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Summer Stories 7: The Feast of St. Christopher's

Summer Stories 1: Wearing Black
Summer Stories 2: The Bonfire Girls
Summer Stories 3: The Silent Treatment
Summer Stories 4: Eating the Machine
Summer Stories 5: The Forever Family:
Summer Stories 6: Cape Matador
I hit the incline at fifty miles per hour. This is crazy, I thought, leaning into the turn at the base of the hill, bringing the bike so low that I felt the cuff of my blue jeans scrape the ground. Just stop and fight.
But that would be suicide, and I knew it. Driving a street bike on a dirt road at night without a helmet—and in the rain—well, that was close to suicide, too, but it was the only chance I had.
I could hear him over the engine. His cries rode the current of the storm, otherworldly and terrible, yet gradually diminishing with distance. I didn’t think he was gaining on me.
Coming out of the turn, the engine screeched in protest. The back of the bike pitched right, churning mud, then left. The whole thing nearly spun out from under me before I could get it back under control—and then I gunned the engine again. The front wheel threatened to come up in a wheelie. On the open road, I might have let it. Not here, though, not under a canopy of trees where the rain pummeled me in torrents and then suddenly vanished, only to douse me again a quarter of a mile later. I leaned forward and forced the wheel back down. I shook thin red tendrils of hair out of my eyes, squinting, lowering my head.
Even tied back in a tail, my hair could be a pain in the ass. I couldn’t spare my hands to stop my stupid bangs from whipping all over the place—long hair really does get in the way of things—but on the straightaway, thankfully, wind plastered it against the sides of my head and forced it to behave itself.
Going steadily uphill in this slippery mess made it difficult to accelerate. I didn’t look back. I’d made enough mistakes for one day. This was a trap, I said to myself. Summer, you’re an idiot.
The shocks only absorbed so much. The motorcycle was brand new—a Triumph T-120 Bonneville, silver trimmed with electric blue, very pretty—but it hadn’t been made for terrain like this. My arms, bent ninety degrees, took half the force of the shuddering thuds against wet, uneven ground. My elbows felt like wishbones about to break. My hands almost slipped on the grips. The headlamp was half-smeared with mud. In the tunnel of the trees, even the lightning was dulled and muted. I could hardly see through the storm, yet I didn’t dare wipe my eyes.
Should’ve brought the car, I scolded myself. A god damned roof and some windshield wipers would be nice.
But again, no. If I had come here in the Chevy, I would have wrecked for sure. The road, sluiced with rainwater and flanked by twin walls of trees, couldn’t have been an inch wider that seven feet. This could be over at any second.
I’m dead, I thought. I am so, so dead. If only Casper could see me now.
His brother had been ready for me. The others had doubtless destroyed Casper already. It was too bad. I might have grieved for him, given a little more time. And I sure could have used his help right about now.
But it didn’t do to dwell on what I didn’t have. What I did have was a destination, if only I could make it there—a “safe house” for human beings.
It wouldn’t be the first time I had been there.
St. Christopher’s Catholic Church and Preparatory School stood at the top of a long, winding rise halfway through the Catskill Mountains of New York. Only yesterday, I’d driven the Chevy there and gotten a look at the place. It consisted of a modest white walled chapel with stained glass windows and two long brick and mortar wings, presumably the classrooms. One of these connected the chapel to a larger building. There was a statue of Mary in the courtyard out front, and before that, a sign proclaimed: Parking Lot is for Church and School ONLY. Violators will be BAPTIZED.
Clear, perfect asphalt led up to the place. Less than fifty yards away, I could see where the descending dirt avenue through the trees branched off from the main road.
I pulled in, parked, and checked my watch. It was three in the afternoon. The lot was almost empty. From a manila envelope, I drew out the copy of the East Haven Gazette Casper had mailed to me along with the map of the Catskills. Tucked into the folds of the map was an uncharacteristically brief letter:
Dearest Summer,
Time is short. I’ve been asked to accompany Angus on a “sabbatical” out west. While I’m away, I’ll be unable to keep a check on my other brothers. Their names are Louis, Silas, and Absalom. I am uneasy. They know of your existence.
The one nearest to you has taken up residence in the mountains, of all places. A great lover of animals is dear old Louis, and I would imagine he has several prowling the grounds during the day. If so, they’re to be avoided.
Louis is tall, slender of build, dark of hair. I don’t know who keeps the property under the light of the sun, but he will not be alone. Expect his guardian to be female. They always are.
Be safe, my little tempest,
I double checked the location six miles from here that Casper had circled on the map, noting again the winding, descending trail off the main road that must lead to it. He’d circled the church as well. Underneath it, he’d written: If you have to run for it, run here.
The prospect made me uncomfortable. It wasn’t that churches bothered me, per se. Up until the age of eleven, at the insistence of my father, I’d been brought up Evangelical Protestant. It’s all stories, my mother had once whispered to me during services. It’s all lies. Don’t believe a word of it.
So I hadn’t—and that’s where the problem was. If churches had real power against Casper and his brothers, then maybe my mother had been wrong and Daddy had been right. Maybe God was real. If so, I was probably in for some serious shit after I died.
Stay alive, then, I thought, shaking my head back to the present. It was Monday, July 24, 1961. Make it two more years, and you’re clear.
A bright blue banner on the front lawn called for volunteers to help manage a lock-in for teenagers all through the night of the 25th. Apparently, that was the feast day of St. Christopher, patron saint of children and travelers—whatever a “feast day” was. Had Casper known about this?
I reached out to him in my mind, and as usual got nothing. I wasn’t surprised. The return address on the manila envelope read Portland, Oregon, which was almost as far away as he could get without leaving the country.
Why do I have to do this again? I couldn’t help but wonder. Why can’t you handle your own family bullshit?
I unfolded the newspaper that had come with the map and re-read the small headline Casper had drawn a box around on one of the interior pages: Brothers’ Funeral Services Closes after 25 Years, Financial Insolvency Cited.
Sure, I thought. Like people had suddenly stopped dying in eastern Connecticut.
In the margin, he’d scrawled: Things are changing, Summer. Angus knows nothing for certain, but he’d be a fool not to suspect us. You need to move again, as soon as you can manage it. I’ll find you.
The penmanship was sloppy. Rushed. Ordinary black ink. It wasn’t like his at all.
Don’t be paranoid, I thought, frowning at it. Casper can take care of himself.
Either way, if he was referring to “us” being responsible for the death of Phineas—which wasn’t really fair, since I’d done all the work—that had been more than a year ago. Ancient history. Why would it have suddenly become a problem now?
I didn’t want to move. I’d settled into my New York City apartment rather comfortably over the past six months. And while manning the checkout counter at one of the city libraries might not have been the most exciting job in the world, it beat waiting tables. What was he afraid of? Did he think Angus or his other brothers would come after me? If so, moving was pointless. If he could find me, they could find me. Worrying about it wouldn’t accomplish anything.
I tucked the map and the newspaper back into the envelope and got out of the car, scanning the parking lot again. The only other car here probably belonged to whatever priest ran this joint. He’d be somewhere inside the building, I guessed, praying or polishing statues or ironing his robes or doing whatever the hell else Catholic priests did on a Monday when the kids were on summer break.
I popped the trunk, sifted through the various treasures and protections I’d acquired over the past year. This included two boxes of projectile fireworks, several guns of varying descriptions, and a pair of well-sharpened and lacquered mahogany knives. But the best thing, my most prized possession, I kept hidden in a long leather sheath under a mat at the bottom of everything else: a compound bow, laminated maple and rosewood, with a thirty-two pound draw accurate at up to one hundred and fifty yards. Half of the arrows, too, were rosewood—even the broadhead tips—twenty-eight inches long, 300 grain, with turkey feather fletching and dusted with true silver. All I had to do was take Louis by surprise.
Surveying the path, I knew I’d have to either walk it for six miles or try it by motorcycle. I’d need to bring my jacket. Oh, well, I said to myself. That’s tomorrow’s problem.
I shut the trunk and hustled over to the trees, glancing once more over my shoulder to confirm no one was watching. It was a wrench, leaving the bow in the woods, even carefully concealed, even if only for a day—but possessions could be replaced. If I’d learned anything in the past couple years, it was that if you wanted something, you took it. Life really is that simple.
Anyway, I didn’t think riding the bike on the open highway with a hunting bow strapped over my back was the best idea, either.
I was glad I had that jacket now, much as I hated wearing black as a general rule. The leather was the best protection I could have asked for against the storm—and against the cold that came with it, even at the ass end of July.
I couldn’t hear the pursuit behind me anymore, but I didn’t slow down. Maybe he’d given up, and maybe he hadn’t. I wasn’t taking anything for granted. I didn’t allow myself to relax even when I made it back to the short stretch of open road that led directly to the church, the ground levelling, the bike accelerating more easily. I’d take all the lead I could get until I was inside the place.
Keep going, Summer, I thought. Just drive all the way back to the apartment, back home.
But I fought that temptation down. I could do it, I knew—I could make it for the night—but my hand was played. Louis had seen me. He knew who I was. I needed to draw him in and finish this. If I didn’t, the next time we met would be on his terms, and that wouldn’t do at all.
I laid off the accelerator, allowing the bike to simply glide up the smooth, wet asphalt that led back into the church parking lot. The steeple lights were on, but the chapel underneath it was dim. The larger building was alight, however. From out in the rain, I couldn’t hear anything of what might be going on inside, but I could see the shadows of people through the windows. Kids.
I parked under the steeple lights, unslinging the leather sheath that contained my bow and arrows, then tossing it behind the hedge line that flanked the front porch, just under one of the unadorned front windows. On the steps I stopped. I listened.
Nothing. Only the rain, the occasional lightning flash and fading mutter of thunder. I was soaked. My hands were shaking.
But I was here. I’d made it. I didn’t know if it was only the building that would provide the protection I needed while I came up with some kind of plan, or if the entire property counted as “holy ground.” I grasped the door knob.
It’s a lock-in, I said to myself. It’s going to be locked.
Instead, the door opened easily, and I stepped inside. Before sizing up the inside of the place, I checked the inside handle for locks and didn’t find any.
It doesn’t matter, Summer, I reminded myself. He can’t get in here. You’re safe.
My hands were still trembling when I fumbled around my outer pockets for my Zippo and cigarettes. I looked the place over. The cement porch had given way to oak floors in the entryway and the vestibule, where there was a holy water font in the shape of an angel clutching a chalice. There was a closed door to my left labeled “Office,” and another that opened on my right into a dimly-lit reception area leading to a darkened hallway. Straight ahead was the chapel, where I could only make out the first few rows of pews before it, too, disappeared into dim orange lighting.
I’d hardly lit my smoke before I heard footsteps coming my way from the hall beyond the vestibule. I didn’t think it likely that he had heard me coming in. No, it was just bad timing, just my typical rotten luck. Regretfully, I dropped the cigarette into the holy water and waved away the smoke.
“Father Manny,” I greeted him without looking his way. “Bet you didn’t expect to see me again.”
He called out to me just as I emerged from the woods. And, I must admit, he caught me completely unawares.
“Hey,” he said, grinning, jogging down the porch steps, heading in my direction. “If you needed to use the bathroom, all you had to do was come in and ask.”
It was polite of him, providing me with an excuse. “Oh, my gosh,” I said, affecting supreme embarrassment, along with my library checkout girl voice. “I’m so sorry. I was just …” I made as though fumbling for some other reason, something not having to do with taking a piss, and settled on pointing at the parking lot sign. “I … I didn’t think I was allowed to come in.”
He waved it off, stopping in front of me. “Father Manny Mulroney,” he introduced himself, shaking my hand. Then he tilted his head back to the sign. “Just Father Manny for short. You’re not from around here, are you? We don’t get many visitors.”
Father Manny looked to be in his late twenties or early thirties. He was wearing a white, short-sleeved button down shirt and blue jeans—nothing at all that might identify him as a priest. He sounded kind, trusting. And he was looking at me from the neck up, which was a welcome change from what I was used to.
“Summer Lynn Michaels,” I said. “From Woodstock, just passing through. Listen, I feel like I kind of want to die right now. I’ll just be going—”
“You Catholic?” he cut in. I could almost see an idea taking shape behind his eyes. I had no clue what that idea was, but it seemed the good father had been suddenly inspired. My mind raced. If I said ‘Yes,’ it wouldn’t be hard for him to test me, to uncover the lie.
I sighed. “Not very,” I said. “It’s been a long time, Father.”
“Can’t be that long,” he said. “What are you, eighteen? Nineteen tops?”
I was twenty-two. “Eighteen,” I said. “Nineteen in December.”
“I knew it. God sent you, Miss Michaels.” And he winked at me. His tone was lighthearted, almost joking. “Maybe I can invite you inside?”
I didn’t go inside. Not then. Instead, I spoke to him by the side of the Chevy, relieved I hadn’t left the trunk open. Evidently, he was the resident “DRE,” or “Director of Religious Education,” and tomorrow’s lock-in was his baby.
There had been a fundraiser. The lock-in was the consolation prize for the kids who hadn’t sold enough to be included in the trip to Hershey Park. The sisters were chaperoning that trip. Parent volunteers were simply not to be found for an all-night lock-in on a weekday, especially when many of the kids hadn’t even committed to coming yet. Worst case scenario, there might be as many as twenty of them, all between thirteen and sixteen years old. Might I be interested in helping out?
It wasn’t too an unusual of a request, given the circumstances. It was 1961. It was rural upstate New York, and as far as Father Manny knew, I was hardly more than a kid myself. Everything was already planned out. I wouldn’t have to think of a thing, just follow the program. It would go from six at night until eight the next morning.
“There’ll be food,” he said. “Much as you can eat, and you can take the leftovers with you. I’m bringing in enough sandwiches from Joe’s to feed a small army.”
He might have thought I was a charity case—the Chevy did need a bit of a wash—and I was tempted to laugh at him. I had plenty of money these days, not even counting the emergency fund I kept under the two-round Mississippi Derringer in the glovebox. I had other things on my schedule. But I never took a tone with him. He was just a simple dumbass who’d gotten himself into a situation he couldn’t get out of. Pathetic.
“I don’t know, Father Manny …”
Something told me, pure intuition, not to rule it out. Don’t say yes, that little voice said to me, but don’t rule it out.
“They’re good kids,” he said. “They won’t be any trouble. Please think about it. Otherwise I’ll be running this thing solo, and somebody’s got to have at least half an eye on the chapel at all times. Never know when someone might pop in for a surprise confession.”
That was supposed to be funny, so I favored him with a smile. I was glad he didn’t offer to take my confession. It would have taken a while.
“You have a place to stay tonight? I know the guy who keeps the Wayside Motel just west of Fishkill, and I could probably get him to put you up for—”
“Thanks,” I said, still smiling softly at him. “I have an older brother expecting me in the Hudson. But I’ll think about it, Father Manny. I promise. Can’t do much else until I check in with big bro, you know?”
“Fair enough,” he said, sounding resigned. “I know I’m not offering much, Miss Michaels,” he said. “Sometimes, doing a good deed is its own reward.”
“Call me Summer,” I said, opening the driver’s side door of the Chevy. I turned the key in the ignition. “See you tomorrow, maybe.”
I couldn’t read minds, but the look on his face clearly said, I doubt that.
“You’re three hours late,” he now greeted me, sounding frazzled. “But better late than never. I’m glad you’re here. Happy St. Christopher’s Day.”
“Wouldn’t miss it,” I answered, turning toward him, clenching my hands into fists, willing the shaking to stop. Even with the door shut, I trained my ears toward the outside, expecting at any minute to hear that horrible howling that was not the wind. Expecting to hear Louis.
“Oh, now, just look at you,” he said, “You’re soaked. Come on.”
He led me past the office and the ladies room to the western wing, which contained the residences. There I was able to, more or less, dry off in his own bathroom. I declined his offer to take my jacket. “Let’s meet the kids,” I said, trying to sound enthusiastic at the prospect. “I’ll be fine.”
He led me back past the foyer and the chapel. I couldn’t help but glance at the door uneasily. It’s a church, I reminded myself. Nothing to worry about.
“We’re never locked,” he said, as though I’d spoken the thought aloud. “Not the chapel, anyway. Someone’s always here.”
I let it go and followed him through the western wing of classrooms to a set of double doors. The windows here were clear—no stained glass outside of the chapel—and so when the lightning flickered again, I had no trouble at all seeing the shadow in the parking lot. Not a man. Not strigoi. The thing it was most like was a dog, but that’s not exactly right, either. It wasn’t moving. It was looking through the same window I was, from the other side, right at me. Shit, I thought. That better not be what I think it is.
Father Manny didn’t even notice. He opened the door, and with a half-bow waved me into the gymnasium. There, I found a circle of several chairs, all pointing inward as though for a discussion group, currently empty. There was a projector and a roll-down screen, currently not in use. There was a crafts table. I also saw a table of sandwiches, presumably from “Joes.” There was a punchbowl, a partially-filled trash can—and only four kids.
Two boys, probably sixteen years old or so, were playing a game of Horse at the basketball hoop. The only girl, twelve or thirteen at a glance, sat busily at work at the crafts table. The last one, a boy just slightly younger than the ones playing Horse, was sitting in the corner nearest to me, back to the wall. He looked up from the book he was reading and lazily called out, “Drop everything. Babysitter’s here at last.”
The girl looked up and waved. She held up a series of beads on a string, probably soon to become a bracelet or something. “Hello,” she said. “I’m Emily.” Then she lowered her head and got right back to it, mumbling to herself as she worked.
The basketballers eyed me the way teenage boys usually do—kind of seems to transcend religion, this tendency—but only for a moment. One of them said, “Shooting while standing on one leg.”
Which he did, and then passed the ball off to the other boy, who missed. That earned him the letter “R,” two fails away from spelling “horse” and losing the game. Their names, I gathered through trash talk, were Vernon and Terrance. It was Terrance’s turn to call the challenge, which was to shoot tossing the ball with only one hand. And again, he missed, even on his own challenge. The ball went back to Vernon. They’d already forgotten I was there.
“This is Miss Summer,” Father Manny called out to them, placing his hand on my shoulder without asking. “Come on over and introduce yourselves properly.” Reluctantly, three of them did. As they made their way over to us, he said in a low voice, “Guess most of the kids had better things to do than to spend the night locked up in church with just me for company.”
Them and me both, I thought, still straining my ears for a hint of what was lurking outside, hearing nothing more than the rain.
The boy with the book—who hadn’t moved an inch, and whose name I still didn’t know—said, “You should have seen this place earlier when we were celebrating dear old St. Chris and doing Mass and stuff. It was completely packed. We got to watch the rest of the kids go off in that stupid bus for Hershey Park. Fun.”
I shook hands with the others. I tried to play the part. But all the while, my mind kept returning to the shadow dog in the parking lot, the one whose eyes seemed to have found me before I found him, as though he could smell me from ten yards away, as though he had sucked my scent out clean through the closed window and identified me.
Where, I wondered, is Louis right now? Why isn’t he still screaming at me?
If he was, I knew we’d all be able to hear it.
The anonymous boy with the book didn’t look up, but he said, “Miss Summer—you sound … distracted.”
“That’s Philip,” Father Manny said, waving at him as though in dismissal. “And he’s in one of his moods.”
I went to him. Stood over him without looking at him. “I was just thinking …” I started.
That actually got his attention. He glanced up at me. “What?”
I scanned the gym for windows. There were two of them. They were huge. In a normal house, they would have been wall size.
These kids going to die tonight, I thought. Maybe we all will. So sad.
What I said was, “Nothing. Never mind. What are you reading?”
I started smart. I’ll give myself that much credit. A mile before I reached the place, I killed the motorcycle’s engine and started walking the bike instead. The sun was already going down. The clouds were moving in. It was impossible to guess when, exactly, it would be safe for Louis to step outside of his house—or his hut or cave or castle, whatever it turned out to be.
A hot July afternoon cooled to a pre-storm July dusk. I hoped this would all be over before the rain started. Maybe I’d get lucky for once.
When the canopy of trees and the path opened out onto a clearing, I saw how Louis made his living. It brought me up short. I heard them before I saw them, before I realized what they were. The first of the “animals” that he kept lived in what looked like a series of six tall white birdhouses. But it was the sound, easily heard from twenty yards away, which gave up what really lived in them.
Louis kept bees, and he ran a honey business. Where the path ended inside the wrought-iron fence gate, there was a truck with a flatbed parked in the grass. The lettering on the door read: Midnight Honey Farm, Est. 1946. The same lettering was on a white sign on the gate, along with very specific hours of operation: New Batches Available Saturday ONLY, 6 PM – 12 AM. And, Available Daily at The Handy Dandy Market.
The house beyond that was low to the ground, all stonework and bricks, like the one Phineas had occupied by the lighthouse in South Carolina. Within the fenced-off property was a roofed-over kennel, its door shut and barred on the outside. From within, I heard the barking of dogs.
I climbed halfway up one of the trees at the opening of the clearing, unpacked the bow from its sheath, strung it, and waited. As the sun set, the barking of the dogs turned to howling. I could hear them scrabbling at the door. I yawned, wondering how many of them there were. I wondered what Louis fed them.
The front door to the house opened even as the rain began to fall.
“To Kill a Mockingbird,” Philip answered me. “Heard of it?”
I shook my head. “Must be new.”
“Well, it is, but …” He trailed off, snorted to himself. “Can’t believe you haven’t heard of it. It’s famous.”
I shrugged, ambled over to the basketball players. Terrance was about to lose the game of “Horse.” Vernon had called the shot—quarter quart back, from the knees—and actually made it. For the life of me, I could not understand what possessed Terrance to play a game in which he was so obviously outmatched.
But, “Na, you win,” he said, resigned, letting the ball drop from his hands. Letting it roll.
I picked it up, took a knee at the quarter quart, and positioned my hands to shoot. Vernon cocked an eyebrow. I winked at him, then tried to concentrate. You’ve got more important things to think about, I told myself. But I’d grown up playing with boys, and I thought I had a fair shot at this.
I almost missed. The ball rolled around the rim before going in. The boys clapped, as if this feat were somehow more impressive coming from a woman.
I went to Emily, stopping at the punchbowl first and grabbing half a sandwich. “Looks like I got here late,” I said, sitting next to her, trying to appear interested. “What’s that?”
“Rosary beads,” she said. “I’m making chains for everyone. Something to pass the time till we watch the movie.”
“Yeah? What movie?” And what the hell’s a rosary? I didn’t add.
She shrugged.
“King Kong,” Father Manny said with a chuckle. “Original film reel, with all the scary stuff they took out for theaters still in it. I figured it’d be mostly boys tonight. Looks like you’ve got this covered, Miss Summer. I’m going to check up front.”
Emily, meanwhile, slid a string and some beads my way. “Want to help?”
I sighed. Then, Why not? I thought, leaned over, and whispered to her, “I have no idea what you’re doing. I’m not actually Catholic.”
Her eyes widened—but then she smiled, positively scandalized.
“Don’t tell,” I said, looking at the beads, idly curious.
Tall, slender of build, dark of hair.
A little older-looking than I might have expected, but the man who emerged from the house fit Casper’s description of Louis perfectly. He was in range from the moment he stepped outside, but a kill shot from this distance was asking too much. Not until he ambled over to the door of the kennel did I feel reasonably confident I could get him in a single shot.
The rain was coming down hard now. I was spared the worst of it under the shelter of the tree, but it was still annoying. Still distracting.
I nocked one of the rosewoods. He was about to lift the bar over the kennel doors. He was about to turn, making a heart shot impossible.
I lined him up, a stationary target, and let the arrow fly. The first shot took him in the shoulder. He cried out, loudly and wordlessly. I had another arrow to the string in seconds—nagged by the thought that the second shot was almost never as good as the first shot—and fired again.
And, wouldn’t you know it, I got lucky. This one took him high in the center of his ribcage, straight through and shaft deep. He went down to his knees, clutching the second arrow, his cries silenced. He seemed to die right there in the kneeling position.
It wasn’t right. It wasn’t like Phineas. Casper’s other brother had dematerialized in death, scattering like rags of incarnate darkness thrown to the wind. But this one was still there. I watched him roll onto his side. Lifeless, but still there.
The barking and braying of the dogs grew suddenly louder, angry and desperate. I could hear them clawing against the enclosure from all the way up here. And the bees in their little white houses started to flow out, started to swarm, circling their wood-ensconced honeycombs as though being stirred by an invisible hand.
The next person to emerge from the house was a woman with a rifle. She was middle aged, heavyset and frumpy. She saw the body right away. She ran to him. Wailed.
“Damn it,” I sighed. And shot her dead right there with a single arrow right through the mouth. I didn’t waste another one of the rosewoods. I had already given up two of those, and now I only had four left.
Come out, Louis, I thought, steeling myself, even as the bar on the kennel door crackled and started to splinter. Get what’s coming to you …
How the hell was I supposed to have known that Louis had more than one day guardian?
Thanks, Casper. Thanks a lot.
Louis didn’t come outside as a man. He didn’t come out as anything I could kill with a bow. He spilled out the front door as a slithering river of rattlesnakes. The bees retreated back to their honeycombs—but the bar over the kennel door broke in two.
This is bullshit, I thought, going down the tree with reckless speed, no grace at all. I tumbled the last seven feet, slipping on a wet branch, and landed face down next to the bike. I didn’t bother checking myself for cuts and bruises.
I looked back once. The dogs were huge. Even on all fours, they would have come up to my shoulders. I couldn’t make out anything else, other than their number. There were three of them.
It was time to beat a fast fucking retreat.
And here I now was, watching and listening to a thirteen year old girl chanting Hail Marys and the occasional Our Father over a string of rosary beads—in actual Latin—all while waiting for Louis to make the next move. I strung a few of the beads myself. When we finished one, knowing what was outside, I asked Emily if I could keep it. She smiled and said, “Sure. Won’t do you much good if you don’t know what to do with it, though.”
It was bracelet sized. I slid it over my right wrist. “I know a few devils in the world,” I told her. “Couldn’t hurt.”
I got to work on the next one with her, this one necklace-size. We sat side by side, as though she were my little sister. She muttered Latin incantations. I remembered Sally Mathers and smiled at her.
And then I heard him, right in my head, interrupting the last moment of peace I would have for some time:
When next I see you, you better not be wearing any of that garbage.
I thought you were dead, I answered in my mind, stringing another bead, letting Emily pray over it.
Not yet, he said. You need to listen, Summer. This is another trial, but it is not one of mine.
Whose, then? I asked, taking a sip of my punch, accepting Emily’s correction on the order of the rosary beads. Is it Angus? Tell him I said hi.
From Casper: He sends his regards. We’re watching you, Summer. All of us.
I made an attempt to repeat some of what Emily was saying over the beads, just to maintain the façade as I responded: How is that possible? You’re on the other side of the country. I’m in a fucking church.
From Casper: There is deep magic here, powers that are beyond me away from this place. I have been brought here to answer for Phineas. You have been placed in an arena. It doesn’t matter if it is a church. You are not yet strigoi. What’s coming for you is not strigoi.
I asked, What is it then? Dragons or something?
Casper pressed on: It’s a wager, Summer, and I’m betting on you. Survive one hour. That’s all. There are no other rules. If you do, the Cabal will … think better of us.
And if I don’t, I finished for him, it won’t matter anyway. Business as usual. Got it. You probably have a fancier way of putting it, though.
No, Casper said with a small chuckle. Actually I don’t. Good luck, Summer.
If I hadn’t been listening for it just then, I don’t think I would have heard it. It didn’t seem anyone else had. Either the storm outside had picked up, or the howling outside wasn’t just the wind. Casper’s brothers had an hour to kill me, and his extended family would watch the game unfold like a god damned TV show—live, like most shows were back then.
I wondered how a person unlocked the magic of rosary beads. I wanted to know if crosses or holy water had any power over hellhounds—because I was pretty sure that’s what I had seen, and now heard, outside. I didn’t think they did. Crosses and holy water would be useless.
Nor would holy ground offer me any protection against them.
Emily lined up her last bead, said her little prayer.
And then it started.
Summer Stories 8: And in the Hour of Our Death
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