A Lullaby For The Lost

Chapter 6: Lights Down, We Drown

Chapter 6: Lights Down, We Drown

Sighing deeply, Sam Emerson stared morosely at the tepid cup of coffee in his hand. Santa Carla still sucked, even fifteen years after he’d left. As a kid, he’d never wanted to move to this town from Phoenix in the first place. But choices like that weren’t given over to fourteen year olds to make. He’d gone when Mom and Michael went, voicing the majority of his complaints to his older brother. When Michael got tired of hearing them, he’d turned to his dog, Nanook.

Old Nanook was long gone now, and buried in the pasture, not stuffed in the house somewhere, thank you. At Grandpa’s house, stuffed meant literally…stuffed. Well, preserved or whatever his grandfather did when he created his taxidermy masterpieces out of dead critters. Grandpa had offered Sam a nice, special preservation of his beloved pet when Nanook had finally been put down at the age of 13, from an untreatable brain tumor that made him blind and caused seizures. Sam had blatantly refused. He couldn’t bear to see Nanook looking like he was alive, but knowing that he wasn’t or never would be again.

Now, a morbid thought crossed his mind, one he tried hard to shut out. What if the Coast Guard did find Leah’s body? Would Grandpa offer to stuff her, too?

It was Day Three. His mother had tearfully called him up sometime after midnight the night it happened, and told him everything that happened, apologizing profusely and blaming herself mercilessly. Sam had arrived in Santa Carla the following morning. He’d slept very little the night his mother called, and every night since he’d left. Jennifer, Leah’s mother remained in Los Gatos, by the suggestion of the Santa Carla P.D. They asked her if Leah knew how to call home from payphones or cell phones, even if the call was long distance. Jennifer had informed them that Leah did. Therefore, it was recommended that Jennifer keep a ‘home base’ for Leah in case she tried to call home. They promised her they would keep her informed of all the latest developments, and if Leah was found, she would be contacted immediately, regardless of the time. (Even if her body was all that was found. They hadn’t said that, but it was implied.)

With each day that passed, hope dwindled. The Coast Guard had given up dragging the ocean, stating that Leah’s remains would wash ashore after awhile if she’d drowned. Each morning, the police scoured the beaches and the cliffs surrounding them to see what the tide might have dropped off in the night. So far, nothing.

The rest of the house was asleep, so it seemed. With Grandpa, though, one could never tell. Old folks had strange sleeping habits, and Grandpa had strange habits, period. He had a small bedroom downstairs off of his nasty old taxidermy room, and as far as Sam could tell, he was still in there. Probably reading his TV Guide. The old codge still didn’t have a TV; claimed he couldn’t stand the racket. But, he liked to read the TV Guide, and had said long ago that if he read the TV Guide, he didn’t need a TV. Mom kept a television set upstairs now, for herself. She even had cable.

Sam dumped the rest of his coffee in the sink, and glanced at the little digital clock on the coffeemaker. It was nearly eight in the morning. Running a hand through his messy hair, he decided that it was time to shower and get ready for the day. Get ready to do what…wait some more? He needed routine, though. Brooding was getting him nowhere.

Rummaging through a hastily packed duffel bag, Sam pulled out some clean clothes to change into once he was upstairs in his old room. His mother’s door was cracked shut; she was still in bed. No wonder, she’d been up ‘til one o’clock in the morning keeping a useless vigil at the phone. Noting this, Sam quietly clicked his own bedroom door shut. If he was going to get through another day like yesterday, he was definitely in need of some help.

Having the police sniffing around made Sam nervous; especially since he had an illegal substance in his luggage. Carefully, he spilled some cocaine out of the tiny Ziplock baggie onto a mirror he’d packed. Then, he used a credit card to line it up, and a rolled up dollar bill to snort it with. Afterwards, he carefully packed his stash away so no one would accidentally discover it. His eyes watered a bit, and he sniffled, but already, the drugs in his system were perking him up faster than the coffee had. At least for now. In a couple of hours, he’d need to refresh himself.

If he was at home, and circumstances weren’t what they were, Sam would be having a serious mental conversation with himself. He’d been in and out of rehab for the last 6 years. He knew he needed help. Yet, right now, any guilt about his drug use was a moot point. He needed to feel numb. His mom was a mess, Michael wasn’t here to mop her up, and Grandpa was nuttier than a squirrel’s breakfast. In addition to worrying about his daughter, he was now the man of the house, even if the promotion was temporary. Sam couldn’t cope with the demands without a boost that would take away the stress and replace it with nothingness. He wasn’t Michael.

The phone rang after he’d just returned from the bathroom, toweling off his damp hair. There was an extension in his room now, and one in his mother’s in addition to the one downstairs. Sam nearly jumped out of his skin. A lead?

He snapped the phone off the receiver on the second ring.

“Hello, is this Sam Emerson?”

“Speaking. Who is this?”

“I figured you might be in town. Listen, I apologize about what’s happened to your little girl, but we’ve gotta meet. There’s more going on than the police are saying…”

“Who is this?” Sam repeated.

“You don’t recognize me? It’s Edgar, for Christ’s sake! Have you been gone that long?””

“Edgar! Right. Now I recognize your voice. Sorry, it’s been an age.”

“Yeah, it has. But, this is important, man. We can shoot the breeze later. I got some shit to fill you in on. Can you get away for a little while?”

“Yeah. I’ll just notify the P.D. to call me on my cell phone if they need to get in touch with me. What time do you want to meet?”

“Any time. You know where to find us.”

Sam wasn’t able to pull himself away from the house until after 5 o’clock that night. The next time the phone rang, it had been some newspaper wanting a human interest story. His mom had picked up the phone that time and had fallen apart almost immediately after politely telling the reporter to go to hell. Sam felt bad about leaving her in a state, and when she was finally calmed down, he let her know he was going to do some private sniffing around on his own. She hadn’t objected.

The comic book shop had seen some minor changes since the last time Sam had visited it. The whole front of it was enclosed with glass, to help cut down on shoplifting. Edgar and Alan had obviously spent some money remodeling, yet the store still retained its older charm…

If charm was what you could call it. Mysterious atmosphere was more like it.

“I’m glad you finally showed up,” Edgar told him, appearing suddenly from behind a tall display shelf lined with comics. Just like the old days…

“Sorry. I had to take care of my mom. She’s a bit of a wreck, you know,” Sam defended.

“No problem. I totally understand.”

Oddly enough, it honestly sounded like Edgar did understand.

“We’ve learned some shit that will blow your socks off,” Alan said. He had just finished assisting a customer, and was now joining the conversation.

“Does it have anything to do with Leah’s disappearance?”

“It could. We don’t know yet, but we intend to find out. On our own, just the way we like it. The cops have pretty much cleared out of the area. The Coast Guard only patrols the beach in the morning…so now’s the perfect time to do some investigating,” Edgar replied. His face was set in that grim determination that Sam remembered so well.

Uh-oh.

Edgar turned and motioned to a boy that looked to be about Leah’s age. He was perched on a stool near the cash register, flipping through a Game Informer magazine. Beside him on the counter, a Nintendo DS sat idle.

“Tyler, be a sport and watch the shop for Uncle Alan and me. Let me know if any customers come in.”

“Okay, Dad,” the boy agreed.

Edgar then ushered the way into the back section of the store, where the brothers kept all of their vampire hunting paraphernalia. Apparently, they were just as gung ho about nailing vampires as they’d been before, even though all the local vampires were dead. Did Sam doubt they wouldn’t be?

“I have an inside source that tells me that your daughter may have been nailed by a vampire,” Edgar told him matter of factly.

“You’re shitting me, right? We killed all of them,” Sam hissed, feeling a flush creep into his cheeks. If there was one thing he didn’t like to be reminded of, it was that summer twenty years ago, when he’d learned that vampires were real. He also learned that they died in some pretty messy, but awesome ways…

“I wish that were true,” Alan replied grimly.

C’mon. Are you guys smoking crack or something? There’s no way any of them could have lived through what we did. The one I nailed with my Grandpa’s bow and arrow blew to pieces in the living room, in case you don’t remember cleaning him up that night….”

“Yeah, we know. We were there. How surprised do you think we were to find out that Twisted Sister shot right back up out of the ground, even after his baptized and liquefied guts blew your plumbing all to hell?”

“Your saying that they’re all alive…even the one we staked in the cave and the one that tried to kill my brother?”

“All of ‘em. Except the Head Vampire. Sucks for him that the stake drove right through him and sent him into a burning fireplace instead of a plugged in stereo. Anyways, he’s history. The others aren’t,” Alan explained.

“Well, I don’t get it. You guys told me that if the Head Vampire bought it, all the other vampires would be toast, and the half vampires would revert to normal. Michael, Star and the kid all went back to normal. How come these guys aren’t dead?” Sam asked. His eyes were narrowed almost as though he was annoyed with the two vampire hunters.

“There’s so much conflicting information on vampires with all the different cultural myths, that it can be confusing. Simply put, we were wrong. Yeah, the half bloodsuckers returned to normal, but it didn’t necessarily spell curtains for the other guys. Especially since we all made a few other critical errors when assessing the aftermath,” Edgar stated.

“Like what?”

“Bone antlers don’t count as wooden stakes. The vampire that fought your brother was therefore only wounded. He lost enough dead blood to black out, but not enough to mean lights out for good. Then, there was Twisted Sister. I’m still having trouble with this one, because Alan and I saw what happened to him after your dog shoved him in that tub full of Holy water. But, apparently, Holy water is not a permanent means of death, either, especially if there’s any sort of intact remains left behind. In his case, there was. Your mom passed out when she saw his bones bobbing in the bathtub…”

“Yeah, I remember. And she didn’t totally pass out. She just got real queasy and had to go to bed. Anyways, what about the one I nailed? There was nothing ‘intact’ about him,” Sam argued.

“Well, first,” Alan said, “We’ve carefully reviewed the weapons inventory we had that night. Your grandfather’s arrows were wood….but, they were tipped with either bone or flint arrowheads, which is no better at killing a vamp than antlers are. Chances are, Tonto was wounded and stunned, but he would have survived the shot…if it hadn’t been for that lucky stereo. Still, here’s where we made our other critical mistake,” Alan said.

“We didn’t decapitate them and burn the bodies. We buried them, where even the sunlight couldn’t get to them. Underground, weakened vampires can regenerate. We fucked up,” Edgar demurred.

“Yeah, we should have just chucked all the bodies out in the pasture and let the sunlight take care of them. That would have finished them, with or without their heads,” Alan finished.

Sam gazed from one brother to the other in silent contemplation.

“Guys, I don’t know what this has to do with Leah, but using her disappearance as a vampire hunting excuse is sick. I’m not up for it.”

“We don’t have to hunt them. We know where they are more or less. We’ve seen a couple of them…what’s his face; David and Twisted Sister. The others are around, we’ve had it confirmed. So, we don’t need to hunt them. We just need to poke around and see if there’s any evidence that might suggest one of the vampires saw her and nabbed her. You should know by now that we know what to look for,” Edgar said.

“What if we get out there and find out it’s a big, fucking waste of time?” Sam questioned.

“Do you believe your kid just drowned?” Edgar asked.

“No…I don’t know…”

“If you have any remote spark of hope for her, you’ll come with us. Only you can search for her the way it ought to be done. You’re her dad. Even if you think we’re full of shit, would you rest easy knowing you left even one stone unturned?”

Sam didn’t have to think about that. Of course, the answer was no.

The shop closed for the night at ten. Sam made sure he was good and tweaked before setting out with the Frog Brothers for any sort of vampire hunting adventure. He’d stashed enough blow in his glove box for one good toot, and he retrieved it and used the shop’s washroom to line up and snort. He wasn’t stupid enough to be caught carrying any on his person in case they encountered any cops. He also put on the dark sweatshirt that the brothers had loaned him for the night. Edgar made a quick trip to drop his son off at his house, and then returned. Alan assembled the weapons.

They only took enough gear to comfortably carry. The brothers were armed with stakes, of course, and a water pistol containing Holy water apiece. They also equipped Sam. He felt sort of stupid as a grown man carrying shit like this out onto the beach, but then again, right now, he didn’t feel much of anything. Once it was ascertained that they all had working flashlights with fresh batteries, they were ready to go.

The morning had started out crisp and clear, but by early evening, a storm system blew in. Now, the skies were completely covered in billowy, non-descript charcoal shadows that blotted out the stars and the waxing moon. As they trudged out of the shop; down the steps of the boardwalk, and out onto the beach, a light drizzle began to fall. The ever burning lights of the midway provided enough illumination for them to make their way without switching on their flashlights for part of the distance. The remaining quarter of a mile they walked in darkness, with only the black, hulking framework of the pier to serve as their guide. The closer they got; the more light they had to see by, thanks to the streetlights positioned on the paved surface of the wharf. There were also a few restaurants that hadn’t closed for the night up there. Still, the light was not meant to shine downwards. Even then, no one dared to turn on their flashlights. Not yet.

“I’m thinking the shoe was found somewhere around here. It had to be in a spot the cops could find just by scouring the ground,” Edgar said, indicating an area of rocks and boulders close to the water’s edge. The area was not quite beneath the pier.

“There’s no way to know for sure,” Alan replied.

“Yeah, well it hardly matters. We’re not here to look for a shoe that’s already been found. Let’s go in.”

Sam shivered and it wasn’t completely because of the cold, damp, drizzle.

Once beneath the framework, they switched on the flashlights. Three beams of white light bounced from piling to piling, and then down on the ground. They were searching first for any signs of clear and present danger, like cops….or flesh eaters. Instead, they encountered the massive bulks of some reclining sea lions, using the framework as a place to hang out. Most of them slid off the woodwork and plopped into the water. A few less skittish ones regarded them with big, brown unreadable eyes, but stayed put.

The sea lions were lounging on the framework out over the water. The men went the opposite direction; beneath the pier but away from the shoreline. There was plenty of dry land beneath the wharf, but the ground slanted upwards. The farther up the beach they went, the lower the clearance was between the ground and the bottom of the pier. Evidence of vagrancy could be found. A few tatters of a plaid blanket, empty bottles of booze, and the remnants of some pitiful campfires littered the sand. Tonight, it was likely that even more bums would come crawling beneath the pier for shelter to escape the elements….but usually, they wouldn’t show up until the liquor stores closed.

“Some guys never learn,” Edgar spat, as he swerved to avoid a propped form sitting wrapped against one of the cement pilings. So far, this whino was the only person they’d encountered on their search. His gangly legs were stretched out in front of him, and Edgar almost hadn’t seen them. Fortunately, the man was fast asleep.

“Yeah. He’ll be easy pickins’,” Alan agreed.

The bum was conked out just where the space started to get cramped. Sitting as he was, though, he had no problems. Right now, they were still barely beneath the pier, but with their flashlights shining inwards, they couldn’t be seen by anyone on the beach. If this bum hadn’t been discovered by the cops, where he was still in plain sight of any patrols, it was proof to Sam that the patrols hadn’t been looking for his daughter tonight.

Edgar motioned for the group to follow him in.

“Any vamp putting the bite on someone would probably do it around here. As a rule, they don’t like running water, although I’ve since learned that it’s not deadly to them. It’s more like garlic…an allergy. And, I don’t know that sea water counts as running water, since it’s salt, but it’s a good shot that no bloodsucker is gonna want to be standing knee deep in water while feeding,” he explained, “But, since the clearance gets lower the higher we go, only a midget vampire would go any higher. At least he’d still be able to stand upright here.”

The others nodded. The logic made sense. Still, their flashlight beams uncovered nothing but ghostly white looking cement pilings, sand, and boulders….

Suddenly, Sam’s flashlight played over one of the cement pilings. There were red streaks on it….

It looked like blood.

Alan’s flashlight beam met Sam’s, and they leveled a gaze at each other. Then, they heard Edgar call:

“Guys, over here!”

Deeper inside, and farther up, where Edgar hadn’t thought a vampire would go; his flashlight had also uncovered something. There was dried blood spattered on a boulder. Then, he looked into the slightly damp sand near the boulder and saw some shreds of cloth.

Alan and Sam scrambled through the sand, trying to kick it out of their shoes as they ran.

“Ah, God, what’s that smell?” Sam asked as a waft of foul air suddenly blew out around him. He then stared down at what Edgar was regarding; his mind numb with shock.

Another gust of wind blew under the pier, stirring up that God Awful smell. It reminded Sam of when they’d encountered the odor of the undead in the cavern, yet it was different. Mixed in was a feral scent; yet something familiar, too.

Sam knew dog piss when he smelled it. He remembered cleaning tons of towels in Nanook’s final days, when his companion hadn’t been able to get himself outside in time, and had lots of accidents. Only this was worse than dog piss…it was twenty times worse, even, than the piss of a sick dog!

But, it had the same fearful scent to it. If Nanook hadn’t been able to communicate his wants and needs to his family verbally, he found other, instinctual ways. Sam had known Nanook was very sick, and in his final days, he sensed fear in his pet, too. He’d smelled it. He had no choice but to have the vet release Nanook from his suffering.

Sam wiped the memories from his mind. It was almost like Nanook was trying to tell him something…

“Ack! There it is again! It’s not a vampire, I’m pretty sure,” Alan muttered, fanning his nose.

“No. It’s werewolf,” Edgar confirmed.

A werewolf that had obviously had a bite to eat under the pier.

Sam glanced around nervously. Whatever it was that left the scent might still be there. Almost as if he could read his mind, Edgar turned to him.

“Don’t worry. The moon’s not full tonight,” he said, “the Wolfman won’t be out.”

“Yeah it was full a few nights ago. I’m pretty sure it was the night Leah went missing. I’ll check the charts to be sure,” Alan said.

Sam stared at the gore streaked boulder. Then, he knelt down, fighting the urge to vomit up the rising bile in his throat. He didn’t have any fancy equipment like the guys on CSI. The Frog brothers didn’t either. There was no way for them to type the blood that had congealed and dried on the rocks. The tatters of material left behind appeared to be a grayish-blue where they weren’t spotted crimson. It was impossible to know if it was tatters of Leah’s clothing. There was one thing he saw in all of the mess that sent his heart into spasms of distress despite all the cocaine he’d snorted.

Cemented into the dried blood on the boulder were a few hairs. The ends that stuck out of the congealed clot and wavered in the draft were blond; the exact honey blond shade of Leah’s hair.