Blood & Curses

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Chapter 25: After

James, William, Matthew, and Henry carried the coffin along the pathway of the cemetery towards a newly constructed mausoleum. It was a gift from the Elderidge Clan to the Ashford family, taking a few days to construct. The whiteness of the marble shone in the brilliant moonlight, lanterns ignited by the heavy iron doorway that gave way to its magnificent inner sanctum.

The boys walked in as the others filed in behind the coffin ceremoniously. William and James had extracted as many coffins as they could to lay to rest in their new home. Henry had helped to identify his descendants so their names and dates could be inscribed on the new stones along the walls.

The mausoleum was spacious allowing for them all to enter and stand comfortably as the boys set the new cedar coffin upon a pedestal near the back underneath a stained glass window of a rising sun over mountains.

Mary was the first to approach the coffin with a single red rose in her hand. She touched the top of the coffin tenderly as sobs racked her body, tears spilling onto the freshly polished wood. Laying the rose on top of the coffin, she turned around to cover her eyes as she buried her head into Henry’s chest. Henry laid his own rose down upon the coffin as he led his sister away.

One by one, the Elderidge Clan approached to pay their respects to Martha, laying roses upon her grave. Ebele finally approached, grasping her new cane to aid her with walking, the curse taking a toll on her body. She laid a hand on the coffin.

“My dearest friend, may you rest in the valley of angels and may they watch over you until you too, have gained your wings,” Ebele said as she bowed her head.

Tears fell silently from her eyes as she stood there a while. Logan and Kate watched the mournful procession from the corner of the room, their hands clasped in front of them. When they had removed the rubble of the ruined mausoleum, they had found the body of Martha. Unfortunately, they hadn’t discovered Mama Eshe or Kalfou which worried Kate. It was possible the explosion had blown them apart but they hadn’t discovered any other body parts among the debris.

Matthew and William helped Ebele through her sobbing step away from the coffin. She cried as she said goodbye to Martha, cutting through the silence of the mausoleum. Victoria felt tears filling her eyes.

She hadn’t known Martha very well, but she recognized the heartbreak of her family and the legacy she was leaving behind. Victoria glanced over to Henry who was gazing at her over the top of Mary’s head. They had barely spoken since the incident. She was trying to give him and his family some space to recover.

Kate and Logan were the first ones to exit the crypt as the rest followed out behind them. William sealed the mausoleum as they stood on the dirt pathway right outside the doorway. Victoria watched as the others trudged silently back towards the mansion.

“I can only imagine what they’re feeling,” William said as he walked up beside her, breaking her focus on the mourning family ahead of them.

“That was us once,” Victoria remarked.

“We knew our parents were going to die, Victoria. Martha was taken from them so suddenly. No one could have expected that outcome,” William whispered.

“Which is better?” Victoria asked. “The dying or the waiting to die?”

William bowed his head and sighed. “We can’t have their tragedies bring up ours. We have to stay strong for them. Henry needs you more than ever.”

“We’ve barely spoken since he’s become human. Sometimes I wonder if he blames me for what happened to his family,” Victoria mumbled.

“I highly doubt that,” William replied. “Take all the time you need. I have a feeling you want to be alone.”

William left her rooted to the ground along the path. She glanced over her shoulder back at the mausoleum and the glowing flames twinkling within the lanterns by the doorway. Turning around swiftly, she noticed Martha staring at her a little ways down the path.

Martha smiled and motioned for her to come closer. Leaving the group to walk alone back towards the house, Victoria headed over to Martha’s side, a tear in her eye. She hugged her, feeling her frame against hers and breathing in her familiar scent of vanilla.

“Martha, how? I mean I know how, but—”

“Shh…I don’t have long, child. I must go but I can’t leave without saying this,” Martha began. “Thomas is alive. I don’t know how, but he is.”

“Thomas? Then that must mean Kalfou is as well,” Victoria replied.

“No, child. It’s Thomas. He was hurt severely but that devil woman escaped with him,” Martha explained.

“To where? Where are they?” Victoria asked hurriedly.

Martha shook her head, grabbing Victoria’s hands. “I don’t know…but if you don’t hurry, that woman will find a way to bring Kalfou back into Thomas’s body. You must find him before that happens.”

“The blast…it disrupted Kalfou when he was taking over his body,” Victoria realized.

Martha nodded her head. “In order for Kalfou to complete his possession, he needed to destroy all of the Ashford line. He’ll be after Henry and Mary. Please…keep them safe.”

Victoria nodded. “Why appear to me? Why not to—”

“They’re human now. They wouldn’t be able to see me, but a vampire can,” Martha smiled. “I know you love my Henry and it’s time for you to tell him so.”

Martha turned to walk away.

“But Mrs. Martha!” Victoria took a few quick steps towards her, but stopped when Martha put her hand up to stop her.

“Take care of them, my dear. I have other family calling me home now,” Martha declared.

Victoria nodded as tears rolled down her cheeks. She quickly wiped them away as she watched Martha walk further into the darkness. An older gentleman and a younger one stood at the end welcoming her with open arms.

At that moment, Victoria understood that her husband and son were waiting for her and had been for a very long time. When Martha reached their arms, they embraced her and they all vanished into the night as a low rolling mist swept through the cemetery.

A hand grabbed her shoulder. Startled, she turned around to see Henry staring after her. She hugged him as she threw her arms around his neck.

“Hey, are you okay?” he asked, noticing the tears streaming down her cheeks.

“I’m okay,” Victoria said, smiling through her sobs. It warmed her heart to know that Martha was in a better place and she wanted to share it with Henry.

“Henry,” Victoria began but he placed his fingertips up to her lips.

“Not here. Come with me,” he said as he twined his fingers through hers and pulled her down the path alongside him. As they ran beside each other through the trees, she realized they were heading towards the orchard near the stables.

As they got closer, Victoria took note of the silence that drifted in from the stables instead of the sound of horses. Henry led her into the stable were lanterns lit the inside. The stalls were empty as he leaned over a stall door where Fire Flight used to stay.

“Where are they?” Victoria asked in shock.

“They disappeared the day our spirits were reconnected with our bodies. It was only a matter of time. They’re finally at peace,” he said.

“I’m so sorry, Henry,” Victoria stated as she hugged Henry’s back, wrapping her arms around his waist and laying her cheek against his shoulder blade. He turned around and held her close, placing his hand on her cheek.

“I know my grandmother will be taking care of them,” he whispered.

“She will,” Victoria assured. “I know there’s been a lot going on, more than we could have ever imagined but I need to—”

Henry covered her mouth with his as he brushed her hair behind her ear. Pulling back, he left her breathless. “This is where it all began. We’ve come full circle.”

Victoria smiled and nodded. “That we have.”

“I want to spend the rest of whatever life I have with you, Victoria. I need you in my life,” Henry whispered, his breath gliding past her lips.

“Henry, I—”

“I love you, Victoria. I’m so sorry I didn’t say it before the ritual,” he apologized.

“I love you too, Henry. You’re saying it now and that’s all that matters,” Victoria said with a smile.

“I keep thinking that I could’ve died and that there was a chance I would’ve never told you how I felt,” Henry admitted.

“Shut up,” Victoria whispered gently as she took his mouth against hers, pulling at his white T-shirt, tugging him closer to her. His warmth invaded her senses as she felt his beating heart quicken.

Thunder rolled overhead as the tinkle of sprinkling rain fell upon the ground and tin roof over the stable. Henry picked Victoria up and spun her around under the stable as the rain fell harder creating a melody upon the roof. Victoria slung her head back and giggled as Henry slowed and set her feet upon the ground.

His breath was fast as he leaned his forehead against hers, her hands on either side of his face. Victoria smiled wide.

“What’s the grin for?” Henry asked.

“I’ll race you to the mansion,” she chuckled.

“You’re a vampire. Of course, you’ll win,” he smiled.

“I’ll run like a human. I just thought you’d like to see my new bedroom and the bed that goes with it,” she teased as she stepped away seductively.

“Oh, you’re on!” he yelled past his shoulder as he started running through the rain through the orchard, soaking him to the bone. His T-shirt clung to his body.

Victoria waited a few seconds before giving chase after him, the rain hitting her skin as she caught up beside him. Henry held his hand out as Victoria grabbed it, her hair sticking to her body and around her face. They screamed like two children as they neared the mansion, savoring the delight they felt in each other’s presence.

Victoria smiled wide thinking to herself that this was what love was supposed to feel like and contemplating all the wicked things she was going to do to his body once they made it inside. Although Martha’s revelation still weighed on her mind, she was going to enjoy this time with Henry. If the past couple days had taught her anything, it was that life was too short. And her and Henry had a lifetime to live.

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