*The Watcher in the Darkness Series and all characters contained therein are the sole copyright of K.M. Spires. All rights reserved.*
The Watcher in the Darkness series contains adult situations, graphic violence, and lots and lots of bad language. Rated M for Mature, seriously.
I don’t really remember the rest of that day. I have flashes of memory, like high-definition photos, but they are separated by wide gaps of emptiness. Over the years, Michael has tried to fill in those blanks as best he can, but since he still has nightmares, I try not to bring it up.
Flash. I’m in Michael’s office and we’re not alone. I don’t recognize the two vampires that stand in the room with us, but they’re the thick, bodybuilder type. They’re as broad as trees, and loom a head taller than me. I shake hands with the somewhat larger of the men, something I’ve done maybe a handful of times in my entire life. His catcher’s mitt of a palm feels weird, like I’m a small child greeting an adult.
According to Michael, I shook hands with both of them as he made introductions. “Tobias, this is—” Oh, fuck puppets. I can never remember those guys’ names. I guess it doesn’t really matter. “Charlie. And this is Keith. Keith and Charlie came to us about a month ago, while you were still in lockup. They were turned without the permission of Governess Morgan, to be used in illegal gladiatorial matches. Their progenitor was convicted, and his assets were seized by the High Court. Keith and Charlie were found to be innocent of any wrongdoing, but they are effectively disavowed.”
“Nice to meet you, mate.” I have no idea why Charlie has an Australian accent in this story. Michael never led me to believe this was the case, but whatever.
“They had to learn to fight to survive, but these men are both champions. They lasted in those pits for decades. Considering what we’re up against, we need all the help we can get.”
Flash. The four of us are walking down a steep, circular staircase. Michael leads the way, while Keith and Charlie follow behind us. I look back at the vampires, who are as ominous as the echo of dripping water.
I had no idea this place existed, or how we got there, but the conversation that led up to this scene played out like this:
“I’ve found Justine’s den,” I admitted to Michael, with all of the enthusiasm of a confession. “If she’s not already there, we can use it to track her. It’s down in the sewers, though, so we’ll have to wait until nightfall to make our move, if we’re going to bring these two along.” I wasn’t excited to have Keith and Charlie with us, but I seemed to grudgingly accept it.
“That actually won’t be an issue,” Michael said. “There’s a secret entrance to the sewers through the cellars that only I know about. Well, up until now. During prohibition, the monastery was a front for organized crime. They used the tunnels to smuggle alcohol in and out of the city.”
I don’t know if the four of us made small talk on our way down to the cellars, or if we walked in bleak silence. I know at some point, I asked Michael, “Why did you let me back in?”
“Karen called a couple days after you left and explained your condition. I apologize for not recognizing it myself, but I have very limited experience with possession. I never imagined it was possible for someone like you to become possessed.”
Rather than be embarrassed that Michael had thrown my business out there like that, I said, “You talked to Karen? How did she sound? Is she alright?”
“She sounded well, in good health. Much better than the last time I saw her.”
“Did you ask her where she was? Did you tell her she needed to go home?”
“No. She hung up before I got the chance to do either.”
Flash. A heavy door, like the entrance to a bank vault, rolls to the side, and I can hear running water. Beyond the door, lances of sunlight from manhole covers and storm drains cut through the gloom of the sewer. I say, “Follow me.”
Michael never confirmed as much, but I imagine that he began to recite Psalm 91:5. That was his go-to in these situations. I’ve heard him say that prayer so many times that even though I have no conscious memory of it, I can still hear his voice in my head.
“You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.”
I know that we must have taken our time as we made our way through the tunnels, so Keith and Charlie could avoid the hazards of light and water.
“You will only look with your eyes and see the punishments of the wicked.”
I know that I must have had deep reservations as we made our way to Justine’s den. I didn’t want anyone else around when I finally confronted her. Why didn’t I say anything, or try to give the others the slip? Why did I lead them straight to her lair?
“Because you have made the lord your refuge, no evil shall befall you, no scourge come near your tent.”
What a crock of shit.
Flash. We are in an empty chamber. The walls are made of cinder blocks, the ground of concrete, but everything has been scorched black. The acrid smell of smoke is terrible, and I can hear myself insisting, “It was here! I swear to god, Michael, her feeding ground was right here.”
That’s where that memory ends, but Michael told me Keith was annoyed as he said, “Well, there’s nothing here now.” For some reason, I picture him as having a New York accent.
Charlie took a few investigatory sniffs. “No. There was definitely something here. It’s almost buried in the smoke, but I swear I can still smell blood.” He crouched down then began to scratch at the floor with the claw of his index finger.
Michael put his hand on my shoulder. “Tobias, are you sure this was the utility room where you found the bodies? You were disoriented at the time. Is it possible we got turned around, or…that they were never here at all?”
Michael spoke carefully to avoid offending me, but I seemed resigned. “Truth be told, I’m not sure about anything anymore. I might’ve hallucinated the whole thing, but if I did, why would someone go to all the trouble of covering it up like this?”
“Good point,” Michael said. “You know, these tunnels and sewers form a maze under the Sanctuary. One could argue that all of this counts as Justine’s final resting place.”
I nodded, having had the same thought. “Safe money says she’s down here somewhere.”
For some reason, Keith decided to chime in. “We should split up. There are all kinds of secret passages, trap doors, and shit around here.”
Michael frowned at him, suspicious. “Do you come down here often?”
“No,” Keith said with a shrug. “Monks are fucking mysterious, yo.”
“Check this out,” Charlie said, waving us over. “I don’t think you hallucinated anything, your highness.” Most of the vampires at the Sanctuary called me that, but this time I took it in stride. Charlie had gouged through the black soot, deeper, into the porous concrete that had been stained a rusty color.
“There was blood here,” Keith said, giving voice to what we all were thinking.
Charlie nodded. “A lot of blood, by the looks of it.”
“That confirms it, Tobias,” Michael said with dismal horror. “This was her feeding ground, but someone destroyed the evidence.” Judging by the walls, the fire had been hot enough to turn the rotting corpses to ash, so magic was almost certainly involved.
“You think the revenant did it?” Keith said. “Why? I mean, do those things bother to cover their tracks?”
“Maybe,” Michael said. “If she didn’t want anyone to upset her schemes before she saw them through to their conclusion.”
“What schemes?” Charlie said, and Michael detected a note of anger in his voice. I think the vampires had been under the impression that they would be fighting some sort of sentient ghoul, nothing more. “What sort of plans does a thing like that make?”
Michael said that I had a far away, deeply troubled look on my face. More than likely, I was remembering Gwen’s warnings. “Death,” I said. “Pain. Disease, and to spread as much of it as possible.”
Flash. A long strand of black silk drifts across my line of sight. At first, I take it to be a spider thread, but how could a spider have survived the inferno? Heat still radiated off the stones. I tilt my head back, examining the swirls of scorch marks on the walls and ceiling, unable to pinpoint exactly what is strange about them. That is, until one of the blackened cinder blocks turns to look at me with a pale face and glowing red eyes.
Justine clung to the ceiling as though gravity had no effect on her. Our eyes locked and I knew that she had been lying in wait for us. For me. I realized all of this too late to call out any sort of warning.
That’s where my memory of that day ends. I’m the lucky one. Michael remembers everything.
Justine unleashed a scream so deafening that the vampires clapped their hands over their ears. A second later, she launched herself into me, bearing me to the ground.
My struggle was short and feeble. I nearly vanished in the folds of her burial dress and the curtain of her hair, which came to life and began to writhe around us. Michael heard a crunch, then a pop, and then my arms fell limp.
Charlie shouted something to Keith, who shouted something in reply, but Michael can’t recall exactly what was said. He was so overwhelmed by the evil of Justine’s presence that it made him sick to his stomach.
Keith shakily leveled a gun at Justine’s hunched back as Charlie yelled, “Aim for her head!”
Justine looked up, blood streaming down her chin. Her face was twisted with hate as she spit at Charlie, then a circular chunk of bone clattered at his feet. A huge piece of my head was missing above my left ear, as though Justine had taken a bite out of an apple. Michael reeled at the sight of my exposed brain as Justine abandoned my body to leap at Charlie.
Michael’s voice still shakes whenever he talks about this, and his hands still tremble. “It happened so fast. So fast, none of us had a chance to fight back.”
Justine passed over Charlie to rebound off the opposite wall, but she took his head with her. His neck fountained a geyser of blood as his limp body crumpled to the ground. Keith screamed and took a wild shot, but Justine didn’t flinch as she drove him into the wall. Michael heard snaps and disgusting squelches as Justine literally ripped Keith apart with her bare hands.
Justine’s head whipped around, and her malevolent glare punched straight through Michael. Her voice roared from the bowels of hell as she screamed, “You should have stayed in your church, Priest!”
Justine turned away from the pile of red mulch that had once been Keith then walked toward Michael without hurry. There was no need to rush. He was doomed.
Michael lifted a hand to hold her at bay, but Justine’s steel fingers locked around his wrist. She yanked with enough force to lift him off the ground, dislocating his shoulder. Blinded by the pain, Michael was helpless to prevent her sharp, frigid teeth from sinking into his forearm.
According to Michael, the prospect of being eaten alive snapped him back to his senses. His training kicked in, and words began to flow out of him. “Soul of Christ, sanctify me; Body of Christ, save me…” he said through gritted teeth as he tried in vain to shove her face away.
To his eternal surprise, Justine recoiled with a scream of pain and fury, her cheek sizzling. She backed away as she touched the charred, upside-down crucifix burned into her flesh. Instead of attacking him again, she darted out of the chamber, vanishing in the blink of an eye.
I don’t know how many hours passed before I finally came to, but when I did, my head was killing me. Michael cradled it in his lap, pressing the heel of his hand into the most tender spot on my skull. The wound on his forearm oozed into my open mouth, and I swallowed on reflex.
“Thank god,” Michael said when I tried to swat his hand away. Unable to string a coherent thought together, I didn’t realize that Michael was holding the missing part of my skull in place. “Thank god. I thought you were dead, for sure.” Michael was pale and trembling, his face drenched with sweat. His ruined arm dangled at his side. “Toby, there’s no way we can handle her on our own. You have to find Karen.”