The thundering roar of a V8 echoed in my ears. I was in The Beast, tearing down the Benjamin Franking Parkway, weaving in and out of piles of half-eaten corpses. My FAL and Katana were laying across the passenger seat next to me. The Mossberg and Wakazashi were crossed over my back, digging uncomfortably into my shoulders as the car seat pressed them into my back. The SIG P220 was in its drop leg on my thigh; its brother was in a shoulder rig under my left armpit. My armor was covered in spare magazines, buckshot shells and slugs, and a half-dozen sharpened ivory stakes.
Through the windshield, I could see the massive gargoyle swoop through the night sky, then nose over into a dive and crash through the roof of the Art Museum. I skidded to a halt in front of the Rocky Steps, grabbed my rifle and sword, and leapt from the GTO. I raced up the steps as I fumbled to attack the katana’s scabbard to my belt with one hand. I burst through the doors and snapped the FAL up, sweeping the lobby for threats. It was empty. I slowly made my way up the stairs, instinctively working my way towards the Medieval Weapons & Armor room.
The evil man was waiting for me. This time, though, he was different. This time, I could see his face. I was stunned. He was so young; maybe a year or two older than me. An evil grin spread across his cheeks as a demonic laughter filled the room. I snapped my FAL up and dumped the full thirty-round magazine into him as fast as I could fire. He staggered back a bit but didn’t go down. I dropped the rifle, unslung the Mossberg, and pumped all eight shells into him so fast it sounded like the shotgun was going full-auto. He was still standing. I drew my full-size SIG, emptied it, drew the compact, emptied it. He laughed it off. I let the pistol fall away and pulled my swords from their scabbards. The black sword appeared in his hands. I charged, swinging the katana at him. He dodged and parried me with superhuman speed. We fought for what felt like hours, and I didn’t touch him. I didn’t even come close. And the bastard was holding back. I could tell.
Then he neatly flicked my blades aside and drove his sword into my left calf. I screamed as fire raced up my leg and I went down hard. I tried to strike at him again, but he deftly parried me and plunged the tip of his sword into my right shoulder. The katana fell from my numb hand. He drove his boot into my chest, sending me sprawling across the marble floor. He was on top of me an instant later, the tip of his blade inches from my throat. I heard Odette scream my name.
My eyes snapped open and I lurched upright. My breath came in ragged gasps as I glanced around wildly, trying desperately to figure out where I was. I wasn’t in my bedroom, where the hell… oh. I slumped back onto the sofa as the events of the last 24 hours me rushing back to me.
Dominique had taken the news about Odette’s suicide attempt better than either of us had thought. She’d actually blamed herself in part for it; being at Lake Dunmore had made Odette flash back to the day Robert was killed. Earl had told her Odette was still working to overcome her grief, but she’d sent her out to the lake anyway. Even so, she’d still put Odette on the inactive roster, so the two of us would be working the archives with Shannon for the time being.
I’d spent all of the next morning with Jon in the ER waiting to get my leg looked at. It turned out that I’d twisted my knee pretty badly, but luckily I hadn’t torn any tendons or ligaments, in the process. Unfortunately, I’d need to keep it wrapped an in a brace for a week or so, so I’d be off hunting until then.
More annoying was the fact that my little trip to the hospital had literally taken all day; by the time Jon and I made it back to the compound, dinner time had long since past. To make my day even better, we learned that Dominique had decided that, given the fact that some really powerful undead appeared to be targeting us, our houses weren’t secure enough, so she’d ordered us to move into small dorm suites in the compound’s main building. Ordinarily this wouldn’t bother me all that much, but I’d just finished unpacking my stuff, and now I had to pack it all up, carry it over to the main building, and then unpack it all over again. Okay, the rest of the team helped out (okay, they actually did most of it), but it was still a royal pain in the ass. Then, once I’d gotten all settled in and was ready for bed, Odette knocked on my door. She looked pretty distraught, and I knew right that Robert was on her mind again. She told me she didn’t want to be alone, so I offered to keep her company and spend the night.
I slept on the couch. Get your mind out of the gutter.
So that’s where I found myself when I awoke from my nightmare; laying on an uncomfortable couch in Odette’s room. Jeez, what a waste of a day that had‑
The blast jolted me clear off the sofa. I recognized the sound in a heartbeat: a .45 automatic. It had come from Odette’s bedroom.
“NOOOOOOOO!!!!!” I was on my feet in an instant, hobbling towards the bedroom door as fast as my messed-up leg and crutches would carry me. Praying that I was wrong, hoping against hope that I wouldn’t find what I knew had to be waiting for me, I lurched through the door.
The blow sent me sprawling. My crutches skittered across the linoleum floor out of my grasp. I kicked out at the thing with my good leg and was rewarded by an impact and a loud oomph!. The creature landed next to me. I twisted around and lurched away, grabbing at one of the crutches. My fingers wrapped around the cold metal. I turned back, winding up for the strike.
And found myself nose-to-muzzle with a big .45 automatic.
“Steve?!” Odette asked, “Jeez! I almost shot you! What the hell are you doing?
“You’re alive!” I was stunned. “But… but… but…”
“But I just… I just heard you…”
“Heard me do what?”
“Uh…” I mimed pointing a pistol at my head and pulling the trigger. “That.”
“What?!” she exclaimed. “Why… how could you even think that?” There was no mistaking the hurt in her voice. “I promised you I wouldn’t, remember?”
“But… but I heard the shot.”
“Shot? What sh- oh. Oh God.” She started laughing. I started to get mad until I realized she wasn’t laughing at me. She was laughing with relief. “Oh God, Steve, I’m so sorry! I couldn’t sleep and I didn’t want to bother you, so I turned on the TV and started watching a movie. You just heard Tom Cruise finishing off some random thug.”
For a long moment, I just stared at her, trying to wrap my mind around what had just happened. Then I started laughing. Soon Odette was laughing too. We just lay there on the floor for a minute, laughing our fool heads off at what fools we’d both just been. Then when our sides hurt too much to laugh, Odette stood up and helped me to my feet.
“I’m sorry I scared you,” she said as she handed me my other crutch.
“Hey, I’m sorry I knocked you down and tried to beat you to death.”
“I’m sorry I almost shot you,” she replied.
“Okay, we’re both sorry,” I said with a chuckle. That got her laughing again too. God, what a beautiful sound. She walked over to her bed, sat down, and motioned for me to join her. I hobbled over and flopped down next to her. Actually, I’d tried to just sit down politely, but my leg brace screwed that attempt up big time.
“You’d have liked him,” she said absently.
“Robert. You and he have a lot in common.”
“Really? How so?”
“You two both loved those old hot rod cars,” Odette replied. “Robert and his father restored one while he was in high school.”
“You’re kidding! What kind?”
“Ah… it was a… an old Chevrolet. A… Chevel? Shovel? Something like that…”
“Chevelle?” I asked excitedly.
“Yeah, yeah that was it.”
“Not the same as your Pontiac. 1970, I think.”
“Dayum! The ‘70’s were the best of the Chevelles.”
“Robert used to say the same thing.” She glanced down towards her lap, and I noticed she was holding the picture again.
“Is that him?” I asked. The picture was of Odette and a young, handsome man standing in front of Pizzeria Uno in downtown Chicago. Odd, he looked kind of familiar…
“Yep. My dad took that last summer, when we’d both graduated from college. He… ah… the lake… happened a week later.”
“Oh,” was all I could think to say. “I… I’m sorry.”
“You didn’t kill him.”
“And neither did you,” I reminded her. She nodded.
“You know… I really miss him.” A single tear slid down her cheek.
“I know,” I said, “I know.” Where had I seen that face before… oh. Oh no.
For a long moment, we just sat there, staring at the photo. Then Odette abruptly reached over and placed it on her nightstand.
“We’d better get some sleep,” she said, “It’s gonna be a long day tomorrow.”
“Yeah,” I said absently as I awkwardly slid off the bed and got to my feet, “Yeah.”
“Thanks,” she said.
“For being there.”
“Oh,” I replied, “You’re welcome. Good night.”
I hobbled back into the living room and awkwardly lowered myself back onto the couch. Sleep didn’t come for a long time. I couldn’t believe what I’d seen. I had to have been wrong. It had to be a mistake There was no way it could be possible. But it was, and I knew it.
The face in the photograph, Robert’s face, was the same face I’d seen in my dream.