Spectre of the Future

I own a bookshop in New York called Merry Daze.  Not an ordinary book shop, but one featurin' old and out of print manuscripts.  Many unpublished, but original scripts were kept beneath the main floor in the subbasement of my buildin'.  My associate, Allen Landale, and I traveled the world seekin' such documents. 

I was along ways from the shores that magnificent city.  I loved it there, the energy, life flowin' at such great speeds.  Able to retreat at any time to the depths of the written word … words of other places and mysteries, I would often surface only when the bell alerted me to a potential customer, or seller.

Twas one such encounter that began my current journey. 

Snow was falling thickly, clingin’ to windows and signs, not warm enough t’be meltin’, not cold enough t’be holdin it solidly in place.  I’d been in the back room, comparin’ current photos of a temple that was fast bein’ restored in the Cambodia jungle, to older, black and white images that been taken by a long deceased surveyor.  His diary gave tantalizin’ hints of secret entrances that led to chambers yet t’be explored.  My blood was stirrin’ from the idea of mountin’ an expedition.  I’d a sense for these things, a way of knowin’ a good story was t’be found.  And since the restoration was miles from the area of my interest, I’d be more likely able t’be obtainin the necessary clearances.

The pure tones of the bell rang over the etched glass door.  Dustin’ my hands on my wool trousers, I emerged into the main room.  A complete opposite from my work area, this room was well tidy and well displayed.  Two stories, with a wide, welcoming set of stairs beckonin’ one up to the second level, a u-shaped balcony allowin’ visitors to see upwards, and browsin’ customers t’be glancin’ downwards at new arrivals.

Currently, the store was empty, except for me.  And the man that took up too much space in the doorway.  “Can I be helpin’ ye?”  I went forward to greet him, and stopped when confusion rushed through me.  “Do I know ye?”  I spoke, but I wasn’t rememberin’ that I’d even been thinkin’ the question. 

Shaking snow from his hair that hung long, somewhere past his shoulders, midnight black.  Thick, brooding brows drew together to stare at me.  Being on the petite side, with straw-gold hair that swung easily at my shoulders and having wide, soft coloured grey eyes, I was used to men routinely eyin’ me, but none had such an impact.  I could feel my face flushin’ from the scrutiny.  He wasn’t handsome by any degree, but in the compellin’ department, he’d be ranked a ten plus.  My chin lifted to stare defiantly back at him.

His lips tightened.  “Ye’ve the look of her, down to the cursed stubbornness.”

“Excuse me?”  I raised my brow superciliously.  Flustered or not, this was my store.  His accent caught my attention.  Much like my Da’s, who’d heralded from the main northern land of Britain . 

He thrust a dark wrapped package towards me.  Instinctively I accepted it, swallowing a faint hiss of breath when his fingers burned against mine.  My pulse leapt and I took a step back.  His smile wasn’t particularly a nice one.

“What might this be?” I hefted the package.

“Tis a bit of writing that rightly belongs in yer hands, though I’d wager I’ll be regrettin’ the impulse to pass it on.”

I was wagerin’ I’d be regretting meeting him.  “Who are ye?”

“Tis none of yer concern, Merry Dresden of Ireland.  Mind ye read it careful, and be more careful of who ye might share it with.”

My brows drew together in irritation and I opened the package as he stood there watching me so intently.  “My da’s journal!” I exclaimed, clutching the precious book. 

“Aye.” 

“How did ye get this?” I demanded, while my fingers tripped though the pages, warmed by the familiar writin’.  My da had gone missin’ the last three years, followin’ a trail that he wouldn’t share with his own daughter.  I missed him somethin’ fierce.  I knew he was gone from this earth.  I’d known the precise moment it happened. 

This stranger had answers, and I wanted them. 

But when I looked up, he’d gone.

---

The center of town, though it might be a stretch on callin’ it such, sat the hub of activity:  LeFey Tavern.  In the graveled parkin’ lot, I squeezed my rented car between two rugged trucks that rested high on their tyres. T’would have taken a small stepladder for me to get in.  ‘Men and their toys,’ twas all I thought.  I patted the bonnet of my car.  It was tiny, which suited me just fine.  It meant I could reach the pedals easily, and didn’t have to worry about judgin’ space on the narrow and windy roads.

The temperature was cool, but not unpleasant.  Thin clouds pierced with slivers of lukewarm sunlight. The air carried the moist, earthy smell of farmlands.  I’d always felt a draw to the land, even though too much of my life was spent in the shadows of sprawlin' and omnivorous city.  Even the polluted stench of the Bay water sometimes tickled that need in me, the under-smell hintin' at primal life.

I took the two shallow steps, my boot heels clipping sharply on the aged wood. The wrap-around porch was hung heavy with baskets of lush flowers that at first I thought might be artificial.  The gentle scents told me otherwise.  I sighed with no small amount of envy for the green thumb of that gardener.  A heraldatic sign swayed on the rod-ironed pole, the tip sharpened to resemble a medieval spike.  Bright, stained-glass windows gleamed in the watery sunlight.  Clever.  It would allow diffused light within, while keepin' prying eyes out. 

I paused on the porch, my eyes drawn towards the lane that curved, the road disappearin' in a small cluster of trees.  Beyond, and up the rise, loomed the fabled Estate.  Even at this distance, the size was damned impressive.  Stone grey with a hint of warmth in the color.  I frowned in concentration.  How could that be?

“Tis said that there’s genuine veins of gold runnin through the rocks.  Tis from an old quarry, ye know.” 

So lost in contemplation, I was startled and stumbled over my own feet.  A firm hand grasped my above my elbow.  Blinking stupidly, I stared up at the skinniest man I have ever seen in the entirety of my life.  I should have been frightened by viewin a living skeleton, but his smile was so warm and lovely, and his eyes a rich warm blue, that I forgot everythin else.  “Oh!  I didna see ye there.”

“So I’m a’seein’.  You must be the new lass.  Saw yer picture in the paper.”

It hadn't occurred to me that my arrival would be heralded by a newspaper.  Small towns were funny, though.  I hoped twas a descent picture.

He gave me that beamin smile again.  “Me name’s Leonard.  Ye can call me Lenny, though.  Most do.  Were ye goin’ inside?”

“Er, yes actually.”  I let him guide me to the door, though I was perfectly capable of assistin’ myself.  My small size often caused men to feel protective and I was used to instinctive behavior.  There’d been a time when it infuriated me, but I’d grown up a mite since then, and I learned to use it to my advantage.

Swingin' the door open, he announced to the room in general, “The new lass has arrived.  Earl, she’ll be wantin’ a warm drink, I’m thinkin'.  A bit nippy out.”

 It wasn’t cold by my current standards, but then I’d spent the last month in Greenland .  Contrary to its name, I likened it to solid continent of ice.  But I wouldn’t be sayin no to a warm drink.

I glanced around the room.  I’d been right about the diffused lightin’.  It gave the air a warm ambience with colors tintin' the various surfaces.  The place was about three quarters full, people dressed casually and talkin' in comfortable tones.  A sullen lookin' girl sat at the upright piano, her shoulders hunched.  A lazy finger hit the ivory, a choppy D.  It should have jarred, but oddly it didn’t.  A moment later, another single note, slightly higher.

I turned my attention to the bar, which was clearly a craftsman’s work of art.  The wood was deep chocolate in color, and highly polished.  Brass corner posts gleamed at the ends.  Behind the bar, framed by two long mirrors, a portrait hung.  It drew my eyes and held them there.  I didn’t remember crossin' the room, but there I was, leanin’ against the bar, strainin’ forward to get a better view. 

“That’s her.”  I didn’t realize I’d said it aloud.

“Yes ma’am,” the one Lenny had called Earl answered.  His eyes were watchful on me. 

It wasn’t necessary to clarify further. 

Lacy LeFey.

The depth and richness of the oil betold a master artist.  My eyes searched the corners and edges.  If there was a signature, the frame covered it.  Damn! 

“Would ye like to see it closer?”  Earl gave a vague wave for me to come around.  He didn’t have to ask twice.  I scooted behind the bar and stood before the enormous portrait.  It had to be five and half feet tall, and close to four feet wide.  From a distance, it appeared more a photograph.  Up close, ye could clearly see the finer details of the tiny brush strokes.  It was simply exquisite. 

Golden white hair fell in soft waves, framing a delicate face.  Good bone structures, the kind that would make her a beauty at the age of ninety, and gently curved jaw spoke of grace and strength.  Cool grey eyes that darkened towards the edge of the iris should have made her look cold, as only blondes can look.  But the artist had rendered her eyes slightly widened, and somethin else. 

Haunted.  The girl portrayed here held deep secrets and dark pain.  It was captured subtly and beautifully.  What had she been thinkin' when the artist had so skillfully captured those emotions? 

Lacy LeFey.  I was finally seein’ her image in full size, and all I could feel was empathy and sadness.  This wasn’t a picture of a murderer.  It was a portrait of a lovely young girl, tormented and gentle.

“Is that Darby Falls ?”  I asked of Earl.  I was pretty sure of the answer.  Lacy stood backdropped by the falling water that tumbled over juttin stones.  It was said that caves existed behind the falls.

“Yes ma’am, those would be them.”

I realized then the silence behind me.  Slowly, I turned.  All conversation had ceased.  The stares were neither friendly nor hostile.  Just … watchful.  I smiled weakly.  “Tis a lovely piece of work.”

“Oh aye, that’s right.  Yer an artist yerself, aintcha?”  A grinnin man raised his mug in a salute. He was partially right.  I’d come here in the capacity of an artist seeking new material to transfer onto blank canvas.  “Welcome to Darby, then, Miss Dresden.  Hope ye’ll be finding yerself at home here.”  At his words, others nodded benignly, drinks held up to her and smiles appearin’.

A piano note plunked and conversations resumed.  I looked at Earl.  His smile was polite.  “I’ll be getting’ ye that drink, Miss.”  A clear invitation to return to my side of the bar.  One I took with alacrity.  I hitched my rump onto the padded barstool, elbows leanin’ against the bar. 

My gaze strayed back to the portrait.  I sighed unconsciously.  Lenny patted my shoulder in a kindly way.  “Don’t be frettin, lass.  It affects all manner of people in all manner of ways.”

I’ll say!  I really hadn't known what to expect.  But I definitely hadn't thought I’d see her as anything but a rich, spoiled, power-hungry woman who’d murdered her own mother at the age of sixteen, subsequently inheriting the massive Estate and all the lands.  I also assumed her wealth had kept her free from arrest and punishment. 

“What do ye know about her?” I asked Lenny as casually as I could.  I watched Earl as he drew down a dark green bottle of wine from the rack.  He set it near me, deftly inserting the cork remover, twisting it sharply.  I was able to see the label.  Metallic with lots of scroll work.  LeFey Wineries.  The edge of my lip curled up in a rueful grimace.  I had a feeling the LeFey name was going to be poppin’ up all over the place.

A mug was filled and spices added.  I watched idly as I listened to Lenny.  “Aye, enough is known about her just from talk alone.  What might ye be wantin’ to know?”

Could I get away with saying ‘everythin’?  Instead I shrugged, cupping my chin in my hand I stared at the portrait.  “Was she really that beautiful?”

“Oh aye.  That and more.  There’s not a body that didn’t adore her.”

An exaggeration I was more than sure.  I knew the local constable hadn’t been overly fond of her.  But men in those days … hell, in these days … didn’t like powerful women.  Especially men whose profession was one of authority.  It must have galled him to work for her.  It had been her town then, and it was still her town now, even after a century since her disappearance.

“Does anyone live at the Estate?”  I heard the capital ‘E’ in my speech and wondered at it.  I smiled my  thanks to Earl when he set the warm mug of spiced wine before me.  My hands curled around the smooth cup.

“Bless me, no!” Lenny looked a tad shocked at the notion.

“Why not?”  I took a sip of the wine and my eyes widened.  This was good!  I looked up to meet Earl’s knowin’ smile. 

“Best wine to be had anywhere in the country,” he said with pride.

I wasn’t about to argue.

“Aye,” Lenny agreed.  “The grapes in the vineyard are first rate, all the way.” His head bobbed slightly to his own words. 

Another note hovered in the air, catching my attention.  I glanced over to the girl.  Her dark eyes met mine.  She smirked and hit another note.  It lingered.  Suddenly it dawned on me.  She wasn’t randomly toying with the piano at all.  The notes were adeptly selected to complement the cadence of the conversations around her.

“Well, tis just not done.” 

It took me a moment to realize Lenny had answered my question.  “Oh.  Well, who owns the place now?”

“Mighty curious one, arentcha?”  He scratched his chin.  “Can’t say there are any owners.”

Baffled, I took another sip, my gaze once more on Lacy LeFey.  It seemed her eyes were on me, as well.  There was a hint of a smile, or one just about to form.  It contradicted the haunted expression within those grey depths.

“Did she really kill her mother?”  The question blurted itself out before I could censor it.  Appalled at myself, I shot a swift look of apology to Lenny.

“Oh aye, that she did,” he said easily.  “Set her on fire.  Twas what caused the entire East Wing to burn.  Tis said near eighty folks lost their lives that night.  A mighty blood bath.  Both pools had t’ be fully drained and replastered, as the blood had soaked clean in.  From those that threw themselves in to douse the flames, ye know.  Under a certain moonshine, the water sometimes takes on the blood shine.”

I just stared at him.

Lenny patted my shoulder absently.  “Sure, lass.  Tis said the flames could be seen over several counties.”

Finding my voice, I asked in disbelief, “How was she not arrested for murder?  Brought to trial?  If she killed that many people?”

“Miss Dresden, ye’ve heard our Lenny wrong.  The girl didn’t kill none but her mother, and twas in self defense, too.” Earl inserted a bit sharply.

“Aye,” Lenny nodded so hard I feared his too-thin neck would snap.  “The men and women that died were fightin’ to save the girl.  Tho’ twas mostly men.  The wives were to be stayin’ home to guard the children.  Too many of them never saw their husbands again,” he shook his head sorrowfully. 

“Save her?” I asked, utterly confused.

“Why sure, lass.  Twas well known Luanne was coming back to take the girl.  Lacy refused to run.  She feared leavin’ the Estate, believin’, and rightly so, that the pack would leave it in ruins.  As it was, several thousand acres were torched from sheer malice.”

“Er … take her?”

Lenny looked at me as though he was beginnin’ to suspect I wasn’t terribly bright.  “Why, I’m meanin’, t’ take her life, steal her blessed soul.”

I let that go for the moment.  “Why would she be puttin' her life above the Estate?  Why risk all those lives?”

“Lass, ye have to understand, the entire town was dependent on the work from the Estate.  Ye’ve got the farmland, the vineyards, the gardens, the grounds, the maze, the stables, the housing units, and the main house itself.  After Luanne up’d and took off, evil she-whore that she was, Lacy took over control of everything.  The lass was barely sixteen, but sharp as ye could hope for.  She improved things dramatically for the entire town.  Everyone prospered mighty fine.  None was willin’ to leave the land, Lacy included.  The mere fact she was takin’ a stand earned the loyalty of all.  Twasnt till it was over that some turned on her, blamin’ her for their losses.  Fickle arses.” 

I almost choked on a laugh  Twas as much a nervous reaction as one of startlement. “So these men were at the Estate, ready to be invaded?” 

“Aye.  Twas a long shot, and they all were a’knowin’ it.  Most expected to die.  Most hoped for it, I’d be thinkin’.  Better that than the other.”

“Um, other what?”

Earl and Lenny shared a glance.  It was solid now.  They were convinced I was a dimwit.

Very patiently, Lenny said, “The pack.” 

When I still looked blank, another look passed between the two men.

“Vampires,” he clarified.

The Journal