Chapter 32: Nora (III)
Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby
I woke up Sunday morning, and realized what Martha had been telling me. Martha had been telling me she could do magic. She had thrown a knife that had gotten through a sorceress’s protective spells, and she had used the sorceress’s power to help heal Officer Truax. No one knew about the first, and people had had too much on their minds to notice the second. But Martha Fokker was a sorceress herself.
After I finished congratulating myself on how brilliant I was, I then asked myself why she wanted me to know that. At that point my brilliant insight dried up completely. Way to go, Nora.
I looked at the clock and realized I had overslept. I put on a bathrobe and slippers and went down to the kitchen to see whether anything remained of breakfast.
My mother was there in her bathrobe, cleaning up dishes. She greeted me with, “Well, hello there, sleepyhead.” Her tone was that combination of good nature and criticism that mothers seem to learn when they have kids.
I nodded my hello, found two pieces of cold toast remaining, and raided the refrigerator for strawberry jam and milk. My mother refused to get skim milk, or to let me drink coffee or tea at home, so I settled for a small glass of milk with my toast. I finished my meal before she had cleaned up the morning’s dishes, and felt guilty about dumping mine in the sink. I promised to myself to do the dinner dishes all by myself that night, to make up for it. I started to run off to the shower, but my mother’s voice stopped me. “Where are you going in such a hurry, Nora? Come back in here, I want to talk to you a bit.”
I came back complaining, “If we’re all going to get into the shower before church, I need to go now.”
She pulled out a chair. “Your shower can wait.” Sat down. “Come sit down here a moment. Besides, your father’s not going this morning. He doesn’t feel well.”
I sat down facing her at the kitchen table. She dropped her voice. “I spoke with your father this morning about Ned. I don’t know what to think. He doesn’t know what to think. It kind of upset him to talk about it.” She reached over, pulled my hands over so they were clasped in hers in the middle of the table. “Nora, are you sure that’s really your brother? Are you sure he’s all right?”
“Mom, when you see him you’ll know it’s him. It’s Ned. He may be a vampire, but he’s still my brother. Geez, Mom, he’s still a cop, even. He’s going to all this trouble to get back on the force. Doesn’t that sound like Ned? Can you imagine anyone else being that stubborn about wanting to be a cop?”
That got my mother smiling. “No, that’s my Ned.” She looked off into space a bit, and then returned her gaze to me. “I’m sorry I got after you last night, Nora. But the state you were in! What was Ned thinking, asking you to get all dirty like that? And where were you?”
I was pretty sure my mother wasn’t up to hearing about how Martha had been banging me up in a library basement or that I had been sitting in a pool hall with black vampires, so I tiptoed around that one a bit. It helped that my mother had one other burning question in her mind: should she talk to the priest about Ned? She didn’t think she should hide something like this from Father Quinn, but she was afraid he’d order us to put a stake through Ned’s heart. She tried to laugh this worry off, but I could tell it bothered her. I was thankful that Father O’Donnell had retired few years ago. He would have hunted Ned down and put a stake through Ned’s heart himself, without hesitation. But what Father Quinn would say, I didn’t know. He was hard to figure. I managed to persuade my mother to let me talk to Father Quinn. As she said, “He likes you, Nora.”
We managed to get to church early enough that I was able to broach the subject of Ned with Father Quinn. After Father O’Donnell, it was hard to think of Father Quinn as a priest, he seemed so friendly. But he got a long, drawn face when I explained about Ned, and told me he’d talk to me after the service.
Father Quinn had a rule, that he would talk with the older parishioners first, because, as he said, “They’re closer to Heaven,” so it wasn’t until an hour later that he finally sat down with me in his office. He’d got his smile back, which along with his good looks and red hair had caused some of the older folks to say about him, “that it was just as well he became a priest, because otherwise he’d be quite a scamp.”
He opened the conversation by asking after my father, and then, after an uncomfortable pause, said, “I don’t know much about vampires, Nora. Oh, I’ve read Dracula, of course, and some of the things it says in there are very disturbing. If I remember . . . how does it go . . . vampires are the undead, who drain the blood of the living. As a sign of their damnation, they cannot abide the presence of holy things. And the best favor you can do for them is to slay them, which ends their bloody career and releases their souls from bondage.” He paused, and then added, “Although since they are supposed to have already lost their souls when they became vampires, that doesn’t make much theological sense. Now, if all of that is true, you can understand why I would have to oppose vampires, and counsel you against associating with one, even if it was your brother before it died.
“Now you know what I think about the matter, Nora. But all this is based on a story. So, tell me about your brother.”
So I told Father Quinn all about Ned. I explained how he had died, and come back to life, and that he still wanted to be a good man, that he still wanted to serve the city as a cop, that he had continued to behave just like a brother to me, and that crucifixes and churches would not be a problem for him. I did not say anything about the other vampires I had met, especially not Martha.
Father Quinn listened with interest. And then he began questioning me, and I felt the rug being pulled out from under my feet. I had to admit he had not touched a cross, nor appeared in church, and that he did drink blood, and that I couldn’t prove he hadn’t killed anyone. And I couldn’t say whether he could take part in the Mass.
Mentioning the Mass reminded me of a passage in Dracula, so I said, “Father Quinn, remember how the touch of the Holy Wafer burned Mina Harker after she had been bitten by Dracula?”
He scrunched up his face a bit, and then said, “You must have read the story more recently than I did, or else have a better memory. But let’s assume you’re right. This has some bearing on Ned’s case?”
I pulled down the neck of my blouse to show the bite marks. “I’ve been bitten, but I took the Wafer in my mouth today, from your own hands, and it didn’t hurt me.”
The moment I saw Father Quinn stare in horror at my neck, I knew I had blundered. In a stern voice, he asked, “Your brother did this?”
I shook my head. My heart sank. I was going to have to explain, and I wasn’t sure I could without sinking Ned’s chances altogether. “Another vampire did this.” Father Quinn’s eyebrows shot up. “Her name is Martha Fokker. She’s not like Ned, Father Quinn. She’s a cruel person.”
Father Quinn asked, “Do your parents know about this?”
“No.” I could see this discussion was taking a bad turn, and knew I had to put a stop to it. But this was Father Quinn! You don’t lecture a priest. At least I never had. But I was going to have to, this time. Be thankful, Nora, it wasn’t Father O’Donnell. “I can handle Martha, Father. She only bit me because I let her, to help a colleague of Ned’s. But don’t you see? Not all vampires are alike, any more than regular people. And I’m not damned because I was bitten by one, and they aren’t damned either just for being vampires.” All this tumbled out of my mouth. I caught my breath at the end, and realized I had lost any chance I had of convincing Father Quinn. I was being emotional, he would be the voice of reason and of the Church. So much for trying to lecture a priest.
Father Quinn shook his head. “I’m going to call your parents, Nora, and . . .”
“Father!” I exclaimed, standing up.
He stood up as well. “This worried me, that you would let one of these creatures suck your blood. You’re normally a good girl, Nora, I know that. But these vampires may have established some sort of diabolical influence over you. And you wouldn’t realize it, Nora. Now let me call your parents . . .”
It was hopeless. I turned and bolted out the door as fast as I could run. Father Quinn called after me, even tried to chase me, but I’d taken him by surprise. Even so, I was wearing heels, so it was surprising he didn’t catch me. Maybe he thought it was beneath his dignity to be seen chasing me, I don’t know.
I spent the next hour or so wandering around the neighborhood, trying to stay out of people’s sight. Stupid, I know, the very last place in the world to be if I didn’t want to be seen by people who knew me. But Father Quinn’s words bothered me. He was a priest, after all. Could I be under some sort of influence? Why had I let myself be bitten by Martha? And had I been trying to shield her, not just Ned? I didn’t think Martha was a good person, by no means. But she was trying to help Ned, now. It was confusing. It was especially confusing because I was pretty sure I could trust Martha to help my brother, even though she was the one who had killed him.
I really needed to talk with Ned. I’d even settle for talking with Martha. But it was daytime. Vampires were asleep. But Martha hadn’t been, yesterday. Another mystery. Maybe it was because she could do magic. Anyhow, I couldn’t face my parents yet, and yet I was going to have to.
So I trudged home, got to the front door, and came to a dead halt. I had to go in, but I knew, somehow, that I must not go in. There was something dangerous going on, something I couldn’t handle. And then the door started to open, and I could see a stranger standing there.
A horrible unreasoning fear seized me. I had to get away. I turned, tried to take the first step down and missed. And I toppled forward into nothingness.
End of chapter thirty-two