Chapter Four: Nothing Ever Happens in the Country
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Alice got the call from Gary while she was in her bedroom packing clothes into luggage.

            “Hey Gary,” she said, cradling her phone with her chin while she kept packing

            “Hey Alice,” he replied. “How are you holding up?”

            “Better than I was in the Chief’s office at least,” she said. “My mom’s a different story, however.  She’s…well…she’s not doing well.”

            If her mother wasn’t crying from bad memories, she was scared out of her mind, jumping at every sound.

            “I can imagine,” said Gary sympathetically.

            “I’m going to drive her out to my Uncle’s farm,” she said.  “Get her away from the city, at least until this has all blown over.  It’s quiet out there, so it’ll be perfect.  Worst case scenario is we get a bear in the front yard.”

            Gary laughed.

            “I think that’s a great idea,” said Gary, then after a second hesitation, added. “Listen. Your week of vacation is almost up.  Chief Dalton asked me to tell you that if you need more time, in light of all that’s happened, you can have it.”

            Alice paused.  That did sound nice, but a part of her wanted to get back to work soon.  She might not get a chance to assist with these fake vampire murders, but at least she could do something.  On the other hand, Alice really didn’t want to leave her mother right now.

            After a moment of silence,  she said, “I’ll think about it.”

            “Alright,” said Gary. “Take care of yourself.”

            “Yeah, you too.”

            Alice hung up and finished packing.  As she looked over her bedroom for anything else she might want to take with her, she spied a little jewelry box on top of her dresser.  

Such a thing would have nothing she needed, and yet on a whim, she walked over and opened it.  Inside were various little trinkets that she hadn’t worn in years.  Jewelry wasn’t exactly necessary or useful for a police detective after all.  One particular piece of Jewelry, however, caught her eye.

            It was a necklace with a little silver cross hanging from it.  It wasn’t elaborate or otherwise remarkable, just a flat, silver cross that she could just barely see her reflection in, hanging from a silver chain.

            It sparked a memory.

 

Alice, only five years old, hid in a cupboard.  She’d been crying and was still wiping tears from her eyes as she sniffled.  Glass jars and cans of food filled the shelves beside her as she hugged her knees to her chest.  After a few minutes alone, she heard someone walking outside, his shadow breaking the light from under the cupboard door.  Whoever it was stopped for a moment, and then she heard a man’s voice, speaking playfully.

            “Oh dear, I’m feeling famished.  I could get some raisins from the cupboard, but the door is so low to the ground, and I don’t feel like kneeling.  I wonder if I should open the cupboard door or not?”

            “That’s not funny, Dad,” said Alice.

            She heard a sigh, and then moments later, the door opened to reveal her father in his military uniform.  He saw down on the floor, a mere inches away from her.  She looked away, unable to look him in the eye.

            “How did you know I was in here?” asked Alice.

            Her dad smiled and said, “Let’s just say you should listen to your mother when she tells you to wipe your shoes.”

            Alice, curiously, looked at the floor in front of the cupboard, seeing some mud.  Then she looked at the muddy shoes she wore.

            “Oh,” she said.

            “Tell me what’s wrong, sweetie,” said Mr. Hayes.

            “I saw mom watching the news, said Alice. “With the military funeral.”

            Her father closed his eyes and sighed.  Alice looked past him and could see mom looking after Arther.  Little Arthur was just three, too young to understand why their father left all the time.  Before today Alice had been vaguely aware that her father’s job was dangerous.  Seeing that funeral on the news had just made it sink in.

            “Do you have to ship out again?” asked Alice.

            “Yes, sweetie,” said Mr. Hayes sadly. “I’m afraid I do.  When I joined the Army, I made a promise.”

            “Mom says when you get married, you make a promise too.”

            “Your mother is a very smart woman,” said Mr. Hayes. “But I understand why you’re confused.  You see Alice, in a way, it’s because of my promise to your mother that I do what I do.”

            Alice, wiping a tear from her eye, looked at her father curiously and said, “What do you mean?”

             “There’s a reason we have a military,” he said. “There are people out there who, if they could, would hurt people like us.  Sometimes it’s just a case of them being bad people, and sometimes it’s more complicated than that, but whatever the reason, there will be people who wish to do us harm, and someone has to be there to stop them.  People like me.  I go, and I fight for this country so that those who mean us harm don’t reach my home and my family.”

            “But what if you don’t come back?”

            “That’s the risk we all have to take, but between you and me, I’d rather I not come back than something happen to you.”

            Alice didn’t know how to feel about this, and her father saw that, so he pulled off a chain necklace he’d been wearing around his neck, one with a silver cross hanging from it.  He held it up for her to see, light shining off of it.

            “Here,” said Mr. Hayes. “I want you to have this.  I can’t promise that I’ll always come home again.  That risk is the sacrifice I have to make to keep you and this country safe, but I do promise that I won’t go down without a fight.  I will always do whatever I can to get myself and my fellow soldiers home safely so we can all be with our families.  And if anything ever happens to me, I want you to look at this and remember that I’ll be in heaven with Jesus, and I’ll be watching over you.  Okay?”

            Alice wiped the last tears from her eyes and said, “Okay.”

            He reached in and put the necklace around her neck.

            “Now come out, sweetie,” he said. “I can’t imagine it’s that comfortable in there.”

            “No,” said Alice, climbing out. “It isn’t.  I don’t even know why I went there.”

            Her father laughed, and Alice laughed too.  She did feel a little better.

 

As Alice looked at that little silver cross, she wiped a tear from her eye.  She hadn’t worn this thing in ages.  When their father died overseas, Alice found some comfort in his words, but things changed when Arthur disappeared.  Seeing the Baxters dead had filled her with unyielding dread.  She remembered getting on her knees at her bedside, praying day after day for her brother to come home safely, but he never did.  One could only ask for something so many times before the silence became overwhelming.  Alice had been raised going to church her entire life, and while it wasn’t accurate to say she no longer believed, she didn’t know how to feel about it these days.

            And yet, with everything going on, the idea of her father watching over her did seem a comfort.  A small comfort maybe, but comfort nonetheless.  She took the little cross out and hung it around her neck.  A moment later, she realized that her mother might ask about it, and since she didn’t feel like talking about it, she quickly hid it under her blouse.  She could feel the metal there, and it was surprisingly warm.  It was nice to have a good memory for once, even if that story didn’t end well.

            Besides, all these murders looked like vampires did them, and crosses were said to repel such creatures.  In the astronomically unlikely chance that vampires were real, then this little cross might just come in handy.  Not as handy as the backup pistol she tucked into her belt, of course.  Whatever happened, Alice believed in being prepared.

 

Alice found her mother crying, still not fully packed.  Alice helped calm her down and finish packing, and then they left.  They drove out of the city in her mother’s station wagon via the interstate, across the countryside with lush green trees surrounding them and a mountain looming in the distance.  After a long drive, they got off an exit, took a short trip through a small town, and then took a longer trip through back roads to Uncle Pauls’s farm.

            By the time they got there, the sun had just dipped below the trees and sparkled through them periodically.  Alice could see the fields of crops in the distance, the barn where they stored heavy equipment, and the storehouses where freshly harvested crops were stored.  Uncle Paul’s farm wasn’t the biggest in the world, but it was familiar.  Alice had spent a few holiday gatherings and family reunions at this farm.

            As Alice drove up to the farmhouse, hearing the tires scrape across the gravel road, she expected to see Paul and Betty Hayes sitting on the porch in rocking chairs.  Uncle Paul was a burly older gentleman with a white mustache and the build of a man who worked hard for a living.  Aunt Betty was a slender woman with silver hair and youthful energy that belied her age.  Paul wore overalls and a plaid shirt, Betty wore a dress and apron, and all of this was precisely what Alice expected.

            She didn’t expect to see her two cousins standing there.  Ryan Hayes, a blonde man about Alice’s age, looked like he’d worked on a farm his whole life, wearing jeans and a t-shirt.  Last Alice remembered, he’d gotten a job as a gym instructor.  Next to him stood Penny Hayes, a twenty-year-old two years into college wearing jeans and a tank top.  She was majoring in history at Saint Vivia University.

           As Alice and her Mother left the car, Uncle Paul, Aunt Betty, Ryan, and Penny were already walking up.

            “Alice, Sara,” said Uncle Paul. “Finally got sick of all that city air, huh?”

            “No, just need a break from it,” said Alice’s Mother, Sara, getting a hug. “Thanks for having us.  What are you two doing here?”

            “Well, you see,” said Ryan with a smirk that screamed mischief. “Penny’s doing a book report on the history Saint Vivia, and she’s doing interviews.  Do you have five hours to spare so she can bore you to death?”

            Alice rolled her eyes, amused.

            “Would you let that go already?” said Penny, exasperated. “We just heard you’d both be stopping by and decided to visit.”

            They all shared a couple more hugs and then started taking their bags inside.

            “When you finish packing,” said Uncle Paul. “You should check out the gun rack.  I got a new beauty just last week.”

            Of course Uncle Paul wanted to show off his guns, as usual.  Not that Alice minded.  Alice and her Mother had a few relatives they could have stayed with, but it was because of that gun rack that they specifically chose Uncle Paul and Aunt Betty. 

            Bad things were happening in Saint Vivia.  If in the unlikely chance it showed up way out there, they’d be prepared.

 

Alice couldn’t remember the last time she’d had a good home cooked meal like the one she had that night.  All the ingredients were fresh from the farm, and the scent of everything was absolutely divine.  Aunt Betty led the group in a prayer, and they dug in.  Afterward, Uncle Paul was true to his word and showed off his gun collection, which he kept in his study.  On one wall, books, at another wall his computer, and on the third wall the gun rack.  Alice wouldn’t have been surprised if he owned one of every single gun that it was legal for a civilian to own.

            And it was during an argument between Uncle Paul and Cousin Ryan on the merits of their favorite rifles that someone knocked on the door.

            “Goodness,” said Aunt Betty. “We rarely get unexpected visitors out here.”

            That was true, Alice thought.  A farm out in the country wasn’t exactly a tourist destination.  They were a fair distance from any cities or even interstate highways.  On top of that, it was quite a coincidence that an unexpected visitor should show up on the day Alice and her Mother arrived.

            “I’ll go see who it is,” said Uncle Paul, putting his rifle down.

            A part of Alice thought it was probably nothing, but her cautious side won out.  She excused herself and followed Uncle Paul to the front door.  Staying just out of sight, Alice watched as her Uncle opened the door, making sure to get a glimpse of who it was.  She also made sure her backup pistol was still tucked into her belt, hidden beneath her blouse, just in case.

            The people Alice saw took her completely by surprise.  The first was, quite simply, one of the most beautiful women Alice had ever seen.   She had raven black hair and a nervous smile that brought the word enchanting to Alice’s mind.  Behind her stood two men.  One had blonde hair and chiseled features, while the other had brown hair and boyish features.  The most ordinary thing about them was the casual clothing they wore, jeans with hooded jackets.  They also kept their faces shadowed by their hoods, wincing away from the light, but Alice only noticed that in passing.  She was distracted by how extraordinarily good looking they were.

            What were people like this doing here?  Alice wasn’t sure why, but she had alarm bells going off in the back of her mind.  Something about them just felt off.

            “Excuse me,” said the young woman. “We’re lost, and our car broke down.  Can we stay here while we wait for a tow truck?”

            “Oh,” said Uncle Paul, as taken aback as Alice was. “Well…I should talk to my wife…”

            “We won’t be any trouble,” said the girl innocently. “Please?”

            She said this so sweetly that Alice almost scolded herself for being paranoid.  This woman didn’t look like a killer.

            But Alice knew better than most that looks could be deceiving.

            “Well,” said Uncle Paul. “Alri…”

            “Wait!”

            Uncle Paul jumped, surprised by Alice’s outburst.  Alice herself wasn’t sure why she was acting this way, but the more she looked at these people, the more it stuck out to her like a sore thumb.  They didn’t look like some random people lost in the country.  They looked like supermodels who had just finished putting on their makeup.  They had flawless skin with no wrinkles or freckles, sparkling eyes, and perfect builds.  They were just so…perfect.  Too perfect.  Unnaturally perfect.

            “Alice?” said Uncle Paul. “What’s wrong?”

            Alice almost stated precisely what she was thinking but found she couldn’t bring herself to do it.  There’s something wrong with them because they’re too perfect?  It sounded insane.  Fortunately, she thought of a more reasonable reason to object.

            “We left Saint Vivia to get away from a string of murders,” she said. “We’ve no idea who’s behind it and no guarantee that they’d stay near Saint Vivia.”

            “Oh, come on Alice,” said Uncle Paul. “They don’t…”

            “Look like murderers?  Uncle, I’m a cop.  Trust me.  No one, whether guilty or innocent, ever looks like a murderer.  No offense.”

            The woman at the door said, “None taken,” but the cold look in her eyes said the opposite.  It was quite possibly the most unnerving stare Alice had ever seen.

            “I’d rather play it safe,” said Alice.

            Uncle Paul sighed and said, “Very well, you heard the lady.  You’ll have to wait by your car.”

            The moment Uncle Paul turned back, the young woman’s glare disappeared, replaced by a disarming smile.

            “I understand completely,” she said sweetly.

            The two men turned away, clearly disappointed.

“May I at least come in to use the bathroom?” said the woman. “It will just be me, and I’ll leave the moment I do.”

            “That’s fine,” said Uncle Paul before Alice could object. “You can come in just to use the bathroom.”

            The woman sighed.

            “I suppose that will have to do.”

            She brought her fingers to her lips, giving out a loud whistle.

            And the power went out, plunging the house into darkness.

            Alice reacted immediately, pulling her pistol out of her belt.  In the darkness, before she could tell Uncle Paul to get out of the way, she saw something knock him to the side like he was nothing before barreling straight into Alice.  She was knocked off her feet, crying out as she hit the floor hard, her gun clattering away from her hand.  Alice barely registered the woman from the door landing on her and pinning her arms down.  Alice struggled, unable to get the woman off of her, and then saw the woman open her mouth.

            The woman had fangs, long and sharp.

            The sight of them made Alice freeze.  I can’t be seeing this, she told herself.  It’s not possible.

            Faster than Alice had ever seen anyone move, the woman ripped Alice’s blouse to get at her neck and bent down.  Alice closed her eyes, fearing the worst, but then cringed as the shrillest, most ear splitting shriek she’d ever heard rang through her head, and the weight atop her suddenly disappeared.

            Alice opened her eyes to see the woman on the ceiling, clinging to it like some sort of animal as she crawled away, reaching the door and climbing out in less than a second.

            And finally, the shrieking stopped, leaving them in silence.

            Alice lay there for a second, stunned, trying to process what had just happened as she stared at the ceiling.  She vaguely heard Uncle Paul laying close by, his breathing strained.  A moment later, Aunt Betty and Alice’s cousins entered, flashlights in hand.  Aunt Betty went to her husband immediately, Ryan stared out the open door, and Penny stood over Alice, shining her flashlight over her.

            “Are you okay?” asked Penny. “What happened?”

            Penny’s flashlight passed over Alice’s shoulder for a brief moment, reflecting off the cross that Alice had hidden under her blouse.  Alice, still staring at the ceiling, saw that reflection on the roof, a glowing cross on the ceiling that quickly disappeared when Penny shifted her flashlight.  Alice looked down, seeing that the rip in her blouse hadn’t just exposed her neck. It had revealed the cross she’d hidden there, lying on her shoulder.  Alice, still laying there in a daze, grabbed the chain around her neck and lifted it up, staring at the cross dangling from it.

            “That shrieking,” said Ryan. “What on Earth was that?”

            “Ryan,” said Alice. “I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but I think I know.”

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