True Deception, Chapter 4

“There she is!” a reporter announced when she spotted our arrival. Her colleagues as well as a flurry of livid protestors swarmed down the courthouse steps to speak with us, and I was glad I had the foresight to deploy several police officers to guard us at this moment! I covered Violet’s head with a jacket, and as we made our way to the entrance, all of the journalists gathered there attempted to grill us with hard-hitting questions about the case, and even if I wanted to cooperate with their requests, I couldn’t have because we got drowned in the sea of noise coming from the demonstrators! I was able to ignore most of them, but then, all of a sudden, I found a camera in my face! The same news lady who espied us originally now accosted me, “Mister Devante, word on the street is that your client’s hostile behavior prompted almost every lawyer in the state to decline to represent her, so she had to settle for a public defender. Can you confirm this?”

            “My client and I have no comment.” I pushed the camera out of the way as I resumed escorting Violet into the building.

            “Really?” The camera and the reporter’s voice continued to float by us as we walked down the narrow aisle available to us. “After all of the horrible things your client did, you have nothing to say to the public?”

            The crowd roared in vehement agreement of the sentiments behind her inquiry, but I remained silent since we had reached the doors. Being inside muffled all of the thundering commotion, but we could definitely still hear them out there! I encouragingly addressed Violet, “Don’t listen to them! They don’t know the real story!” Violet sniffed in disagreement, threw down the jacket, and marched into the courtroom ahead of me. I sighed; we were off to a rough start, but I refused to let that deter me! I felt lucky enough to have earned enough of Violet’s trust to have her agree to hire me for her representation, so I yearned to show her that she made the right decision by gaining her the freedom she deserved! As I entered the forum, I could detect angry whispers and hisses from people eyeballing me as I made my way to the defense’s bench, and it irked me that a belligerent group was allowed to sit in the audience! Violet had a deep scowl as she stared out into the distance, and while most people probably interpreted that as an act of snootiness, I knew she actually harbored a vast fear of what was to come! I really ached with sympathy for her for having to endure this harrowing ordeal, and that added fuel to my fire to make her not regret her choice to trust me.

            Once the chamber had thoroughly filled up with all of the trial participants, the bailiff called out, “All rise!” Everyone grew obediently silent at his behest, and my heart began to pound wildly! I rarely got nervous at these events, but this one was different! Our side would be infinitely more difficult to prove, but something more important than a legal victory was at stake! If we lost, then the entire planet would lose the key to saving itself! Nobody else knew this except for Violet and me, so if we did manage to pull off a miracle and get a win that day, I knew we would have to deal with the rancor of those who felt jilted from the results that did not curry favor with their expectations, but I didn’t care- the truly challenging phase of my plan would get set in motion after the not-guilty verdict! Facing the Fallen grew more real in this instance, which was an incredibly daunting undertaking that would make anyone feel scared, but I tried not to dwell on that eventuality as the bailiff proclaimed, “The Honorable Michael Ronnell is now presiding!”           

            A bit of relief flooded my body as the gray-haired judge took his seat! No magistrate in our society could ever actually be fair due to the corrupt laws that they had to work off of, but out of everyone I dealt with in court, he was probably the most principled. He told everyone, “You may be seated,” and as we did so, I allowed myself to gather a faint hope for a reasonable ruling! “We’re here today for the case of The State of Massachusetts versus Violet Harlow, who is being charged with second degree murder. Is the accused present?”

            “Yes, your Honor,” I stood up and responded to him.

            “How does your client plead?” he asked me.

            I firmly answered, “Your honor, my client pleads not guilty!”

            The spectators had an audible reaction of disbelief after my statement, so Judge Ronnell banged his gavel and commanded, “Order, please! Order!” When the masses grew quiet, he directed, “The prosecution may now begin their opening statement.”

            One of the attorneys on the other side stood up cockily and adjusted his tie with a smarmy smile, and it enraged me to watch his arrogant confidence on a triumphant outcome in this matter! Yes, prosecutors typically won their cases in this era, but he seemed especially sure in regard to this one! I decided not to let his inflated ego get to me, reminding myself that the higher he let his pride climb, the longer his fall would be when we toppled his best strategies!

He stood up before Judge Ronnell and pompously orated, “Your Honor, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, today, we are bakers, and we will be serving vanity a slice of humble pie! What happens when a person becomes overly consumed by a bloated sense of self-importance? One day, reality strikes them, and they realize that they’re not the most important person in the universe! While some may learn a valuable lesson after facing these circumstances, others cannot handle the truth! Some may even act out as Violet Harlow did that fateful day. A faithful servant had enough of her mistreatment and dared to say no to a humiliating order, and instead of taking his defiance in stride, she took her fury at the world out on that poor man! An innocent life got lost all for the sake of her hubris! As you listen to the witnesses testify about the horrible details of that day, ask yourselves this: Who deserves justice more- a meek peasant or pretentious billionaire?”

He took a seat with a huge display of swagger, and I had to force myself not to roll my eyes at the irony of this braggart faulting Violet for her supposed conceit. Judge Ronnell turned to me and instructed, “The defense may go ahead with their opening statement.”

I could perceive the audience’s readiness to share their outrage again, but they could see Judge Ronnell’s stern gaze in their direction and stayed mute. I hadn’t had any cameras in my proceedings prior to this occasion, and I could practically feel the vitriol from the viewers outside of the courtroom, but I shook that off! The world needed to hear the truth, but a part of me worried about succumbing to my nerves! It was a lot of pressure, but before I could attempt to buckle, I caught a glimpse of Violet’s angelic face, and that was all I needed to harness the fortitude I needed to face this adversity and prevail!

With resolute conviction in my voice, I spoke out, “Your Honor, all of our distinguished members of the jury, even our guests of the courtroom, let me ask you this- why is the Statue of Justice blindfolded? Did the artist intend to convey the notion that the wool could get pulled over her eyes? Of course not! So, why is the blindfold there? I’ll tell you… It’s meant to show that justice is blind! Bringing justice to a case does not mean picking who you like better, it means choosing what’s right! It forces you to do the right thing, and doing the right thing sucks sometimes, but we don’t act with integrity for our own personal benefit! If we make an exception for one individual we favor, less favorable characters will expect the same! We must adhere to the rules to keep the system intact! Now, the prosecution has urged you to listen to the witnesses as they testify and pay attention to the details of the trial, and I whole-heartedly agree! It’s literally your job to do just that!” The lead prosecutor glared at me for poking holes in his statement, but I disregarded that and went on, “However, as you absorb the information given to you, remember that your purpose is to find the facts wherever they may lead! The truth may not be what you want to hear, but to act upon anything else would be a miscarriage of justice and set up an ugly precedent for cases in the future! You may not enjoy the idea of Violet Harlow’s innocence, but as the truth of the matter is presented to you, you must act in accordance with the blind justice you pledged to uphold!”

With the completely floored expressions on the jury’s faces, I expected a stunned silence to follow my speech. Instead, a furious outcry sounded in the forum at my suggestion of Violet being innocent! Judge Ronnell had to use his gavel again, and he demanded, “Order, Order!” When the room finally hushed, he warned the attendees, “If you keep interrupting this session, I’ll find you in contempt of the court and have you removed! Is that clear?” The audience obviously understood his directive, but they eyed him maliciously as if his instance of decorum signified that he had allied himself with the enemy! I still saw signs of mutiny, but Judge Ronnell appeared satisfied with their degree of compliance since he turned his attention away from them and asserted to me, “I assume that your client wants to utilize her fifth amendment rights.”

“Actually, my client is willing to testify on her own behalf,” I corrected him, which sent a ripple of astonishment throughout the space.

“Really? Are you sure you wanna do that?” the lead prosecutor incredulously inquired.

            I simply replied, “My client understands her fifth amendment rights, but she doesn’t have to worry about self-incrimination- she did nothing wrong!”

            My certainty behind that claim flabbergasted everyone except for Violet, who didn’t make eye contact with me but did emanate her displeasure for my decision. I knew she wouldn’t relish taking the stand in fear that she may expose the existence of the Fallen, but I felt that she could omit the parts where magic got involved and still preserve her honesty. I could have chosen to highlight any mistruths that the witnesses spouted out and continually remind the court that the circumstantial evidence presented didn’t prove that Violet killed anyone, but I couldn’t resist putting up a subject who sincerely had aversion to lying! The lead prosecutor stood up and entreated Judge Ronnell, “Your Honor, in light of this revelation, I would like to call the defendant to the stand ahead of my scheduled witnesses.”

            Judge Ronnell obliged, “I’ll allow it. Miss Harlow, will you please approach the witness’ stand?” Violet showcased a bundle of anxiety over this endeavor, but no one else caught on since she sported a pronounced frown. She may have dreaded this occurrence, but I didn’t! My instincts assured me that this would change everything for the better! The bailiff held a religious text up to her, and she put her hand up as Judge Ronnell queried, “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”

            “I do!” Violet affirmed, which prompted a series of doubtful asides from the people watching the trial. She maintained a poker face, but I know their behavior bothered her, but it didn’t phase me! I knew we would only benefit from this proceeding!

            That sleezy prosecutor opened up his questioning with, “Alright, Miss Harlow, can you tell us what happened?”

            “Sure- what happened!” she cheekily responded.

            “My apologies for the ambiguity. Please tell the court what happened on the day that Mister Cassiel died,” the prosecutor mandated.

            Violet huffed, “Fine! One minute, he was alive, and the next minute, he was killed.”

            I couldn’t blame Violet for her irritation from doing something that she didn’t want to do and having to deal with that narcissist’s callous orientation, but I had anticipated that her virtuous nature would compel her to be more forthcoming at a juncture as critical as this! It did sort of amuse me to watch that elitist toad twitch in annoyance, but I inwardly prayed that it wouldn’t take too long for the real story to get out there! He implored her, “Who killed him?”

            “Not me,” Violet articulated.

            “Who did?” the prosecutor probed. The crowd grew restless again, and Violet watched them apprehensively, so that prosecutor barked, “Don’t worry about them! Just answer my question!”

            Violet folded her arms defiantly. “Isn’t that what investigators are for? Someone broke in and murdered him, isn’t that enough?”

            The spectators became more incensed, but the prosecutor carried on with his interrogation, “Why would someone want to kill him?”

            “They didn’t want to,” Violet disclosed as the attendees were deaf to the judge’s gavel and increased their animated behavior.

            “Then why did they do it?” he pressed her. “Was it an accident?”

            Violet’s frightened eyes flickered between the chorus of people who balked at her suggestion of her own veracity and the lead prosecutor’s mounting exasperation, and she unwillingly reported, “They weren’t after him! He died trying to save me from them!”

            The prosecutor howled, “Who?”

            Unable to take the pressure from both that prosecutor and the raving assembly, Violet couldn’t help but shout out, “Nancy Nox!”

            A collective gasp echoed throughout the room from the audacity of that allegation, and that prosecutor lost his cool. He grabbed her by her shirt and hollered, “If you’re not gonna take this seriously, you-!”

            “Your Honor,” I interrupted him. “I move for a mistrial on the grounds of my client’s mistreatment by the prosecution.”

            “Well, councilor,” Judge Ronnell sermonized to that prosecutor, “It seems as though you should eat that humble pie you baked for the defendant! Mistrial granted! New trial will commence in-.”

            The crowd became beside themselves and jumped out of their seats! The police present in the courtroom attempted to gain control of who they could reach, but they had to call for backup at how much they were outnumbered in this situation! They made their way to our site, so Violet and I needed to get out of there quickly! Violet seemed too astonished to move, so I grabbed her wrist and led her out of the forum. I found an open arbitration chamber and dragged her into it. Once I secured us inside, she began pacing and ringing her hands. “Nancy Nox?” I petitioned her. She was muttering the word no under her breath, but it wasn’t in regard to what I just said. I realized that I may have come across as not trusting her, so I attempted to convey my confidence her by reasoning, “Look, I don’t care how beloved of a celebrity she is, I would still make sure she pays for her crimes! Why didn’t you tell me this sooner?” She grew more frantic, so I reassured her, “It’s okay! We still have some time before your next trial, so I’ll speak to her attorneys, and we’ll-.”

            She looked at me sharply as if she had just recognized that I was in her vicinity, and with more trepidation than I could have imagined she would have built up from the scenario at hand, she urgently relayed to me, “We have to get out of here! We’re in real danger!”

True Deception, Chapter 3

If I didn’t have a purpose with the utmost importance, I may have fainted when she opened the door! This was it! The moment I dreamt of for so long had finally come to fruition- I would finally be able to save the world! The concept of having a more peaceful and positive society in the works seemed too wonderful to be true, and for a minute, I thought I may have proven that idea accurate! When I pictured this encounter, I imagined that the Guardian I would speak to would have a sagacious expectation of my arrival, or sometimes I envisioned them feeling overjoyed to receive my partnership for such a crucial matter. It threw me off completely when neither scenario came to pass…

            “If you think I’m going quietly, think again!” she bellowed.

            “Uh…” I got so stunned by her combative response that I became at a loss for words! That was the second time that day she had this effect on me, but both were for entirely different reasons! When I saw her down by the creek, she seemed very calm, composed, and even a little scared, but now she bore a rage so intense that I could practically feel the heat coming off of her body! The deep scowl she had now changed her visage completely! She looked mean, ruthless, and vaguely familiar… “Do I know you from somewhere?”

            She spat, “Is that a joke? Must you mock your prisoners in the process of taking away their freedom?” Prisoners? She had me completely baffled, and she could sense my genuine bewilderment too. She followed that statement with, “Oh, you’re not kidding!” Her expression softened as she inquired, “You don’t know who I am?”

            I shook my head and replied, “No, I don’t, but I’d like to. May I come in?” She eyed me suspiciously, and I worried that she would refuse my request, but then she abruptly stepped aside from the entryway and gestured for me to go inside, which I did without hesitation!

            When Patty described this structure as a shed, I expected to see a bunch of dust on the floor and gardening supplies everywhere else, but the place had a spotless appearance and very little material objects! I saw an old cot and a table with a couple of boxes on them, but not much else! I could tell she had been living there, but it struck me as odd to see no personal effects strewed about her shelter! I wondered if she had gotten there more recently, which would have explained the lack of personality to her abode, but it mystified me as to why she didn’t dwell in the cottage with her grandmother! Adding all this to her expectation of getting arrested, I started to realize that the problem that Patty mentioned may have been bigger than I anticipated! I didn’t know how to broach the subject with her though. I had consulted with hundreds of people in regard to their legal issues, but not a Guardian! Not a Guardian who I counted on to save the planet! Not a Guardian who saved my life! She did something truly heroic, so how much trouble could she really have had in store for her?

            Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to cook up a way to break the ice with her, she did it for me! “Who wears a suit in the woods?” she remarked.

            “I had a bad day at work, and I came to Sylph’s Hollow to relax.” I omitted the part about my quest to find a Guardian to rescue us all. It seemed like the sort of thing that a person should tactfully be led into; if I had straight-up blurted out that I needed her to play a massive role in a tremendous undertaking, I probably would have overwhelmed her enough to reject my proposal!

            “So, you were out here trying to unwind?” she probed. “You weren’t looking for anything?”

            I assured her, “Well, I was searching for something, but not you. I mean, not you specifically. It’s complicated, I don’t know where to begin…”

            She offered, “Let me get you some tea.”

            I couldn’t resist gawking at her unexpected hospitality, but I agreed to her suggestion. She pulled a mug, a small pellet, and a jug of water out of one of the boxes, and then she placed the pellet inside of that mug. As she poured the water and it became hot tea, she recommended, “I have some bread for you too. Grandma made it from scratch, she’s not a fan of New Food.”

            “That sounds delicious, but I don’t need anything to eat,” I politely declined.

            “Yes, you do!” she disagreed. As she handed me the tea and a slice of bread, she stated, “Trust me, I’ve dealt with enough hungry people to recognize them when I see them!”

            Honestly, I hadn’t sat down for a meal since breakfast early this morning, so my stomach probably was empty, but with everything that had occurred that day, I didn’t have much of an appetite! She appeared pretty insistent that I nourish myself though, and she had a force behind her that made me afraid to defy her, so I accepted her gift. “Thank you!” As I bit into this fare, my senses instantly transported me to repasts from my childhood! I forgot how tasty naturally made sustenance tasted! “This is good!” That made her smile slightly, and I felt a warm gratification for having had that effect on her! She seemed like such a kind person, so it confused me as to how she could have landed herself in a position that would have caused her to fear imprisonment! Well, it did until I remembered Mister Atman from this morning. “Be careful when you feed the hungry! I had a client that got convicted of a felony ‘cause he fed homeless people. The judge said he was running an unlicensed charitable organization, which is such complete bullshit! Sorry, excuse my language!”

            She shrugged off my obscenity. “I’ve heard worse. So, you’re a lawyer? Is that why you came here? You were looking for new business?”

            “No, I’m a public defender. Cases come to me, I don’t need to go fishing for new leads,” I clarified for her. “Although I am licensed to practice law, I could represent someone in court if I wanted to, but I don’t want to do that. I came to Sylph’s Hollow to…” I knew I would have to confess my motives for pursuing her sooner or later, so I decided the time had come for me to account for my actions. “Ever since I was a kid, things have gotten worse and worse. The natural disasters were destructive, but the people in charge did so much more damage than the environment ever could have! The only people who are prospering are the ones who enjoy the suffering of others, and regardless of how hard good citizens try, they can never seem to win against this evil. Gloom is spreading, and none of us have the power to stop them, but someone out there does! I thought if I could discover who this individual was, I could persuade them to save the earth from doom!”

            “I’m not the Arch Deity,” she told me before I even had the chance to enquire about it. My face contorted in doubt, so she insisted, “I’m really not! It physically hurts us to lie, so I don’t do it if I can help it.”

            Admittedly, it disappointed me to hear that, but I wasn’t going to give up so readily! “But, as a Guardian, you must have a way to find the Arch Deity if you wanted to!”

            She countered that logic with, “Normal Guardians probably could, but I can’t help you! I can’t go back to the city, not with a target on my back!”

            “You mean ‘cause you’re wanted by law enforcement?” I pried. “You can always fight in court…”

            “Oh please!” she differed. “You’re a public defender, tell me how often you’ve seen that work!”

            I grew sheepish on that one. I already divulged to her that I came to Sylph’s Hollow due to a bad day in court, and I mentioned the details regarding Mister Atman’s case, so she could probably gather how often I emerged victorious from the judicial system. I certainly wasn’t about to admit that to her though! Once in a while, if someone truly was blameless, we would successfully get a ruling in their favor. I had no inkling what she was getting accused of, but I remained absolute in believing in her innocence! She looked and behaved like an angel, so whatever charges they had against, I was certain she could beat them! “It doesn’t happen a lot, but it does happen! And you’ll spend your whole life hiding if you don’t at least make an attempt to-.”

            She cut me off by saying, “What makes you think I’m not guilty?”

            “Well, I… Okay, so I don’t know for sure what you did or didn’t do, but… You’re a Guardian! A Guardian, not a Fallen! You can’t be bad!” I argued.

            “Psh! You’re the only one who thinks that!” she reacted in vitriol. “You and Grandma, I should say. If I gave you my name, you would have a totally different opinion of me!”

            I sincerely doubted that! Whatever her true identity was, I couldn’t fathom thinking less of this saint-like woman! She may have been a little curt, but my instincts were infallible when it came to people’s characters, so I knew with every fiber of my being that learning her name wouldn’t alter my admiration for her! “Not possible! If you tell me, I swear my opinion of you will stay the same!” She hesitated, so I extended my hand and introduced myself, “I’m Jack Devante! And you are…?”

            Her frown became more pronounced, and that feeling of familiarity struck me again! I knew I hadn’t met her until today, but it seemed like I might have seen her somewhere before- not in real life, but perhaps in a magazine or on television somewhere. But if she had any kind of celebrity status, I thought that I would have recognized her immediately! Besides, every star I knew took work as often as they could thanks to the unpredictability of our economy, so none of them would have even the smallest desire to isolate themselves in the forest like that! I considered that, here and there, a notable figure would commit a crime and possibly make themselves obscure, but the only person who fit that profile right then was…

            “No way!” I cried out in disbelief. “You can’t be… Violet Harlow?” She hung her head in a way that denoted confirmation, and my jaw dropped! Violet Harlow didn’t match the impression I got of the woman who rescued me in the woods! Violet Harlow was an incredibly snobby and ill-tempered billionaire, and while her fashion empire, Rebels of Hollywood, did a lot of good for the world for creating more inclusivity for body types that usually got neglected by the industry, her personality was so abrasive that nobody liked her. Plus, she got accused of a terrible misdeed, and I hardly thought that this beautiful Guardian was capable of such an atrocity!

            “See! Now that you know, you don’t want to have anything to do with me!” she ardently pointed out.

            I emphatically denied that, “That’s not true!” She made a noise of cynicism, so I elaborated, “I mean it! That girl I saw in the media with overly glamorous makeup and a hostile attitude, that’s not who I see in front of me now! You’re not really who you pretended to be, are you?” I really did speak honestly, and in the off chance that she presented facts to prove otherwise, I would have gotten absolutely crushed! I was relieved to see my assertion prove correct (but not pleased that she was hurting) as she buried her face into her palms and shook her head. I now grew incredibly perplexed! Why would a human being with such a huge capacity for altruism shield herself behind such a callous façade? It appeared agonizing for her to even discuss it, but I was so utterly dumbfounded that I simply had to get to the bottom of this! “Why would you, out of everyone, treat people like that?”

            She unwillingly disclosed, “I had to once I entered their world…”

            “Whose world?” After the words lift my lips, something dawned on me. “You mean the Fallen? Were you trying to take them down?”

            “Aren’t you gonna ask me if I committed the murder they’re accusing me of?” Violet posed to me.

            I reassured her, “Nope! I’m positive you didn’t do it!” She gazed off in a different direction with a regretful expression, and although I hadn’t shifted my assessment of the situation, I fretted for a second that I may have judged her incorrectly, so I felt compelled to ask her, “Did you kill that guy?”

            Violet hollowly replied, “I’m the reason he’s dead.”

            “But did you kill him?” I interrogated her.

            “It doesn’t matter! Everyone already decided I’m guilty!” she sadly pronounced.

            I saw some validity in her argument, but I wouldn’t say it out loud to her! Not only did I stumble across a more honest set of facts of the affair, but I could tell there was more to the story than what she gave me, so I dug in deeper, “Why won’t you give the world the true version of what happened? Yes, some people may not buy your explanation, but someone out there killed your servant, and they’re walking free right now! Somebody needs to pay for this, but it shouldn’t be you! Who really did it?” She refused to reveal anything, and I could see her tensing up as the incident came to the forefront of her mind. I had seen that happen with defendants before, and it usually indicated that they were scared to anger someone more powerful than them, which prompted me to query, “Was it a Fallen?”

            She didn’t speak, but her body language certified the accuracy of my theory! This may have made the issue more difficult, but I rejected any notion of giving up! I had gotten others to fess up the real account of what took place, and I resolved to do it again! Somehow! I couldn’t deploy any of those tactics yet though. I could sense a great fear brewing inside of her, and I needed to offer some comfort to inspire her first. I reached out to give her a reassuring pat, but then…

            The door burst open, and a police officer barged in! “Mister Devante, you’re coming with me!”

            “You’re arresting me?” I exclaimed. “Why? How did you even know I was here?”

            “No, you’re not under arrest. You have government property, so your boss had us check the GPS to locate you and bring back what belonged to them,” he stated to me. It disturbed me that my boss had been tracking me this whole time, but I got incensed that he was forcing me back to the office! Prior to me getting the chance to react to that, the officer eyed Violet and petitioned her, “Are you who I think you are?”

            Violet glared at me, and even though this turn of events wasn’t my fault, I still caused her great distress, so it was my responsibility to make it right! As the policeman cuffed her, I avidly vowed to her, “I’m gonna fix this! Hire me to represent you, and I promise, I’ll get you your justice!” As he dragged us away, Violet’s face casted such uncertainty, and that sight really burned me up! The odds were against me, but I was adamant that I would obtain victory for her one way or another!

True Deception, Chapter 2

I had nowhere to run, but I didn’t know how to fight back! With this part of the woods so heavily populated with humans, it never occurred to me that I might possibly run into a wild animal! As I stared at the massive height of this bear, I regretted not bringing along some sort of protection! All I could think to do was defend myself the best I could, but I had very little confidence that this would work out in my favor! I had tremendous doubt of my survival in this situation, and it pained me to contemplate how meaningless all of my hard work had been! I wouldn’t have achieved my goal of finding a Guardian Deity and saving the world, and the planet would only continue to suffer after I met my demise! It seemed like such a pity that my life hadn’t generated a more significant contribution to humankind! I put up my fists, ready to contend with the creature, but inwardly, I braced myself for the worst…

            The bear came within inches of my face, and I could feel it’s hot breath against my skin as I fell to the ground! Its roar nearly deafened me, and I could hardly recover from its blast since it raised one of its claws in the air! I prepared myself to catch its paws in my hands, and just as I was wondering how much agony its attack would render to me, golden sparkles surrounded the animal! The bear got a stunned look in its eyes before it rapidly became overwhelmed with exhaustion, and it soon shifted backwards from me as it slowly collapsed! It gently shut its eyes, and I could already hear it snoring! A part of me scolded myself for not fleeing from this potential peril in case it suddenly got roused from its slumber, but I couldn’t help but study it! I couldn’t come up with any living thing that would go from attack mode to a deep sleep in a matter of seconds like that, and coupling that with the flash of shimmer I saw, only one explanation could satisfy this phenomenon- I had witnessed magic from a Guardian!

            This realization caused me to instantly jerk my head around and search for my mystical savior! My heart beat wildly, and I could hardly comprehend the reality of this moment! Not only did I garner the chance to keep living and striving to mend so many woes of our suffering society, but I was about to encounter the person I had been searching for all these years! I finally got the opportunity to deal with a Guardian, and the anticipation of the beginning of a dream come true drove me crazy in an absolutely wonderful way! When, at last, I spotted the Guardian who rescued me, I gasped!

            A lady in an olive-green, hooded cloak stared at me with her arm extended out as if she had recently thrown something, and this only confirmed my theory of my rescuer having supernatural abilities! But honestly, even if I hadn’t had this inconceivable experience, I still might have guessed that this woman was an enchantress of some sort! Her golden-brown eyes were hypnotizing, and her porcelain skin practically glowed! Her dark brown hair only enhanced this quality! She was completely covered up, but I could still see her thick, curvaceous frame that held her up strongly like a warrior in battle! Every inch of her exuded an ethereal beauty, and if I hadn’t been on the floor already, I might have gone down there anyways to bow to this goddess! I longed to speak to her, but for a minute, I felt too stunned to move any part of me! Eventually, I could see that she emitted an aura of kindness, so my instincts coaxed me into talking to her, but before I could utter a single word, she dashed off!

            “No, wait!” I cried out. I quickly picked myself up, but by the time I was standing again, she had vanished from my sight! Disappointment cascaded throughout my body until I saw a couple of shrub branches whip back into place, an indication of which direction she ran! The only reason I hesitated in running after her was my obligation to return to the office in a prompt manner. With my watch in my back pocket, I obviously couldn’t pinpoint the exact time, but I knew I had been cutting it close when I had ventured into this section of Sylph’s Hollow. If I chased her in this instance, I would have, most likely, made myself late for my meeting, and I was already in hot water for not chatting with my boss prior to that event, so any further delays would merit me a staunch punishment! It seemed fairly foolish to pursue this endeavor, but then again, it would have been lunacy for me to miss out on an opportunity like this! If I obtained the success I imagined I would, then the strife that people in our profession consistently went through would disappear! Believing that my colleagues would thank me later for this, I sprinted in her direction!

            I followed the subtle clues to her whereabouts as long as I could, but after a while, her trail grew cold. I glanced around to see if my surroundings would offer any hints to where she may have run to, and I got a jolt of astonishment when I espied a small cottage in the distance! I had explored this forest numerous times, but I hadn’t recalled seeing that home before that day! I figured that I must have delved deeper into Sylph’s Hollow than I had ever gone, and as I examined this unfamiliar territory, I felt uncertain as to whether or not I would be able to find my way back to Anwynston again. I also considered that if I vacated this site, I may not have been able to chance upon the path to this mysterious house again. I couldn’t verify that the Guardian I was pursuing had actually gone to this building, but I didn’t see any other plausible route she could have gone down, so I decided to take the risk and approached the house.

            This property did not resemble where I thought a powerful being would lodge! It had the cozy façade of a log cabin, but its worn out walls and overgrown yard suggested that its occupants didn’t have the care or capability to maintain it. I reckoned that a Guardian’s immense compassion would compel them to take great care of their stuff, so it didn’t make sense to me that the Guardian I met would reside here. I deliberated on whether or not I should give up on this idea, and then it occurred to me that perhaps she didn’t live here, but she may have chosen this spot as a hideaway! While I peered around the yard for any hints of where she may have taken refuge, I mused that perhaps I had unearthed the Arch Deity’s headquarters! I mean, they could have purposely chosen such a decrepit shelter to throw off any suspicions of their true identity! I hardly bought into that hypothesis as probable, but I loved imagining the concept of that happening in actuality!

            I heard the front door open, and I dared to believe that the Guardian I had been searching for decided to show herself and talk to me! My spirits instantly deflated when I gazed upon the person who emerged; a thin, frail body, short, gray hair, light blue eyes, and dark skin- none of her features matched the guardian, so it definitely wasn’t her or anyone related to her! The old lady who came out held a cane in one hand and the railing to her front stoop in the other, and I felt guilty for drawing someone who had trouble with mobility outside! I walked closer to her so I could spare her a little bit of unnecessary labor, but she continued to descend the staircase anyways. She questioned me, “Can I help you?”

            “Sorry for trespassing, ma’am!” I cordially regarded her. “I lost someone and I think she may have ended up here.”

            “You’re not from the government, are you?” When she reached the bottom level, she gave me a piercing stare as if she were trying to decipher my character by eying me in a certain way.

            With my dislike for the politics of this era in my mind, I automatically responded, “Oh, definitely not!” As soon as the words escaped my lips, I realized that I misspoke and corrected myself, “Well, technically I do…” She grew a more pronounced frown, so I continued, “…but I’m a public defender! My job is to keep good people out of jail!”

            She became readily relieved to learn this. “Oh, you’re alright then! If you worked for President Trumble, I swear, I’d kick you out of here faster than the speed of light!”

            We both chuckled, but I felt it was unkind to let her rely on incorrect information like that, so I corrected her, “President Trumble left office ten years ago. President Waldrom is in office now.”

            “Oh!” She grimaced when it registered that she made an egregious error like that, and I berated myself for bringing that up! I should have ignored her misjudgment and focused on tracking down that Guardian! I worried that I may have landed myself in a drawn-out conversation that may hurt my odds of triumph, but then the elderly woman shrugged and remarked, “Well, whatever! They’re all the same really!”

            “Boy, that’s the truth!” I laughed at the accuracy behind that statement! Regardless of who took charge in the last thirty years or so, things never seemed to change! They all acted with self-serving motives that only made the disasters we endured so much more catastrophic, and if it weren’t for honorable, every-day citizens and the clandestine Guardians, our entire civilization might have collapsed! This renewed my motivation to locate that Guardian, so I inquired to her, “Did you happen to see a woman in a green cloak anywhere in this area?”

            Her brows furrowed, and I assumed that she intended to jog her memory of what she saw recently, but instead, she puzzled, “She wore a cloak? Why? Is it time for the Renaissance Faire?”

            I attempted to maintain an air politeness to this lady, but privately, I had the urge to bolt out of there fast! I appreciated her friendliness, but the poor thing didn’t’ seem completely lucid, so every minute I spent with her took away precious time that I would need for my ambition to reunite with that Guardian! Despite my inclination to hurry out of this predicament, I couldn’t help but take pity on her. Her expression begged for illumination on the subject, so I relented, “When the homelessness and poverty level was at its highest, a lot of people kept warm by draping a blanket on themselves and clipping it together with a pin. After a while, clothing manufacturers caught on to this trend and figured out that it was cheaper and easier than making jackets, so it became a new style.”

            “Oh, that’s right!” she remembered. I weighed different excuses to politely bow out of this interaction, but then she asked me, “Are you here about my granddaughter?”

            “I don’t think so,” I answered while concealing my exasperation. “The girl I’m looking for had pale skin, brown hair, and-.”

            She finished my sentence, “And bronze-colored eyes?” Slightly surprised by her sharpness on this occasion, I nodded, so she confirmed, “Yeah, that’s my granddaughter!” She must have noticed the skeptical look on my face because she added, “I adopted her.”

            I hadn’t considered this possibility yet, and I began to grow hopeful in this lady providing me a useful tip again! “Where can I find her?”

            “Where can I find her?” I posed to this woman.

            “She lives in the shed out back,” She pointed a knobby finger towards her backyard, and when I craned my neck to peek around her house, I spotted the small, wooden structure that she had referred to! My breath quickened as my optimism restored itself! I couldn’t distinguish what dwelled within its barriers, but my gut told me that she was in there! The old lady heartily addressed me, “If you can do something to fix her problem, I’d sure be grateful!”

            My curiosity peaked from obtaining this perspective! A powerful being who saved my life seemed like the last person who might have any kind of concerning issue! Nevertheless, I couldn’t delay meeting her again, so I had to table that notion to avoid prolonging this discussion. If I had the opening to enquire about it later, I fully intended to aid her in any way I could, but for now, I had to keep my exchange with this elderly woman as brief as possible! I ended things with, “Thank you very much, Miss…”

            She let me know, “It’s Missus Agnola, but you can call me Patty!”

            “Thanks a bunch, Patty!” I extended my hand and introduced myself, “I’m Jack Devante, by the way!”

            “Pleased to meet you, Jack! If you need anything, just holler!” She smiled appreciatively at me, and I returned her gesture before unlatching her gate and heading to that shed.

            My excitement mounted more and more as I got closer and closer! I had no inkling of what exactly I ought to have conveyed to her though! I know I had to acknowledge the enormous favor she did for me, but I didn’t know how to broach the topic of her Guardian status! It seemed awkward to bring up someone’s extraordinary abilities in a normal discourse! Out of all the years I spent searching for a deity to save our world from the control of wickedness, I never came up with a proper method of requesting their assistance! I supposed that I had simply maintained the premise that the act of discovering them would have been enough, and I chided myself for that naiveté! This was a vital mission, and I felt so unprepared! When I neared the building, I now felt incredibly nervous!

I couldn’t fathom how receptive she would be, especially since Patty mentioned that she was going through a dilemma of some sort! I speculated that this crisis had prompted her to flee from me, and I started to sweat that she may try to disappear again! It was now or never though, and this rendezvous could be key in solving everything! It was too important to let any cowardice overcome me, so I pushed aside any negative thoughts about this outcome and convinced myself that it would all work out as I knocked on the door and waited…

True Deception, Chapter 1

            “If you wanna be free,

                        you have to fight for it!

                        Don’t take a knee,

                        it’s time to split!

                        Let’s make it happen now!”

I sang this quietly to myself as I tried not to tear my suit while pushing through the leafless brambles of the forest. After a disastrous afternoon, I needed to relax, and hearing my favorite song usually did the trick! Oh sure, I couldn’t actually play the tune in this instance, but getting it stuck in my head would suffice! I loved the lyrics to “Make It Happen,” and although the girl singing it meant to depict a rebellious teenager, I thought a lot of the words really applied to the situation facing us right then! The concept of fighting for freedom struck a chord with me, and the advice of not waiting to take action made absolute sense to me. That’s one of the reasons I loved listening to eighties’ music- over seventy years later, it’s brilliance still shined through! Its wisdom was timeless and continued to motivate its listeners decades later, and at the moment, it was exactly what we needed to get through everything we had to endure…

            My grandmother’s cassette collection wasn’t the only thing I loved about that era! The individualism culture absolutely thrilled me! Rock stars dressed how they wanted regardless of any norms that authoritative figures tried to put on them! Tight pants, bright colors, gawdy jewelry- anything would go! Movies created whole new worlds, and television shows really conveyed a sense of excitement! I don’t think the opulence of a growing economy held the only cause for that fervor either; people had a lot more room to truly be themselves, and that created a real optimism for the future! I wish that I could have been young during that epoch! I would love to be surrounded by neon hues and glitter while picturing all of the possibilities of what’s to come, so different than what we got in the twenty-fifties…

            There is no enthusiasm for what lays ahead when all you do is struggle to survive! Ever since I was a kid, society has had to live through one crisis after another! Fires, floods, hurricanes, every natural disaster that used to only occur once in a great while started to sprout up nearly every day! No matter what part of the world a person lived in, at some point, they were certain to experience something drastic! It didn’t matter where individuals resided, you couldn’t flee to an unaffected area- everywhere had a serious issue to deal with sooner or later! Even if we weren’t handling harrowing phenomena of the environment, the weather still made us comfortable! It was either icy cold or sweltering hot, the temperature was never enjoyable! It only got worse from there too! Eventually, the combination of smoke, pollution, and who knows what else made the air so toxic that we all had to wear gas masks to go outdoors! Wearing them continuously wasn’t a fun experience, it made me yearn to go back to my childhood when all we had to wear to keep us safe from harm was a small piece of cloth over our face and nose! I spent my youth in the midst of our planet’s darkest times, and I don’t just mean from the frequent lack of light in the sky either…

            You might assume that perpetual disasters would bring communities together, but average citizens actually grew further apart from each other! Politicians’ lust for power only increased, and as the hard times increased, so did the restrictions they imposed on us. It started with stricter rules on voting, but soon it got harder to do anything that required the government’s approval. Only a privileged few could get a driver’s license when gasoline began to grow scarce, and with fewer vehicles on the road, food prices skyrocketed! People were limited on the work available since they couldn’t go very far, so homelessness inevitably increased. The crime rate went up, and our police force took great steps to enforce all of the new laws that got drafted for the sake of “security.” Even pop culture took a hit because the establishment heavily censored what art got produced to prevent our dear leaders’ fragile egos from further damage. Technology made communication easier and easier every day, but with the voluminous wave of division wreaking havoc on us, the majority of the population only become more isolated. The climate became unbearable on so many levels…

            And yet, humankind managed to preserve itself! The earth appeared to be on a collision course towards the apocalypse, but somehow, we managed to avoid it! Scientists invented aerial automobiles that ran on synthetic fuel, and these environmentally friendly vehicles helped reduce enough of the dangerous elements in the atmosphere that we could rid ourselves of the gas masks permanently! The misfortune we went through perpetuated the spread of disease, and hospitals were overrun with patients, but right when it seemed like everyone would get something deadly and the human race would get completely wiped out, a more efficient way of manufacturing medicine got created out of nowhere! Healthcare became so cheap that anyone could afford to get cared for, and without spending so much on pharmaceuticals and other equipment, more hospitals were able to be erected! One day, neighbors fought each other over a scrap of cheese, and then the next day affordable, three-dimensional printers could wondrously get used to create delicious edible products! Each time we believed we were doomed, a miracle saved us! Astounding ideas would suddenly come to just the right people who could carry them out to the public, and it was like magic, no one could explain it!

            Or should I say no one could prove their explanations! During our dimmest days, small beacons of hope surfaced. People reported seeing individuals who could perform extraordinary feats. With just a simple movement of their hands, they could fix broken bridges, shield a vulnerable victim from getting crushed by a falling building, or even stop an injured party from bleeding to death! They could make anything they wanted happen, and these gifted folks got called many names: witches, angels, superheroes, but rumors were that they preferred to the title of Guardian Deity. An Arch Deity allegedly supervised their work and intervened if needed, but no person knew their identity, not even the Guardians! Not all guardians were good though. Some fell from grace and adopted a very twisted view of humanity. They used their powers to enact punishments to anyone who they deemed merited it, and in a weird way, they believed that they were doing the greatest good for human beings. They never thought of themselves as evil, but a lot of people believed that the Fallen were responsible for the unrest in our land. Supposedly, the Arch Deity would rise up and strike down the Fallens’ wickedness if it got out of hand, so when things started to get too rough, many believers went searching for the Arch Deity to rescue us all from our everlasting misery. So far, not a soul has been able to make this discovery, and the debate of the Deities’ existence still marches on to this day…

            I never felt certain enough one way or the other on the topic. When I was younger, I definitely wanted to buy into that concept, but with so much ugliness around me, I used to think that it would have been nice to nice to have powerful beings among us so we could receive their protection, but I saw no evidence that any safeguarding like that was going on. Yes, I saw those occasional breakthroughs that benefited humans in an enormous way, but I didn’t see anything supernatural about those events. The possibilities of Guardians weren’t what convinced me to consider the existence of Deities, it was the suspicion of the Fallen’s dominance that drew me down that path…

            As I mentioned earlier, we went through a very dark period. It never seemed to get better, but logically, it didn’t make sense to me that it would stay that way! No matter how much good some individuals did, badness would always bounce back again! For every improvement made, two setbacks would pop up! As time went on, the mistreatment of decent citizens steadily increased, and I just didn’t understand how this was able to go on! I reasoned that eventually virtuous governmental workers would take over, but it never happened! Never! It seemed unnatural to have the typical ebb and flow of fortune cemented in one direction, so I wondered if the Fallen had a clutch over our lives like many had theorized they had. I became a public defender to rectify this imbalance, but I have hardly made a difference! Regardless of how much the law appeared to favor my clients, most of the time, the corrupt judges would find a way to rule against them anyways! I wouldn’t accept an eternity of witnessing this injustice flourish, but legally, I couldn’t fathom a strategy to mend this broken system. That’s what motivated me to initiate my hunt for a cure to all this mayhem that went beyond any legality I knew…

            It sounded slightly insane to me to adopt the view that extraordinary beings actually existed, but the more I did my job, the less surprised I would have been if I ever found proof that the Fallen secretly ran the world! My only hope of finding peace for our land laid in finding a person of equal ability to fight back! When conditions would get especially dismal, it comforted me to have a method to do something about it! Arielle, the pop artist behind the melody I sang earlier, wouldn’t have sat back and let all this happen, and neither would I! The only trouble with this path was that it rendered me clueless as to when or if I would ever achieve my goal! In the beginning, I didn’t even know what to look for, but simply taking that initial step elated my spirits!

            After a while, I accumulated tips to aid me in my quest. Supposedly, Guardians preferred to reside among those who needed them most. That hypothesis really came across as true to me since their entire purpose was to watch over the community, so it added up that I would unearth them in the middle of souls who dwelled in the most dire circumstances. I explored many neighborhoods that met this criteria, but it wasn’t until I ventured into Sylph’s Hollow that I observed the most signs of magic. When I was in college, the city of Anwynston expelled a number of so-called undesirable citizens from its territory. In reality, these outcasts were merely impoverished folks who dared to speak out in regard to their plight. Many uncovered pathways to return to town, and some tried their luck in other parts of Massachusetts, but a few chose to homestead a section of the forest and remained there. A handful of prominent people moved into homes in Sylph’s Hollow intentionally and I can’t say I blamed them- these woods have withstood a lot of catastrophes and continued to exude a rare beauty in our world! I wouldn’t have minded living in this place, but it wouldn’t have been practical to commute to downtown from this area each day. However, when I saw hints of a Guardian’s presence, I found a way to frequent this locale pretty regularly! I would see dying plants and injured creatures during one visit, and in my next tour, they would be fully healed! Sylph’s Hollow had all of the ingredients of a Guardian’s abode, so it felt like the closest shot I had in finding one!

            My watch buzzed, and when I peered at it, I saw my boss’ name flash on the screen. I instantly rejected it knowing that I would pay for it later, but I absolutely wouldn’t’ deal with business matters in this site! I was well within my rights to take a break whenever I pleased, but some higher ups tended to have the opinion that since their salaried employees weren’t monitored on how their minutes got spent that they could get away with not giving them a proper lunch hour! I knew what he was calling about, and I was not in the mood to discuss why we lost the Atman case! It was horrible enough to see this innocent man get sent to jail once, I didn’t want to have to relive it again! Plus, even if we had deployed an improved tactic in his defense, the judge would probably have sent him away anyways! A hologram of his text popped up and read, “Jack, we need to talk about…” I hit ignore before he could finish his sentence and stashed my watch in my back pocket so I wouldn’t see any more messages for a while. I didn’t want to get bothered with his nonsense, not today, not here! This land developed an aura of sacredness to me, and I prayed that I would stumble across a Guardian who could erase any obligation I had to go back to work! I doubted that my wish would get granted, but it was more fun to hold on to that hope than to give in to my doubts!

            I stooped down by a narrow creek to get a sip of water, and the surface glistened enough to convey a reflection to its surroundings. I saw that the hair that I had slicked back with gel had loosened and fell limply along my face, and I swore that I could spot bits of gray reemerging. I was only forty years old, but the stress I endured definitely had an effect on my visage! My beige skin had pale blemishes, and I had bags under my eyes that almost had the same tint as my dark blue irises! I felt grateful that even with the majority of my paychecks going to rent that I could still afford to exercise and maintain a somewhat muscular physique, but I hadn’t had a lot of time to work out recently, so I fretted that I had grown doughy in certain sections. I didn’t think a perfect image of myself would have given me much solace, but the lack of it seriously didn’t help!

            My preoccupation with my worn-out façade nearly got me killed! As I studied the water, an immense shadow suddenly loomed over me…

The Terra-Belle Vampire, Chapter 31

“What happened to your face?” I exclaimed to Damon, who now bore wrinkles and other blemishes that aged him by at least fifty years! “You look terrible!”

            “Hey! I think I look great considering I’m over a hundred years old!” Damon pouted. He glanced over to me and observed, “You don’t seem surprised to learn this!”

            I couldn’t help but smile a bit when I perceived how much me witnessing this truth bothered him! I wished that the others could have been there right then because they would have gotten a kick out of this… Also, I would have had more people on my side to fight against these vampires! I knew at some point, our combat would resume, but for the time being, I deemed it best to have him continue talking until I could figure out a better way to battle them than merely running around the room! I responded to the topic he raised, “I’m not. We kinda assumed that you had to be from another century, but what does surprise me is that you went through so much trouble just to get some sort of vengeance against Ms. Bronagh! What did she do? Shut down your speakeasy and foil your illegal alcohol trade?”

            If I had simply requested for him to explain his history with Ms. Bronagh, he probably would have taken that entity’s cue and zipped his lips about the affair, but I purposely made an incorrect guess to bait him into correcting me, and it worked! He angrily spat, “I didn’t know her during Prohibition! That would have been nice! Then she would have really gotten to know me and probably wouldn’t have dumped me!”

            “Wait, you and Ms. Bronagh were an item?” I reacted in astonishment. I made a lot of predictions in my mind as to the reason he had a grudge against her, but that one never came up!

            “What? You think she’s not good enough for me?” Damon snapped. “Well, I was! We were in love! I thought we could tell each other anything, so I told her the truth about when I was born. She laughed like I was kidding, so I showed her my fangs… She didn’t laugh anymore! She freaked out and didn’t want anything more to do with me, and when I begged her to reconsider, she refused! She said she couldn’t trust me anymore and that I broke her heart for lying to her. She kept clutching her chest as she was saying it; I believed she only did that to be dramatic, but apparently, she was having a heart attack! If I knew that, I may have called an ambulance…”

            I questioned him, “So, she broke up with you, and you decided to come in here to get that demon to do a spell to make you appear younger in order to take out your hurt feelings on her students?”

            Damon rebuked that, “He’s not a demon, he’s a guardian of the Netherworld! And I didn’t know the portal to his world was here! I heard rumors that evil spirits lived in this house, and I was convinced that if Martha heard that I died in such an unthinkably horrible way like that, she would be haunted by her decision for an eternity!”         

            “You were gonna give up your whole life just ‘cause a girl ended your relationship? Why would you…?” I realized midsentence that I had a very similar course of action when Lilith announced her intention of divorcing me! I didn’t have any desire to end my life like he did, but I did give up my entire lifestyle after she left me, so it was sort of the same premise, which made me feel wrong for mocking him for what he did! Instead, I brought up, “Sounds like you gave up hope of her ever taking you back! I mean, she was in the hospital for a while, you could have gone there and worked things out! It’s not like she could have run away from you!”

            “No, I couldn’t have done that!” Damon bitterly disagreed. “Once he saw that she almost died, her husband decided to work it out with her!”

            I had this perception of Ms. Bronagh as a sweet, old lady, so it never occurred to me that she may have done something as improper as having a relationship outside of her marriage! It made me wonder if she wasn’t the kindly grandmother that I pictured her as but rather a forecast of Lilith in the future! I had hoped that I could have convinced him to make an attempt to reconcile with his ex in lieu of hurting more innocent children, but obviously that was out the window now! I raced my mind to shell out a way to occupy him further, but I couldn’t manifest anything else to distract him from his desire to murder me and retrieve that key I swallowed, so I knew I couldn’t delay out fight any further! I mentally prepared myself to go head to head with him as I quipped, “Well, the bad news is that your plan at the high school didn’t pan out ,but the good news is that Roxy will probably leave you alone forever after seeing your real face!”

            Damon seethed, “Shut up! I may not be allowed back on campus, but I will get those kids one way or another! As soon as I get the key out of you, I’ll have all of the assistance I need to carry out my plot! Speaking of which, dismember him and get it for me, won’t you?” He stared at the kids expectantly.

            “You told us if we don’t help you, the Netherworld guardian would have us killed! But he can’t touch us right now! So, why should we listen to you anymore?” Corvina challenged him. ‘We’re not gonna kill our teachers and classmates just ‘cause your girlfriend broke up with you for another dude!” Her peers nodded in agreement.

            “Okay, I lied!” Damon admitted. “But so what! You’re all stuck as vampires! It doesn’t benefit you to show humans any kindness! Trust me, no one will accept you for what you are!”

            I cheekily mentioned, “Roxy was willing to date you even though you’re a monster…”

            Damon glared at me, and when he gazed back at the teens, he beheld his allies preparing to flee and hollered, “Fine! If you little assholes won’t assist me, I’ll do the job myself!”

            He lunged at me, but I shifted to the right, so he missed and tumbled face first into the floor! I smirked and went to pin him down, but he kicked his leg out, and if I didn’t move quickly enough, he would have gotten my groin! He missed me, thank goodness, but while swerving away, I lost my grip on the stake and it flew out of my hand! “Oh crap!” I groaned.

            After he tackled me, Damon sneered, “Nice try!” His fangs elongated, and the image of him sucking my blood made my stomach turn! I projectile-vomited into his face, and while he cringed, I threw him off of me and dove for my weapon. He slammed himself onto me and went for my neck, so I rolled over and knocked him off. I went for the spike again, and he grabbed my arm to hold me back. We tugged back and forth for a minute, and then…

            The six teenagers picked him, up, and Corvina commented, “Ugh! You’re both so bad at this!” They positioned him in a way that made his chest exposed, and Corvina let me know, “He’s all yours, Mister Fenmore!”

            For a second, I worried that this was some kind of trap. I mean, it just seemed too easy! But as Damon struggled and shouted obscenities at them, Corvina gazed at me with pleading eyes, and I knew she desperately wanted out of this situation! I grabbed my stake, and Damon bellowed, “You think death will stop me? I’ll find a way to return, and then I’ll make you all pay for this!” I considered his ally from the Netherworld, and I pondered if this threat had any merit. He never fully went into detail about what the Netherworld was or how it worked, and I highly doubted that he would educate me on the subject in his current state! Damon spitefully promised me, “I’m coming for you first! No, your cat! That little piece of shit stole from me and continually defiled my property with her droppings! You want that to happen, huh? I mean me killing you, not the droppings. You know what, I mean both! Both are pretty terrible!”

            “I’ll take my chances!” I didn’t know if he had the ability to follow through with any of that, but I was definitely ready for him to finish talking! I held up my arm, ready to strike, but I hesitated slightly. I was partly trying to recall how I slayed that other vampire, but I started to grow nervous. What if I messed up? I probably would have emboldened him with a victory like that…

            “He can’t do it! He’s too weak!” Damon spoke to the children that held him captive, but he meant to taunt me. “Once he fails, you’ll all be sorry that you-!”

            Phoebe’s voice called out, “Connor? Are you okay?”

            Her mere presence roused all of the courage I needed to do this! I called back to her, “I am now!” I faced my adversary and leered at him. “Goodbye, you undead jagoff!”

            His eyes grew wide as I plunged the spike straight into his chest! He tried to deliver a snappy comeback, but he disintegrated before he could utter another word! For a moment, it didn’t quite feel real, and we stared at the pile of dust where he once stood in disbelief. After a bout of stunned silence, one boy inquired, “Are you gonna barf again?”

            “No, I-.” As I gave my reply, I noticed that all of heir skin had color again! “Hey, you’re cured!”

            “We are?” one girl studied herself in amazement. They attempted to transform into bats and sprout large teeth again, but they couldn’t! “O-M-G! We really are!”

            Corvina gratefully addressed me, “Thank you so much! I’m so sorry we tried to kill you!”

            That’s not something I ever thought I would forgive a person for, but in this circumstance, I made an exception. “It wasn’t your fault! Besides, I couldn’t have stopped him without you guys! I’m glad you were here!”

            ‘I’m glad you’re my teacher!” Corvina complimented me. “No other teacher would have done this for us!”

            “I know a few teachers that would, but you saying that… I…” Tears nearly formed from how warm that gesture made me feel! They seemed to understand why I couldn’t articulate this emotion right then, so they all joyfully gave me a hug. As I hugged them back, I knew without a doubt that I had made the right decision in staying in Terra Belle!
            I heard Phoebe speak again, “Connor! Are you sure you’re okay?”

            It sounded as though she were approaching the building, which would have been harmless but completely pointless. I advised my students, “Let’s get out of here!” They heartily concurred with me, and we rapidly exited that place!

            The kids ran out first, and the police officers who had gathered around the vicinity’s jaws dropped to see the missing children’s arrival at that juncture! When I emerged, I saw Phoebe on the driveway, and as I headed to her, she hurriedly filled me in, “You butt dialed me! I could tell you were confronting Damon, but when I went to your house, your neighbor said you went into the abandoned house, so I-!”

            I cut her off by pulling her up to me and giving her a passionate kiss! She seemed too stunned to kiss me back, so when I unlocked my lips from hers, I apologized, “Sorry! I just wanted to do that before anything else freaky interrupted us again!”

            She grinned broadly at me and retorted, “Okay, but I hope a couple of freaky things still happen!” She winked at me as she conveyed this.

            That wink she did, ooh! I can’t tell you how excited that made me! Prior to me expressing how much I appreciated this, Fletcher complained, “Ugh! It’s great you two finally got together, but could you not put any pictures like that into our heads!”

            “Sorry!” Phoebe giggled.

            “Would you be cool if I said ‘I love you’ to her?” I beseeched my colleagues.

            Ellie asserted, “Yeah, but how ‘bout you get away from the haunted house first!”

            I obliged, “Okay!” I held Phoebe’s soft, warm hand, and we scurried off of that property. I then told Phoebe, “I love you!”

            “I love you too!” She wrapped her arms around me, and we ardently embraced each other! The feel of her lips against mine sent electricity through my veins! Seriously, it felt like heaven! I never experienced a sensation like that, not even with my ex (who I definitely did not want to envision in this instance), and I felt like the luckiest guy in the world in that moment! Can you blame me? I beat the bad guy and got the woman of my dreams, I was incredibly fortunate! I would have liked to get even luckier if there weren’t so many people around…

            “Ah-hem!” Arnold cleared his throat, so I unwillingly halted my romantic efforts and paid attention to the law enforcement in the area. “So… what happened in there?”

            “Our captor’s dead!” Corvina notified him. “His body’s inside that house. You wanna see it?”

            Bill and Arnold eyed the structure apprehensively, and Bill simply decided, “We’ll take you word on it!”

            Once we gave the authorities our story (minus the vampiric parts), a bunch of reporters came to interview us too. I never expected to make national headlines, but with all those vanishing kids reappearing like that, I supposed that it made sense. When the sun came up, the teens all hissed at it out of habit, but thankfully, the bystanders around us didn’t judge them too harshly for it! On the contrary, they reckoned that the poor things had been through a lot, and their amount of exhaustion merited them some immediate sleep! Ginger, Aleck, Fletcher, Ellie, Phoebe, and I all intended to celebrate our win with each other, but we were up all night, so we high fived each other and rain-checked the festivities until we got some rest. Ginger, Aleck, Fletcher, and Ellie all headed back to their abodes to lie down, and Phoebe and I went to my home to lie down in an entirely different way…

            We had a glorious Sunday, but we hardly made it to work on Monday! She gave me a quick peck before darting into her classroom as the bell rang, and I practically floated into my room after that! I sank back down to Earth again pretty fast though! I nearly had a cardiac arrest when I someone else sitting at the teacher’s desk! “Ms. Bronagh?” I queried.

            “You must be my substitute!” she merrily chimed. She had the exact grandmotherly appearance that I imagined she would, so it sort of flabbergasted me that she had such a salacious history in the love department! She suspended that train of thought with, “Didn’t you get the message? My doctors approved me for desk work!”

            “Congratulations!” I hoped I had relayed that with at least some enthusiasm. The truth was that it crushed me to learn this! I had grown such an affection for this school that it pained me to have to leave!

            When I turned to go, she remarked, “Huh? You had a student named Damon Karro?” I paused- for many reasons, this was so awkward, and I didn’t know how to respond! “I used to know a man with that name!”

            I nervously chuckled, “No kidding!” I couldn’t help but stare at her. She had no clue the impact she had by one bad decision in her dating life! When she gave me a quizzical look, I excused myself, “I better go talk to Manuel!”

            Manuel gazed at me with pity. “What’s wrong? You seem so sad!”

            ‘I don’t wanna leave!” I honestly stated. “I like it here!”

            “Wow, really? Even after one of my students tried to kill you, you still feel this way?” he posed to me. I nodded, which delighted him. “Excellent! Oh, I was so worried you would say no to my offer…” My curiosity peaked, and then he announced, “Some of the staff here has recommended you to be a permanent teacher here for a new program we’re starting in the business realm. How does that sound to you?”

            My spirits soared to hear this! “Yes! Thank you so much!” I hugged him tightly, but when it occurred to me that I may have acted improperly, I let go and mumbled, “Sorry!”

            Manuel didn’t seem upset by that uncouth behavior! He tittered, “Now worries! Once we get you certified, we’ll have your classroom ready for you! Welcome to the team!” He smiled at me, and we hugged again.

            As I left his office, I almost literally ran into Roxy! “Oh, hi there!” I uncomfortably greeted her.

            “Oh, Mister Fenmore! Is Damon really gone forever?” she wailed.

            “Well, he did vow to haunt us, so maybe you’ll see him again as a ghost!” I know that might have come across as mean to anyone who heard me say that, but I figured that she was strange enough to get comforted by a concept like that. She did, and she went into the principal’s office all happy again! As I walked away, I prayed that scenario would never come to pass!

            That Saturday, I threw a barbecue at my house to properly celebrate all of our recent victories. I invited my parents since I hadn’t seen them in a while, and when I introduced them to Phoebe, they clearly adored her. Well, they could hardly accuse her of being a gold digger with my meager salary! I got to meet Rowan’s wife at last, and she could have passed as his twin! No wonder I never noticed her before! They were both very nice though, so I didn’t mention that observance to either of them. Ellie, Ginger, Fletcher, and Aleck brought their families too, and combining pleasant conversations we had with my favorite classic rock tunes blasting in the background just made for too much fun! I found it hard to talk to the vampire league in private though. I wanted to thank them for their services in that endeavor, and I made it happen one by one. They thanked me too, and I knew we would be close with each other on a permanent basis! It finally felt as though I was where I was meant to be!

            I wrote this book partly to pay tribute for my crew’s valiant work in stopping a great evil, but I also learned a lesson. My feelings mattered, and I would never put myself in conundrum like my marriage to Lilith again! I deserved to be surrounded by people who valued me no matter what! This whole thing also taught me that constantly trying to be fine all the time was toxic! I defeated Damon because I acknowledged how awful I felt, and that prompted me to do something about it! That action made everything better in the end! But honestly, the main reason I wrote this account was… well… I dealt with f’ing vampires! It was a weird experience, and I can hardly ever talk about it out loud. It was too strange to keep it to myself, so I had to tell my story in this way!

            I’ll end with this epilogue: Recently, Phoebe spent the night at my place, and when I got up to go use the toilet, I could hear that she wasn’t lying about the snoring! I thought it was cute! Just as I was counting my blessings, I happened to glance out the window located right outside the master bathroom. I realized I hadn’t closed the curtains for our time together… oops! As I shut the drapes, I got filled with dread when I saw a group of bats flying into that abandoned house! I reassured myself that I had defeated Damon without a doubt, I had witnesses who could verify that too, so those creatures hadn’t come there for the same reason! It was just a coincidence… right?

The End

The Terra-Belle Vampire, Chapter 30

I voiced my thoughts out loud, “How did this get here?” That spoon I found buried in the dirt when I first moved in had somehow found its way back into the ground! As I studied it, I was fairly certain that it was the same spoon, but I supposed that it could have been a twin from the same set. Jett followed me outside, so I queried her, “Are you stealing from someone’s kitchen?” I recalled the excessive amount of dirt on her fur earlier, so I figured that she must have done it. It seemed like the sort of thing that the old man across the street might have in his home, but I couldn’t speculate on that too long. Jett was staring at me with large, worried eyes, and I piteously regarded her, “What’s wrong? Oh! Hey, you’re not in trouble! I just-.”

            Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed someone watching me from that abandoned house! When I glanced up, I saw Damon peering over some rubble! When he could see that he was no longer undetected, he ducked back inside. My outrage over the evening instantly returned! He had managed to elude punishment for his offenses, and it was only a matter of time before he attempted another stunt to hurt the students at the school! I highly doubted that his expulsion would stop his crusade, actually, it would probably make things harder for us! My colleagues and I could no longer glean clues from his behavior at our workplace, so catching him executing his sinister plots would only get more difficult for us! I groaned in frustration! I seriously did not want to go through another week of this hell, but I didn’t know what else to do to stop it from happening again! Nothing we did so far was effective in thwarting his desire to wreak havoc at Rosemary King, and it made no sense to keep doing the same actions over and over and expect a different result, but I couldn’t come up with any other step we could take that would vary from what we already tried! We carried out every measure possible… except for one…

            We never did complete our idea on going inside of the abandoned house! A part of me knew it would be reckless to do such a venture, especially on my own, but I was so full of vinegar from all of the nettlesome events that took place that night that I didn’t want to wait any longer! I had to do something that night! If this drew out any lengthier, I would only succumb to the emotional torture that Damon’s diabolical nature perpetually inflicted on us, and I had enough of that! I still had my stake in my pocket, and every instinct inside myself prompted me to believe I had everything I needed to go forward! I didn’t bother to put the spoon in my home- I marched towards the abandoned house immediately! I didn’t care what it took, it had to end that evening!

            I had trekked up the driveway previously, so that didn’t daunt me too much. It did intimidate me a little when I got closer to the actual structure, but I kept Phoebe and all of the other elements that comprised my future in the forefront of my mind, and that propelled me to go closer and closer. When I neared a spot that appeared as though an entryway once stood, I took a deep breath and set foot inside of the ruins! I sort of expected to encounter a boobytrap after entering the premises, but when nothing precarious occurred, I continued to go in further. A flashlight wasn’t needed since I could espy a faint glow at the other side of the building. When I reached the location where Aleck’s drone malfunctioned, I pondered if I would freeze or experience any other kind of spell-work. When I saw that I could carry on with my mission without a fuss, I observed that the body of this abode became more and more house-like. I could see peeling wallpaper and picture frames that once contained fine portraits, and I was reminded that a family had dwelt here before. It used to be a regular house, and viewing this edifice as though it was just like any other property we visited fueled me to keep traveling through it until I reached the finish line!

            Although no one made any noise, I felt a cold chill that notified me of their presence! Plus, it was the most illuminated section of the house, so obviously Damon and his colony of vampires were in there! I’m not sure why they were trying to hide, it was so evident where they were! I hid next to an opening that I assumed originally held a door, and based on its proximity, it seemed like the area that they occupied used to be a garage. I had no inkling what I would find after crossing the threshold, but I hadn’t come this far to back out right then, so I had to go in there! I took another deep inhale and burst into the room!

            I didn’t behold anything unusual except for Damon cowering behind six teenagers! When he caught my judgmental expression, he strove to play it cool as he greeted me, “Oh hello, Mister Fenmore! I didn’t hear you come in! You know, it’s not really polite to go into someone’s home without knocking!”

            “Aren’t you squatting on someone else’s property?” I retorted. “Also, if you wanna talk about rude behavior, I’d like to highlight the fact that you tried to kill me earlier!”

            “I would leave you alone if you left me alone!” Damon argued. “You don’t have to keep intruding on me!”

            I disagreed, “Oh, I absolutely have to intrude on you! What am I supposed to do, let you feast on the entire student body at Rosemary King?” I paused and added, “You clearly can attack victims outside of the high school, so why are you so focused on getting the kids that go there?”

            He stepped towards me, but his lackeys all lingered by some door on the side of the structure. It surprised me a bit that they all didn’t ambush me at the same time since they outnumbered me seven to one! I mean, I wasn’t going to complain about an easier fight, but it struck me as odd that only Damon stepped up to the plate! I couldn’t linger on that long because Damon responded to me, “That’s personal!”

            “How?” I cried out. “You showed up last month, and no one there recognized you! If you had some history with the people who go there, I’m positive somebody would have mentioned it by now! Well, I guess Ms. Bronagh couldn’t be there to give any kind of…” I trailed off when I observed Damon twitch at the reference to Ms. Bronagh, and my eyebrows furrowed in bewilderment. “Seriously? What could an old lady like her have possibly done to offend you?” He looked too frightened to explain it, so I pressed him more, “What in the world went on between you two?”

            “Don’t’ answer that!” a gnarly, booming voice commanded Damon. It sounded as though it came from the door that the teens were all standing in front of, and while my logical side insisted that a man must have been lurking on the other side of it, I could have sworn that this entity came from some other realm! I couldn’t delve into that with them since that voice probed, “What are you waiting for? You can still attack him without hurting the key!”

            I puzzled, “What key?”

            Damon barked, “Don’t’ get smart with me! If you just hand it over, I may spare your life!”

            I rolled my eyes. “Ooh, a maybe! How tempting!” I couldn’t fathom why Damon and the spooky voice believed I had the key unless both truly bought into the fib I dealt out earlier claiming that I had it in my possession and hid it somewhere super secret! Damon stretched out his hand as if he really anticipated that I would give something to him, and as he did so, I spotted a couple of scratch marks near his wrist. I was about to comment on how an undead creature shouldn’t be able to get scars like that, but then I discerned that I had similar marks on my arm! I got mine from Jett playing too rough, but he couldn’t’ have obtained his from the same source… unless… Perhaps my cat had not stolen from an elderly person’s kitchen after all!

            Damon began to grow impatient and started to lunge towards me, so I pulled out the spoon from my pocket and held it in a manner that implied that I would break it. “Not so fast!” I warned him. “Tell me what happened with Ms. Bronagh or the key gets it!”

            “Alright, alright!” Damon reluctantly relented. “She-.”

            “Don’t’ give him any information!” the voice ordered. “You outnumber him, just get him!”

            The door flew open, and I hoped that a menacing silhouette would get revealed on the other side, but no! It was a giant, swirling purple vortex that floated in an empty space full of a foggy electricity! I gasped in horror, and the seven vampires used my distraction to try and retrieve the spoon. I yanked my hand out of the way prior to anyone obtaining it, but doing so made it get knocked out of my grasp! We all dove for it, but luckily, I was able to pounce on it first! They all piled on top of me and tried to loosen my grip, but my clutch over the spoon was too strong! I knew I couldn’t sustain this protection forever though, so I wracked my brain to find a method to get out of this…

            The voice questioned them, “Why are you all trying to snatch it? One of you bite him! Then you-!”

            While their attention laid elsewhere, I rolled out of their reach! They chased me, and I dodged all of their efforts to seize me! Once that entity witnessed enough of this, he cried out, “Oh, move aside! I’ll take care of him myself!” A ball of lightning flew out in my direction, and I hurried out of the line of fire just in time! The entity went for an encore, but I avoided all of his wrath in this instance too! We repeated this process for a multiple quantity of turns, and while my weariness from all of this exercise did not shock me, seeing that entity show signs of tiredness did! He had to pause and catch his breath, and for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out where his lungs were! With a slight wheeze to his voice, he directed the vampires, “Okay, you go again!”

            They pursued me around the room again until I crashed into that open door. I fell to the floor, and the monsters all avidly gathered on me! As some of their fangs hungrily elongated and others clawed towards my object of safekeeping, I could distinguish a car light through one of the cracks on the wall. Right as my foes’ teeth were about to sink into me, I uttered out a blatant lie, “Oh look! It’s sunrise!”

            As they all gazed at the light in terror, I squeezed out of their circle unscathed! The voice roared, “It’s not dawn! Finish the job!”

            I noted that the impact of my collision had reclosed the door, so as I darted out of the vampires’ reach again, I dashed to that door. The entity cried out, “No!” as I put the spoon’s handle into the keyhole, and once I latched it shut, a wind blew out and sent us flying across the room! Hitting the wall wasn’t very pleasant, but I felt certain that I had successfully disabled the creepy entity!

            At least, I had kept it at bay temporarily! Damon, whose speech had a much grittier timbre to it, hollered to his underlings, “We can open it again if we get the key back!”

            “I don’t think so!” I stood up and intended on bending the spoon to the point where it would snap, but it wouldn’t budge!

            “He can’t destroy it! You mean this whole time we could have just maimed him without worrying about the key’s safety?” Corvina exclaimed.

            The six teenagers had picked themselves up to heed Damon’s word, but Damon himself hadn’t gotten up yet! He laid on the ground in a heap, and my curiosity peaked. Undoubtedly, the results of me locking that door had unleashed some sort of unfavorable consequence for him, and I ached to unearth what secret he meant to hide from me! I couldn’t investigate it though since I had to flee from some monstrous kids again! I knew I could find a way to obliterate it if I could get it out of the house, but every bid I made for the exit got blocked! One teen grumped, “How can this old guy outrun us?”

            One boy advocated to Corvina, “You should flash him! That’ll slow him down!”

            To convey my disinterest in that image, I shot back,” Ugh! Gag me with a spoon!” I know I head my mother use that expression when I was a youngster, but I hadn’t heard it in ages, so I don’t know why that came out of my mouth! I wanted to use a snappy comeback on them, but instead, I gave them more evidence as to why they should continue to call me old! Regardless of the reason I said it, it did deliver a stroke of inspiration to me…

            I dramatically halted my footfall, and I unhinged my jaws as wide as I could. I cast out all of my feelings of disgust, and I swallowed the key whole! The children all gaped their jaws, and Damon concluded, “Well, now you have to kill him!”             Apparently, he peeked his head up to monitor his crew’s progress. Since my attackers were occupied, I wanted to take this opportunity to say something clever to that jerk, but when I saw his face, my eyes widened in pure astonishment…

The Terra-Belle Vampire, Chapter 29

“Is there a problem? There’s a lot of problems with this!” I exclaimed to the police officer. “But there’s not one you can solve unless you’re also a shrink!”

            “Have a good night, sir!” He grinned and waved.

            I muttered, “It’s too late for that!” He laughed and took off. I wished that he could have stayed longer because I was not prepared to face the reality of this appearance! After all of the violence and drama I already endured that day, I did not want to deal with this right then!

            Lilith meekly stepped onto the porch, and I could hardly look at her! It felt as though I was staring at a ghost! A part of me wondered if I actually was, like maybe Damon had successfully killed me after all! It didn’t feel real! A month ago, this reunion was all I ever pined for, but recently, I had finally acknowledged that she would never return, so her showing up at this moment was hard to accept! “Is this a good time to talk?” she timidly asked me.

            “Not really!” I answered honestly. This had been dreadful, but I felt somewhat comforted by the fact that it was finally over! She just took that away from me! I may have been stressed over our never-ending saga with Damon, but I had at least figured out what I wanted to do about my love life! Now that was ruined! It vexed me to no end that she resurfaced just as I decided to move on, and now my relationship dilemma that I thought I had closed up was threatening to open up again indefinitely! Why? Why now? Up until today, she wanted nothing to do with me! The only contact I got from her was when she sent the divorce papers, and when I finally got excited to sign them, she had to materialize and throw a wrench into everything! Or did she? A small beacon of hope shined through her visit, which prompted me to roughly regard her, “I’ll sign the documents tonight and bring it to a divorce lawyer on Monday!”

            “Actually, I wanted to discuss that with you!” she informed me as I pushed past her and tried to go inside the house. My spirits deflated as my expectations to rid myself of this grief instantly evaporated! I shuddered as I anticipated the continuation of this issue that I thought I finally put to rest, and my aggravation over this whole ordeal only heightened when she requested, “Can I come inside?”

            “Fine!” I unwillingly relented. I didn’t dare to believe that this would be a quick conversation, which only incensed me further! As soon as she closed the door behind her, I confronted her, “What do you want?”

            She seemed taken aback by my hostile attitude. “I thought you’d be happy to see me! Isn’t that what you wanted?” 

            I retorted, “I wanted it. WANTED. Words that end in ‘ed’ are past tense. I’m English teacher now, I would know!”

            “So, in the present tense, if I said I want you back, you wouldn’t take me?” she posed to me.

            “What are you talking about?” My brain wouldn’t soak in the words that came out of her mouth! Mom, Dad, the vampire league, everybody agreed that she never loved me in the first place, and it was tough to hear that in the beginning, but once I reviewed the evidence, their conclusion made much more sense to me than my theory of her biding her time to put our marriage back together again. Since she presently contradicted this logic, I had a difficult time comprehending it, a sentiment that only deepened as I recalled the manner in which she walked out on me! “You were adamant about leaving me for that Lucas guy before, now all of a sudden, you changed your mind?”

            Lilith explained, “It wasn’t so sudden! Things were great with Lucas at first, but I didn’t realize that he was spending all of his savings to win me over! He ran out of extra money, and all of my freedom vanished into thin air! We couldn’t afford to go anywhere or do anything! Our evenings together consisted of a bunch of TV and maybe fast food if we were lucky! He considered going grocery shopping our date night! He told me we would have to save up for a vacation, and that wouldn’t happen ‘til sometime next year! And by we, I mean me! I didn’t know I’d end up being the breadwinner! This wasn’t what I signed up for! He misled me!”

            I inquired, “So, you didn’t love him?”

            “Huh?” she replied quizzically.

            “If you really love someone, you find a way to make it work,” I imparted my dad’s wisdom to her. “If you’re truly in love, it doesn’t matter what circumstance you go through, you’re happy just to be together! Easy or hard, fun or boring, rich or poor… For richer or poorer, it’s in all the wedding vows!”

            Lilith mulled it over for a minute. “Hmm… I guess I didn’t love him! But that’s why I took the pittance in our savings account to come here! I missed you! I missed us! I missed our lifestyle! I was wrong to question how much time you spent at work! It provided well for us, and I didn’t fully appreciate that!”

            I would have loved to have heard that before, but it didn’t mean as much to me anymore! She sounded as though she craved the luxurious goods I provided more than the emotions I brought her! I may have been tempted to tear up those divorce papers if I heard her grieve for my absence, but not if she didn’t display any remorse for losing me as a person! I had to get to the bottom of this! “I don’t have that job anymore.”

            “I know, but you can go back to it though, right?” she queried.

            “I could… I think… But what if I don’t want to?” I challenged her.

            Lilith gazed at me in confusion. “What? Why wouldn’t you want to? You can’t afford to do anything fun with your income!”

            I disagreed, “That’s not true! I can afford to listen to good music and hang out with people who also enjoy it! I can afford to throw a barbecue for my neighbors, and I always have enough gas in my car to go anywhere I want! There’s a spot by the mountains that’s just beautiful…” If Damon hadn’t had a presence in that area, that neighborhood by the mountains would have made for a lovely excursion! Naturally, I didn’t mention that to her!

            “So, you’re happy earning a teacher’s salary?” She stared at me in doubt. “Teachers don’t make that much…”

            “Nope! Neither do substitute teachers! That’s what I am!” I reminded her. “I don’t make much money, does that change things for you? Is money all that’s important to you?”

            She shot back, “Of course not! Money isn’t the only thing that matters, but it does matter! A marriage can’t survive on love alone! If you can’t agree on how to spend it, your relationship won’t last! You’re a great guy, but you’re capable of doing more than what you are! Why would you choose to limit your potential?”

            I let her know, “Listen, I used to think I made a difference by selling medicine, but truthfully, I never even bothered to find out if any of it worked! Sure, I had a lot of fun earning a high commission, but there’s no greater thrill than seeing the impact you made on someone’s future! These kids look up to me, and even though this job involves a lot of tediousness, a few bratty children, and some…” I almost mentioned the vampire hunts! “… Some hard work, it makes me feel amazing inside to be able to make a true difference! And I thought my coworkers at Novak Neander were like a second family, but I met some teachers here who were there for me when I needed them the most! I don’t wanna leave them! I don’t wanna leave my students either! I wanna stay where I’m at!”

            “Is this a test?” Lilith wanted to know. “You’re mad ‘cause I slept with someone else, which I totally get! You have every reason to be pissed about that! But you don’t need to test me, I’ll love you no matter what! Now, is it too late to go back to the penthouse?” She espied the irate expression on my face, so she surmised, “Oh gosh, you were serious! You want us to live in this hovel on a meager salary?”

            “This house isn’t so bad! It needs a little work, but once it’s done, it’ll be a really nice place! Maybe the view isn’t so great, but…” I indicated to the abandoned house across the street. She grimaced, but I don’t think that had anything to do with the eyesore on the other side of the road! “Lilith, are you coming back to me or my money?”

            She rolled her eyes at that. “You sound like your mom on our wedding day! I can earn my own money, I just don’t like being the only one making the big bucks!”

            I pressed her, “So, you’ll love me no matter what?”

            Lilith clicked her tongue in annoyance. “Yes! I already said I would!”

            “Say it!” I prodded her.

            “Seriously? Again?” she complained.

            I directed her, “Tell me you love me even though I’m broke!”

            She dodged that, “Connor, don’t be ridiculous! You’ve known me for over twelve years, you should know how I feel!”

            “I need you to say it like you mean it!” I insisted.

            “Fine!” she begrudgingly complied. “I love you! I love you even though… you’re… not well off right now! Are we good now?”

            I told her, “Not yet. I need you to promise me that if Lucas ever came into a fortune that you won’t care, you’ll stick by me forever!”

            She hesitated before assuring me, “I doubt that’ll happen! It turns out people in the software industry don’t make a lot of money! Who know, right?” I shook my head in disappointment, and she exasperatedly sighed, “Okay, I promise! Jeez, I didn’t think you’d fight so hard to stay in Terrible!”

            “It’s Terra Belle!” I corrected her. Truthfully, I never envisioned myself staying in this town either, but it was starting to grow on me! Plus, I couldn’t leave until the whole vampiric crisis got settled. The reminder of that made me cringe; whatever resulted from this spat with Lilith, I still had that daunting task looming over my head!

            “Sorry! I didn’t know it was Terra-Belle to you now! Sheesh! So, now will you…” She heard some scratching at the front door, so she asked, “What’s that noise?”

            I let Jett inside, and I answered Lilith, “It’s my cat!”

            She gazed at my pet with a not-so-subtle disgust. “Ew! It came from outside! It’s probably super dirty!”

            “She’s not that dirty!” I defended her seconds before Jett shook some dirt off of herself.

            “Gross!” Lilith lifted her foot as if she were going to kick her!

            I scooped my kitty up and hollered at Lilith, “Don’t you dare hurt a helpless little animal!”

            Lilith refuted that notion, “I wasn’t gonna clobber it, for heaven’s sake! Are you implying that I should have let that thing gunk up my clothes? These are dry clean only!”

            That was the last straw for me! I never used to like animals, but I definitely would never have harmed them! Since I had such a strong relationship with Jett, it tore me apart to imagine her getting injured, especially over something so trite! I set Jett down in a spot away from Lilith and marched over to the table where I had the divorce papers. Lilith must have sensed what I was about to do because she enquired, “What are you doing?”

            “Building a rocket!” I responded sarcastically as I grabbed a pen.

            “No! I don’t want that anymore!” Lilith shrieked as I put pen to paper.

            I firmly stated. “I do!” With horror, she watched as I inked my signature on the first page. I didn’t see what she did while I signed the rest of it, but I didn’t care what she did to be frank! I was too inflamed by her callous behavior! That and the vampire thing, which wasn’t her fault, but she deserved all the wrath I gave her! Once I finished, I stared at it incredulously. I had been afraid to do this for so long, and now I regretted not doing it sooner! I was so relieved that I had found a way out of at least one mess! I hated these documents for a long time, but now they became like a small key to unlocking a bit of freedom!

            After a bout of silence, Lilith remarked, “You changed!”

            “Yes, I did! And you never will! So, we can’t be together anymore! Goodbye, Lilith!” I opened the front door and beckoned her to use it.

            “Fine! I’m going!” As she stomped her way out of my house, she observed something on the opposite side of the cul-de-sac. “I hope those bats give you a disease, you penniless asshole!”

            As she trudged over to her car, I observed that the half dozen bats that I tangled with at the school had made their way back to their derelict headquarters. I considered joking to my soon-to-be ex that I hoped that they bit her and turned her into a vampire, but I refrained from doing so. As much as I disliked Lilith right then for her cruelty to small creatures and her greed, I didn’t’ want her to meet that kind of fate! If I had been forced to drive a stake through her heart, I would have made our separation process super easy, but I decided to take the higher road… Sort of. I sardonically called out to her, “Oh no, come back! Come on, love me for my money! Come on, come on, listen to the money talk!” She stopped and stared at me particularly, and so I pouted, “It’s AC/DC! You never appreciated my music!” She shook her head and hurried into her vehicle.

            I supposed I should have felt devastated by the sight of her peeling off, a person I knew for over a decade, a person I used to love, but it actually felt great to have gotten closure on one conflict that I feared would be ceaseless! I didn’t dwell on that sensation though; I got rid of huge problem, but I had another big one almost literally staring me dead in the eyes! In the exact moment I was wishing I could resolve the ordeal with Damon that night also, I spotted something strange in the dirt…

The Terra-Belle Vampire, Chapter 28

“Oh man, I wish I wore more comfortable shoes for this!” Phoebe bemoaned as she winced while we sped over to the bleachers. “We all knew this was coming, so why oh why did I wear heels for this?”

            “My dress shoes don’t have much of a heel, but my feet are already aching from earlier!” Aleck shared her pain both literally and figuratively.

            Ellie and Fletcher didn’t voice their opinions, but the looks on their faces clearly indicated that they were just as sore as Phoebe and Aleck. Ginger walked backwards in front of them in very tall stilettos and commented, “I feel fine! I got used to it after a while, didn’t you?” The hurting four glared at her in response.

            I was used to doing a lot of walking in nice shoes from my days of working in sales, but I didn’t divulge this perspective with them. I couldn’t when we had more urgent matters at hand! “Guys, don’t forget we’re about to face some monsters here…”

            “Hold it!” Ellie commanded.

            “You’re not just saying that to give your feet a break, are you?” I probed.

            Ellie asserted, “No, that’s just a benefit of it! I was gonna say let’s not just barge in here! I really doubt Damon went all the way to the bleachers solely to feast on that girl! He could have done that outside the gym or even in one of the bathrooms! We need to be careful about what we’re walking into!”

            We all knew she was right, so we approached our destination a little more cautiously. When we got closer, we didn’t see any signs of vampires or bats or anything, so Fletcher suggested, “We should spread out to cover more ground.”

            “We shouldn’t go in there alone though!” Ginger objected. “We’ll just make ourselves easy targets!”

            “No, we won’t!” Phoebe disagreed. “Damon wouldn’t be satisfied by only getting one of us, he’s after all of us! He’s waiting for us to all come to a certain spot in here, so if only one of us hits their mark, he’ll wait for the rest of us to come to the rescue! Fletcher’s plan is foolproof! Well, except for the fact that some of us will have to do more running in these damn shoes…” The hurting four all groaned at that prospect, but despite any ill feelings, we all spread out and began our search.

            We used the flashlights on our phones to scan every inch and crevice of the bleachers, but so far, we didn’t see any sign of an evil plot threatening to get unleashed! I noticed another set of bleachers on the other side of the field, but I wasn’t about to mention that right then! I’m sure most of us didn’t want to do anymore traveling, and the last thing we needed in this instance was to get distracted! We already let our guards down at the dance, and we couldn’t let that happen again! Besides, I wanted to keep it quiet so we could detect the slightest sound of our foes’ activity! Once we had done quite a lot of investigating, I thought that if Roxy hadn’t been so genuinely upset about this occurrence, I would have sworn that she lied to us on behalf of that sociopath! After studying every inch of this area thoroughly, we had to conclude that neither Damon nor any of his crew were there. Aleck concluded, “Guys, I hate to say it, but I think we need to look on the other side.” I heard some moaning, but we all agreed to do it.

            We headed towards the exit when, all of a sudden, a set of bars slid down from the top of the structure and closed us all in! We tried to shift the barriers so they no longer obstructed our path out, but they wouldn’t budge! We heard a cacophony of laughter from above us, and then a group of bats flew from the top of the announcer’s box down to our enclosure! Their bat forms could squeeze through the bars, and when they morphed into their vampiric forms, we only saw our former students in the cage with us! They glanced around in confusion, not even paying attention to Damon popping out of the snack stand with a dagger to a girl’s throat! It stunned me when I recognized his victim, “Lisa?”

            Lisa didn’t say anything, but I couldn’t blame her! If I were in her place, I would stay quiet too! Of course, I wasn’t in such a great place either, or at least I thought so at first! Damon looked at us all in puzzlement, and then Corvina hollered, “You said that they would be easy to corner ‘cause they always stick together!”

            “Wow, my idea was better than I thought!” Fletcher remarked.

            “What do we do now?” one student asked.

            Aleck answered, “Pack up and go home!”

            They almost did as he requested, but then Damon barked, “No! No one is going anywhere!”

            ‘Damn!” Aleck lamented as the minions went back into a ready position.

            “Each of you pick a teacher and destroy them!” Damon ordered.

            One of his underlings inquired, “Who gets who though?”

            Corvina replied, “You get that skinny girl at the end, she looks easy to fight!”

            “Wanna bet?” Ginger retorted.

            “I can handle a tough one!” that particular vampire insisted. “Just ‘cause I’m the newest doesn’t mean I’m the weakest!”

            Corvina shrugged. “Fine, then take the skinny one at the end! And you take that big guy right here.”

            One of the males argued, “Who says you get to decide?”

            “Well, which one did you want?” Corvina shot back. “The old lady?”

            “Uh, you know our names!” Ellie pointed out. “Did your transformation wipe out your memories or just make you meaner?”

            Another male spoke up, “I’ll take the honor of taking down their little ringleader!” He indicated to me.

            Corvina refused, “No way! If anyone gets to bring him down, it’s gonna be me!”

            The six students all bickered with each other, and despite the peril we were all in, I couldn’t help but note that even though they had taken on a monstrous new nature, they were all still children at their cores! Damon put a halt to this feud by shrieking, “Enough!’ They all hushed at once, and then Damon addressed us, “Here’s the deal: you have nowhere to run and nowhere to hide! If you don’t submit quietly, we’ll take you by force! If anyone tries to go near me, the girl gets it! Any questions?”

            “So, who gets the ringleader?” one of the students queried.

            “I DON’T CARE!” Damon roared. “Pick someone now or I’ll slay you myself!”

            His lackeys immediately spread out amongst us, and Corvina ended up facing me after all. She circled me like a predatory bird preparing to nab its prey, and she seethed, “So, we meet again!” I didn’t reply, I was too preoccupied with the dreadful concept of having to fight and possibly kill a student! I didn’t know if she could ever switch back to her normal self again, but if I drove a stake through her heart, there wouldn’t have been any chance to revive her! I wasn’t intending to sacrifice my life for hers, but I didn’t see any way to get out of that predicament alive without killing her! As my mind raced to unearth some last-minute alternatives, she taunted me, “I’m starving! Think you could help me out?”

            I recalled her mother calling the school subsequent to Corvina’s disappearance, and I knew how devasted she had become from what she hoped was a temporary loss, so it pained me to picture how she would react to her daughter becoming a mere pile of dust! I really wished that I could have gotten that image out of my head, but it turned out to be more of a good thing since it gave me a snappy comeback to use against her quip, “Absolutely! I can give you a ride to your mother’s house, she’d love to have dinner with you!”

           
            “Don’t even joke about that!” Corvina hissed. ‘I can’t go back home! I’d only end up getting my relatives involved in this, and that’s the last thing I want!”

            “You can go back to visit without sucking their blood! They’d still welcome you back, it’s not like they would lock you out… unless… Hey, did that key you were hunting for unlock your folks’ place?” I guessed. She froze upon receiving that reminder, and, for a moment, I assumed that my hunch had merit because it seemed like I had hit a soft spot with the topic of her family, but when I mentioned the key, I could see that I had gotten Damon’s attention, so I started to doubt that theory. Damon’s expression had grown nettled, which could only have meant that I reached a sore subject with him! Realizing this led me to a possible way out of this conundrum without hurting any kids! I jeered, “Gee, it’s too bad that I have to die tonight! Now you’ll never get to find out where that key is!”

            Damon spat, “You’re lying! You have no clue on its appearance, you couldn’t possibly have figure it out!”

            I lied, “Oh, but I have! And I’ve hidden it in a location where you will never be able to detect it! The only way you’ll get your hands on it again is with my assistance!”

            “He’s bluffing!” Damon proclaimed to his underlings, who had ceased their efforts against my colleagues in wake of this dilemma I devised. “He’s only saying that drivel so he can trick us into sparing their lives! He was just asking Corvina if the key went to her house!”

            “Only to mock her!” I fibbed. “I knew that key could never open up her home, I only wanted to play with her heartstrings!”

            Corvina brought up, “What if he’s telling the truth? Then we may never be able to get back in-!”

            Damon cut her off, “Quiet! We don’t need to reveal all of our secrets right before we murder them! We-!”

            “You’re going to do what to them?” Manuel bellowed from behind him. Damon turned towards him in horror, and with this momentary distraction, Lisa swiftly did a martial arts maneuver to knock the dagger out of his hands, elbow him in the face, and escape his hold! She ran into her date’s arms crying, and Manuel demanded to know, “What is going on here?”

            “We’ve found the lost children!” Phoebe relayed to him. “They were forced to do Damon’s bidding! He wanted them to kill us!”

            Damon refuted that, “She’s lying!”

            Ginger redressed that mistruth, “Yeah, right! Like we got ourselves trapped on purpose!”

            Manuel let out an audible sigh and then sadly told Damon, “I’m sorry, young man! I have no choice but to have you expelled! And I should probably call the cops too.” He pulled out his cellphone and dialed for emergency services, “Yes, this is Principal Pallilo of Rosemary King High School. I have a homicidal student here who tried to take out several members of my staff as well as some of his peers.” Another teacher came out of the gymnasium, and Manuel quickly let him know, “We’re gonna be a while! Go take care of Homecoming!”

            During his brief dialogue with one of his faculty members, Damon and his followers turned into bats and flew away! I could hardly absorb this development! We nearly had this entire ordeal wrapped up, and instead, he managed to elude consequences again! I was incensed, this nightmare absolutely refused to leave us alone! Manuel swiveled back around, and his eyes grew wide when he beheld the man disappearances. “What the-?” he exclaimed. “Where did they all go?”

            “They all changed into bats and flew off!” Lisa reported. She and her date lost all of the color in their faces as they tried to soak in what they had witnessed.

            “Oh, you poor thing! It has been such a long night for you!” Manuel pat her sympathetically before quizzing us, “How did they really vanish?”

            We all played dumb, which addled Manuel completely. He returned to his phone call, and the police soon came to investigate. They were baffled by the methodology that Damon and his crew used to go on the lam without any detection, and Lisa plus her beau took our cue and zipped their lips about the true nature of our adversaries. I yearned to educate them as to why we didn’t disclose this knowledge with anyone, but we didn’t get a second to be ourselves with them. The campus got flooded with investigators who attempted to solve the mystery of what occurred there, but all they could do was attribute their vanishment with some type of aerial stunt and that any equipment involved in that feat had left with them. Firefighters had to use special tools to free us from our entrapment, and law enforcement insisted on following us home to make sure we didn’t get ambushed again. My irritation with this outcome only increased since I didn’t get the opportunity to speak to Phoebe regarding our near embrace! Yes, I felt glad that we had all survived, but I was more than ready to have this vampiric drama finished that day, so I couldn’t resist the stinging feeling this defeat offered me!

            The officer who had escorted me to my place watched me go up to my porch, and while I thanked him for his services, I was inwardly cursing this whole situation! I dreaded having to encounter that fiend once more, and I began to lose hope of ever getting any closure! Right before I set foot on my front stoop, a shadowy figure stepped out of my mud room! It flabbergasted me to see this individual, which prompted the police officer to interrogate me, “Is there a problem, sir?” I didn’t know what to tell him…

The Terra-Belle Vampire, Chapter 27

“Just let it go!” Ellie advised me as we taped neon-colored balloons to an archway by the entrance of the gymnasium.

            “I can’t!” I refused. “The theme of the dance is ‘Eighties Days,’ and the deejay has yet to play a single song from that decade!”

            She argued, “It’s what the kids listen to these days!”

            I countered with, “They’re not even here yet! Why can’t he play some music for the adults in the room?” I had been dreading this night for the last few days since I knew Damon had some kind of dastardly stunt planned for tonight, and the one aspect of the evening that consoled me was that the throwback concept promised to be wonderfully nostalgic, and now that was out the window! Between the music and the gaudy decorations, the children who devised the details of this event clearly didn’t get the essence of this amazing period of time! I didn’t understand why it didn’t bother Ellie; she was young in this era, how could it not drive her crazy? Ellie had evidently grown tired of discussing the issue because stopped engaging with me, so I glanced around the room for Phoebe- she was a fan of classic rock, so she would probably have shared my sentiments! “Phoebe isn’t here yet? I’m starting to get worried!”

            “Didn’t you get her text?” Aleck queried as he pasted construction paper onto a large box in order to create a multi-colored cube. “The guy finished putting on the replacement tire and she’s on her way now.”

            “Ugh! These damn things are impossible to do!” Fletcher loudly complained as he struggled to redo his bow tie.

            Ginger set down her streamers and rushed over to help him. “I told you that you shouldn’t have taken if off!”

            Fletcher differed with her, “I had to use a ladder to put up those f’ing stars! I wasn’t about to ruin my only tux for that!”

            “Whew! I made it before the students were invited in!” I heard Phoebe’s voice say.

            “Yeah, we still have a little while before we…” My sentence trailed off when I laid my eyes on her appearance for the occasion- she took my breath away! She wore a gown that perfectly highlighted her curves while simultaneously conveying an aura of elegance, and her makeup and hair got done in such a luxurious way, so I couldn’t help but stare! However, when I realized I was gawking like an idiot, I quickly shook myself out of my reverie and kidded with her, “Did you really have car trouble? If you gotta rob an A-lister of her red-carpet dress, you shouldn’t wait ‘til the last minute to do it!”

            She grinned and retorted, “Don’t tell me how to commit my crimes!” I can’t articulate how attractive I found her quip! I didn’t have a chance to say that to her though; right after those words came out of her mouth, Manuel walked by and gave her a peculiar gaze for that remark! She clarified for him, “It was a joke!”

            Manuel seemed relieved to hear that. “Oh good! Okay everyone, spread out! We’re opening the doors for our students!”

            All six of us spanned out to different parts of the section that got designated as the dance floor. I disliked the idea of not being able to speak with my colleagues, but we had to be present in all parts of the forum to make sure Damon had eyes on him at all times! I would have loved to chat with Phoebe and gauge her feelings about possibly starting up a relationship with me, but that would be impossible to do that night, which may not have been such a terrible thing- that definitely would have distracted me from our mission! I hadn’t seen Damon or any of his remaining cronies near the vicinity, so I didn’t think he had any boobytraps in store for us, but I knew he had something drastic in mind for us! I don’t think he would have agreed to put up with Roxy for a few hours if it didn’t work out to his advantage in some way! Whatever it was, I hoped that we could foil it early so that we might be able to enjoy the rest of the weekend!

            I stationed myself close to the entrance, so I ended up greeting the attendees with some other teacher I hadn’t acquainted myself with yet as they came in. Everyone ogled at the décor and was very complimentary of how fitting they were to the date it covered, and I had to bite my tongue to refrain from debating that with them! Right when I was guessing that this shift was going to be a very long one, I saw that shy boy with that Lisa girl! When he spotted me, he gratefully regarded me, “Thanks for the advice!” He headed to the dance floor in an elated mood, and it made me feel all warm inside to see the impact I had on him!

            “Hey, Mister Fenmore!” Colin hailed me. It sort of shocked me that someone who acted like a total punk would have any interest in going to something like this, and it astonished me more when I beheld how good he looked in a suit! My thoughts must have been apparent on my face because he addressed me, “Yeah, I never pictured myself like this either, but ever since you lectured me on thinking about the future, I decided to start straightening up more! You know, it’s been kind of fun! I’m glad you convinced me to do this!”

            “Happy to be of service!” I swelled with pride as I watched him escort his girlfriend over to the punch bowl! It felt nice to know that I played a part in Lisa and her beau getting together, but knowing that I had a truly profound influence on a child’s life was glorious on a whole other level! It felt better than even the highest sale I ever got, and at that moment, I understood what Ellie had meant when she described the reason she always got pulled back into teaching even after all the stress she endured from the misbehaved ones! I wondered if this had been a sign for what I ought to do with those divorce papers…

            This brief instance of gratification got unceremoniously interrupted when I heard Damon leer, “Hello, Mister Fenmore!” He sneered at me as if he was silently indicating that he intended to unleash some venom on me at some point during this venture, and I steeled my nerves up to guarantee that I showed him no fear! For a few seconds, we both simply glared at each other…

            Roxy, who was over the moon about being there and totally oblivious to the tension that rose up around her, waved at me enthusiastically. “Hi, Mister Fenmore! Ooh, I love this song! Come on, Damon!” She almost literally dragged Damon out to the dance floor, and it would have been quite humorous to watch if I didn’t have the mindset of thwarting his sinister plot as soon as possible!

            Whatever Damon had planned for his scheme, I assumed that he wouldn’t waste time in enacting it, but after over an hour, nothing significant happened yet! He did frequently break away from Roxy to talk to other people, but we didn’t catch any hints of a plan unfolding imminently. All he seemed to want to do is break away from Roxy, but she followed him around like a little puppy dog, so I’m not sure why he kept utilizing that failed tactic to lose her! If he had any other motive to do this other than shaking off Roxy, we would have caught it right away because we always made our way to him when he did this, so none of us really had too much suspicion about this behavior. Once the dance was half over without any major incidents occurring, I grew very puzzled. Clearly, he wasn’t enjoying himself, so why had he come here? He was up to something, I wouldn’t believe any evidence to the contrary!

            I began to lose patience with this whole ordeal… and this music! It still drove me bonkers that they had an eighties-themed homecoming without a single old-school hit got played! When I saw Aleck hovering over another one of Damon’s conversation breaks, so I figured I had a minute or two to reprieve myself from the monster vigilance. I took the opportunity to approach the deejay, and I griped, “Come on, dude! It’s Eighties Days, and you’re only playing modern tunes! Don’t you have any Journey, REO Speedwagon, Bon Jovie, something along those lines?”

            The deejay scrolled through his tablet and arrived at a conclusion, “You got it, my man!”

            It caught me off guard that I didn’t have to put up more of a fight, but I was pleased about the outcome and returned to my station. After the song that currently played came to a finish, the deejay announced, “Alright, ladies and gentlemen, we got a request for some classic tunes, so feast your ears on this hit from the legendary Journey!”

            “Journey? Who’s that? Some old dinosaur?” a kid loudly probed.

            “Listen, you little-!” I almost went off that child. In my head, I knew it wasn’t a good idea, but I had built up so much stress that it was ready to burst at the most trivial detail!

            Thankfully, Phoebe halted my heated effort! She grabbed my arm and strongly recommended, “Hey Connor, let’s dance!” I was still fuming, but I couldn’t say no to her, so I acquiesced.

            I hadn’t realized that the deejay had chosen a love ballad until Phoebe put her arms around me! Suddenly, I felt as awkward as I did at my first school dance! I nearly forgot how to do it, and when we did start to sway together, her close proximity made me incredibly nervous! A part of me nagged my senses to not let this distract me from our main goal, so I peered over her shoulders and espied Damon in a tremendous amount of emotional pain as Roxy forced him to slow dance with her! Poor Roxy seemed to be unaware to his ulterior motives and bore the biggest grin as she had a ball from this experience. I couldn’t fathom why she so zealously chased a man who so obviously had no interest in her, so I brought it up to Phoebe, “Why do nice girls go after such huge jerks? Why not pursue a nice boy who is much better suited for you?”

            Phoebe arched her neck to gaze in the direction I was staring, and after she beheld that sight, she commented, “You can’t help who you fall in love with! Sometimes, your heart chooses a jerk, and no matter how much logic you apply to the situation, it stays locked on Mister Wrong! I’ve been there before…” For a second, I thought she may have been referring to me! I worried that she had some romantic inclination towards me previously, but after she learned more about who I truly am, she changed her mind rapidly! She must have sensed what was running through my head because she followed that with, “Thank goodness I finally picked out a nice guy!”

            Her eyes sparkled as she looked into mine, and all of a sudden, the ambiguity of her amorous intentions vanished! She didn’t voice it out loud, but she gave me a pretty clear signal of how she felt! My pulse raced wildly! I couldn’t comprehend it! I had, at long last, found the answer I had been searching for! Our feelings were mutual, which dumbfounded me completely! She could do so much better than a cad like me, and yet, here she was in my arms totally voluntarily! I didn’t understand why she chose me, but I urged myself to quit questioning it! I got everything I ever dreamed of right then, and while it may not have made total sense, I couldn’t pass it up! I resolved to sign those divorce papers as soon as I returned home, but before that occurred, her lips become so inviting! I leaned in, and…

            “Mister Fenmore?” Roxy urgently tugged at my jacket.

            “WHAT?” I responded a little more forcefully than I ought to have. I knew my purpose in being at that homecoming was for the students, but it really incensed me to have gotten interrupted at such a crucial juncture! Seriously, she couldn’t wait one freaking minute? A bit milder than my last tone, I snapped, “What is it?”

            With tears forming rapidly, Roxy cried out, “Damon’s gone!”

            Phoebe and I instantly shifted our mood as we gave Roxy our full and utmost attention! Yes, I did consider the possibility that Damon achieved his minor goal of losing her, but somehow, I got the insight that this was about something more than mere teenage drama! Phoebe inquired, “Where did he go?”

            Sniffling a lot, she replied, “One minute, we were talking to some of his friends, and the next thing I knew, he snatched this bitch up and ran out the door with her! They were heading to the bleachers! How could he do this to me?”

            She started sobbing, but we couldn’t comfort her, not now! This was it! Whatever he had concocted for us to endure, it was happening at that very moment! I didn’t have a clue on how he managed to elude our watch, but we would have to figure that out later! We signaled to the others and dashed out the gymnasium!

The Terra-Belle Vampire, Chapter 26

As I walked up to my porch, I thought that even though I felt totally exhausted, I was at least done for the day. When I heard a voice coming from the abandoned house across the road, I instantly got a tension headache! “No! Not tonight! I can’t take much more of this!” I moaned. When I turned around and faced the other side of the street, I saw a shadowy figure frantically searching the front yard. With my entire body protesting, I marched towards the movement to investigate it. I consoled myself with the idea that perhaps I was about to embark on another venture that could end this whole nightmare once and for all, but as I grew closer, I could hear that the perpetrator had been female, not our arch nemesis! Despite that disappointment, I still had to uncover this person’s identity, after all, they couldn’t be at that house for any good reasons! I took my cellphone out of my pocket, and when I literally shined a light on the situation, I saw…

            “Where is that damn key?” Corvina muttered to herself as she searched through all of the leaves and debris on the grounds of that spooky old place. When she finally noticed my presence, she abashedly grinned, got up in a flash, and attempted to convey an air of nonchalance. “Oh hey, Mister Fenmore! Nice to see you still alive!”

            “That sounded sincere! And what a normal way to greet someone too!” I responded sarcastically. Before she could utter another word on the subject, I questioned her, “So, what do you need a key for? This dump barely has any walls, I’m pretty sure you need a key to get in there!”

            She gave me a cagey reply back, “Who said I needed a key to get in there?”          

            I shot back, “You did! Unless you need a key for something else… Did Damon actually come up with a backup plan in the likely event that his stupid scheme didn’t work?”

            “The key isn’t a big deal! It was just a piece to a game we played!” Corvina lied in a very obvious way, but despite my disbelief, she stuck with it. “Louis always flips the board when he’s about to lose, so I figured I’d go find it while he’s gone so we can keep playing when he gets back.”

            “Which one was Louis?” I asked her.

            She answered, “The guy who drools a lot. Why?”

            I informed her, “Well, let’s just say he’ll never be able to play a game with you ever again!”

            “Oh, how unfortunate,” she expressed without an ounce of sincerity. “Well, I better go put the game away then…”

            “Hey, wait!” I stopped her from scurrying inside- I had to discover what key she needed so badly! If Damon had another devious project up his sleeves, I wanted to unearth it right then and there! The sooner we solved this vampire problem, the sooner we could get back to our regular lives again! Of course, I still needed to identify what that looked like for me. That was kind of hard to think about what I wanted in my career and personal life when I constantly had to fight monsters! Yes, I wanted Phoebe, but did she want me back? How could I ascertain this knowledge? If she rejected me, what would my next step be? I couldn’t consider any of that at the moment because Damon was obviously up to something and would constantly interrupt whatever we chose to do if we didn’t put a stop to his evil regime right away, so if I wanted to achieve any sort of productivity, I had to shut down whatever operation he enacted involving that key! I had no clue what door that key would open, but I knew if I could possess it, I could inhibit whatever plot he hatched up! Even if I got a small glimpse of it, I believed I could get a hint about his intentions, so I pressed her, “What does the key look like? Maybe I can help you search for it…”

            She declined my offer, “No, that’s okay! Just forget about it!”

            Corvina tried to go inside again, so I shouted to her, “Won’t Damon get mad when he learns you haven’t found it?”

            She froze in her tracks, and I could tell I struck a nerve! However, despite the notion that her failure to locate it would incur Damon’s wrath, she brushed me off, “Nope!”

            Corvina zipped into the house, and I cursed my luck in not wrangling the truth out of her. I felt tempted to forage for it myself, but logically, I knew that action wouldn’t likely work out in my favor. That yard wasn’t the biggest in the neighborhood, but for someone hunting for a small object, it would seem pretty huge! The darkness wouldn’t make it any easier either! Furthermore, I didn’t want to get caught off guard in a vulnerable position as Damon and the surviving members of his crew came back here! My wrist was starting to heal, but I definitely didn’t want to risk it! So, I knew I had no choice but to go back to my home and try to get some sleep. I really doubted that I’d get any slumber with everything that I needed to mull over, but I had to try, right?

            As soon as I swiveled around, I saw that I wasn’t alone! I had no inkling that anyone was standing behind me until I faced in that direction, and it scared the heck out of me until I recognized who the individual was- my next-door neighbor! I always considered him fairly odd but not at all threatening, although it did rouse my suspicion that he snuck up on me like that! Before I could delve into why he had done it, he apologized, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you! I caught a glimpse of you talking to somebody over here, so I got a little worried! It’s not really something a person should do alone…”

            He had a point; Damon could have easily ambushed me by hiding in the trees above me, so I probably shouldn’t have confronted a mysterious character by myself! By all means, this guy, whatever his name was, didn’t know any of that. He simply saw a neighbor chatting with an entity that came from a supposedly haunted building and grew concerned for my safety. It was a very kind gesture, so I decided not to allow my weariness to cause me to act harshly towards him. Instead, I airily assured him, “Don’t worry, it wasn’t a ghost or anything! Some hobo was sleeping here and ran off.”

            “Wow, that’s a relief!” He sighed in alleviation. “Oh, I got some veggie burgers for your barbecue! When is that happening?”

            “Uh…” I had forgotten that I mentioned doing that when speaking to him previously. I didn’t truly intend to do that, but I now felt as though I was obligated to have one. Just like when I couldn’t give drake a definitive date to install a security system, I still hadn’t freed up my calendar enough to schedule anything! I reported this tidbit to him, “Things have been hectic lately, so I don’t know! But I’ll keep you updated!”

            He smiled genially at me. “I appreciate that… Uh, I don’t think I ever got your name!”

            I was so glad he said that! I felt less guilty about not learning his! “Connor. Connor Fenmore.”

            He stated, “Rowan Blackthorn. Well, my wife is waiting for me, so I better go! Have a good night!”

            After I bade him goodnight, I walked back to my place and contemplated how strange I deemed his marital status! I mean, I could see that he had children, but somehow his general vibe gave me the impression that he belonged to some type of hippie commune! It sort of astonished me that he had anything as ordinary as a spouse, and as I finally entered my home and curiously wondered what his other half looked like, my stomach started growling. I recalled that our mission at the estates went on well past dinnertime, so I advised myself to eat something before I turned in for the night. I heated up some soup in the microwave, and when I went to retrieve a spoon, I was not pleased to see that the only clean spoon was the one I spotted in the dirt shortly after moving into this address. I didn’t use that one if I could help it since it was buried in the soil and made me paranoid about its safe use, but I was in no mood to do any dishes, so I reluctantly decided to utilize it in this instance. I scrolled through my phone as I supped on my repast, and I observed some post from the school informing its followers about Homecoming. I grimaced- I totally forgot that I got forced to volunteer in chaperoning that event! So if I couldn’t unravel the mystery of Damon’s key and foil his conspiracy before then, I fretted that he would use our obligation to the dance to unleash his malevolent agenda unhindered! I sighed and resigned myself to the notion that all I could do was hope for a miracle!

            The next day, I felt so wiped out that I refused to have discussion on the course material! Instead, I had them all write an essay on the book based on topics I gathered from other educators on the internet. No one was thrilled by the assignment, but their disapproval didn’t phase me much! I was a little anxious that Ms. Bronagh might not be pleased that I rearranged her lesson plan a bit, but by the time she would see what I did, I knew I would have moved on to a new gig anyways, so oh well! I still had a while before this stint finished, but it did make me somewhat downcast to envision leaving this school! Obviously, if Phoebe ended up breaking my heart, leaving here may not have been such a terrible thing! I still really wanted to get to the bottom of my romantic dilemma, and it made me all that more determined to decipher Damon’s enigma! As I stared at him doing his schoolwork, he gave away no evidence of his intentions. I pondered if he would use his lunch period to do homework again or if he would use the opportunity to engage in his diabolical business, and figuring that my colleagues would be tired and cranky from yesterday also, I opted to skip eating with them and covertly tail Damon once more.

            From a distance, I beheld that he had gone to the same spot as before, and it appeared as though he meant to do some math during his break again. While I tiptoed to a closer vantage point to him, I got startled by a tap on the shoulder! Hoping that a student hadn’t just witnessed me acting like a chicken, I mentally prepared myself to play it cool and go over the novel even though, as I indicated to you earlier, I had no interest in doing so that day. To my surprise, it turned out to be Phoebe! In a low voice, she asked me, “You’re following him too, huh?”

            “Yeah,” I answered in confirmation. “You never know when he may give us a lead on that key!” I texted the vampire league prior to going to bed last night. I didn’t believe that an occurrence like that should go unreported… eventually! Admittedly, I had gotten so wrapped up in my own head that I nearly forgot to tell them!

            “Maybe he has to turn a set of keys for one of the jobs he got kicked out from,” Phoebe theorized.

            I vaguely acknowledged that statement, “Yeah, maybe!” My mind wasn’t on our vampiric situation. Oh sure, the one juncture that I should have focused on Damon and his demonic actions, I didn’t do it! But I couldn’t ignore the chance right in front of me! Our foe showed signs of spending this entire session studying, so it seemed reasonable to use this occasion to talk to Phoebe about her amorous inclinations! I took into account that she might turn me down during a period where I couldn’t leave the school or desist my role in saving innocent kids from monsters, but with the way things were going, I may not have had another lucky break like this, so I had to go for it! “So, what celebrity did you have a crush on growing up?” Trust me, I was going somewhere with this!

            She seemed to find the question pretty random, but she didn’t comment on the oddity of it. “I kept switching between different boyband members. Man, I had such awful taste back then! What about you?”

            “Marilyn Monroe,” I revealed. She gave me a peculiar look when she heard that, so I explained, “Yeah, I know she died before I was born, but my grandparents were big fans, and they had a bunch of her stuff all over their house. I loved her for her curves, her boldness, and the air of sweetness she gave off.” Phoebe’s face indicated a mild interest, but she wasn’t so certain what to do with that information. I was about to say to her that she reminded me of her, a subtle way of admitting I liked her, but then…

            “Roxy!” Damon espied her walking into the girls’ restroom, and it caught everyone, including Roxy, off guard when he called for her like that! He hurried over to her and somewhat breathily requested, “Will you go to Homecoming with me?”

            After letting out a piercing shriek that hurt all of our ears, Roxy accepted his invitation, “Yes, I will!”

            Damon got relieved to hear this, but he didn’t seem very happy about it! “Great! I’ll meet you there!” As she joyfully skipped over to her friends to relay the good news to them, Phoebe and I gazed at each other incredulously. While it gave us some reassurance that we had a few evenings free from vampire hunting, neither of us imagined that he had any honest motivation for attending that dance…