Stupid, Big Brothers and a Little Vampire Drama
Brandr opened the miniature refrigerator and bent over to look and see what he could find. The light from inside illuminated on wide eyes. He sighed and shut the door without retrieving anything from it. “Nothing but tiny bottles full of despair and loneliness. Anyone want to join me in the bar downstairs?”
“No one…,” Marie ordered, “is leaving this room.” Her finger pointed down with the firm preciseness of a strict mother scolding a child. “We need to figure out what Zachary’s up to. We need to find a permanent place to stay. And we need to keep our wits intact.”
“I concede all three points… but I don’t remember voting to put you in charge.”
“Brandr!” Tófa scolded. “She may not be immortal, and therefore does not have the wisdom your age has brought you, but she is still, most likely, the smartest one in this room. Especially when it comes to stratagem and tactics. She knows this city and she has only slightly less experience in dealing with Zachary.”
“I apologize, Detective.”
“I’m not a detective anymore. Just call me Marie, please.”
“Did you know there was a city in North Carolina named New Bergen?” Marc asked from a chair in the corner. “Isn’t Thórsholr in… umm… Old... Bergen?”
“Yes,” Wiz replied, one eyebrow cocked. “It’s in Bergen, Norway.”
“Strange coincidence, isn’t it?” Marc asked.
“It is peculiar,” Wiz replied, slowly rubbing his lip with his thumb. “How did I miss that? Where is this New Bergen? Is it far?”
“I remember that place,” James announced, his face beaming as he looked to his wife, Carolyn. “Honey, you remember, right? We stopped there on our way to the Outer Banks on our honeymoon.” Turning back to the group, he added, “It’s a few hours’ drive… five at the most. Depending on pit stops, of course.”
“When do we leave?” Stew asked.
“Easy, Kiddo,” Marie said, grinning. “Some things we need to square away before we can leave, unless you have a beach house there.”
“How hard is it to book a hotel room?” Stew challenged. “No worse than where we are now.”
“I’d like to minimize our movements, if at all possible. We need to look for something more permanent. Having to go downstairs every morning for a continental breakfast is not anywhere near a permanent solution.”
“What if we rent a house?” Stew suggested.
“That’s not a bad idea,” Marie answered. “Tófa?”
“Yeah,” Tófa replied. “Sounds like a plan.”
“I wish I had brought my laptop,” Mr. Kasey said. “We could look it up right here.”
“It’s the 21st Century. I have internet on my cellphone, Silly,” Mrs. Kasey said, handing the phone to Brandr.
“Here,” Brandr said, handing it to Tófa. “I’ve never been any good at those things.”
“Is it all immortal men or just you and Modeos who can’t seem to adjust to new technology?” Tófa asked.
“James can’t either,” Mrs. Kasey added.
“I can, too,” Mr. Kasey rebutted. “Hello... laptop?”
“Don’t get me wrong,” Wiz argued. “New technology is incredible, but what’s the matter with the technology we’ve got?”
“It’s from the first millennium A.D.,” Tófa replied.
The sides of Wiz’s mouth sank as if they had ten pound weights attached to them. “That doesn’t make it obsolete. We still use the wheel, don’t we?”
“Wiz, why do you continue to argue when you know you can’t win?” Marie asked.
“Because it’s not in me to give up,” Wiz replied.
“Well, I’m giving up for you. I’m going to run to my apartment, pack up a few things. I guess I’ll have to ask Derek if he can keep my cat until we get settled.”
“Bad news,” Tófa sighed. “The longest we would be able to stay anywhere is a week and a half.”
“What about a Bed and Breakfast?” Stew suggested.
“Why didn’t you think of that, Brandr?” Tófa asked with a grin as she went back to tapping on her smartphone.
“Me? Why didn’t you—”
“Dude… don’t,” Stew said as he held up his hand and shook his head.
“A Bed and Breakfast would be a decent temporary solution. We could give them enough for a few months up front. They’re all locally owned so we wouldn’t have to deal with a rental company. I’m sure they’d be happy to have a full house... and for the income. Sufficiently small for a protection spell, too,” Brandr added.
“We can put protection circles around stuff?” Stew asked.
“Sure. To an extent,” Brandr replied. “For instance, this hotel is too big to put a protection circle around, and even if it weren’t, we can’t shut down all bad intentions entering without someone finding us out. There are too many people coming in and out. If we protected it, no one with ill intent would be able to come in. It would keep Zachary out but also others who we have nothing to do with this and it would compromise the integrity of our secret. Not only that, but if, when we cast it, there are people in the circle it would otherwise keep out, it won’t work at all.”
“That sounds extremely complicated,” Marc noted.
“It can be,” Brandr replied.
“Hmm. No luck there, either,” Tófa sighed, pursing her lips. “All booked up for the Christmas season except for one and that one’s closed until Spring for renovations.”
“Wait—that’s perfect!” Brandr exclaimed, rushing to Tófa’s side, trying to look at the phone’s screen. “Do they have a contact number? Call them, offer to pay for all their renovations and then some if they let us stay.”
“That might work. Look at you, thinking outside the box. We pay them enough, they might let us stay long enough to find a permanent house. Hm. This is interesting. A news item popped up on the search page. I guess because I did a search for New Bergen. There’s a campground just outside of town that just went into foreclosure.”
“Foreclosure? What is that?” Wiz asked.
“It means the bank owns it,” Tófa replied.
“Okay. I don’t understand,” he said, squinting. “Does that help us in some way?”
“I’m not living in a tent,” Mrs. Kasey interjected.
“Yes, it does help us. We can buy it from the bank. And they have cabins, so we don’t have to live in tents,” Tófa said, head held high, proud of her find.
“Is it a dump?” Stew asked, skeptical.
“I don’t know. I haven’t found a picture yet but give me a second.” Tófa replied as she continued tapping on the screen with her finger. “Camp Gran… gan… imeo. Granganimeo.”
“That’s a mouthful.”
“Nice looking place. It’s right on the water. It’s worth a shot. We have to get to New Bergen first, then we can worry about who we need to talk to about this campground. Let’s call the bed and breakfast. What’s it called?”
“Queen Anne’s Revival.”
“Arr,” James growled. “Methinks that sounds like a fine establishment.”
“James Kasey,” Carolyn said with a straight face.
“Aye, me lass… I mean, yes, dear?”
The corner of Mrs. Kasey’s mouth tilted up into a sly grin as she pulled her husband close. “You make a sexy pirate.”
“Okay… wow,” Stew said, slamming his eyes shut and turning his head. “How about some food? Marc… are you hungry?”
“I’m hungry,” Tófa added. “Wiz?”
“We can’t just stay in here and… conjure something?” Marie asked, still not keen on leaving the room. “Wait—nevermind. Conjured food just isn’t the same.”
“You’re learning,” Wiz proudly pointed out. “She’s learning.”
“Perhaps we could get something to drink besides tiny bottles of despair and loneliness,” Tófa chided, poking Brandr in the ribs with her elbow.
“Now we’re talking,” Brandr said, immediately rising from his chair.
“I apologize for interrupting here,” Mr. Kasey said, “but before get too preoccupied with dinner, I have to mention… if we’re going somewhere, as in, actually changing locations, we need to go get our daughter.”
“You’re right,” Marie replied. “And you live in Salisbury, right? How many people can fit in your vehicle?”
“We have a mini-van. It seats seven snugly.”
“Well, we’re going to have to take two vehicles. No need to be uncomfortable if it’s not necessary. Brandr, Tófa, Wiz and I will ride in my car. That leaves six of you to ride in the van.”
Goose whimpered at Stew’s feet. “We’re not going to leave you. You don’t take up that much room.” Goose barked a happy reply.
Twenty minutes later, they were all packing up the vehicles, getting ready to head up the road toward Salisbury. Riding in the back of the mini-van, Goose sleeping at his feet, Stew thought about how, four months previous, he was doing the same thing. He pondered over how much his life had changed between then and now. He stared out the window at the miniature Cyndi Lauper flying beside the van, smiling and waving. He couldn’t help but chuckle a little. He was a hodgepodge of emotions. He felt a certain satisfaction that his life now meant more than just an article in a newspaper. He was grateful for his new circle of friends but he was still grieving over Alex’s death and he was terribly worried about the safety of his family, knowing they were in danger--even more danger than he was. At least he was immortal.
“Becca’s going to hate me,” Stew said, still staring out the window.
“She’s not going to hate you, Sweetheart,” Mrs. Kasey replied from the front seat.
Stew stared at the back of the seat where his mom was, waiting for her to realize who they were talking about and what they were expecting her to do.
“Okay, maybe a little, but she’ll get over it. I promise. I’ll talk to her.”
“I just hate that my family has to uproot and move to an entirely new city,” Stew said mournfully.
“It was our choice. We could have stayed where we were.”
“I know, but that’s not going to keep me from worrying. Zachary is out there, building himself an army or whatever.”
“We want to keep you safe just as much as you want to keep us safe.”
“And,” Samal interjected, “we have an entire clan to go against him with now. A clan that respects and cares for one another. You think that any kind of group that Zachary amasses is going to have that?”
“Not to mention,” Marc added, leaning towards Stew, “look at the combination of non-immortal talent we have. A cop... college professor, a business owner and a super-mom. That’s an X-Men level combo right there.”
“We are not the X-Men,” Stew replied.
“We’re close, man. We’re as close to the X-Men as real life gets.You remember Troy Harris? 8th grade? He always called us mutants. Now we know why.”
“You need to calm down.”
“What? I can’t help it. My life is now a Sci-Fi-Fantasy movie waiting to happen. At least a direct-to-video one.”
“Mom, do you have a valium or some kind of muscle relaxer?”
“Remember how I geeked out when we saw Iron Man?”
“You are not allowed to speak when Becca gets in the car. Okay? You’ll scare her.”
“Understood,” Marc said, sinking his head down into his shoulders like a scolded dog.
James held the back of the van open as Becca threw three bags on top of the pile of luggage. “I hate you Stewart Kasey!” she yelled into the middle of the van where Stew was trying to shield himself from projected missiles.
Mrs. Kasey climbed into her co-pilot seat and glanced quickly at Stew. “Don’t say it.”
“Not a word.”
Becca looked into the open side door, her earbuds hanging around her neck. The only open seat was in the back with Samal. “Who’s he?” she asked.
Stew and Marc looked at the back seat. “That’s Sam,” Marc replied. “I can go back there.”
“No. That would mean I’d have to sit next to my stupid, big brother who ruined my life.” As Becca climbed in and toward the back seat, she extended her hand to Sam. “Nice to meet you, Sam. I don’t hate you yet so I guess I can sit back here with you.”
Samal gave her a slightly nervous look as he shook her hand and scooted over to his window, giving her ample room to herself. She sat down, emphasizing it with a ‘humph’, crossed her arms and put her earbuds in her ears.
Marie, who had been outside the van talking to Mr. Kasey, Brandr and Tófa and overheard most of what Becca had said, poked her head inside. “Sam, why don’t you ride in the car? I’m going to have a talk with Becca.”
Happy to escape from the tension, he crawled out from the back, slid past the middle seat and stepped down on the Kasey’s driveway. Once he was out, Marie climbed in and made her way to the seat beside Becca.
“Does anyone need to use the bathroom before we leave?” Mr. Kasey asked. “I would like to not have to stop until at least Asheboro, if not Raleigh.”
Once they were on the road, Marie unbuckled her seatbelt and slid a little closer to Becca and tapped her on the leg. Becca started to pull an earbud out but quickly remembered she was supposed to be angry and tucked her hand back under her arm. Marie bit her lip as she strained to recall what it was like to be sixteen. She took in a big breath, reached her hand up to Becca’s ear and gently pulled the earbud out.
“Excuse me?” Becca said, yanking the headphone out of Marie’s hand by the cord.
“Look,” Marie said, “I’m going to be really blunt and to the point here.”
“Uh oh,” Mr. Kasey said, slightly louder than halfway under his breath.
“I know this is turning your world upside-down right now,” Marie told her. Becca looked at her like a cat who just saw herself in the mirror, minus the hissing and raised haunches. “But you and your family are in real danger. We’re all in danger. Got it? We’re doing what we have to do to ensure we’re all as safe as possible. Now, you’re about to start a new life. When we get through this situation, I think you’ll find, although it will seem confusing and surreal sometimes, this new life is going to be fun and exciting. Change is inevitable, Becca. I have to deal with changes. Stew is dealing with some big changes. Remember this--it’s how we deal with the changes that make us who we are. Not the changes themselves. You can go back to listening to your music now.”
“Why can’t they just take out this Zachary dude and let us be done with it?” Becca whined. “Why are we letting him upset our lives so much?”
“It’s not as simple as just... taking him out.”
“Yeah, yeah. Right to a trial and all that.”
“No, Becca. There’s something you need to know. You might as well find out now.”
“What is it?”
“The changes Stew is going through... I’m not talking about his hallucinations.”
“Ms. Alderman, he’s way past puberty.”
“He’s immortal. So is Wiz.”
“Whatever. Just because I enjoy a little vampire drama in my entertainment choices doesn’t mean you have to ridicule me. Did Stew--”
“It’s not ridicule, Bec,” Stew said without looking back. “It’s the truth. And we’re not vampires, either.”
“What? Are you saying you’re not kidding? Because if you say you’re not kidding and you are kidding... I will kill you.”
“That’s just it. You can’t.”
“How, exactly, do you want me to prove it?”
“She’s a detective, right?” Becca asked, pointing at Marie.
“I was,” Marie answered.
“Do you still carry a gun?”
“You want her to shoot me?”
“Yes. It would ease a good bit of my frustration.”
“What, Mom? He says… he’s immortal. Bullets will bounce off. Or the wound will heal by itself or something. Right?”
“It’s still going to hurt!” Stew argued. “Besides... we’re in the middle of an interstate. How about something on a smaller scale? Do you have a nail file? One of those metal ones?”
“I have one on a set of nail clippers,” James said, holding onto the steering wheel with one hand as he dug through his pocket. He fished it out and handed it to Stew, who then handed it to Becca.
“James, that’s not sanitary.”
Stew grabbed a miniature bottle of hand sanitizer from the crate between the front two seats. Becca held the nail file out while Stew squirted clear goop on it.
“Immortal or not, that’s gonna burn like crap. All right. Go for it.”
“Seriously?” Becca asked, her eyebrows raised and her eyes wide as saucers.
“Seriously. do it.”
Becca held two of Stew’s fingers and brought the tiny nail file above her head. Mr. Kasey watched intently in the rearview mirror while Mrs. Kasey peered through splayed fingers. Becca’s lips shook as she held her breath. Her hand remained in the air for an eternity. “I can’t do it,” she said, dropping the clippers.
“Give me these things,” Stew said, snatching them off the floor. Without hesitation, he stabbed the point of the nail file through the middle of his palm. Carolyn, Marc and Becca all gasped at once and the van rumbled as it ran over the corrugated strips on the shoulder. James jerked it back it into his lane, making the tires squeal. Stew’s face was contorted into a painful grimace as he held up his punctured hand, turning it to show the metal coming out the back of his hand.
“Holy crap!” Becca yelled.
“You haven’t seen the immortal part yet. Anyone can stab themselves in the palm. I’m still a regular mortal as far as you know.” Stew put his hand on his thigh and gripped the clippers as tightly as he could. “One... two... three!” he yanked them up and looked down at the gaping hole in his hand. Marc and Becca were halfway out of their seats trying to see. As they all watched in astonishment, the sinewy muscle sewed itself back together, the flesh around the wound grew back and within a few seconds, the only evidence was the blood on either side of Stew’s hand.
“Let me out,” Becca said, covering her mouth. “I’m going to be sick.” She was already opening the side door by the time James skidded to a stop. “I said… let me out!”
“That was awesome!” Marc yelled, unable to contain himself any longer.
Becca leaped toward the open air. As soon as her feet hit the gravel, she ran behind the nearest tree. Marie walked over to her to see if she needed anything.
“You okay?” Marie asked after giving Becca a chance to recover.
“Ha! What do you think? I just saw my brother do something I thought only Jesus was capable of.”
“I know. I watched Wiz grow a tiny tree out of his hand. It went through all four seasons in a matter of seconds. Then he made me a chai latte.”
“Wiz is immortal, too?”
“I suppose, now you’re going to tell me the dog is, too.”
“Nevermind. I can draw my own conclusions.”
“We’ll stop at the next gas station and get you some ginger ale. Okay?”
Becca nodded as Marie put an arm around her shoulder and helped her back to the van.
“Here’s a peppermint, Sweetie,” Mrs. Kasey said as she handed her daughter a piece of hard candy.
“Thanks, Mom,” Becca said, accepting it and crawling back into her seat in the rear.
Marie got settled back in her seat and buckled her seatbelt. “Are we good?”
“Yep. We’re okay,” Mr. Kasey said from the driver’s seat. “You didn’t miss anything.”
A joyful whimper escaped Marc’s mouth. His hand bolted up in an attempt to stifle it.
“Marc?” Marie asked.
“He is currently suffering from a case of... the giggles,” Stew reported.
Marc’s laughter barrier failed. Snorting noises and spittle spilled out of the sides of both his hands, interrupted only by the occasional inhalation of laughter fuel.
“Let’s just go,” Marie said, shaking her head. “Turn up the radio to drown him out. Good gravy.”
“No more excitement, if we can avoid it, please?” Mrs. Kasey ordered. “And keep your eyes on the road, James.”
“Queen Anne’s Revival Bed and Breakfast,” Marie reported into her cellphone. “1245 Wilmington Avenue, New Bergen. Got it. We’re just outside Raleigh. You’re about forty-five minutes ahead of us. I think we’re going to stop here soon for dinner. We should be there by ten. That’s not too late, is it? Okay, good. We will. See you then. Bye.”
“Tófa’s going to make sure the proprietors of the bed and breakfast are well-compensated for any inconvenience. By the time we get there, they should have the protective circle taken care of, as well.”
“Protective circle?” Becca said, sounding worried as she put her mp3 player and earbuds in her pocket. “You mean like with salt or something? Are we being chased by demons?”
“That’s closer to the truth than I care to admit,” Marie noted, “but no, Becca. You’re not in an episode of Supernatural.”
“So, if Stew’s immortal... Wiz is immortal... and Zachary is after them... Zachary’s immortal, too, then?”
“I’m afraid so,” Marie revealed.
“He’s not a vampire, is he?” Becca inquired.
“No. He’s just evil.”
“But there’s just one of him, right?”
“As far as we know, but he’s evil enough for a whole army.”
“How many immortals do we have on our side?”
“Five. Six if you include Goose.”
“The dog? Really? What kind of powers does the dog have? Can he make milkbones appear out of nowehere? Whatever. What kind of powers does Zachary have?”
“Good gosh,” Marie exclaimed. “I wish Wiz had ridden with us. I have no idea how to explain all this stuff. The Laws of Immortal Magic, the Triskadeika... I do know this--he can shapeshift.”
“Not like on t.v.,” Marie stressed. “That’s fiction. This is real. He can change himself into a flock of ravens.”
“Conspiracy,” Stew commented.
“A conspiracy of ravens. Sorry.”
“He’s immortal,” Becca began counting on her fingers, “he can turn into a bunch of birds and he’s evil. Got it.”
“Oh... and he’s got Jade,” Stew added.
“Do what?” Marc exclaimed.
“The world will not cry for her,” Becca commented.
“No, I mean, she’s working for him or something,” Stew added.
“Holy canoli. She’s probably just as evil as he is. How in the world did they hook up? E-Disharmony?”
“Ha! No. Zachary found my phone. I guess I dropped it at the park in Norway and he found Jade’s number. He’s very clever.”
“Why didn’t you tell about this? When did you find out?”
“We found out right before you came up to the hotel room. Sorry.”
“What were you doing in Norway?” Becca asked.
“Mmm... getting born again, you might say.”
“I’m just going to assume you don’t mean in the accepting-Jesus-as-your-Lord-and-Savior kind of way.”
“You’d be correct.”
“I’m not going to ask.”
“That’s probably a good idea. I’ll tell you about it someday.”
They pulled up to the house, a late 18th century, two-story Georgian style, and Brandr, Tófa, Wiz and Samal were there to meet them. The men unloaded the luggage out of the back while Tófa introduced Mrs. Kasey, Marie and Becca to the owners, Mike and Debbie, who stood at the door waiting.
“We’re sorry for getting here so late,” Carolyn said as she walked to the door, her hand out to greet them.
“It’s quite alright,” Mike said, holding his hand out to accept hers. “Mike Watson. My, wife, Debbie.”
“Nice to meet you, Mike.”
“Come on in, guys. We can take care of all the introductions inside where it’s warm.”
As the group filed in, they marveled at the intricate wood carving in the paneling above them in the foyer. Above the entrance to the living room was a four-foot length of wood. Grey and brown, the edges worn smooth, it had the words, “Captain’s Quarters” scrawled across it in Old English lettering.
“That isn’t from Blackbeard’s ship, is it?” Brandr asked, his eyes wide, as if he’d just walked through the gates of Disneyland for the first time.
“No. I don’t even know if it’s a replica of anything,” Mike replied. “Just something we saw at the craft store. We thought it looked really cool, it fit our theme, so…”
“You’d think,” Marc chided, “that after 1200 years you’d learn to tell the difference between…”
“Uh, Marc…,” Stew interrupted. “Did we have any more baggage in the van?”
“No, I think Sam brought in the last of--”
“I think that we left something in the van. You want to give me a hand?”
Outside, Marc began to walk towards the van. Stew put a hand on his shoulder and stopped him. “Are you insane? Do you want the owners of this place to kick us to the curb and turn us in to the crazy police?”
“Wha--oh. Yeah. I suppose that could have sounded a little out there if they were paying attention.”
“Let’s hope they weren’t. Let’s go back inside.”
“So, we’re going back inside without anything in our hands? And that’s not going to look crazy?”
Tofá walked past them as they went back inside. “There’s nothing left in the van,” Stew called back to her. “We got it all.”
“I’ve got more important work, boys. Protection circle.”
“Oh, yeah. Can we watch?”
“I don’t want to draw too much attention from the owners. You’ll have another chance when we find a more permanent home. Okay?”
“They’re letting us stay here, right?” Marc whined.
“Yes. We’ve already worked out all the details. Go inside and get some rest.”