A Vampyre's Daughter
“He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.”
- Friedrich Nietzsche
“Mortality is one of the traits that makes us human. The ambition to solve mortality is another.”
Grey. The dull, muted color was the only thing Brandt could see as his eyes slowly opened. No shapes or objects were distinguishable. Fog? An overcast sky? His body was as numb as his view, unable to determine if he was standing, sitting, or lying down. Brandt wondered if he was dreaming. It was like looking through eyeglasses that were the wrong prescription and smeared with water. He tried to blink away the haze, but the grey blurriness remained.
Guessing he may be lying on his back, he tried the normally mundane act of sitting up. That failed. Nothing moved. His body and brain seemed detached. Unable to see his legs, he hoped they were still there and tried to lift them. They didn't obey his request. What a weird-ass dream, he thought. He couldn't remember where he was, why he was there, and why he was lying on his back. Am I floating? He was rocking back and forth, up and down, right and left, like he was on ocean waves. If he was in the ocean, he couldn't remember why he would be there. The simple attempt to look around was met with excruciating pain and he managed to turn his head to the right with much more effort than should have been required. What the hell is wrong with me? At least he could finally see something besides vague, grey nothingness.
He saw that his hand was submerged in lapping water. Dark, foamy waves washed over it, his pale hand bobbing with them, fingers upturned to the sky. With difficulty, he managed to raise his arm above the oncoming wave, though he couldn’t feel his hand. At least his equally numb fingers wiggled on command. His hand flopped back down onto the makeshift raft he lay upon.
The material his raft was made of was something white, shiny, and buoyant enough to keep him above the water’s surface. The edges had shredded yellow fibers. At a glance, a very blurry glance, it looked like a torn piece of fiberglass from the hull of a boat.
A boat! His memories were as hazy as his eyesight, but that word sparked a sudden recognition. He had been on a boat. It had exploded. Why? The rest of the memory wouldn’t come. Tensing and straining to sit up, his torso still wouldn’t honor his brain’s command, and the stabbing agony in his ribs made the exertion unbearable any further. Then the buzz and tingle of impending unconsciousness started to course through him. No, wait. Not yet!
He stared again at what he assumed was the sky. It was still grey. Now, something was coming down from it. A dark shape, like a person in silhouette, was descending toward him. Something long and wide extended from the person. They looked like wings. Large, dark wings that bloomed to catch the air and slow down the descent of the person – or creature. What the hell is coming at me! Brandt’s eyelids were squeezing shut despite his efforts to resist. The figure loomed above him, viewed through mere eye slits. It leaned its face closer to Brandt, its eyes glowing an intense yellow. It looked like an evil Batman.
I’m dreaming. I have to be dreaming.
Brandt’s eyelids could not be coaxed back open. The tingling in his body was now an electric surge that smothered him like a blanket, suffocating and halting all movement and function. He saw and felt nothing more.
Brandt woke to the sensation of flying. He opened his eyes, blinked twice, and was finally able to focus somewhat clearly. The tingling in his body had become the stabbing of numerous needles like his ribs were splintered and were poking through his skin. Nauseous and shivering, at least he was no longer numb, though he still wasn't able to move any extremity. He was face down, seemingly high above the ground, watching waves, rocks, dirt, mountains, and grass speed past far below him. Whatever was carrying him was moving fast.
There was a steady lifting and dropping rhythm to his mysterious flight. His body was tightly constrained by something, and he was unable to turn his head more than a few degrees right or left. He could only see the ground below him rushing past. He couldn’t see what was holding him, he just seemed to be suspended in the air like he was a fish in an eagle's talons.
There was also an odd smell of burning flesh and hair. He hoped it wasn’t him.
Far below, the edges of rocky cliffs dropped into the sea, with no apparent beaches. Ocean waves pelted the rock-strewn base, unrelenting in their assault. Brandt was trying to guess how tall the cliffs were when he started losing consciousness again. Oh, come on!
His eyelids had an agenda of their own. Trying to hold them open was a losing battle. His eyes closed and his body melted into unconsciousness once more.
When Brandt woke again, he was no longer moving. There was a gentle breeze against his face, nothing like the wind that had whipped by when he was flying. He was lying on his back and looking at something white that writhed and twisted above him. The white thing was a curtain hanging from an open window. It was a mix of linen and embroidery, partially sheer and illuminated by mild morning light, dancing against the same breeze that brushed his face.
Brandt attempted to get into a sitting position. A searing pain shot through him the moment he tensed to try. He bit back a cry, took a breath, and retried the effort by easing himself up slowly. He got halfway up before his strength gave out, but he managed to tuck his elbows underneath him, which was enough to prop himself up to look around.
He was in a spartan room. The only light was from the open window above him. The walls were bare whitewash with widely spaced wooden spars. The ceiling above him was made of dark, aged wood. To his right was a plain, natural wood writing desk, with an unlit candle on it. Directly in front of him was a chest of drawers, also natural wood, with an old-fashioned ceramic washbasin on top of it, and a folded towel. To either side were two chairs. On the left was a rocking chair, wooden slotted and beautifully crafted, and on the right was a simple schoolhouse chair, also made of wood. No decorations hung on the walls. No light switches, or light fixtures, or air conditioning vents, or electrical outlets were visible anywhere. The whole room seemed like something a monk or nun would call home.
Brandt examined himself. He was still in his jeans, socks, and black t-shirt, but no sign of his sneakers. His t-shirt was torn in several places. Considering he didn't recall what had happened, or how he got here, he was glad to see he was in one piece. He was tucked inside a thick white comforter on a single bed with an old-fashioned iron rail at the foot. His body was shivering uncontrollably, his teeth clacking together despite his efforts to keep them quiet. A disconcerting hum buzzed in his head, reminiscent of his last fainting spell while he was flying. Taking a deep calming breath, he fought to stay awake. He moved his feet and found them to be adequately responsive, although heavy and cumbersome like they were both sprained and swollen. He wanted to get out of bed and head to the door, though every part of his body argued against trying it. Wherever he was, he was stuck there for a little while at least.
He wasn’t home, he wasn’t in anyone’s house that he knew, he wasn’t dreaming, and he wasn’t in jail. And if he was in heaven, heaven was boring. And if this was Hell, then it wasn’t so bad. With careful effort, he turned enough to see out of the window. Outside was the ocean with no landmarks visible, and a grey overcast sky and fog that hid the horizon. Where in the hell am I? And how did I get here? The question brought back the most recent memory.
Batman. Or some dark figure that had glowing eyes and big wings, and apparently can fly, had carried Brandt here. Or not. You were hallucinating, bud. He had been rescued by someone who just looked like… doesn’t matter.
Rescued from what? And from where? And to where? Come on, think.
His brain was not fully cooperating yet. Images and fragments slithered around in his skull that lit a few fires of recollection. He had been on a boat. The boat was traveling at top speed. There was somebody else in the boat with him. Who was driving? He didn’t remember. They were west of the California Channel Islands National Park, near open sea. Was someone chasing them? Were they chasing someone? The boat blew up. Brandt remembered jumping off the boat as it exploded. The force of either the water or the explosion hit him extremely hard and everything went black. Then he awoke lying on a piece of fiberglass wreckage, staring up at some Batman figure dropping down on him.
He sighed. He knew it couldn’t have been Batman, so what the heck was it? Someone must’ve saved him, picked him out of the water, and flew him to wherever this was. Was he back on the mainland? All the closest ports were several hours away from the distance he had traveled. Had he been unconscious that long? And if he was on the mainland, why would he be in this monastery-like place instead of a hospital?
He re-scanned the room and did some quick calculations. No electricity, no running water, sparse furnishings. Brandt knew that there were minimalist cabins used by park service personnel on one or two of the California Channel Islands, and maybe a lighthouse on one. They might have a portable generator, but certainly no electric lines or plumbing. And the few people that temporarily resided there would probably use their generators sparingly. For the most part, the islands were uninhabited, with park personnel being helicoptered in and out only when needed. So, was he in one of those island service cabins? It made as much sense as anything else. Certainly more than being rescued by Batman.
So, then what, or who, was it that you saw?
Brandt tried to clear his head.
Airplanes and helicopters fly. The Coast Guard has helicopters. A man lowered down on a winch might look like someone dark and mysterious if the light silhouetted him. The wings? If the Coast Guardsman had a long stretcher-type harness, and he held it sideways, it may resemble wings in Brandt's blurry vision. Once in the helicopter, if Brandt was suspended near the edge of the open door, he might be able to watch the ground below him. And then the Coast Guardsman would've taken him to the nearest shelter to warm him up and get him out of the elements. Makes perfect sense. Right? Ok, so what about the glowing eyes? Brandt shook his head, which reminded him that moving his neck still hurt. He had no explanation for the eyes, but he had also been floating in frigid water for who knows how long, so his brain was probably addled from shock, concussion, and cold. The eyes didn’t matter. The rest of the explanation made sense.
And it seemed the more rest he got, the more his body recovered, so perhaps it was best to stop stressing himself out trying to solve this entire mystery right now. He was safe and warm regardless of the bone-rattling chills in his joints. He had to be on one of the Channel Islands in a park service cabin. It was the only thing that made sense. He could work on remembering everything else later. More rest was needed.
He lay back down, relaxed, and eventually fell asleep.
By the time he awoke, the natural light coming from the window was dimmer and had an orange hue. It was still light enough to see easily, though the sun had most certainly retired to the opposite side of whatever structure he was in, and the light coming from the window was an ambient reflection rather than a direct beam. Brandt’s body was still weak and he was reluctant to bend or strain it getting out of bed, but he pushed himself slowly until he sat all the way up with his feet flat on the floor. He was determined to at least get to the door and have a look outside of his room. Maybe he could find out who else was here with him. Of course, he could just shout out, and if there was someone here, they might come into his room. He felt caution was prudent in an unknown situation, and if for some reason the people who brought him here were not as benevolent as he assumed, then maybe having a sneak peek would be a good idea. He doubted someone would go to the trouble of airlifting him here if they wished him harm, but his survivor’s brain was not hearing any other arguments at the moment. He carefully stood up straight next to his bed.
Rembrandt Dekker, Brandt to everyone except his mother, had recovered most of his wits from that last nap. He now remembered why he had been floating alone in the cold Pacific Ocean. Memories he had sought earlier to regain were now suddenly unwanted. The relief he had felt when he found himself alive, and in one piece, was replaced by a sober recollection of his failure. He shouldn’t be alive. He hadn’t wanted to be. Yet here he was. And the reason he had come way out here, the culmination of six months of obsession, was still unfulfilled. Once again, he was the reluctant sole survivor.
That recollection also meant that the wrong people may know he was still alive, and here. It was still uncertain where “here” was. His assumption was one of the islands. He took a slow step toward the window and leaned against the wall.
Outside was an endless stretch of dark blue water, rippling and tossing with a steady wind. In every visible direction, there were no landmarks and no indication that there was any civilization nearby. There were no sounds of cars, or people, or even airplanes. There was only the growl of the wind and the distant shrieks of seabirds. Brandt thought he might have heard the bark of a sea lion, as well. Brandt leaned his head out of the window and glanced downward. Damn, my neck is stiff. The pain was sharp, thankfully only lasting a moment before it was simply an ache. He saw that he was on the second floor of a large house. Are there houses this big on any of the islands? He didn’t think there should be, but he wasn’t an expert. The house rested on a flat section of rocky ground which ended abruptly in a steep rock-faced cliff. The cliff rose directly from the foamy surf, framed in jagged boulders. There was no hint of human accessibility anywhere within view. Anyone climbing that cliff better be sure they had a secure rope or they could fall and be turned into a gruesome abstract painting on those rocks below. It certainly looked like one of the California Channel Islands, though Brandt couldn’t figure why there was a mansion-sized house way out here. Nobody could possibly live on one of these islands.
A majority of the islands were more than fifty miles from civilization. There were very few beaches on any of them. They were formed from solid rock that had been thrust up from the sea when tectonic plates collided eons ago. Most of the islands didn’t have much foliage except for low rising grass, weeds, and some scrub trees. Birds, sea lions, and crabs were about the only things that would call the islands home. A couple of the islands had welcoming terrain that supported tourism like hiking or camping, and Catalina Island actually boasted permanent residents and hotels, though that was also much closer to the mainland. The other islands were inhospitable and offered no ingress without a lengthy manmade staircase or manufactured ramp of some sort. Before California became a desirable destination for Americans, the Chumash Indians dwelled on the islands. The harsh mountainous land was difficult to navigate or grow anything on, so the Chumash eventually migrated to the California mainland. With the Indian territorial claim, and the fact that the islands didn’t have an immediate use, it took a long time before the government officially annexed most of the islands, leaving only a few that remained privately owned for many years. Today, they were an attraction for tourists to mainly just look at, or to kayak near, and a hotspot for viewing marine fauna like whales, sea lions, and dolphins. The westernmost islands were less frequented by whale watching tours because of the tremendous amount of diesel needed to drive there and back, and seldom used as camping destinations since the time to and from civilization was far greater, and was more dangerous in case of emergency. And though the idea of an uninhabited California island sounds great on a brochure for a getaway destination, the frigid Pacific Ocean, and an atmosphere more like Maine than the tropics, plus nearly unscalable cliff faces, make the westernmost islands less inviting in reality.
Brandt had realized he had been holding his breath against the pain and leaned back inside and braced himself on the wall. He took several even breaths and the pain subsided. The distance to the door seemed impossibly far, but Brandt was not about to waste the effort of standing up with the sole result being a glance out of the window. If he had to crawl all the way, he was going to have a look outside that door.
Brandt took a timid step, satisfied himself that his knee and ankle would hold, then took another step. The iron rail at the foot of the bed was a welcome object to rest his weight upon and he paused there for several seconds before starting the long journey between the bed and the door. Never before had ten feet seemed like a marathon to traverse. Well, maybe once before. The chills that had rattled him earlier in the bed were returning since he was no longer bundled in a thick comforter. The air probably wasn’t that cold, but the time he had spent floating in the frigid Pacific had embedded an iciness deep inside his body that would probably take days to fully overcome. He would risk the chilliness for now. The door beckoned.
It was a bland, white door with raised rectangles that constituted the design. It had a brass knob that was the old-fashioned oblong shape rather than the more modern round knob or bar lever. It even looked like it had a keyhole underneath the knob. Serious old school. On any other day, walking to that door would be taken for granted. Today, it was Everest.
Brandt filled his lungs, held it, and started forward.
The first step went fine. The next went all right. The third was a struggle. Brandt started to feel the unwelcome prickle of a fainting spell swarm through his muscles. He stumbled forward and slammed into the door. He waited for a few moments while his body relaxed and accepted that he was at rest, even if it was resting upright against a door. Before he grasped the knob, he listened through the door to see if he could hear anything outside. There was nothing. The ocean noises behind him were louder than anything he heard through the door. He gripped the doorknob and twisted.
The door creaked open like a sick goat bleating. Loudly bleating. If there was anyone in the house, they would know for sure that Brandt was coming out of his room. He waited, listening for any sounds of someone racing toward him. Nothing. No voices, no footsteps. No rustling of objects, clanking of plates, slamming of doors. Zilch. Brandt allowed the door to creak further open and he leaned out of the doorway, gripping the door frame.
He looked down a hallway. It was wide enough for two slender tables to be lined up across from each other. The floor had ornate carpet runners covering the length of the hall, which was about fifty feet long. The walls appeared to be the same bland white of his room and had the same absence of light fixtures. However, there were several iron sconces that would hold candles. No candles were currently inside them. At the end of the hallway was an open area that looked like it began a stairway down.
Brandt looked left and right, wincing from the spike of pain in his neck. He saw no one in the hall. No doors were open, despite several doorways identical to the one he was standing in. Light came from the stairway area, though not bright. It was hard to tell if it was natural light or candlelight. Brandt made the assumptive leap that there was no electric light in this house. To his right was another door and an adjoining perpendicular hall that he couldn’t see into.
He decided to head toward the stairwell. The hallway may be empty and quiet by itself, but the wooden floor would probably be loud and squeaky once Brandt tried to sneak down. The floor in the room wasn’t squeaky, so maybe the hall won’t be either. Brandt took a step into the hall, put his full weight on his foot, and waited. No sound. Perhaps the smallest of creaks and the shoosh of a pant leg against an ankle, nothing loud enough that anyone other than a dog could hear. Brandt exhaled softly and proceeded forward. His hand slid along the wall for support as he took several steps. The shiver and tingle in his muscles were still present but subdued since his body was in motion. Slowly, laboriously, he made his way to the end of the hall.
He stood at a railing which overlooked a large room, with a set of stairs leading down. The room below was vast and somewhat dark. The walls were a mix of grey, black, and brown stone, stacked with a random mish-mosh of sizes and shapes, like a farm wall. There was one large woven covering that would probably be called a tapestry, otherwise, there were no pictures or wall décor anywhere. There were also no windows. Despite that, there was enough natural light to see everything. That light came mostly from slender rectangles of brown beer-bottle colored glass along the edge of the ceiling. They surrounded the house on three sides, save for the upper hallway where Brandt was. The glass was warped and bubbly, not fit for looking through, just sheer enough to allow light in. It appeared that an easement outside shaded them, so wherever the sun was, it probably wouldn't be able to send a direct beam unto the floor at any time of the day.
The floor below was made from the same wooden planks as the hallway and was covered in many places by ornate rugs. The rugs were a complex weave of fancy patterns, predominantly red, tan, and black. The centerpiece of the room was a banquet-style table, a huge mahogany piece that likely weighed about as much as a truck. A dozen matching chairs surrounded it, except for one chair at the end that was larger and fancier, designed to impress. It looked almost royal. There were carved designs on the backrest, leather-wrapped arms, and padded seat that matched the rug below the table. The table was devoid of plates and utensils, and showed no signs of being in use recently. In fact, even though the light was dim, Brandt thought he noticed a light sheen of dust that covered the table and looked undisturbed. On the far wall was a broad fireplace that was open except for a brick chimney above it. The fire would be accessible from three sides if it was lit, which it wasn't currently. Along the walls, and to the left of the dining table, were an assortment of Victorian-style couches and chairs. In the furthermost corner was a group of twin leather chairs that looked like something you would find in an old-fashioned gentlemen's club, where men in silk smoking jackets would sit, puff pipes, and discuss world politics with stuffy English accents. Behind the chairs, the walls changed from stone to wooden shelving which boasted a small library of unknown, ancient-looking books. Huge, leather-bound books, like the kind that city libraries usually allowed people a limited time to view, and only in a special room with white gloves.
The front doors were heavy, carved wood, mahogany perhaps like the table, and stood next to a solid colored rug with an elaborate symbol on it that might be a family crest. Next to the doors were a coat stand and a hat rack. A hat rack? Who the heck keeps a hat rack next to the door anymore? Not surprisingly, Brandt saw the subtle gleam of a spider web that ran from the hat rack to the wall. And once he noticed that, he spied a couple more strands of spider-silk extending from a few of the couches and chairs.
No plates out, dust on the table, spider webs on the chairs, no fire lit, and no light. Whoever did live here probably hadn’t been around in a while. So, who the hell brought me here? And why would they drop me off and bolt?
It was a beautiful house, despite the darkness. Kind of the old-world, turn of the century feel. Brandt liked that style. If it had windows, the place would feel like some prince's rural retreat.
Brandt leaned against the railing, which thankfully was solid and didn’t waver under his weight. He didn’t feel like he would faint anytime soon, but he had yet to feel stable. He had the fleeting urge to make his way downstairs and start a fire to warm his chilled bones, but he would reserve his trust in whoever brought him here until he got to talk to them and found out what their motives were. Whoever owned this place must have a lot of money to have built it way out here, and Brandt knew some very bad people who had that kind of money. Besides, he wasn’t sure he’d make it down the stairs without falling. It wouldn’t do to be saved from freezing to death, or drowning, just to break his neck tumbling down some stairs.
He needed to stop guessing about his rescuers and find out once and for all if he was safe. He wanted to believe he was. Everything indicated that he probably was. It just wasn’t guaranteed. For now, he would just keep his doubts quiet and go under the cautious assumption that whoever put him here meant well.
Brandt turned and shuffled slowly back to his bedroom, closing the door behind him. He had previously noticed the old-fashioned lock under the doorknob, and now it hit him that he could be locked in his room like a prison if someone had the intention. If so, leaping out of a second-story window to a rocky ground below would be his only escape. The key was still sitting inside the keyhole, which could mean that someone had no intention of locking him in. It could also mean that no one expected him to be awake yet, and that when they did, they could lock him in and remove the key.
Stop it, man. Jeez. Brandt needed to get the proverbial grip. If someone wanted to imprison him, there were far less elaborate and inane ways of doing it than placing him in some old-timey house and giving him a bed with a down comforter. You’re safe until you find out otherwise. Be vigilant, but don’t be stupid. Or rude. Eventually, someone would drop by to check on him, and he’d find out what their intentions were then. Nothing he could do for now, nor anything that he should do. He was on an island, and he didn’t have a boat or a weapon. Like it or not, he was at the mercy of whoever did live here. At least until he regained all his strength.
He relaxed and hobbled back to his bed. Much slower than he would like, and with a lot more pain than he would like, he wrenched his body back under the covers and got himself comfortable again. He breathed deeply and slowly until he could feel sleep coming on. A waning thought came to him that he should've closed the window before he got back in bed, but he was too warm, comfy, and sleepy to bother. Maybe after his nap, he'd take care of that.
He drifted off into a deep sleep.
He had odd nightmares about a bat-like creature that descended on him in his bed. The creature did nothing to harm him except sit above him and stare down with those glowing yellow eyes. It leaned its face closer. Its breath smelled like mold and dirt. It stretched its wings, and the slight breeze from the wing movement whisked over Brandt's body and rustled his clothes. His comforter was off. Why is my comforter off? Did the creature throw it off? Brandt knew he was dreaming, but it felt real. There was a strange prickling, like claws scraping across his abdomen. Brandt relaxed, choosing to trust that dreams couldn’t hurt him. The bat man was just a manifestation of the Coast Guardsman from his memory. His confused brain was keeping him on edge. Stupid nightmares wouldn’t help him get the rest he needed, so he dismissed the idea of even looking at the creature, and chose to just stare at black oblivion underneath his eyelids. He breathed easier and slept soundly.
In the transition between sleep and wakefulness, Brandt already felt refreshed. His eyelids had crusted shut, so they were the last things to pry open. Before he opened his eyes, he did a quick mental check. He was still lying on the bed, the soft pillow under his head was warm from an extended snooze. The comforter was pulled up to his neck, exactly where he had left it before he fell asleep. In his dream, he had felt claws pinching his stomach, and that feeling was gone now. Not like he really expected otherwise. The rushing sounds of the ocean were also absent. At first, he wondered if he had gotten up in his sleep and closed the window, but it was more likely that his benefactors had returned and done it for him.
Maybe they’re here now. Probably not in his room, though. It was almost uncomfortably quiet now that the window was shut, and definitely no sounds of anyone shuffling around, or breathing. Even at rest, people were noticeably noisy in a quiet room.
He felt something odd on his right side. A mild pressure, like something was resting against him. Not heavy enough to be a human, more like something maybe about the weight of a fat cat. Well, that’s not crazy. Cats seek out warmth, and certainly one might live here. That would also explain the sensation of claws on his abdomen if that hadn’t entirely been a dream. Brandt moved his hand in that direction expecting to encounter a snuggling, furry pet.
His hand touched a human leg.
He ripped his eyelids open and stared into two pale blue eyes.CHAPTER 2
A face was inches away from Brandt. The ice-blue eyes blinked, flew open and the face suddenly drew back.
Brandt shrieked. It was not a manly or intimidating sound, rather like the high-pitched squeak of a teenage girl who just found a spider in her hair. He pushed backward, trying to both sit up and get further away from the unexpectedly close visitor. The person in front of him launched upward like a frightened cat, then scrambled backward as fast as a lizard into the far corner. She stood frozen, hands flat against the wall, breast heaving.
The woman was medium height, slender build, and looked terrified. I’m scaring her? Brandt’s heart was pumping like it expected to run out of blood soon. The sudden jerking of his body had created a delayed pain, drawing a wince from Brandt. He calmed himself and examined the woman. Or maybe, girl.
She was young and striking. Her blond hair was coiled up into a style that had been popular at the turn of the 20th century, as was her dress. The old-fashioned dress covered every part of her body except for her hands and head. The top was off-white, with lace cuffs and neckline, and pearl beads in the front, and though Brandt was no fashion expert, he had the impression it was handmade. The skirt was greyish blue, pleated, and spread out to hide every curve except for her waistline, which was slim. He couldn’t imagine anyone in this day and age would wear something like that, but this woman didn’t seem average or modern. Her visible skin was unblemished and was the color of raw cream, with a pinkish hue near her cheeks, probably from her flushing fright. Her wide eyes were framed in thick eyelashes that appeared to be soft and natural, not thickened by mascara. In fact, there appeared to be no make-up on her face.
She was nearly hyperventilating. Though she had scared the crap out of him, she was acting like Brandt had just stood up in his grave.
“Hey.” His voice was soft and soothing. “Hey, it’s all right. Don’t be frightened. I didn’t mean to scare you.”
And why the hell am I apologizing to her? Her face was inches from mine as I slept. Although this might be her house, that still didn't give her the right to sit nearly on top of him while he was asleep. If he could just get both of them calm, he was sure this would be easily smoothed over.
“It’s ok,” said Brandt, again. He held his palms out and tried to look non-threatening. He had wondered about the intentions of his saviors, but if this girl had malevolent intentions toward him, she was about as far from that expectation as could be imagined.
Her eyes darted to the door and she made a short little scooting step toward it.
“Wait. It’s ok,” said Brandt. Maybe she doesn’t understand English. “Uh, speak English? Sprechen sie English? Ingles?”
The girl didn’t respond except to renew her attention on the door. Despite the sheer terror on her pale face, she was one of the most beautiful women Brandt had ever seen. And possibly the oddest. Although she wore an ancient style of dress, she looked like she could be in her early twenties. With unusually perfect skin, it would be hard to determine age. If she had pointed ears, which she did not, and hair a shade lighter, she could pass for one of Tolkien's immortal and majestic elves. Whoever she was, she was not getting closer to calming down. She mustered enough courage to reach for the door and was out into the hallway, shutting the door behind her before Brandt could even register that she had moved. He had never seen anybody move that fast. Am I stoned? The sleep cobwebs in his head must’ve affected his perception of speed and movement. Or maybe she was an elf.
“Wait!” he called, but the words fell into an empty room as the door latched shut. Just great. Some strange girl – albeit a gorgeous, strange girl – was watching him while he slept, she freaks when he wakes up, disappears, and he still had no idea who she was and why she was here. Or even why he was here.
Brandt thought about yelling through the closed door for the girl to come back, then snuffed the idea, guessing that if she was that terrified of him just talking to her, yelling at her would only make things worse. He sat still in his bed, realizing that he had been ignoring the pain in his neck and ribs, and his neck and ribs decided to remind him of that neglect.
“Ow,” he said softly and tried to relax his posture to lean back against the headboard. He sighed and tried to think.
Ok bud, now what? Someone is here, and she’s not very threatening, and she’s scared to death of you. And she’s probably the one who’s been taking care of you. She definitely was not Coast Guard personnel, didn’t look like a nurse or a gangster, and not police. Brandt wasn’t prepared to make a full guess based off of the brief observation, but a few things came to mind. Maybe she wasn’t used to people. Or has some kind of social anxiety? Perhaps, someone like that would want to live way out here, far from any other people. And how would someone realistically live out here? There’s no way.
Brandt’s body was in no mood to get back out of bed after that sudden trauma he had just put it through trying to sit up. Maybe if he sat still for a few moments he would feel good enough to try and get to the door again. Or, maybe if he just stayed quiet and patient, the girl would come back on her own accord.
Girl? He knew he probably shouldn’t think of her as a girl. She looked like she could be in her early twenties. Twenty-one, twenty-two-ish? He wasn’t too much older himself at twenty-eight. Well, whoever she was, and however old she was, she deserved courtesy and trust until proven otherwise.
Brandt stayed seated, the pillow stuffed into the small of his back, waiting for the woman to return. He didn’t have a watch, but it felt like a half an hour had passed, and he hadn’t heard a peep. Maybe she was on the phone to somebody reporting that her charge was awake. Like there's a phone in this place. He tried to imagine what would make a person live way out here, or if she didn’t actually live here, then why was she here? She wasn’t dressed like any park employee, or anyone else he could think of besides an actress in some historical film. Maybe she was a nun. Nuns dressed ultra conservatively, didn’t they? He had never seen a nun’s outfit like that one, but he wasn’t up on the latest nun fashions. Maybe nuns had stepped up to Edwardian fashion. Dude, you’re just being silly. And why do you care what she’s wearing?
Being stuck in bed had made his mind a little too active, and he was still hyper-aware of why he had come out this far in the first place. Information he wasn’t going to discuss voluntarily until it was necessary. Plus, he was thirsty. There was no telling how long it had been since he drank water.
He examined his room again. The candle on the desk was burning now, and there was no light coming from the window anymore. Most of the day seemed to have been slept away. He patiently remained in his bed wishing he had something to read or watch. He had no cell phone, which he assumed had been lost in the explosion, and no possessions except the clothes on his back, which were at least still on his back. Nobody had tried (or succeeded) in removing his clothes, so he didn’t have that awkwardness to overcome. He didn’t wear a watch because smartphones had clocks. His wallet was taken from him before he got on the boat. Except for his dental records, he may not be identifiable if he died. Which was what he had expected to happen when he had motored out to sea.
There was movement at the door. The doorknob twisted slightly and made a single rattle before it stopped and went quiet. Brandt stiffened in anticipation, then tried to relax. Don’t freak her out. It was several seconds before anything happened. A soft knock sounded at the door. It took a moment of hesitation for Brandt to realize she actually wanted him to answer.
“Uh, come in,” he said.
She slipped through the door nimbly and flattened her back against it as it shut. She moved like she had a cat’s spine that could bend in any direction. Brandt blinked twice, thinking his eyes were deceiving him. She stood ramrod straight, a kind of absent expression frozen on her face like she was processing which emotion to paste onto it. And then, like a switch inside her was turned on, she snapped a wide smile on her face that was as bright as any electric light. She shrugged shyly and simply said, “Hello.”
“Uh, hi,” he said, sounding too hesitant in his own mind. “I mean, hello,” he said more welcoming.
She bit her lip bashfully, still not moving anywhere, only shifting on the sides of her feet. He noticed she was barefoot. She seemed to be waiting for something.
“Do you speak English?” he asked. Anyone could say “hello” and not know English.
She seemed a little confused but nodded. “Yes. May I – approach you?” she asked.
Approach me? “Please. Of course. Have a seat.”
She moved over to the desk on his right, almost flying. Her feet seemed to brush the ground like she was floating. She pulled the chair from under the desk and moved it closer to him. Smoothing her skirt, she sat primly with school-straight posture. Again, she seemed like she was waiting for something.
Brandt decided that it was up to him to direct the conversation. “My name is Brandt. Rembrandt Dekker. My mother thought it was cute to name me after a famous painter. But I just call myself Brandt. What’s your name?”
“Natalia.” She fidgeted with her hands while answering, like her name needed affirmation of acceptability.
“That’s a very pretty name.” Brandt wasn’t sure what might spook the girl, so he wanted to keep the conversation unintimidating. He decided to go for playful. “Actually, I remember a girl in high school named Natalia, too. Exchange student from the Ukraine. I’m sorta into nicknames, so I called her Lia. I thought it was cute, but she didn’t like it.”
Natalia tilted her head as if trying to hide her smile, which was strange because she had been smiling continuously since she came in the room. But she stared at the floor for a moment before she met his eyes again, and said, “Well, I like it. You may call me Lia if you wish.”
“Oh, ok. Well then, Lia, it’s nice to meet you.”
She nodded, her eyes back on the floor for another moment. When she lifted her eyes, the embarrassment was replaced by genuine excitement.
God, she’s got entrancing eyes. They were a luminous blue like the water of a shallow Caribbean beach. “Well, Lia, I’m guessing you’re probably wondering who I am. And likewise, I don’t know who you are, and where I am exactly, or how you found me. So, maybe you could…”
She did a little rapid tap of her fingertips together. “Oh yes, of course,” she said with more enthusiasm than the response required. She looked almost giddy with anticipation to speak to Brandt some more. Seeming to realize that her enthusiasm was a little excessive, she relaxed her shoulders, sat a little straighter, then continued. “My father found you in the water. I spotted you, and he went out and brought you back here. I dried you off and got you into bed, and checked your injuries.” She hesitated momentarily, then continued. “Your body had numerous contusions and sprains, possibly some rib fractures, but I didn't think there was internal bleeding. I thought you would need to rest, so I left you alone. You have been sleeping quite a long time.” She bit her lip and averted her eyes, adjusting her posture and smoothing her skirt. Apparently, it was Brandt's turn to talk.
“Well, thank you, Lia,” said Brandt. It hadn’t hit him immediately, but several red flags in the explanation she just had just given were dawning on him. He could sort through them in a moment. He said, “Your father?”
She nodded again. “Yes.”
Apparently, to her, that was enough of a disclosure. Brandt asked, “Is your father in the Coast Guard?”
She looked a little puzzled, then answered, “No.”
“Oh, ok,” said Brandt. “But he has a helicopter?”
Again, the slightly confused look. “No.”
Evidently, Brandt was going to have to get used to simple answers without expansion. “Then how did he get me here?” He didn't think that was a difficult question, but the look on her face said otherwise. She almost looked crestfallen. Why would that question upset her? He didn't want to end the conversation or hurt her feelings, so he offered, “It’s ok. You can tell me all that later. I’m just glad you found me.”
She brightened and the shy smile returned.
He tried to find new tack. “Can you tell me where I am?”
“Of course. You are in my father’s house on our island. Makal Island.”
“How many people live here?”
“Just me and Father.”
“You live here by yourselves?”
“Way out here? All year ‘round, or just sometimes?”
“Always,” she said, a little hint of misgiving in her voice.
Her father’s transportation and her residential status seemed to be speed bumps in this conversation. Brandt nodded absently, acknowledging her answer, trying to think of a different line of questions. His mind, however, was preoccupied with lamenting his thirst. He must’ve unknowingly licked his lips, because Lia suddenly stiffened and exclaimed, “Oh my! I have nearly forgotten. You must be parched.”
She reached under the bed and returned with a ceramic jug. Was that always there? She popped the cork from it and handed him the jug.
He tried not to make an obvious show of smelling the jug’s mouth before he drank, luckily there was no telltale smell of poison or drugs. He lifted the jug to his lips and sipped a little of the liquid. It was cool water. He opened his throat and guzzled most of the rest. A little bit was left in the jug in case it was poor etiquette for a convalescing house guest to drink a whole container of whatever was offered.
“Thank you,” he said, trying not to belch.
“You are welcome.” Lia didn't seem concerned with his manners. She re-corked the jug and placed it on his nightstand, then returned to her usual prim posture.
Feeling a little better already, he came up with a new question. “You said you thought I didn’t have internal bleeding. Are you a nurse or a doctor?”
“Oh, no. But I read books. I have read numerous medical books.”
“Yes.” Her closed-mouth grin was like a child who was asked if she liked ice cream. “You had a lot of bruising, here…” she began to reach for his right side, then drew back like a snake had bitten her. Her new expression resembled the aforementioned ice cream loving girl who was told there was no more ice cream. She daintily placed her hand to her mouth, apparently embarrassed that she was about to violate his person by touching his bruised side.
“Uh…” Bemused, Brandt looked down at his side, still covered by his shirt. “It’s, uh, ok if you want to check…”
Apparently, that was the winning answer. She reached under his shirt and lifted it up. Her fingers were warmer than ice, but not by much. Despite the chilly fingers, her touch sent a warm electric shock through his skin. She held the shirt up, and for a moment looked confident, then suddenly embarrassed, then uncertain. She swallowed a little before saying, “There is a lot of bruising here. As well as the other side. Also on that side is a long scar, but that looked old. I noticed it – earlier when I…”
She dropped the shirt and folded her hands in her lap. Brandt had no idea what was going on, but there were a few more red flags in the things she had told him, and apparently, she knew it as well. He tried to give her a soft smile, like everything was fine, and proceeded to lift the shirt himself. He looked at his side and noticed that she was right about the bruising. Both sides were purple, which would be a good reason why he had been in so much pain getting in and out of bed. The scar was another story that was not going to be told anytime soon.
“You’re right,” he said pleasantly. “I’m beat up pretty good. I’m glad you examined me.”
Lia didn’t relax her posture, but her smile returned, a little lower wattage, but genuine.
“Is it just my torso that’s bruised?” he asked. The question was pointed. He was curious how she would answer.
“No,” she said, suddenly needing to look at the floor.
Uh huh. So, I’m willing to bet my clothes have not been entirely on every minute I’ve been here. And yet, she’s the one embarrassed.
“It’s ok,” he said. “I’m glad that someone checked my – uh, made sure I wasn’t injured any worse. It’s a good thing.”
Lia’s head raised, and she was neither smiling nor frowning, but trying to look neutral, and failing. It was like she was conflicted about which emotion to convey, which gave her a constipated expression. Subtlety and emotional transitions appeared to be difficult for her.
Brandt continued to hold his shirt up. He had exceptional core strength and his abdomen was worthy of being featured in fitness magazines. Even bruised, he didn’t mind showing it off in female company. “Is there anything we can do to get the bruising down?”
“Yes,” she said, suddenly enthusiastic. Everything is hot and cold with her. She reached toward him, stopped, and then just made a wavy motion with her fingertips. “Some gentle massage and perhaps some ointment. Would you like me to do that now?”
As much as he would probably enjoy it, he was not sure that was the best plan at that moment. “Thank you. We'll work on that later,” he said, then dropped his shirt.
She snapped her hands back to her lap, looking a little guilty about her suggestion.
It’s like she has all the normal emotions, but none of the degrees. The meter is redlining for each one. Cute, but weird.
Brandt shifted in the bed, trying to decide where the other bruising might be without looking for it. There were no mirrors in the house that he’d seen so far, so he would have to trust his own guesses. It felt like he was bruised pretty much everywhere. He wondered if his ribs were fractured as she suggested.
“So, medical books, huh? What other kinds of books do you read?” he asked.
“All kinds,” she said pleasantly. “I have an exceptional collection of books. And I remember everything I have read.”
That doesn’t surprise me, somehow. He knew there were disorders or diseases that linked emotional stunting with capacity for detailed knowledge retention. He forgot how they worked, but maybe she had something like that. “So, do you believe I have any broken bones, Dr. Lia?”
Lia giggled. She shook her head and quickly answered, “No, I don’t think so. Possible rib fractures and high sprains on both of your ankles.”
Brandt wasn’t sure how much stock to put in the accuracy of her diagnoses, but there were sharp pains near his ribs, his legs did feel heavy and numb, and they did hurt when he walked. But everything hurt when he walked, so it was hard to differentiate.
Brandt decided to ask another pointed question. “Have the police been contacted? Does anyone else know what happened?”
She shook her head. “No. Only myself and my father.” She didn’t seem to see anything hidden in that question.
Brandt smiled and nodded. He wanted to know who, besides herself and her father, knew that he was here. “How long do you expect I need to stay here?”
Lia visibly shrank. “I’m sorry, I don’t know.” The crestfallen look was moments away from returning to her face again, so Brandt shook off his impatience with her and once again changed tack.
Teasingly, he said, “So, how’d you get so many books living way out here? Does Amazon deliver to islands?”
Lia had a brief moment of bewilderment, but she relaxed in her chair before she said, “My father gets them for me. He flies to other places and looks for anything I don’t have, and then…” She seemed to think that she said something that she shouldn’t have. She took a quick breath and reset. “My father gets them.”
“Well, I’d love to see your collection when I’m able to get out of bed.” He wasn’t sure if she knew he’d already gotten out of bed before, but it seemed like something he should keep to himself for the moment.
Regardless, her reaction was pure joy. “Yes, I'd like that.” She was bouncing and wiggling noticeably like she might want to pick him up right then and carry him to wherever this collection was. Although she was a slender woman, Brandt had the odd notion that she may be much stronger than she looked.
Brandt had been doing some mental calculations while they had talked. Lia was either so amazing an actress that she could fake bad acting to hide her real emotions, or she truly was an odd, sweet, innocent girl who genuinely wanted to help him recover. Running with that assumption, he would then assume she knew nothing about him. And although he hadn’t met her father, the father didn’t sound nefarious or suspicious either. There was definitely something odd about the father, and absolutely something Lia wished to hide, but it didn’t appear to have anything to do with Brandt and his situation.
Those red flags, though. What in the world did a few of her casual comments mean?
Like, point one: Her father apparently flies places, and went out and brought Brandt back here, but he doesn’t have a helicopter. He doubted there was room to land a plane on this rocky island. She didn’t say her father flew Brandt back here, yet how else can he explain the memory of his flight above the island? And even if Brandt dismissed the flying mystery, then what about a boat? There might be a little beach somewhere he didn’t see from the air. All he had seen was stark cliffs and rocks, inaccessible by a boat, unless there was a manmade stairway and dock somewhere unseen. So, how did I get here?
Point two: Lia was embarrassed or concerned that Brandt would know that she lives here permanently. Why? What significance was that? Other than being really weird, it wasn’t illegal or harmful. Or was it illegal? Most of these islands were government owned. Were they squatters? In a freaking mansion? It would’ve been a massive undertaking, and years to build, especially getting the materials shipped way out here, not to mention transporting the labor force. There was no way the government was clueless that someone lived here. So, what was she so afraid Brandt might find out?
Lia asked, “Are you married?”
Brandt realized that was the first real question she had asked him besides if he’d allow her to touch his bruises. And of all the questions she could start with, – that one?
Lia seemed to realize the same thing and quickly added, “Or any other family on the mainland? Is there anyone that will be worried where you are?”
Brandt smiled. That was her own version of a pointed question. He could give her the truth and tell her that he had no living parents, no wife or girlfriend, just his brother. But he was reluctant to offer that much right now. He didn’t want to lie, either. This girl seemed innocent, and he didn’t think she was involved in his sorted situation, but he didn’t want to take the chance quite yet.
“Yeah,” he said. “They’ll probably worry if I don’t get word soon.”
Lia nodded and once again glanced at the floor. Something had subtly changed in her mannerism. His ego thought that she was interested in his marital status because he was a prospect she had suddenly caught in her net. Not a lot of boyfriend options way out here. The more rational thought was something else was going on that he wasn’t privy to yet. He’d figure it out as he went.
Risking an etiquette breach, he reached out a hand and lifted her chin. She flinched when he touched her. Her radiant eyes looked through him. Man, I could get lost in those. Her eyes were a clear lake that you could see to the bottom, inviting and perfect. He got a grip on himself.
“It’s ok,” he said softly. “We can wait until I get better. I trust you.”
He wasn’t sure why he said that last line, but it seemed like what she wanted to hear. Her expression once again brightened to full voltage. It’s really all or nothing with her emotions. Brandt felt compelled to amend his previous vague statement about his family ties. His egotist side told him it was because he was suddenly as interested in her marital status as she was in his. His rational side just wanted the excuse to continue the conversation and coax more information from her.
“And, no, I’m not married,” he said. My latest girlfriend left me for a drug dealer, so... “How about you? How come you’re…?”
Lia suddenly thrust out her hand and pressed a finger gently to his lips. What the…? For a moment, he thought she was going to lean in and kiss him. That’s not what happened. She turned her head and seemed to be listening.
“Shhh,” she said sharply.
Brandt tried to mumble the words, “What is it?” but all he got was “Wha…” before she hissed, “Shhh,” again.
This was a curious development on two fronts. One, her new in-charge attitude was an interesting switch. And two, something was apparently happening that might be significant.
Lia stayed unnaturally still for several seconds. Her eyes flitted back and forth, not really seeing anything, just a reaction to her concentration. Brandt heard absolutely nothing.
Without making a sound, he tried to mouth the word, “What?”
She was looking in the wrong direction to see his action, but she nevertheless raised the hand that she had held to his mouth and jabbed the finger into the air as a forceful directive to stay quiet.
Scenarios bounced around in Brandt’s brain, all of them selfish worries that his fears were about to be realized. That the man that he had tried to…
Faster than seemed possible, she placed her hand on his shoulder and pressed him gently but firmly to lie back on the bed. He complied. She may have been slightly built, but her hands held a quiet strength that surprised him.
Who in the hell is this woman?
And what the hell is going on?
Lia kept her hands firmly on his shoulder. “You need to stay very quiet and do not move from this bed. Do you understand?”
He was partly annoyed that she wouldn’t tell him what was happening, and partly nervous about what that might mean, and partly intrigued by this shy little odd mouse becoming miss take-charge.
He nodded, trying to appear accepting of her directive.
Her expression went neutral as she stood up.
“My father is coming,” she said flatly, then glided to the door. Apparently, she assumed nothing else needed to be said.
Father? That’s what this is about? Brandt wanted to throw out his arms and say, “So? Your father brought me here. Obviously, he knows I’m here.” Maybe the father knew why Brandt had been out on that boat. Maybe her father knew exactly who Brandt was.
Brandt didn’t get the chance to voice any of this. Lia slipped through the door and pulled it behind her. As she closed the door, she slipped the key out of the lock. The door clicked shut.
She had just locked him in the room
Brandt waited. Time passed excruciatingly slow. His aversion to being locked in a room in an unknown place wasn’t making it easier.
He wasn’t sure what to expect, but he figured he would at least hear the father’s voice. Yet, he heard virtually nothing. No footsteps, no raised voices, no clanging or banging like someone was in the kitchen. Pretty much nothing. Once in a while, he heard Lia’s quiet voice say something unintelligible. At first, he thought she might be whispering something to him through the door. Later he understood that she was downstairs and was addressing someone else. Someone who didn’t seem to be answering. Maybe the father was deaf and used sign language.
Brandt tried to lay still, unsure why the father hearing him, or even knowing he was in the house, was somehow concerning. The guy had brought him here. How was Brandt’s presence a surprise? And why would it matter? Did the father think Brandt was going to rape his daughter? Or was the guy some kind of mentally unstable maniac that might go crazy and try to hurt Brandt? Or a fugitive that would be upset with someone seeing his face? Brandt could relate to that. But it still didn’t explain why the man would rescue him and then have an issue with him being here.
And the king question of the day was why had Lia locked him in this damned room? Was it for his safety or some kind of kinky control? If everything went over smoothly, and daddy dearest didn't try to kill Brandt, then there were some ground rules to get straight. Either Brandt was a guest, free to come and go, or he was a prisoner. In the latter case, the situation would most definitely need to be reassessed. He wanted to think that Lia was just overreacting. She didn't seem to have a concept of subtlety or middle ground, and this could be just another of her over-cranked emotional responses.
And maybe you’re just being testy because you know you don’t have any control over the situation.
Brandt hadn’t felt like he had been in control of his life for a while now. God in heaven, or maybe the one in Hell, seemed to be bouncing Brandt around on strings, performing some secret play. Brandt was tired of being controlled, and if he was honest with himself, it may have been the reason he blew up that boat with himself inside it. No one can control a corpse.
Brandt blew out a frustrated sigh before he caught himself. The sigh was loud and the father might hear. And so what? I can handle some old guy. Even busted up, I can take care of myself. He knew that, and yet he also knew better. Confidence or not, suspicions or not, he needed to trust Lia. This situation was going to get awkward – ok, more awkward – if he couldn’t count on his initial assumption that Lia and her father (hopefully) were here to help him. They weren’t trying to do anything to him. His own troubles were just that: his.
Lia doesn’t know anything. Her dad probably didn’t, either. The man was just weird or something, or overly protective. Maybe Brandt would be overprotective too if his daughter was emotionally immature, drop-dead gorgeous, and alone on an island with a strange dude. Ok, I’ll cut the dad some slack.
Brandt continued to wait patiently. He had been patient before for much longer and under much more dire circumstances. In control, or not in control, he could behave. So, he waited.
And listened. It was even quieter than before. He didn’t hear Lia’s voice anymore. Something had changed. He had no idea how he knew that, but he did. Something was happening. No footsteps sounded, no noise or smell indicated anything was afoot, yet something was. He felt it in his bones. He was intensely aware of a growing fear of some kind. Fear of nothing in particular, but fear nonetheless, like someone had opened a bottle of generic fear and he was breathing it in. This place is really, really weird.
Brandt stared at the door like it was a monster that would come alive at any moment. No one had ascended the stairs, so there couldn’t be anyone near the door. But somebody was. Again, he knew it without any evidence. Nobody could possibly have come up the stairs and down the hall without making some kind of noise, even slight. He was good at listening for subtle things, and he absolutely would’ve heard someone.
Yet someone was outside the door. And as sure as he was of that, he was also sure it was not Lia. Whoever it was just stood there, apparently not breathing, not moving, not doing anything except lurking. Dude, you’re mentally unstable.
The doorknob jiggled. Or did it? Some part of the door had moved. Or did something move in front of the door? Like a rippled wave in water, the air in front of the door changed. There was something in the room with him!
Get a freaking grip!
He wasn’t imagining it. Something was there. The air felt different around Brandt. It sounded different. In fact, there was a kind of buzzing that he now noticed, like some electrical box humming from a flow of charged current. He had heard it before. And it was getting louder. The room became blurrier. His eyelids became heavier, and his eyes stung and began to water.
Oh no. No, no, no. Not now. His head felt thick like something was growing inside of it and coating his brain in cool fluid. His limbs were heavy and couldn't be raised. Nothing would respond. His entire body was going involuntarily catatonic. In his ears, he heard his heartbeat pumping its blood through his head. The edges of his eyelids drew each other together like magnets. His vision was almost gone, and still, nothing had stepped forward to show itself.
They drugged me. That damned girl drugged me somehow before she walked out of the room! There was no other explanation. Brandt had no idea if there was any real danger facing him, but he wouldn’t tolerate being unwillingly drugged, regardless. As soon as he woke up, he was getting out of here.
If he woke up. Damn it, what have they done to me?
Everything went black.
Brandt saw the bat guy with the glowing yellow eyes again, and once again, he felt like it was real. And as before, his internal voice told him he was just dreaming.
You’re paranoid and you need to stop.
The difference in this new dream was that Lia was present. She stood somewhere behind the bat guy. If she said something, Brandt didn’t hear it. She seemed to have a conversation with the bat man without either one speaking. And then Lia and the bat man exited, the door shut behind them, and Lia left the key in the door.
Well, it’s nice to dream about it, but good luck expecting the key to really be in the door once you wake up. If you wake up.
That realization snapped Brandt awake. He shot up in the bed, breathing hard and clutching his throat. He wasn’t sure why he needed to check his neck, but there was nothing wrong with it at least. He calmed down and looked around.
Still in his room. Still alone. The door was still… No, it wasn’t locked. The key was in the slot. But that didn’t mean his dream was real. It just meant that Lia had unlocked the door at some point.
So, what else happened? What was that humming, and buzzing, and invisible person in my room?
Your imagination, dumbass. Drug side effects.
He was back to that again. Lia must have drugged him somehow. He could handle all the weirdness, and maybe even the locked door, but not the roofie. If he was in constant and severe pain, or had a broken bone or two, he could see the need to keep him sedated without his initial permission. But once he was able to converse, he should have been told about the drugs. And considering that the father seemed to see Brandt as a threat, or an unwelcome guest, it was not an acceptable option for Brandt to be without his wits. If someone came in soon to apologize and explain, then maybe he could let it slide. Otherwise, no.
He glanced around the room, seeing if there was anything new to deduce. It was day again. Damn it, how long have I been out? The chair had been moved. It was behind the foot of his bed now. The rocking chair was roughly in the same place, only angled a little differently.
He checked under the covers. He was still dressed, but his shirt was bunched up past his midriff. Tough it was a reasonable possibility that his shirt could have ridden up as he slept, he didn’t think so in this case. They had been in his room. They had discussed him to some degree and Lia had likely shown her father Brandt’s bruises. She was probably trying to convince the man that Brandt wasn’t in any shape to be kicked out. Or too pathetic to kill.
That’s fine, sweetie. I appreciate the effort, but I think I’ll take my leave.
He didn't want to be somebody's caged experiment, and it wouldn't be a good idea to stay, anyway. A day ago, people tried to kill him. Brandt had killed them instead. There were more of them, though. He wasn't safe here.
Problem number two. Brandt had no transportation. There was likely no way off this island without a solid boat or aircraft. And though he was sure Lia and her dad had some kind of vehicle that would be adequate, and he could steal it, that meant he was leaving them completely stranded out here. He wasn’t that cruel.
He sighed. There had to be a way. Maybe it was simpler than he thought and he just needed to go have a look. Maybe they had two vehicles. One thing for sure, he was done being the helpless captive.
He swung his legs over the edge of the bed and his feet came to rest next to a pair of slippers. Now what? First, he was a guest, then a captive, then an intruder. Now a guest again?
The slippers were a little big for his feet. They were well worn, so he doubted the slippers had just been flown in from Wal-Mart. They probably belonged to Lia’s dad. The weirdness gets weirder. “Daddy, please don’t kill the nice boy. And can he borrow your slippers?” Considering Brandt was a fairly solid six foot with average feet for that height, dad must be even taller. If the feet matched the height, the dad may be about six-three. Someone taught him those calculations, but he never knew if they were accurate.
Brandt dismissed the slippers and walked slowly and carefully to the door. Everything in his body still ached, but he was getting used to it. He tried the knob and was rewarded with an easy turn. The door opened.
Brandt was down the hallway to the stairwell much quicker than the last time. He was no longer concerned with being absolutely quiet. He wasn’t trying to trip an alarm either, but if anyone confronted him now, they would all have a frank chat.
He descended the stairs, wincing with each foot plant. His ankles were most definitely sprained. If he could find some tape lying around, maybe he could wrap them for better mobility, though he didn’t expect to see some just laying around. Brandt got to the bottom floor and lowered himself into a crouch, ready to run if needed. He still saw nobody around. He slowly stood back up and looked around a little more closely. The dust on the table was still undisturbed. Cobwebs still hung from the sofas. The fire was still unlit. The kitchen still had no dishes or pots out. What do these people do all day? Whatever they did, wherever they went, they didn’t seem to hang around here much, and certainly weren’t here now.
Brandt wasn’t a detective, although he had a mind like one sometimes. He could see details and make deductions from them. This house defied traditional logic, and it was hard to interpret signs of human interaction when there were no signs of human interaction. But that in itself was significant.
The two people here (he was trusting Lia’s admission that there were only two of them) didn’t really live in this house. At least, not in the normal way. This house was more like a museum than a home. So, it was possible that there was some other cabin, or shack, or underground dwelling, that was their daily residence. That, or Lia was simply lying. She did hedge when he asked her about living here. She simply said “always.” And that was odd in every possible way. If she had answered “sometimes,” that wouldn’t have raised any suspicions in his mind. So, why lie about something that just didn’t make any sense, and didn’t even help the perception? The reality was that Lia was deceiving him in some way, and neither she nor her father spent much time in this house, or at least not in the common ways that would be expected.
Brandt saw nothing in the house that would help his own situation. Definitely no phones, and no weapons, unless he wanted to steal a kitchen knife. He considered that, but wasn't feeling physically threatened. Brandt wasn't quite fearless, but he had confidence in his ability to fight with or without a weapon. Formal combat training and battlefield experience taught him his strengths and limits. He didn't see a fight necessarily coming, but he would be fine if it did. The knife was skipped for now. He was going to look for options to leave and no one needed to get hurt. It would just be best for all parties if he could find a way off this rock quietly.
Brandt moved to the front doors. At the threshold, he looked down. His sneakers were laid out on the family crest rug. Probably water-logged from his swim in the Pacific and Lia had probably put them there to dry. They had been carefully placed next to each other with symmetric precision, with laces spread out ready to be pulled and tied, like they awaited a first-grader on his way to school. Brandt reached down and picked up the sneakers. Slightly crusty, yet more or less dry. He slipped them on and went out the doors.
The ocean stretched for miles into a misty horizon. The waves roiled and danced, larger than they appeared, popping little white sprays of foam on their peaks. The gleam of the morning sun struck the wave tops, resembling little flashbulbs. A speck on the horizon might be a cargo ship or a fishing boat. The distance was too great to distinguish. As beautiful as it was, the sea offered no respite for someone who wished to travel across it in a small craft. The next landmass would be another remote island with likely no residents, and also no other transportation anywhere else.
The island didn’t seem very large, difficult to determine because the area that the house stood on was the only visibly flat area. The house itself was primarily a bland, box shape with a stone lower floor, a white painted upper floor, and a high-angled roof. It looked taller than the two floors Brandt was aware of. The rear of the left side resembled a church facade the way it was styled with a tall flat front that might have a stained glass window if it was a church. Brandt couldn’t see that side from where he was standing, and he didn’t really care.
To the left of the house were craggy mountains. Dark and foreboding, they angled up like a monument to an ancient god. Scores of seabirds flocked around the apexes, decorating sections with years of white guano. Patches of hearty trees and bushes didn't seem to mind the hard, angled ground. The rock slabs and earth that comprised the mountain were varied and looked like a collection of smaller mountains rather than one solid piece, having been pushed together billions of years ago and turned into one unforgiving, impassible mass. There was no telling how far to the unseen side of the island those mountains extended. The habitable area below was maybe the size of a couple of aircraft carriers. On the edge of the mountains were several wood structures that might be barns or sheds, which were ringed by some simple wooden fencing. He saw a few goats and one sheep wandering inside the fence. The fenced area was pretty vast, so Brandt assumed there were a lot more goats and sheep somewhere, just not currently within view. Nobody was in sight attending to the animals at the moment. They could possibly be inside one of the barns or sheds.
Brandt gingerly jogged over to the island’s nearest edge hoping there was some kind of climbable section of rock he could descend. At the precipice, he stopped and looked down. It was a sheer rock face, almost completely vertical. He looked right and left and saw the same view extending the full length of the island. A harsh, nearly ninety-degree slope with no footholds or hand grips to climb up or down. And at the bottom were jagged rocks and crushing waves. Even if he lowered himself down to the waterline, the surf would batter him into bloody pulp. And at least on this visible side, there wasn't anything constructed like a ramp or stairs to allow a human to get down to the water.
There simply had to be a place somewhere that was traversable down to a beach, or a dock, where some kind of boat could be moored. There was room for a helicopter to land if Lia lied about that too, but Brandt was betting against it. Helicopters and planes cost money to keep up, and gas to fly, and the impression of this place was self-sufficiency and isolation. Brandt would wager they had a sailboat if he had to bet. Maybe a dock or beach was at the far end of the island.
It took maybe ten or fifteen minutes for Brandt to get to the north end of the island. It didn't look that far, but took longer than he had assumed, probably from the sluggishness and stiffness of his body and the uneven terrain. The ground was mostly flat, strewn with tilted rock slabs that were covered in moss and surrounded by grass. He kept his focus on the ground to keep from tripping. Twice he slowed to look around and see if he had been spotted, but no one was visible. He saw a firewood-chopping area and something that looked like a freshwater reservoir built on a wooden platform. Otherwise, there were no other manmade structures between him and the far edge. His ankles screamed at him to stop moving. They were both numb and red hot. Though his ribs ached from the jostling, at least they weren't shooting sharp pains through him. He could definitely make it to the north end. But once he got there, if he stopped for any length of time, he was going to stiffen up and be a solid lump of aching, swollen muscles. Whatever. He could deal with that later.
He reached the far edge and saw it was a concave shape like it had been eroded or collapsed. On either side, the rock face was jagged and uninviting, however, the concave section was sandier and a gentler slope, not at all easy to traverse, but possibly doable. There was a small patch of pebbly ground below that passed for a tiny beach, and an inlet next to it that led into what might be a cave. Brandt couldn’t see too far into it from his vantage point.
There wasn’t a dock. There was no boat pulled into the cove, or anything to signify that this was any kind of usable port, or place to launch or beach a boat. But it was the closest thing he had seen so far. Maybe Lia and her dad were out in the boat right now and they might come back to this spot. And maybe Brandt was pressing for something that wasn’t realistic.
Someone who lived out here would need a substantial boat to get around. Those waves would toss around anything less than a twenty-foot craft. Something like a sloop would be the smallest thing one could even consider, and even then it could be dangerous in these waters. And a good-sized sloop would be hard to beach on that little rocky shore. It would need to be docked somewhere. Nothing made sense.
Far off to Brandt’s right was nothing but mountainous terrain. Giant rocks and harsh vertical ground that shot straight up from the water’s edge. There was absolutely nowhere in sight to gain entrance to this place by an approaching boat. This little cove was the only thing Brandt had seen that had a chance. Maybe on the other side of the island, hidden behind the mountains, there was some kind of beach or dock. But how would the traveler get to this side? There was no road or obvious path through the mountains that he could see. Below, and to the right, the inlet that led to what looked like the mouth of a cave was the most promising thing he had seen so far. It was a ridiculous whim, but he imagined an underground tunnel that traversed the island leading from that cave. Then he reconsidered that it wasn’t entirely ridiculous. He knew that several of the islands had caverns that went a considerable distance under the surface. Whale watching tours would sometimes visit them to impress the passengers when the whales weren’t cooperating, and the captains wanted to give the passengers their money’s worth. An island-long underground cavern was about as likely as anything else in this place, and he didn’t have any other good ideas. He either needed to investigate this cave, or give up and go back. If he stood here any longer he’d stiffen up and be a useless invalid. While his muscles were still warm and not locked up yet, he needed to keep moving.
He paced near the edge, which had precarious drop-offs in many places, and several spots where rain or wind had bitten into it and made a trough wide enough to step. Brandt shuffled and sidestepped, trying to keep his balance in one of the ruts. The slope was mild at the top, but bent into a steep decline within six feet. It was layered with shells and smaller rocks that didn’t offer much stability, and his feet slid immediately when he pressed down. The cascade of pebbles and shells made a consistent slope down to the bottom if he risked just sliding down on his butt, though that also meant that getting back up would be a bigger challenge. And in his condition, he wasn’t sure he’d be strong enough. He was beginning to shake from the exertion already, and he didn’t want to think of what his ankles and ribs would feel like when they cooled down. He tried to dog-walk backward down the slope. That helped a little, but his feet still completely slid out from under him until he was on his belly. He considered again whether to just let himself slide all the way down. There was simply no telling how deep that cave went, and if it led nowhere, then he’d be stuck down there.
Brandt sighed. Now that he was outside breathing fresh air, stuck in an awkward position, he was starting to reassess the current state of things. Honestly, he had witnessed no nefarious activity from Lia or her mysterious father, and Brandt’s deductions had so far been based on assumptions or guesses. He was starting to think he was unwarranted in his pressing of the panic button. Or was just being tired and kinda missing his comfy bed good enough reason to believe he had overreacted? His quick fuse sometimes got him into trouble. He had put himself in this situation and he only had himself to blame for being here. And if Lia and her father hadn’t saved him, he would have probably drowned, so there was that. They had saved him and given him a room to recover and hadn’t harmed him. Despite Lia’s concerns about her father’s intentions, which were unknown, the father hadn’t done anything while Brandt had been unconscious. They had been in his room and had done nothing more than check his bruises and give him a pair of slippers. He couldn’t even be sure Lia had sedated him, although, he still couldn’t explain what had happened to him.
More rocks slipped under his knees and he sprawled flat on the ground. Brandt worked his way back up to the grassy edge and knelt there for a moment.
Those dream feelings of claws or prickly things on his abdomen could’ve been shots when he was asleep the first day. The drugs could’ve had a delayed effect. It made some sense. In which case, he had already been drugged before he awoke the first time. But she could’ve at least have told him later. He sighed. He was probably being an ass. All Lia was trying to do was help. There wasn’t much of an excuse for his suspicions other than he had passed out like he had been drugged, was locked in the room briefly, and was nervous about his own situation catching up with him. He was a paranoid, presumptive, suspicious asshole.
Fine, I’ll just be cautious. And I also need to get back inside. I’m not getting off this rock anytime soon, and I’m not helping matters right now. He could come back and investigate the little beach and cavern later when he felt better. Neither of them was going anywhere.
I guess I’m going to stick around, then. And be cautious, but not an asshole.
Brandt's ankles were screaming at him. His ribs had decided they wanted a piece of that action and were pounding against his sides like two sledgehammers. Awesome. This ill-advised stunt probably just set himself back a week. His concussed head was giving him bad advice. He should’ve just stayed in bed and thought things through. Too late now. He pushed himself up to a standing position and winced. Everything hurt a lot, and it was all catching up to him.
“Holy shit,” he hissed as he twisted to stretch out the offending body parts. It didn’t help. He could really use a golf cart right about now, as the house looked small and seemed like it was hours away. It was really about a few hundred yards, but that was a marathon the way he was feeling. His legs were bags of jello. His torso felt like it was wrapped in splintered wood, the less he moved it, the less it would poke him. He blew out an exasperated breath and took a step toward the house.
He leaned against the front door with all his weight. The tree limb he had used as a walking staff was placed next to the doorframe as he calmed his panting. It hurt his ribs each time he had planted the stick on the ground, but it helped his ankles immensely. He had been grunting and grinding his teeth with every step. Just that effort was exhausting, forgetting everything else he did. But he made it back in one piece and hadn't fallen and broken anything. Despite the stupidity of roaming around injured, he hadn't ruined his chances to go home.
Home. There was another complicated concept he needed to deal with. Home was the place where his haunted dreams wouldn’t give him peace. The place where he sat and gripped his head in agony and cursed at God for leaving him alive. It was the thing he had dismissed to never see again, and yet was now trying to get back there. Later. One mental hang-up at a time, please.
He reached for the doorknob, then hesitated, having the sudden feeling that someone was on the other side and would open the door before he could do it himself. The door didn’t open, and the feeling faded somewhat. Brandt shook off the crazy notion and opened the door. Nobody was there.
Everything was just as he left it. Cobwebs, dust, nothing out of place. The eerie museum to old-world charm.
He replaced his shoes on the foyer rug. Lia would probably not be fooled into thinking that he had never left his bed, but he’d try it anyway. He’d prefer his de facto nurse not scold him for his ill-conceived excursion. The sneakers were carefully adjusted to look as though they hadn’t been touched, then he looked at the staircase. Damn, that looks tall. It wasn’t so daunting coming down, just using careful footsteps to catch his descent. Going up would require energy and effort. Maybe I’ll put that off for a few minutes.
His legs hurt, his sides hurt, and he was definitely needing more rest, but he figured if he was already up and pressing his luck, he might as well press it further before he killed himself climbing the stairs. Plus, he was thirsty again and a little hungry. He shuffled toward the kitchen.
The sink didn’t have any running water. It was dry like everything else. Luckily, on the counter was a ceramic jug topped with a cork, similar to the one Lia had given him before. He carefully pulled out the cork and sniffed. Water. Apologies for my cooties, but… He took a long slug and replaced the cork.
He planned to check out the fridge, but there wasn’t a fridge. Go figure. There was no evidence of anyone ever doing anything in the kitchen, so the absence of food wasn't a surprise. They may have a pantry with dry goods or canned stuff, but he was almost willing to bet there wasn't any of that, either. What might be a slender pantry door was at the far end of the kitchen, which was a longer walk than Brandt expected. The kitchen was large enough for a gourmet chef to be comfortable in, but apparently, it was just for show. The pantry would bear the final judgment. Catching his breath after his trek across the kitchen, he tried the pantry door. It wouldn’t budge. I have no idea what that means. It meant he couldn’t solve the bet with himself, and he wasn’t going to whip up a PBJ anytime soon.
Next to the pantry door was a small hallway that led to what looked like a utility room. There was something round and dull-colored in there, like a washtub, or something unglamorous. It was dark, so unless he wanted to investigate with a candle, it would remain a semi-mystery. It wasn’t exciting enough for him to shuffle down there. But something else caught his eye.
To his right was a recessed door. It was in a place that would make sense as some kind of basement access. But basement doors are usually bland interior doors that looked even less stylish than normal interior doors. This one looked large and medieval. It probably weighed more than him, and had heavy iron hinges, bolts, and an ornate iron latch handle, like somebody bought some castle door and installed it as the basement door. The mahogany color was the same as the dining table and looked almost as old as a castle would be. A stone arch around it also looked borrowed from some European castle. It was bizarre and creepy, and positively alluring.
Brandt crept over to the door, partially from an attempt at stealth, and partially from not wanting to jar his body anymore. He tried the door handle, expecting to find it unyielding and locked. The latch smoothly clicked up and the door eased open a crack. Holy cow. This door was doubtless the entrance to something of importance, and that thought enticed Brandt to push the door open and see whatever it was. But he had already pressed his luck and basically thumbed his nose at his caretakers with his foolish escape stunt, so he was reluctant to barge in on whatever was down there. He could explain his little outdoor adventure as temporary insanity. But trespassing? The door’s open, dude.
That still isn’t a free pass to poke your nose around someone else’s house.
You’re looking for food.
Aw, come on, weak sauce.
Did he really care if they knew he was snooping around? It seemed wrong, regardless of how he rationalized it. A few moments ago you were considering armed combat to get off the island, now you’re worried about etiquette? And yet you think Lia’s the emotionally immature one? That was actually a good case for him needing some more rest. Besides arguing with himself, he wasn’t making rational decisions. The best decision he could make right now was to carefully close the door and head back up to bed.
The door had other ideas. Like a cross breeze had sucked it open, the door pulled at his hand and began to open wider. There was no wind he could detect. Maybe the door wasn’t level with the ground and opened slightly downward, and gravity pulled at it. Brandt yanked back at the handle. The thing was ridiculously heavy. He grasped the handle with both hands. As he did so, he could see that there was a long stone stairway leading down into a deathly dark space. The sliver of ambient kitchen light didn’t cast far enough down to illuminate the bottom floor. Brandt pulled with both hands and arrested the door’s movement, but it was far enough open now to see the staircase clearly.
The stone stairs looked as old as anything he’d ever seen. They had the sheen of something that had been worn down over a thousand years. Not that those facts are amazing, just curious. Either some druid race lived on this island a thousand years ago and this house was built on top of it (unlikely), or the builder had imported old stonework to construct his stairs (more likely). Still cool, just not as cool as the druid thing. In either case, interesting. But he was actually not trying to explore the basement. He was trying to close the door, despite the door's ghostly opening. The door finally gave way to his strength and creaked to indicate its returning trajectory. As it did so, Brandt noticed something. That creak wasn't from the door.
He stopped pulling. The creak had come from the depths of the basement. It was most definitely a hinge-like sound, which was why he had assumed it was the door. But as he stopped pulling and held his breath, he heard the creak again. Shorter, weaker, but there. Down there.
Oh, hell no.
The hesitation of listening for the sounds allowed the door to pull back open again. It opened a little wider than it had been previously. The long triangle of grey light speared the darkness and touched a tiny corner of something solid. The object had a precise ninety-degree corner and was glossy black with a hint of silver, and was sitting on a stone basement floor. Brandt swallowed a glob of spit he had held too long in his mouth and let the door swing wider. As the little shaft of light grew larger, the object became clearer. It was some kind of a large box, all glossy black. On top was a painted crest, which could very well be the same family crest design that Brandt saw on the foyer rug. Around the box was thin silver trim, plus some bolts, nails, or pins of the same finish. And there was the hint of a polished black pole attached to the side. A pallbearers’ pole.
Oh good God, it’s a coffin. Brandt blew out a horse-snort through his lips. He had barged into the basement where the dead relatives were kept. This was going to be embarrassing to explain, and certainly, he had no business snooping around the family’s crypt, or whatever this was. He needed to shut this door and get his ass back up to bed. If his luck held, they may never know he even saw the basement. Slick, man. Hurry up.
The door was fully open and Brandt had to go down the first step to reach the door handle. As he did, he heard the subtle creak again downstairs. Like a coffin lid creaking? Yeah, right. Out of the corner of his eye, he could’ve sworn he saw some kind of movement on the coffin lid, but he was already irrational and rattled from a concussion, probably drug-addled, and certainly paranoid. Just close the door, Scooby-Doo. He grasped the door handle with both hands.
Something tickled his spine. It felt the same as when he had been locked in his room and he thought there was somebody with him. The tickle turned into a humming in his brain and his eyelids got heavy. Oh, for the love of… No, no, no! He wanted to slap his face with one of his hands, but he needed both to pull the door. He shook his head, trying to jog sense into it. Come on, pull! At least wait ‘til the door is shut to pass out. The door budged and he had to take a step backward, but his strength was ebbing. His body was becoming numb. The door handle was still in his grip, so he refocused his effort into pulling and the door swung a little closer to him, but he didn’t think he would be able to take the step back up to the top landing. Come on feet. Obey me, you pieces of shit! His feet wouldn't budge. In fact, he believed he was starting to lose his balance. A moment later he was sure. Whatever was stunning him, and this time he was certain it wasn't Lia, it was keeping his limbs from maintaining their balance. And his weight was closer to the basement side than the kitchen. Oh no. He could feel his torso lean toward the basement even as he figured this out. The door handle was still in his hands, but his fingers were uncurling and held no power. Still no response from his feet. Maybe if he could just fall forward onto the top step, he wouldn’t tumble down the stairs. But no, his torso wouldn’t obey either. He was a sack of useless human meat that had no ability to move, and he was about to fall down a long flight of stone stairs.
The entreaty was to no one in particular. Probably to God himself, but Brandt was not a religious person and simply did not know who to send the message to. He elaborated in his mind. To whom it may concern. I am about to fall down some stairs and bust my head open. Would the nearest deity, or convenient spirit, please be so kind as to save my useless ass? Thank you, sincerely, Me.
He squinted from the desperate effort to find some solution anywhere in front of him. There simply was none. His parting wish was that he could tell Lia he was sorry for blaming her for whatever was happening to him. He was resigned to expecting serious injury and multiple broken bones, if not death, when he saw something familiar.
Familiar and haunting. The eyes. The yellow glowing eyes that he had seen several times in his dreams, and in the blurry hallucination of his water rescue, were right in front of his face. They bore into him. He had no idea if he was still falling, or floating, or was already dead. Everything went quiet and seemed to fade away. Only the eyes remained. Brandt had no recourse except to look into those eyes.
They spoke to him. They told him to relax. He wasn't in control, what else could he do? Was he even falling anymore? He had no sensation of falling. Just the vision of those damned eyes. They had no substance, just glowing light as if they were made from pieces of the sun. He wanted to say something to the eyes, but he wasn't able to speak. The eyes spoke again. “Let go.” He didn’t want to let go. He didn’t trust the eyes. But he was tired of everything.
Screw it all. He let go.
This ends the Sample of
“A Vampyre’s Daughter”