” she whispered.
“I know that Nicholas Blair took his body, yes,” Stokes said calmly. But Chris saw the way his hand moved slowly to the pocket of his coat where the amulet resided, waiting, just waiting. “Or I suspected. It vanished after our … encounter with Mr. Jennings at the Old House. The night he tried to make Julia Hoffman his eternal bride.”
“Melodramatics don’t become you, Professor,” Maggie said lightly, but weren’t the pupils of her eyes beginning to expand, to grow bit by bit, as if draining all the light in the room? Chris thought they might be. “So what? Yes. I knew Nicholas took the body. But he never showed me where he put it, or what his intentions were.”
“So Nicholas didn’t bring Tom back,” Chris said slowly. Even saying his brother’s name cut at him. (And exactly how did Tom become a vampire? Was it Barnabas? Angelique? Or someone else? Everyone he talked to was incredibly reticent to address the subject of Tom’s vampirism, its origins, anything related to it … or his death. A subject for another time, he thought, gritting his teeth.)
“Nicholas,” Maggie said, her lips tightening into a moue of disdain, “is dead. I should know. I killed him.”
“And yet Tom has returned,” Stokes said.
“Are you checking up on me? Is that what this is?” Maggie’s voice was sweet, but her eyes were darkening, Chris saw with sudden dismay that bordered on terror, were becoming smoldering black pits. “Some sort of half-assed intervention?” Stokes’ hand moved, and Maggie snapped, “And I know what you have in your pocket, Professor. If you want to keep your hand attached to your wrist, I suggest you leave it at your side.”
“I don’t know if I care to take that chance,” Stokes said dryly. “And I think we have some reasons to ‘check up’ on you, if that’s the phrase you want to employ. Don’t you, Miss Evans?”
Those eyes, coal-black and devoid of anything resembling humanity, held the Professor’s for an endless moment. Chris, fascinated, like a rabbit before a cobra, could only watch.
At last the darkness faded away as quickly as it had come, and Maggie dropped her eyes, ashamed. “What do you want from me?” she whispered.
“There are other forces at work in Collinsport,” Chris said gently. “Someone attacked my … my friend Sebastian the other night. A woman. She very nearly killed him.”
“Another werewolf,” Maggie said, and Chris nodded. “And you want me to find the woman who attacked him?”
“I’d like you to try,” Chris said. “Please, Maggie. You’re the only one who can.”
She lifted her eyes then and held his. Another endless moment passed. “All right,” she said at last, and took the teacup from his fingers before he even realized it was gone. “All right, I’ll do it.” She stared into the cup, then lifted her eyes to Chris’ one more time. “Damn you,” she added, and placed the tip of one finger into the tea.
Julia shivered, then rose from the easy chair where she’d sat, reading, for the past few hours, and walked to the fireplace. She added another log to the fire, then watched as the flames, which, ignored, had begun to fade and fall away, now begin to devour the fuel eagerly. Her back cracked as she stretched, and she thought clearly, I would kill for a cigarette. But she was denying herself the luxury; not quitting cold turkey, she assured herself, but tapering off. She smoked too much, and she knew it.
She glanced around the drawing room of the Old House and frowned. She was alone in the house, and that was alternately agreeable and terrifying at turns. Willie and Audrey were somewhere else, which worried her, Eliot and Chris had gone to see Maggie Evans to ask a favor, and Barnabas was …
But she wouldn’t allow herself to think about Barnabas.
Well, she thought suddenly, why the hell not?
It wasn’t healthy, she understood long ago, this fixation with Barnabas Collins. She had seen in Angelique the results of obsession with a man who wouldn’t – couldn’t – love you back the way you wanted, and she had seen it firsthand with Tom as well. No, to spend so much time focusing on someone who didn’t share the same feelings for you was a dead end road.
So why did she seemingly still insist on following it?
Because he’ll change, she told herself – had been telling herself – for the past two years. Because maybe if I can just wait long enough, prove myself to him, he’ll see … he’ll see and he’ll know that I … how much I …
But no. Because, as she had learned the other night, he’d rather be with someone he hates than be with me.
The cigarettes were the pocket of her cardigan. It would be easy to pull one out. Light it with the Bic she also kept in the same pocket. Take a drag. Exhale the smoke, watch it wreath around her head. Enjoy the burning in her lungs. So easy …
“I’m done,” she said suddenly, louder than she had intended, startling even herself so that she jumped and glanced over her shoulder, but she was alone in the house, alone, alone.
“Done,” she said again, testing the word. She smiled slightly. Something inside her twisted then, something old and rusty, and fell apart, and in the breaking it fell away, disappearing into nothingness.
I still love him, she thought, and maybe I always will.
“I’m done,” she whispered.
Which was when she heard the sobbing sound.
Prickles of gooseflesh spread in patches across her arms, and she could feel the hair on the back of her neck begin to stand up. It was a woman, she thought, looking around the room with quick, jerking movements of her head; whoever it is crying, it’s a woman.
The sound grew louder, more desperate. “Who is in this room?” Julia cried, more bravely than she really felt. “Appear to me!”
Barnabas … ooooooooh, oooooooh Baaaaaaarnabassssss …
“Barnabas,” Julia whispered. Hell. Of course; whoever she was, this unknown spirit would have to be crying about friggin Barnabas Collins. “Who are you? Show yourself!”
The air began to shimmer and flicker beside the fireplace, and as Julia watched, astonished, the figure of a woman in a glowing white wedding gown began to draw itself into existence.
“Josette,” Julia breathed. She had spent some time with the dead woman weeping spectrally before her when she transcended time and inhabited the body of the Countess Natalie DuPres, Josette’s aunt, and in that brief time, she had come to feel warmly and affectionately for the woman Barnabas Collins had loved once upon a time – the woman who had killed herself because of him.
She looked much as she had in life, only her face was ghastly white behind the veil she wore, the eyes bruised and shadowed and somehow broken and desperate, her hands held outstretched before her bruised and bloodied. The fall from the cliffs, Julia thought, and felt a pang in her chest.
“Baaaaaaarnabasssss,” the ghost whispered. “Oh, oh, oh Baaaaaaarnabassssssss …”
“Where is he, Josette?” Julia cried. To her knowledge, Josette had never appeared to Barnabas, or anyone else at Collinwood, only to David when he was small and used the Old House as his personal playground. “Please, you must tell me! Where is Barnabas?
“Going, going, going,” the ghost chanted. Her dark eyes burrowed into Julia’s. “Help him, help him, please, help him. He will die … die …”
“I can’t help him unless you tell me,” Julia said, her impatience giving way to exasperation: why couldn’t ghosts just come out and say what they knew? “Where is he, Josette?”
“He needs your help,” the ghost said.
“I gathered that much,” Julia grumbled.
“The woman … the dead woman … all the dead … alive, alive, alive …” The ghost of Josette covered her face with her destroyed hands and sobbed, shaking all over. “And they’ll destroy him. Oh save him, please, save him! Someone must help him now!”
“Damn it,” Julia growled. Josette was beginning to fade away, to lose her substance. Only her eyes remained clear: enormous, full of pain and fear. “Don’t go!” Julia cried and rushed forward, but she met only a warm wall and an intense flood of scent in her nostrils: jasmine, of course, the cologne with which Josette perfumed herself every morning, Julia remembered. Now it was all that was left of her; even those famous doe-eyes had utterly vanished.
Barnabas was in trouble. What, Julia thought wryly, a surprise.
She really, really wanted a smoke.
She took a deep breath instead, then began to move toward the front door. She grabbed her trusty blue wool coat on the way; it was freezing out, and she had no idea how she was going to find Barnabas.
But she would do it alone. She didn’t need Angelique’s help, or anyone else’s. And she was saving Barnabas because he was her friend, and he had saved her life often enough. He had, she reminded herself, even transcended time to bring her back to life after Petofi-in-Quentin had snapped her neck. She couldn’t forget that, wouldn’t allow herself.
I’ll find him, she thought grimly as she stepped out into the frigid November night.
And I’ll save him.
Maggie’s eyes were closed, which was a relief, Chris thought, because they had darkened once again to that fathomless obsidian as she had begun her spell. Something like tea leaves, Chris thought, or scrying, or maybe both. I’m just a werewolf, he thought; what do I know? For awhile – a long while – she had peered into the depths of Chris’ teacup until her eyes were good and black and scribbles of magical emerald energy sparkled above the liquid in the cup. Stokes had watched without saying a word; the hand he placed tightly on Chris’ arm suggested that he should do the same, so they sat together and watched.
Suddenly Maggie’s eyes opened, utterly black, as Chris expected. “You know her,” she said in a voice absolutely unlike her own, without the snark, the wit, the desperation masked by her good humor. “This woman. Your attacker. You know her. Or … you think you do.”
“Who is she?” Chris said, but felt again Eliot’s fingers digging warningly into his arm.
“She wears a familiar face,” Maggie said. “You know it well. But the woman inside – she is a mystery. She is both of the light and the dark. She will kill. But she believes the killing is necessary.”
“Where is she,” Chris growled, “and how can I stop her?”
“You can’t,” Maggie – or the thing speaking through Maggie – said immediately. “She is built to destroy you. All your kind.”
“My kind?” Chris said indignantly.
“The undead. Eldritch creatures. Creatures of the old world. The vestiges, the magicks. She seeks to destroy them indiscriminately. She will end you if she has the chance.”
“But who is she?” Stokes said unexpectedly. “You must tell us! Give us her name!”
“She has no name, not really. Her name will do you no good.”
“Tell us!” they cried together.
“She is the daughter of Petofi,” Maggie said, “and that is all you shall know.” The lights flickered above their heads, and one burst in a shower of sparks. Chris cried out as the teacup before her exploded, sending ceramic shards in all directions.
Maggie held up one hand calmly and the broken shards of the teacup paused midflight, then fell harmlessly to the floor.
“That,” she said, yawning, “was dramatic. Did you learn what you wanted to know?”
Chris and Stokes exchanged mutually wide-eyed looks.
“I … don’t know,” Chris said at last.
“Hmph,” Maggie said. “I hope it wasn’t a total waste of my talents, blah blah blah. Now,” and she rose briskly, “which one of you strapping men wants to help me mop up all this tea?”
“You … you don’t have to do this,” Barnabas gasped. The smell of his own blood, leaking from more than a dozen minor and not-so-minor wounds Roxanne had gleefully inflicted upon him over the past hour or so, maddened him, and brought out his own fangs, which also seemed to amuse her. For some reason, and Barnabas supposed it had something to do with the mystical nature of the blade she used, the cuts didn’t close and heal as they would have under other circumstances. And they burned; Jesus, how they burned!
“Oh, I know,” Roxanne said. “But it’s more fun this way, don’t you agree? No,” she said, mock-pouting, “I suppose you wouldn’t. You pretend to be so tortured, so much better than the rest of us, so … so holier-than-thou … but underneath …” And she slashed at him again, across the face this time, and he threw back his head and bared his fangs and roared. She smiled with grim satisfaction. “Underneath, you’re just another vampire. Aren’t you.”
“What do you want, Roxanne?” Barnabas snarled.
“For you to admit it,” Roxanne said immediately. “I’m just like you. Cursed, just like you. Not bitten by another vampire. I was no one’s slave. The bastard Gerard Stiles made me this way, and it took me a long time, but I finally accepted what I should have always known, and what you’ll understand too, Barnabas Collins: the vampire is strong. I am strong. Because this isn’t a curse at all, not at all.
“It’s a gift.”
“You’re wrong,” Barnabas growled.
“No, I’m not,” Roxanne said, shaking her head quickly, “no I’m not, no I’m not. And must I continue to torture you? No, I suppose not. But I like it.”
“Possibly. Living for almost two hundred years … that’s asking a lot of a person. But once I accepted myself for the way I am, I learned to use my powers. They make me stronger. Better. Because that’s what we are, Barnabas … better.”
“We are monsters.”
“Perspectives,” Roxanne said, and, idly, carved a runic symbol into Barnabas’ cheek. “It’s all about perspectives. Right and wrong, good and evil, light and dark. It all depends on the eyes you’re looking through. Perhaps I’m evil. But I think not.”
“You’re a killer.”
“Who isn’t? Your precious Vicki? Cassandra Collins? Chris Jennings? Cousin Carolyn? All killers, Barnabas. Don’t be a fool. This isn’t about who is or who isn’t something or something else. It’s about balance. Keeping the balance.”
He stared at her with crimson eyes. “I don’t understand.”
“I know you don’t,” Roxanne sighed. “Which is why I had the witch bring you here. Which is why I’ve been cutting you up for the past hour. Which is why,” and she smiled again, revealing her fangs, “I’ve gathered together all my very best friends. Just for you. So you’ll begin to understand the game.”
“Tell me what you want,” Barnabas said, “or kill me, or both. But just get on with it.”
“So impatient,” Roxanne said. “Tsk tsk. I would think someone who spent nearly two centuries locked in a box would have learned a thing or two about the art of waiting.” She tittered. “Well, just for you darling, I’ll do the super-villain thing and tell you aaaaaaaall about my master plan. Because it involves you and your little friends. Now, ordinarily, I’d want to kill them all, and I think my friends would agree. Mostly because they’ve all tried at one time or another and been beaten back. But as I told you, this is about balance. Keeping it. Or restoring it if need be. But there must be balance, Barnabas Collins, and you –” and she jabbed him in the chest with the tip of her goddamn enchanted dagger or whatever it was “— you are going to help us keep it.”
“I won’t do anything to help a creature like you,” Barnabas spat.
“I think you’ll change your mind,” Roxanne purred. “You see, we want the same things, Barnabas, you and I. You want to save the world, and so do I.”
Barnabas gaped at her, then he began to laugh.
Her expression darkened until at last she slashed out at him with the knife again. “Don’t you ever laugh at me,” Roxanne growled. “At others, maybe, but never – never – at me.”
“Then you mustn’t go around being so amusing, Miss Drew,” Barnabas chuckled, despite the pain walking and talking all over his body.
She bared her fangs, closed her eyes, then took a deep – and, considering the fact that she didn’t require oxygen to live – unnecessary breath. Finally she opened her eyes and smiled. “Ah, ah, ah,” she said, and shook a pointed finger in his face. “I see what you’re doing. And you needn’t bother. I need you too much to kill you in such a stupid fashion. You see, you know something that we don’t. And we require your knowledge if the game is going to commence.” Her smile faded. “And I care far more about that than I do about you understanding or not understanding your true nature.”
Suddenly weary, nearly overwhelmed with pain, Barnabas dropped his head. “Tell me what you want to say and then be done with it,” he whispered.
“Don’t be a spoil-sport,” Roxanne laughed. “First I want to introduce you to my friends.” She gripped the back of his head and jerked it up; his eyes flew open and he nearly sank his fangs into her hand, but this, he thought, would only serve to amuse her more. “Look!” she chimed gleefully as they stepped from the shadows, her friends, and Barnabas gaped, stricken with horror and dismay.
First came Tom Jennings, capering and grinning and giggling; followed by Edith and Danielle Roget, though Barnabas had only seen her in a history book Eliot Stokes showed him once; and then the worst of all, Count Andreas Petofi, not yet completely restored, still mostly melted and rotted away, but the power in his Hand was undeniable, as it glowed silver and red by turns. “Mr. Collins,” Petofi grated. “I cannot say it is a pleasure to see you again, though I must admit,” and he chuckled wolfishly, “that if our paths were destined to cross again, I do so love it that you are in a position like this.”
“Impossible,” Barnabas whispered. “Impossible.”
But Roxanne seemed not hear him. She was frowning, looking over the assembled fiends before her. “Where is he?” she cried, hands on her hips.
“Oh, who knows?” Danielle growled. “He does what he wants. Imbecile. He cares little for the cause, Madam Le Vampir. Only for his precious cher.”
“Idiots,” Roxanne growled, her clawed hands clenched into fists. “Find him,” she said. “Find him and bring him back.” Her eyes flickered to Barnabas and then narrowed. “We have business to take care of with Mr. Collins. And I want to make sure that the gang’s all here when we do.”
Chris stepped out of the Professor’s ancient Oldsmobile and glanced up at the leaden sky above them. Snow had begun to drop in thin, icy flakes when they left Maggie Evans’ cottage, and now it flew thicker, fiercer. The wind was beginning to howl off the ocean, and Chris knew from experience that it would sear his skin until he wished it would drop off just to stop the pain. And, as he exited the car, he found he was right, and pulled the collar of his peacoat up, sinking down into it as far as he could go.
He was back in the cottage at Mrs. Stoddard’s insistence, but he knew he had forgotten something when he and Stokes left for a visit to the not-so-friendly neighborhood witch, and now he remembered: the fire in the hearth was now cold and dead, and the cottage would be freezing. I could call Sebastian, Chris thought with an interior smile; we could keep each other warm.
“I’ll call as soon as I have more word,” Stokes called from the window. “But until then, keep your head low. Perhaps,” and he smiled, “you should call upon Mr. Shaw for company. Safer together and all that.”
“You read my mind, Professor,” Chris said, smiling back. “Good night.”
“Good night, Christopher,” Stokes said, and drove away into the snow, swirling darkness.
Still smiling, Chris turned the doorknob and entered the cottage.
He knew instantly that he was not alone.
Someone sat in the shadows. The fire flickered, not yet out, tiny tongues of flame doing nothing to illuminate the features of his visitor.
But Chris recognized him. Recognized his scent. He felt all the world fall away beneath him.
“Baby,” the man on the couch said, and stood up, and now Chris could see him as well.
The firelight played, impossibly, off the handsome features of Nathan Forbes.
“Welcome home,” he said.
TO BE CONTINUED ...