As Chapter One of The Blood Seed unfolds, we meet Cat and Roxi as they fish for any excitement that can be found in their sleepy little southern town of Orange Grove…
Slowly, it came to her attention that she was bored. Catherine Johns had been working on the city’s property records for sometime. The City Hall had recently gotten a new computer system for all their document needs. This was quite special for the little city of Orange Grove. They had hired new employees and coerced others to complete the transference of the thousands of old, handwritten documents into the new system. The assignment had seemed fun at first. Entering the data scrawled in the old city records had been like peeking into the lives of people who lived decades ago. It was almost intriguing at times. Almost.
Now, on the third week of data entry, she was going stir crazy. Her mind was wandering and she became aware that she was not proofreading what she was typing. She reached for the screen button on her computer to switch it off for her lunch break and saw the last entry read, “purchased 1-4-1835. Current owner: same.” She glanced down at the old, hand-written record sheet to see what it actually said. To her confusion, that is exactly what it said.
Cat flipped the scattered papers around, searching for a recent update of the current ownership, or if it was listed as abandoned. Soon defeated , she clicked off her monitor screen and grabbed her purse from the back of her chair. She wound her way through the room of small work cubicles that comprised her office area, greeting each computer operator as she went.
She had only been working in this downtown office a few weeks, but she knew almost all of her coworkers, for they had grown up together. Though she had not always liked some of them, and still did not choose to spend large amounts of time with them, a strange change had occurred since their high school days. The kids she never would have spoken to in school became friendly acquaintances in the adult world. Perhaps if she had gone away to college or had a career in another city, these same people would seem like long, lost friends at a ten-year school reunion. As it was now, she did not care one way or the other if she moved away and never saw some of them again. Life in this small, southern city had grown monotonous over the years. She had known it would eventually, though she had not expected it to be so intolerable so soon. The opportunity to work in the city’s records department this fall was her chance to save some extra money. She wanted to move to New York. California. Anywhere, but here.
The only person she loved spending time with, was her oldest, and dearest friend from school, Raquelle. She and Roxi, as Raquelle liked to be called, had a plan for escape from this artistic and culture void of a town. But, to execute it they both desperately needed some money. Roxi had joined Cat in working at the records department. But, after the first week, the supervisor had to separate them to quiet the outbursts of laughter that infected them at times. Still, they always took lunch together.
Approaching Roxi’s cubicle, she heard the faint tunes of an old Thompson Twins song slipping out of the headphones on Roxi’s ears.
Raquelle turned when she saw Cat’s shadow and her eyes opened wide in relief, “Lunchtime, finally?” she gasped. “If I had to type in one more address, I’d have gone crazy.”
Cat smiled. “I know. Me, too. Ready to go?”
In one smooth movement, Roxi took off her headphones, grabbed her purse from the desk and stood up. She tossed her full, dark curls out and primped at them with her fingers as a quick fix. Then she smiled, “Okay! Let’s split like a banana.”
Of the two women, Roxi looked more out of place in Orange Grove. She dressed fashionably enough to be mistaken for a model. And, sometimes people did ask her if she ever considered that career. She would always reply that she had indeed. Although she was too short for runway modeling, as they called it, she was very photogenic with dark brown hair, that she occasionally had dyed burgundy or black, and clear blue eyes. Her fair complexion bordered on ghostly pale. She cut quite a striking image on the sidewalks of the town.
Cat, on the other hand, looked almost like everyone else. There was very little about her that could be called ‘striking.’ Blonde hair and gray eyes were common enough in Florida. Her skin looked as if it always had a fading suntan. She had faint freckles and slightly large front teeth that gave her mouth a pouting expression. She felt that she looked dowdy, and therefore gave little consideration to her wardrobe. If it was comfortable and loose-fitting, she bought it. Make-up was something she never seemed to find the time or the energy to fit into her schedule. Though she had gathered quite an extensive collection of it over the years. Every time she saw a color of eye shadow or lipstick that she liked, she would buy it in hopes that this new color would make her want to extend the effort to wear it. But, that idea never lasted more than a few days. Then the little piece of make-up would be consigned to eternity in a drawer cluttered with others of its kind that had been deserted a long time before.
After work that same evening, they were driving home together, talking about their plans to move away. As they often did.
Roxi had driven today, and Cat was glad that she had because Roxi’s car had an air conditioner that worked. Cat’s car did not. Even in the month of September, it was unbearably hot and humid during the days. Entertained occasionally by thunderstorms, this day had been very hot indeed. Another thunderstorm was building up somewhere south, and that always made the humidity and pressure build until one feels that ripping off one’s own skin would be reasonable in order to be comfortable. Then, just before that becomes a sane option, a torrential downpour starts. The storm will lasts a few hours maybe, or a few minutes, or sometimes a few days. Then it will be cooler for a few hours. The North Florida coastal area is a very strange place to live at times.
“One thing I won’t miss when we move to New York is this humidity.” Roxi declared as she turned the air conditioner higher. “I hate this weather. It’s rotten on my hair.”
Cat agreed. “And my skin is forever oily. I just can’t wait for when I won’t sweat so much.”
“At least it will be winter soon.” Roxi said cheerfully. “If it’s not another warm one.”
“Yeah.” Cat fell silent a moment and sighed.
“What is it?”
She shook it off. “Oh, just something weird I ran across this afternoon.”
Roxi seemed intrigued .
“Something weird, huh? What? We can always use something weird. Weird is good.”
“Well, I don’t know if it’s anything yet. It was a property record from 1835 that never had any other documentation done. The house was apparently never sold. The other records all have some sort of report attached that says whether the owner died without selling or the property was snatched up by the city.”
“Yeah, but back then someone could easily wander off and die and no one ever make a record of it. Maybe the owner was eaten by an alligator.” Roxi put in.
“Yeah. I guess.” Cat was saddened by that suggestion. Though she could not have said why. “I even went into the death records after lunch. The guy’s not there. I guess he moved and never told anyone. But, that still doesn’t explain why the city has never claimed the land like they do everything else. ”
“Maybe he’s still alive.” Roxi gave a ghoulish chuckle.
Cat laughed. “Am I obsessing?”
“Nah, you’re just a Curious Cat.” Her friend elbowed her. “I’m the one that gets obsessed, remember? The addictive tendency. Exercise, health foods…I’m glad I don’t drink! Then I’d really have trouble.”
Cat smiled at her. “We are both so weird.” She paused, thinking. “I’ll leave it alone. No sense in making myself nuts over something stupid.”
“What was the dead guy’s name?”
Cat did not even hesitate.
“Oliver Revel,” she stated.
The roads were wet. The bright streetlights and neon store signs streaking colors down the busy roads and across the windshields of the cars like giant watercolors running brilliantly over the black backdrop of the night.
The woman’s car felt more as if it were skiing along the lanes rather than riding. She felt her heart pound quicker each time another car flew by. That harsh rasping hiss of the wetness kicking up beneath the wheels sent chills down her neck. It was weather like this that summoned more road accidents than normal for this little town.
Very glad when she pulled safely into her own parking lot, the woman signed with relief; the apartment building standing protectively above her car. She was home, and safe.
Grabbing her umbrella and the folder of papers that comprised her first novel, she opened the door and wrestled her way out of the small car. Taking a habitual glance around, she locked up and headed for the stairs of the apartments. She had just glanced down into her hand to shake out the appropriate key when she suddenly heard a voice beside her.
She jumped with the start.
“Excuse me,” a young man at her right elbow said.
Warily, she took a few steps away from him as she quickly sized him up. The thought of attack was always uppermost in her mind . Though, it had never happened to her, nor anyone she knew personally. Still, one can never be too careful. Even in a small town such as Orange Grove.
He younger than herself, perhaps in his mid-twenties. Almost six feet tall and not very imposing looking. He did have strong, straight shoulders but, a slim build. She put a little more distance between them, as he tried once more to approach her.
Perhaps he was going to panhandle some money for drugs, she thought to herself. For he did look unwell in the sickly illumination of these streetlights . He was wearing old jeans and a short, denim jacket. It was zipped up tightly. His hands were shoved deep into his pockets, and there was a black scarf wrapped around his throat for protection against the biting wind that sprayed them both with droplets of rain; all that was left from the thunderstorm earlier. But, his face was pale and his eyes dark. Hollow looking.
That’s it, she thought. Drugs. The only question left seemed to be, Is he going to beg or rob me?
“I need some help,” he shivered in a blast of wind. There was a slightly strange sound to his voice. A trace of an accent. “I’m lost. ” He went on. “Could you tell me where to find Maple Street?”
She shook her head and backed toward the stairs.
“No, I’m sorry. I can’t.” She said quickly, turning to hurry up the stairs. His pleading voice stopped her.
She turned back, hoping that if she was polite he would leave her alone. In her mind’s eye, she had always imagined herself being tougher in a situation like this. She had run over most possible assault scenarios mentally, from time to time, just to feel prepared. Always picturing a big, threatening looking man with a beard, asking her a question to put her off her guard. And, she had imagined she would be assertive or even use mace on him. But, now standing on the stairway, being faced with a very real possibility of assault, she realized that she had no idea where her mace even was, or how it worked.
Being a single female in a town, no matter the size of it, and being approached by an unknown man in the dark was a terrifying experience, she concluded.
She looked down at him nervously from the stairs. He was standing on the ground still and seemed even less threatening. He looked small and frightened, like a lost child. The long bangs of his dark blonde hair flopped wetly, as he shook them out of his face with a jerk of his head.
“Please, I’m not going to hurt you or anything.” He laughed self-consciously. “I just need directions. I just got into town, and I’m supposed to meet with someone. A friend of mine….an old friend.”
She stood on the stairs, silent, debating on whether she should believe him. When, as if in answer to her doubt, he spoke again.
“Look, I’m telling you the truth. I can’t find Maple Street.”
“That’s because they changed the name years ago.” She found herself saying. “It’s now called James Street.”
“Oh.” He sighed quietly, looking about him, as if he could spot the street from where he was standing.
She could not help smiling at the disarming vulnerability he had about him. He was genuinely lost. Slowly, she descended the stairs to help him.
“See, they built a mini-mall on that street and renamed it for the guy who owned the land where the mall is. That was one of his conditions for selling it.” She explained. “Where is it you need to go?”
She was near him now, and he glanced over at her warmly. They were almost the same height, she noted subconsciously, looking closer at his face. There was a shadow of a beard and a small, well-grown mustache on him. Under the faint facial hair, his features looked boyish and sweet. His eyes never left her form as she spoke to him, and she began to feel herself blush.
“My friend lives at 510 Maple Street. Or he did when it was called Maple street.” He said softly. His black eyes never leaving her face.
“510?” She tried hard not to get too flustered by his stare. “That would be just a little ways past the mini-mall. In fact, the city is trying to buy up those houses back there to put in a store or an extension. Most of the people have already sold their property. Are you sure your friend still lives there?”
“Yes. I haven’t heard from him in a while. But, he wouldn’t move unless his life depended on it. And, I would definitely hear if he did move.”
She glanced up to see his lips pull tight in a wide, impish smile. There is something strange about that smile, her mind said dimly. Something not quite right. She pushed the thought away as he continued.
“It is a small, white house with brown trim. And, shutters. Wooden. Do you know of it?” he asked offhandedly.
Her brow creased. She did know that house. She knew it from her childhood. Every small town had one like it. An old, broken down house with flapping shutters and creaking floors. It had been abandoned as long as she could remember and even her mother had called it The Haunted House.
She looked up at him.
“Are you absolutely sure?” she asked. “That old house has…”
She stopped cold. It was his sudden laughter that stopped her.
It was a hearty laugh that tossed his head back with amusement. She blinked in disbelief. When his lips parted to release that merry burst, she saw light flash on what looked like four long, sharp teeth.
She blinked again to clear the mirage but, as his eyes settled back on hers, the broad grin remained.
Was this real? Was this bestial grimace for real?
Four? A fading part of her brain asked, I thought they only had two fangs.
She tried to take in all that she was seeing to convince her body that it was in danger. His gums were a sickly gray color, his teeth as white as his skin, and two, long canine fangs on the top and bottom rows!
Shaking herself out of the stupor finally, the woman stumbled backwards and turned to run. His pale hand was on her arm, yanking her back around. His face was a grinning mask of cold menace. She struggled. He squeezed her tightly.
“I thought you said you wouldn’t hurt me,” she pleaded.
“I lied about that part,” he chuckled.
Somewhere in the night, a few blocks from the apartments, a car skidded to a stop as a traffic light changed quickly to red. The scraping sound of wet tires braking on the slick pavement ran briskly across the damp air. There was a brief crunching noise that sounded as harmless as an aluminum can being crushed, as the car impacted with another that had been too eager to enter the intersection.
The police and ambulance were quick to respond to this car crash, but Louise Baker’s bloodless body was not discovered on the steps of her apartment building until a neighbor left for work the next morning.