Excerpt from "Blood-Mark: The Black Tigress - Episode 1 "Ghosts"
A few hours later, after catching up on the news and having
another cup of tea, Jonathan entered his upstairs bedroom and flipped on the
light, but he did not really see anything in his room; nothing registered. He
felt like he was moving through a haze. What had happened over twenty-five
years ago was once again a raw, gaping wound in his soul. Vic Turner's presence
had ripped it open, forcing Jonathan to reel from the impact.
Closing the door behind him, he ached to get into bed, to
fall asleep and rid himself of the torrents of remembered grief he could no
He thought about calling Richard but thought again. He didn't
really want to talk to anyone about this—not a therapist, not a spiritual
counselor, not even his best friend.
All he wanted to do was sleep and wake up in the morning to
face his life as though this day had never happened.
Maybe it was his karma. Maybe after all those years of
hiding, of running, his past had finally stepped out of the shadows, tapped him
on the shoulder and said, 'boo'. And his past was the one obstacle keeping him
from moving forward with his spiritual quest, the result of his own inhibitions…
his own damn fear.
He glanced over to the bookshelf on the far wall in the
living room. The album was there, hidden behind heavy tomes. The pictures…
He had flinched the last time things went bump in the dark. Would
he flinch again?
He shut his eyes. Andrew would be ashamed of him right now. The
old Andrew, whose soul had yet to be tainted by the dark kiss of demon spawn,
would have made fun of him, were he to see Jonathan's reaction right now.
Who was to say Andrew wasn't there?
Jonathan had set his lover's spirit free that terrible night
with a stake to the heart. He was certain Andrew had been set free, because
Andrew's face had returned to its beautiful human appearance, his eyes
returning to their natural sapphire blue. Proof he had not been turned
completely. Jonathan would have been his first victim, his first kill. Once a
half-turned human killed, they then turned completely. Andrew had been what the
vampires called a Halfling. Halfling souls could be saved but only one of two
ways—either the one turning them was killed… or they were.
Andrew's eyes had smiled up at him, their dark blue irises
glistening in the moonlit beams that danced over them.
He had smiled, reached up with a warm hand covered in his
own blood and touched Jonathan's face, and Jonathan had gripped the stake
harder, unwilling to release it, unwilling to disconnect from his final seconds
with Andrew's conscious awareness.
Andrew had gently brushed Jonathan's cheek. "No
regrets," he had whispered, the blood issuing from his mouth in dark
rivulets, marring his beautiful, full lips.
Even now the still painful memory moved him, and Jonathan
shut his eyes against the sting of tears.
He reminded himself he'd had no choice. Andrew's soul had
been at stake… pun not intended.
A small, ironic smile crossed over his lips. He had hoped
time would have helped him avoided another run-in with vampires long enough for
him to pass on from this existence and move on to another.
Reincarnation—the ultimate in witness protection.
He allowed the paralysis of fear to keep him immobilized for
one more minute as he stood inside the doorway. He had to take that first step
back into his past, but he didn't want to. He wanted to run away again, call
Richard and tell him not to bother looking for him. He could create a new
identity, had done so after his parents had been killed; changing his last
name, forming a new life. Hiding.
The scent of Andrew's half-dead skin, with a vague hint of
cinnamon… Andrew's scent. It had been the last scent Jonathan had smelled on him
before Veritan had found them. It now filled the air around Jonathan, and he
stiffened. "Stop it!" he groaned out, unwilling to open his eyes for
fear of seeing his dead lover with the stake through his chest standing before
him. "Go away."
You know what you have to do.
Jonathan leaned his head back against the cool surface of
his bedroom door.
You can't run anymore, Jonny. You never really could. Sanctuary
can't protect you forever.
Jonathan shut his eyes tighter, forcing the sound of Andrew's
voice to leave his memory. "Under the power of Anubis," he called out.
"I command you to leave."
In seconds the scent left; the feeling of Andrew being near
Jonathan chanced opening his eyes. He sucked in a deep and
shaky breath when he realized he was alone.
"Andrew," he breathed . He buried his face into
his hands and gave in to the racking grief seeking release.
"Oh, fuck!" he moaned, seeking comfort from any deity
who would hear his cry.
His body's heat intensified under the assault, and he
listened as the rain poured down. It was as though Heaven wept with Jonathan. He
slowly walked out onto the terrace, letting the rain wash over him, his human
tears mixing with the blessed, cleansing ones.
He didn't care if his clothes got soaked. He didn't care if
the cold wind outside mixed with the rain, or that he would go to bed with a
chill as a result. He would take a hot shower later, but for right now he
needed to cool down, to become one with the element of water and symbolically
wash away his pain.
He spread his arms and lifted his face to the sky, his tears
mixing with the rainfall, and it was as though Sophia herself had come as
Mother Goddess to wipe the tears from his face, to shower him with her love,
assuring him he was not alone in his grief.
After a few minutes, he lowered his arms, forced his
emotions back under the control he had trained his mind into accepting as
normal, then turned… and yelled.
There, not five feet in front of him, standing as straight
in this onslaught of rain as though still grounded inside Mother Earth's soil, were
red and white roses arranged in a beautiful Eastern Indian vase.
The card attached was encased in cellophane to keep it
protected from the promised rain.
His mind went back in time to when he'd received another
such offering, after Andrew had been killed. After the funeral, Jonathan had
returned to the retreat campground, where Andrew had been taken and turned,
seeking for some clue which could lead him to find the one who had tried to
curse Andrew's soul into darkness.
He had gone back to the barn where they had made love in
what would turn out to be their final time. He had found the blankets still
rumpled, but as cold as the wind had been on that night. He had lifted the
blankets to his face, breathed in the scent of Andrew's skin still clinging to
the threads and wept there, as he had never wept before. He had wept because
Andrew being taken and then killed could have been avoided… if they had not
taken so much time to please the desires of the flesh. If they had done the
deed only a few times, then returned to the retreat fellowship before dusk,
Andrew might very well still be alive today.
Jonathan had wanted the pleasure as much as Andrew, even
though he knew better the things hiding behind the cloak of night. He'd been
warned time and time again, but the need within his body had outweighed the
need for rational thought.
Andrew's death was just as much his fault as it had been Veritan's
and when he had seen the threat, he had done the only thing possible. Vampires,
in spite of what Stoker wrote in his book, did not need to be invited in before
attacking. They sought their prey and went after it, the only things separating
them being whatever sunlight still streamed down during dusk and… the ritual of
So Jonathan had chosen to run, to try to beat the vampires
back to camp, but they had wasted too much time in the barn—far too much time.
He could have saved Andrew. Could have… should have.
When he had returned to his truck, after searching the
retreat grounds and barn, he found on the hood a bouquet of roses tied in
water-soaked paper towels and a note attached:"This is the beginning, Exeter. The sins of your great-grandfather
have been passed down to you. Andrew was only a warning. Prepare yourself."
It had been signed: ~V~
Now after twenty-five years, another bouquet was there to
greet him. Jonathan cautiously moved closer to the vase. His curiosity to find
out who had left the roses warred with his desire to not find out for certain. He
ripped the cellophane-covered card off its holder and read the inscription:"I've been watching you. ~V~."
In anger, Jonathan pulled the cellophane off the card and crunched
the paper into his fist. He reached down to pick up the vase and, making sure
no one was below, he slammed it down to the gutter, the pottery shattering on
impact, the roses crushed and mangled.
He hurried inside, closing and locking the door behind him. Running
down the stairs, he hurried to the kitchen and turned on the burner to his gas
stove. He glanced once more at the words Veritan had written and tossed the
card into the flame, watching it burn. The handwriting he remembered so well
distorted under the assault until the card turned completely to ash.
He quickly pulled out his cell phone from the case on his
hip and dialed Richard's number. When Richard answered, Jonathan could only say,
"Veritan has found me."