Through the Looking Glass, Part Thirteen

The next day Jack was halfway through a particularly annoying task at work when someone tapped him on the shoulder. Cutting off the torch, Jack turned and pushed up his mask, "Yes, Marta?"

"You have a phone call," the secretary told him.

Jack nodded and ditched his equipment. Marta was already back at her desk when Jack walked in. With a couple taps on teh keypad, Marta connected the call and handed the phone to Jack.

"Hello?"

"Hello, Mr Scarlotti?" Ethan Collinsworth’s voice inquired.

"Yes."

"Sorry to bother you at work. I got Tresmayne’s message and I contacted a friend who’s willing to help. Is tonight a good time to send her by?"

"That’ll be fine. Anytime after five-thirty." Jack answered.

"Will do. Her name is Sofia Ryshova. Her English is passable enough – you may have to pull the Histories if things get technical."

"Okay." Jack answered. It really wasn’t. Although he’d heard of these Histories things, he had no idea how to pull them or why he’d need to. But Crystal was supposed to join his folks for supper so it should be fine. With Marta sitting right there Jack wasn’t inclined to say anything he’d likely have to explain later. "Anything else?"

"No, that was it. I understand you can’t talk. Again, my apologies for disturbing you at work."

"No, that’s okay – it was important. We’ll talk later."

"Understood." Ethan replied, "Good bye."

"Bye." Jack told the now dead line. Hanging up, he turned to Marta, "Say, you heard from Gina today?"

"No, I hear from Chester today!" Marta smiled broadly, "He say he feel good enough to call himself. He still in bed for a few more days, he say. Gina say yesterday that the doctor say a month but you know Chester, he not gonna stay in bed if he no have to."

Jack grinned, "He’d be here if Gina’d let him, I bet."

Marta smiled knowingly, "I think you right, Jack."

Jack tipped an imaginary hat to the lady and went back to his work station. Glancing at the mass of metal bars and sheets then at the diagram, Jack realized he’d done part of it backwards. With a sigh, he went back to work to fix his mistake. Now if he could just keep his mind on it…

Jack hurried home after work. Normally, he didn’t get home until five-forty or so but tonight he made it by five twenty, mostly by taking off a little early and getting lucky with one of his bus transfers. He spoke to the gaggle of teen-age girls using his front stoop as a hang out and went straight to his own apartment. He’d already called to warn his mother, however unnecessarily, of the extra company. A quick shower and a change of clothes and Jack was ready to face human company again.

He didn’t have long to wait. He had just walked out of his apartment whey Jane leaned in the outer door, "Hey, Jack, there’s a lady here to see you."

Jack nodded, "So, let her in, why doncha?" Jack teased his youngest sister.

Jane poked her tongue out quickly for her brother’s benefit then opened the door, "He’s here." she announced.

A portly blonde in her mid fifties at least walked through the doorway, "Mizter Jack?"

Jack wasn’t sure if she was trying to say master or mister, "Yes. Ms. Sofia?"

"Da, I am Sofia Rishova. We talk, yes?"

Jack nodded and politely showed her into his living room, "We’ll have dinner across the hall with my parents shortly. Did Ethan explain the problem?"

"Da, you tink you might have one of our beasties meddling with your family. I am to see can I sniff it out for you, yes?"

"Yes, exactly. I much appreciate your help."

She waved a hand airily, "Oh no, is good to help. Sometimes I need help with your beasties – it all work out. You family no know you are a slayer, right?"

Jack nodded emphatically, "That’s right."

Sofia smiled, "I no say anything in front of them, then. I not tell my family until my mother, God rest her soul, dead ten years. Yes, yes, I understand. Tell me now the whole story so I know what to look for, okay?"

"Certainly." Jack quickly outlined what had happened.

At the end, Sofia shook her head, "Not sound like one of ours. Your sister, where did she meet this man?"

"I honestly don’t know." Jack answered, "Does it matter?"

"Maybe yes, maybe no. The beasties I can think of are mostly fairykind that frequent water. But that no good if she meet him away from water. But let me see do I sense any beastie around her before we worry too much about that, okay?"

"Okay." Jack nodded. "If there’s nothing else, we’d best get going."

"Good, good…" Sofia nodded.

Jack opened the door and graciously extended his arm, "May I?"

Sofia smiled as she took the young man up on his offer, "You momma raise you right, Kid." She assured him.

Jack grinned, "I’m sure she’ll be pleased to hear it… I think we boys have given her some cause for doubt…"

Sofia laughed as they left the apartment, "Dat is what boys do. Both of mine…"

Through the Looking Glass, Part Twelve

Convincing Lisa to go clean her own room took longer than it should have. Jack grabbed the phone quickly, afraid Lisa might come back to vacuum the fire escape or something equally unnecessary.

Mr. Abernathy answered. They were already up and having breakfast. Small families get to sleep more, Jack decided as Mr. Abernathy went to get his daughter. Crystal didn’t sound all that awake when she came on the line. Jack explained quickly. Crystal promised to be over shortly. Jack was saying good bye as his front door opened again.

Jack put down the receiver as he turned to face his brother, “You do know how to knock, right, Tim?”

Tim grinned as he closed the door and took a seat, “Seems like Momma taught me that once. How’d you do it?”

Jack exhaled as he seated himself, “Darned if I know. She was just ready, I guess. I really expected it to be more of a fight.”

“I don’t get it. She was hellbent last night. Now she’s cleaning the refrigerator. Did you transplant her brain or something?”

Jack shrugged, “I dunno. I really don’t.”

Tim grew more serious, “What’s going on with you, Jack?”

“I imagine I know what you’re talking about and I won’t pretend different. But I’m not ready to talk about it – don’t know that I will be. It’s something I need to work out.” Jack told his brother frankly.

Tim nodded, “Fair enough, I guess.”

If Jack decided to confide his new found occupation with anyone, it would be Tim. Tim didn’t need Jack to say so and he didn’t need Jack to soft soap anything. The brothers had grown up together fulfilling a childhood pact to always be straight with one another. Neither was willing to give that up now.

“You can warm up the sofa some more or you can go get your Sunday clothes on. I’m getting a shower, one way or the other…” Jack declared as he pulled himself out of his seat.

The phone rang. Tim grinned as he, too, got up. “Crystal?”

Jack tossed a sofa pillow at his brother, “Smart alec…” Jack picked up the phone, “Um, hi…”

Tim laughed aloud as he walked out the door. Jack hadn’t said her name but there was only one person currently that he answered with that tone of voice. A second sofa pillow hit the door as it closed behind him.

Forty five minutes later, Crystal appeared on Jack’s doorstep in a lovely yellow chiffon dress carrying her Bible. Jack gave her his arm as he led her across the hall to his parents apartment where he announced that she would be joining them for church. He promptly lost custody to his sisters, Lisa included. He left them alone as they conducted whatever girl business they had. Some things are more frightening than vampires, he concluded as he joined his brothers in the hallway.

Two and a half hours later, they were all back, Crystal having been commandeered for lunch – much to Jack’s pleasure. There was no good way to rush matters and Jack trusted Crystal to let him know if she needed to talk to him urgently. No signal came so he decided to relax and enjoy the company. There would be plenty of time to worry later.

Crystal invited Jack to her home for supper, giving them both the much needed excuse to find a more private setting. Jack had enjoyed the afternoon immensely but there’s a time for play and a time for work. At six, he presented himself on the Abernathy doorstep and was once more welcomed inside.

Jack took a seat at the kitchen table. Mrs Abernathy was checking what smelled like roast in the oven. Crystal had her homework in front of her but closed the book as Jack sat down.

Crystal shook her head, “I’m sorry, I didn’t get a thing. Maybe Nyota will have better luck when she gets here in two weeks.”

“No, that’s okay. Mr. Wolff said it might not work. He was supposed to call Ethan in hopes that Ethan might be able to find a Day Slayer to help us out.”

Crystal giggled.

“Said it wrong?” Jack asked.

Crystal nodded, “It’s a Day Creature Slayer or a Day Creature True Slayer, depending. It’s not important, it just struck me funny, talking about slaying the day…”

Jack gave awry grin, “Yeah, okay, I can see that. In the meantime, I was wondering if I could borrow your book on Day Creatures again?”

“Sure, you want Dawn too?” Crystal hopped off her stool.

“Should I?”

“Oh, right – yeah, Dawn and Day have a lot of overlap. Mr Tresmayne is right that it’s probably a Day but there might be a Dawn that could do it, too.”

Jack nodded, “Then yeah, both please.”

Crystal smiled and left the room. Jack looked around at Mrs Abernathy, “Someday, we’re gonna have a completely normal, boring conversation at your table.” Jack commented dryly.

Mrs Abernathy smiled, “No, you won’t. We haven’t had one of those since she was five. Don’t even remember what they’re like. Now, make yourself useful and get the blue dishes, won’t you?”

Jack grinned, “Yes, Ma’am…”

Through the Looking Glass, Part Eleven

Getting though breakfast had been more of an ordeal than Jack had thought it would. There was no point talking to Lisa in the midst of that mayhem, but of course, Tina and Jane had tried. Momma finally managed to silence them and breakfast had finished with only a few tears.

Lisa started on the dishes as usual. She didn’t even turn around when Jack approached, “Your turn, huh?”

“I suppose so. Donna will get that. Come talk to me.” Jack answered.

Wordlessly, Lisa put down the dishcloth and dried her hands. Jack took that as a good sign as he led his little sister across the hall to his apartment. He got her a glass of orange juice without bothering to ask if she wanted it. She didn’t protest – at least that much of her behavior was normal. The only time Lisa turned down orange juice was when she was deathly ill. Otherwise, she drank little else.

Jack sat his own glass down on the table and took his seat.

“I know what you’re going to say.” Lisa spoke up before Jack had the chance. “I’m not going to change my mind.”

“Did I ask you to?” Jack replied quietly, “I just want to hear your side, is that too much to ask?”

“No… But you won’t understand…”

“Maybe not, but I can try, can’t I?” Jack spoke calmly and soothingly. “You have to know you’re scaring everyone.”

“Not you…” Lisa shook her head. Lisa had been convinced her entire life that her big brother feared nothing.

“Yes, me. Especially me. It’s a big brother’s job to take care of his kid sister. Haven’t I always tried?”

“Look I know I owe you…”

Jack forced himself to stay calm despite the biting words, “You don’t owe me anything, not now and not ever. This isn’t about you owing anything – it’s about me not understanding what you’re doing.”

Lisa bit her lip, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. I just…”

“It’s okay. You got defensive, I get it. Just tell me what happened, okay?”

Lisa drew a deep breath, “I fell in love. Why is that so hard for everyone to believe? I know I’m not pretty but he…”

“Whoa, wait a sec. You’re a beautiful girl, any guy with eyes could see that.” Jack corrected his sister.

Lisa shook her head sorrowfully, “You know I’m not. I never get asked anywhere, not like Donna…”

“You aren’t Donna. And you do get asked out – Milo Winters asked you to go to the movies with him just last week.”

“See? I knew you wouldn’t understand!” Lisa wiped a stray tear.

“I’m trying.” Jack replied carefully. Girls were always a mine field – having four sisters was a certain way to learn that basic fact. It helped with the navigation – but not nearly as much as Jack would have liked. “This guy makes you feel like you think Donna feels, right?”

“How, how did you know?” Lisa’s jaw dropped.

Bulls eye. Jack silently thanked God and more than a few long talks with the presently confused sister sitting next to him. He’d learned that from Lisa herself, although at the moment she didn’t realize it. Girls are about feelings – he had remembered her lesson and it paid off now. “I just knew.” No point getting side tracked, “Now, what I don’t get is why you like this guy so much but don’t trust him to like you?”

“What?”

“If he really likes you, he won’t mind taking the time to get to know you. And he won’t want you to rush into something if it makes things hard for you.” Jack explained. “Did he say why you need to move in right away?”

Lisa blushed, “It was my idea… I don’t know why, I just… I can’t change my mind now.”

“Why? Don’t you trust him?” Jack asked pointedly.

“Yes, of course… You’re getting me all confused.”

“Sorry, didn’t mean to. You trust him but not enough to ask him to give you some more time to sort out your feelings. Why is that?”

“You don’t understand. I don’t want…” Lisa stopped and put her hand over her mouth.

“Him to leave?” Jack finished the thought.

Lisa nodded.

“If a guy can’t handle a girl changing her mind, he can’t handle a relationship. That was why Mary Kilpatrick and I broke up.”

“That was different.” Lisa protested.

Jack shook his head emphatically, “No, it wasn’t. I rushed her. I tried to push her into something she wasn’t ready for and she dumped me. It took a long time for me to admit it to myself but it really was my fault. If I’d trusted her enough to let her take things at her own speed, I’d have had a prom date and maybe something more. Maybe not, but you know the worst thing she ever said to me?”

Lisa shook her head.

“She told me I didn’t trust her. She was right, of course, but it hurt to hear it. A guy likes to think he’s the hero – but if a girl thinks that little of you, you aren’t much of a hero. I guess that doesn’t make sense to a girl.”

Lisa exhaled slowly, “No, I guess I get it.”

Jack nodded, “Tell me the truth. Do you really want to live with this guy or are you just afraid that if you don’t, you’ll lose him?”

“A little of both, really.” Lisa admitted. “I want to be with him but I’m scared. I’m scared of losing him. I’m scared of losing myself. I’m scared of losing everyone…”

“I can’t speak for him but if he’s worth half the trouble you’re going through now, he won’t have a problem with you slowing things down a bit. You’re the smartest girl in the family and probably the smartest girl I know – getting mixed up happens to us all but you’re much too smart to lose yourself, I promise you. As for losing everyone, not a chance. You might scare the heck out of us and you may be a pain in the beehind, but you’re our sister, and we all love you, so you’re stuck with us.”

“You really think so?”

Jack nodded. There was no point asking which part she wanted confirmed – sometimes it’s best to just listen – especially with an upset girl. Besides, he could answer truthfully no matter which she meant, “Absolutely, I do.”

“And if I decide to move in with him anyway?” Lisa asked cryptically.

“I won’t like it but I won’t yell at you.” Jack replied. She was testing him, that was obvious. But what was she looking for?

“You won’t hate me?”

“I’d never hate you. Not ever. If he turns out to be what you think he is, fine. If not, I’m still your big brother and I’ll be there the instant you do need me, but I’m not your boss and I won’t tell you what to do.” Jack answered far more calmly than he felt. This was so much easier in high school when he could just beat the crap out of whatever bully messed with her.

Lisa sat silently for a long while. Jack knew the look and knew to keep his trap shut but it was hard.

“Okay… Just for a while, just to make Momma feel better…”

Jack didn’t even try to guess why Lisa felt the need to cover her intentions like that. It was enough that she was listening to reason at the moment. He just nodded while trying to look supportive.

After a minute, Lisa bit her lip, “How do I tell him?”

“You have his number?”

Lisa nodded.

“You tell him straight. We guys can deal with straight – it’s all the guessing that makes us nuts.” Jack winked at his sister. She didn’t respond. Jack mentally kicked himself – too soon.

But after a moment, Lisa gave him a small smile, “If you guys were just more like girls..” she teased.

“Life wouldn’t be nearly so much fun.” Jack grinned for real.

“Um, so can I use your phone? It’s more private here…”

Jack was a lot surprised she asked so soon, “Yeah, sure. I’ll go talk to Momma, okay?”

Lisa nodded timidly, “Okay…”

Jack rose from his seat as Lisa picked up his phone. He could see her hands trembling but said nothing. This was a tricky moment. He really wanted to stay to provide support – or to counter whatever the guy threw at her – but that would be a mistake and he knew it. He heard Lisa speak softly as he closed the door behind himself.

Jack trotted across to his parent’s apartment. He had a lot of work to do very fast. The mob that was his family could easily undo everything if they kept after Lisa now. Momma would understand but could he get the youngest ones on board?

It took a great deal of talking, some begging and a few threats but Jack managed to convince half his family to cooperate with Momma and Donna convincing the rest. The walk back across the hall was nerve wracking – would Lisa still be willing to stay home now that she’d talked to the guy?

Jack opened the door and glanced where Lisa had been. She wasn’t there. His heart leapt into his throat – had she decided to elope instead? “Lisa?” He managed to squeak her name.

“In here.” Lisa called from his bedroom.

“Um, you okay?”

“Sure, just making the bed.” Lisa replied as she emerged from the bedroom. She smiled brightly, “I’m cleaning the oven too…”

“Um, okay…” Jack entered the room. Lisa cleaned when she was happy so this was a good sign but so quickly? Should he ask? “So, is it okay?”

Lisa smiled brilliantly, “More than okay! You were so right! He said he likes girls who aren’t afraid to tell the truth! He likes me even better now! We’re going to dinner tonight!”

“Ah, good…” Jack lied. This battle he had won but the war was just starting.

Through the Looking Glass, Part Ten

It was after midnight when his brothers finally left. Jack closed the door behind them, glad he no longer had to attempt sneaking in after hours, especially not with all his brothers in tow. Tim would likely be hearing about this from Poppa tomorrow morning.

Jack went to the kitchen and downed the remainder of his juice. Cleaning up the few cups and glasses gave him a chance to turn matters over in his head. First Kevin now Lisa? Jack had almost convinced himself that Kevin’s dreams were mere coincidence. Almost. But Lisa doing something so incredibly uncharacteristic out of the clear blue? Absolutely not – there was something going on here.

Jack grabbed a pen and paper and scribbled a short note. Grabbing his keys, he shoved them in his pocket as he gingerly opened his front door and checked the hall. The coast was clear. Being the eldest boy Jack had done more than his fair share of sneaking around and as long as he was by himself or with Tim, he was fairly good at it. Silently, he headed up the stair.

Jack was reasonably certain he hadn’t woken anyone on his way to the attic. Old buildings aren’t noted for their quiet stairwells but Jack knew which steps protested loudest and which could keep a secret. The final stair had to be pulled down from the attic and Jack was very glad for the extra time and attention he and his father had paid to oiling all the hinges just a few days before. A few minutes later, Jack was tapping on Mr Wolff’s door.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Wolff wasn’t at home. Jack put the note on the door where he would be sure to see it then began the long, slow descent to his own apartment. No one would question Wolff being about the building so late – he’s already told everyone that he worked nights and was something of a night owl. But if Jack were caught there would be questions he did not want to answer. All that practice playing spy as a kid was being put to good use now.

Once safely in his own place, Jack left the door unlocked and curled up on his own couch for what little sleep he could manage. That proved to be precious little – Wolff let himself in at 4:30 am. The sudden presence of a werewolf woke Jack instantly even without alarming him. This was going to take some getting used to.

They exchanged meaningful glances. Wolff closed and locked the door before taking a seat.

"What is it?" Wolff asked placidly.

"I think someone has found a way to affect my family. A couple things… " Jack began the long explanation as impassively as he could manage.

Wolff sat silently through the whole thing. Once Jack finished, he spoke, "Your brother may well just have seen a vampire as you and Mistress Crystal surmised, but you’re quite correct that if your sister’s actions aren’t her own an active attack is taking place. That is … strange. I’ve sensed nothing since I’ve been here. I explored the rooftops and the places you children mentioned but found only the old traces of where creatures have passed. No recent trails at all."

"Then what…" Jack began.

Wolff held up a hand, "The matter with your sister is most perplexing. I trust your assessment of her actions – you surely know her better than I – but only a modern vampire is both active and effective in the daytime. I’ve certainly not sense anything that powerful in recent days. Tell me this, when did you last see your sister?"

"This afternoon at lunch – or rather yesterday afternoon." Jack replied.

"Did you speak with her?"

Jack nodded, "Yeah, she sat across from me. She passed me the potatoes and mentioned a test she has Tuesday. That was about it."

"And how did you feel about it then?"

Jack’s brow furled, "About what? She hadn’t told anyone…"

"I mean, how did it make you feel to talk with her?"

Jack shrugged, "Nothing special – it was just a normal lunch."

"I see." Wolff leaned forward, "She is home now?"

Jack nodded again.

"Yet I sense nothing – I have no sense of a creature besides myself at all. A vampire capable of attacking in daylight and concealing the attack from a young true slayer would be impressive indeed. But to conceal its attack from me as well? That is either an extremely powerful vampire or…"

"Something else entirely." Jack finished the thought.

Wolff looked impressed, "Indeed."

"What, though? A slayer, that huntmaster you’ve mentioned, some other creature?"

"I would guess the last one. Perhaps a Creature of the Day."

"The book said a True Slayer can sense creatures of other Periods so it’d still be powerful, right?" Jack asked.

"Yes, that’s true, but even fully emerged, you aren’t well practiced. I would not sense such a creature at all. But Mistress Crystal might…"

"I’ll call her first thing in the … okay. later this morning." Jack shook his head, "I shouldn’t plan on getting a lot of sleep for the next thirty years or so, should I?"

Wolff chuckled, "It helps if you have a night job. I know a doctor who only keeps evening office hours for just that reason."

Jack gave a wry grin, "Jack Scarlotti, Night Welder. yeah, not sure there’s much call for that." He grew serious again, "So, any idea what kind of creature we are dealing with?"

"Any number of elves or fairies can do hypnosis of a sort…" Wolff began.

Wolff left a couple hours later. There was no hope of any more sleep so Jack hopped in the shower to try to wake himself. The real work was about to start – how to approach Lisa?

Through the Looking Glass, Part Nine

Jack was feeling great as he turned the key in his apartment door lock. He wasn’t feeling quite as great to find all four of his brothers sitting in his living room.

"What the? If you idiots think for one minute…"

"Hold on, Jack." Tim interrupted, "It’s not what you think."

Jack sighed as he closed the door and deposited his keys. "Just once I’d like to know what it’s like to be an only child."

"Lonely." Mike offered.

Marty elbowed his younger brother, "He wasn’t serious."

Jack threw himself onto the vacant spot on his couch, "Oh, yes I was. So, what is so danged important?"

"Lisa is moving out."

Jack stared at Tim for a moment, "Say what? I thought she was going to live with the folks until she finished her Bachelor’s?"

"That was the plan until two this afternoon. She met some guy at school and she’s going to move in with him." Tim explained.

"You have got to be kidding me. Lisa?" Jack’s incredulity came from knowing his studious and serious minded sister. Lisa let nothing come between her and her studies. She had intended to be a doctor since grade school. She was not the sort to change her mind quickly. Heck, until now, Jack hadn’t even known she had a boyfriend. "When did she meet this guy?"

"Today, at two." Kevin answered.

"Oh now I know you guys are putting me on." Jack growled, not amused by the joke.

"We’re not, Jack. It’s true. Lisa packed up some of her stuff this evening and was gonna go stay with the guy but Momma convinced her to wait until tomorrow. Lisa intends to be out of the house by tomorrow night and not even Momma could talk her out of it. It’s crazy weird, Jack." Marty explained, "You gotta talk to her – she might listen to you."

"If I find out this is a put on…" Jack glared at his brothers.

"It’s not, Jack." Tim swore solemnly, "As God is my witness, it’s not."

Jack thought for a moment. "Okay, start to finish I want every single detail…"

Through the Looking Glass, Part Eight

Saturday came quietly for Crystal who slept in. Saturday came very noisily for Jack who woke early to the pounding on his front door from his youngest brother. A water pipe had burst in Mr. Wolff’s attic apartment and the troops were being marshaled.

Climbing the stair without having so much as a glass of orange juice yet, Jack wasn’t in his best humor. Arrival didn’t improve things. The toilet supply was the one that had given way – turning off the water was the first order of business. Evidently, ancient werewolves aren’t very knowledgeable about plumbing.

Four hours, two trips to the plumbing supply place and some tricky welding later, the new supply line was in and Jack finally got to have his breakfast. His mother’s cold bagels, a couple quickly scrambled eggs and some sausage did wonders to improve his mood.

Jack’s day was consumed with family and building DIY. Crystal’s day consisted of some helping around the house, cleaning her own room and spending the rest cramming like crazy for her first test in Intro to Logic on Monday. Only once did she peek outside and that to claim the morning paper for her father.

Jack did his own share of studying in the afternoon as he got in some more reading of the books Crystal had loaned him. It was nearly four when he slammed the book shut, his brain overloaded with facts about things he would previously sworn were fantasies. He felt like everything was over his head. He debated going back upstairs to see if Mr. Wolff could make it clearer but a glance at the clock nixed that idea. Jack grinned to himself – tonight was the night!

Crystal fared better with Intro to Logic, even if she wasn’t as confident as she’d have liked to have been. But at five the alarm rang and she promptly dumped the book back into its bag. She smiled and began to hum as she went through her closet.

Jack showered, shaved, and finished his grooming. He already knew which suit he would wear – his mother had picked it out for him in one of those ‘momma services’ that he would never admit to permitting. But for once, he didn’t mind – his mother’s fashion sense was superior to his, after all. She had laid out the suit and matching tie. His only decision was hat or no hat – and it took him twenty minutes to make up his mind.

Crystal got out of the shower and started her make up. Her mother tapped on her door, signifying that it was half past five. Crystal debated then grabbed the curling iron for a few touch ups. By five forty-five Crystal was slipping into the light green evening dress she’d chosen.

At five forty-five, Jack had finally decided for the last time which hat he would wear. Most guys didn’t wear hats anymore but his father almost always did whenever he was taking his wife out. Jack had his father’s flair and the kind of face that went well with a good hat. The fedora might be old but the classic look went well with the suit, in Jack’s estimation. He glanced at his watch and gathered his things, including his brother’s car keys. One final glance in the mirror and Jack was out the door.

Crystal made her final jewelry selections as her mother knocked again. Five til, Crystal knew. She would be ready on time but she would not be the one to open the door. That was her father’s job and Crystal knew better than to deny him the privilege.

Jack wasn’t surprised that Mr. Abernathy answered the door but somehow it made the butterflies worse than they were already. He followed the elder man into the study and promised solemnly to have the young lady home by ten. Jack kept a straight face but it did occur to him that any other guy from his generation would simply have honked the horn in front of the building. He doubted that hypothetical guy would have gotten to take Mr Abernathy’s daughter anywhere.

As if on cue, Crystal appeared in the study doorway. It was a good thing he was sitting, Jack thought, as she was breathtaking. Both men rose to their feet and Mr Abernathy gave his blessing to the young couple before seeing them to the door.

Once in the car, Jack turned north. His date was a newcomer and there were so many places to show her. But he would start with his favorites, a local theater that had once been a vaudeville theater and now had movie screens and a little Greek restaurant not far from the theater. Jack grinned at Crystal as he drove and was delighted to receive a big smile in return.

Jack wisely chose a drama that had good reviews. He could enjoy it okay and Crystal would probably like it. She smiled when he told her so that was promising. Why was he so danged nervous still?

Drinks, candy and popcorn along with some strange looks from the pimply teenager behind the counter. Jack resisted the urge to smack the brat. Stupid kid probably never had a real date in his life…

Crystal ignored the ogling from the usher. It was a beautiful theater, restored well from its heyday. Crystal could easily imagine a time when all the theater’s patrons would have been dressed for the evening, unlike the casual attire of the rest of the crowd tonight. She didn’t regret the choice – after all, there was dinner still to come.

The movie lived up to its reviews, much to Jack’s relief. he was really more interested in stealing glances at his lovely companion but he was careful to pay enough attention that he’d be able to talk about the movie. After all, there was probably going to be a test afterwards.

Jack gave Crystal his arm as they left the theater, much to the amusement of the the under seventeen crowd. Not that either noticed, both more interested in each other than the other patrons. Neither did they notice a few girls looking on wistfully, wishing their dates had similar class.

The maĆ®tre d’ recognized Jack, much to Crystal’s surprise and Jack’s pleasure. They were given an excellent table near the large picture window to the side of the building overlooking the East River. Crystal loved the view and Jack identified various sights for her. They ordered, Crystal being careful to stay away from the most expensive items despite Jack’s magnanimity. Then the waiter left and suddenly neither could think of a thing to say.

An awkward silence ensued. Both struggled to think of a topic, any topic. They had discussed the movie on the drive to the restaurant. Neither wanted to ‘talk shop’ since they’d been doing that for a week now. Books? TV? Sports?

Jack finally spoke, "Um, so, er, what’s your favorite book?"

"Er, right now "Death of a Doxy" by Rex Stout. I love old mysteries." Crystal sputtered, trying not to sound like a geek.

Silence resumed. They stared at one another. Suddenly, both burst out laughing.

"Kinda sad, huh?" Crystal gasped.

"Which? That neither of us could think of anything to talk about or that both of us like Nero Wolf?" Jack asked slyly.

"You’re a fan?!?! I thought I was the only kid my age that knew about Nero Wolf!"

"A&E did a TV series when I was a kid. My sister Donna got me hooked." Jack admitted. "I still comb through thrift stores looking for his books."

"Me too! I just found "Death of a Doxy" about a week before we moved up here. I read it on the trip."

"Haven’t read that one. Have you read the one where…"

At five minutes to ten, Jack stood on Crystal’s doorstep once more, this time holding her hands as they said good night. With a dozen or more prying eyes peeking at them from across the street, Jack gallantly kissed Crystal’s hand and watched her disappear behind her door. The peanut gallery would have to wait – if and when there was a first real kiss, it wasn’t going to be for public display.

With a sigh, Jack trotted down the stair, ignoring the quickly closing curtains in several windows of his home building…

Through the Looking Glass, Part Six

“I keep dreaming… You remember when we were kids and you and Tim managed to win those movie tickets?”

Jack nodded, “Sure, we went to the matinee and got to stay for the feature. So?”

“Do you remember what was playing that afternoon?”

“A couple of really silly horror films, don’t remember which ones.”

“Yeah, you thought they were funny – I had nightmares for a week. Dracula, Frankenstein, and the Wolfman were the three movies. They scared the crap out of me.”

“I never realized that…”

“I wasn’t about to tell anyone. Momma knew but that was it. Anyway, back then I kept dreaming those monsters were after me. I haven’t had dreams like that in years, not until Mr J died. It’s weird ’cause I haven’t watched any horror movies or anything but every night since his death I dream about a vampire coming after me.” Kevin sighed, “Well, actually, the first couple times I dreamed a vampire was after Mr J. I’d come in and it would look up at me. Then I started to dream that the same vampire was coming after me.”

“A vampire, huh?” Jack scratched his cheek. Kevin was the sensitive boy of the family – at least relative to the rest of the boys – and he had always been prone to vivid dreams but it was a strange coincidence that he happened to be dreaming of vampires now. Truth was, Jack wasn’t a believer in coincidence but he didn’t dare let on to his younger brother now.

“Yeah, but it’s more than that. You remember when Uncle Harry fell off the fire escape?”

Jack rubbed the back of his neck and exhaled. ‘Uncle Harry’ was one of his parents many hippie friends and not one of Jack’s favorites. Some people are funny stoned; Harry was perpetually stoned but never in the amusing way. The guy was just creepy and Jack had not been unhappy to see him go. “Yeah, I remember -you and Marty were tormenting him and he chased you out there but was too stoned to climb the ladder. Got his foot stuck when he fell and broke his leg. Fire department had to get him down.” Jack paused, half expecting his brother to now reveal that Uncle Harry was the vampire.

“I dreamed about that accident a couple nights before it happened. I didn’t realize when Marty and I were messing with him but when he fell I knew I’d seen it before and I remembered the dream. It was different from most dreams – felt different. The dreams I’m having now they feel like that kind.”

“That was a long time ago…”

“I know, but it wasn’t the only time I had dreams like that. It’s happened a few times and they all feel the same. I can’t really explain what it feels like, I just know it when it happens. These vampire dreams feel like that.”

“You think a…”

Kevin shook his head emphatically, “No, I’m not stupid. Vampires don’t exist but maybe it’s someone who just reminds me of a vampire – or will when I meet him. Or something – I don’t know. As weird as it sounds it’s driving me nuts. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop but I don’t even know that it will.”

“Tell me about the dream – exactly what happens?”

“I’m in the apartment alone and someone knocks on the door. I open it and no one’s there but when I turn around, it’s inside. It’s mad because I saw it with Mr J – which is weird too since that was a different dream – but anyway, it comes after me and I run for it. I always wake up as I pass your door.”

Jack thought quietly for a moment, trying to get his tired brain to make sense of this and not getting quite the result he thought he should.

Kevin exhaled, “Anyway, I just wanted to talk. Momma’s been busy with everything and I figured you… well, thanks for not laughing.”

Jack shook his head, “You dropping that pop fly because you were showing off for the girls is something to laugh at; this isn’t.”

Kevin managed a grin, “I got two of their numbers anyway.”

“Only because they thought you were funny.” Jack retorted, then grew serious. “I have a thought, for what it’s worth. You sketch good, think you can sketch the vampire from your dream? If you’re right maybe someone else will recognize him. Lot of new folks moving in down here in the last few years. Maybe it’s someone you already met?”

Kevin shrugged, “I can sketch him, sure. But I don’t want…”

Jack raised a hand, “Leave off the fangs and I’ll float it around to see if anyone remembers the face. No one has to know about the dreams. At the very least, you’ll be doing something and that’s better than doing nothing.”

Kevin nodded, “Yeah, it’s better than waiting. A lot better – thanks, Jack.”

“Sure, that’s what big brothers are for. Momma know where you are?”

Kevin nodded again, “Yeah, I made sure since I didn’t know when you’d get back.”

“Okay, you know where everything is, go ahead and use the couch so you don’t wake everyone going home.” Jack got up and stretched, “I gotta get some sleep now.”

Kevin stood, “Yeah, me too. I’ll probably feel like an idiot in the morning.”

Jack shrugged as he headed for his bedroom, “No reason to – it’s probably just someone you’ve seen and all the stress is doing weird crap in your dreams. It’s not the worst way to respond to stress – at least you’re not busting things like Mike does when he gets stressed out…”

Kevin laughed, “Night, Jack.”

“Night Kev…” Jack responded as he shut his door behind him.

Through the Looking Glass, Part Five

The meeting broke up just after half past ten with no one much happier than they had been at the start. The elder men left first. Jack lingered only a few minutes more. As much as he’d have liked to have spent time with Crystal duty, in the form of work tomorrow, called.

Jack crossed the street to his own home and was surprised to find his younger brother Kevin waiting for him in his living room.

"Kevin?" Jack looked expectantly at the form sitting on his couch.

"I need to talk to you." Kevin replied flatly.

Jack didn’t bother to ask if it was really important – Kevin wouldn’t be here if it weren’t. "Okay." Jack responded, closing the door and tossing his keys on the nearby shelf, "What is it?"

Kevin seemed suddenly interested in his own shoes as he looked down toward them, "You’re the only one that might not laugh."

Jack scratched his head as he took a seat on the recliner, "Kev, I’m tired. I’m willing to listen but I can’t drag it out of you."

"Didn’t mean it like that. You really are the only one." Kevin sighed then looked at his brother, "Ever since Mr J died, I’ve been having the weirdest dreams. They are getting worse and worse. And the crazy part is it feels like some kind of premonition."

Jack shook his head, "I’m not laughing. I don’t see anything funny. Heck, not even that weird…" Jack didn’t add that it wasn’t as weird as having dinner with a werewolf as Jack himself had done tonight. "So, tell me about them…"

Through the Looking Glass, Part Four

"So, any idea why I’m so blessed?" Jack asked.

Ethan exhaled slowly, "I had hoped meeting you might shed some light on that. Because guidance is my specialty, I have a few abilities other slayers don’t. I can sense slayers much the same way you sense creatures. Often I can identify or at least have a good guess at the specialty, but no such luck with you. I sense you easily enough, but I don’t have a good read on your specialty. While odd, it’s not unheard of so that fact is probably not significant."

"Does that mean no one could sense my specialty or just you can’t for whatever reason?"

"It’s not impossible someone else already sensed it but it’s not likely." Ethan replied.

"Any other possibilities?" Jack leaned forward.

"No good ones." Ethan admitted. "But the truth is, specialty isn’t a great possibility, either. It’s hard to imagine what specialty would be this important to someone."

Jack shook his head, "What about the end game? I’m operating under the assumption that killing Mr J was just to draw me out but honestly, how hard could it be to kill me if they are halfway organized? It’s more like they’re trying something else."

Wolff nodded, "Yes, it is. The werewolves you described from your workplace sound to be pseudomoderns which is strange as they seldom operate in the daylight unless commanded by one of the True Born."

Jack held up his hand, "Hold on, the what?"

"Any one of the twelve masters and mistresses." Crystal explained, "The term has to do with their command being a birthright and not really a power. Mr Ethan would have to explain all that but the main thing is when one of them commands a creature it will obey, no matter what. They are the only ones that ever have that much control."

"Okay, got it. The werewolves acted like one of the big wigs gave them an order but they aren’t supposedly involved, right?" Jack filed that last bit mentally as ‘not important now’ and waited for Wolff to continue.

Wolff nodded, "Precisely so, Young Man. Also, neither pseudomodern werewolves nor ghouls would be particularly strong during the day. Even an emerging slayer shouldn’t have much trouble dispatching them."

"So why bother sending them at all?" Jack finished the thought. "I have the feeling we don’t have enough information to work with, do we?"

Wolff and Ethan both shook their heads, "No, we don’t." Ethan admitted.

Jack nodded resolutely, "So the first order of business, after protecting my family, is figuring out how to get the information we need…"

Through the Looking Glass, Part Two

The next day Crystal called and arranged the meeting. She had accomplished her one other goal the night before: she now knew Jack’s landline number and that he was considering getting a cheap pre-pay but had not yet done so. It amused Crystal: Jack was so much more urbane than she was yet did not yet own a simple cell phone. If ever he did decide to tease her about being from the country she would have ammo for a retort.

Jack took off work early and got home in plenty of time to get cleaned up and to field more than a few questions from his ever curious, and flat out nosy, family. Having missed family dinner the night before there hadn’t yet been a good opportunity for everyone to question him about his odd behavior two nights earlier. Jack simply told them he had gone to the cemetery and talked it over with Crystal and everything was fine now. Technically true, Jack was at least not lying to his relations but it brought home what he’d already realized: keeping this slayer business secret was going to be a very big pain.

At half past six, Jack sat down once more at the Abernathy table. This time the family was joined by two men. The younger was a middle aged, distinguished blonde gentleman of obvious means, Ethan Collinsworth. The elder, by a small margin, was a tall, dark haired, wiry man with a distinct Eastern European accent, Heinrich T. Wolff. Jack pegged it as Croatian or Slavic, although he couldn’t be certain, rather than German as the name implied. Jack suspected Tresmayne was using an alias instead of his true name. Well, if Jack were a werewolf he’d probably use an alias, too, he thought.

Mrs. Abernathy, with evidently some help from Crystal, repeated her performance from the night before and perhaps even topped it. Chicken fried steak with copious amounts of white pepper gravy that fell apart at the slightest touch of the fork, perfectly done rutabagas with a light seasoning of butter and salt, fresh tomatoes with a dollop of creamy mayonnaise, and ham seasoned Italian cut green beans piled high on each plate. The dessert was a heavenly concoction called ‘banana pudding’ made with pudding, cookies, banana slices and topped with whipped cream.

The delicious food was accompanied by pleasant conversation. The two youngest at the table, Jack and Crystal, had the opportunity to listen to four accomplished adult conversationalists. The effect was mesmerizing. The elders seamlessly and effortlessly discussed topics as they came up with a kind of poise and polish that one might expect from a Jane Austin novel rather than modern New York.

Jack actually found himself regretting it when dinner ended. The two women refused assistance but had the table cleared in no time. Crystal resumed her seat as her father vacated his. The elder Abernathy’s excused themselves leaving the foursome to themselves.

Ethan leaned back in his chair, “Now, that’s the kind of meal that makes a man forget why he’s come.” he said, smiling at Crystal.

“Thank you, Mr Ethan. I’ll be sure to tell Mama.”

“Not at all. It was a wonderful meal. I wish half my meetings had such good food accompanying them.” He grew serious, “But we do have things to discuss.”

Mr. Wolff turned to Jack, “I’m sure you must have more questions by now.”

Jack nodded, “Yes sir, I do. I figure there must be about a million things I don’t know about being a slayer and that I need to learn. But honestly, that’s not my biggest concern now. As I told Crystal, I’m concerned about any danger there might be to my family. From what you told me in the cemetery and what Crystal has told me about herself, having one of these creatures attack family or friends at the get go is unusual; having them then gang up on the new guy is practically unheard of, am I right?”

Ethan nodded, “Absolutely. It’s normal enough for a creature or two to be attracted to an emerging slayer and try to kill them but this kind of tactical assault is more than a little out of the ordinary.”

Jack had to grin at the word ‘ordinary’ but was quickly serious again. “Crystal said you thought they were ‘commanded’? By whom or what?”

“Whom.” Ethan offered, “Unknown. I can eliminate a few possibilities. On the plus side it cannot be the Hunt Master. He’s in Europe and frankly, if he were calling the shots you’d already be dead. It’s not any of the known witches who have such capability – I can did some extensive digging and can account for all four of them. Two aren’t in the country, one is in the hospital with an extended illness and the final one is in California. I know of three others that have various means of controlling creatures and they, too, can all be eliminated for being much too far away at present.”

Jack exhaled, “That’s not good news. So you have no idea at all who could be coming after me like this?”

Ethan shook his head.

“I hope I’m wrong, but it seems unlikely that whoever it is is going to give up just because I am now ‘fully emerged’, assuming they even know it.”

Wolff spoke, “They know it, my boy. They know too much about slayers not to recognize something that obvious.”

“Could is be a slayer?” Jack asked.

Ethan and Wolff exchanged glances. Ethan answered, “Slayers can’t command as the Mistress and the Huntmaster do but I suppose one might find a way. That would explain a great deal…”

Jack sat back, “So, the big question is, will this person or persons unknown come at me straight on now or will they go after my family?”

Crystal looked at Jack in a kind of awe. He was so much better at this than she was and so calm about it. Crystal would have been freaking out if there were any possibility of creatures ganging up on her loved ones. The very thought sent chills down her spine.

Wolff answered, “We simply don’t know.”

“Pardon my rudeness, but that’s not good enough.” Jack replied flatly, wtih no hint of heat or anger.

“No, it isn’t.” Wolff agreed. “Ethan and I had already discussed that problem. You children are away during the day, yes?”

Both ‘children’ nodded.

“Ethan has responsibilities elsewhere so I will be the one. I understand your parents have an apartment to let?”

Jack nodded slowly, “Mr J’s is vacant now and there’s on we don’t usually rent up in the attic.”

“Ah, that sounds even better.” Wolff replied, “Another slayer is coming to assist and will take over from me when she arrives. In the meantime, I will speak with your parents about that attic apartment and, hopefully, stay there. I can be here during the day and you two will be here at night.”

Jack turned the plan over in his head, seeing immediately the weakness. “Whoever this is knows way too much about me. If they want my family, they can still attack while someone is away and vulnerable.”

“That’s true but not so likely. All the creatures that have attacked you thus far have been Creatures of the Night. Not all are nocturnal but all are strongest at night; they are unlikely to try anything in the day with my trail around. Your family won’t know what I am – but any creature or slayer in the area will have no doubt. Only a slayer would attack anything anywhere near me in the daytime or anything that might possibly attract my attention. Even if you are right and the person behind all this is a slayer, they haven’t shown any inclination to show themselves. I think it will be good enough until Nyota can get here.”

“Nyota’s coming?” Crystal asked.

“Aye, Mistress Crystal, she should be here in two weeks time.” Wolff responded.

“But why Nyota? All the way from Africa?”

Ethan smiled, “She’s been your mentor but you don’t know what her specialty is?”

Crystal blushed, “It’s defense, I think.”

Ethan shook his head, “It’s protection. That’s why I asked her to come.”

“Whoa, you guys are getting a little ahead of me. What are ‘Creatures of the Night’ and what is a ‘specialty’?” Jack asked.

“My apologies.” Ethan replied, “Let me explain…”