“Then I’ve told you about Sarah Rutledge.”
“Yes Ma’am. She was the realtor.”
“She was. I met her at Union Station. We were waiting for a late train, Poppa and I. I sat down beside her to wait. I’ve never told you what started the conversation, did I?”
I thought for a second, then admitted, “No Ma’am, you haven’t. I just figured it was small talk.”
“Oh no, we had recognized each other. “ She paused, “Put the plate in the rack, Dear.”
I obeyed. She didn’t hand me another but continued. “It gets easier as you get older. I knew she was the one as soon as I laid eyes on her. She knew me even before she spotted me – of course, she was ever so keen that way. But huntresses usually are.”
“Huntresses?” I echoed. Momma had totally lost me. Were they in a club? Had they been hunting buddies? That couldn’t be it – Momma literally wouldn’t kill a mouse. Poppa had been releasing them in the park for years. Bargain hunting, maybe?”
“Yes Dear. Surely that mentor of yours has explained types by now? Your Crystal, such a lovely girl, is only the second sword singer I’ve ever met.”
I dropped the dish towel I’d been fooling with. “Er, what?” I asked. My brain was doing something else. She hadn’t said it. I was desperately trying to convince myself that Momma hadn’t just said what I thought she’d said.
“Oh yes. Hunters are far more common, of course. I’ve known dozens. Sarah lived here for ten years, you know. Uncle Janus, he owned the place before he’d sold it to Sarah, was the other sword singer I knew. Anyway, he always said there was something about this place, this building. It was built in 1885, you know.”
I was staring at her.
“In 1885,” she continued, “Connor McCall had this building built. He had bought the property from Ezra Schultz. Ezra had inheritedit from his grandmother, Irene Schultz. Her grandfather, Jurgen Schultz, had bought it from Henri Picard who’s great great grandfather, Theodore Stevens, had traded for it with an Indian named He Who Slays with Silver – I can’t pronounce his proper name – anyway the papers just call him ‘Silver’. His family had protected the land for more generations than he could count. Each family, as it passed back into the normal world, passed the place on to the next family with the gift. Some, like Silver’s, went on for generations. Others, like Sarah’s, only one. But every single owner has been a slayer of one sort or another for as long as anyone can say. When the time comes it will be up to you to pass it to your… What’s wrong, Jackie Boy?”
I was shaking with fury and confusion. “You… you’re… That thing was in his apartment draining his life out of him and…”
“I never felt a thing.” She finished the sentence sadly. “I told you, we all get old eventually. I was just a slayer, Jackie Boy. I wasn’t a true slayer like you. A slayer usually has a short career – ten to fifteen years. I started young – I was ten when I killed my first creature. Just a little goblin, hardly much of a kill. I was alredy losing my powers by the time I met Sarah. But she had a feeling about me and convinced me to meet Uncle Janus. He’d sold this place to Sarah but when we met he agreed with her – they were both sure I’d pass on the gift. And I have, to you. I can’t sly any longer, Dear. I haven’t killed a creature since your second birthday – I nearly missed your party, it took me so long because my powers were so weak by then. By the time you were three I could no longer sense creatures at all.”
For me, the room was spinning. I couldn’t decide how I felt let alone how I should feel.
Momma kept right on. “I knew it was you when you were four. Donna was in diapers and a neighbor’s child was teasing her, making her cry. Poppa just did catch you in time – you had grabbed a stick and you were swinging it like a pro. That was when I knew.”
“You… knew…” I repeated the words, not really sure I understood them.
“That’s right. I thought it would be best to let you find out for yourself. After all, so many things are uncertain until you emerge. Maybe that was a mistake, especially since you’re a true slayer, but I really thought it was best. It just never occurred to me that you wouldn’t talk to me when the time came.”
I was trying to make sense in a world where nothing made any sense anymore. My brain kicked in before I could catch up. “If this place is some kind of magnet for slayers how the… devil…” Well, at least the part of my brain that knew better than curse in front of Momma still worked. “…why… how… How could a vampire just waltz in here and…”
“Kill poor Daniel?” Momma finished the thought again. “It was under command – it had to be.”
“You don’t know?”
I looked at her, trying to read her expression but the sympathetic half smile told me nothing. Was she joking? No, that wasn’t it. She really thought I should already understand. I forced myself to answer politely, “No, Momma.”
“Daniel was an atheist, Dear.”
Oh yeah, that explained everything – not. I curbed my sarcasm and plugged reason back in. “Momma, he went to church.” I protested.
“He took his children.” She corrected. “He kept going because he liked the people. But he’d seen his mother die of cancer – terrible thing for a boy, especially back in the Seventies when treatment was really still primitive. Well, you see, he never got over his anger at God. He refused to believe God could exist and let people die that way. Poppa tried to convince him so many times but Daniel just couldn’t, or rather wouldn’t, accept it. Daniel was a good man, and a fine person, but he was also an atheist. That, unfortunately, made him the only truly vulnerable person in the building. Really, what has that mentor been teaching you?”
I couldn’t take it anymore. I went to the table, sat down, put my face in my hands and cried. After a moment, I felt Momma’s head resting on my back as she hugged me.
“I’m Sorry, Jackie boy. Your father was right; I should have told you.”
“Everything… I couldn’t figure out… you knew the whole time… like an idiot… didn’t think you’d even believe me…” I wasn’t exactly coherent. The whole weight of everything just hit me all at once.
“No, Jackie Boy, I don’t know. I know you emerged the night Daniel died but all I have left is a sense of slayers. I know you’ve hunted in the neighborhood – oh, and of course that Tresmayne moved in. But you never told me anything – I don’t know what the matter is. I wasn’t worried since you had Crystal and Tresmayne – and that idiot mentor I saw you with. Maybe I should have been worried…”
She sighed, “You were always so grown up, so dependable – I just got used to you not needing me much. I just thought you’d come to me if you did need me.”
I got myself under control and straightened up. “Why would I, Momma? I had no idea you were a slayer – I can’t sense it even now.”
“You can’t? But…” she cocked her head as she ran her fingers through my hair, tousling it as she used to do when I was a kid. “You need a comb.” She said absently. “I don’t understand. I can sense you easily enough…” She paused, “Oh, of course, I’m a fool.”
She moved around to sit beside me. Looking me square in the eye, she said, “You can sense me, Dear. That’s the problem – you always have.”
I shook my head. “Momma, that isn’t so.”
“It is, Jackie Boy.” She nodded reassuringly. “Remember when you were seven and Kevin got lost in the park?”
I nodded, not even trying to guess where she was going with this. “Sure, I found the idiot under the slide.”
“And you brought him to the gazebo.”
“Yeah, I remember.” Which I did; what I didn’t see was the point to this.
“Why did you come to the gazebo?”
I shrugged, “That was where you said meet up.”
She shook her head emphatically, “No, Dear. I told you to meet me at the car. You hadn’t come back so I left Donna in charge and went to look for you both. I had just gotten to the gazebo when you came over the hill, dragging poor Kevin.”
I shook my head. “No, I knew you were there.”
“I know you did. You sensed me. You weren’t yet emerged so it just sort of happens without you being aware of it but you did sense me. You do it all the time, in fact. Name the last time you actually had to go looking in order to find me.”
I stifled the urge to sigh and roll my eyes. “Momma, you’re always in the kitchen.”
“Not always. You’ve done the same thing in the grocery and at the mall. You’ve just always had a sense of where I am. You’ve grown up always sensing me so you are inured to the sensation. To you I simply feel like Momma – not another slayer.”
It made sense and she was right – had always had a knack for finding her when I wanted to. (3/12/15) I couldn’t honestly recall ever having a hard time finding her. Poppa was the one I had to hunt for, not Momma. But I couldn’t put a feeling to it – utterly unlike Crystal, other slayers or creatures, there was no feeling – I just knew.
I wiped my face and tried to get my thoughts in order. That wasn’t so easy – questions flooded my mind faster than I could arrange them.
Momma drew up her seat to get closer. “I was so glad you didn’t emerge young. Oh, there were moments but you never showed any interest in creatures or visiting slayers. It’s hard, growing up knowing vampires are real and having to juggle slaying with school and activities. Oh, I don’t suppose it’s ever easy – I expect you’ve learned that by now – but so much weight is so very hard on little shoulders. I honestly don’t miss it much because I’d had to give up a normal childhood. I didn’t want that for you.”
She paused and sighed. “Poppa always thought we should tell you but I wouldn’t hear of it. I didn’t want you to lose your childhood. Maybe I was wrong.”
I pinched the bridge of my nose between my thumb and forefinger trying to stave off the headache I could already feel coming. “Forget it. It doesn’t matter.” I told her.
“It never occurred to me that you would sense me differently – I knew you could so I just assumed you’d figure it out when the time came.”
“Heh, lately I couldn’t solve a bubble gum wrapper riddle. I can’t figure – have… no, you said it was under command. Why? Why attack anyone here at all?”
“To lure out the resident slayer, that’s the usual reason.” Momma answered. “I saw the marks on poor Daniel – the funeral home did a good job but it’s very hard to hide bite marks. Fairly old vampire, middle-aged, I’d guess.”
I nodded, “Yeah, that’s what Crystal thought when she saw it.”
“It returned? When?”
“Maybe a week later.”
“So that’s why you thought it was after something in Daniel’s apartment.”
“Partially.” I proceeded to update my mother on the supernatural happenings of late. My life was taking a new turn for the surreal worse. Since emerging, I’d gotten sort of used to the idea of being a slayer and all the crazy weirdness that went along with it. But it was really surreal to be sitting at the kitchen table telling Momma about the various vampires and werewolves that had been swarming the place of late. I felt like I was dreaming and kept waiting to wake up.
But, despite a couple of surreptitious pinches waking up wasn’t gonna happen. I got finished with my account and a new question popped into my head. “Wait – why didn’t Crystal or any of the others ever sense you?”
“That mentor of yours…” Momma shook her head ruefully. “Concealment is a skill, not a power. I can still swing a sword decently, too. But I can’t sense creatures or move like a slayer. I once leapt from the top of the Belk Building to our building.”
“You mean the three story across the street?” I asked incredulously.
She nodded, “Now I can’t hop over the ottoman. Oh, I can’t say I don’t miss the fun parts like that, but I don’t mind, really. But back to what I was saying, you don’t lose skills with your powers. It’s best for retired slayers to stay in concealment. At least that’s what my mentor taught me. Your Crystal needs to work on that.”
“I don’t get it. If you’re concealed…”
Momma laughed, “You are my son. I can’t conceal myself from you. But no creature is going to recognize me. Most slayers won’t, either. “