I haven’t been keeping my journal up to speed. There is a lot to explain. After the incident with “Frosty,” I became withdrawn into my own thoughts. I avoided my friends, even Terry. I still made my Christmas Eve deliveries, though it was a bittersweet trip.
During my routine stop in Italy to drop a gift to Maria last night, I noticed that Isabella was nowhere to be found. Curious, I checked Maria’s bedroom… only to find a different family of vagrant squatters living there. Isabella
and Maria moved without telling me? I thought. That seemed odd. But because I didn’t have time to find them, I moved on.
When I got back from making my deliveries on Christmas morning, I went to sleep… and had troubled dreams. Yes, vampires can dream, though not often. They’re usually prophetic, or warning of approaching danger, like a defense mechanism. In this dream, I saw Isabella murdered by Van Helsing, though not in Italy. It looked as though she and Maria had come to the states. I woke up in tears. I grabbed the phone book I’d brought with me from Atlanta and looked up the former Detective Rush. If anyone could confirm Van Helsing updates, it would be him.
I called him, and when he answered, I didn’t bother with greetings. “Is Van Helsing still locked up?”
He paused. “Dasher?”
“Just answer the question, please.”
He sighed. “I’m afraid not. According to Janet, he escaped in September… and killed again. It seems he orphaned a little girl who was being raised by a vampire mother.”
“Was her name Maria?”
“Yes. You knew his victim?”
“I sure did. Did Maria mention why they had come to America?”
“I was told she said they’d come to visit their friend Nick. I assume she meant you?”
“Yeah. Where is she?”
“In an orphanage in Atlanta.”
My heart sank. Another child I knew whom would have to grow up in an orphanage. I knew there was no way I could adopt her. I thought of Ernest and Judy, but doubted that would have worked either.
“Are you still there?”
“Yeah. Is Van Helsing still at large?”
“Yes. We think he’s left the city.”
“Good.” I hung up the phone. I considered calling Ernest right away, but didn’t want to wake him as it was still daytime. I decided then and there that Van Helsing would never kill again.
Once the sun was down, I picked up the phone and called Ernest’s cell phone. He answered and I said, “Van Helsing escaped. He killed my friend Maria.”
Ernest paused. “I’m very sorry to hear that, Nick. But I can tell you haven’t read the letter I sent you a few months ago.”
“Oh… I forgot. I’ll read it now.” I pulled the envelope from a nearby stack of mail, opened it, and read:
I’m afraid I have some bad news. I’m writing this from a motel in Richmond. Judy and I had to leave town after a visit from Zakes. He’d transferred to the mental ward that Van Helsing had been sent to… and he told us Van Helsing escaped. It wasn’t exactly a lucky visit…Van Helsing had followed Zakes from the hospital. Zakes is dead, but Judy and I escaped. We just barely got out of there alive. I think you should pack your things and hit the bricks, because if he sniffs around enough, he will find you.
After what happened with Frosty, I’m sure you can take care of yourself, but Van Helsing is crazy, so there’s no telling what he might do. Please take care of yourself.
“Are you still there?”
I dropped the note. “I should have read it. I’m sorry, Ernest. Where are you now?” That was as far as I got. The door was kicked in, and there was Van Helsing. He had gotten his hands on a new sword, and I assumed the blade had been wiped down with holy water. “He’s here. I’ve gotta go, Ernest,” I said before dropping the phone.
Van Helsing charged, but I was quick. I turned into mist as he swung his sword. Once the weight of the blade had hit the floor, I reappeared and stepped on it. I then ripped his arm from its socket. He shrieked in horror, or pain, or maybe both. I hope both.
I decided to give him the treatment; red eyes, dripping fangs. “You murdered several of my friends; you orphaned a little girl I care very much about; and you’ve chased my friends from their home. You’re a monster… it’s time you see yourself as such.” I bit him. I had to be careful not to drain him dry, as I didn’t want to accidentally kill him. I dropped him at my feet. He knew what was coming. His stump healed. He grabbed that sword with his one good arm and turned it on himself before he could be damned for eternity; nothing happened. I was perplexed, but tried not to show it. I laughed at him. “God’s turned his back on you, Jerry. You’ve got eternity to think about the lives you’ve taken.”
However, that’s not how it went down. I heard a voice say, “That’s not a bad idea in theory, but I feel more inclined to oblige him.” Ernest. He knew Van Helsing had come for me and flew in on the night air as fast as he could… which is pretty fast.
I sighed. “Fine, E. B. Do what you’ve got to do… but make it hurt.”
I turned my back as Ernest grabbed the hilt of the former vampire killer’s sword and hacked him to pieces. Even without holy water, if “Van Helsing” couldn’t defend himself (and as a new vampire with one arm, he couldn’t), he wouldn’t be able to keep from being dismembered to death. Plus, he was low on blood after I fed on him, so his healing wasn’t an option. The screaming was pretty horrible, but I thought of Rich, Death, Zakes, Isabella, and finally Maria, and told myself he deserved it.
Once the screaming had stopped, I turned around. There wasn’t much left of Jerry Tolbin. I said, “Thanks… but I liked the idea of letting him live forever with his guilt.”
“I know you did,” Ernest said, “but I didn’t. Are you okay?”
“No. I’m pissed off and upset about Maria. There’s no way I’d be able to adopt her; not with Nick Dasher being wanted for murder in Atlanta.”
He sighed. “I suppose Judy and I could return to the city and adopt her. Judy had mentioned wanting children, which would’ve been pretty damn hard otherwise.”
I smirked. “Right. It would probably be good for both of you… and for Maria. Thank you, Ernest.”
“No sweat.” He paused. “There’s something else. I can read it on you. You’re not just pissed off and sad for the girl… what is it?”
I sighed. “His sword. He always rubbed it down with holy water… and yet when he turned it on himself after I bit him, nothing happened.”
“He was an unrepentant murderer, Chris; whether his victims were all vampires or not. And like you said, he orphaned a little girl. God couldn’t have been too happy about that.”
“I’ve done some bad things too, Ernest. But last year—”
“The Frosty incident. Yeah, I know. I don’t know what to tell you, Chris. You’re Santa Claus, though; Van Helsing was not. Maybe your generosity toward children on Jesus’s birthday earned you favor with The Man Upstairs.”
“I guess that’s possible… but still, even as Santa Claus, I’ve done some bad things.”
“Don’t worry about it, Chris. Look, I left Judy by herself. She’s probably afraid. Let me get back to her. You’re welcome to come back with me if you want.”
“Thanks, but… it’s Christmas day. I need some rest.”
He frowned. “You don’t have to make excuses, Chris. I just didn’t want you to be alone. I know you tend to crawl up inside that head of yours and think too much about stuff that gets you down. Let it go.”
“I can’t, Ernest. I’m sorry.”
“Fine. Is there any chance you’ll join us for Christmas dinner later?”
“You mean Christmas murder.”
“Holy crap, Chris. It’s not murder, it’s feeding. You know that. You really are losing it, you know?”
I decided to change the subject. “I’m afraid I didn’t get the name of Maria’s orphanage. Do you think you could look into it?”
“It would be in the newspaper archives, so I’m sure I can find out. We’ll take care of her. You take care of yourself.”
He left. And he was right, I crawled into my head and got depressed. Even with Jerry Tolbin dead, without Isabella, the only hope I have left is Jodie. Yes, she’s a mortal. But she was my Marie once, and will be again. I’ll make her mine if it takes years, or if it kills me.
In the meantime, I should probably let Terry, Ernest, and Judy back into the circle… especially if Ernest and Judy adopt Maria. She’d be happy to see me... I hope. It hasn’t been a merry Christmas for her. I’m not so sure she’ll ever have a merry Christmas again, and it’s heartbreaking. Even Santa Claus can’t save Christmas all the time; but I have to think about what Isabella would have wanted for her daughter, and make whatever I can offer good enough.
On the plus side, if Ernest adopts Maria, she’ll always benefit around the holidays, especially with me keeping an eye on her. Also, I imagine Judy and Terry are good with kids, since they think at a childhood level. There will be four loving vampire grown-ups caring for this girl, two of them being the Easter bunny and Santa Claus. I guess most kids would kill for that, but I only hope it’s good enough for Maria as an alternative to having her mom.
I imagine Isabella went out fighting, trying to protect her daughter, for whom she would (and did) kill. Oh well. Farewell, Isabella. May there be nothing but peaceful Christmases wherever you are, and may you see your daughter again someday.