Dark Forces (Preview)
…a series of killings are about to unveil an ancient evil at work…
Caitlyn looked at the variety of cereals on the shelf, blinking. There were so many. She didn’t know how she was going to decide which one to get. She hadn’t asked any of her roomies – her “sister witches” – back at the trailer if they wanted anything. She didn’t even know who preferred what.
She moved her brown eyes across the selections, feeling like she should know what to buy after traveling with her friends for so many years. There were snack cereals, sugary cereals, healthy cereals.
A grin crossed her slender face and she slumped her shoulders a bit, running one hand through her long, straight hair. She waited just another moment before reaching up and randomly grabbing two boxes from the shelves.
Caitlyn made her way around the store to the registers and checked herself out at a solo station. She took the bags to the jeep and put them in the back. The jeep had a vinyl divider that came out from the seats in the back. She leaned forward to grasp the handle, murmuring, “Refrigero.”
The back of the jeep was suddenly cool, like a refrigerator. She pulled the divider and locked it in place. A mist developed underneath it, cooling down the food in the bags.
She stepped back and closed the hatch. She had used the spell so many times, she didn’t even look to see if people were watching anymore. She probably should. There weren’t many of her kind in the little town. One of these days, she was going to get caught. Someone was going to see it or hear it or something. And then what would she say?
She was getting too comfortable. Her knowledge of Quiet Waters, the little town in which she lived, had made her more at ease with her status as a witch. She was blessed to live in a town that was filled with vampires that did not feed on humans. And her coven had signed a peace treaty with them. As a result, it was the safest city to live in on the East Coast. It ran almost like an old western town, with one sheriff and a few deputies who rarely had anything to do but rescue cats from trees.
So many of the residents of Quiet Waters were vampires, she knew it wouldn’t matter if they saw her. They wouldn’t say anything. So she was getting lax in her casting, not looking around for humans or their children. Children were the worst. They looked at everyone and everything around them. When they saw something a little strange, they always said something.
She went to the driver’s side door and slipped into the seat, trying to act as casual as possible. If she looked around too much, she would give herself away. As soon as she was seated, she remembered she wanted to go to the library and check her email. She’d already stopped at the post office but there was nothing there for her.
The leaders of her coven, the Ductus, had not sent them any news through their networks. She and some of her sisters were waiting for orders, where their next mission would be. They had spent the last four years traveling the United States, Egypt, Romania, Ireland and different parts of Europe for artifacts and relics. Some of them were enchanted items, some were not. She enjoyed the job.
She got out of the jeep and went back to the sidewalk, turning to the right to go to the library down the street. If someone looked at her as they passed, she smiled and nodded. Quiet Waters had about ten thousand residents, a city with the feel of Mayberry in the air. The sheriff might as well be Andy Griffith.
She smiled to herself, pushing open the door to the library. Cool air washed over her and she closed her eyes, pulling in a deep breath. The late summer heat made the air wet with humidity. It was hot from the break of dawn to the setting of dusk. Even after, it was warm all through the night.
It would only be like this for the month of August. Once September hit, it would cool off and the winter season would set in. The holiday season was one of Caitlyn’s favorites.
She went up the stairs to the row of computers on the second floor. She signed in to one of them, settling herself in the chair. She brought up the browser and signed in to her email as quickly as she could. She wanted to get home soon. She didn’t have anything in particular to do. She just wanted to be at home.
A list popped up in front of her and she scanned it from top to bottom. The top five emails were new. She deleted the first one, which was an advertisement for car insurance. She ran the mouse over the next three. The fourth one caught her eye and she drew her eyebrows together, tilting her head. It was from a familiar email address but she couldn’t remember who it belonged to.
She clicked on it, curious to know who had emailed her. The subject said, “Urgent”. Usually when the subject line said that, it was some kind of scam. But the email… there was something about that return address. It seemed familiar to her somehow.
The letter popped up on the screen. She got chills as she read it. Tears filled her eyes and she lowered her head to her hands, covering her face. She tried to cry as quietly as possible but it drew the attention of several people near her.
One of them, a young woman named Astrid Van Tuijl, got up from her seat and left her computer behind to tend to Caitlyn. She bent over and put her arm around the young witch’s shoulders. “Little miss,” she said. “Are you all right?”
Caitlyn tried to stop crying but it was washing over her like a tidal wave. “My… my mother… is dead.”
She didn’t have to continue. AAstrid wrapped both arms around Caitlyn and pulled her close. Caitlyn rested her head on the woman’s shoulder, unable to stay up in the seat with her own strength.
“I’m so sorry, miss,” Astrid consoled her as gently as she could, holding Caitlyn’s head against her shoulder with one hand. “Oh, I am so very sorry.”
Caitlyn could barely see as she was driving home. She had insisted on driving, though the nice people at the library wanted her to call someone to drive her car home. Her mind was a fog. Driving was probably not the best thing to do in her mental state. But she had to do something. Sitting around doing nothing was not an option.
Her mother hadn’t just died. She had been murdered.
According to her aunt and uncle, who had gone to check on Andrea, her mother, it could have been nothing other than a vampire attack. They saw all the signs. Caitlyn had learned to trust vampires in the time she’d been in Quiet Waters. To hear that her mother had been killed by them confused her brain. She couldn’t hold it against the peaceful vampires. Outside of Quiet Waters, there were no peaceful vampires. Not that she knew of anyway. Most of them were monstrous killers.
She pulled the car over, adrenaline making her shake violently. Memories of her mother were flashing through her mind. She leaned over and rested her head on the steering wheel, gripping it tight in her hands.
If only she had known. Maybe she could have done something. Caitlyn’s heart began to race as rage built up inside her. Her mother was gone. There was nothing she could do about it.
She let the fury rise until she couldn’t hold it back anymore. She shook the steering wheel violently, screaming in agony.
She was going to hunt those vampires down.
She lived with one of the most infamous vampire hunters in the Ductus Coven. Ashley Jean, one of her sister witches, had slain more vampires and had the most fun doing it of anyone in the history of the Ductus Coven. Since coming to Quiet Waters and discovering peaceful vampires, Ashley had become involved with one of them and abandoned her vampire-hating ways. Caitlyn was going to hunt them down. She wouldn’t need Ashley’s help. She had enough anger and hatred for her mother’s killers to do what she had to do. She’d killed them before. She would kill them again.
She would call on her sisters if she needed them.
She had to tell them what happened. But she wouldn’t let them tell her how to handle the situation.
Normally, Caitlyn would send a telepathic message to Anna, their leader. But she was with Ethan in the mansion and didn’t stay at the trailer very often. She didn’t have the capability to send thoughts to her other sisters, Ashley, Mandy, and Bella.
She tried not to drive too fast. She was anxious but her brown eyes had swollen with her tears and they were still blurred with water. She thought about her mother, the way she had reacted when Caitlyn’s abilities as a witch came to light. She had taken everything in stride.
She’d known it was a possibility, which helped. She’d helped Caitlyn nurture her power and found her the coven to guide her on her journey. She’d sacrificed a lot, giving her only child, her daughter, to the coven when Caitlyn was only fifteen.
She’d never felt anything but love from her mother. They had gone through a short rebellious stage when she turned twelve that lasted about a year, until she discovered what she could do.
She choked back a new flood of tears, wishing she was already at the park. Their trailer was invisible to everyone else but the witches. The inside was expanded by a spell that made the trailer seem like a two story, five-bedroom home.
It seemed like an eternity before she turned into the parking lot of the park. She pulled into a spot and got out quickly, forgetting her groceries in the back. They would stay good until she took the refrigeration spell off anyway.
She ran through the park toward the line of trees that split the park into two areas, the west side and the east side. She was almost to the trees when the trailer appeared in front of her. She ran to the door and went inside, calling for her sisters.
“Girls!” she cried out. “Bella! Bella!”
Bella was the mother of the bunch, the one with the softest heart. Caitlyn ran through the foyer to the kitchen, not seeing Mandy and Anna emerge from the den on the other side of the room.
“Caitlyn!” Anna called out. Caitlyn spun around and ran back to her. She threw herself into Anna’s waiting arms.
“You’re here! Oh, Anna!”
“Cait! Oh no, what’s happened?” Anna held on to her friend, giving Mandy an agonized look over Caitlyn’s shoulder. Mandy was wearing a similar look and put both arms around Caitlyn’s back, sandwiching their friend.
“My… my mother… was… killed…”
Anna’s eyes widened and then squeezed shut. “Oh no. Oh, Cait. I am so sorry. How did it happen? Do you know?”
“She was murdered. By… by vampires.”
Caitlyn felt Anna stiffen. The woman pulled back and looked Caitlyn in the eyes. “What? Vampires?”
Caitlyn had both hands up, covering her mouth. Her shoulders were hunched and shaking as she tried to hold in her tears. She nodded, leaning forward when a sob took hold of her.
“Oh dear. Oh no.” Anna pulled her into a hug again and patted the back of her head. “Mandy, get her some hot tea and some cookies. I’m taking her into the den. She needs to be sitting. Come on, Cait. Let’s go sit down.”
“Anna… I can’t… I can’t believe I’m never going to see her again. I… I just talked to her a few days ago. I called from… I talked to her for…” Whatever she was saying was garbled as she choked on her words, trying to speak through her tears.
Anna just nodded. “I understand, my dear. I know. It’s painful. I’m sorry.”
She kept her arms around Caitlyn’s shoulders as she ushered her to the couch in the middle of the large room. They sat down together and Anna took both of Caitlyn’s hands in hers. She turned to the table behind her and grabbed a tissue from the box by the lamp. Thinking twice about it, she grabbed the whole box and brought it around her, handing it to Caitlyn.
Caitlyn took the box and the tissue, pressing the softness against her red eyes. She wiped the tears away but new ones came out to replace them. She knew Anna didn’t know what to say and even if she was going to say something, she would wait till the rest of the girls were there. Mandy was sure to fetch Ashley and Bella.
Sure enough, just a few minutes later, Mandy came back through the door with the other girls behind her. She went straight to Caitlyn, carrying a small tray with a plate of cookies and a cup of hot tea, steam swirling from the liquid. Anna had spent those minutes in between holding on to Caitlyn, whispering gentle encouraging words.
The girls gathered around their friend. Ashley, who was the tallest, knelt down in front of Caitlyn and held on to her knees. They all gave Caitlyn hugs one at a time and expressed their sympathies.
“What are you going to do, Cait?” Ashley asked. “I know you aren’t going to let this slide. You have to go find the vampires that did this and destroy them. You have to. For all you know, they will be coming for the rest of your family, too.”
“I don’t think this had anything to do with me being a witch, Ash,” Caitlyn said. “I really don’t believe that. But yes, I have to go… I have to go find the vampires that did this to my mother. I knew you would bring that up and I want to tell you right now that I am going alone. But I want all of you to be ready for a call from the Ductus and be ready to come help me at a moment’s notice. I want to make sure what they are saying is true before I go on a rampage. And I know how much you enjoy killing vampires, Ash. I don’t want that quite yet.”
Ashley nodded, patting Caitlyn’s knees. “It’s whatever you want, Cait. Whatever you want. We’ll be there with you in spirit until you want us there in person.”
Vincent Pentecost looked at himself in the mirror behind the bartender. He had to admit he was looking good that night. But then, what night didn’t he look good? He grinned at himself.
He was finally satisfied with the length of his wavy brown hair. The shoulder-length style he sported was finally accepted again and he was happy about it. He moved his hazel eyes over the bottles of liquor than ran along the back of the bar with interest.
He’d been in The Front Row, a bar on the edge of town where all the country music people liked to go, for only five minutes and he’d already caught the gaze of a half a dozen ladies. The little town he and his partner, Scott, lived in was filled with good-looking country girls. They wore jeans and boots and had big buckles keeping their belts on. A lot of them wore cowboy hats and had bandanas tied around their necks, amplifying the beauty already created by their halfway unbuttoned shirts, exposing plump, pushed-together breasts that were just waiting for his hands.
He had plenty of success with them, in more than one way. It wasn’t the sex he was after – not completely. That was the fun of it. Sometimes, he’d have his way and let them go. But if his lust wasn’t satisfied by the sex, he would sink his fangs into their jugular and heighten his senses until he was soaring in ecstasy.
Tonight, he wanted to feed. He wanted to have fun with the girl first, so he was looking for a curvy blond. They always seemed to be a lot of fun. He spotted one in the mirror and turned his head to look at her. She was looking at him, too. The tiny smile on her face told him all he needed to know.
He picked up his drink and went over to her table. She was sitting with another woman, who looked a little younger. But he didn’t mind age. That didn’t matter in the least when he was on the hunt. The blood would taste the same no matter how old they were.
He smiled at them.
“Hey. I saw you looking at me. Thought that might be an invitation to come over and introduce myself. Feel free to tell me to get lost, if you didn’t mean to send those subliminal messages my way.”
Both the women smiled at him. The blond looked at her friend with a sly grin, since it was she Vincent was addressing.
The girl waved her hand at the empty chair to her right. “You didn’t mistake the look. Please sit, if you like.”
“Would you like a round of drinks? I’ll buy.”
“Now that sounds really great,” the friend spoke up. He looked at them both.
“My name’s Trevor Donovan. And you?” He held out his hand to the blond. She took it and they shook a few times before letting go. He planned to take these girls back home. He wasn’t going to let anyone within hearing distance hear his real name.
“My name’s Caroline Saunders. This is my friend, Brittany. We’d love a couple Hurricanes. That’s what we’ve been drinking tonight.”
“Ah, the refreshing taste of rum mixed with grenadine and fruit juice. I think I’ll have one, too. I’ve been drinking rum tonight, so I don’t see why it would do me any harm.”
“Have you been drinking Hurricanes, too?” Caroline sounded surprised and a little doubtful. He grinned at her.
“No, I’ve had two Blue Hawaii’s. No Hurricanes yet. Should I try one?.”
“I think you should. They’re good. I’ve been wanting to try one of those Blue Hawaii’s though,” Caroline said, turning to Brittany. “How about you?”
Brittany nodded, giving her friend a narrow, knowing look. Vincent pretended not to notice. He was having fun watching them flirt. “Yep. Maybe we should get a couple of those next.”
Vincent grinned wide. “I’ll get two Blue Hawaii’s and a Hurricane then.”
They all laughed. Vincent scanned them both. They would be good meat for him and Scott. Scott would be beside himself if Vincent brought home two women. One for each of them to play with. The thought made his smile wider.
He lifted his hand and the young woman clad in the tiniest tank top he’d ever seen trying to restrain two of the largest breasts he’d ever seen came over to take his order.
“What can I get ya?” she asked, smacking the gum in her mouth and placing one hand firmly on her hip.
“We’ll have two Blue Hawaii’s and one Hurricane, please.”
The girl looked at the three of them with half a grin. “Switchin’ it up, huh? I’ll tell Brett. He’ll make ya the best drinks ya’ve ever had.”
“I have no doubt of that. I’m always satisfied here.” Vincent grinned, thinking that he was always satisfied in one way or another, whether it be the drinks, the girls, the sex, or the blood. It was always something that satisfied him. And he liked it that way. He hadn’t asked to be a vampire. He wasn’t going to let anyone get in the way of his good time. He didn’t care who they were. .
It helped that he didn’t care about anyone but himself. He didn’t even care about Scott. Sometimes he laughed, thinking that Scott probably thought of himself as his brother. The two of them had been roaming the planet together for nearly two hundred years, since they were made vampires during the early 1800s. He resented the fact that he was still here. He planned to take it out on as many humans as he could.
He enjoyed the sound of their screams. He enjoyed listening to them plead for mercy. He lived his life for that satisfaction, that power he held in his hands each time they begged for their lives. He’d let some go because of that. And he’d never been bothered by them again. Each one had left town immediately after his encounter with them.
He was confident he wasn’t going to be caught. No matter who confronted him, whether it be a cop, a judge, a lawyer or a librarian, they were taking their lives in their hands. He had no qualms with moving to another city. It didn’t matter to him in the least. It didn’t matter to Scott either.
But he liked Big Creek and wanted to stay there as long as he could. He enjoyed the house he and Scott had bought. It had four floors, counting the finished basement and finished attic. The attic was reserved for the business they took care of. It held all the tools necessary to bring pain to a human being. He and Scott had researched, invented their own tools, they’d even started a comic book series about sadistic vampires that sold well on the dark web.
Each little story was filled with real events, things they had actually done. They weren’t shocked by the reception. There were plenty of humans who wanted to walk on the dark, wild side and Vincent was happy to provide just what they asked for.
By the time their drinks came, Vincent had found out Caroline and Brittany were two first-year medical students going to the large community college that brought in most of the revenue for the town. Brittany was accepted into a prestigious top-dollar college that she had been dying to get into. They were celebrating her future.
They had been best friends since grade school and both had on/off boyfriends who never really treated them with the respect they deserved. That was something Vincent heard a lot. If it wasn’t for those terrible boyfriends, he might not get what he wanted as often as he did. He didn’t know what was wrong with human men in this century. They didn’t value their women at all. There were plenty of times he could remember since the year 1811 when he was changed from human to vampire that men devalued their women. And there were other times when women were glorified, loved, revered. It also depended on what area of the world he was in.
He enjoyed the United States the most. Humans in the United States could be stubborn but they were always a lot of fun. He’d found that the most miserable people to be around were usually the Brits and anyone in Africa. In Africa, the disparity of incomes between the wealthy and the poor was so vast, he could go into the countryside and have his pick of hundreds and hundreds of victims.
But it just wasn’t fun. It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Where was the fun in wiping out hundreds of villages of people who weren’t enjoying life anyway? Besides, Africa was too hot.
He hoped to stay in Big Creek as long as he could. He tried to be careful about what clubs or bars he went to. The Front Row didn’t have working cameras. He still took precautions and didn’t go to the Front Row more than once or twice a month, though it was one of his favorites and if he needed to change his appearance to go there more often, he had all the necessities to do it. Clothes he himself never wore, a wig, a pair of glasses, colored contacts, whatever he required, he had.
Tonight, he hadn’t put on a disguise. It was just him. Since he was on the hunt and intended to take these girls back with him to the house, he probably should have worn one.
But it was too late to turn back now. He was here, he was primed and ready, he was going for it.
He leaned forward and gave them both a sly look. “Would you like to know something about me?”
Caroline and Brittany looked at each other before turning their eyes to him and nodding. Their faces were lit up with anticipation. He absorbed the looks they were giving him, feeding his ego with the energy they put into their flirting. Maybe he would keep the two of them for himself.
Depended on Scott’s attitude.
“I’m a cop.” He sat back and grinned at them both. Their faces turned to wonderment and they looked like they might be guilty of something. He leaned forward again. “You two are guilty of being the two sexiest, sweetest ladies in the building. I’d love to take you to my place and introduce Brittany to my friend, Scott. If you are interested, Caroline, I’d love to get to know you better. Promise I won’t hurt you. I swear it.”
Caroline giggled and covered her mouth with her hand before circling the straw of her glass with her fingers and pushing the straw into her mouth. She sucked on it, looking at Vincent with a seductive gaze. “Brittany and I need to talk about it,” she said once she was done with her drink. She licked her lips and smiled.
He nodded. “Fair enough. I’ll just go to the bathroom and be right back then.”
“You don’t run away now,” Caroline giggled behind her hand right before taking a long sip of her Blue Hawaii, which she was loving and made sure he knew it. He nodded.
“Oh, I will be back, don’t worry. I just know Scott would love to meet you, Brittany.”
“Does he look anything like you?”
Vincent smiled. He’d been turned when he was in his late twenties, at the prime of his life appearance-wise. Scott was a few years younger when he became a vampire and just as handsome in the eyes of the ladies. “Well, I wouldn’t say he looks like me, since we’re not related. But if you’re asking if he’s a dog or not, no, he’s not. He’s a good-looking guy. You won’t be disappointed.”
Brittany just grinned.
Vincent entered the house first, calling out to Scott. “Scott! You here, dude? I know you’re here. Where are ya?” The small hallway they entered had a solid wall on one side and an arch on the other that allowed the visitor to look directly into the living room. The arches ran all the way around the living room, creating two long hallways around it. The open kitchen was directly in front of them, a wide, long room that had every type of cooking equipment that could ever be needed.
Most of them had never been touched.
Vincent looked at the girls, who came in after him. He let them in and then closed the door. “Would you ladies like a drink?”
“I think we’ve had enough to drink, Trevor,” Caroline smiled. “But I wouldn’t mind a cigarette, if you don’t mind.”
Vincent did mind. He wanted to kiss this girl and he hated the taste of cigarettes. His first reaction was to tell her so in no uncertain terms. But he hesitated and said, “We don’t smoke in the house, I’m sorry. Scott is allergic to the smell.”
“Oh, that’s okay,” Caroline said. “I… I didn’t really want a cigarette anyway. Yeah, I suppose we could have one more drink, right, Brittany?”
Vincent held out his hand, indicating they could go into the large living room. “Please. Sit anywhere. I’ll be right back. I’m sure Scott is around here somewhere.”
The girls sat down while he went to find Scott. It was going to be a fun night.
Scott was in one of the back rooms on the computer. He turned when Vincent came in the room.
“Hey, Scott. I’ve got two girls out here. You wanna have some fun?”
A slow smile crept across Scott’s face. He plunged one hand through the short crop of blond hair on his head. He ran his tongue over his teeth and reached out to turn off the computer. “Yeah,” he said in a low voice. “I’d love to have some fun.”
“Well, come on. We gotta make them some drinks.”
Scott stood up and crossed the room quickly. He followed Vincent out into the living room.
“This is Scott,” Vincent said, holding up his hand in Scott’s direction. “Scott, this is Caroline and Brittany.”
Scott lifted his hands and rubbed them together, his blue eyes flashing. “Good evening, ladies. You don’t know how good it is to meet you.”
Caitlyn looked through the airplane window, watching the clouds as they passed by. They were so close it was like she could roll down the window and touch them. They went through several of them, creating a fog unlike any Caitlyn had ever seen before. She certainly hadn’t driven through anything as thick as that.
But when the fog cleared, she could see the ground far below and marveled at the beauty of the earth. She’d gone to Colorado Springs to take the flight. It was the closest to where she needed to go.
It was a five-hour flight, with a layover in Denver. She didn’t know why she had to go to Denver first. It wasn’t a straight shot from Quiet Waters to Big Creek. If they’d gone across to Aspen, it would have saved her a lot of time. As it was, she seemed to be making a large L or V formation. ,.
But she didn’t have the time or inclination to tell the airlines how to run their flights. She just wanted to get to Big Creek and see her aunt and uncle. She wanted to see her mother’s house, the house she had grown up in and loved during the youngest years of her life. She wanted to see her old bedroom. She’d wondered for years what her mother had done with it.
Did it still look the same as when she was fifteen?
The memories were still flooding her mind but they had quieted some. She hoped the house looked the same and then again, she didn’t. The pain she felt from losing the one woman who knew her best was like a hole in her chest that wouldn’t heal.
How long would it take her to let go of the grief she was feeling? Was it going to affect her so that she couldn’t think straight to find these killers? When she found them, she wouldn’t hesitate to exact revenge. Her mother hadn’t done anything to deserve her fate.
She leaned over and pushed open the flaps of her carry-on bag. She sifted through the contents until she found the book she was looking for. It was old folklore but had some excellent stories about vampires, witches, werewolves, and other supernatural beings. She enjoyed stories like that. She liked to compare them with what she had experienced over the years.
If she read, maybe it would calm her heart. It would help her focus on something other than wanting to cry for her mother. She didn’t want to think about how long it had been since they’d talked. Their last conversation hadn’t been a bad one. It had been normal.
She felt her heart ache.
A normal conversation she would never have with her mother again.
She pushed her finger down where the bookmark was and opened it to the last page she’d read. She’d finished the story and was about to start another one about a cursed witch who had to find a specific gem that would remove the curse. She’d read the book before but was so entertained by it, she liked to read it again and again.
“Wow, a book,” she heard a female voice saying from the aisle. She looked up and gazed at the woman speaking. She appeared to be about Caitlyn’s age and looked vaguely familiar. Caitlyn instinctively narrowed her eyes, searching her brain for the woman’s name. “Aww, you don’t remember me.” The woman sat down in the empty chair next to Caitlyn, clutching her bag on her lap. “Caitlyn, right? You’re Caitlyn Montgomery.”
Caitlyn raised her eyebrows. She was sure now that the woman was from her past but she couldn’t find the name to save her life. She shook her head. “I am so very sorry. I don’t remember your name.”
The woman shook her head, putting one hand on Caitlyn’s. “Don’t worry, it’s okay. It’s been a long time. I went to grade school with you. Remember, Roberts Elementary? On Pine Avenue?”
Caitlyn was instantly whisked back to her grade school years. She frowned. “You recognized me from grade school?”
The woman laughed. “I sure did! You don’t look a whole lot different, you know. I’m Melissa. Melissa Stover! We sat next to each other in the third grade and we were in the same classes all through till they split us up into different classes every hour in the seventh grade. Then I think I remember we had, like, English together a few times or maybe math? We were in choir together! Remember?”
A rush of memory swept through Caitlyn’s brain and she remembered Melissa. The woman had changed, gained some weight and dyed her hair a deep red from its natural mousy brown. Her eyes were still that vibrant color of honey. She suddenly remembered a conversation she’d had with Melissa in choir one day.
“I remember you,” she said, setting her book down and leaning forward excitedly. “Do you remember when we were in choir that day and I told you that you had eyes the color of honey?”
The smile that spread across Melissa’s face was brilliant. “Yes! I do remember that! I took it as a compliment and it really made my day! Thank you for that!”
Caitlyn laughed. “That was such a long time ago. I can’t believe we both remember that conversation.”
“How can I forget? I’ve described my eyes as honey ever since then. No more browny red or something lame like that. It was honey from then on.”
“Are you going back to Big Creek?” Inside, Caitlyn was dearly hoping her old friend was. She hadn’t spoken to anyone from her childhood in so long. That added to the fact that she’d left school after the sophomore year to live with the women and men in the coven had created a complete break from all her friends. “Please tell me you are. It’s so good to see your face. It really is.”
Melissa put her hand on Caitlyn’s again. “Oh, Caitlyn, it’s good to see you, too. And yes, I am going back! Are you?”
“Yes. I am.”
“I have to see about the sale of my grandmother’s estate. She left me the executor of her will because I’m a legal assistant and she seems to think that will make me wiser about the whole thing. Why she didn’t just have her lawyer do it, I don’t know.”
“Did your grandmother die recently?” Caitlyn hoped she didn’t sound too blunt. But two deaths in Big Creek very near to each other… that had to be more than a coincidence. When Caitlyn lived there, the death rate was about two a year. She was sure the city had grown in the years she’d been gone. But to have a death rate go from two a year to two in a short period of time? It sounded suspicious to Caitlyn.
“Yes, she died about three weeks ago.” Melissa tilted her head to the side. “Have you had a death in the family, too?” Her voice sounded somewhat alarmed.
Caitlyn nodded soberly.
“Oh no. Who was it?”
“My mother.” Caitlyn felt strange saying the words. She still couldn’t believe her mother was gone. They had corresponded through email and snail mail over the years, never losing touch with one another. When she had a chance, she would call her mother, just to say hello. And she’d never missed the holidays. She’d managed to come back a few times but her position in the coven and her job searching for artifacts put her in the spotlight for their enemies. It made her a target. Each time she went back to visit her mother, she put the woman she cared about the most in jeopardy.
She wouldn’t be able to live if she knew the vampires had followed her on her last visit, bided their time, and then attacked. There was a good possibility this had happened to lure her from her hidden place so they could kill her.
But if they were planning to do that, why didn’t they take out Anna and the rest of the coven? She was less important than they were. She was a good witch but some witches were better than others. Anna was one of them. If the vampires wanted to hurt the coven, they would go after all of them, not just Caitlyn, who wasn’t high up on the totem pole.
“I’m sorry to hear that, Caitlyn. I really am.”
Caitlyn nodded. “It was somewhat of a shock. I am very hurt and disturbed by it.”
Melissa kept her eyes focused on Caitlyn. “Can I ask you something, Cait? I don’t want you to be offended.”
Caitlyn stared at her. “You have peaked my curiosity. What is it? I won’t be offended. It takes a lot to do that.”
“What happened to you? Where did you go? Between our sophomore and junior year, you disappeared. Were you sick? If you don’t want to tell me, I understand. I’m not trying to pry into your business. I’m just curious.”
Caitlyn nodded. “No, I understand your confusion. Yeah, I did leave. I had to go live with some relatives out on the East Coast.”
“Yeah. My mother was having some pretty bad health problems.”
“Aww. I’m sorry. And now she’s gone. I hope you were able to keep in touch with her.”
“She lasted a long time.”
Caitlyn looked down at the book in her lap. “She was sick for most of the remaining years of her life. It didn’t get any better, I can tell you that much.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Did your grandmother die because of her age?” Caitlyn tried to put it as delicately as she could. What were the chances Melissa knew anything at all about vampires? Caitlyn wasn’t aware there were any in Big Creek when she was growing up. They were there now but not when she was young.
Melissa tilted her head. “You know, that’s one of the strange things. I don’t know how she died. I was never told.”
“Didn’t you ask?” Caitlyn asked in a stunned voice.
Melissa nodded. “I did. But they told me it was a freak accident. Like some kind of…” She blinked a few times, her voice dropping off. Caitlyn waited for her to continue. She seemed to be thinking of the right words. “I mean, it was just weird. We couldn’t give her an open casket, that’s for sure. Her ashes are waiting for me.”
“Are you going to bury your mother?”
Caitlyn didn’t want to tell Melissa she had no idea what shape her mother was in. It might not be feasible to bury her, just as it wasn’t for Melissa’s grandmother. From her vague description, Caitlyn got the impression it had been a messy situation.
She decided to drop the subject and move on to something friendlier. “Who else do you remember from school? Maybe we can get a little reunion together while we’re in town.” Even as she said the words, Caitlyn knew she didn’t want to meet with a lot of her old high school friends. She was content with Melissa. And maybe a few others. Just a handful. Surely there were a handful of pleasant high school friends that would like to have a drink with her somewhere.
They’d know the best places to go, since they still lived in Big Creek and she’d been gone for almost fifteen years and wouldn’t know where the local hangouts were anymore.
“I don’t know who is still there,” Melissa admitted. “But I’m pretty sure Caroline is still there. Do you remember her? Caroline Saunders?”
“I do remember her, yes. A pretty blond. I wonder how she’s doing.”
“Last I heard she was in medical school at the uni. She’s always been interested in that kind of thing but right after high school, she went into child care. And I think she was a grade school teacher for a few years.”
“She’s switched careers a lot then.”
“Not really, just went from childcare to teaching them instead.” Melissa smiled. “She always did love those children. Did you hear about what happened to her though? She can’t have children of her own. Did you know that?”
“Oh no,” Caitlyn said, sympathetically. “How tragic! What happened?”
“She was riding a horse and she fell off somehow and it trampled her right over her stomach and you know, all those intestines and organs in there where your stomach is.”
“Her torso. The horse ran over her torso.” Caitlyn shook her head. “Oh my god, that is so terrible. I feel so horrible for her.”
“Well, it happened when she was nineteen, so that kind of set her career choices in motion, I think. If she couldn’t have her own, she was going to enjoy other people’s.”
“I’m not sure a preschool or kindergarten teacher should be a person without children of their own. How will they draw on experience? They won’t understand what the parents are going through at all.”
Melissa looked straight ahead with a blank stare, engrossed in her own thoughts. “I’ve never thought of it like that. But you should see her today. The last time I was in town to visit my grandmother for the weekend, I met up with her at Spike’s, that little deli next to the old Grandin theater. You remember that place?”
Caitlyn nodded. As Melissa spoke, she remembered more and more about her hometown.
“She was looking fine. She was smiling and telling me about her newest venture into medicine. Of course, you’ll never guess which specialty she’s going into.”
“I bet I can,” Caitlyn grinned. “Pediatrics.”
Melissa laughed. “You nailed it! Good for you! Yeah, of course, pediatrics. But I do think it’s kind of funny, now that I think about it, she’s going to be dealing with sick children. She’s going to see them in pain and suffering. I wouldn’t want to have a childless woman working on my sick child. They wouldn’t understand the urgency.”
“Now you’re thinking like me.”
“I suppose we’re on the same page. Anyway, I’ll give her a call when we get into town and we can have lunch with her or something. I know she’d like that. She’s a great girl. So smart and funny. And she’s got a great body, let me tell you, Caitlyn, oh I am so jeeaaalooouss.” Melissa drew out the last word for effect, rolling her eyes wildly. Caitlyn laughed. “But you’ll see. Oh, now I’m really excited to get there! I’m so glad I saw you sitting here!” She reached out and put her arm around Caitlyn’s shoulders, which took Caitlyn by surprise. She grinned and patted Melissa’s hand.
She was excited now, too. She wanted to see Caroline and have lunch at a nice deli or diner or something. It would be fun to see old faces again. She really hadn’t thought she’d feel that way but now that she’d reunited with Melissa, she found that she most definitely did.
“Dark Forces” is a paranormal romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.
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