A Santa Maria Story
James M. Sullivan
Start from the beginning of the Santa Maria series
"Absolutely not, Bree! There's no way I'm letting you do this," Rod said, his voice loud with anger and concern. "I mean, hello? You're something like eight months pregnant. Your idea is insane. There's no way I'm letting you go to the Ghost Lord bethel to deal with these creatures yourself. Forget it."
"Yes, I am pregnant, but also not an automaton. Am I a porcelain figurine? No. I can destroy those wicked little demon things. So far, I'm the only one that can. We don't really have a choice." Bree looked back at Rod defiantly.
"Yes, we do."
"Look Rod, we're not running. And I, for one, am tired of just sitting around not knowing what the hell is going on and getting picked off one by one as we try and figure out what is happening to this city. I can tell you what's happening. People are dying. Lots of people—not just our friends. And this isn't just some secret known only to the hidden world of Santa Maria. Everyone knows there's a maniac on the loose, killing innocent people. They just don't happen to know that the 'maniac' is actually several supernatural shadow demon creatures."
"You don't have to remind me. Trust me, I'm well aware of the fact that the whole fucking city believes my boyfriend is a psychotic killer." Rod pulled at his raven hair in frustration. "Fuck. I can't believe Mac's mom let that surveillance footage from the police station get out. You know there's a big protest happening down at city hall over this? Those people are out for blood."
"I don't think she 'let' it happen," Bree countered. "She's just as pissed about it as you are. Mac said—"
"I don't care what Mac said," Rod said, adamant. "It's my boyfriend's neck on the line. It was bad enough when the public just knew about the blue hair. Now they have his picture! Now it won't just be random blue-haired punks that are getting attacked. Ant can't go outside or he'll be mobbed and probably killed."
"It's a grainy photograph, Rod. And this is all the more reason to let me go and deal with these creatures at the Bethel. It's all tied to the damn Ghost Lords. If we can stop the storm in the spirit world, then maybe those on the other side can stop the Wight." Bree shuddered at the memory of the vile creature.
"But you're still pregnant. That hasn't changed. Bree, we're still new to this. Diasuke is dead. Martha is dead. Ilene is dead. They were all far more experienced with this world than you and I."
"I know. Believe me, I know. My mother is likely dead, too." Bree's expression was solemn.
"Don't say that."
"No, I have to face that it's a real possibility. And it's out of respect for my Mom and Diasuke and all the others that have been viciously murdered that I have to do this, Rod."
"Please, Bree. Stop and think. This doesn't make any sense." Rod's tone was almost pleading.
"But it does make sense, Rod. We need to stop this, and so far as we know, I'm the only one who can."
"Bree, that's not true. Everett's gun hurt them. Rodina was able to fire sunlight at them. And Diasuke's sword affected them as well."
"Yes, others can harm the shadow monsters, but I destroyed one, Rod. Destroyed it. No retreat. No escape. I destroyed it. That's what we need." Bree's conviction was unshakable.
"Mac hasn't fought them, yet," Rod reasoned. "Maybe his bow or the energy of the Avatar can slay them."
"Well, Mac is certainly coming with me," Bree stated. "He knows about this already. He thinks it is the best choice, too."
"I'm the only one who can, Rod. I'm the only one who can do this. Your only choice is to decide if you are coming with us or not." Bree placed her hands on her hips in a gesture of finality.
"Bree, this is a really bad idea." As Rod reached the conclusion that there was no point in trying to stop her, the conviction faded from his voice, replaced by concern.
"It's the only choice we have. Besides, Rod, if this were a fantasy novel, this is where the underdogs face the daunting challenge and save the day. You have to believe we can do this."
Rod offered her a defeated, sarcastic smile. "Yeah, and if this were a horror movie, this is where most of us would die."
Bree smiled back at him.
"I love ya, Rod. Always the optimist. I promise, we can do this. I just know in my heart that I have to go to the Bethel to stop this evil. Now, are you coming with me, or do I have to sneak out?"
"Of course I'm coming with you." He hugged her tightly as tears rolled down both their cheeks.
"Look, Davis, I don't care what your difficulties are! I want to know who leaked that video footage, and I want to know now!" Acting Mayor Daphne Nolan slammed her phone down and shook her head in disbelief. "I can't believe this day." The intercom buzzer blared and Daphne started.
Quickly recovering her composure, she pressed the button on the intercom. "Yes?"
A familiar voice responded. "Mayor Nolan, it's me, Miranda. May I come in?"
"Yes, of course you may."
Daphne stood up, fussed with her hair for a moment, and then stepped out from behind her desk just as her office door opened.
"Miranda, I thought you'd gone home. What can I do for you?"
"Oh, I would normally have headed out by now, but I parked in the west parking lot today..."
"I see. So you can't get to your car because of the protesters," Daphne asked with a hint of motherly concern.
"No, ma'am, I cannot."
"Well, you're more than welcome to wait it out here, or I can get you a car to take you home. I know you have the boys. And don't call me ma'am, for goodness' sake. Just call me Daphne. It is after hours, you know. " Daphne smiled at her assistant, wanting to set her at ease.
"Joel and Kyle are fine; they're old enough to be alone for a bit. I called Joel and let him know what's going on. He'll make something for Kyle to have for dinner."
"Well, it's up to you, Miranda. I certainly won't mind the company. I'm not planning on leaving until that lot is gone."
"If you don't mind me saying, that's a good idea." Miranda was genuinely concerned. "Those people are really riled up. I was still hoping I could get to the car, but I hadn't realized how many more people had joined the protest since lunch. They're angry, Daphne, and many are shouting about you."
"I know, Miranda. It's terrible," Daphne said. "They're frightened. First the earthquake and then a serial killer. Frankly, I'm scared, too."
"May I ask a question? Off the record."
Miranda hesitated for a moment. "How much more about this do you know than you're letting on?"
"What do you mean, Miranda?"
"I mean that you and Detective Yazzie talk a lot. I mean there just seems to be something more going on than a serial killer." Once Miranda began, the words started tumbling out. "I'm your assistant, and I see and hear things... I try to ignore them, but I'm frightened, too. I have to think of the boys. You must know more about this killing spree. Are the tabloids right? Is there a military project going on? Daphne, I have to protect my boys."
"Oh, Miranda... There is not a military project and I promise you, if I knew anything that could stop this or anything that would protect you and your sons, I'd share it. I'd tell the world. Believe me, all of this has made me sick at heart and I'd give anything to be able to stop it." Daphne's tone was sincere.
"Oh, ma'am, I'm sorry. Of course you would." Miranda immediately regretted questioning her boss's judgment. "It's just so bad out there right now. I'm terrified, the boys are terrified—everyone is, and we don't have anyone to pin it to. Everyone is anxious and jumpy. Neighbors are suspicious of each other, and any noise in the night is a cause for terror. I'm just not myself right now, I'm so sorry."
"No need to apologize, Miranda. Everyone's on edge, including me. And call me Daphne. Please." Daphne paused and thought for a moment. "I tell you what. Let's sneak out the back, grab a car and we'll go pick up Chinese for us and the boys. They still like Chinese, yes?"
Miranda relaxed a little and smiled. "Of course. Their favorite is Chu's. You know, just south of Mission Maria de Guadalupe Park?"
"Oh yes, I love Chu's! Best Chinese I've ever had."
"Okay, that sounds lovely. Why don't you gather up your things, I'll go collect my coat and purse and call for a car, if that's okay?"
"Perfect." Daphne reached out and hugged her assistant. Miranda left the office and Daphne set about collecting papers and placing them in an accordion folder. Not a minute later, the silence was broken by several booms, then the shatter of glass in the distance followed by two much louder booms. Before Daphne could react to any of it, the door to the office burst open.
Miranda staggered into the room. A crimson bloom was spreading across her white blouse.
"Oh God, no!" Daphne screamed. She immediately picked up the phone and dialed 911.
Another gunshot pierced the air, this time farther away.
Miranda fell to her knees and then slumped forward, clearly too injured to support her own weight. Daphne dropped the handset and ran to her. She turned her towards her and placed her hands on the wound.
"Oh, God, so much blood," Daphne said, more to herself. Then, regaining her composure, "You're going to be fine, Miranda. Just fine. What the hell happened?"
Miranda smiled weakly. "You're an awful liar, Daphne. Make sure Joel and Kyle are safe."
"None of that, Miranda. None of that. You'll be making sure they're safe. You're not going anywhere."
Daphne shook her head stubbornly. "No, you'll do it. You're going to be fine."
Though Miranda's strength was fading, her gaze was fierce as she looked into Daphne's eyes. "Promise, Daphne."
"Okay, yes. I promise to make sure they are safe, protected. I promise, Miranda, but you can't give up. Talk to me, Miranda."
From the handset on the floor came the faint sound of someone speaking.
"Miranda? Miranda? Miranda!" Tears began gushing down Daphne's face as she held her assistant's unresponsive body in her arms.
A woman in a police uniform ran into the room. She had short black hair, brown eyes, and caramel-colored skin. Her pistol was drawn.
"Mayor Nolan, you have to come with me, now!"
Daphne turned and looked at the cop.
"Please help her!" she shouted through her tears. The policewoman ran to where Daphne sat on the ground with Miranda and crouched down; her gun pointing at the door and her hand at Miranda's neck with two fingers extended.
"There's nothing I can do, Mayor Nolan. She has no pulse. I'm sorry." The policewoman gave Daphne a moment to absorb this information, and then said, "You have to come with me. Now. A riot's broken out and it's very violent. You can't stay here."
"What? No...no!" Daphne shook her head. It was too much. "Where's Tom?"
"Detective Yazzie is dead, ma'am. We really have to go now." She stood and the reached down and pulled Daphne Nolan upright.
"Wait... No, no. This isn't happening." Confusion and despair washed over her as shock began to set in.
"I'm afraid it is, ma'am. It's time to go." She began moving toward the door, dragging the mayor with her.
"Who are you?"
"Officer Juanita Reyes, ma'am." With that, they left, shutting the door behind them and locking Miranda Wilson's body in the Mayor's office.
"I wish Rodina was going with us," Rod said to the others as the car slowed to a stop outside the bethel.
"She's protecting Diasuke's sister, just as we promised," Everett reminded him.
"Look, we're here now. Let's just go in and do this," Bree said.
"Remember to stay close," Everett said, "I can use my teleport circle and it will be quicker – and safer – than having to skip all three of us out one at a time. Besides, the light of it repelled the things, so it's good that way too." Everyone nodded in agreement.
"Okay, here we go," Bree said, beginning to walk toward the door of the bethel. Rod, with Diasuke's sword at his side, walked next to her. Mac, bow drawn, moved ahead of them. Ant and Everett followed, with Jack Dandelion taking the sweep position at the rear.
Mac cautiously opened the door and the party entered. They slowly moved through the large entrance hall, stopping in the center.
"Okay, last time they came in droves, so we need to be prepared for that," Jack said.
"I am," announced Everett. He reached into his satchel and tossed a small sphere into the air. It lit up and gave off a warm, yellowish glow as it floated up above them. "It's like a tiny sun. It should help keep them from swarming us."
"I still say we should have waited for the daylight," Rod said.
"We agreed there was no time to waste, and in this old, shut-in place, it wouldn't make much difference anyway," Ant said, placing a comforting hand on Rodrigo's shoulder.
"And what a wonderful choice that was," said a silky, feminine voice from the top of the large staircase. All heads turned to see who had spoken.
"Mel?" Bree asked in disbelief.
"That's your sister?" asked Jack.
"Yeah," she answered, disconcerted. "What the hell are you doing here, Mel?"
She answered with a wicked laugh. "Oh, haven't you guessed, dear sister? I'm the reason for everything going on here."
"What?" Bree gasped. "What do you mean? What are you talking about, Mel?" The others looked on in confusion.
"I mean, the Sanguineous Spirits are my doing. I've been working with the Wight to bring them into Santa Maria." She grinned, revealing elongated canines.
"A vampire!" Everett shouted. "Impossible, the city keeps vampires out!"
"Well, yes and no," Melanie said with smile. "It can keep anyone out who isn't from a founding family and it chooses to keep out vampires. However, undead or not, the Montgomery family is from a founding family. Our ancestors came to Santa Maria as slaves and became free men here. Our history is part of Santa Maria's, and those are the kinds of ties it can't refuse passage."
"Why? This doesn't make any sense! Mel, how the hell can you be a vampire?" Bree demanded.
"Jealous that you're not the only special one in the family any more? Well, trust me. Mom died learning that little lesson."
Bree looked flabbergasted, her knees wavering. Rod took her arm to stabilize her. An equally shocked expression was displayed on his face as well.
"Are you saying... This—this can't be happening." Bree struggled to digest what she had just heard. "What the hell? Mel, I can't believe this. I don't believe this. You can't have killed Mom. You can't be a fucking vampire. There's no way. This just can't be happening."
"Oh, but it is. And sadly for you, unlike a Bond villain, I'm not going to reveal all." Mel smiled with a look of smug satisfaction on her face. Then, addressing the shadows, she said, "Remember, my friends: We need Jack and Rodrigo alive. You can kill the rest. Lights out!" Mel shot her arm out, pointing at the sphere of light that hung in the air above them. A small beam of black and violet lightning erupted from her finger, and the sphere immediately exploded, plunging the room into darkness.
The party heard the shadow creatures before they could see them.
Jack looked up and shouted, "Above us!" Immediately, a storm of green energy beams from Everett's gun and bolts of golden light from Mac's bow assailed the mass of Sanguineous Spirits that was descending upon them.
"Bree, now! You have to attack now!" Rod shouted, Diasuke's blade now held aloft against the attackers.
"I think my water just broke," Bree whispered.
"My water just broke!"
As the Sanguineous Spirits set upon them, Rod didn't have time amidst the chaos for the importance of Bree's words to register. He pulled Bree to the ground and began wildly slashing above them.
Ant was swinging at the creatures, as was Jack, his fists tinged with the light of his bright aura.
"Cover me!" Everett shouted. He began to unfurl the cord to his teleport circle, but it was ripped from his hands by several of the shadow creatures, who attempted to carry it away. He gave chase, with Jack following closely behind.
Mac was swarmed by the attackers and dropped his bow. Acting quickly, Ant blinked out and then back in next to him, picked up the weapon, grabbed Mac, and skipped them both out. Everett was bleeding and on the ground when Jack, bloodied himself, dove for him and they both winked out of the bethel.
Bree screamed, and a huge sphere of energy blasted out from her in all directions, shimmering and translucent like heat distortion in the air. Caught in the blast, the Sanguineous Spirits evaporated instantly. Rod, too, was knocked back. He scrambled back to Bree, still waving his sword ineffectively above his head, not quite realizing that the creatures he had been fighting moments ago had been destroyed.
"Oh, Rod, I'm in labor! This can't be happening!" There was despair in Bree's voice.
"This is not the time for 'I-told-you-so's," she screamed.
The remaining shadow creatures began to form a circle around them. A faint white light emanated from Bree.
"Help me, Rod. I need your strength to protect us." Rod touched her with his hand; after a moment, the glow brightened and then extended around him as well. The field of light surrounding them grew until the edges were about three feet away in all directions.
Suddenly, Ant blinked back into the room.
"I can't skip to you!" he shouted. The Sanguineous Spirits were on him in a flash. He skipped out again.
Rod let go of the blade and reached into his pocket for his cell phone.
"Leave it to modern technology," he said under his breath, flipping it open and dialing Ant's number. "Yeah, it's me. No, it's Bree, she's in labor and has created some sort of shield. We're fine for the moment, but I think she's going to have this baby in here. Yes, I know that's insane, but I don't know what else to do. I'll call you back when we figure out what's going on."
"Rod!" Bree screamed, a contraction wracking her body. Rod closed the phone, ending the call and giving her his full attention.
"This is crazy," she acknowledged. "This isn't normal, but I'm here, and the baby is coming. You have to deliver it. Here."
"Okay, Bree," Rod said, still clinging to the hope that he could talk her out of this somehow. "We are surrounded by those damn things and your crazy vampire sister is out there, too. You can't have a baby here."
Bree screamed through another contraction. "I don't think I have a choice, Rod. You have to help me do this!" Rod could hear an edge of panic creeping into her voice.
"You have to let Jack and Ant skip us out of here!"
"Rod, I pass out from teleportation, you know that! I can't pass out during labor. It's too risky."
"It's too risky giving birth in the den of your enemies," he countered, defiant.
"There's no other way! I think, I think this is supposed to happen like this!" she ended on a scream.
Rod quickly called Ant again. "Okay, this is going to sound insane...because it is...but we are going to deliver the baby here. I'll call you back once we're done with that and we can figure out how to get all three of us out of this place."
"Rod! She's coming!" Bree shouted.
He quickly returned the phone to his pocket and began pulling off Bree's shoes, socks, and then the rest of her garments that might obstruct the procedure. He wadded up the clothes and put them under Bree's head for support, and then took off his own shirt.
"Okay, time to get into position, Bree." Rod helped her into the birthing position and then surveyed the situation. The baby was already starting to crown and coming fast. "Remember, slow breaths."
The baby's head soon emerged. With one hand, Rod supported the newborn's head, and with the other he cleared the baby's nose and mouth by making gentle downward strokes with his shirt. Calmly, he said, "Okay, the cord isn't around the baby's neck. Are you ready to push again?"
"Yes," she shouted.
The Sanguineous Spirits had gathered outside the energy field to watch in disgust and amazement as Rod helped Bree deliver the baby. Melanie was there as well; she had taken a compact from her pocket and opened it. She began speaking to the mirror contained within, which held an image of a beautiful alabaster-skinned man. After several minutes of intense discussion, she closed the mirror, returned it to her pocket, and stood by to watch her sister giving birth.
"Oh, Bree, she's out...and she's beautiful! You were right, a beautiful baby girl." He finished guiding the baby out and then held the newborn at an angle, head down and wiped at her nose and mouth again. The baby started crying. He wrapped the baby in his shirt for warmth and placed the newborn on her mother's chest. Bree cradled her baby against her.
"Help me, Rod. She needs to be fed." He helped her pull down her blouse and the baby began to suckle.
"I'm glad we took that birthing class," he said, rubbing Bree's abdomen. "This will help ease the placenta out," he explained.
"Me, too." Rod removed the placenta and then removed his shoelaces. Next, he used them to tie off the umbilical cord, then cut it.
Bree said quietly, "I'm going to name her 'Helen', after Mom."
"Okay, that's wonderful, Bree. I know you just gave birth, but we have to get out of here! This shield won't hold forever," Rod said, his voice anxious.
Bree gestured for Rod to come closer. "Take the baby and run, Rod. I can hold the shield around you two until you get to Ant, and then he can skip you both out," Bree whispered
"What about you?" he whispered back.
"I can defend myself—you saw how many I destroyed. I'll be fine," Bree said reassuringly, weak but confident. "Once you and Helen are safe, Ant or Jack can come back for me. It won't be but a moment."
"I'm not sure I like this idea." Rod frowned. "You run with Helen and I'll stay behind."
Bree shook her head. "Rod, you can't maintain the shield or fight these things effectively. Also, I just gave birth; I'm not walking anywhere, let alone running. Just call Ant!"
Obediently, Rod brought his phone out and called his boyfriend. "Ant, look, we're going to need you to skip me and the baby out and then just a second later, Jack needs to skip Bree out. What? How bad?" After listening for a moment, Rod turned to Bree. "Jack's too injured to skip, but Ant says he's fine to get you just after us. Are you sure you can hold the spirits off?"
"Yes, let's do this, now. I can't hold on too much longer." Bree was looking weaker by the moment.
Speaking into the phone again, Rod said, "Okay Ant, I'm going to run with the baby. Once you feel you can skip to me, do. Then come back for Bree, okay?" He flipped the phone shut. "Okay, he's ready."
"Okay, Rod. You keep her safe. And don't drop her," she said with a smile.
"Of course. Let's do this!" He kicked off his lace-less shoes. Rod gently took Helen from Bree's arms, kissed Bree affectionately on the forehead, and stood. "Okay, I'm going." He began to run, Helen clutched protectively to his chest. The creatures moved away as the white light shielding them stretched and extended, slowly becoming brighter around Rod and Helen while diminishing around Bree. Soon the protective energy around her was almost imperceptible as she manipulated the shield to focus on her baby and best friend.
Finally, the shield dropped. At that moment, Ant popped into existence, reached for Rod and the baby, and all three winked out safely.
At the same time, Bree began blasting the shadow creatures around her, but her sister caught her by surprise as she jumped from the shadows, fangs and claws bared. Moving with amazing speed, Melanie attacked her sister.
A moment later, Ant skipped in and was met with Melanie's claws raking across his torso. He attempted to reach out to Bree, to establish a physical connection with her so he could blink her to safety, but the Sanguineous Spirits swarmed him and he was forced to blink out.
Alone with her prize, free from interruptions, Mel delighted in devouring her sister.
Story by James M. Sullivan, Copyright 2008
Image by Rory Clark, Stopped Motion Photography, Copyright 2008