Kitty's Big Trouble Page 6

“This is like looking for a needle in a haystack without even knowing if the needle is there,” Ben said.

“Everyone needs a hobby,” I said.

“We don’t have a whole lot of daylight for this,” Cormac said, glancing west. A bright orange sun had touched the horizon and was sinking fast.

I turned on him, arms out. “I’m sorry. Next time I’ll make sure someone puts out neon lights so we know exactly where to go.”

“Kitty, calm down,” Ben said.

“I’m calm.” I frowned.

We hunted. I kicked the grass as I walked through it, hoping to uncover something odd, and took in slow, easy breaths, searching for incongruous scents. This was silly—what evidence could possibly have lasted after 140 years?

My toe knocked up against a blackened length of wood. I knelt beside it. Half of it was buried, but it looked like a board, planed smooth and square at one time, but now it was charcoal, burned through and cracked. It could have been a year old or a hundred, protected from the elements by remaining buried all these years. A recent storm might have uncovered it.

It could have been anything, but my imagination spun the tale I wanted to see. Had this been part of the building that sheltered the rogue vampire family? Had Wyatt Earp really destroyed them by burning it down?

“Hey,” I called to the others. “You want to come look at this?”

They joined me, kneeling on the hard ground, looking to where I pointed—a straight, artificial line under matted prairie grasses.

Cormac moved a couple of steps out, then a couple more, pulling away vegetation, uncovering more of the blackened timber. In a few minutes, he’d traced out a rectangle, maybe ten by twelve. A tiny little house, reduced to a charred foundation.

There was history here. I could feel it. The place had probably belonged to some pioneer family scraping by. Nothing here would speak to the mystery I wanted to solve.

Standing back, hands on hips, Cormac regarded the remains of the building. “Vampires would have dug down. Built themselves a cellar, out of the sun. The structure would have just been there to protect the entrance. Anything else was most likely buried. We won’t find anything unless we dig.”

Digging would involve a lot more time and equipment, not to mention permits from the regional park service that owned the land and the involvement of any archaeology departments interested in mid-nineteenth-century settlements. I hadn’t really expected to find more than this. But the answers felt close, as if I could read them in a book if I could only find the right page.

“Look at this,” Ben said. He’d parted a section of grass and scraped away a layer of dirt just outside the burned foundation to reveal a slender length of wood, blackened but not burned through like the rest. Giving a yank, he pulled it free of the dirt. About a foot long and a couple of inches in diameter, it tapered to a dull point.

“Let me see that,” Cormac said, reaching. Ben handed it to him.

Cormac ran his hand along the length of the aged wood, then hefted it as if testing its weight.

“It’s a killing stake.” He gripped the end of it and made a quick stabbing motion. Kind of like you’d do to stab a vampire.

“How do you know?” Ben said. “It may have marked out a garden or held down a tarp.”

Cormac tossed Ben the stake, giving him a chance to heft its weight and test its peculiar suitability for stabbing. “It’s a nonnative hardwood. Somebody carved it and brought it here for a reason.”

“I think we’re letting our imaginations get away from us,” Ben said.

“You could say that about this whole trip,” Cormac answered.

I scowled. “I wish we had a metal detector.”

“Maybe see if we can find some silver bullets?” Ben said.

Wouldn’t that be comforting?

We walked over the immediate area, studying the ground for whatever else we might happen to stumble over. We found a few more burned timbers. Everything was old, weathered smooth, and I didn’t know enough to be able to guess the age of the buildings that had once stood here.

We wouldn’t be able to stay out here much longer; the sun was below the horizon now, and the sky had turned a deep twilight blue. The first stars were flickering. We’d only stayed out this late because Ben and my werewolf eyes hardly noticed the change in light. Cormac had pulled a penlight out of a pocket.

I was about to call off the hunt when Ben stopped, head cocked as if listening.

“Assuming this was a vampire lair,” he said, “and that it really was burned down by Wyatt Earp, or whoever, a century ago—should I be able to still smell vampire here?”

I took in a slow breath, nostrils flaring to scent what he’d noticed. Because no—smells on the landscape faded, washed away, scoured by wind in a matter of weeks. But he was right, a touch of cold lingered on the earth here. It wasn’t ice, it wasn’t rot, but a distinctive, living cold.

“It’s recent,” I whispered.

The three of us were statues, waiting for a sign.

A scraping noise pattered against the earth about ten yards away. It might have been a nocturnal rodent emerging from its den. It didn’t matter—Ben and I moved next to each other, backs together in a defensive posture.

The undead smell of vampire grew stronger.

“I don’t believe it,” Ben muttered. I shushed him and looked for Cormac, who stood calmly, hands at his sides.

The earth before us erupted, a fountain of dirt spraying as something forced its way up from underground. A trapdoor, covered with earth, had hidden a cellar. A gray-skinned being emerged, hissing, lips pulled back to show long fangs.

It had been human. It had the shape—torso, thin legs meant to walk upright, slender arms, a hairless head and face with all the right details. But it had shriveled, mutated—drying flesh pulled taut over bones, every knobby joint visible. Under a hanging, threadbare shirt that had rotted away to clinging fibers, the shape of a rib cage stood out, and the concave belly couldn’t possibly have held organs. The teeth were yellow, and the eyes that stared at us were clouded, milky. Shredded trousers were even worse off than the shirt.

It moved like a sprinter, straight toward us.

I braced and shouted, hoping to startle it into stopping its charge. Ben was beside me, hands clenched into the shape of claws, teeth bared.

A light flared, like a camera flash that didn’t fade, searing into my eyes. Ducking, I put up my arms to block the light, and Ben hunched over with me for protection. The creature stopped, cowering on the ground before us, sheltering under its raised arms, pale eyes squinting against the onslaught.

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies