Authors: Justin Somper
Tags: #Parenting, #Pirates, #Action & Adventure, #Vampires, #Juvenile Fiction, #Mothers, #Seafaring life, #Fantasy & Magic, #Fiction, #Family & Relationships, #Horror & Ghost Stories, #Twins, #General, #Motherhood, #Horror, #Brothers and sisters
Stukeley watched as, at last, Johnny opened his eyes. He frowned. "Where am I?"
Stukeley chuckled. "You're on a beach, mate."
"I see that," his friend said. "But where -- and why?"
"Well," Stukeley said, "judging by that little trail of blood above your chin, I'd guess that we've been feasting."
Johnny blinked at the word. "That's funny. I can't remember." He brought himself up into a sitting position. "I feel kind of dizzy," he said.
"Me, too," said Stukeley. "But it's a nice kind of dizzy." He climbed up onto his feet. His body felt like jelly. His limbs splayed out in each direction, and he crashed back onto the sand, laughing.
Johnny laughed, too. "That's the funniest thing I've seen in ages!"
"All right, smarty-pants," said Stukeley. "Let's see you walk the walk."
Johnny accepted the challenge and clambered up onto his feet. "There!" he announced, standing perfectly upright for a moment. "Nothing to it!" As he finished speaking, his legs gave way, and he tumbled back down onto the sand.
"Very impressive!" cried Stukeley, cracking up.
"Man!" exclaimed Johnny. "We must have taken a lot of blood tonight, don't you think?"
"Oh, yes," Stukeley nodded. "I reckon we had one heck of a party. It's just a shame we can't remember a thing about it."
Lady Lockwood was waiting in her cabin for Jessamy and Camille to return. She was playing a form of solitaire with a stack of unusual playing cards -- unusual in that the only suit was hearts and every card was black.
At the first knock on her cabin door, the captain called out, "Enter!"
Jessamy and Camille, wearing their cocktail dresses and finery, strode into the room. Both were smiling.
"Well?" said the captain. "You look like you had fun!"
"Oh, yes," said Jessamy, removing her hat and shaking out her long red hair. It clashed marvelously with her ruby necklace.
"Great fun, Captain!" agreed Camille.
"And did everything go according to plan?" Lady Lockwood asked.
"Of course," Jessamy purred, with a smile. "They were putty in our hands!"
Lady Lockwood nodded in approval. "This calls for a toast," she said. By her side was a wine bottle and several antique Venetian glasses. Her own glass was already half filled, but she lifted the bottle and poured a drink for her two comrades.
"What are we drinking?" asked Jessamy.
Lady Lockwood smiled. "A cheeky little Italian." She paused. "I think his name was Vincent. No, Vincenzo, that's right! An opera singer, though not a terribly good one, if truth be told."
Camille took a sip, savoring the fine vintage a good while before allowing it to slip down her throat.
"Is it to your taste, dear?" Lady Lockwood asked. "Or would you like something with more body?"
Camille shook her head. "It's delicious, Captain."
Jessamy nodded her own appreciation. "A worthy addition to the Black Heart Winery," she said.
"I'm so pleased," said Lady Lockwood. "There are a few more bottles where that came from. Share them between you, if you like. Consider it a little thank-you for a well-executed mission."
The captain smiled, then lifted her own glass to her lips once more and drank. The first round against Sidorio's bows had been fired.
"A donor!" Grace couldn't restrain herself.
Sally nodded, reaching out and squeezing Grace's hand. But once more, though the touch was intended as reassuring, it caused a ricochet in Grace's head. In rapid succession, the three images she had seen before flashed by again -- first Dexter, then Sidorio, then Lorcan. And this time, there was a fresh image -- of the Vampirate captain, sitting at the table in his cabin.
As Sally removed her hand, the vision instantly died. Once more, apparently oblivious to the effect of her touch, Sally continued to speak. "I take it by your reactions that you both know what a donor is?"
Connor was silent. Grace, still shocked by the visions, nodded. She tried to focus on what Sally was saying. The fact that she had been a donor explained the strange anomaly in Sally's appearance. The pact between Vampirate and donor prevented the donor from aging. But surely Sally would have had to stop being a donor to give birth to the twins. Unless ...
Grace's unconscious mind was whirring away. She felt she was close to a discovery, but she wasn't quite there yet. Perhaps there was a clue in the strange sequence of images that had flashed through her head when Sally had touched her -- Dexter, Sidorio, Lorcan, and the Vampirate captain.
"Grace, are you all right?" Sally's voice cut through her feverish thoughts. Grace realized that her eyes were closed. She opened them again. "Sorry," she said. "I keep getting this jumble of images in my head." She gazed at Sally. "It happens every time you touch me." At this, Connor turned and looked at her curiously. Grace asked her mother, "Are you doing it on purpose?"
Sally shook her head. "No, Grace, I'm not. But tell me, what images are coming into your head?"
"They're people I know. Dad and Sidorio, then Lorcan and the Vampirate captain. But they're just flashes. I'm not sure what they mean, but I don't think they're my own memories. Dad's much younger than I ever saw him."
Sally smiled. "How amazing!" she said. "Do you want to try it again?"
Grace nodded. Sally reached out her hand and Grace took it. As soon as their flesh made contact, it happened again. Only this time there was less initial pain, and the vision was clearer. It was of her dad. The same vision as before. Nighttime, outdoors. He was laughing. This vision stayed with her. She saw that he was on the deck of a ship, then realized with a start that she recognized the ship. She gasped. Sally released her hand, and the vision subsided as quickly as before.
"What did you see this time?" Sally asked curiously.
Grace opened her eyes, but she was still focused on the vision. She was reeling from the possibility it had led her to, and uncertain whether to voice her thoughts.
"What did you see?" Connor asked, a note of irritation in his voice.
"It's okay, Grace," Sally said softly. "Whatever it is, you must share it with us. I told you this is a difficult story, but we'll make it through together -- the three of us -- I promise you." She turned to Connor. "I promise you both."
Grace took a breath. "It was Dad," she said. "He was so young and happy." She paused. "He was on the deck of a ship. It was the Nocturne. I saw the sails sparking with light behind him."
"That's impossible!" Connor said. "Dad was never on the Nocturne."
Grace shook her head. "No, I'm certain it was him." She turned to Sally. "I think I've figured it out," she said. "Our story, I mean. You were a donor. And our dad, Dexter, he was your vampire partner." Grace glanced at Connor, saw him frown, then faced Sally as she summoned up the words that she knew had the potential to change both twins' lives forever. "Our father was a vampire."
Sally held Grace's gaze, but before she could respond, Connor jumped up from his seat and cried out. "No! I don't want to hear this!" he snapped. "I don't want or need to hear this. Our dad was a good man. No, Grace -- not a 'good man' like Lorcan or your Vampirate captain. A truly good man. He raised us on his own. He sacrificed everything for us for fourteen years and died way too young."
Connor stopped and glared at Sally. "How dare you say these things about him!"
"I didn't say ..." Sally began, but her voice had grown weak again, and besides, Connor was already striding toward the door.
Sally coughed and reached for more water. "Go after him," she rasped at Grace.
Grace was torn. "What about you?"
"Go," Sally said, gathering all the force she could muster. "Bring him back. He needs to hear this as much as you do."
Her voice might be weak, but her words were strong as steel. Grace ran to the door and chased along the corridor after Connor. He hadn't gotten very far. He was leaning against the wall, his head in his hands.
"Connor, you have to come back in there with me."
He twisted his head and glared at her. "I don't have to go anywhere, Grace."
Grace was insistent. "You need to hear what our mother has to say. We both do."
Connor shook his head. "It's lies, Grace. A fairy tale." He shook his head. "No, not a fairy tale, more like a horror story."
"You might not like it, Con, but that doesn't mean it isn't true." She reached out to him, but he shook her off angrily.
"You're actually asking me to believe that our dad was a vampire?" He shook his head, incredulous.
"Perhaps," Grace said. "And if that is the case, then we ought to know." She paused, deep in her own spiral of thoughts. "I wonder ... would that make us vampires, too?"
Connor stared at her openmouthed. "Listen to yourself!" he said. "Grace, you've completely lost your sense of reality. Okay, so the Vampirates rescued you from drowning. They did a good thing there, no question. But that isn't enough for you, is it? No, you have to go and make friends with them! And now you want to be family, too? It's not normal, Grace. It's weird. Deeply, horribly weird."
"I'll make friends with whomever I choose," Grace said, equally full of fire.
"Fine," Connor said. "That's your choice." Then he spoke very deliberately. "Our father was not a Vampirate. Dexter Tempest was a kind, normal man with two kids and a job as a lighthouse keeper. Overworked and underpaid."
"You can keep telling yourself that," said Grace, surprised by her own calm, "but saying it doesn't make it true." She paused. "I haven't lost my sense of reality, Connor. I'm just open to differentrealities. While you've been away, living the pirate life, I've had my eyes opened to the most amazing possibilities -- things I would never have dreamed could be true." Her eyes flashed with fire as she continued. "You've even seen some of these things for yourself! You were there when Mosh Zu healed the captain."
Connor bristled. "I don't see what that has to do with Dad."
"Connor, you saw Mother and the other shades rise from the captain's body! Didn't that change your sense of what is normal and what is possible?"
"Maybe," he conceded. "Maybe I'm even ready to accept that she is our mother, or the ghost of our mother, though I'm really struggling with how she traveled around in the captain's stomach all these years." He sighed. "These things, they're too hard for me to get my head around, and frankly, I don't even want to. But I knew Dad. I lived with him for fourteen years, day and night. He was a regular guy. Dexter Tempest was not a Vampirate."
The more he tried to shut her down, the more impassioned Grace became. "You need to redefine your sense of what a vampire is," she said. "Vampirates can be regular guys, too. Look at Lorcan."
Connor nodded. "I thought it might come back to him. Look, Grace, I know how much you like Lorcan. He's the first boy you've ever been really interested in, but even so, you have to face facts. He isnot a regular guy."
"He's kind," said Grace. "And thoughtful. And funny."
"Oh, yeah," Connor said. "A regular barrel of laughs ol' Lorcan is, I'm sure. But you're forgetting some of the more salient information about him, Grace." He paused. "Like, for instance, how he likes to suck blood."
"It isn't that he likes it," Grace said vehemently. "Lorcan needs blood to revivify himself. He has an appetite for it, but he has learned to control it."
"Well," Connor said, nodding. "You're right. That's very regular."
Grace reached out her hand to her brother, determined to give this one more try. "Connor, please, let's go back in there and finish this conversation with our mother while we have the chance. She's so frail. We don't know how long we have left."
He stared at her intently, his thoughts closed to her, then shook his head.
Grace sighed and turned away from him. Folding her arms tightly across her chest, she strode back toward the meditation room.
"Grace, wait!" Connor cried. "We need to talk! Just the two of us."
But there was no stopping her. She marched along the corridor and back into the meditation room. She went over to her mother's chair, then let out a gasp. Sally was slumped on the floor, her eyes closed and her body limp.