Déjà vu: [Fr., lit., already seen], in psychology, the illusion
that one has previously had a given experience—
Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language
I made my careful way down to the little grotto and knelt to peer in, but it was totally unnecessary: I knew Namer was in there; a suffocating wave of evil, a stench like ancient cairns, wafted out and made me want to gag.
My eyes adjusted to the gloom inside the cranny and, sure enough, there was the V of his boot bottoms, old and mud caked.
Finally, after so many years, he was within the reach of the vampire killers.
I peered over my shoulder; Nina was there, stake raised, her eyes intense, her lips thin and bloodless.
I hunkered forward to within reaching distance, readied my hands.
And then everything happened fast.
I grabbed Namer’s ankles, heaved backward, counting on his weight to keep me from tumbling off the slope, and dragged him out into the death of the afternoon.
“Now!” I said, but to my dismay Nina was backing away, shaking her head. I gaped at her, uncomprehending.
“Kill him, Nina, kill him!” I yelled as Namer slithered around and began trying to crawl away from the lethal sunlight.
“NO!” Nina screamed back at me. “NO, TALON!”
Had she lost her mind?
I renewed my grip on Namer, who seemed to be diminishing while struggling feebly to escape my grasp. The next thing I knew Nina slammed into me and we both went tumbling down the slope, over and over, grunting with pain as we slammed into rocks and gnarly roots. The grade lessened, we slowed, made one final flip, and crashed into a large tree, knocking the wind from me. I lay stunned, and before I could catch my breath Nina was sitting on my chest, making breathing even more difficult.
“Listen to me, my love,” she said, looking down at me, her knees pinning my arms. “We have to get out of here, right now. I’ll explain later.”
“What are you doing?” I panted as soon as I could breathe again. “Have you lost your mind—or your nerve?”
To my amazement she slapped me across the face, hard. “Listen to me, Talon, and listen carefully,” she snapped, leaning close to me so that her hair was nearly in my face. “We have spent too much of our lives doing this, and we’re not going to do it anymore, do you hear me? You are going to have to kill me, or leave with me; those are your options.”
Suddenly furious, she slapped me again, and again, until I finally yanked my arms free and caught her wrists, then pulled her to me in a bear hug.
“I love you,” I whispered into her ear, feeling her heart beating against mine. “And I trust you. I could never kill you. If you say we must leave, then we leave.
“By the way, when did you change your clothes?”
“Never mind,” she said, “I’ll explain later.”
I kissed her, felt her hunger, and then gently pushed her away, before I began to undress her right there on the leaves.
We got to our feet and began scrambling up the moss- and leaf-slick slope. The sky had clouded over and the wind was beginning to blow, turning the sleepy looking woods into a sinister greenland of turbulence. Nina led the way to where our packs were and we hoisted them onto our shoulders and began the hike toward the portal, while the wind grew to a gale force, lashing at us with leaves and twigs and whipping saplings. The sky was a baleful blue-gray mass of roiling clouds that threatened tornadoes and deluges of rain and hail.
“I just hope it isn’t dark on the other side,” Nina said when we neared the portal. She stopped and looked at me quizzically, her windblown hair, midnight black, streaming across her face and back over her shoulder. “If it is, and he comes for us, we can handle it, right?”
I started to remind her that if she’d just driven the stake through his heart we wouldn’t be having this conversation, but she knew that already, and something else.
I shrugged. “We have before.”
She nodded, but looked uncertain, and suddenly I felt a cold stone of fear in my stomach. Whatever realization she had come to had changed her, and I had a feeling I wasn’t going to like hearing it. It’s best to let sleeping dogs lie, I’d always heard, and now I knew exactly what that phrase meant.
“Come on, let’s get out of here,” I said, before my courage faltered. “We’ll be fine; what can he do to us? Besides, he’s here, and we’re going to be there.”
We stepped through the portal into thick shadows, but now there was no wind, and the sky overhead was a bruised purple color, reddening to the west where the sun had dipped beyond the mountains. The skeletal trees were dark silhouettes etched sharply against it. The air was cold and sharp, causing us to shiver.
Blood on the moon, I thought, looking at the red sky, and shuddered.
“Call your dad,” I suggested, rubbing myself briskly; it was quite a bit colder that when we had left here only a little while ago. How long had we been gone?
I heard the beep of her phone. A pause. “Hello sir. Yes, it’s me, and we’re fine. Well, it’s a long story, and I’m sorry we worried you, but we’re fine and ready to return. I’ll let you know. No, Father; I’ll fill you in as soon as we get there. I love you too, but I really must go; it’s nearly dark, and we’re in the woods; we have to find shelter.”
I tuned her out and studied the forest, which was thick with silence. Somewhere far off an owl hooted, and overhead the first stars were beginning to peer down at us. I felt no evil presences here on the edge of night, but they could come at an instant.
Nina pocketed her phone and, ever resourceful, produced a flashlight from her pack and we made our way without talking back to Sheep Cliff, where we built a fire and settled in for the night.
“He said he hadn’t heard from us for nearly two days,” Nina said at last, her eyes roving the dark night around us. “He was nearly going out of his mind with worry.”
I nodded, listened to the fire and studied the darkness for a while, before I spoke.
“All right, Miss Castle, tell me why you stopped me from killing Namer back there.”
She turned to look at me. “I will, but first tell me about your wife,” she said.
The unexpected words sent a jolt through me. Wife? I never had a wife, I thought. Did I?
“Blood on the moon,” I whispered, suddenly overwhelmed by memories I should never have had, because they contradicted my life, as I knew it. But there they were, like a warm cocoon among the cold cruel years that had hardened me like nails.
“Ida-Rose,” I murmured. “My baby girl.” Tears welled up in my eyes and I turned away, so Nina wouldn’t see them.
Ida-Rose’s long-lost voice spoke up in my mind: “Who was that woman? She came from the other place, didn’t she?”
I turned to look at Nina through new eyes. “You,” I said. “You were there, and as soon as I saw you I knew you were bringing trouble.”
She didn’t flinch, just looked at me with her hazel eyes. “Tell me.”
How could I tell her about Ida-Rose? For a long time I sat silently staring into the fire, Namer forgotten.
And then I told Nina about meeting Ida-Rose, falling in love, marrying her and planning a family. When I got to the bad part, I very nearly couldn’t go on, but somehow I did.
“Who was that woman?” Ida-Rose asked, staring off down the road where the stranger had disappeared around the bend. She wore a simple cotton dress that clung lovingly to her superb figure and showed the slight swelling of her belly. I’d never known how sexy a pregnant woman could be until that moment.
“Don’t know, baby girl,” I said, taking her in my arms and pulling her close. Baby girl was a term she had introduced me to. “Never saw her before in my life.”
Ida-Rose looked at me and I saw the uncertainty in her eyes. “She came from the other place, didn’t she?”
“Like I said, Ida, I don’t know anything about her. But I do know one thing,” I teased, kissing her lightly on the lips.
“What?” she asked, trying not to smile.
“I love you,” I whispered into her hair, which was scented of flowers and sunshine, an earthly smell that I found erotic. I ran my hands down her body. “Hey, you got nothing on under there?”
“You’re a big boy, you should be able to find out without asking,” she said, and her eyes were full of lusty promise.
She shrieked with laughter when I picked her up and carried her through the door to the couch. I had never wanted her as badly as I wanted her then, not even the first time; in the back of my mind did I know, even then, that it couldn’t last? I think so.
But for the moment she was mine and I indulged in her presence, her pleasure, her wondrous passion, and loved her as if there were no tomorrow. Such things just didn’t happen in my life, and I knew that someday, promises notwithstanding, she would grow bored with me, with Dark Hollow, and I would see the distance in her eyes. How I dreaded that day.
An afternoon thunderstorm darkened the sky and rained down on us, April showers bringing May flowers. We drowsed to the sound of rain weeping down the window, lying like spoons, my hand on her stomach, feeling the miracle we had created growing inside her. Ida-Rose made happy sounds in her sleep and we drifted contentedly. The rain fell on and on, pattering against the windowpane whenever the wind tossed it about, and the breeze cooled our flesh through the screen.
I was on the edge of sleep when Ida-Rose, suddenly restless in her slumber, murmured, “I shouldn’t be here.” She twitched, whimpered softly, and said, “I’m out of time.”
“No, no, baby girl,” I said in her ear, my skin crawling with gooseflesh. I hugged her tightly, my heart beginning to pound. “There’s nothing to worry about, you’re where you’re supposed to be.”
“Umm,” she sighed, and relaxed in my arms. “I love you, Baby.” A tiny smile played about her lips and she was silent.
But I was suddenly uneasy. I closed my eyes and little by little relaxed. Sleep was slow coming, and when it did I dreamed of another life, dark and fragmented, terrifying.
“Talon, please be careful,” Ida-Rose said, with worry in her eyes. “I have a bad feeling.”
“You’re always having bad feelings, baby girl,” I pointed out lightly, teasing her. “And here I still am, in all my magnificence.”
She smiled and it was like the sun coming from behind dark clouds. “Yes, you are, baby. You’re my man, and I’ll have something waiting for you when you come back.”
“Really?” I asked, taking her in my arms and rubbing her nose with mine. “What?”
“You can have it now if you’ll stay with me instead of going hunting,” she said, pronouncing it ‘huntin,’ already beginning to acquire the hillbilly patois.
“That’s not fair,” I admonished, pretending hurt. “I love hunting second only to you.”
“I know,” she sniffed. “I just worry about you, that’s all. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
I wavered in the face of such love for me, a simple mountain boy. “Weeeell, if you really want me to…”
“No, go on, silly,” she smiled, her old self again. “I don’t want to take away the things you love; you’d learn to hate me in time.”
“NEVER!” I averred. “Not in ten thousand years of sitting at your feet, adoring your beautiful face, could I ever grow tired of your beauty, much less hate you.”
“Get out of here,” she giggled. “I forgot to wear my boots and it’s getting deep.”
I kissed her passionately and hurried out before I changed my mind, already tingly with anticipation to see what she had waiting for me, not knowing that I would never see my baby girl again.
The hunt didn’t go well, and my mind wasn’t on it. My buddies, sensing the source of my distraction, teased me mercilessly, but I didn’t mind; I knew that they were just jealous of my good fortune.
It was nearly midnight when they dropped me off, and I hurried up the driveway in high anticipation. There was no doubt I was indeed henpecked; I loved being married to Ida-Rose.
I hesitated as I approached the house, which was dark. Ida-Rose always left the porch light on for me, and the living room light should have been on as well; at the very least there should have been a dim light coming from our bedroom. A dark foreboding filled me as I approached the door, and I remembered her saying, “I have a bad feeling.”
“Ida,” I said loudly, pulling open the door. “Baby girl?”
The house was quiet, too quiet. I leaned my shotgun against the doorframe, but then picked it up again and jacked a shell into the chamber. A faint odor, strange and animalistic, caused the hairs on the back of my neck to stiffen, and I was suddenly alert, sensing danger. The house did not feel empty; Ida-Rose was there, I felt her presence, so why the sudden alarm?
“Talon? Is that you, baby?” Her voice, coming from the bedroom. But why did it sound so strange, so…guttural?
The better to eat you with, my dear.
Unsettled by the thought, I made my way warily toward the bedroom, my heart pounding too hard. Ida-Rose was there, waiting for me; why the dread?
“Come get me, my darling,” Ida-Rose said, but rather than seductive, her voice sounded ancient, hungry, cunning.
I was suddenly afraid.
Run, run, far from here, there’s blood on the moon…
But nothing could keep my feet from making their slow way toward the bedroom. Surely Ida-Rose was just fooling around with me, playing games. I paused in the doorway, shotgun still held in front of me like a shield, narrowing my eyes to see in the darkness.
“Ida—” I started to say, when suddenly she came snarling out of the darkness like a huge cat. She pounced on me and the gun clattered to the floor as I yelled in surprise and fear, and threw up my arms to ward her off. Her hands latched onto my throat and I caught a glimpse of her teeth, startlingly white and fanglike, in a mouth too large for her. Her eyes in the dim light were glittery and alive, full of hungry ferocity, as she bore me to the floor. I shrieked again, and then, in the blink of an eye, became someone else, someone cold and deliberate, and deadly. I rolled her over and tried to pin her to the floor, but she slithered out from under me and disappeared into the gloom, hissing angrily.
Vampirism, like lycanthropy, is as ancient as the earth, as old as humanity...
I have nothing to fend her off with, that cold, calculating part of me thought, as one hand groped at my neck for
(crucifix; garlic cloves)
something that wasn’t there and the other felt for the shotgun.
But she hasn’t had time to be fully taken, so I can maybe save her…
Shotgun in hand, I leaped to my feet and fumbled for the light switch, flipped it up, bathing the room in light, dreading what I was going to see--
But there was no one there; the room was empty. My eyes were drawn to the window, where the curtains fluttered slightly in a breeze that I didn’t feel.
They are shape shifters, even when in the dead body, and can assume the form of a wolf, or a crow. They cannot be killed, only driven from the body…
What was I thinking? What was I doing? I felt as if a stranger had invaded my head, taken over my mind and body.
“IDA-ROSE!”I screamed, bounding across the bed to the window. I thrust my head through and looked about in vain for her. Seeing nothing, I hurried out of the house, calling her name in the dark uncaring night.
There was no answer, no sound, not even the usual quarreling of the katydids; the forest was ominously silent, as if holding its breath. As if something terrible had frightened the denizens of the night.
It will return, that other me whispered in my head. As soon as it gets its full powers it will come for me, and I will be waiting.
I felt as though I were a distant observer in my own mind. A part of me screamed for Ida-Rose and insisted that I had to find her, but the stranger in me, that cold, implacable person that had taken over knew what had to be done. And that part of me went to work, planning.
I’ll need ash stakes, garlic cloves, roses, and a shovel. I don’t have a real man of Yahweh
to bless the charms, so I’ll have to do it myself…
And that was what I did. Feeling as though I were messed up on some really great marijuana, or in a dream, I set about making preparations for the ancient art of vampire killing.
By dawn’s gray light I set out for Marlton to purchase the things that I would need, that I couldn’t make myself. Along the way I picked dozens of rambling roses that grew in wild profusion around the old Mavis place. Arriving in town just as the sun was coming up, I had breakfast in the Fox’s Den Diner, the only thing open at that hour, and waited for things to open. I drank coffee and brooded, still of two minds, one numb with fear and worry, the other ruthlessly plotting murder. I bought garlic at the grocery store, then went to the pawnshop and found a cheap crucifix. Back in our old truck, I held the cross in my hands and prayed to Yahweh Elohim of Hosts, asking Him to bless all the items I’d acquired.
Then all there was to do was go home and wait. I fell on the couch and slept the sleep of exhaustion, and that long strange day crept by. I woke as the evening shadows began to creep long and purple across the yard, and looked around for Ida-Rose.
The memory of last night’s events hit me like a cold splash of water and I leaped to my feet, finally myself again. I hurried through the house, searching for some sign that it had all been a nightmare; the boys and I had evidently got to drinking corn liquor and I’d blacked out and it had all been one of those alcohol induced dreams that seem so real on waking…
She’s a vampire now, and she’ll be back for you tonight, that awful other person said in my head.
“No,” I responded aloud, fiercely. “Ida-Rose is NOT a vampire; there’s no such thing.”
But the vampire hunter in me was already taking over, making arrangements, and as the gloaming settled like a morbid cloak over Dark Hollow, and the fireflies began to wink, I grew cold and certain, merciless, and gave my baby girl up for lost.
She came on the edge of night, materializing in the room, as pale and bloodless as a corpse, but her lips and her eyes were like glowing rubies and her flame red hair seemed alive yet; she smiled and her beautiful teeth, the fangs of a tiger now, glistened as she came to me. She still wore the simple cotton dress that showed her figure and the slight swelling of a child I would never hold.
“I had a bad feelin, baby,” she said, and the tremor in her voice gave me chills. She came for me in bare feet, her arms held out for the embrace I’d have given my soul to enter. “Please hold me, Talon.” Her eyes were beseeching in spite of their alienity and I was nearly swept into the infrared infinity that promised so much, and offered eternity.
I held up the cross and it glowed its inhuman light, and I heard a voice unlike my own utter words that were unintelligible to me. There was no fear, no doubt, I was filled with some unearthly power as I moved toward her.
The thing that had once been Ida-Rose shrieked and began to back away, already shrinking in on itself, losing substance, eyes filled with terror. In a matter of moments she was a withering husk, hag-like, and before either of us could think I was on top of her, hammering a stake through her heart, screaming out my grief and revulsion.
Events blurred then, became fragmented and uncertain, until they were engulfed by nothingness. It was, once again, as if I had drunk too much moonshine and had a partial blackout.
The next thing I knew the Minister was shaking me awake.
“Are you okay, son?” he asked, concern in his voice.
I sat up on the couch, bewildered, the dream
of Ida-Rose still fresh in my mind but slowly losing cohesion, like mist before the sun. I looked at Frank Barclay, my mentor, as my life regained its focus. I was a vampire hunter.
“Nightmare?” the Minister asked, sitting on the couch opposite me while I tried to gather my faculties.
I had a dream of love…
“Just a dream,” I assured him, my heart beating too hard with the fear that something dreadful, something beyond my comprehension had just occurred. And we left it at that. He never asked me about it, and I never told him about it. In time I left Dark Hollow and drifted like smoke through the years, and I buried the memories of Ida-Rose and Dark Hollow graveyard deep and hoped they’d stay there.
For a long while after my tale had been told, we sat and fed the fire, saying nothing.
“It wasn’t just a dream, was it?” I asked Nina at last. “But… it had to be, because it never happened to me; that I know.”
“No,” Nina said. “It really happened. I was just there.”
I looked at her, afraid of what she was implying. “Why didn’t you kill Namer back there?”
“Because I love you, and didn’t want to lose you,” she said simply, as though that explained everything.
But it didn’t, and I could only look at her.
“Once upon a time we did kill him,” she said. “We went to your Otherplace, which is in the past, and killed him, and stopped him from doing something he was supposed to do, and none of this happened.
“And when it didn’t happen, your father was never bitten by a vampire, you lived another reality, where you married Ida-Rose. Only, instead of your father, Ida-Rose was bitten. Perhaps you attract them, because of who you are.”
“I don’t understand,” I said, but I think I was beginning to.
“Remember the bar in Hong Kong where we met?” she asked. “Well, we didn’t meet. I walked out of that bar thinking that I was supposed to have met someone there, and in the days to come I began to remember things that didn’t happen. All the things that you and I have done the last couple of days, they never happened. We circled the world in the Icarus, but you weren’t there. We made the emergency landing in the clearing, but there was no Namer. We repaired the ship and went on, and none of this happened. But I remembered it, and I remembered the doorway. Jason Rider is a real time travel buff, and he came up with a theory to explain why the arrow was gone so much longer—” she explained their reasoning to me, and then she continued— “so I came here and went back, but I went too far, or so I thought, because you were so young, but actually I didn’t go nearly far enough; anyway, I met you, and you still knew the things the Minister had taught you, but you were happily married and expecting a child, so I left it alone and came back through the portal, but when I got to this side, it was cold and snowing. I checked my cell phone, and the date was January 13th, a Friday, believe it or not. So I came back through, a little faster, hoping to time it a little better. And the next thing I know, I’m back at the moment you and I first stepped through, and I was thinking that we have done this before, many times, like déjà vu, but my other reality was fading fast, and I had to try hard to hold on to it. I don’t know what happened to the other me; I guess my two realities merged, but I’m surprised that you didn’t notice sooner that I was dressed differently.”
I looked at her closely in the firelight. “You are different; I think you’ve lost weight, and your hair looks shorter.
“This whole thing, that other reality, was tough on me.”
“So we can go through that doorway and… change things?”
Nina thought about it. “Only to a certain degree. But I don’t think our timelines can be really altered. If you throw a boulder into a stream, you divert the water around it, but it keeps going down the streambed; you just divide your timeline for a little while, but eventually it comes back together, as you found out. I suspect that when I went back to your youth I altered things; maybe that’s why I’m here now—I didn’t expect to be.”
I shook my head. “It makes my brain hurt, trying to figure it.”
“What if this isn’t the first time we’ve done this?” Nina said slowly, looking out at the dark night. “What if he’s clever enough to have us going in circles, doing the same thing over and over to keep us distracted?”
“If that’s true,” I said, “how do we ever hope to kill him? Or do we?”
“Perhaps there is a way,” Nina said. “But even when we changed things, Namer still showed up, and he was still your father, the way your father looked, at least, and he told me that time had healed the rift, to come and get him.
“What do you think he will do?”
“He has no power over me,” I said. “So he’ll send some of his shadow people.”
A chill went through me.
“Put out the fire.”
Nina needed no explanation; she was already kicking the fire apart. I was silently cursing myself for a fool, allowing the past hour’s events to distract me. If what Nina suspected was true, and Namer had us going in circles, than he would know that we were now free from his causality loop, and would send those who worshipped his kind to do his dirty work. All along we had felt that he was manipulating us, luring us into a trap, but perhaps it had been an even more cunning trap than we could ever have anticipated. The demon that lived in my father’s body was as old as time itself, and had no doubt foiled many an attempt to destroy it.
“What now?” Nina asked. The wan glow of embers was the only light given off, and even that made me nervous.
“The shadow people are just that,” I said, “dwellers in twilight. They either don’t like the sunlight, or they just pretend it in emulation of their masters, but unlike the vampires, they don’t like total darkness either, because they can’t see in the dark. But I don’t want to take the chance. I figure they’ll come for us at daylight, or wait until the sun goes down tomorrow, which I doubt. When the moon comes up, we’ll make our move and be ready for them when they come.”
“Okay, sounds like a plan to me,” Nina said. We sat in silence for a while, and I could almost hear her thinking, and wondered what was on her mind.
“Do you wish I hadn’t gone back and changed things?” she asked at last. “You were so happy with… her, so in love.”
I pondered that, but not for long. “When the memory first resurfaced, I remembered the love, and the pain,” I said. “But it has little power over me now, and I knew, even then, that it couldn’t last. But with you, I have no doubts: You’re the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with, and I don’t think you’re out of time, or that you’d get bored with me; I think you and I would keep each other challenged and entertained for a long time.
“Especially if we continue to hunt vampires.”
She said nothing, but I knew that my answer pleased her. Nina Castle, who had once seemed so formidable and aloof to me, was no longer distant and out of reach. Far from being the Ice Princess that she had once seemed, I knew her to be a passionate and caring woman in need of love.
And I had plenty of that to give.