“There’s a man living up there.”
“Not a chance!” Hawk rebutted.
“It’s not what you think.” Heath said solemnly.
“I can’t believe you went there without me!”
“There’s no electricity in the whole place. It’s all lit by lanterns.”
“Then how was the phonograph playing?” Hawk replied, “You saw a ghost man! Look at you! You even look like you saw a ghost!”
“I think those cleaning people might be his family or something,” Heath continued to imagine. Hawk twisted his lips with a thought and replied,
“If he was some geezer whose family visited every week, why would they freak out when he came to the window? And why do you think they always leave the gates hanging open?”
“Always.” Heath said, contemplatively, and after a long pause, “…I’m going back.”
“I’m coming with,” Hawk asserted, with a defiant tone.
It was Saturday night again when they pocketed their walkie-talkies and tied their shoes tight. Up to the glowing palace. Up the stairs and past the crutches, they parked in front of the limbs room door.
“Ok,” Hawk breathed, “I got the stake, incase it’s a vampire. I got a bullet from my dad’s dresser incase it’s a werewolf…”
“Isn’t it supposed to be a silver bullet?”
“Wel’look at the tip, it’s kinda silvery. Anyway, I think since I have more experience, I should go first.”
“Wel’yeah, I’m two years older than you, and besides, I have internet. I’ve researched this kinda stuff. It’s called par-a-normal. That means not normal, which means not something for lay-people like you to deal with, which means this kinda stuff should be left up to the experts. Now, something you probably don’t know about monsters is that they can change shape. So when I go up there, if you hear me scream, only listen to the first couple words I say, cause after that, it might be mimicking my voice to try and trick you.” Heath endured a long list warnings, procedures and protocols for a successful monster hunt until his watch ticked to the midnight mark. Finally Hawk was ready to brave the unknown. Step by step he climbed toward the flickering light at the top. Coming to the last step before his head crested the attic floor entrance, he lurched forward and let out a battle cry! With his stake in his hand and his feet pounding the floorboards he charged out of sight, toward the lantern light. Then came a crash and a man’s voice,
“Hey!” More screaming from Hawk and breaking glass. At the thump of a tipped over chair (or a dead body), Heath’s fear overwhelmed him and he jumped to his feet and booked for the front door. He half slid down the stairs as he heard more crashes and stomping coming down after him.
“Hey!” the man barked, “Wait!” But Heath wasn’t waiting. Catching himself on the cobblestone, he thought, I can’t just leave him, and darted to the left around the house into the garden. Get to the willow tree, just get to the willow tree! More lights came on in the house and the window with kiwi smeared on it shattered. A tumbling body smashed through the top of one of the canopies and pulled down a string of paper lanterns. Heath could hear Hawk groaning from the terrace below the window.
“Hawk!” He shouted from a distance, daring to break his silence.
“Heath! Get out of here man! There was blood everywhere up there!” Heath slumped behind the willow tree, hardly able to believe his friends warnings. Again they came, desperately,
“Heath, run! I think I broke something. I can’t get up… Aaaahh! My legs!” He cried, rolling around among the paper lanterns and knocked over chairs, “I’m bleeding. I think he’s a vampire or something. If you don’t believe me, come back with the cops and see for yourself!” Heath’s heart was pounding. He gripped the grass with his hands. He was paralyzed with his back to the tree, listening. Then he heard the back door open and Hawk shouted. There was a scuffle of metal and tearing clothes before silence. Silence.
What seemed like hours passed as Heath clung to the tree with his shoulder blades, unable to move or make a sound. A warm breeze gently brushed the hair out of his eyes, and after slowing his breaths he loosened his hold on the grass and let his head roll slowly, very slowly to one side. On the air, he could smell his mother’s perfume again, the oil from the paper lanterns. She was at home asleep, perhaps dreaming of laughter and candy canes. Those lights had been lying on the ground mixed up with linen and yet there was no crackle of growing flames, no smoke, no burning at all. He leaned around the trunk of his hiding place and crawled up the first stone steps. Keeping one eye on the broken window above, he moved slowly, like a shadow toward the mess of lanterns and fabric on the terrace. There they were, burning wicks lying against linen, perfumed oil, spilt across the torn canopies and yet nothing was burning up. Down on his knees like a pilgrim before a priest, Heath reached out to touch the flame. It was warm and bright, flickering like fire, but as his fingers became wrapped in it, it didn’t burn! Licking at his palm, it refused to scald him! …Not what you think.
And then he saw the blood. Hawk’s blood – dripping a trail into the house. Up the stairs again, Heath followed it. Past the crutches and finally, he moved slothfully up the last flight, cautiously taking each step until he could peer over the lip of the stairwell. There was Hawk, lying on what looked like a psychiatrist’s couch, his eyes closed and his chest moving up and down like an ocean swell. At the foot of the couch was an old man, in a white night gown. He had a white beard that reached to his chest, with tinges of gray and brown near his chin. His bowed head was full of hair, equally speckled with color. His face was wet with sweat, or at least what appeared to be sweat at first. He had a hand on each of Hawk’s legs and he was murmuring something under his breath. Then he lifted his face toward the light and glistening drops of blood dripped from his nose onto his beard. A vampire? A monster? Which one of Hawk’s stories could have come true? Were they all true?
“They’re all wrong, Heath,” The old man’s voice creaked. Heath dropped below the floorboards and his heart leapt into his mouth, “They’re all wrong. All of his stories are wrong, and you know it.” The man chuckled gently, “Don’t be afraid young man. I know you’re hiding there. C’mon up. I’m not going to hurt you…” Heath breathed and breathed, his eyes wider than Hawk’s had ever been, “Would you bring me the lamp that’s hanging there at the top of the steps?”
Slowly, like a glacier, Heath rose. First his eyes, then his nose became visible. His mouth, followed by his chin. His neck and then his shoulders cleared the floor. The man wiped his face with a rag and dropped it to the floor, stained with blood.
“It’s a byproduct,” he said, reaching back to Hawk’s broken legs, “…painful but necessary.”
“Blood?” Heath squeaked.
“Yes. It comes out my pores when I do this… would you bring me that lamp?” Moving in slow motion, heath plucked the lamp from the hook it was hanging on. He floated on disbelief toward the old man, hovering over his friend.
“Hang it there, at his head.” He said, pointing. Heath looped the golden eye over the hook at the top of a new lamp-stand and continued to stare. This strange old man was bent at Hawk’s bedside like a father over his own dying child. His robe flowed to the floor like a snowdrift off a mountain. His eyes had yet to meet Heath’s and so Heath’s pupils dilated and darted between him and Hawk, waiting for something, he knew not what. The wooden floorboards were stained brown with old blood, and the walls of the attic were splintered and fatigued. The couch that Hawk was lying on was a punch-bowl red with gold buttons pinning the plush cushion to the frame. It had wood-carved feet and a scrolled headboard.
“He’s not dead, Heath. Just asleep. It’s much more pleasant that way – for him and for you… just a few more minutes and he’ll be fine.” The man murmured some more and gripped Hawks legs tightly. Heath watched as they crackled and contorted and the blue of bruises disappeared. The man’s face dripped more blood on a towel draped over Hawk’s shoes until he finally let go and breathed a deep sigh of relief, as if he had just lifted a two hundred pound weight. Slouching backward, the man wiped his face again and exclaimed,
“Finished!” At that moment, Hawk came snarling to life,
“Ho! What happened,” looking at Heath and then the old man, he took a deep breath and began to pronounce, “Holy D…”
“Not in my house,” the man motioned as if pinching Hawk’s tongue. Hawk glared inquisitively at Heath. Heath, with is eyes still wide and mouth slightly open, shrugged and said,
“I think… he fixed your legs.”