“I do, ma’am. I certainly do. It’s almost midnight, and I apologize for the inconvenience.”
The woman peered over the epaulet on the uniformed shoulder. “Where’s your patrol car, officer?”
“Deputy, ma’am. I’m a deputy, and it’s by the road. Short walk to your door, and the sight of a law enforcement vehicle on the highway shoulder keeps the speeders in check even if I’m not in the front seat.”
“Crafty one, aren’t you. What do you want, deputy?”
“It’s that time of year, and I’m making the rounds. You shouldn’t be opening the door like that, you know.”
The gray head tilted to the right as the door opened a tad farther. “I have Remmie for support.”
The deputy’s eyes locked onto the pump-action shotgun at the old woman’s side.
The woman nodded.”
“What’s it loaded with?”
“You were never in my English class, were you, deputy.” The words came out as a statement of fact rather than a question.
“No ma’am. Why?”
“Because my pupils would know better than to end a sentence with a preposition. The question should have been, ‘What load are you using?’”
“And the answer to that question would be?”
“Number six birdshot. I don’t want to kill the neighbors with double-aught going through the walls.”
The deputy briefly smiled through compressed lips before saying, “Your closest neighbors are over a mile away, ma’am. Not much danger of that, although double-aught would definitely leave you with a major repair bill to the house.” The man’s cheerfulness faded as he added, “But if I had been . . . him, you never would have gotten that gun up into position before I ran the door.”
“I’ll bear that in mind.” The woman poked her head outside and looked around. “Started snowing. And no jacket on. You’ll catch your death out there. How about some hot cocoa?”
“Thank you, ma’am, but I really should —”
“Nonsense. I don’t pay taxes for you to stay home sick.” She opened the door with a persuasive finality that defied further argument.
“Are you asking me inside?”
“Of course what?”
“Come inside, deputy. Tonight, my house is yours.”
“That’ll do.” The deputy stomped the snow from his feet and stepped across the threshold. “Thank you, ma’am.”
“And quite calling me that. The name is Alcina.”
“Thank you, Alcina. Call me Drake.”
Alcina led the way into an ornate sitting room dripping in the opulence of a Victorian era long past its fashionable expiration date by about a century or more. Her bony finger pointed to the only seat in the room with a low back. “Take that one.”
“Yes, ma— yes, Alcina.”
The old woman placed the shotgun against the wall behind Drake’s chair and continued into the next room. Dishes rattled, and there was a sound of gas being lit. “Would you like marshmallow on your cocoa?” she called out.
“Yes. Yes, I do.”
“So, tonight is the night, you say?”
“Has been every seventh year for the past forty-nine, Alcina. All Hallows’ Eve. Last time was in 2005. Tonight is Halloween 2012. Seven years later.”
“But I don’t understand why you’re worrying about an old woman such as me. Haven’t all the previous victims been men about your age or younger?”
“Yes, but there’s been something new the past several weeks.”
“The women, you mean?”
The deputy cocked his head to the side. “That’s not common knowledge.”
“You might not think so, but this is a very sparsely populated county with a very active telephone rumor network.” Alcina stepped back into the sitting room. “The water is on to boil.” She settled onto the settee, feet firmly planted onto the floor, knees primly pressed together, and delicate hands folded gently upon her lap. “There has been one a week for precisely three weeks.”
“Six,” Drake corrected. “The first was Wednesday, September 19. You didn’t hear about the first three because they’re from out of state and the bodies were recovered across the county line. Besides, we told the press they were the victims of bear attacks.”
“Oh, my. No blood in them, either? And just as pretty as the other three?”
“Not a drop. And, yes, they were lookers. That information about the first three is just between us, by the way.”
“Of course. Ages?”
“The youngest was twenty-one, the oldest forty-two.”
“I’m ninety-one, dear.”
“Then why are you here?”
“Because of your age . . . and the ages of the others. One was twenty-one, three were twenty-eight, one was thirty-five, and the oldest was—”
“Forty-two. Yes. Yes. We’ve been through all that. I’m ninety-one.”
“What’s so funny, young man?”
“I guess being good at English doesn’t necessarily make somebody good at math. All those ages are equally divisible by the number seven. You’re ninety-one. Seven times thirteen is ninety-one.”
Alcina perked upright as her shoulders twitched. “You think . . . you think the seven-year killer has gone to also killing women whose ages are multiples of the number seven?”
“That would explain the differences in victims. Up until six weeks ago, the victims were all men in their thirties to mid-forties, and they were killed in seven-year increments. All we ever found were their heads. Now, we have women being killed once every seven days. But they’re not missing their bodies. It’s their blood that’s gone.”
“Not if you don’t believe in such things.”
The lights flickered briefly, and then darkness enveloped the room save for the faint flickering from the fireplace.
“Not unexpected, Alcina. Early snow, trees still full of leaves. Power lines were bound to get knocked down.”
A whistling started from the kitchen, the tone building in urgency. Alcina stood shakily, her hands pressing against the armrest as she rose. “Keep talking, young man. Nothing wrong with my hearing.”
“But what about the dark?”
“Not afraid of that, either.” Alcina pulled a small flashlight from her dress and flicked the switch. “You’re not the only one who was expecting trouble this night, you know.” She shuffled off toward the kitchen.
“Well,” the deputy continued, “if we’re right, we could have two victims this night.”
The whistling subsided. “Seems to me you could have two victims if you’re wrong, as well.”
“Could just as easily be two killers afoot, Drake.”
The tinkling of metal spoon against ceramic mug sifted softly into the sitting room.
“Need some help with those cups?”
“No. Just keep talking. I’ll be with you directly.”
“You know, I see your point about there being two killers, but the connection to the number seven makes that unlikely.”
“But they are entirely different connections.” The old woman appeared in the dim light of the fireplace. “One deals with years, the other with days and ages.”
“Just different measurements of time, Alcina. But no matter which way you cut it, it’s still time.”
Alcina handed over a steaming mug. “See that it’s chocolaty enough.” She placed a saucer onto the side table.
Drake blew across the top and took a cautious sip. “Just perfect. Thank you.”
“You’re very welcome. Make sure you use that saucer. I don’t want the furniture marred.” She turned back toward the kitchen. “I’ll be back directly with mine.”
The woman shuffled back into the room a minute later, steering herself carefully around the furniture while concentrating on the ever so slightly sloshing liquid while keeping the mug stationed over another saucer. The flashlight was tucked under her arm, casting a beam everywhere but where her feet were trying to go.
Drake stood. “Here. Let me give you a hand.” He reached for the mug and saucer.
“Careful. It’s hot. Grab the handle.”
He laid his hand atop hers and gently pushed the mug onto the saucer he now held. “Let go, Alcina. I have it.
Alcina hesitated. “That rug is irreplaceable.”
“Trust me. I have it.”
She released her hold and Drake gently placed the saucer and mug onto the table beside the settee.
Alcina settled onto the aged, faintly musty cushion and resumed her prim, dignified posture. She turned off the flashlight and clutched it in her folded hands. “There’s more cocoa when you’ve finished that one.”
“Thank you.” Drake took another sip. “It’s very good.”
“You’re far too kind.”
Drake placed the mug onto the saucer and nervously cleared his throat. “There’s something else I wanted to bring up with you, Alcina.”
“I would certainly think you would.”
Drake tilted his head to the side. “What do you mean by that?”
“I’m still not convinced that you’re here because you fear for the safety of a ninety-one-year-old retired grade school English teacher.”
“How long have you been retired?”
Alcina cocked her head to the side. Her eyes rolled up, toward the ceiling. “Let me think, now. It’s been, oh, thirty years? Maybe forty?”
“That’s strange, because none of the local schools have any record of an Alcina Dimitris ever teaching there.”
“Did I say that I taught locally?”
“But you’ve lived in this house much longer than thirty or forty years.”
“And how long have I lived here?”
Drake ignored the question as he took a longer pull at the warm liquid. “Where did you teach English?”
“Here and there. Mostly across county lines.”
“Yes. I suppose that explains it.” Drake downed the rest of his cocoa and held out the mug. “I think I’ll take you up on that offer of seconds.”
“Oh, certainly.” Alcina stood and took the mug. “I shan’t be but a moment.” She picked up the saucer from the side table and stepped toward the kitchen. “If I didn’t know better, deputy, I’d think you were questioning me.”
“Deputy? Does that mean we’re not on a first-name basis anymore?”
“Not at all. I just wanted to verify the purpose of this visit. You seemed reluctant to come into my house when I first asked.”
“Want to know what I think, Alcina?”
“I think you knew all the victims.”
“Which? The men or the women?”
“What about the women?”
“We’ll come to that. You did know those men, didn’t you.”
“Should I get an attorney?”
“Why? You’re quite safe, Alcina. Nobody is going to believe the truth.”
“And what is the truth?”
The kettle started whistling again as the grandfather clock began its chimed countdown to midnight.
“That they were all your lovers.”
Laughter cascaded from the kitchen into the sitting room — a chilling laughter that seemed only remotely human. It took nearly a minute for Alcina to regain her composure. “I’m ninety-one years old, young man. How old was the last victim, the one in 2005?”
“Same as my age now. Forty-five.”
“And you believe a forty-five-year-old man wants to make love to a woman who, at that time, was eighty-four?”
“No. But he might be tempted by someone who appears over sixty years younger than that. I’m guessing you looked twenty-one that day, and that he was thirty-eight when you met. Indeed, I’m guessing you look about twenty-one on November first every seven years.”
“That would be quite a feat, wouldn’t you say?”
The old woman reappeared inside the zone of light cast by the flickering flames. “Your cocoa, Drake.” She placed the saucer and mug onto the side table.
“Thank you.” Drake picked up the mug and took a sip. “You do make a wonderful cup of hot cocoa, Alcina.”
“Thank you. You are too kind.” She settled back into her seat, but this time the prim pose was gone. She curled her legs up onto the settee beside her as the firelight seemed to erase away the years.
Drake smiled. “You’re looking younger, Alcina. You’ve already found another victim, it would appear.”
“Yes, it would. But, then, you already knew that I presume. When did you find the head?”
“We haven’t. Where will we find it?”
“Near Carson’s Bend. Enjoying your cocoa, Drake?”
“Absolutely. And the bodies, where would they be?”
“There are no bodies. They’re now part of the orchard.”
“The trees I walked through to get here from the main road?”
The effect was accelerating. She was getting younger by the second now. Her hair was raven, her lips grew full, and her firming breasts strained against the matronly dress covering them.
Alcina slowly drew the hem upward, revealing an exquisite pair of muscle-toned legs. “You’ve taken to my forest of lovers, have you?”
“Well, it certainly beats messy breakups, hurt feelings, community property issues, and alimony. After you’ve ritualistically transformed your lovers and shed about seventy years you age, what, ten years for every one?”
“So, you are that Alcina. The Alcina of legend.”
“In addition to math, I see you know your Greek mythology. Oh, and to answer your question, yes. I am Alcina — the sorceress who turns her lovers into the inanimate. But nothing of legend says why. How did you guess?”
Drake ignored the question, choosing instead to pose one of his own. “You choose a lover while you’re young and beautiful. Then you wait seven years — or, in your case, seventy — to perform your rejuvenating ritual. What happens if your chosen lover dies in the interim? Surely that’s happened in the past.”
“Yes, it has. Always carry an insurance policy. The more lovers you take when you’re young, the better the chances that at least one will still be around when you really need him seven years later.” She hiked the hem even higher, exposing nearly her entire thigh. “Would you care to be one of my insurance policies?”
“Tempting offer, but you’d have to drug me first.”
“I have. Indeed, I’m amazed that you’re still coherent. No need to worry, though. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the ride when the potion kicks in.”
Drake’s eyes widened. He turned toward the side table and the half-empty mug. “You want me?”
“Congratulations. You have the honor of being my first lover in what seems almost fifty years. I certainly hope you’re up to the task. I wouldn’t want the first in so long a time to be less than satisfying.”
“How many of these cycles have you gone through?”
“At midnight I began cycle one thousand two hundred, and you will be the first of that cycle.”
“How . . . how long do I have?”
“Before the potion takes effect?”
“Well, there’s no need to wait for the effects.” She unfastened the top buttons of her dress. “We could get started right now, while you’re still aware enough to really enjoy it.”
“And die seven years later? Why would I want that?”
“Some pleasures are worth the risk of death. Besides, you’re chances of being the one sacrificed will be about one in a dozen.”
“I’m thinking I’ll have a hundred percent chance of not getting out of here tonight because of what I know.”
“You won’t remember anything about tonight. Not even the good parts.” She stood and walked over to him, offering her outstretched arms. “Come with me. In a few more moments, you’ll have no say in the matter anyway. In fact, I don’t know how you’ve managed to fight it this long.”
Drake calmly reached over and picked up the mug. “Because we’ve done all this before, Alcina.” He drank the rest in a series of gulps and held out the mug toward her. “More?”
The expression on Alcina’s face evaporated in stages from delirious desire to dire disbelief. “What do you mean? Who are you? When have we met before? Where?
“Five hundred forty-six years ago. The place was Visegrád, north of Buda in the Hungarian county of Pest. Do you recall? King Matthias I of Hungary introduced us during my imprisonment. You were my entertainment for a time.”
“You . . . you are him.” Alcina recoiled in horror. “Drake. The House of the Dragon. I should have known.”
“Oh, come now, Alcina. That’s no way to greet a long lost lover.” Drake stood and took a step forward.
“Stay back, Vlad Drăculea. Do not come near me.”
“But, we made each other so happy. Don’t you remember?”
“That was before you became what you are now.”
“Oh, come now, Alcina. We all have our little faults.”
“The women. The dead women. It was you.”
“It was. I’ve been feeding in the area for almost two months while I tracked you down.”
“Why the elaborate deception with their ages?”
“To make a connection to your victims that really isn’t there. To lay to rest the questions your busy love life has raised over the past five decades. To cover up our disappearance together from this rural backwater.”
“Why do you want me?”
“Because you were the best, Alcina. Several thousand years of experience assures that.” The son of Vlad Dracul, drew closer. He smiled, and his upper lip drew back revealing for the first time unusually long canine teeth. “I’ve come to take you away from this pathetic existence.”
“What have you to offer me that I don’t already have? I have youth. I have my many lovers. I neither need nor want you.”
Dracula pressed against her as she in turn pressed against the wall. His breath smelled of death and rotting flesh as he drew his lips within inches of hers. “The last few years of a cycle must be really hard for you, Alcina. Aging. Beauty turns to bane. Young, energetic lovers becoming but a distant memory on cold, lonely nights. The excitement of the first years of your cycle certainly cannot compensate for the later years.”
“But, they do. I enjoy my many lovers and my freedom.”
Vlad Dracula shook his head slowly. “You’ll get over that, sorceress. From now on you belong to me.”
“I do not.” She placed her hands to his chest and pushed with all her might.
Vlad did not budge even an inch. “When I’m done feasting on you, you will be free of aging forever.”
“I’ll also be imprisoned in darkness forever. That’s not a trade I’m willing to make.”
“You weren’t asked to make a trade. The decision is not yours. Don’t fight it. Don’t fight me.”
“I will fight you. I’ll fight you to my dying breath.”
Vlad nuzzled her neck as he whispered, “Your dying breath is fast approaching, Alcina. Enjoy the exquisiteness of it.” He sank his teeth into her beautiful neck and her awaiting carotid.
Alcina started to pound her fists against Vlad’s chest, but her arms grew extraordinarily weak in a matter of seconds. A blissful peace began to envelope her, but it was a peace permeated with cold and punctuated with a desire more akin to hunger. Her terror gave way to her sudden need for solace and fulfillment as she felt her corporeal existence melt.
Her last conscious realization before succumbing to her new existence was that she was about to exchange over 8,000 years of good times and great lovers — and the many more she had previously been destined to meet in the eons to come — for one who, in the final analysis, just sucked at it. And that was the true horror of it.
©R. Doug Wicker — Author
October 31, 2012
All Rights Reserved