This is Part 18 of a serial story.
My parents came into the apartment with a determined air.
“FYI, the evacuation has been lifted. I've confirmed that your house is still standing,” I informed them.
“Praise God,” my mother said.
Dad nodded, but he clearly had something else on his mind. He looked at me, hard. I nodded. It was time.
“Imogene, get the watch,” Dad said. He looked over at Charlotte then back at me.
“There's no reason for her to leave,” I said. “Charlotte's learned a lot about the supernatural in the last year. I never wanted to involve her in anything, but she's stumbled into the middle of more than one case.”
“You have cases?” Dad asked, surprised. “I have targets, not cases.”
I spread my hands wide. “This is what happens when you combine a law degree with the supernatural.”
“Sometimes she brings her work home with her,” Charlotte complained.
“One ghost, Charlotte. And he's more of a co-worker than a case.” I caught a glimpse of the odd expressions on my parents' faces, and smile weakly.
“We'll flesh out the explanation for that later,” decided Dad. “Let's focus on vampires for now. Your mother tells me you made your first kill years ago. Why did it take you so long to say something, Maryanne?”
“I didn't think you or Mom would believe me. Why didn't you tell me vampire slaying is a family tradition?”
“Each slayer makes their first kill on their own. After that, the oldest in the family line explains the traditions to the new slayer.”
Charlotte gasped. “Wait, you mean this is normal in your family? Traditional, like my family's Christmas Eve parties?”
Dad nodded. “The Wells family has been hunting vampires since Count Dracula seduced and murdered Lucy Westenra. Dracula hypnotized one of the maids in the house as she stood guard. Poor thing never forgave herself for the death that followed. It drove her mad.
“Her brother and father blamed it all on the vampire, and they wanted revenge. They tracked down Van Helsing and begged him to share what he knew. He told them the vampire was dead, but they didn't care. They were convinced that evil like that still walked the earth, and had to be stopped. It took time to persuade Van Helsing, but he in the end he did train them.”
I'd read Bram Stoker's Dracula dozens of times, and never read this. Absola Trotsky, my trainer and good friend, told me that there was more truth than fiction in the book. Who was to say Stoker hadn't left out some truth to fit in the fiction? Maybe he left out the maid. “More detail than I remember in the book,” I informed Dad.
“The play came a little closer to the truth about Miss Wells, but it mixed up the rest,” interjected Mom.
“There's a play?” asked Charlotte. Her eyes were bright with interest.
“Written in the 1920s.”
“So Van Helsing trained my ancestors?” I confirmed.
“Yes. But he didn't train just the Wells family. There are others. One family of slayers for each house of vampires.” Dad smiled at me. “You can guess which house we prefer to hunt,” he said.
I nodded. “House Seara. The House of Dracula.”
“Exactly. And that's why your mother and I agreed to let you do a study abroad program in Romania. We knew that if you were destined to be a slayer, your instincts would take over in the land of Dracula.”
“Thanks for the heads-up,” I said bitterly.
Mom came out of the bedroom. She placed a small black pouch on the table and took a seat.
“So that's it?” asked Charlotte. “You hunt vampires?”
“Isn't that enough?” Dad asked.
My mother sighed. “Sometimes it's too much.” She looked up at me. “Here it is,” she said; “the Wells Family Watch.”
Everyone waited expectantly. I could only stare at the pouch. You would think I'd be anxious to see this mysterious family heirloom, but I wasn't. Instead, every cell in my body was screaming for me to get away from the thing.
“Well? Aren't you going to look at it?” asked Charlotte.
Dad studied me carefully. “Don't take the watch out of the pouch, unless touching it is your strongest desire,” he warned me.
“It's the complete opposite,” I said.
He smiled again and shared a look of relief with Mom. “Glad to hear it. Charlotte, would you do us a favor and take the watch out of the pouch so Maryanne can see it?”
The timepiece looked like it belonged on a wristwatch. There were two prongs sticking out at the top and bottom that could have attached to a band. The face was yellowed with age. I peered at it and noticed it had a second dial on the face where the number six would normally be. The small dial counted seconds, and took the place of a second hand on the main dial. The hour and minute hand were both locked on the number twelve.
“Is it broken?” wondered Charlotte.
“No. But it isn't time for it to work,” replied my Dad.
“Time to work?” murmured my mother.
Dad grinned. “I punned,” he recognized. I rolled my eyes.
“What's the story of the watch?” I pressed.
“This was your great-aunt's watch. The Wells Family Watch before this was a pocket watch, brought over from England. Your great-aunt grabbed the pocket watch when the challenge came. She lost, and the pocket watch disintegrated. The challenge power passed to her wristwatch.”
Dad pointed at the watch and said, “A challenge is a pivotal moment in the battle of good versus evil. The slayer will have one chance to turn the tide of battle. When the challenge moment draws near, the slayer will feel an irresistible urge to touch the watch. As soon as the slayer makes contact the watch begins to function. The slayer has twelve hours to discover the nature of the challenge and make the right choice, from the watch's noon to midnight. Succeed, and the watch winds itself to midnight and stops. Fail, and you die.”
Charlotte dropped the watch on table and took a step away from it.
“My Aunt Melinda lost a challenge, and paid with her life. The power of the challenge timepiece passed into her watch as a reminder to future slayers of the perils of challenge,” said Dad. He stared at the watch.
“I thought great-aunt Melinda died in a plane crash,” I said.
“Am I supposed to guess what crashed the plane?”
“Do you need a guess?”
“I didn't think so.” Dad gestured for Mom to pick up the watch. She slipped in back into the pouch and passed it to him by the pouch's strings.
Dad took the pouch and offered it to me. “Do not touch the watch unless you find it irresistible. Even touching it accidentally when there is no challenge present will start the clock. But with no challenge to give you a way to stop the clock, the watch will become a deathtimer. Twelve hours.”
“Charlotte, take the watch from Dad,” I said. I clasped both my hands behind me.
Dad shook his head. “You can pass it to Charlotte to hold for you, but you must first accept it from me. From oldest living slayer in the family line to the youngest. That is the tradition.”
I took the strings gingerly. Once I felt the weight of the watch dangling from my hand I shoved it at Charlotte.
She took the pouch and stared at me numbly. “What do I do with it?” she whispered.
“Stick it in the bottom drawer of my jewelry box,” I said sharply. Charlotte ran into my bedroom to stash the watch.
“I'm so glad Charlotte knows. It's good to have someone to confide in,” said my mother. “And it's good to have someone without Wells blood in their veins who knows where the watch is. Look what happened with the wildfire, and your father out of town.”
Dad poured himself a fresh cup of coffee and gulped it noisily. “What made you decide to speak up, Maryanne?”
“Roger told me you played for Mom in a poker game against vampires from two houses,” I replied sourly.
“Ah, the competition at the Ol' Ap.” Dad looked at Mom with great tenderness, and she stared back with admiration.
“You were so gallant,” Mom told Dad.
My family is weird.
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