Colorado Springs, Colorado
One Week Ago...
He wiped the blood from his mouth. Three men's bodies lay among the weird shapes of the stalagmites of the uneven cave floor and debris from the cave-in. One swinging light from their rig cast a ghastly series of blipping images of what was left of the three workers going from light to dark, light to dark again and again. Their yellow or white hardhats cast aside, their necks slit open—one man's head nearly severed, the flesh ragged where it was opened nearly to the neck bone.
He had drank his fill of the blood. How generously it had flowed. He now was more than satiated—he was bloated with their blood. It now pooled around their bodies like dark lakes and small rivers meandering over the cave's dusty, uneven floor.
Bill Gannon sat taking in the carnage around him in the cave. The savageness with which he'd attacked them now gone. The need had made him blind to what he was doing. He now sat and took in the carnage. What have I become? Why? Why me? I was happy where I was. Dead. At least in death I was at peace and did no harm to anyone.
The sense of bewilderment and despair fell over him as he curled in on himself, fists to his face, pressed against his eyes. He wept. The sounds of his deep weeping filled the cavern. He was certain no one would hear him. Not here.
He didn't know how long he lie curled up, tears—blood-stained—streaming down his face, dripping onto the floor of the cave. His leathery wings were wrapped around him. I hate them. They're ugly—an odd ululation, like that of a woman's voice, edged into his consciousness, pausing his self-loathing. Between sobs he heard it. He became quiet and listened. It was definitely someone's voice. Somewhere nearby. She spoked to him.
“William,” she said in a lovely dulcet tone, too beautiful for a mere human's voice. “Be still, my sweet. Don't cry over spilled blood.”
His self-pity now forgotten, he looked up. He was certain the brilliant light was not coming from anything man-made, but rather from something ethereal, and when he lifted his head he thought the dark figure standing there was not really there, but was a vision. Something in his head. Or a hallucination from... something he ate. The light around her blinded him, and he had to block it with a broad hand.
“Look upon me,” she said in a husky, yet gentle tone.
“I can't look upon you,” he said, trembling with the feeling of utter loss and trepidation. He was ready to parish, if that was his fate, even though he'd only been alive for a few hours as a vampire. “But if you have come to avenge what I've done, then do so and get it over with. I deserve it.” His head hung low, hair falling into his face. It dripped with the blood, feeling it wet on his face and brow.
“It would be that I should avenge what you have done, but that is not why I am here, my sweet. I have watched you, and have heard your despair and remorse for what you have done.” A pause. “I know your heart, ” The woman's voice was rich and resonated like a musical instrument all around him. “You may look upon me now without fear, my sweet. My son.”
Hesitantly, Bill drew his hand away from his eyes. The light was gone and he could see the woman standing twenty feet away. She wore black robes and a sheer, black scarf over her head. But what struck him the most was the black wings, shaped like his. Like those of a giant bat.
“Who are you?” he asked. “Or should I even be so bold as to ask your name?”
“I am known by many names down through time, for I come from a time when humans revered and respected the gods and goddesses.”
“I am not of the human race,” he said, wiping his eyes. “Not completely. My ancestors come from those who were downcast from heaven. Called Watchers.” She paused again, letting that sink in. His eyes engaged hers. “The Fallen Ones.”
He opened his mouth to speak. No words formed.
Her hand came up to halt him. “I know well who, and what you are, my son, for I am the child of Nyx and Erebus. I am the personification of retribution for evil deeds and undeserved good fortune.”
He scoffed lightly. Undeserved good fortune? “Then I am well deserving of your wrath. I have lived longer than I should, and have enjoyed riches of untold wealth while alive.” He added sheepishly, “Perhaps undeserved.”
“I am not so concerned with your life-style when you were alive as a human,” she said. “One seed from a pomegranate is only one seed.” She smiled. “One seed among a million times infinity is too many for me to separate and single out.”
He pulled his knees up and curled his arms around them, and then his wickedly taloned wings draped his circumference, as he was embarrassed that he wore no clothes. Meanwhile, he searched his memory of Greek goddesses and tried to fit her into known mythology. Myth come to life. Who is this one? One of the Furies?
She smiled and it lit up her dark eyes. “My son, know that I have been searching for one such as you to be my... shall we say, representative on this earth realm? In the form you are now, you have many talents that I could use at my disposal.”
“What do you wish me to do, goddess?”
She smiled, then made a nod of approval that he knew what she was, and deserved reverence. “First of all, what was your full given name on this earth realm?”
“My father named me William Bartholomew Gannon. I go by the name Bill, mainly.”
“You are now my Avenger, Bill, for I am Nemesis, and have need for you to keep in check the evil ones who are causing havoc. One magical creature who was born not long ago will be in mortal danger soon, and she has not yet fulfilled her role which was foretold by ancient prophesy.”
Bill thought a moment, he was certain he knew who she meant.
He had been tracking the sibyl for over a month—as a human—and was supposed to mate with her. Now...
“What would you have me do, goddess?”
“Go find her. Help keep her safe, for there are many who are now joining forces against her. The sibyl's life is in jeopardy.”
“Gladly,” he said, knowing this was so very true. “Anything else?”
“Yes. The equilibrium of good and evil has been tipped. There are many who have fallen prey to hubris, or arrogance. They join forces to kill her. Not only demons and vampires, but some humans too.”
“And you wish me to be your tool to make things more even?” he asked, his words measured with thought.
“It will be a continuous job,” she said with a graceful smile. “Rise up, Bill Gannon.” She moved her hand gracefully from the filmy black robes.
Bill rose, banishing his embarrassment of being nude, and folded his wings tightly behind himself. Her eyes took him in, and a smile dimpled her cheeks.
“Your wings are beautiful,” she said. “Hold them out so that I may see.”
He did so and gazed at the knobby joints throughout the leathery wings. His gaze rose to the thumb with the large, wicked claw that curved not in, but up and back. He knew now it was how he had slit the throats of the men he had exsanguinated to feed upon from the workers who had been trying to remove huge boulders from the cave-in. He was basically a killing machine.
“You don't seem to like your wings very much. Why is that?”
“When alive, my wings were made of feathers. Pure white, as white as snow. No other like me, had such.”
A finger tapping her chin, she thought on this for a moment. “Should you prove to be worthy of the task I have given you, at a time when I feel you have achieved a reward, I shall give you back your wings as they once were.”
Bill could barely rein in his joy at this. Tears made him blink in order to clear his eyes. “Really?”
She nodded. “Yes. Really.”
He bowed at the waist, the apex of his wings almost touching the floor, then he straightened. “I am at your service, goddess. But... tell me how do I get out of here, into the world?”
She chuckled then. “Bill. You are very capable of going wherever your mind wants you to go. Merely think it.”
“How long have I been...” he trailed off, his eyes dropping to take in the dead bodies around him.
“You have not been gone all that long from the living that you cannot pick up where you have left off.”
For the first time Bill's lips tilted into a half-smile. Yes. She was right. He certainly could pick up where he'd left off in his human life. But his smile vanished. “I have no clothes. I can't go about like this.” His hands out. “Not with these wings especially.”
Nemesis' lips twisted in thought again. “No. I can't very well allow you to walk about like that. Not in today's world. My apologies. Retract your wings.”
He hadn't thought of that. It took a little concentration, but after a few seconds, they vanished.
She thrust her hand toward him and a golden light arrowed toward him. He flinched, but felt nothing, except maybe warmth cascading over his body.
He looked down to find himself clothed, in nearly the very same thing he last wore. Looking back up at her he said, “Now, though, I would drink blood to live?”
Eyes glittering, she said, “No. You are not exactly a vampire. You are something more.”
Another wry smile tilted her beautiful lips. “I will allow you to figure this out by yourself, Bill.” She began to fade. “Find the sibyl. Save her from her enemies.” She vanished.
“Stop. I'll take an ear off if you move again.”
I gaped at my cousin, Lindee, who wielded the scissors over Vasyl's head.
Vasyl made a little growl of annoyance. He sat in my kitchen blinking under bright overhead bulbs with a bath towel arranged over his shoulders. Clippings of his wavy hair on the floor around him looking like black snakes that a cat had clawed, chewed and played with. I bent down to gather one or two thick, wavy trimmings from the drastic cutting Lindee had done to my husband's hair. I held three foot long pieces. Women would pay through the nose for such extensions. I wasn't going to sell them. I wanted it for a keepsake. The notion was rather silly, or possibly romantic, I know. But I couldn't see throwing it all into the trash. It was simply too beautiful.
Moments ago, Lindee had tried unsuccessfully to use the barber scissors my dad had. “His hair is like cutting through chicken wire!” Lindee had complained—and not quietly. She then pulled out the large sheers from my mother’s old sewing table. They were sharp and went through his hair easily.
Poor Vasyl. He'd lost most of his hair last night in the violent storm when he'd tackled Nicolas in my bedroom in Tremayne Towers in Chicago. They'd both crashed out my bedroom window and were side-swiped by a bolt of lightning that had hit Nicolas directly, killing him. Vasyl had made a remarkable recovery in less than twenty-four hours. Tonight he asked us to cut the rest of his hair off, because half of it had been burnt in a jagged way (and smelled bad), to the shoulders. His wings had protected him from the lightning strike, while Nicolas had taken the full brunt of it, already dead well before his ashes hit the pavement below. But the side-splash of lightning had hit Vasyl's wings, sending him careening into a building across the way where he clung until Bjorn Tremayne got to him almost a half hour later.