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A Santa Maria Story
James M. Sullivan
Start from the beginning of the Santa Maria series
Lightning slashed across the night sky, its brief flash illuminating Ant, the blue-haired fugitive, and Rodrigo, his Kindler boyfriend. The two were sitting in a small dark room, embracing and leaning on each other for support. Thunder followed the flash in the sky three seconds later and shook the tiny room.
"I like this kind of booming much better than the colorful displays from last night," Ant whispered. "This is much more honest than showy fireworks. People forget that fire is dangerous when it's blue, gold, and green. You never forget how dangerous lightning is, no matter how beautiful it may be." Rod caressed Ant's ear.
"I'm sorry all of this going on. I wish I had some answers, or some idea of what to do. Just remember, Jack is going to be fine. Everyone is working towards a solution," Rod said in a soothing voice.
"We've no idea what we're up against!" Ant shouted, pulling away from Rod. "Working towards a solution is just a polite way of saying we're watching people die with our thumbs up our asses. And it's me who the public holds responsible for these horrific murders. I'm the one who’s going to pay the final price—be the sacrificial lamb!"
"Ant, please. Diasuke is working with the police now. We will figure this out. You need faith, just a little. And love from me. We will survive. We will figure out what these creatures are and stop them. You will not go to jail for Oliver's, or anyone else's, murder." He leaned over and gave Ant a quick peck on the lips. "Believe me, we will be fine."
Ant turned to look at his lover.
"Fine, I do, but how many more people are going to die before we do all those things?" Rod just put his arm around the blue-haired man and leaned his head against Ant's shoulder. The stayed that way for a long time, watching the storm rage outside.
Diasuke placed a gold, filigreed ring with a blue gem on the candle-adorned altar, between a pocketknife and a football trophy. He then took a lighter from his pocket and lit each candle, moving from left to right. Putting the lighter away, he then knelt before the altar. From his robes, he drew a ceremonial tantô and crossed his palm with it. His blood welled up like a creek. Diasuke held his injured hand above each item and let his blood spill on each one. He then closed his eyes, brought his palms together with his fingers pointed skyward, and he began to chant in Japanese. The storm thundered outside.
After thirty minutes had passed, the yellow flames of the candles began to dance and flicker as their color changed from bright to a dark purplish-gray. At the same time, a faint aura of the same purple-gray color surrounded the items on the altar. Eyes still closed but aware of the change in the energy around him, Diasuke continued his chanting. After another thirty minutes, the candle flames and the unearthly glow around the items Diasuke had placed on the altar had both taken on a deep, smoky orchid color. The storm continued to reverberate.
Diasuke continued his melodic prayers for another thirty minutes, and that is when the image began to appear over the altar. At first it was a just a faint shadowy presence, hinting that something more than the dancing light cast from the candles was there. As the shadow began to solidify and the image took on a more defined shape and form, the process accelerated and soon a ghostly visage was hovering about the altar. Diasuke opened his eyes.
"Duncan Farris, it is good to see you again," Diasuke said, his gaze looking upwards at the ghost.
"Diasuke? How have you—what is going on? You should not have taken me!" the ghost of Duncan shouted.
"Forgive me, Duncan, but I had little choice. My sister had a vision that you were the answer to what is troubling Santa Maria. I have told nobody of this, but I believe that Bree's child is in danger from the current threat to the city and my sister is convinced you can help."
"I don't know what I can do. First off, Diasuke, I'm dead. Second, I've got my hands full. You've got to send me back, Diasuke. It's critical, man!"
"So, you’re not surprised about the child?"
"No, I watch over Bree when I can, but with the storm, I can't cross over at all to help her."
"Storm?" Diasuke asked.
"Yes, storm. Don't you know what's going on?"
"No. What are you talking about, Duncan?"
"There has been some sort of storm in the spirit world. It’s been going on since before I arrived there. I wouldn't have known that it was unusual if it wasn't for Eleanor."
"Yes, the very one. Everyone who died in that battle, and everyone who has died in Santa Maria since, has been trapped in the spirit world, unable to be ferried across to the Great Sea because of the storm. I can't believe that nobody there has figured this out!"
"Well, we have had our hands full, too, Duncan. Besides, there are no Ghost Lords here. Since the power of the city is gone, most of those who know of it have left."
"Hands full? With the murders? Can you see them? The creatures, I mean."
"Well, one of the Gamin has seen them. Shadow creatures—they behave like vampires, but are not."
"They are coming from here, from the Spirit World,” Duncan said. “The Wight is sending them across. The Wight is the only thing that can seem to manipulate the passage between both worlds, but only enough to let those things out. Well, and you. How exactly did you bring me across?"
"The Wight? The Wight still exists?"
"I just told you, Diasuke. Now, this is important: Everyone that died in the battle is trapped in the spirit world, but I want to know how you brought me across."
"I guess maybe it worked because it's a different process; it's slow and more about the connection between living people and the dead.” Diasuke looked thoughtful. “Maybe it is because I am on this side or perhaps it is because I possess items that were once important to you… But it doesn't really matter. What matters is what is happening over there."
"The Ghost Lords that died in that battle under the earth have divided, some following Eleanor and others the Wight. The Wight's faction is taking the souls that are coming across, especially the murdered ones. It's a constant battle, which is why I have to return."
"Do you know what the creatures are?" Diasuke asked.
Duncan shook his shadowy head. "No, but they aren't ghosts. Eleanor is certain of that. She's also certain they are not natural creatures of the spirit world. They are coming towards the storm from elsewhere, so they are crossing over outside of Santa Maria and travelling here through the spirit realm."
"Fascinating. Duncan, you have helped immensely. Is there a way to stop the storm?"
"Eleanor isn't sure, but if it can be done it has to be done from the Bethel."
"Where the Ghost Lords used to live.” Duncan’s expression took on a look of urgency. “Now, Diasuke, please send me back."
"One more thing, Duncan. What do you know of Bree's baby?"
"That it's the Shaman's unborn child. Its soul had lain dormant and imprisoned with the Shaman and now that Shaman has been released from the gem she was trapped in, the child can be born. However, since she had no body other than Bree's, it was just how things needed to be."
"The Shaman?” Diasuke asked.
"She's finally free, but she isn't in the spirit world. Or at least not with us. If she's still around, she isn't near Santa Maria. That may explain the loss of power in the area; Eleanor is pretty sure she is what makes Santa Maria a Place of Power."
"Thank you, Duncan. Give my best to those fighting the good fight. I will attempt to contact you again, or Eleanor directly. Tell her. Be safe, Duncan."
Duncan’s ghostly expression softened and a look of sorrow crossed his features. "Tell Bree I love her."
"I shall, Duncan Ferris." Diasuke moved his hands apart and the ghost of Duncan winked out, as did the auras around the keepsakes. The candlelight returned to its normal soft orange-yellow glow. His palms were stained with his own blood, but the cut had started to scab over.
Diasuke quickly packed away the altar and personal items, eager to share what he had learned with the others.
Everett Jones, Mackenzie Nolan, Dandelion Jack, and Rodina Duffy sat around a table in Mackenzie's apartment. Each had a cup in front of them, each filled with a coffee beverage.
Rodina, her rat's nest particularly wild today, sighed heavily. "Darlin's, I know this is hard. There is a lot of political pressure from the Ghost Lords for folks to stay out of the business of Santa Maria, supernatural murders or not. Now, Mr. Uccello has been kind enough to travel to the Maven Praesidium Directorate to appeal our case. While he's there he will also be trying to figure out what those damnable creatures are. Everett, what are the chances of the New Dawn coming in?"
"They have their hands full in Los Angeles; while it's not a place of power, it is where a full scale war with the vampires is happening. My people are overwhelmed; they keep killing vampires, but people are being turned faster than they can be killed. If this keeps up, we will all be exposed; if half the population of Los Angeles becomes blood sucking fiends, nobody could cover it up," Everett said, tossing his head to get his stop-sign-red and jet-black hair out of his eyeliner-smudged eyes.
"Jack, how are you doin', darlin'?"
"I'll recover. Not too much pain. But this has to be stopped. Has anything come of Diasuke working with the police and Mayor Nolan?"
Mac realized the other three were looking directly at him. "My mother hasn't given me anything new except new reports of murders. This last batch all seem mundane; no connection to any faction as far as I can see."
"Well, then, I'm open to sugges—" Rodina cut herself off, putting her hand up suddenly to silence the others. "A major communication spell has just been used. Mac, I think it's best if you check the prison again. Jack, check on Ant and then the other Gamin. Oh, and have Rod check on Bree. Everett, do you mind checking in on Diasuke and Mitsuko?" Everett shook his head to indicate it was no trouble. Mac and Jack nodded to acknowledge that they understood their objectives.
"I'm going to see if I can track the spell to its source," Rodina finished.
All four got up quickly and headed to their appointed tasks.
Melanie Montgomery slowly opened her eyes, finding it hard to focus. Her head hurt—amazingly so. Slowly and gingerly, she reached up to touch her temples, where the pain seemed to be radiating from. She discovered her face had something wet on it, or perhaps the moisture had been on her fingers.
Melanie moved her hands in front of her face to examine them, and started when she realized they were covered in blood. She sat up and pain immediately shot through her limbs, as if was tearing at the flesh. She swore through clenched teeth, eyes shut tight. After a moment, she slowly opened her eyes once again, this time looking around the room. She was in a hallway and it was covered with blood. Near her was a toppled bookcase.
My bookcase, she thought. Fuck, this is my house. What happened?
She looked down and discovered her limbs had wide cuts on them, crusted with dried blood though some still trickled out.
Fuck! Just then, she thought she heard a familiar sound. Wait... Is that the doorbell?
From her position in the hallway, Melanie craned her head towards the front door. Over the sounds of the store, she could just make out the sound of her doorbell ringing incessantly. Pulling herself up into a crawling position, she slowly, painfully began to move towards the door on her hands and knees. As she got closer, she became aware of another sound, muffled by the storm and the doorbell.
"Sweet Pea! Mel, honey! Are you in there? Can you hear me? You haven't been answering your phone for hours! Sweet Pea, please. I'm scared. I'm going to call the police! Sweet Pea, please, can you hear me? Mel? Melanie, please be all right!"
Fuck, Mom. "I'm here, Mom," she croaked out. Her mouth was dry and she found it hard to talk. "I'm coming!"
"Oh thank God, Mel. What's going on, honey?" Helen shouted through the door. The doorbell stopped ringing.
"I’m coming, Mom! I'll be there in a minute!" Mel continued to crawl towards the door and her mother continued, frantically, to ask for answers. When Melanie got to the door, she reached up, groaned, and unlocked it. Exhausted and in pain, she fell back to the ground.
Helen fell silent. The door swung open in the darkness, and Helen could see nothing at first. Then, as if on cue from one of her horror movies, lighting flashed in the night sky and illuminated the grisly state of her daughter.
"Sweet Jesus! My God, Mel! What happened?" Helen was quick to move. She entered the house and immediately kneeled at her daughter’s side. "Oh my God! You've been attacked? Sweet Pea, it's going to be fine, just fine. Mom's here, Sweet Pea." Helen grabbed her mobile phone from her purse and flipped it open, completely unaware of the shadowy forms gathering behind her.
The neighbors never heard Helen's screams over the thunder.
Story by James M. Sullivan, Copyright 2008
Image by Rory Clark, Stopped Motion Photography, Copyright 2008