Warning! This is a horror/dark fiction story so may be disturbing to some. There is strong language and sexual situations.
The phone rang again and he decided to let the machine pick it up. “I’m off duty,” he called, raising his glass in the general direction of the counter top.
“I’d better get it,” said Annie, pushing herself up from the spot by his feet where she’d been curled up with the notes for her neglected screenplay.
“Tell them I’m off duty,” he slurred, realizing that he’d had one glass of wine too many.
“It’s probably another one of your gray haired girlfriends stuck in the snow,” Annie laughed as she crossed the room.
“Then I’m definitely off duty,” he said, repeating the words slowly and carefully.
Annie picked up the phone and listened for a moment. “No, not at all,” she said pleasantly. She listened for a moment longer, snatching a pencil from the plastic container by the phone and pulling the note pad to her. “Really?” she said, scribbling something across the top. “How do you spell that?” She wrote something else on the pad. “I really do appreciate the information,” she assured the caller. “Yes, of course accuracy is everything, isn’t it? Well, thank you again. I’ll see you soon.”
She replaced the receiver on its cradle and returned to the sofa with a strange smile playing across her lips.
“Who was that?” Vince asked, grabbing playfully for her and catching the hem of her robe. He peered admiringly at an expanse of smooth thigh.
“Behave yourself,” said Annie. “There’s nothing more annoying than a romantic drunk.” She plopped back onto the sofa at his feet and thoughtfully examined the note in her hand.
“Well, are you going to let me in on the big secret?” he asked. “Who was on the phone?”
“That sweet little old lady from the library,” she said. “She was running through some family papers about the old Condor Lake killings that she’d kept at home and called to tell me she’d just discovered that all the newspapers of the time had gotten one important detail wrong.”
“Aha! The detail that cracks the case wide open after all these years no doubt!” Vince leaned over the coffee table and poured himself another dollop of wine.
“No such luck I’m afraid.” She smiled. “According to all the old newspaper accounts, an Indian medicine man showed up in Condor Lake soon after the killings began to warn the residents that the spirits were angry with them for taking away the Indian lands.”
Vince squinted at her through the clear wine. “What? You mean that didn’t really happen?”
“Well, not exactly. According to Edith’s great grandfather’s diary, a man in strange clothes did show up speaking a language no one understood. The newsmen on the scene assumed he was an Indian and wrote the story to fit. Edith’s ancestor, who had spent several years as a seaman before deciding to try his hand at prospecting, evidently told the gentlemen of the press they were all full of it. He’d seen lots of dark skinned men like the one who showed up at the lake, in Europe…”
“And?” Vince was interested now.
“And,” Annie was milking the little mystery for all it was worth, “Edith Wheat’s great grandfather wrote in his diary that the man was a Spanish speaking Gypsy.”
Vince hiccoughed. “A Gypsy? A fortune teller type Gypsy?”
“That’s what Edith’s great grandfather thought. He understood a little Spanish….”
“From his years of swashbuckling on the Spanish Main, no doubt…”
She raised her eyebrows, annoyed. “The Spanish Main was a couple of hundred year too early to fit into this story, dear. May I finish?”
“By all means do go on, my pet.” He raised his glass to his lips, suppressing an urge to giggle.
Annie balled her fist and delivered a painful punch to his thigh. “Very well,” she said, squinting at the note. “The great grandfather….”
She shot him a glance. “….said the Gypsy came to the lake asking questions about the Pale Spirit. Evidently he wanted to know where it came from. The locals tarred and feathered him and chased him off into the woods and he was never seen again.”
“Fascinating. Is that all?”
“Except for his name….”
“Edith Wheat’s great grandfather?”
“The Gypsy, you idiot! His name was Rollo Castillo.”
“Just like the bedspread czar,” Vince laughed, Rollo Castle. I love it! Hey, remember the old bedspread song?”
Annie crumpled the note into a ball and tossed it into the fireplace. It bounced off the logs, falling among the ashes. “Rollo’s Super Bedspread Mart, our bedspreads are stupendous….” she suddenly began singing to the tune of the Mary Poppins song, Supercalafragilisticexpialidotious.
“Drive on down to Rollo’s place, the savings are tremendous….” Vince chimed in, amazed that he recalled the words to the nutty jingle that had run endlessly on late night TV when he was still just a kid in high school.
“Rollo’s prices are so low, he cuts them with a hatchet….” Annie was laughing out loud now.
“San Diego Freeway close, just off the Venice exit!” Vince was howling. “Geez,” he said, wiping his eyes. Remember that commercial where Rollo jumped into a wet bedspread from the top of the Super Bedspread Mart?”
Annie slapped his leg. “Or the one where he built that big cardboard rocket to launch the first bedspread to the moon?”
Vince got to his feet, still chuckling, and headed for the coffeepot on the counter. “Nobody makes commercials like that anymore,” he said, pouring himself a cup of steaming brew. “The man was a living legend.”
Annie sat watching the ball of crumpled note paper crackle and turn brown. “I wonder what ever happened to good old Rollo?” she mused as it burst into flame.
“Mama, what shall I do?”
The wizened pixie face peered up at Rollo Castle from the turban of soft cotton blankets in which the old woman had been swaddled like a mummy. Button bright eyes peered curiously into his and for a moment Rollo was certain she had not understood a single word of the long tale he had just finished relating to her.
then a gnarled finger crept up out of the blankets, pointing toward a plastic container on the bedside table and he lifted the carafe of cold water, guiding the bendable plastic straw to her cracked lips. The old woman sucked noisily at the straw, her button eyes drifting to the brightly colored images flickering across the screen of the Sony television hung on a metal frame at the foot of the bed, and he wondered if the trip had been a waste of time.
Of course Cheri Castillo was not really Rollo Castle’s Mama. That was a family title of respect; one that had been around as long as he could remember. Cheri, who was in fact Rollo’s great-grandmother, had been an old woman when he was born. And now she was also his oldest living relative. It was whispered in the family that Cheri had once been a great beauty, a wild Gypsy dancing girl who had stolen the heart of a European nobleman, ultimately driving the poor fellow to financial ruin and suicide before fleeing to America to escape the wrath of his relatives. America. That was where cheri had met and married Rollo’s father’s, father’s father, the last member of the clan to have actively practiced the old ways.
The money the pale prince had left with him notwithstanding, Rollo had been badly frightened by the savage wedding ritual that had taken place in his office that afternoon. As soon as he returned from the hospital emergency room where his wounds had been stitched and he’d received prophylactic injections of gamma globulin and anti-tetanus after making up a story about having cut his hand on a discarded bottle, the bedspread king had climbed into his rattletrap Cadillac and driven through the rain to the nursing home in Long Beach, hopeful of receiving some advice that might be of use should the terrifying creature seek him out again.
The game show on the television ended in a burst of studio audience applause as the contestant, a secretary from Teaneck, New Jersey, correctly guessed the occupation of ski instructor from a sketchy puzzle containing only three letters and was awarded an all expense paid trip to the Great Wall Of China. Brushing away the straw as she might a noisome fly, the old woman’s gaze suddenly shifted back to Rollo and she opened her mouth, affording him an unappetizing view of her pink gums and birdlike tongue. “Vampir!” she whispered, ” he deadliest of the unseen tribes, and the most clever.”
“Vampir!” Rollo’s heart jumped into his throat and he leaned forward, straining to catch her words. “What should I do, Mama? The one creature–this vampir–he comes back to me, seeking rituals and advice on matters of which I know nothing.”
Her fragile hand, spotted skin stretched taut across knotted veins and tendons, shot forward, jerking the gold medallion from his shirt. “You are the Oracle,” she croaked. “You have the Power!”
“I don’t understand, Mama. They…. they scare me.” He held up his bandaged hand for her to see. “Today, the pale one cut me, and then they both drank of my blood.”
The old woman’s cracked lips twisted into a knowing smile. “You have the Power,” she repeated. “For this favor they must do your bidding.” Her shiny eyes took on a crafty glitter and she released the medallion to rub her crooked thumb across the tips of curled fingers. “To hold such favors from the unseen ones can make you wealthy beyond your dreams; the vampires may be forced to destroy your enemies, to drive your competitors from the land….”
“But Mama, he already paid me…. a great deal of money for just….”
He was completely unprepared for the stinging slap that resounded off his cheek, drawing back in stunned silence to stare down at her contorted features.
“Idiot! You took money from the vampir?”
Rollo nodded dumbly. “They… He said it was the custom….”
“Fool, now you are in their debt. They own you, body and soul….” Her voice died away and her frail skull fell wearily back into the nest of blankets. Lids as fine and wrinkled as old parchment crinkled over her eyes and she shook her head from side to side, murmuring to herself in the old language.
“Mama, are you OK? Should I call the nurses?” Rollo’s voice was an unnatural squeak in the hushed confines of the antiseptic room.
He touched the fragile bones of her fingers, felt them gripping him with a strength of such ferocity he was reminded of the pale creature. The bright black eyes clicked open, fixing him in their spider’s gaze. “You must seek them out.” Her ancient voice rose and fell like the wind of an autumn storm, sending chills down his spine. “Seek them out and return the money. Explain that the Oracle will not receive money, that you took it only to avoid offending them after so long. Only in this way may you regain the power you have lost.”
“But Mama, it’s a lot of money, a whole lot of money.” Rollo tried gently to disengage the clawed fingers from his flesh. The cash in the two fat envelopes was more money than he would ever again see in his life. Damned if he was going to give it up because the superstitious old woman told him to. He had come here only to see if he could pick up a little of the old time Gypsy bullshit to use on the creatures the next time they showed up. That was all. Hell, they’d said his blood was sacred to them. Why would they want to hurt him….? He flinched as the bony fingers bit deeper into his pudgy wrist.
“You must return it,” spat the old woman. “Else you and your seed shall be accursed throughout the Seven Kingdoms and others shall come for you, slimy things that dwell in the rivers, trolls from the mountain lands…. Find the vampire and return the money. Return it before it is too late….”
“Sure, Mama, whatever you say….” Rollo’s voice was soothing, sincere. The old woman’s strength had flagged as quickly as she had mustered it and he was able to easily disentangle her knobby fingers from his wrist. “Well,” he said, getting to his feet and edging away from the bed. “I guess I’d better get going if I’m going to give that money back. Say hello to Uncle Jay and Minnie for me….”
“Fool,” whispered the old woman as he backed out through the door, letting it swing shut behind him. Cheri Castillo had been a Gypsy for one hundred and six years.
It was not possible to effectively lie to her, certainly not for a rank amateur like her bumbling great grandson at any rate.
Raindrops speckled the Accord’s windshield as Bobby pulled to a stop at the corner by the botanica where he had first seen her standing. Flicking on the wipers, he gazed at the oily rainbows in the wet cement, wishing he had the power to make her magically reappear.
Although he was only poorly educated, Bobby was highly intelligent, and he realized that there was something very odd, dangerous even, about the strange beautiful girl who had come into his life the night before. He didn’t care if she was different. He just wanted to be with her, to teach her about coffee and burgers and water taps and all the other things she seemed so innocent of. He closed his eyes, remembering how she had looked in the car up on Mulholland, her slender pale body spread before him like a sacrifice, trusting in him to do the right thing.
She was the only good thing that had happened to him in a very long time. He had to find her.
An angry horn blared behind him and he glanced up through the streaked windshield to discover that the light had changed to green. He goosed the accelerator and the customized Accord eased forward, wet tires singing on the tired pavement as the latest Tejana discovery wailed her mournful lament through the big multiple Pioneer stereo speakers.Return Home