“Did I mention how much I hate red-eye flights?” Micky groused as he and Peter arrived at the LAX concourse.
Peter chuckled at him. “Several times. It was nice to see my dad again, though.”
Micky frowned at him. “Nice? You two fought like cats and dogs the entire time we were there!”
“Micky, the only thing wrong with your memory being like it is is you don’t let us have our pleasant illusions!”
“Sorry.” And Micky sounded it. “It’ll be so good to see the guys again. Five days is three days too long.”
Peter grinned. “And it’s nice to see the stars again. I didn’t know how much I’d miss being nocturnal!” He slapped his forehead. “The guys! I gotta get MacLaren something!”
Micky frowned. “Peter, you got everyone something in Connecticut!”
He nodded. “But MacLaren doesn’t have anything from LA! I’ll be right back.”
As Peter headed for the gift shop, Micky rolled his eyes and moved to recover their bags.
The bags were swiftly forgotten when the shot rang out. Micky pelted toward the gift shop, but by the time he got there, all there was was a patch of blood and police tape.
Peter was gone.
He woke to pain. His head felt like it was by turns on fire and going to roll right off his shoulders.
Soft hands touched him, bringing soothing cool wetness to his face. A soft, feminine voice gently said, “Welcome back, Peter.”
“Pe…ter?” he opened leaden eyes and gazed into her face. He didn’t recognize her. “What…hap…happened?”
Her eyes turned sad. “There was a robbery. You were shot.”
“Sh-SHOT?” he yelped, and instantly regretted it. “Where….”
“Where are you? You are at our Palazio, Peter.”
She nodded. “The name on your driver’s license – Peter. That is you… right?”
He blinked. “I… I don’t know.”
“You don’t know?”
Slowly, he shook his head. “I… don’t seem to… remember.”
She frowned. “You don’t remember your name?”
“I… I don’t remember… anything.”
The next evening found Micky sitting on his drum stool, his back to the set as he stared blindly over the moonlit ocean.
The second stool suddenly slid into his line of sight and a small man sat beside Micky. He glanced at him for a second, taking in the short pseudo-Beatles haircut common to both doubles. The glass of red in his hand, though, showed it wasn’t Davy.
“What’s crawled under your kilt?” The Scottish burr confirmed it was MacLaren.
“Don’t you have a butcher to visit?”
MacLaren chuckled. “Ah, you are the wit tonight!” He took a sip and used his tongue to chase the leftover droplets from his upper lip. “It wasn’t your fault.”
“If I’d have stayed with him—“
“Y’both may have gone missin’. We’ll find him. I’m sure of it.”
Micky grunted and climbed to his feet. “Mac, he was shot. He could be dead now for all we know!”
“He ain’t dead.” Both sets of eyes swiveled to Mike, who stood framed in the bathroom doorway, aspirin bottle in hand. “He ain’t dead,” he repeated. “You both know I would’a felt it if he died.”
Micky let out a sigh and rubbed at his tense shoulder. “I know, Mike – I know. I’m just… I’m just afraid.”
MacLaren met Mike’s eyes. “Have you touched his emotions?”
Mike shrugged as he swallowed the painkillers. “Think so. He’s awful confused and in a lot of pain—“
“Hey!” Davy gasped. “Hey, guys, look!”
The three moved behind the couch to see the news report repeating. “…once more, this is an amateur film showing the events of the LAX robbery. Based on this evidence, police believe they have a suspect….”
But Micky jabbed his finger at the set. “C’mon, c’mon…” he pleaded, making a sound of satisfaction as the film wound again. “There! Did you see that?”
Davy nodded. “Yeah, a chick in the background leadin’ her boyfriend away… so?”
“So, that was no boyfriend!” The tape wound a final time, and they all saw the gaudily-dressed woman in the far right rear corner leading a tall man from the carnage. She was holding something to the side of his head.
Micky tapped the screen as the news turned to latest in Vietnam. “Those two-toned pants and olive shirt – that was what Peter had on! That woman had Peter!”
Peter’s head still hurt! He had no time to treat it, no time to think, barely time to sleep! He was kept busy, moving from activity to activity with no breaks. When he did manage to sleep, he had bizarre dreams.
They were always the same: a smiling young woman holding a baby appeared first. She held out her hand to him – and slowly vanished. The baby would transform into a tall man with a green hat and three other men would flank him – a man with curly hair and laughing eyes, and a pair of identical twins.
No words were ever spoken. But he’d wake from these dreams disoriented and dizzy. It took his passing out twice before his companions realized he needed orange juice and food when he woke that way.
“Hypoglycemia,” Father had said. The word meant nothing to Peter, but he was learning that Father knew everything.
Peter and his companions were the Chosen, he discovered. They were to take Father’s cleansing to the world outside the Palazio.
But June, the woman he’d met first, told him that would wait until Peter healed. His head still hurt like the devil and he still couldn’t remember anything before when he’d woken up at the Palazio.
June had been with him constantly. Nurse and friend, she’d taken good care of him. When he’d asked about what the Cleansing was, she’d brought him right to Father for answers.
Which was where he was now, sitting beside June, listening to Father explain it. According to Father, demons walked among true human beings – soulless beings that cared only to harm. They’d deceived all but Father and his Chosen, who were preparing to drive them away.
“How will we know them?” June asked, and it sounded like a ritual to Peter.
“The soulless ones call themselves weres, witches, vampires, and similar things. Evil creatures, all of them!” Father’s voice rose with conviction. Others around them ate as the ritualistic question and answer session commenced, but Father didn’t eat. June explained Father’s purity was so complete that he was above human things such as food or drink.
Peter slumped against June, exhausted from just listening. There was something… not quite right… about what Father was saying.
But Father knew everything…. Everyone said so….
Peter sighed and closed his eyes. He was aware of June’s shriek and of hands grabbing him as darkness licked at his mind, but it all seemed so far away and unimportant….
Why couldn’t his head stop hurting?
He was made to sit at meals where he and Father didn’t eat. When Peter ate, someone ended up wearing the meal.
The dreams were worse.
After their initial caring, Peter realised they didn’t care about anything but their agenda.
And he wanted no part of it.
Or did he? He didn’t know. He was confused. He desperately needed to walk, to clear his head.
Now, he just needed a chance….
Frustrated by the brick walls they kept hitting when they searched, the trio finally got some help. They arrived at the police station and headed to find Jameson.
They found him doing the ubiquitous evening paperwork. He looked up and smiled. “Hello, fellas! Where’s Peter?”
“That’s why we’re here,” Mike said. “Peter’s been kidnapped.”
Jameson’s eyes narrowed. “You got proof?”
“Live on tape,” Micky sighed. “MacLaren’s gone to get a copy of it.” He described the woman in detail. When he got to her clothing, Jameson leaned back and tossed his pen on the desk.
“Crap. The Chosen.”
“I’ve heard of them,” MacLaren said from the doorway, tape in hand. “They hunt supernatural creatures and claim their leader’s got a direct line to God.”
“Does he?” Davy asked, eyes large.
“No, he’s a crackpot,” Jameson said firmly. But he’s always been a harmless crackpot. They’ve never kidnapped –“
“Peter had been shot,” Micky interrupted. “He was in no shape to go anywhere willingly.”
Again, the detective’s eyes narrowed. “They stay at a compound they call the Palazio. Let’s go get to the bottom of this.”
They arrived at a darkened Palazio, and MacLaren’s sharp ears picked up, “—to bed. You must rest.”
Then a familiar voice. “And dream again? No, June – I’m going for a walk.”
“It is forbidden! The soulless ones walk by night!”
“Get out of my way, June.”
MacLaren growled. “He’s here! Follow!” And he bolted toward the Palazio, snapping the padlock on the gate like it was a small twig.
The five ran through the gate and found themselves face to face with Peter and the woman from the tape.
There was no recognition in Peter’s clouded eyes. He frowned at the strangers – then something in his eyes lit. “June… these are the men from my dreams! The-the ones who were looking for me!”
She smiled at them. “Hello – have you come to join the Chosen?”
Davy gave her his most charming smile. “No, ma’am. We’re Peter’s family – and we’ve come to take him home. He’s been gone four days, and we miss him.”
Her laughter rang out and she hooked her arm through Peter’s. “Silly boy – he is home!”
They looked at each other, then back at Peter. Peter was looking past them, visibly searching for someone. “Peter?” Mike asked. “Who’re you looking for?”
“He can’t remember anything,” she began, but Peter cut her off.
“C-Carolyn?” he stepped forward, pulling his arm out of her grasp. “Wh-where’s Carolyn?” He took Mike’s arm, his eyes glazing further and his voice dropping to a whisper. “P-please, Mike… wh-where’s your mother?”
Mike’s eyes widened. She’d been telling the truth – he did have amnesia, and it apparently was returning jumbled. He remembered Mike – but the wrong one!
Mike looked into Peter’s eyes and leaned forward to whisper, “C’mon… let’s go find her.”
Peter nodded and leaned into the brotherly embrace, letting Mike lead him out of the gate. Jameson followed. “C’mon, Mike, let’s take him to my car – I’ll radio for an ambulance.”
The woman’s eyes widened and she ran after them. “Wait – please!”
Mike stopped and turned to her. “You’re welcome to come with us – but we are taking him home.” They continued their walk and she continued to follow.
Members of the Chosen were milling about now. Wrapping his robe around himself, Father came racing out. “What is this?” his voice rang out and everything stopped.
MacLaren stepped forward, smiling coldly. “So – here’s where you went.”
Father’s eyes widened. “Well, well. MacLaren.”
His head tilted in acknowledgement. “Simone. We meet again.”
Davy blinked, frowning at his double. “You know him?”
“Oh, we’re old… friends…. aren’t we, Simone?” MacLaren snarled.
Father/Simone smiled tightly. “Peter MacLaren. It’s been a very long time.”
“Yes it has.” He paused, and then pitched his voice so everyone in the compound could hear. “It’s been nearly a hundred years since I’ve seen you!”
It was as if a switch had been thrown. Almost instantly, all conversation stopped and all attention was focused on the man the compound’s residents had known as Father.
For his part, his smug smile faltered. “Why, I have no idea what you’re –“
“I find it very interesting,” MacLaren went on, “that you people have dedicated yourselves to ridding yourselves of supernatural beings – but have yet to rid yourselves of the one in your midst!” Behind his back, the fingers of his right hand were in motion.
Micky had read a book of signs and finger spelling and his eidetic memory let him call it up to understand what MacLaren was saying.
Hope to make Chosen self-destruct. Get Davy out. Be with Peter. I’ll be there ASAP.
Sliding to Davy’s side, Micky whispered, “C’mon, man – Peter needs us.” As he pulled him toward the gate, Davy protested. Mick grabbed the back of his neck and pulled him so close his lips brushed Davy’s ear as he hissed, “Don’t argue. Mac’s gonna try something, needs us out of the line of fire now.”
Davy gave a quick nod, and let Micky guide him from the compound.
Registering the closing of the gate and the fact his four roommates were now all safe, MacLaren addressed the buzzing crowd that Simone was trying to pacify.
“Yes, you heard me right!” MacLaren shouted, drawing all eyes back to him. “I said your beloved ‘Father’ is Simone Castor! He’s been using you for years!”
The buzz grew and he hovered off the ground, letting his fangs fall. “I know this because I am one of those you go after! I am a vampyre!” He shot a hand toward Simone. “And so is he!”
“No!” came a roar from somewhere. Simone just stood there, wearing the look of a man who realizes he has had everything – and has just lost it all.
“Yes!” MacLaren roared back. “Not all of us drink blood and hide from the sun! There are some of us who can tolerate the day and feed from emotion! Some feed from pain – fear – hatred!” A finger stabbed at Simone. “He is of an ilk that feeds on superiority – smugness – and fervor! He has duped you -- fed off of you – this whole time!”
Simone asked softly, “MacLaren – why?”
MacLaren glared at him. “Your minions murdered my son,” he hissed just loud enough for Simone to hear. “You are the reason William is dead. And now your minions nearly stole my new family. It ends, Simone. It ends!”
“Listen to me!” Simon wailed toward the crowd. “I am Father! I am the one who loves you! Who cares for you! I am the one who—“
“Feeds off us!” came a fury-filled voice. “Lied to us!”
“Yeah!” came a second voice. “We have never seen you eat! Drink! Never! And now we know why!”
Simone took a step back… then another… and another… as the Chosen surged forward. His control over them had seemed simple enough – keep them focused on the supernatural and blissed out so he could constantly feed.
The plan had never included the food sources finding out ‘Father’ himself was one of those creatures they had been conditioned to kill.
MacLaren glided out of the compound, not bothering to watch. The sounds as the Chosen tore Simone apart with their bare hands were satisfying enough.
William was avenged, at long last.
Peter was avenged.
MacLaren pointed himself homeward. It was nearly dawn, and he was overdue for a long rest.
With medical intervention, Peter recovered swiftly. The bullet had grazed his skull, and he had apparently struck his head on the way down. The dual trauma had set up a severe concussion, which was the cause of his amnesia.
As the concussion slowly eased, his memory began to return. When he realized he’d mixed up his adult friend Mike with his dead baby son, he fell all over himself apologizing.
Mike put an end to it with a joke. “Well, we call you ‘Daddy Peter’ half the time anyway, any more….”
Peter laughed so hard he triggered another headache.
Soon came his first day back in his own bed. He lay there in the bed against the wall, listening to the loud snores coming from the top bunk and the “Aw, for heaven’s sake, MacLaren!” from the bottom one.
Peter smiled happily. He was back. All was well at last.
He was home – with his Chosen.
With his family.
Return to The Realm