Final doubts. Final decisions. Final destiny.
Illness spreads and panic widens as everything is slowly consumed by the nameless creature beneath the valley. Jack is in a race against time to stop the monster, but he hesitates. There is a price to pay for every choice, and he fears this may be the ultimate cost.
“Jack William Erikson, where in the world are you?” his mother shouted.
Mrs. Erikson stood in the center of the lobby with her hands on her hips. Her foot tapped against the hardwood floor and she had a fierce frown on her face. She’d been looking for her wayward progeny for the better part of an hour and still hadn’t found him. Her eyes drifted to the large windows at the front of the inn. The day was calm and overcast, and they’d gotten even more snow the few days since Christmas had passed.
Looking outside, that’s when she noticed a large truck cresting the hill that led into the parking lot of the inn. She sighed and put on a smile. She had no idea who would be visiting them, but she meant to have a bright expression on her face when she met them at the door. She didn’t want to scare them off.
The problem was, Mrs. Erikson hadn’t seen too many of the locals since the incident with the de Rais family and Nelson.
She wondered if perhaps a bad reputation hadn’t fallen upon her business and herself. She straightened herself up and walked over to the door. The vehicle had parked and that was soon followed by a loud knocking on the door. Mrs. Erikson opened the door and her smile nearly fell off her face.
Mr. Jack Fuller stood in the entrance with a large grin on his face. Of all the people in the town, it had to be her least favorite local to come visit her.
“Mr. Fuller, what a surprise,” she honestly welcomed. She really couldn’t think of anything more polite to say. “What brings you here?”
“I’ve been hearing some pretty bad things about this place, Mrs. Erikson,” he bluntly informed her. He wasn’t one to beat around the bush on matters of business. When she purposefully didn’t invite him in further, he pushed his way passed her and looked around. “I’ve just come to offer you the best I can do in these circumstances.”
“What circumstances?” Mrs. Erikson asked. She regretfully shut the door behind him rather than in front of him. She wished he was on the other side, and that his nose was in the way.
“Rumors, just rumors,” he vaguely explained. “There’s been a lot of them flying around since that boy got killed here.”
“But that was an accident,” she insisted. She knew the truth now, but he didn’t need to know that horrific mess.
“Oh, I know that and you know that, Mrs. Erikson, but a great many people in the area are superstitious,” he informed her. He glanced over at the large clock which ticked away the time. “This place isn’t quite as normal as people like, if you know what I mean. Just too many strange things happening around here, too many shadows.”
“They should certainly be used to it by now,” Mrs. Erikson pointed out. “The place has been around long enough that there are plenty of stories about it.”
“Yes, but not all of them are what any business would want to deal with, and that’s why I’m here,” he added. Fuller waltzed over to the great fire burning beneath the mantle. “I don’t want anything to happen to your investment here. You know, bankruptcy and the like, especially since your investors left in such a hurry.” He glanced at her with a significant look she didn’t like. It was almost accusatory.
“You don’t need to worry about that, Mr. Fuller,” she sarcastically consoled him. The last time they’d spoken, he’d hoped for the failure of her business so the town could buy the inn from her for a museum. She was starting to have a sneaky suspicion the same scene was playing out now. “I’m sure everyone around Sanctuary knows we’re an honest family. Was there something I could help you with specifically, though?” She purposefully went to stand in front of him. She wanted his business with her to be over quickly, and then she wanted him out. “Or the reason why you went to all the trouble of coming up here?”
“If you insist,” he gruffly agreed. “Seeing as how the bad reputation will precede it, I’m here on behalf of the Historical Association to offer you a price for the inn.” He named a price that was well worth her initial cost for buying the place. “You understand that because we’re a small town, we can’t pay the full asking price one would normally sell this place for.” He looked at her out of the corner of his eyes like a predator watching for the perfect moment to strike. “Then again, there’s that bad reputation we’d have to deal with.”
“I’m flattered by the offer, but I don’t see how I could take it,” Mrs. Erikson coolly thanked. “I plan on running a respectable business here, rumors or no rumors.”
“The Association also wanted you to be aware this was the last offer we’d be able to give to you,” he pointedly added. “We have other priorities, you see, and if you aren’t reasonable we’ll have to turn our attentions to those matters. There’s also the problem of taxes coming for the end of the year, you know, and we’d have to account for those in this year’s coming budget.”
“Sir, I’m as reasonable as I can be under the circumstances,” she calmly countered. She tried to keep the smile on her face but he was making it very difficult. Her hands balled into fists at her side, so she hid them behind her back. “I very much intend to open the inn this spring to visitors, and invite anyone from the town to come enjoy a meal or two whenever they want.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Fuller bemoaned. He didn’t look disappointed so much as irritated. “If you change your mind before the year is out, we have the papers ready for you to sign.”
“I’m sure that won’t be necessary,” Mrs. Erikson coldly decided. The thought of them not only hoping but expecting her to sign away her dream was the height of aggravation. She quickly moved over to the entrance and opened the front door. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an inn to prepare for its spring opening.”
Mr. Fuller said nothing more, but the look on his face spoke volumes. His eyes were dark and narrowed, and his mouth was turned down in a definite frown. He passed one last glance over the place and then stomped passed her to his truck. Mrs. Erikson was never so glad as she was to see that man leave.
She slammed the door just as his truck was pulling away, and then she put her back against the wood and sighed. The entrepreneur closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose in irritation.
“What’s wrong, mom?”
Mrs. Erikson’s eyes shot open and she jumped nearly a foot in the air. There in front of her stood her wayward son, wrapped in his coat and with his pants covered in melting snow. He had a wide smirk on his lips.
“Where in the hell have you been?” she roughly scolded. She didn’t mean for her voice to sound so harsh, especially when her only child winced. “I’m sorry, Jack,” she apologized. There was that sigh of hers again. “I just had the most unpleasant talk with that Fuller fellow.”
“What did he want?” Jack asked. His ability to tolerate bullies was much less than his mother’s own, so he definitely despised that man much more than his parent. “Trying to get the inn again?”
“He’s that predictable, isn’t he?” she wondered.
“Yeah, like a bad nightmare that keeps coming back,” Jack joked.
“Well, hopefully that’s one dream we won’t have to deal with again,” she quipped. “I told him no, and he said I only had until the end of the year before the Historical Association would keep their offer open.”
“So we only got a few more days and we never have to see him again?” her son asked with a grin.
“Exactly,” his mom returned with her own smile. “Makes me can’t wait until the new year.” She suddenly frowned and folded her arms across her chest. “Any idea what we should do to celebrate it?” she asked her son. “I guess we could go out and eat.”
“How about we make pizza here and just talk,” Jack suggested.
“Talk about what?” she wondered.
“Well, maybe about this,” he explained.
Jack held out his hand palm up, and from his skin slowly rose the strange shadow blob. The little guy had reappeared not long after Christmas, and was none the worse for its help in healing Jack’s wounds.
“Is that why you’ve been hiding from me?” his mom asked. “You didn’t want to be caught playing with, well, that.”
“Kinda,” he admitted. He pulled his arm against himself and smiled down at the shadow. “To be honest, though, the little girl likes the snow.”
“Girl?” she repeated. She squinted down at the shapeless thing. “That thing has a gender?”
“Um, kinda,” Jack recycled his catch-all word. “It just doesn’t seem like I should be calling it a guy.”
“So does it have a name, too?” she teased.
“Maybe I’ll name it Lucy,” he countered with a wide grin on his face.
“Well, at least you’re not naming it after me or your grandma,” his mom mused.
“You want me to?” Jack asked.
“That’s a definite no,” she firmly ordered. “Now about New Years and that little talk you were wanting to have?”
“To be honest, Mr. Fletcher was wanting to talk to you, too,” Jack admitted. The name made his mom blush, and he rolled his eyes a little. It must be puppy love between them. “He said he’d tell you soon, so maybe that’ll be when.”
“Have you been planning things behind my back?” his mom wondered.
“Just a little party,” he vaguely agreed. He let out a sudden chuckle of laughter which confused his mother. He nodded down to the thing in his hand. “That thing tickles sometimes.”
“Why can’t we be a normal family and get a dog?” she wistfully mused.
“Because then it wouldn’t be us,” Jack pointed out.
“You’re right,” she sighed as she shook her head. Then she paused and frowned. Her eyes drifted over to the strange black blob. “Does that thing eat anything?”
“I don’t think so,” Jack admitted. He glanced down at the shadow, and it seemed to stare back up at him. “Why?”
“I was just trying to figure out if it was cheaper than a dog,” she laughed. He rolled his eyes, but he was grinning. “But anyways, I don’t want you standing outside in the snow all day,” she scolded. “You practically had a near death experience just a few days ago, and I don’t want you to get any closer.”
“I’m fine, mom,” Jack tried to comfort her. “I don’t feel bad at all.”
“I don’t care,” she countered. “With our luck, you could go through all that mess and come out of it just fine to die of a bad cold.”
“Have a little more faith in me,” her son insisted with a laugh. The little shadow reabsorbed into him as he held out his arms to show her how well he looked. His pale face and thin frame didn’t impress her all that much. “See? Nothing wrong here.”
“Except for a skinny, tired-looking boy,” she pointed out. She grabbed his shoulders and spun him around toward the stairs. “Now change out of those wet clothes and I’ll put some food into you.”
“I’m going, I’m going,” Jack grumbled.
Jack made a dash to the stairs and took them two at a time, just to prove to her he was feeling better. When he rounded the corner out of sight, though, he slowed down to a stop. He put his hand on the wall beside him and panted for air. His little gooey friend emerged from his palm which lay flat against the wall. It slid down onto his arm and appeared to look at him. The young man could never be sure, since it didn’t have any eyes or even much of a spot for a head. He smiled at its concern.
“I overworked myself a little outside playing with you, didn’t I?” he whispered. The blob stretched up and then back down, as though it were nodding. “You think my mom’s right about me, don’t you?” Again there was that funny nod. He sighed and shook his head. “Well, not much I can do about this until grandpa tells me more,” he pointed out.
Jack’s arm slid down to his side and he continued the journey to his room. He tossed his coat down on the messy bed and his eyes happened to glance over to the desk. The satchel his grandfather had given him lay on the top. It’d somehow survived the tussle he’d had with the vampiric Ryan de Rais, and he walked over to it.
Standing over the worn cover of tanned hide, Jack turned over the flap to reveal the row of vials. He still hadn’t taken any of it since his grandfather had given it to him the as a ‘gift.’ He lifted up one of the glasses and held it in front of his face. The thick dark contents swirled around only a little as he recalled the energy that stuff had given him the times he’d been given doses. It’d even saved his life when he’d been hit by the car by healing his wounds.
He also remembered the drawbacks. There was the severe pain using the energy caused his body, and the evident insanity attached to it. He’d almost killed Kyle using that binding ability, and his grandfather had killed Simon de Rais with that power. That madness within him must have been transferred through the blood. There was no other way to explain the sudden change of his personality, or why it coincided with his using the abilities which stemmed from the drink.
Ever since his grandmother had touched him, though, he’d felt free of its power. Unfortunately, that brought with it this severe fatigue, especially after his near-death experience with the elder de Rais. As he looked down at the row of vials, though, Jack wasn’t so sure he wanted to take that route. His grandfather had given the blood to him as an option, but there had to be one better than these vials.
Jack sighed and shook his head. He didn’t think the benefits outweighed the costs.
“Not anymore…” he muttered. He wasn’t going to take this stuff anymore. “I don’t need you.”
He pushed the flap closed and turned to his dresser for some dry clothes. He was rummaging through the apparel when the hairs on the back of his neck suddenly stood up. Then there was a noise. Slowly Jack lifted his head and turned to the desk. The flap to the satchel was open again.
Jack frowned and cautiously wandered over to it. He slowly reached out his hand and, when within reach, he quickly shut the flap again. For a few moments he waited to see if something new would happen, but nothing did. Maybe it was all his imagination, but he had this bad feeling. He felt uneasy when he turned back to his dresser, and he’d only taken a few steps before he froze at an unmistakable sound.
The flap of the satchel hitting the desk.
The young man turned around and he frowned when he noticed the flap was indeed back open. He crept back over to the desk and looked it over more carefully this time. He hadn’t seen anything unusual until he noticed something wrong with one of the vials. It was the one he’d picked up earlier. Judging from the seepage erupting from the side of the glass, he hadn’t put it back as carefully as he thought.
“Damn it,” he muttered. Now he had a mess on his hands.
Jack reached out to grab the broken vial when the blood suddenly came alive. He let out a yelp when the ooze whipped up and wrapped itself around his wrist. His surprise caused him to stumble backwards as the thick ooze pulled itself into a ball on his arm. Then it began climbing up his limb toward his head even as he heard the other vials crack and shatter. All the blood was oozing out of the satchel and onto the floor, and all of it was heading toward him.
Suddenly Jack’s arm was snatched from behind him and the violent blob jerked to a stop. All the others closer to the desk also paused in their march. Jack was half spun around and found himself glancing up into the tense face of his grandfather. His elder relation, however, was focused on the thing uneasily shifting along his arm. There seemed to be some sort of soundless communication between them as the thing rocked from side to side.
Jack flinched when the blob slid up his arm, but then it turned to grapple onto his grandfather’s hand. His elder released Jack from the iron grasp and reached out with his other hand. Pyre sliced a neat hole into his own palm, and held it up. Before Jack’s horrified eyes the dark ooze was absorbed into his grandfather’s body. The puddle that had formed on the floor from the vial strands followed suit as he knelt down. All was absorbed back into him, and Jack recoiled back from that disgusting sight. His grandfather straightened himself and turned to his grandson. The wound in his hand was quickly healing itself over, and in a matter of seconds there was no evidence the slice had ever existed.
“What did you do?” his grandfather calmly asked. It wasn’t an accusation, but Jack still frowned.
“What do you mean what did I do?” Jack countered. He waved his hand at the satchel. “I was just looking at those vials of blood, and then one of them tried to attack me.”
“Did you say or do anything else?” his relation persisted.
“I just said I wasn’t going to use your blood anymore,” his grandson added. He paused and sharply glanced up at his elder relation. “That’s it, isn’t it?” he guessed. “That stuff heard me and didn’t like what I said, did it?”
“Not at all,” his grandfather agreed. He walked over and glanced at the broken vials. Not a smidgen of blood was left. He picked up a piece of broken glass and examined the shard for a moment before he tossed it back on the pile. “It appears the stakes are growing higher,” he mused. Jack stepped up beside him, and he turned to the young lad. “The creature beneath the inn is growing more restless.”
“Tell me something I don’t know,” Jack quipped. “Everything around here wants to kill me.”
“If it had wished to kill you, you would be dead,” he calmly explained.
“Then why’d it attack me?” he countered.
“It sensed you were a threat and gave you a warning,” his grandfather elaborated. He nodded down at the satchel. “You will not take the blood at all, will you?”
“I don’t need it,” Jack emphasized. His eyes narrowed as he folded his arms across his chest. “You knew that thing would attack me like that, didn’t you?” he questioned.
“If you refused it, yes,” his companion admitted. A wry smile spread across his lips. “The mixture dislikes disobedience as much as myself.”
“So besides trying to get your own blood to scare me, and the power it gave me, is there any reason I should have to take that stuff?” Jack questioned. “I mean, is anything else it has worth risking my neck with it?”
“I had hoped my blood would dilute your presence to what lies beneath the inn,” his grandfather quietly explained.
“And when that thing down there woke up anyway?” Jack wondered.
“Then it was a means for you to protect yourself,” his grandfather added. He glanced down at the glass shards on the floor. “Now I see the folly of that reasoning.”
“What about my mom?” Jack suddenly asked. In all this excitement about him being so special, he realized his mom was even closer in bloodline to his grandfather. “Did you give any to her to protect her?”
“I did not,” he admitted with a heavy sigh. Jack was surprised. His grandfather didn’t seem to have any problem pushing himself onto his grandson. “She is a different matter.”
“How’s she different?” Jack challenged.
“For one, she did not go down into the tunnel,” his grandfather pointed out. Jack frowned.
“Yeah, well, that was just bad luck,” the young lad argued.
“Luck has little to do with destiny,” countered his companion.
“Yeah, well, I know I’m going to be running out of that sooner or later,” Jack agreed. “So I kind of need that training you promised,” he pointedly reminded. A mischievous smile spread across his face. “Are you ready for it?”
His grandfather raised an eyebrow and his half grin slid onto his own face.
“You seem to have taken my line,” he mused.
“Well, I’m in kind of a hurry to learn,” Jack pointed out. He had a smile on his face, too. It looked a lot like his grandfather’s own grin. “I didn’t want to have to wait for you to offer.”
“If you are so eager to improve yourself, who am I to argue?” his grandfather mused. “Would this afternoon be soon enough for your pleasure?”
“That’d actually work out pretty well, though I’ll have to check my schedule to make sure,” Jack teased. He had absolutely nothing to do that entire time, and he knew his grandfather was aware of that. That’s when his stomach rumbled with hunger. “Looks like it’s time for food, though,” he sheepishly admitted. The young boy questioningly glanced up at his grandfather. “You ever eat anything?” he wondered. In all those months he’d been around his strange relation, he’d never seen a crumb of food pass his lips.
“Only for pleasure,” his grandfather admitted.
“You wanna join me and mom?” his grandson hesitantly invited. “You know, just to keep up normal appearances for people.”
That wasn’t quite the real reason. It was a great benefit to lessen the weird atmosphere the inn was no doubt starting to give to the townsfolk, but it also meant they really would be a normal family. Well, as normal as they could get considering their bloodline.
“Perhaps another time,” his grandfather suggested. He glanced outside at the white world. “For now I’ll prepare your first lesson.”
“Oh goody…” Jack mumbled. For all his gung-ho attitude earlier, he knew his relation wasn’t going to take it easy on him. “Well, see you after lunch.”
“Until then, Jack,” his grandfather returned.