Chapter One, Again. The Grey House

“Hey, what’s your name?”

Natalia looked up to see three young boys checking her out. They were prepubescent, probably no older than ten. This neighborhood was supposed to be a rough one, but the boys looked nicely dressed. It wasn’t Sunday, therefore they weren’t headed to church, just looked nice. She nodded to the one who spoke to her.

“Hello. My name’s Natalie.” Close enough to it, anyway. “What’s yours?”

“Uh…” He seemed surprised that she answered. “Um… it’s Letto.”

“Short for stiletto?”

He nodded once. “Yeah.”

“Cool. How can I help you?”

“What are you doing here? People don’t usually stop here and draw.”

She had a sketch pad in front of her, and some drawing pencils, but only as a ruse. She was trying to draw, but art was not her strong suit. She was sitting in a neighborhood park, but Letto was right, no one came here to just sit. So far though, the only people who had bothered her were these boys, and the park offered her a rather good view of Lucas Stevenson’s home. It’s why she chose to sit here.

Natalia looked to the three boys and all three met her eyes. There was no hostility, just a bit of curiosity. She felt that was a good sign, but still didn’t want to give too much away.

“I’m trying to draw a house. I’m not very good at it, but a friend of mine really likes the house and I wanted to try it out.”

Letto looked at her oddly. “Why would you do that?”

“Because I like him.”

He frowned a bit. “That’s weird.”

“OK. Still going to do it.”

“What house you drawing anyway?”

“The one with the really nice lawn, and all the trees.”

He gave her an odd look. “Oh, no! You don’t want to do that! That’s bad voodoo. Lucas is crazy. You don’t want his bad voodoo infecting you too!”

She looked at the boys in surprise as they all three chipped in to the description of Lucas Stevenson.

“He never comes out. When he does, the air doesn’t smell right for a week!”

“Man never eats!”

“Man never sleeps!”

“He locks his trash cans.”

“I’ve heard, if you visit him, no one ever sees you again!”

“That man is whacked and anyone who knows him is also whack!”

This went on for a few minutes. Natalia listened, nodding the entire time. Slowly, she reached up to her necklace and started twirling the silver beads. One by one, the boys were caught in the sparkling beads. She started to speak.

“Thank you for that information boys. I have to be on my way, and so do you. You’re going to leave first, and you’re going to forget all about this conversation. If anyone asks what we talked about, you’ll say I seemed like a fool. Now go.”

The boys scattered. Natalia stood as she stopped twirling her necklace. She picked up the sketch pad and pencils and walked toward Lucas Stevenson’s house. Enough was enough, she needed to know who this man was.

A few months ago, she found her mother in bad shape. Marnia was dating a man named Donald who might or might not be a vampire. Natalia was trying to find out more information on whether or not vampires existed, and how to kill them if necessary. She felt Donald might be using her mother for blood, but wasn’t sure how to tell and how to help her

Lucas Stevenson had taken some books from a private church library that might have some information she needed. The librarian seemed to think he would return the books eventually, but Natalia didn’t want to wait. She was here to confront him, and maybe find an ally, or at least someone she might talk to. It was rare to find someone willing to talk about the odd things that occurred in the world, the things the news failed to mention, or always seemed to report incorrectly.

Putting on a brave face, Natalia walked to his house and knocked on his door. Then knocked again. She was about to knock a third time when the door finally cracked open. An eye peered out at her. Even through the small crack of the opened door, she encountered the stench. It smelled a little like rotting meat and incense. The eye narrowed.

“What do you want?” The voice was not pleasant.

“I’m looking for Lucas Stevenson. He took some books from the St. Benedict’s.” She tried to sound pleasant, but the stench was too much.

“What are you? Apprentice nun?” The door opened a little more and she saw part of a clean-shaven face.

“No, I just wanted-”

The door opened fully. “I recognize you. You’ve been reading my books.”

The man standing before her was impeccably dressed. He sported a clean white shirt, a black tie, black dress pants and black shoes. He was the same height as her but thinner. Natalia reached for her necklace. Nicely dressed or not, he made her uncomfortable.

“Well, that’s the point. They’re not your books. They belong to St. Benedicts.”

Lucas regarded her for a moment, frowned, then pulled her inside. He closed and locked the door behind them. The house was as spotless as the man. The stolen books were on a table by the door. She wondered if he had been about to return them. Other than the table, there was a couch and loveseat set, a recliner, and a television set half obscured by books.

“I know you.” His voice changed. Natalia went back to twirling the necklace, trying to control him.

“You said; from the church.” Her voice became melodious as she tried to clear her mind.

He shook his head. “Not just from the libraries. They told me about you. You’re the one walking the edge.”

She stopped twirling the necklace and her mind began to race. “Walking the what?”

“You came to the right place. I can show you what you need to know. Then you’ll make the right decision.” He indicated the couch. “Will you stay and talk?”

He sounded normal again, and the desire to talk to someone about what she suspected was too tempting. Natalia took a seat at the end of the couch closest to the door. Lucas left the room and came back carrying an old book. Its leather binding looked frayed, showing years of use. He sat in the recliner, turned toward her, opened the book and started reading.

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

Natalia started off sitting on the edge of the couch, waiting expectantly for an answer. As the hour passed, she slowly leaned back further and further, disappointment seeping into her very being. If the answers were in the book, she would have found them the first time she read the Bible.

At the end of an hour, Natalia sat up and cleared her throat loudly. “Look, Lucas. If this is all you want to discuss, I’m going to go. I’ve heard this all before. The answers are not there.”

Lucas looked up from the ancient Bible, anger buzzing in his eyes. “You will sit and listen to the Word. The answers are in here, you just have to listen for them.”

Natalia stood, a little nervous. It was a mistake to seek him out. She needed to leave. “I appreciate your hospitality, but I think I’ll…” she thought quickly, watching as he became angrier, “study the Bible on my own. Much better than someone reading it to you. More time to ponder the words and meaning. Bye.”

They reached the door at the same time. He placed a gentle hand on her shoulder. “If you will not listen, will you at least look?”

His mood swings were dizzying. “Look at what?”

“What you’ll become if you do not listen to the Word.”

Natalia didn’t answer but let him pull her along. If he had something trapped…. She had read about many different creatures in the past two months, but Donald was the only possible non-human she had ever encountered. She wanted to see something real, something concrete.

Lucas took her to the door at the end of the hall and stopped.

“This is the face of the devil.” He took out a key, unlocked then opened the door.

There was a silver cage in the center of the room. In the cage was a naked man. Lucas became angry again. “Show her your true form BEAST!”

The man simply sat huddled in a corner trying not to move. Lucas grabbed her arm and led her to within inches of the cage. “I know how to make you change.”

Lucas left, closing the door behind him. Natalia ran to the door, tried to open it. It was locked. Fear and uncertainty filled her. She should never have come here. “Fuck.”

“Hey. Name’s Charlie.” Natalia looked to the man in the cage. He still hadn’t moved. “You want to get out of here?”

“Yes.” Her tone of voice mirrored her near panicked state.

“You help me, I help you.”

Natalia took three deep breaths, wondering how much time they had as she fought back tears. “What do I do?”

“Get on top of the cage, grip those bars,” he pointed them out, “and pull real hard.”

Blood dotted his arms. Actually, Natalia realized, there were spots of blood all over him. Nodding she took a good look at the cage. The bars were spiked with little shards of metal, probably silver. Natalia looked at the man in the cage. Did Lucas think Charlie was a werewolf?

A door slammed at the other end of the hall. Natalia looked at Charlie then vaulted onto the cage. Using a gymnastics trick, she lightly touched the bars with her hands, managing to barely scratch her palms. She landed on the top bars in a crouched position, grateful now for the spikes, which gripped her rubber-soled canvas sneakers. She stood, turned around, braced her feet on two bars shoulder width apart, and crouched down. Natalia grabbed the bars Charlie indicated and pulled up. Nothing happened. She could hear Lucas. He was almost to the door. No longer caring about the spikes she repositioned her feet, leaned forward, grabbed the bars and pulled hard.

Lucas opened the room door just as the bars pulled up. Because Natalia’s bloodied hands could no longer grip the bars, she fell back against the top of the cage screaming as the spikes bit into her back, butt and legs. She heard a masculine scream and tried to get up. There were strange growling noises and snarls coming from the door. Natalia wanted to know what was happening, but couldn’t get up without hurting herself more. After hearing more snarling, she finally braced herself, pivoting to sit across the bars rather than straddling them, feeling her jeans and skin rip.

Finally, in a better position, Natalia sat up, ramming a bloodied hand into her mouth to stop the shriek. A deformed bipedal creature with boils and mangy, ragged fur had its snout buried in Lucas’s torso. Its claws, about the length of her lower arm, were pierced deep into Lucas’ chest and thigh. Natalia’s other hand went to her mouth and she gave a strangled cry. The thing looked up at the noise. It stood up and changed as it approached, its matted hair receding quickly into its skin. It was Charlie by the time it reached her. He reached his hands toward her arms and pulled her hands out of her mouth. He sighed as he spoke.

“Welcome to Hell.”

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