True Slayers: The Right Track, Part Three

Work had been okay but it hadn’t really improved Jack’s mood. Mad at himself, he’d spent the day trying hard not to take it out on everyone and everything in sight. Bernie, who normally ignored everyone and slept through the day, had decided to become Jack’s ‘friend for the day’, opting to sleep by Jack’s station and even deigning to rub past his leg a few times.

That was also the highlight of Jack’s day. Putting together an ancient chandelier and managing to not have any parts left over – without ‘accidentally’ losing them in the parts box – was Jack’s biggest accomplishment. As he hiked the last block home, it occurred to him that normally, he’d be happy with a day spent making something beautiful out of a box of puzzle pieces, but somehow, it hadn’t worked today.

He glanced at his watch. He’d thought he’d left a little late but hadn’t paid attention. Now he realized he’d left a lot late. No one was outside as the gloom of night had already come. Jack took the stoop steps three at a time, went in and shoved his head in his parents apartment to holler at his sister Donna that he was home and getting ready. Donna nodded and told him she would tell their mother. Filial duty accomplished, Jack ran into his own apartment to get himself presentable.

Crystal and Nyota were having dinner with her parents. Tresmayne – there didn’t seem any reason to keep calling him Mr Wolff – would join them later. Thompkins was seated between Marty and Tim – Jack couldn’t help but grin at that and the consternation of his sister Lisa, two seats down.

Poppa said the blessing and Jack snagged the biscuits, a gift from the Abernathy’s. Mike began to argue. Donna smacked Jack’s head for hogging the biscuits. Tim was loading his plate while Marty was grilling Thompkins. Lisa was having it out with Jane over a hair dryer. Kevin was trying to get Tina to select a dish so he could pass it. Just another family meal at the Scarlotti’s.

Crystal and Nyota joined them just after the dishes were done and Tresmayne came in shortly thereafter. There was no particular reason – there had been enough useless talk the night before – it was just natural.

What wasn’t natural was Tim excusing himself to ‘go out’. The idiot still hadn’t told Momma about Gina, Jack realized. Marty and Mike decided to go to a friend’s house to play something called a role playing game – they were excited about it being their first tabletop game, whatever that was. Donna took Tina and Jane to the mall, unable to convince Lisa to tag along. Kevin went to work on the paint in what would be his and Tim’s apartment – assuming his lunatic eldest brother didn’t decide to disassemble it again.

As everyone settled into the living room, Thompkins was explaining something called D&D to Lisa which evidently had something to do with what Marty and Mike were up to. Jack wasn’t interested – he might not have had the best day but he did have enough on the ball to be more interested in Miss Abernathy than his younger brother’s geeky games.

Discussing Crystal’s stellar academic performance was much more interesting – especially as her eyes sparkled as she told the harrowing tale of passing Intro to Logic. But even in a house of weirdness, some comments will catch your attention.

“Oh sure, they have vampires and werewolves in the Monster Manual, too. It’s just that dragons and bugbears are more common…”

“Oh? I get it. Hang on.” Lisa’s voice told Thompkins.

Jack couldn’t help a sideways glance. Lisa was up and on her way into the kitchen. Why, Jack couldn’t and didn’t want to guess. He went back to looking at Crystal’s schedule for next semester.

Time passed – Jack was actually interested that Crystal was considering an art class that involved welding. That he could help with, unlike Logic or Algebra. He was telling her about the chandelier he’d re-assembled today when he heard Lisa return.

“Like this?”

Jack again glanced around – Lisa was handing Thompkins a cookbook.

Thompkins took it and looked like he’d just eaten a bug, “W-where did you get this?”

“It’s Momma’s.” Lisa replied nonchalantly as she seated herself. “I’ve never heard of a bugbear, but there’s a lot about vampires and stuff.”

That got Jack’s complete attention. Crystal caught it as well and looked past Jack to see the book.

To Jack’s eyes, it was Momma’s Kitty Keller’s Best Recipes Cookbook which had graced the kitchen shelves as long as Jack had been alive. What in the world was Lisa babbling about?

Momma got up slowly and came over to them, “Lisa, can you read this?” She asked, pointing at the cookbook.

That was past weird. Of course she could read it – she’d been cooking out of it since she was seven.

Lisa nodded, “Yes Momma – I can read it.”

“And what is it about?”

“The different kinds of Creatures of the Night, how to identify them and kill them. Oh, and there’s a really funny part about deep frying ghouls…” Lisa actually giggled.

“You can read the Compendium?” Crystal blurted.

Lisa shrugged, “Sure, why wouldn’t I be able to?”

“Normal people aren’t… ” Crystal stopped speaking.

“When did you learn to read it?” Momma asked.

Lisa shrugged, “When I was little. I noticed that if I thought about nothing in particular, the book didn’t look like a cookbook anymore. I figured James would see it the way I do, since he’s like Jack and you. Is that wrong?”

Momma knelt beside Lisa’s chair, “Not wrong, no. But how did you?”

Lisa looked away, the tension getting to her, “Jack was always the special one – the one who’d be like you. Poppa and you said so once, just once, when I was really little. I remember someone coming in out of the rain, all bloody, and you and Poppa taking care of him. He asked for sanctuary and you said that was what this place was. You were talking while the man got cleaned up, that was when I knew. ”

“You, you were a baby then.” Momma replied.

Lisa nodded, “I was really little. I couldn’t talk yet – really frustrating. When I got old enough to talk, if I said something too old for me, you’d look at me funny so I stopped doing that. If I couldn’t be special, I didn’t wanna be weird.” She sighed, “That was stupid, huh? I shouldn’t have – I just wanted James to know I wasn’t as stupid as you all think.”

“Lisa, no one…”

“Sure you do, Momma. I’m supposed to just not notice that a vampire killed Mr J? That Jack finally does what you said you used to do? That a werewolf moved in?”

She turned to Thompkins, “Or that I fell in love with a faoladh. It’s in another book. You probably think I’m stupid, too.”

She got up, “Maybe I am…”

“Like ____ you are.” Jack stood, not even apologizing for the profanity. “You do know that until now, I thought that WAS a cookbook. Heck, it still looks like one to me. You’re an annoying, sneaky little twit and I’m gonna wring your neck for scaring the daylights out of everyone – but stupid you are NOT.” Jack’s eyes narrowed as he got into his younger sister’s face, “Okay, out with it – how did you make sure?”

Through the Looking Glass, Part Seven

Jack considered his brother’s words on the way to work the next morning. Although Jack was loathe to chalk anything up to coincidence, the fact remained that it was highly unlikely to amount to anything. But he’d show the sketch to Crystal if and when Kevin completed it. Who knew, maybe Kevin had seen the vampire at some point without knowing it? Probably not, Jack admitted to himself. His own life was now steeped in weirdness; that didn’t mean everything was suddenly related to supernatural creatures. He would have to take care to make sure he didn’t start seeing monsters in every alley – a guy could go crazy like that.

The next few days were surreal in their normalcy. Jack spent his evenings after dinner either with family or with Crystal and her family studying the books Crystal had lent him. Other than learning a frightening amount of factual information about things he’d believed to be mere folklore a week before, life was routine. It was oddly both comforting and disquieting at the same time. Comforting in that life could be normal still; disquieting in that Jack was keenly aware the threat to his loved ones had not passed and he was getting no closer to making it pass.

As promised, Mr Wolff contacted Jack’s parents about the attic apartment. Jack didn’t know the particulars of how Mr. Wolff convinced them to rent it to him, but two days later Jack and his brothers helped the gentleman move in. That at least made Jack a little happier about the situation. He now had in house back up at the very least. Of course, he also had a werewolf living in his building. It seemed odd that werewolves could so easily work with slayers – and more so that it was so easy to accept.

The only other major event would come Saturday – which was much too long to wait in Jack’s estimation.

Four days had passed when Kevin presented Jack with the promised sketch. Kevin seemed embarrassed by the whole thing now yet had gone ahead and done the sketch. Jack didn’t need to ask; the haunted look in his brother’s eyes told him the dreams were still coming.

That night Jack brought the sketch along when he went to the Abernathy’s for dinner. Crystal met him at the door and he deposited his jacket on the rack.

“I brought your ‘Compendium’ back.” Jack told her as he followed her into the kitchen.

“Thanks.” Crystal responded as he handed it over.

“Hi Mrs A. Smells great!” Jack spoke to the mistress of the house who was presently grating Parmesan.

“Why, thank you. Why don’t you two set the table? I’ll have this ready in just a few minutes.” Mrs Abernathy answered.

“Sure thing.” Jack replied. Jack had now been here enough times to know where things were and he lead the way to the dish cabinet. “Blue or green?’

“Green, I think.” Crystal’s mother answered.

Jack pulled out the green dinnerware and headed for the dining room. Crystal followed closely behind with the silverware. Once the task was complete, Jack reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out the sketch. “Would you look at this, please?”

Crystal gave him a curious look as she took the paper. She studied it for a moment, “It’s a really good drawing. Did you do it?”

Jack took his place at the table, “No, my brother Kevin. Do you recognize the guy?”

Crystal shook her head as she took her own seat, “No, should I?”

“No, I didn’t really expect you to. This is just between us – Kevin would kill me if it got out – but Kevin’s been having bad dreams about that guy.”

Crystal’s brow furled and she cocked her head as she took another, closer look, “I don’t think I understand. If it’s just a dream…”

“In his dream that guy is a vampire. He’s had that same dream a lot. I know it was a real long shot but I don’t like coincidence – he starts having nightmares about vampires just as I’m taking up hunting them – I don’t like it.”

“You though maybe it was that one I fought?”

Jack gave a curt nod, “Yeah, I considered the possibility. Kevin might possibly have seen it himself without knowing what it was and somehow that gave him the nightmares. I think I read something like that in one of the books.”

“Yes, that’s possible. Humans sometimes recognize creatures subconsciously. It’s rare but it can happen. But this isn’t the vampire I fought, I’m sure of it.” Crystal commented as she handed the sketch back to Jack.

“Yeah, I didn’t really expect it would be but I figured it was worth a try and besides, it gave Kevin a project to do. He needed the distraction.”

The elder Abernathy’s entered, ending the conversation. Mr. Abernathy was carrying a Dutch oven. Mrs Abernathy smiled as her husband sat the large pot down on the table, “I hope you like stew…”

Jack grinned, “Sure do…”