*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 jerked awake when the thud of a shutting door echoed throughout the house. Given my situation and the fresh deadline breathing down my neck, it surprised me that I’d dozed off at all. I didn’t have a minute to spare, but stress will suck the energy out of any man. Plus, stalking tends to get boring fast.
Sunlight stabbed through the wooden slats of the garden lattice. I’d been asleep for a couple hours. Luckily, no one on the sidewalk had noticed me lurking in the braces of Gwen’s awning.
I pulled up to peek through the nursery window. As I’d hoped, Gwen had finally left the room. She’d taken the girl with her, but the boy was asleep in their shared crib. He breathed deep and slow, with a secure contentment I’ve never known.
My cramped legs were slow to respond, numb as they were from having crouched for so many hours. Once I settled on the window ledge, I closed my eyes then took a deep breath through my nose. The world unfolded around me as I opened my other senses.
On the ground floor, Gwen murmured in a comforting tone as floorboards creaked under her feet. She hadn’t been kidding when she’d said teething made little humans fussy. Christ on a cracker, I don’t know how anyone can stand babies. The girl grunted, and I could smell baby powder and drool soured by apple juice.
Time to get this suicide mission underway.
I tapped my knuckle on the glass. The little boy turned over, and the crib squealed beneath him like an army of burning mice. The little shit didn’t wake up, though. I muttered a curse under my breath as I listened for his demon guardian.
Gwen continued to pace, and had begun to sing a soft, haunting melody in a language I didn’t recognize.
I took a deep breath then knocked on the window again, a little bit louder this time. The little boy pushed himself up with a scowl. His blonde curls were a mess and he sucked on a pacifier. He looked around, his eyebrows drawn into a tight knot. I drummed my fingers against the glass to get his attention.
“Hey, kid,” I said with a smile, not that it helped. I could see my reflection. Between my fangs and what remained of my stringy hair, I looked like Gollum.
The baby’s cheeks grew red and his eyes glistened. He started to breathe fast, building up to a tantrum.
“No, no, no, don’t do that,” I said as I pulled the multi-colored stuffed animal out of my waistband. I pressed the toy against the glass for the kid to see, and it dried him right up. “Yeah, you like this? Just what every spoiled brat needs, right? A rainbow panda-monkey-dog…what the fuck is this thing?”
It didn’t matter. I shook it so the tiny bells on its jester hat jingled. The boy grunted in excitement as he used the crib railing to stand.
I shook the toy again. “You want this?”
The baby held out his fat little hand.
“You can have it. All you have to do is invite me in.”
The nursery door opened, and I fell backward on reflex. I missed my claws as I dangled from the window ledge, the toy clenched between my teeth. Inside the nursery, I heard Gwen groan. “Oh, no. I just got you down. What are you doing awake?”
I kicked myself. I’d had one ear on the Gwen downstairs, so I hadn’t bothered to listen for her coming down the hall. How could I have forgotten about her splitting-in-two trick? Justine must’ve lobotomized me when she’d taken that bite out of my head.
Gwen took the boy from the crib then settled into the rocking chair. “I can’t wait until you and your sister learn how to talk. Everything will be so much easier when you can articulate your needs.”
I pulled up a bit to peek through the glass. Gwen sat with her back to me, but the baby in her lap faced the window. The child’s eyes widened when he saw me and he made an excited noise.
Oblivious, Gwen said, “That’s right, my prince. We’ll be able to go anywhere. You can have anything you want. You can do anything you like. All you’d have to say is, ‘Godmother, I have a pain in my gums. Make it go away.’ Then, poof, just like that, your pain will be gone, as though it never existed. Won’t that be wonderful?”
The baby in her arms giggled at her tone as the one downstairs begins to wail.
“Oh, dear,” Gwen said with a sigh. “It seems your sister is the one that needs me. Since a certain little boy is just in the mood to be silly, you play here while I go help.”
I lowered myself again. Gwen placed the child back in his crib, then the nursery door opened. I heard her move down the hall, but counted to fifty in my head before I pulled up.
The coast was clear. The boy abandoned the toy xylophone Gwen had given him the instant he saw me.
My mutilated fingertips ached as I pressed the toy against the window again. “All right, kid. We don’t have all fucking day, here. Do you want this or not?”
The boy stood then stretched his arms toward me.
“That’s right. Come on, kid. Give me something to work with. Come on, come on…”
The baby made eye contact then curled and uncurled his little fingers in a grabbing motion. I felt a shift in the air as the wards dropped, and my face split into a grin.
“Good boy,” I said as I ducked into the room. I handed the stupid brat the toy so he wouldn’t throw a fit, then closed the window. He didn’t even look at me as I tousled his curly hair. “Have fun, kid. Don’t forget to shut the fuck up, okay?”
The hallway was empty, but that didn’t mean there was nothing there. I opened my senses again to find Gwen’s downstairs lullaby had become a duet. I crept toward the stairs, my back to the wall.
The logical voice in my head pointed out that this was beyond stupid. Any vampire that breaks into a demon’s home is begging to get chopped up for spell components. I didn’t have a lot of other options, though. I wouldn’t let Karen stay anyone’s slave, but first I had to know the name of the man I needed to kill. Gwen was my only connection to that man. There had to be a book of contacts, or a Rolodex, or something like that laying around.
I tried to narrow down where I should start looking for such a thing, then a thin shadow appeared in the stairwell. I took a quick step back, ducking into the nearest room. I closed the door almost completely then peeked through the crack. A few moments later, Gwen walked past, so close I could’ve reached out and grabbed her if I had a death wish. She didn’t notice me, focused as she was on the fussy sister. The hallway darkened as the nursery door closed, then I let out a breath I hadn’t realized I was holding.
I took in my surroundings. The room was small, as was every room of this house. The walls and floor were bare. The only furniture was a twin bed and a wooden chest covered with elaborate carvings. The bedding was clean, but it didn’t smell as though anyone had slept in it for a long time. This must be Gwen’s room.
Decades of burglary experience kept me from making a sound as I opened the truck. It didn’t contain any surprises. Bottles of petrified lizards. Packets of poisonous herbs that didn’t smell like anything. A few medieval weapons, shit like that. Her closet was empty, since her clothing was just a manifestation of her will. I even checked under her mattress, but found nothing.
The entire search couldn’t have taken longer than a minute or two, but it left me frustrated. I might need to do the same in every single room of the house, and there was no way to know if the Gwens had merged back into one. It could be that her other self was still downstairs warming a bottle.
I forced myself to relax then stretched my senses as far as they could go. The stench of pine cleaner, incense, old wood, and dirty diapers trickled down my throat. Cold air billowed from the vents like hurricane winds. I could hear the grinding crunch of a mouse in the walls. Gwen’s voice boomed like thunder as she wondered aloud which book she should read to the children.
Downstairs, I heard nothing.
Quiet as a ghost, I slipped out of room then down the stairs. The kitchen was empty, and the back door stood open, but an archway to the right led deeper into the house. I turned in that direction, then heard the flutter of light feet barreling down the stairs behind me. My heart seized in my chest as I dove through the nearest door, then found myself in a small, cramped broom closet.
Not a second later, Gwen burst into the kitchen, her expression fierce. The toy I’d given to the little boy dangled from her hand. She looked left then right, then stormed through the archway. A door opened, then closed again after a few seconds as Gwen moved further down the hall.
I could hear curtains rustle and furniture scrape against the floor in the adjacent room. My gut instincts pulled me out into the open. There was a closed door across the hall from the kitchen. This must’ve been the first place Gwen had investigated. I hurried into that room then closed the door just as Gwen stepped out into the hall. The heaviness of her step was surprising as she stormed past me. I heard the broom closet door get thrown open, so hard that it cracked against the wall like a gunshot. That close call settled over me like a blanket of frost. Gwen walked by again to resume her search further down the hall.
It was then that my surroundings finally sank in.
This room was larger than any of the others I’d been in. It contained a Persian rug and a bar stool, with a covered mirror tucked into the corner. What stole the air from my lungs was the pictures. Hundreds of pictures covered every square inch of wall space. Corner to corner, floor to ceiling, the frames overlapped each other. There were line drawings and oil paintings. Sepia photographs evolved into black and white pictures, then grainy color. Hundreds of men and women, though not one of them appeared older than their mid-twenties. The largest frame was a portrait of the brats upstairs.
The atmosphere was heavy, almost tomb-like. Every unblinking eye in every picture was focused on me. It was so unnerving that I almost failed to notice the door opening behind me.
I rose onto the balls of my feet then took a quick step back and to the right, remaining just behind the door. The plane of wood swung toward my face, so close it brushed my cheek. I held still as Gwen walked to the center of the room. Her fiery hair rustled and her lacy red dress fluttered as she inspected the pictures, her hands on her hips. Danger pulsed off of her in waves, causing the picture frames to rattle as every hair on my body stood on end.
At that moment, one of her precious angels began to wail, joined a moment later by its sibling. The air settled to normal as Gwen sighed then turned to leave. I heard her make her way through the kitchen, up the stairs, then the nursery door closed.
I put my hand over my heart as it stumbled back to a normal rhythm. That was too close, and time wasn’t on my side. I stepped out into the hall, which ended at a beaded curtain. Through that tacky veil, I could see the shop where Karen had performed my exorcism. One of the other doors had to lead to an office of some sort. Where there is an office, there is a list of contacts, so maybe…
The unmistakable jingle of a cell phone cracked across my shoulders like a whip. The buzz of its vibration against the glass countertop resounded through the hall.
Gwen’s cell phone was in the shop. Gwen told me that she’d called Karen’s master the night of my exorcism. That’s how she’d hired Karen in the first place. So, Karen’s master’s number had to still be in that phone.
I ran through the clacking beads, knocking over a rack of colorful robes. It toppled into a display of candles, dried herbs, and strange figurines. I snatched the phone off the counter then lunged toward the store entrance. I paused only to unlock the deadbolt before sprinting out onto the sidewalk. I was several blocks away before I stopped running.
It took a few minutes for me to catch my breath, and for my limbs to stop shaking. I pulled myself together, then pressed the home button. Luckily, the phone wasn’t password protected. The wallpaper was of the babies, laying on a pink blanket as they smiled toothless baby grins at the camera. Goddamn, they were ugly.
I was about to open Gwen’s list of contacts when the phone rang in my hand. My first reaction was to press ignore, but then I noticed the caller’s name. I froze, my finger hovering above the screen.
Karen. My Karen. Her junior class picture smiled up at me like the gleam of a thousand diamonds.
I accepted the call, my mouth bone dry. I had to swallow hard before I could speak. “Karen?”
“No,” Gwen said. “I know, that wasn’t nice, but you wouldn’t have answered the phone otherwise.”
I sat down hard on the curb, my heart doing its best to punch its way out of my rib cage. “You knew I was there,” I said. This wasn’t a question.
“Oh, you’re just the worst little hider ever.” At least she didn’t sound mad. “This is my home, Toby. I have dominion here. Nothing happens in this house without me knowing about it.”
I closed my eyes as I pinched the bridge of my nose. “So, you were just fucking with me.”
“Yes, but it was so entertaining. It’s like I told you, Toby, find the revenant and I would consider putting you in touch with Karen. Well, I’ve thought about it, and you’re going to have to talk to Khalid.”
“Who the hell is Khalid?” I said as I put her on speaker then opened her list of contacts. It was a short list, since Khalid’s name and number was the only one on it. Gwen had left the phone on the counter for me to find.
“Khalid is Karen’s master,” Gwen said. “If you want to see Karen again, you’re going to have to go through him. Good luck, though. He’s Infernal.
There was a beep as the call ended.