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Prodigal Son by PythonPrincess

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Part III of the Sweet Justice Series
Prodigal Son

Chapter 1- Grave Digger’s Union

The earth was moist and sweet. Great clumps of it were shoveled out of an ever growing hole and tossed up onto an ever growing pile. Two well muscled men stood waist deep in the hole, toiling away beneath the wan moonlight in the cemetery across the street from Santa Carla’s local hospital.

“So, I wonder who the lucky stiff is getting this grave?” David remarked, pausing in his work and leaning against the handle of his shovel for a moment.

“I dunno. This job sort of gives me the creeps,” Dwayne replied.

“Well, it pays good,” David answered truthfully.

That it did indeed. Grave digging was one of the several side jobs David had lined up as a source of income other than filching money from his drained victims. He was called every now and then, as he had been tonight. Knowing that Dwayne was running rather short of cash, he’d offered to take him along and split the pay.

Around them, the air was preternaturally quiet. Dwayne was right. Working in a graveyard was sort of creepy. The strange thing was, neither of them should honestly be afraid, especially since they were the sorts of creatures that mortals should fear an encounter with. Perhaps their uneasiness harkened back to the parts of themselves that was still human, if there was anything left. Those parts still feared the meaning of an empty, waiting grave hole in a dark, spooky cemetery at night.

There were no clues to the identity of who would be tossed down into the dark eternity of the hole they dug. David thought to himself that he’d buy a copy of the Santa Carla Sentinel and scan through the obituaries. Morbid, but fascinating. Then, in a couple of weeks, when the headstone was finally laid upon this plot, David would be sure to take a stroll on by to see which dead person’s name benefited from their work. This was a routine of his. There were some ten graves in this cemetery he’d dug, and he knew each and every one of them. Of course, none of them were casualties of himself or his pack. Their bodies were either bonfire fuel or fish food.


David found a newsstand with a copy of the current day’s issue of the paper still available. Well, technically, since it was after midnight, it wasn’t the current day’s issue anymore, but it was current enough. He inserted 50 cents into the slot and pulled open the door, pulling the paper free. His hands were clean as he’d worn gloves while working. However, his clothes were a grimy mess.

Dwayne couldn’t care less about reading obituaries in the paper. He was just glad to be out of the creepy graveyard. Payment would be sent via check to David’s Mailboxes Etc. box, which stayed open until nine at night. They’d have access to their funds in a couple of days. Frankly, that’s all Dwayne cared about. He’d probably get about $200 bucks for his deeds tonight, and that sounded good to him. Still, he wouldn’t mind reading the Local Link section of the paper to see if anything good was going on at the art gallery. Something of his on display might sell if the crowds had a reason to go there….

Dwayne and David headed back to the Cliffside that they called home, and quietly descended into their sunken ballroom cavern. At present, they were the only ones home. Dwayne set about lighting kerosene lamps, candles and the oil drums that provided light in the dark interior that had no windows or natural openings to the outdoors, and David settled into his plush, velvet wingback chair. Then, he pulled a cigarette from behind his ear, lit it, and opened his paper.

There was really only one death in the area reported in the obituaries whose committal could possibly be at the place where David and Dwayne had dug the grave. In fact, the obituary stated such right there. Graveside services to be held at Dominican Hospital Cemetery…

The day after tomorrow…

Of course, though the hole was dug, the family needed time to get the casket, the flowers and the chairs set up at the site. Before they’d left, David and Dwayne had spread the large, 10X10 astro-turf grass over the burial site. It had been left in a roll for them when they’d arrived to indicate for them where the burial site was.

Still, David wasn’t prepared for the obituary he read. He swallowed hard, nearly choking on the smoke he inhaled when he saw it.

Gus Michael Martin
April 2, 1922- May 15- 2007
World War II Veteran, Santa Carla Native

Gus Martin, of Santa Carla, passed away of natural causes in a local hospital on May 15th. He was 85 years old. Mr. Martin served for two years overseas in World War II, and was discharged after being injured on Normandy Beach. He received a Purple Heart for his efforts in combat. After the war, he took up taxidermy as a hobby and as a profession, and became well known locally for his work.

Gus Martin is preceded in death by his wife of 27 years, Linda Price Martin. He is survived by his daughter, Lucy Martin Emerson, two grandsons, Michael and Sam Emerson, a daughter in law, Star Chelli Emerson, four grandsons, Ryan, Christopher, Zachary, and Brett; and one granddaughter, Leah. He is also survived by numerous friends and will be greatly missed by all.

Donations to the Veteran’s Rotary can be made in his memory. No viewing will be held. A memorial service will be held at Bethany Bible Church in Santa Carla, at 1 p.m. on May 20th, with the burial following immediately afterwards at the Dominican Hospital Cemetery.

Whaddya know! Michael’s old coot grandfather had kicked the bucket. Right on David’s 92nd birthday, too!

Died of natural causes, too. What ever that meant. At 85, that could be from anything. A stroke, a heart attack…the old bugger could have just stopped breathing in his sleep, even. The thought was mildly disturbing to David, as he considered all the living he’d done in his many years on this Earth. How fast it had gone. This poor bastard didn’t even get as many years as David had lived, and now the party was over. He was going in the hole that he and Dwayne had dug…

Which is exactly where David would probably be if he hadn’t accepted Max’s offer to go see ‘A Day at the Races’ that evening back in 1937. How disturbing was that thought?

The words on the paper began to blur together and David finally tossed it aside, Enough. Now he felt a little bitter. So much for a very lucrative side job. There’d be no more income from old man Martin.

Before he had a chance to get too much into that train of thought, David’s body stiffened and his nostrils flared. His body quivered with a sudden knowledge, and it drove into his brain like a thousand jackhammers, all at once.

If Dwayne noticed the change in David’s expression and demeanor, he said nothing. In fact, he’d settled himself in front of his easel to begin a new outline for a painting after cleaning the dirt off of him the best he could. In a bit, he supposed he’d find a shower somewhere, but for now, there was an idea burning in his mind he needed to get on canvas…

But for David, he cared not. He closed his eyes to become one with the vision forming in his mind’s eye. Two people in the front seat of a car, traveling down a dark road. Behind them in the back seat, two other people. David didn’t concentrate on the passengers in the back. He cared about the ones in the front. They were his prodigal daughter and prodigal son, returning home to Santa Carla. At last….

He had them in his sights.


They were an odd family; the Emerson’s. It was nearly two o’clock in the morning, and any self respecting family with four kids of varying ages wouldn’t purposely catch a late night flight from Phoenix to San Jose, but that was precisely how the Emerson’s traveled. Lucy had met them at the airport while they secured themselves a rental car and unloaded their considerable baggage after the 90 minute flight. Then, Michael and Star took their oldest, Ryan who was 20, and their youngest, Brett, who was only 4, along with some of the luggage, while Lucy had the rest of the luggage and their 14 year old twins, Zach and Chris in her SUV.

Finally, they reached Santa Carla City Limits, and not a moment too soon, for Brett was stirring in the back; starting to get restless in the constraints of his booster seat. Michael noticed, with some irony, that the ‘Murder Capital of the World’ spray painted warning had been washed away from the back of the welcoming billboard at the entrance to town. The strange scent of death that had clung in the air didn’t seem as oppressive as he’d remembered, either.

Now, that was the real irony, especially considering the reason they’d come.

It was hard for Michael to believe that his eclectic grandfather was really gone. Lucy had called him shortly after it had happened in tears. Apparently, she’d come home from work to find Grandpa napping on the front porch like he sometimes did. Only when she found him, he wasn’t napping anymore. He’d had a cardiac arrest that had been immediately fatal. When Lucy found him, he’d been dead at least an hour. She had called an ambulance and medical staff at the hospital had examined him anyways to see if he could be resuscitated. It had been unsuccessful, of course, but the doctors had been kind to Lucy and told her that he’d probably passed away in his sleep and felt little pain.

Beside Michael, in the passenger seat, Star glanced out the window, watching the dark landscape of the beach pass by. She got shivers seeing familiar landmarks. Though she hadn’t been back to Santa Carla since the earthquake hit in ’89, when she saw the lighthouse and the small park that surrounded it, somehow, she felt like she had seen it all just yesterday. Her mouth felt like it was filled with cobwebs. She and Michael kept finding reasons to keep from coming back here. The kids were easy, convenient excuses. So was Michael’s job. He worked long, hard hours as a computer consultant. Lucy came out and visited every now and then. So had their niece, Leah. Why should they leave their nice, sprawling, four bedroom home in Phoenix that had a built in pool in the back yard, and a huge gas grilled barbeque?

Neither of them could think of any good reason to leave Phoenix; especially to come back to Santa Carla, until now. Leah’s disappearance last winter had warranted plenty of concern. Michael had offered to take time off and fly out, but Sam had insisted he could handle things on his own. He had, even if the outcome had some less than desirable consequences. Michael and Star were both still reeling from the shock of that one; and it was proof positive that Santa Carla was still a place to stay clean away from if one could help it.

Yet, this town had a way of calling its children back home, even if only for a little while. Michael had to put his grandfather to rest. Star hadn’t seen her folks in ages. Though her parents were divorced, she would visit them separately. Fortunately, her sister, Serenity, had visited in Phoenix a few times. But, Serenity was now married with kids of her own, and had done the smart thing herself. She’d gotten the hell out of Santa Carla as soon as she was old enough. Star wouldn’t be able to pay a visit to her this trip out. She lived in Southern California.

“Mommy, I have to go potty!” Brett called from the back seat.

“We’re almost there, sweetheart,” Star said.

She heard her youngest son mutter discontentedly and squirm in his booster chair. Glancing in the rearview mirror, she could tell that his need to go to the bathroom was more of an impatience to get out of the car than it was a bladder emergency. Beside him, Ryan was asleep, or so it seemed. He was using his gray hooded sweatshirt as a pillow against the window. Tinny sounding music poured out of ear buds stuck in his ears. Star could tell the volume was cranked up high, because she could tell he was listening to Rob Zombie. She sighed and shook her head. Ryan would be deaf before his 21st birthday at this rate.

Star couldn’t believe how fast Ryan had grown. He had just turned 20 two months ago, and had just been let out on semester break from the community college in Phoenix. For the time being, he still lived at home, but he was talking about getting a part time job and moving out to share an apartment with some friends of his. The thought broke Star’s heart, even though she knew she’d have to let him try out his wings someday. She just didn’t think he was ready yet. His grades were okay in school, but he hadn’t settled on a major yet. Ryan still took ‘general education’ courses, and his major was ‘undeclared’. Frankly, he just didn’t know what he wanted to do besides rip up the courses on his skateboard with his buddies whenever he could, play video games until his eyeballs bled, and listen to his IPOD until he went deaf.

In these ways, he seemed pretty much like any other young man his age. Yet, he was unique in others. Ryan took the majority of his school courses at night. What day courses he took, he took online, so that he wouldn’t get comments if he looked washed out and tired. Though he did hang out with his friends during the day, the majority of his socializing was done on the weekend nights and later at night on the weekdays after school. Star had no idea how he planned to fit a part time job in with the difficulties he had. Daylight was such a problem for him. It always had been, ever since his infancy. Doctors were at a loss to diagnose it, but said that there were people in the world allergic to sunlight. The Emerson’s, of course, knew better.

Then the twins had come, and finally, Brett. They all had the same problem as Ryan, in differing degrees. Brett was nearly as bad as Ryan, the twins the least affected, but all were more active at night and listless during the day. Ryan had graduated at the age of 19, a year behind of his classmates because he’d missed so much school growing up. He’d finally completed graduation requirements through independent study. Star was more fortunate with the twins since she no longer had to work. They were home schooled. Brett would be, too.

The Emerson’s had to adjust their schedule to fit their children’s odd patterns, yet it wasn’t something Star was unused to. Michael had to be a day person. She saw him off to work each morning, and did some household chores. Then, she’d throw a brick in with Ryan if it was on-line school day, to make sure he woke for his class. Once she was assured he was up and running with a nice cup of coffee, she would check on the rest of her brood. Usually, Brett would be asleep. If he was, it was time for her own nap. By late afternoon, the house would be waking up. It would be time to make dinner, like in any other house. Michael would come home, and they eat. Then, Star would start with the twin’s lessons while Michael kept an eye on Brett. Ryan would be off to class. Later in the night, Star would tuck Michael into bed. Sometimes, the twins would look after Brett so they could have some time together. It was nice now that the kids were getting older. But, ultimately, Brett would want some Mommy time. She didn’t mind. The twins weren’t too old to want Mom every now and again, either. The four of them would play games or watch TV until 4 or 5 in the morning. It was much like the same schedule she’d kept with Laddie all those years ago…

Then off to bed with the kids, and back upstairs she’d go for a few more winks of precious sleep until Michael’s alarm rang. Another day would start.

Ryan stirred in the back seat, his eyes fluttering open. He didn’t notice his mother eyeing him tenderly, yet protectively from the rearview mirror. He just felt stiff, cold, and oddly unsettled.

“Where are we, Mom?” he asked, pulling the ear buds out of his ears and switching his MP3 player off.

“We’re in Santa Carla. In fact, we’re almost there,” she answered.

“What’s that smell?” he asked, sniffing.

“What smell?” she asked.

“It smells like wet dog…”

Michael craned his head back and glanced at Ryan.

“Wet dog?”

“Yeah. Wet dog and…” sniff…sniff…

“Dead seagull or something.”

“Yucky!” Brett burst.

“It’s all in your head, son. I don’t smell anything,” Michael replied.

“Yeah, it’s all in your head,” Brett parroted.

Ryan said nothing. He knew his little brother’s game by now. He would copy anything anyone said, because he was bored.

Up ahead, Lucy’s blue SUV pulled up to a very rutted but familiar private driveway. Michael took care navigating the dirt path, as the rental car wasn’t built for off road like the recreational vehicle was. Already parked in the driveway was a nice looking, even newer model shiny, black SUV with tinted windows. Michael knew this had to belong to Sam. A white Toyota Camry was also parked in the driveway and neither had any idea who that car belonged to. Maybe Lucy had two cars.

Star glanced at him sympathetically. She knew this homecoming had to be hard on him, but Michael was trying not to show it. He wanted to be strong for his mother. Surprisingly, Lucy seemed to be holding up rather well. Yet, Lucy always surprised Star. Her voice was kind of wishy-washy and soft spoken, but beneath it all, she was a woman that could take one hell of a beating and stay on her feet. She was also the sort that would fight tooth and nail if anything threatened her family. In addition, Lucy proved that she was willing to make any sacrifice required to keep her family safe, even if it meant putting herself beneath the fang of a vampire. Star admired her a great deal.

“Let’s get this stuff inside and get you all settled,” Lucy said.

Her actions were almost too rushed and her speech almost too breezy. Keeping busy was about the only way one could deal with grief sometimes. To Star’s surprise, a man appeared on the front porch. He bounded down the steps, and folded Star close to his tall, somewhat age thickened form before she even had a chance to recognize him.

“Dad?” she squawked in surprise.

“Hello, sweetheart! It’s been an age! So good to see you!” he said, finally releasing her from his enthusiastic embrace.

“Oh, Dad, I’m happy to see you too, but what brings you here?”

“Lucy called and told me that she was picking you all up tonight, so I asked if it was okay if I came and met you all here. I sort of wanted a chance to see you and the kids before…you know…”

“The funeral,” Michael stated plainly.

There was no point in mincing words.

“Right. Here, let me help with these.”

Stan Chelli reached into the trunk of the rental car and pulled out duffel bags, suit cases, and a couple of small overnight totes. Considering the size of the family, they had to bring lots of luggage, for their planned one week stay. Still, with all the helping hands available, only one trip inside the house was required.

Michael took a deep breath when he entered the familiar confines of his old home. It was pretty much the same, more or less. Lots of repairs had been made to patch up the damage that had been done after *that night*, but very little had changed in the way of décor. Grandpa had his rules, and rule number two was: don’t touch his stuff.

“Eww, gross! What is all that stuff up there?” Zach questioned, half disgusted, half amazed.

“Stuffed stuff, by the looks of it, dimwit,” Ryan answered nonchalantly.

Brett took one look at the menacing stuffed lion in the living room and cowered into Star’s skirts.

“Wow. It looks like the Texas Chainsaw Massacre in here. Pretty cool, Gran,” Chris commented with a pop of his bubblegum.

“We said that once upon a time,” a voice sounded from behind them.

The family wheeled around to see Sam standing in the doorway. Michael didn’t know what to expect when he encountered his brother for the first time after hearing the odd tale of how he’d been bitten by a werewolf after finding Leah on the pier…..

Yet, Sam looked completely normal. His hair was a little darker than it had been when he was Chris and Zach’s age and cut a little differently now, but his face was as smooth and as youthful as a man 10 years younger. That was surprising, considering the abuse he’d heaped upon his body, but being a werewolf had nothing to do with his young looking appearance. Sam had always just been lucky in that way.

“Hey, Sammy,” Michael greeted.

“Hey back, Mikey,” Sam returned.

Michael put his load of luggage down on the ground and silently pulled his younger brother into a hug, which was at first returned hesitantly, and then enthusiastically.

“I can’t believe he’s gone,” Michael whispered.

“I know. It’s hard, but you’ll know it before long. You’ll feel it,” Sam told him.

Michael looked around the room. The eyes of the animals stashed here and there glittered at him with an emptiness that he knew had always been there from the start, but suddenly, it took on a whole new meaning.

He was already starting to feel just what Sam meant.
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