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A Santa Maria story
James M. Sullivan
Start from the beginning of the Santa Maria series
The tension was palpable at the welcoming party. Mackenzie Nolan and Rodrigo Valencia were playing the role of gracious host for the newly arrived contingent of Ghost Lords and while all the supernaturals of Santa Maria were in attendance, save the Native American tribe of the Chatu-mu, almost no one seemed pleased to be there. Smiles were tight and conversations short, labored, and hollow. As the various factions played at being polite one genuine conversation began in the back of the room.
Brady stood back from the rest of the crowd, his attention on his cup and not looking out at the room full of strangers.
"Hello. I'm Kalliope."
Startled, he looked up. "Oh. I mean, hi," he managed to say.
She smiled, showing perfect white teeth behind rose-hued lips. She was quite pretty; long, wavy blond hair framing a cherubic face, complete with a button nose and sparkling chestnut eyes. The short-sleeved cream-colored dress suggested innocence, but it draped her body as to hint at more adult figure.
"And you are?" she said, never losing her smile.
"Oh. Me? Oh, I'm Brady."
She extended her hand. "Nice to meet you, Brady."
He took it and they shook. "Nice to meet you as well." He removed his hand and placed it on the back of his head where he began to absently fidget with the short hairs there.
"I'm an Acolyte of the Ghost Lords. New to town, of course. I hope I'm not disturbing you, it's just you look like the only one here anywhere near my age."
"Oh? Sure. Well, I'm 18," he lied.
"Really?" she said, arching her left eyebrow.
"Well, 18-enough," he said with a smile.
She giggled. He stopped playing with his hair.
"I'm 16 actually. I'm just used to having to say 18. That was before I joined the Gamin. I'm pretty new, actually. We don't have acolytes per say, but you could think of me as one."
"Why did you have to lie about being 18?"
"To avoid truancy charges. I was a Downtown Dog."
She shot him a quizzical look.
"Oh, sorry. A street kid. Downtown is one of the best places to panhandle and find other odd jobs. I'm not sure where the term came from exactly, but I hear it's been around since the 70s.
Her smile changed to a slight frown. "Oh that's terrible. You must have had such a hard life and then to have everyone call you a dog? That's just awful."
"No, it's not like that at all. It's a matter of honor. It means I was around enough for folks to know who I was. It means I didn't die. I was strong enough to survive the streets. I'm proud to be a Downtown Dog. Sorry, I guess it's hard for someone who didn't grow up on the streets to understand."
"No, I think I do." She raised her right arm and began gently stroking the base of her throat with her finger tips. "The Ghost Lords have a ritual for joining them. It can be a bit harrowing." Her big brown eyes narrowed. "I am proud that I survived it and was welcomed to the Ghost Lords. I get what you're saying. I mean, I know my experience was just a one time thing and the streets must have been a constant battle, but I believe I have some idea of what you are talking about."
He smiled. "Cool. So, it must be pretty awesome to deal with ghosts all the time."
"Well, I don't really interact with the spirits very often, except for one. Being an Acolyte is more about chores and busy work than being able to guide the dead home. I am excited to have been chosen to come to Santa Maria, though. The rumor of errant wraiths is quite intriguing."
"Well, I'm here to tell you, it ain't no rumor."
Her face brightened. "You've seen one?"
"Nah, but Mac did."
"Mac. Mackenzie Nolan." Brady turned and pointed at a tall, handsome blond man. "He's the guardian of the city."
"Impressive. You know the Avatar Guardian of Santa Maria? I thought you said you were basically an acolyte?"
"Well, I am. I do know him. I live at his apartment now. With Ant, Rodrigo, and baby Helen."
"Come on Brady, how lame do you think I am? You're telling me that you live with the Guardian, the Steward of the City, the leader of the Gamin, and mystical baby that everyone is talking about? I call shenanigans."
"No, seriously, it's true. I guess it sounds impressive, but if you were here, you'd know it's just, I don't know. I just, well, Ant saved my life from the vampire spirits. I'm sure you've heard about those. And then when he became the leader of the Gamin, he had me move in with him. He never really told me why, just that I had to. And yeah, he's with Rod and they're the parents of Helen. Rod was already living at Mac's place, so we all just moved in there. It's just life, nothing fancy to me, but I yeah, I guess they all are kind of important peeps here in Santa Maria. I just never thought about it like that."
Kalliope blinked at Brady a few times, an incredulous look on her face.
"Kalliope, seriously. I'm not lyin'." He began pulling at his shirt collar. "Why would I make this shit up? It's not like you can't just ask the Head of the Ghost Lords. Or hell, anyone in this room pretty much."
"Okay, Brady. I believe you. But really, you should know that it is pretty impressive. And really, you shouldn't just tell anyone that."
"Well, sure. But you're here and it seems like you already knew who they all were anyways."
"True, but aren't you worried about the animosity between our factions?"
"No. I mean, yeah, I've heard stuff, but that was all before I was aware that there really are monsters in the closet. Besides, whatever shit did go down, aren't we all supposed to working together now? What's the point in still being pissed?"
She smiled. "Brady, I like your outlook. Now, enough about the fantastic. Are there any hot clubs a 16-year-old can get into? I like to dance."
He laughed aloud. "Kalliope, if you don't mind going with me, we can get into any club in this city," he said with a smile.
"Okay then. It's a date." She smiled.
Daphne Nolan paced back and forth across her living room, not paying attention to any of the collected art pieces that were on display there. She wore a striking red original Ungaro; the matching red heels abandoned near the stairs. Her blonde hair was still up in a twist. She stopped and looked in the mirror that hung above the marble fireplace. She inhaled deeply, closing her eyes. She slowly exhaled and then opened her eyes. Behind her image in the mirror was dark, fuzzy shape. She screamed and whirled around. She screamed again when her eyes met nothing but the room as it had always looked. She turned and looked at the mirror again, but only her image was there staring back at her.
Her hands moved from instinct, her palms crossing over where clavicles meet.
"Mom," her son shouted from the hallway.
She turned. "I'm in the living room, Mackenzie."
Mac ran into the room. "Mom, are you okay? I heard you screaming as I was coming up the walk." He hugs her.
"Well, I'm fine for the moment. Thank you for coming by. I know it's late, it's just that I think the house may be haunted now."
"Haunted, yes. It's certainly a believable situation given everything that's come to pass. I want that Dominic Kennedy I met to tonight to come out and check the place for ghosts. You can make that happen, Mackenzie."
"I'll see to it, Mom, but remember the Ghost Lords are here for a specific reason, not to bust every little ghost in Santa Maria."
"Mackenzie, with the boys here I can't take the chance that this is some run-of-the-mill haunting. That ghost you encountered was dangerous."
"I know, Mom. I'll talk to Dominic tomorrow. Did the boys see anything?"
"No. They're not here. They're spending the night with some friends. I didn't want to leave them alone while I was at your supernatural shindig. It's still too soon."
"Sure. Do you want me to spend the night?"
"You're such a good son Mackenzie. Are you hungry? I have some left over Thai. Swimming Rama, your favorite!"
"No, I'm good. Thank you, though."
"Okay then, good night." She hugged and kissed him on the cheek.
"Night, Mom." He kissed her back and then began to leave the room.
He turned towards her. "Yes, Mom?"
"What would you think if I ran for mayor again?"
"I'd think you were glutton for punishment. Are you thinking about it?"
"I am, yes."
"What does Dad have to say about it?"
"I haven't told him, yet. But, he's busy in Spain. In fact, he's just accepted a short term job at the University of Barcelona. He'll be teaching a class about Spanish architecture, I believe. It will be good for him. He likes talking about his passions and God knows I've had my fill of listening to the intricacies of Spanish anthropology."
"Mom, are things okay between you two?" Mackenzie asked, walking back into the room.
"Oh, Mackenzie, I'll always love your father. Don't worry about that. But think for a moment. Santa Maria is a dangerous place and if your father is in Barcelona, I don't have to worry about him."
"Why don't you go join him then? Staying and being mayor makes it dangerous for you."
"I can't explain it, Mackenzie, but it's just something I feel I have to do. Now, don't worry about it. Just run up to bed." She kissed him again on the cheek. "Good night."
He hugged her. "Okay, Mom, but we aren't done talking about this." She nods.
"Fine, but we are for tonight. I'm exhausted."
"Don't open your eyes, yet." Ant said.
"It's cold. Where have you skipped us to?" Rod asked, his eyes still tightly closed.
"Just a few more steps. There. Okay. Open your eyes."
Rod did. The cold wind blew through his hair and his face was awash with awe. Below him he saw the twinkling lights of Santa Maria and just beyond them there was the Pacific Ocean, reflecting the waning full moon. He turned and continued to follow the view. He turned in a circle, taking in the colors of the Santa Maria skyline from within.
"Wait. Where are we? This isn't?" Ant smiled at his lover.
"Oh yes, it is."
"Are you telling me we are on top of Auttenberg Tower?" Ant continued to beam. "Really? Wow. I can't believe this!"
"Just one of the perks of having a boyfriend who can teleport. Happy Valentine's Day!" Ant wrapped his arms around Rodrigo and kissed him deeply and he responded in kind.
"I can't believe this. This is highest place in Santa Maria. The tower has been closed to visitors since the 1980s. Nobody has seen this exact view before."
"Well I have. Auttenberg Tower is my little place to retreat to, but I wanted to share it with you.
"Oh, Ant. That is so romantic. And the view is gorgeous. I feel terrible. I just got you a card and a necklace."
"Well, I'm sure it's stunning, but I know what you could give me up here," he said with a wicked grin.
"Ant! You're so naughty!" he said with false modesty. They started to kiss, but a bright light interrupted them.
"What the fuck?" Ant said. They both looked and figure of white light, thrashing chaotically, was rising through the top of the tower.
"Shit, it's like that wraith Mac and Everett described!" Rod shouted, "We should go. Now!"
The two blinked out of existence just as white lightening started arcing out from the ghost.
Far below Auttenberg Tower, another date was beginning. Brady and Kalliope walked along Santa Clara Ave.
"Aren't you cold?" Kalliope asked.
"No. I hardly ever wear a shirt. Just the vest. I was only in a shirt for the party. Ant said we had to wear church cloths. Besides, aren't you just as cold in that shirt and top?"
She laughed. "A fair question. No, not really. I'm from St. Cloud, Minnesota. This isn't winter weather for me by any stretch of the imagination."
"Okay. So, I was thinking of taking you to the Pixie's Den. It's a pretty alternative place. Is that cool? I don't really know what music you're into."
"I have yet to hear a song I can't dance to. I can skank, foxtrot, swing, cha-cha, and thrash in a mosh pit. You name it, I can probably do it."
"Huh. You might just be cool."
"Well, I'm no Downtown Dog, but I try," she said with a smile. He smiled back, rubbing his bare arms. "I thought you said you weren't cold?"
"I wasn't. I mean, I'm not," Brady said, trying to muster up machismo.
"It is getting cold. Too cold, too fast. Oh, shit Brady. This is very likely an apparition. This way, hurray!" She darted off down a side street. Brady followed.
"Kalliope! What's going on?" he shouted after her. She has busy fiddling with her purse.
"This way, here. She turned and tried to open a door, but it was locked.
"Why do want to go in there? It's Mercado Por El Mar, a Mexican grocery."
"Because the Poltergeist, at least I think it's a Poltergeist, is tied to this place." She answered.
"How do you know-" Brady stopped midsentence as he saw ice crystals start to form on the door and the window fog up. Kalliope quickly removed her hand from the doorknob and rubbed it with other. They both slowly turned around. Before them they saw what appeared to be after image of a person, large, nearly seven feet in height. As the image grew sharper, it looked as if gale storm winds were swirling clouds inside of it.
Wind began to whip down the street. "What do we do? Kalliope I can't Skip you out of here, I don't know how to take someone else with me!" She was fishing around in her purse again.
"Hang on," she shouted over the noise of the growing wind. "I have something that might help." She pulled a length of pristine white rope from her purse and tossed Brady one end of it. "Hold onto your end tight, wrap it around your arms like this," she said as she coiled the rope a few times around her forearm and grasping it tightly in each hand.
The spectral figure began to outstretch its arms.
"Quick, pull it taught and then we have to run at it. Hit it with the rope."
Brady and Kalliope ran with the rope, taught as a tightrope, between them and it hit the Poltergeist in what appeared to be its lower torso. A look of surprise came over Brady's face as the rope met resistance and stopped part way through the ghostly image. Sparks of white and blue light shot from the rope where it touched the Poltergeist.
"Hold firm!" Kalliope yelled. The spirit began to emit a screeching wail and the sparks grew bigger. Brady gripped the rope tight and dug his heals in. "This could get rough; it's very powerful!"
The image began to waver and bolts of blue began to crackle throughout the figure. Then a pop was heard, the Poltergeist vanished and the rope went slack as Kalliope fell to ground. Brady dropped the rope, which was now tarnished with what appeared to be black soot, and ran to her side.
"Kalliope! Are you okay?" She turned her head a smiled.
"We got that bastard. Fuck, he was a big one."
"Seriously? You're going to smile about this?"
She sat up. "Yeah, that was a whopping big Poltergeist and I grounded it out. Yes I'm going to smile."
"Grounded it out?" Brady asked.
"Dispersed its energy."
"So, it's dead?"
"Well, yes. It's a ghost, but if you mean is it gone, no. Poltergeists are very hard to get rid of, but as long as that is the only one, the Ghost Lords shouldn't have too much trouble with it. Come on, help me up. Dancing has to wait. I have to go report this. You should come, too."
He helped her up and gathered the dirty rope up for her.
"Okay, I'll go meet the Ghost Lords, but then you have to come and share what we did with Ant, okay?"
"Deal," she said. "I think just maybe the two of us might be able to show the rest of Santa Maria that Ghost Lords can be trusted."
He nodded and they walked off into the night.
Story by James M. Sullivan, Copyright 2009
Image by Rory Clark, Stopped Motion Photography, Copyright 2009