Rooster crowed. Clamour. Flashing lights. Alarm. The world seemed to be shaking and flashing. I squinted. This is what happens when you fall asleep with your chin resting on your cellphone. For once the animals were as surprised as I was, but they were faster about getting out of the way. Well, except Hello Kitty, who was deaf, and found the bright lights to be an irritation.
She had to be pressured off my feet, as she was too far away to be bothered by the vibration. Shadow McTrippy, my new ruminant follower, was also slow to move. I couldn’t remember the black miniature goat’s real name anyway. He lived up to his name as I struggled out of a knot of sheets to the computer that I’d set up on my old work desk.
The screen was flashing, my monitor software was on alert. As a twin, my cellphone was also buzzing and ringing and flashing on the floor. I’d dropped it in haste. After my desktop calmed, I picked up the phone and muted it. Then I went back to the big monitor and watched as I saw several figures flashing their way through the dark. I squinted. It was outside– either at The Pit, or… I saw a fragment of busted up concrete with a pebbly brown painted edge, edged by a tuft of grass, luridly lit by a pool of vivid light.
Oh, intruders were back at the New Cemetery. I swore an oath. I called Sarah and got voicemail. I groaned and left a message. that way, people would know what happened if I happened to do anything stupid. I didn’t want to wait hours for the cops to show up. I looked at the clock. Little after 3 am. Knowing them they’d wait until daylight. I groaned.
Hey, I had magic, supposedly. I didn’t know how to use it, but that hadn’t stopped me before, right? The gnomes helped me, so…why not?
I picked up the rifle. I pocketed my 1911, and put my .38 in my left leg holster on my cowboy work boots. I didn’t use the 1911 that often, but I knew it well enough. It is predictable and pretty much indestructible, and it would stop even my father in his tracks. I put on the bandolier and slung the rifle in it’s case on my back. I said, “Let’s go, guys.” to no one in particular, and walked to the paddock. She was waiting for me. She was wearing a saddle, and almost looked like an ordinary horse– well groomed, even. I put some rope and my bug out bag for short jaunts. Just in case, and it only took a second. But I knew it was Crystal Lilly.
“Why’d you come back?” I whispered to her.
“You need me. Don’t expect miracles, I’m not recharged, long story. But I can do a horse’s work. I fought in the Rye Wars at Blunedeh. Ask Trajan when you see him. You’ll need to see him soon.”
“Tell me about it.” I said softly.
We rode out in near silence. No, really. Her harness tack, and step was absolutely silent, and we only caused a stir, like a gust of wind. We watched animals freeze as they saw us pass. Did I mention I could suddenly see in the dark? No, not like daylight, but animal eyes glowed hot and green and shapes stood out, as if the veil of night had been raised half way. My flashlight just hung by my side like a club. The rest of my weapons pulled at me like weights. All living things seemed to exude their own light. The grass and trees looked vaguely magenta, the animals a greeny yellow, a sleeping owl a deep blue. Only the dirt and sky still clung to the pitch blackness, save for the palest blush to the east, and the cold, hard pinpoint light of stars.
She bounded over the fences with all the grace and none of the jarring discomfort of dressage. And still we stirred the ground like a driving wind. For a moment I felt like the leader of a vast wind army. What good would it do against men? I asked myself.
Finally we made it to the wrought iron fence, and followed along until we got to the gate. We were opposite the road– I hadn’t realized the iron pickett came out so far.
The gnomes can’t follow you into the cemetery, Lilly said into my head.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked. Fear burbled. “Can you?” I asked.
I’m not supposed to, but I can. I think your aunt will understand. But don’t be surprised if… things change for me a bit. The place is barred against most magic, she responded. There was little emotion in her words , which was highly unusual.
What about mine? I replied.
I don’t know. The reply was calm, but had that same tang of emptiness that did not help my rising panic.
Then I reached over to the gate and unlocked it. I could still see the flashing lights– they were doing something near the graves. A coleman lantern rested on what was left of the grotto. It shed a harsh blinding light that cast the shadow of the figures a good distance behind us.
I looked at them, shading my eyes. The otherworld vision did not seem to work in there.
I swore an oath under my breath. I closed my eyes to clear my eyes of afterimages that interfered with my otherworld senses, too.
I could hear spades scraping against dirt. Anger flared up within me. As soon as my vision cleared, I looked into the dark and unlocked the gate. I turned on my flashlight and let my eyes get used to the light. By some miracle they didn’t hear me over the digging.
I pushed open the gate, walking it open with Lilly. While she still seemed able to read my intentions, I could no longer feel her mood, or hear her thoughts. I asked myself what Phil would do. No, that didn’t help. I asked myself what SARAH would do. That’s better.
I charged boldly up the gravel path through the old graves. The harsh mono-directional light cast deep shadows like out of a nightmare. Mostly I was praying. Then I got to the clearing where the New Cemetery really started, and I flashed my light directly on the lead one’s chest. I held the 1911, aimed at the dirt in front of them.
“Excuse me, sirs, you are trespassing.” I said calmly. “You need to clear out of here, now.”
The men stopped digging but looked at the leader, who stood there, smoking a cigarette. he wore brassy mirrored sunglasses. I’m not kidding. Bad 80’s music started floating in my head, and I had to remind myself that shooting him wouldn’t help that. I felt a little light headed after that thought, knowing that was a real possibility.
He stood took one last drag, and regarded me with a dangerous grin. He flicked his glowing butt away casually. A rising tide of bile burned my throat.
HE didn’t seem much intimidated or impressed by my posture. I quickly aimed at the center of mass.
“Do I have to get serious?” I asked.
“DO you know who I am? I am not trespassing. I’m family.” he said cheerfully. He held something in his hand I couldn’t make out. A horrible tingling sensation crawled up my back. I knew it was likely but I could never quite prepare adequately. It was my father.
I looked at his companions, who were less confident, staring at him. He gave me nor them any sign. So they watched him as dumbfounded as I was.
“Come on over here and give me a hug. I know you wouldn’t shoot me. You’ve never had the guts to go through with it.”
“Family doesn’t dig up the miscarried remains of lost children.” I said harshly.
He laughed. “Is that what this looks like? Oh, no, your aunt hid something in here a long time ago. She just asked me to come retrieve it. Must have slipped her mind to tell you.”
“That is a fucking lie and you know it.” I said angrily. I snapped my wrist to aim more carefully. Before I knew it, he had cleared some distance. Lilly was trying to back up, but one of the men had left his post. I had a very bad feeling.
The something hit me in the face. Before I could recover, I dropped the gun, and reached for the reign, as Lilly reared up and plunged on the ground in front of her, charging the second man, who must have drifted off. She became a frenzy of moving horseflesh, ultimately making it impossible for me to do anything but hold on. …And impossible for any of the men to retrieve the gun. It got kicked off by her plunging hoof off somewhere into the darkness, into one of the holes further off.
I don’t know how it sailed that far, but I wasn’t in the mood to ask questions.
Shortly thereafter she calmed, but started stalking the man who had donated half of my DNA. I could hardly call him father. My face was hot and sore, and I tasted blood. He’d struck me on the cheek with a whip, and I saw he was winding up for another strike.
With that kind of force, it was hard to figure how I’d managed to stay on board. Lilly reared up again, effectively dancing out of range– at least for me. I felt her flinch as the whip licked her skin, and muscles bunched under my thigh trembled. Ever forgetful, I mentally apologized, and tried to get to my rifle. The problem with the rifle is that I needed both hands, and when she did this, I had to have at least one. My seat was good enough for forms sake, and a good trot, but I was out of practice for dressage, which was a faint ghostly memory of a poorly remembered childhood. Suddenly I felt incompetent for teaching children anything about horses. but holding on was do or die.
“Get outta here!” I shrieked. “I called the cops.” How could I stand up against three thugs, when there was only one me, the guns and a horse? The very best horse, but none the less, a horse.
There was a movement off to the side. She shifted to the side and tripped him, moving out of the way as he fell. She snorted in satisfaction as he pitched into the dirt.
“They’ll take hours. You know that. Besides. We have an understanding, Sargent Morrison and I.” his voice was edged with anger, but he was never discomposed.
The next thing I knew one of the other guys was coming at me with a shovel, swinging it like a club. The best I could do was block with my flashlight, which smashed as the pyrex face was struck by the edge of the spade, which rung like a demented bell. I blocked several times, but had to take my eyes off my father. Fortunately, Lilly didn’t. She struck out a hind leg, and I felt her strike something solid. A figure shrieked like a banshee crumpled to the dirt.
Then there was another bright light approaching from the road. It could be anything from a cop, to a fleeing bar of light, signifying nothing,
He waited until it turned into the driveway. My father swore and picked up his buddy and started dragging him, like a rag doll. All the wile moaning and struggling weakly. Then something hit me on the back of hte head and rang like a bell.
My last thought was to wonder how he’d fooled Lilly.
I really really have to stop waking up like this. I had a headache. And there was light. LOTS of light. Too much light. There was a man prodding at me with a stethoscope. Eyes, ears nose and everything. I had something pulling at the back of my head.
The unfamiliar face was surrounded by a blue blur which resolved into scrubs. I was hooked up to an…everything monitor and some metal tree holding bagged liquids. Fun stuff. I noted with relief that I was not chained to the bed. And it really did look like a hospital. But the ultimate relief was when Sarah’s pale and concerned face emerged through the parted curtains. Her eyes flew open. “We are… so happy you are alive. DON”T GO INTO THAT PLACE ALONE AGAIN, do you hear me?” Sarah has the unique talent of being able to sound loving and like she will rip your face off at the same time.
I blinked. “Is LILLY okay?” I gasped.
“Lilly?… You mean that white horse you got out of nowhere? Lilly is fine. I had Colin take her home to get her cleaned up. She’d been roughed up and probably needs a vet too. He’ll take care of that. She got struck with a shovel, but I don’t think they broke anything. Didn’t hit her on the head, either.” she gave me an almost accusatory look. “but I can’t stay angry at you.” she snarled with a touch of sadness.
I wondered what Dr. Klingman, the old vet who took care of all Sarah’s horses, would make of Lilly. That made me giggle a bit. But he was old enough that maybe he had seen a thing or two, considering he’s one of the Irish Hills’ longest practicing vets.
“Did you get him?” I asked in a low tone.
“We pulled in just as he left. One of his men had been trampled. I think the guy who hit you two with the shovel. That horse… I’ve seen horse accidents, you understand. You know that Sally got badly hurt, when she tried to play a prank on Colin, when he was a lad.”
“But I swear that horse knew what it was doing. It was defending your unconscious body like… it was trained to do it. Then it let me and the paramedic tend you as sweet as you please. Where on God’s green earth did Phillomena Sweeny get a trained war horse that looks all the world like a Lipizzaner? And why, did it choose you to imprint on? They don’t fly with just some stranger. They’s worse than a guard dog.” In her exclamation, bits of Ireland came back in her voice. “I haven’t seen the like, since…” she trailed into silence. The next face that came through the gap in the curtain was Patrick.
I was both fanatically happy to see him, and intensely embarrassed. First, I’d done stupid and I knew it. Second, there was hardly anyone who I’d rather see. I wondered what Kendra would do or if she was mad at me.
I had nothing whatsoever to do with Pat and his ways, but… Kendra was touchy about trust. We understood each other about family issues, and she was less lucky than I. She only had Sarah, because I had Sarah. The rest of her family was all alike and she had tossed them all out of her life. Rumor had it she had some aunts that might have been okay, but they would not approve of her lifestyle choices.
So she was a ship alone in a hostile ocean, and she gained company only when she felt like it. I wondered how long it would be okay to call her back. That she hadn’t talked to me yet had me wondering. I’d wait a day for the ringing in my ears to stop, and I’d start calling her.
“You really need someone to stay with you in that house.” he said.
“Yeah. I keep getting pounded. Thanks for pointing that out.” I said.
He frowned. “I didn’t mean it like that. But I meant to say that I’m glad you are still with us.”
I smiled back. “It’s nice to be here. Except for the pain part. And the ear ringing part. and the thirsty part.” I said.
He handed me a glass of water and I sipped it thirstily.
“That’s a nice horse you have. I don’t remember seeing it before.” he said conversationally.
“That’s Lilly. Be NICE to her. She’s impressive. Well, not like a chess playing bear, impressive, but she was in the shed. Ken took care of her while I was laid up. Also, she tends to take care of herself. She gets out and grazes when she wants to. We don’t know why she doesn’t just run away. She’s smart enough to start taking over the world.”
Pat grinned, “All she needs is minions and thumbs.” he said.
“Well, arms and hands, too. But thumbs would be a good start.”
We chit chatted for a while.
“Well, glad your back. Don’t go off hurting yourself again. I’ll be back in the morning, okay?”
“It is already morning.”
“I mean real morning. After the sun is up.”
Apparently it was little past five when they left. I sighed and fell back into bed. I wondered if I’d be charged with assault with a deadly horse. I was asleep again before I knew it.
I woke up and had a chat with a female officer. She said no one was pressing charges but I needed to talk to them about what happened while it was still fresh. I told her everything I could remember, and they went over my injuries, wrote lots of notes, then left. A bit later, a man in a rumpled linen suit and a bowler hat appeared between my curtains. He looked strangely like a clerk who boxed in his free time. His bulk was mostly muscle, his face was scarred, but his hands were soft and calloused as a writer’s was, and he even had a few ink stains. He held a stack of papers.
“I’m here to represent you in case your father presses charges. Sounds like a charming individual. How many stitches did they put on your cheek?” “five.” “He do that to you himself?” he asked with more than professional interest.
“Um, yeah. Not the back of the head, though, that was his friend with the shovel.” I said, wincing at the memory. Every time I closed my eyes, I could see that shovel flashing at my face.
“Helluva nice guy. I’d be pleased to run him into the dirt for you. At bare minimum you should have a restraining order out against him.”
“I’m fine with that, but I don’t know what good it will do. He’s a law unto himself.” I said.
“Karrie Grace. What we are doing here, is painting a picture, in the event of a future prosecution. I can guarantee something like that will come across the courts in a matter of weeks, or months if we are lucky. Trust me, I have seen this sort of thing before. Not exactly, you see, these circumstances are…novel, but they tell the same underlying tale. Men like him don’t stop. They get frustrated, seem to go away for a while, then come back even more determined than before. You have to be ready for them.”
“Um, are you suggesting I should hire protection?” I asked weakly.
“That wouldn’t be a bad idea, but that’s not my area. I could get some names for you, if you’d like,” he said.
I smiled. “I think I have some cousins who would volunteer for that role and be considerably less expensive than strangers. All I’d have to do is feed them.”
The man sighed. “Far be it from me to bely cousins. But you must understand that they will not be… professional. People will be more likely to die.”
“Um, Mr… ?”
The man smiled, he looked Irish enough to knock me over. “Mr. Kenny, Esquire. Dale, Margrove, and Kenny, Associates. That Kenny is my father, not me.” he said sheepishly.
I raised my eyebrows. “Nice to meet you. But you must know they were retired military. I mean with honors. One of them was an MP. I know it’s not the same as professional security, but he has given thought of going into that field, at least in the winter when there’s less to do at the farm.”
“That’s the other trouble with family, especially the working kind.”
“Yes. I have to think about how to get this done while keeping my obligations to my other family. I think I’m actually safer at the Phil’s farm…for various reasons. But that place does need some watching over.” I said, thinking out loud. It was actually less painful to talk than it was to think hard inside my head. Yes, even with stitches against my teeth.
I sighed. “Mr Kenny? I’m afraid my visiting hours are nearing over.Ii have a lot to think about and an aching skull to do it with. Thank you, and go ahead with filing the restraining order and whatever other preparations you want to do. I’ll even look at your list but I can’t make any promises. Thank you.”
He looked a bit glum, but took some notes, nodded curtly, and departed without a word. I wondered if I’d somehow offended him. Then it occured to me, he looked like the sort of person who’d let you know– on no uncertain terms, if you did.
Later Pat showed up. “Hi.” he said. “You are going to have to get used to me being around. Oh, and Colin, too. Sarah hired a couple of hands she knows to take up the slack, and we are going to come and take turns keeping you safe.” he said.
“Sarah can do that?” I asked.
Pat nodded. “She can afford it. She’d just rather make her money off us.” he said it lightly, so it might have been a joke.
“Can you afford it?” I asked, weakly. I wondered if I needed to share my pay with them. I was already relying on them so much, it seemed hardly fair not to. But there was school, and… I sighed. I would probably have to take the fall off and work some anyway.
“Don’t worry about it. We’ll be fine. Especially Collin. And me, I don’t need much.”
“That doesn’t help. I already owe you a share of my pay from Phil. At this point I should make you partners,” I said.
“I said, don’t worry about it.” he said, “And what about the lawyer, who’s paying for that?” I asked.
“Oh, Mr. Kenny? He’s actually Sheila’s Lawyer. Sarah uses the firm, too. Kenny is their hatchet man.” He snickered. “he usually deals with violent offenders. On one side or another. ”
I paled. “Why would Sheilla need a lawyer like that?”
Pat shrugged. “you’d be surprised what happens in the Lawn business. Run into some who take offense easily, who are also powerfully physical. It can be a rough road.” he said casually. “She’s offered to pay for him.”
Oh. So now I owed Sheila forever. Well, worse things than that, I guess…