Runner Up - October 2012
R.G. Calkins - Pay The Piper
The Cadillac idles in the museum parking lot. I want to see who Martin has sent before taking a ride with him. The engine stops, the driver’s door opens, and he gets out. The lights that line the walk reveal a familiar, friendly profile. A young man with a tangle of brown curls so like his sister’s.
I push open the museum door. There’s a damp chill in the early morning air. I lock up and meet Rory halfway up the path.
He clasps my hand in his. “Look at yourself, man. Back from the auld country, are you, Hayden?”
“Aye, Rory. You should take yourself along. Your sister was askin’ about ye.”
Rory embraces me with a hearty slap on the back then steps back to look at me. “My sister’s still in Dublin, is she? I think the last time I saw her was in ’03.”
I raise my eyebrows and throw off my long-abandoned lilt. “You haven’t been to Europe since 1920.”
“I didn’t say which ’03,” he retorts, sloughing off his accent as well. “Hayden, are you sure you want to do this? You could run, go back to Dublin. . .”
“I have reason to stay here and it would be safer for all if I live in plain sight. I can’t have the Patriarch in my business.”
Rory frowns. “He’ll be in your business anyway.” He turns to open the passenger door for me. “You cannot tell me that this museum job has brought you . . .” he spins to face me, forgetting the door. “You’ve felt the summoning?” His eyes show surprise. He laughs and claps his hands rubbing them together. “There’s hope for me yet. To think, after four centuries, a woman’s soul has spoken to yours--and she’s here inLexington.”
My face tightens. I know he can see the tense lines in my neck. I move so our faces are inches apart and hiss, “You’ll tell no one of this, Rory Donovan. The woman will not be involved with the Teaghlaigh Fola . She will not be harmed by them.”
Rory’s amusement fades. He presses a hand to my chest and pushes. “Relax. I would die before revealing your secrets to The Family.”
“You’ll forgive me, but I’ve been gone thirty years. Your allegiances may have changed.”
Rory leaps at me, grabs hold of my shirt, and roars in my face. “I have never betrayed or forgotten you, my maker. When you left I withstood a punishment such as the one you face now.” He releases his grip. “I’ve told them nothing, Father.” His head falls to my shoulder.
I should have known the bond would not be broken, just as it had not been broken with his sister. I had saved the Sheehan twins, of eighteen years, from slow starvation during the famine, shortly after their birth parents had passed on.
I embrace him tightly and let him weep. That he faced the Teaghlaigh’s torture weighs heavily. It adds to the immense guilt I live with. I brought him into this life of darkness and death, and he’s been nothing but grateful.
Our kind is mercurial and soon he pulls away laughing. “So, who’s the woman that thinks she can call herself my mother?” He skirts the front of the car to the driver’s side.
I avoid his gaze over the roof.
His eyes widen with surprise. “She doesn’t know? Hayden, you go to face the Tribunal for a Transient Soul, amortalwho hasn’t given you her pledge?”
“But, you’re not sure.”
“I’m sure. It will just take time.” I open the passenger door. “She’s not fully Transient--I can smell something ageless in her blood.”
Rory raises his eyebrows and shakes his head. “Get in the car, old man. We’ll be late. Dead Hour approaches.”
We climb into the Caddy. Its exterior is black, the interior soft, red leather. Very cliché. I hate the way they’ve embraced the dark, bloody myth of our existence. “Please tell me this is not your vehicle.”
Rory snorts. “Da, you know better. I have a Harley.” His grin is wicked and rebellious. “I still have yours in storage if you’re interested.” His impish look makes me laugh.
He starts the car. “Le Croix loaned this to me. Said it would make a better impression.” He says nothing for several minutes. Once on the road his curiosity returns. “So, you think this woman is a Dormant? A half-breed?
“Yes. She has not transitioned.”
Rory looks over and gives me a sly smile. “Does she have a name?”
He swerves to the curb and slams on the brakes. “Blush? You can’t mean Blush McFadden. She can’t be. Her parents are--were--both mortal.”
I look out the windshield. “That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a tryst.”
“Da, the McFadden Agency governs the Family’s business dealings.”
“I know this Rory, what’s your point?”
“Hayden, her uncle and brother will not want her to transition. She, like her brother, was raised with their family’s prejudices.” Rory stares at me, the fear and concern etched over his face. “Tell me you believe she can be convinced to transition. Otherwise, either the Teaghlaigh, or the Agency will have you both killed.”
I feel tired. Rory is right. “Only if they find out before she transitions. I cannot let that happen.”
Rory’s eyes squeeze shut, his mouth presses tight. When he has his emotions in check, he echoes my own thought. “How demeaning it must have been for her father, the head of The Agency, to be cuckolded by one of us.”
“Yes, from things she said, I believe he knew. I believe the immediate family does too. Blush knows she is different.” I turn my head and meet his gaze. “She has no idea why.” I look at the digital clock display and tap it. “Drive, son. What I go to do will buy some time and being late will not help my cause.”
Rory revs the engine and barrels back into the road. His quick reflexes keep the borrowed monstrosity from hitting another car in the same path.
My thoughts turn to the trial that awaits me. My worst fear is I will be driven mad--feral and Blush will be lost to me. That is unacceptable. I must not break.
I present myself to the Patriarch and his tribunal at three o’clock in the morning. The Dead Hour or Dead Time as the paranormal experts insist it’s called. Rory walks with me as far as the dock, where I am unnecessarily bound with chains attached to the floor, then takes his place in the crowd.
The room is round, carved out of a limestone outcrop. A sprawling mausoleum of a mansion was erected in front of the excavation to hide its existence. Underneath are the dungeons, also limestone.
The members of the Tribunal sit in a circle on plain stone benches that curve up at the sides to form armrests. All ancient, yet young. All wear black, unadorned robes and somber faces.
The Patriarch presides from a platform at the top of the circle giving the effect that while he is part of it, he is above and removed. He sits, in his silver and fur trimmed robe, on his ornately carved stone bench. A replica of the Stone of Destiny behind it serves as his backrest. The original sang for the true Ard Ri  inIreland, but it has never, to my knowledge, sung for the Patriarch, his Lordship Aloysius O’Neill, even though he’s descended from that O’Neill line.
The Patriarch is tall, but thin. His face and hands show the error of his inactivity. Veins, black beneath the skin. His hair, more steely-gray than the black it once was. If the shark stops swimming, it dies.
The dock is across from him and sits in a niche carved in the floor so the prisoner stands below them all. Aloysius gazes impassively at me, as if I was never one of his adopted sons.
Amphitheatre seats for the audience extend from the wall of the rotunda. There are just over a hundred spectators by my count. Some I recognize, others I’ve never seen.
The only light comes from new candles that sit on the remains of long-dead tapers. Old wax, which has spilled down the walls, pools on the floor beneath fifty grottos of light that line the room. That many more freestanding candleholders are scattered throughout the space, anchored in place by more aged tallow.
The Tribunal is made up of ten founding members of the Teaghlaigh Fola, which originated in Dublin, Ireland, in 1202. They moved to Americain 1741 in search of fresh blood because there was little after the Bliain an Áir,  the same famine that claimed my twins’ birth parents. By the onset of America’s Revolutionary War, our so-calledfamily was spoiling for a good fight rife with blood.
The Tribunal is impressed that I chose not to run. Now they argue whether my sentence will be ten or twenty days. The Patriarch will only step in if the vote is stalemated. I served my time on the Tribunal with these pious, mewling sycophants. That should be considered as partial punishment.
Three members of the jury serve as I did. Thirteen years, determined by lottery. The Patriarch’s true son, Garrett, is one of these. His hatred for me is palpable.
“Hayden knows he has broken his oath. He was told not to return and yet he has.” Garrett rails, mostly at the other two temporary jurors. “He should serve the maximum time.”
Seamus Byrne, the eldest of the permanent members, glances at me. His head is down, so the movement is less noticeable to the others. “Garrett, the fact that he has come forth of his own accord should be taken into account. I say that ten days is acceptable.”
Garrett comes out of his seat. “Acceptable? You think it’s acceptable?” He leaps onto the arm of Seamus’s stone bench, crouches, and leans into his face. “Hayden Donovan thinks he can come sneaking back into this city and take his place in The Family”--he stands and makes a sweeping gesture to the Tribunal and audience--“as if he had never turned his back on us and you think ten days is acceptable? I say ten months would not be enough time.”
He jumps down and struts around the circumference of the circle. He stops at the dock and glares down at me. A small group of young men cheer at his performance. They’re new, unrecognizable to me. Rory glares at them, the muscles of his jaw working as he grinds his teeth.
I direct my gaze back to Garret. I can’t keep the smirk off my face.
“You see”--Garrett’s grating voice rings out--“he sneers at us.” His stubby finger is dangerously close to my face.
I remain silent, and resist the urge to remove it from his body. I would swallow the repulsive digit, so he could not reattach it. Such short, fat fingers on a skinny, pinch-faced bastard. Takes after his mortal mother, the long-dead concubine.
“Silence!” The Patriarch’s baritone echoes through the room. He stands, and his robes trail as he takes one step down from his perch.
His voice is still strong. “I grow weary of your rants, Garrett. Be seated, be silent. If the Tribunal members are ready to vote, then proceed.”
Garrett does as he’s told. His face looks like the petulant teen that he is. He is two hundred and four years old, but he’s frozen at the physical age of eighteen. It’s unfortunate that, in all those years, he’s learned little. Garrett and his entourage will be trouble for me.
Each member has two solid colored cubes, one white, and one red. In my case, the light color represents minimum punishment. Seamus will start. He holds out his fist and lets his piece drop. It is white. The reveal goes counter-clockwise. Red, red, red, white, red and so on.
Rory’s shoulders droop. He closes his eyes and lowers his head. The count is even. He lifts his face to meet my gaze.
I give him a tight smile.
Complete silence permeates the chamber. Aloysius reaches into his robes and brings his fisted hands out in front of him. He opens both, but only one cube falls. As the room erupts in chatter and Garrett’s expletives, I alone hear Rory’s whispered hiss. “Yes, ten days.”
Our form of punishment is archaic, considering that it’s the twenty-first century, but it is effective on most. There are those of us, myself included, contrary enough to reside in the dungeons more than once. This time I go to The Pit. I’ve suffered its degradation before, though only once.
There are no steps to the bowels of this hell. My jailor and I pass the only guard at the entry to the long, winding decline that leads to the vault. More waxy alcoves line the tunnel walls.
It opens into a half-moon anteroom. The light is low here. Two torches at the end of the tunnel. Reinforced, iron shackles are bolted to the walls. There is one inhabitant. His crime would not have been great. Theft from brethren, disobeying orders, disrespect of a founding member.
We continue on to a short corridor leading into the inner chamber. Two more torches at the end show half a dozen cramped cells. Those imprisoned here have broken the laws set down by the Teaghlaigh and the McFadden Agency. Laws that state what we can and cannot do with mortals.
A moan comes from the farthest cell to my right.
I look in question at the jailor.
“That’s Silas Smithson. He kept a young mortal woman imprisoned for his amusement. He’s halfway through a three month sentence.”
I feign interest. Silas is a weasel, an informant during the Civil War who’s never changed his ways. “He’s always been a stupid, deluded being.”
The jailor laughs and slaps me on the back with his beefy hand. “You know, Hayden, I don’t want to put you in The Pit. I hope you don’t hold it against me.”
“I cannot fault a man for executing his duties, Zeke. I’ll buy you a drink after I’m released.”
Jailors are never relaxed on duty. Muscles taut, fangs at the ready. His broad grin reveals his incisors. This man has been my friend for well over two hundred years. I have no cause to provoke him.
He directs me through a short, narrow tunnel and into a round room. It’s six feet across at any point and there are two benches carved out of the limestone for visitors. One does not get friendly chat here. Visitors who come to The Pit do so to belittle and humiliate. It’s part of the punishment. Friends or family are forbidden to come during incarceration.
The Pit. For blood oath breakers, those who murder their own kind or, those who may be hiding something. It’s roughly two and a half feet in diameter and twelve feet deep, a coffin of sorts. The sides are smooth and damp.
“You know what to do, Hayden,” Zeke says. “I’ll give your effects to Rory for keeping.”
I disrobe and hand him my clothes and personal items. I look at my friend from Revolutionary days. “There’s no need to lower me in.” I step backward, arms close to my sides, and drop into the hole. There is no light here, not that I need any, and there will be no sustenance.
Zeke puts the cast iron grate over the top and lines it up. He turns the key in the lock and four bolts slide into place. “I’ll see you in ten days, my friend.”
I stare up through the basket weave of the grate. Ten days. In two to three, a gnawing in my gut much like the hunger pangs of a mortal. By day four or five, a blinding headache will accompany the emptiness. In six to seven days a minor delirium and a desire to sleep heavily. By day eight I will feel the desiccation of my body begin.
When they pull me out, my stomach, liver and veins will have started to collapse. To the mortal eye I will look weak, ill. The truth is far from that. Danger is high.
What comes from the Pit could be broken and ruthless, little more than an animal. Or, a man—sane, but out of control. Incapable of interaction with mortals. God willing, I’ll have control of my sanity and actions—but, I’ll be intensely hungry.
My first visitor comes this very afternoon. I try to determine who it is by scent, but they are foreign to me. Whoever it is is male. He never says a word, but spits into the hole at intervals, for what seems like hours. If this juvenile act is an indication of what I’m in for, I will be bored to death.
Time is indeterminate in The Pit. The different degrees of ambient light become my gauge.
Sometime in the evening, or maybe it’s early morning, the stench of a cigar wafts into my abyss.
“Tsk, tsk. You’re a brave soul, Donovan,” says a familiar voice.
The former French trapper shuffles to the edge of the opening and peers down. He leans in and blows a cloud of smoke into my crypt. The smoke is thick and suffocating.
I squint through the fog. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“I’ve come to see you brought low, Mon Ami. The fact that you gave yourself up does not ruin my amusement in the least. To see you this way does my heart good.” He pulls on the cigar. The glow illuminates his scarred, deformed face.
“Andre, I suppose you still blame me for that unfortunate hatchet incident in Louisiana? How was I to know that Huoma Chief would take offense to you making his daughter one of us?”
He shrugs. “I could have forgiven you, but . . .” Another illumination shows his offset jaw in detail.
“I’m sorry the hatchet was cursed, brother.”
“Do not call me brother.” He pulls the cigar from his mouth and drops it into the hole. “Merde. Wrong side. My aim is off.” He shrugs. “No matter.”
The embers burn down my back and the cigar lodges itself above my buttocks. I lean forward and hope it descends to the floor, but there’s not enough room. Just endure and wait for it to burn out. I look up to see him remove the cap from a vial.
He pours. His aim is better this time. “That will give you something permanent to remember me.” He laughs.
The liquid lends intensity to the fire of the cigar. Silver nitrate or perhaps mercury, either would work. They slow the healing process and the resulting scar will be with me for decades.
Andre’s laughter and footsteps fade away.
I breathe through the fiery sensation. Heaviness overcomes me.
I wake not knowing how much time has passed. There are rats perched on my head and shoulders and one has squeezed itself down to gnaw on the cigar. I thrust my body backward with as much force as possible in the small space. It’s enough to crush the creature.
His blood excites not only me but his companions. The other two scramble to feed on the unfortunate’s remains. They meet the same fate.
Reach, Hayden. I’m able to grab one by the tail, but it’s too large. My hand won’t budge past my hip. I drop the rat and slowly inch my hand to my face. There’s not enough blood on my fingers to feed a leech. All I can do is smell the blood and feel it trickle down my legs.
More time passes.
Night or day it doesn’t matter. I can’t tell and don’t care. I’m parched, my throat is tight. My eyes and skin feel as if they’re embedded with sand. I lean against the cool, damp sides of my prison for relief. I remember a Shakespeare quote.
Time is very slow for those who wait, very fast for those who are scared, very long for those who lament, very short for those who celebrate, but for those who love, time is eternal.
I swallow painfully. Blush will never know what I’ve done for the honor of loving her.
My laughter erupts again, as another of the Bard’s witticisms comes to mind. Ah, but there are more visitors about.
“What you laughin’ at, old man?” says a harsh, uncouth voice.
I can’t stop my hysterics, but manage to say, “I wasted time, and now doth time waste me.”
“Dude, whatishe talking about?”
A second voice. West Coast possibly. These must be Garrett’s lackeys. Three by my estimate. “Do your worst, gentlemen.”
They talk amongst themselves. Yes, three, one not male. Interesting.
“He’s lost it. Let’s just get out of here.”
“Ah, the lady speaks,” I say. My apologies for the exclusion of your fairer sex.” Another fit of laughter takes me.
She moves to the edge where I can see her. “Shut up. I’m not fair and I don’t want your apology.”
The others hover close. Yes, I remember them from the trial.
I’m unable to stop myself. Forehead to the wall, body shaking with laughter.
Pressure on the back of my neck. The pain floods my body with rage. I lift my face and roar at the three of them.
“See,” says Uncouth, a metal rod in his hand, tip glowing, “that’s how ya’ll get his ‘tention.”
West Coast laughs and they high five. The girl kneels and fixes me with dead eyes. “Garrett says there’s more where that came from. Be ready.”
I hiss at her. More of Old Will’s words leave my tongue. “In time, we hate that which we often fear.”
She turns her face to the others. “What the hell does that mean?”
My laughter is now sardonic. “Ask Garrett, he’ll know.”
“He creeps me out,” Midwest says and backs up slightly.
Uncouth stands at the edge until she tugs at his hand. They scurry out of the room.
I’m left to alternate between laughter and tears. Only when I picture Blush in my mind can I sleep. That I do in fits. More humiliation does come, though it registers as a dream.
Ghostly figures flit in and out of my vision. I’m not sure if they are real. Spirits? Brethren? Jailors? Enemies?
Slip into oblivion--that way madness lies--King Lear?
Garrett’s stench reaches me well before he reaches the chamber. “Are you hungry, Hayden?”
I hear the pop of plastic. The metallic, salty smell sends shockwaves through me and my fangs extend. Foamy saliva drips from my lips with the anticipation of food. How foolish. I laugh. He’s not here to share with me.
“Do you find this amusing?” He sucks the bag dry and tosses it on the grate.
A drop falls on my upturned face and I lick it from my upper lip.
“Oops.” Garrett kicks the bag against a wall. “Maybe you’ll find this more to your liking.”
Something sharp strikes my shoulder and sticks there. Glass. Another piece follows, grazing my chest. It balances, tip to my chest, butt to the wall. If I move the wrong way it will embed there. I choose correctly, but it shatters on the floor. I position my hands to cover my genitals as a few smaller shards rain down, piercing my skin in several places.
Garrett laughs, the pitch high and hysterical. “Oh, this is great fun.” He launches more through the grate.
They impale, scrape, slice at my skin.
“Come on, Hayden, say something. You’re starting to spoil my entertainment.”
He’ll get no response from me.
“Well, I guess it’s all good, I’m almost out. I do have this last piece though.”
I look up. He holds a dagger of glass between his thumb and forefinger. It’s almost two feet long and jagged. I brace for the release. It grazes my face. A long tear rips just in front of my ear. It buries itself in the flesh between my arm and chest and continues its trajectory. The point explodes in my forearm. I clench my teeth and breathe through the pain.
I will not give the bastard what he wants.
“Da, give me your hand.”
I open my eyes through the haze of my hunger and pain and grasp Rory’s outstretched arm.
There’s a hook under one of my arms. At the other end is Zeke.
They pull me from my trap.
I crouch, shivering on the floor of the cell not knowing how long it’s been since Garrett’s visit.
“Rory,” Zeke’s voice is quiet, “I’ll leave you to it.” His boots resonate like gunshots.
Rory pulls shards of glass from my body and wraps a blanket around me. “Hayden, who did this to you?” He pulls my clothes from a large duffle and places them on the ground beside me.
I ignore his question. “Do you have something for me to . . .?” It’s then that I smell the mortal. “Rory, what have you done?”
“Hayden, she’s here for you. She has cancer. She wants to die before it consumes her.”
A growl builds in my chest. “I no longer drain mortals, Rory, and neither do you. What are you thinking?”
“Suh,” a timid voice whispers, “Save for the disease, ah’m clean. No drugs. I’m beyond treatment. My family knows. They helped me seek your kind out. They are waiting for the return of my body.” She peers into the darkness trying to see me.
I growl at her. “Return home. Commit suicide.”
“But, suh, suicide is a sin. You have no soul and are already damned.”
She is right, but not because she believes the myth that we are soulless creatures. To have my soul bound to earthly hell for eternity is a form of damnation.
Blush will make my perdition bearable.
“Please, Hayden. Listen to her. This will heal you faster than the bagged blood.”
I watch the expectant face still searching for mine. “Woman, do you truly understand what you do?”
“Yes, suh, your son tells me you will be kind and gentle, and that I should count my blessings that it was him that found me.” Her face contorts and I watch a silvery tear slide down her face. “Please do this for me. Let my blood nourish you.”
I’m famished. My son has become so wise. “I will do this, but know one thing. I am beyond need with hunger. I will endeavor to be gentle, but there is every chance the fiend will overcome the man.”
“All I ask is you try. Better ravaged by you than this unseen killer.” She raises her chin. “I have one last request.”
My body shakes with something other than cold now. “Speak fast.”
“I want to see my deliverer.”
My hiss in the darkness reverberates on the walls. “Madam, you would look at the face of your murderer?”
Rory switches on a flashlight. I flinch and turn my face from the beam. There is a sound of movement. Her scent is so close, soap and peony.
My fangs extend.
She puts her hand to my face and turns me to look at her. She gasps. “You have the face of a dark angel.”
My incisors lengthen fully. The veins quicken in my face and neck. “And what do you think now?”
There is no fear on her face, only wonder. “Beautiful,” she whispers.
My body is tense with the control I exert. I pull her into my embrace, and softly brush her hair away from the artery I seek. Stroking her face and neck I position her.
I touch my lips to the pulse in her neck and kiss it.
She sighs and closes her eyes.
With as much care as possible, my incisors pierce her flesh. I sink them deep to open the punctures to their maximum so as not to have to repeat it if the flow should begin to ebb.
I retract my fangs and pull deep. The hot liquid floods my mouth and throat. Suck and swallow. I press her close to my body. Her warmth, her blood, my need.
The woman in my arms softly sings. I catch movement, at intervals, as her eyes flutter open then close. They are green. I had noticed that earlier, but not the intense green of Blush’s eyes.
As she reaches the refrain of Nearer My God to Thee, tears course down my face.
Rory extinguishes the light.
She sees me no longer.
She is limp, but not empty. Her shallow breathing and faltering heart sound deafening in the space. One last pull, one last beat, one last exhalation.
As I release my mouth, a drop of blood lands on her neck. I kiss it away and gently lay her body on the ground. I no longer shake, my wounds are closed, and the burns no longer ache.
“Thank you.” I stroke her brow.
Through the darkness, Rory whispers. “Magnificent. A truly beautiful death.”
I pull on my clothes in silence. Rory shoulders the bag and starts to pick up the nameless woman. I stop him and do it myself.
He places his hand on my arm. “Da, the woman--Blush--is she worth this?” He gestures to the corpse and The Pit.
I meet his eyes. “Worth this and more.”
About The Author
R.G. (Robin) Calkins has made up stories for as long as she can remember. It all began on the little, red timeout bench in the hallway of the house she grew up in. She spent time there--a lot, and made up tales to keep herself entertained.
Robin set her long-suppressed muse free in June of 2010 with a story that was sparked by a song. She put down the first words of that story and with the tutelage and encouragement of a writer’s coach and their writing group, finished her first manuscript in September of 2011. Discovering her masochistic side, Robin subjects herself to two critique partners and a local critique group weekly, to help polish her novel and work toward publication.
She is in the revision process with the above mentioned first novel, Wayward. Her poem, My Heart’s Song, was published in an anthology in 2000. Her winning short horror story, No Lights, will be published in a Darker Times Fiction anthology soon.
Robin’s greatest accomplishment to date is her two outstanding children, Dillon and Cassidy. She lives in Littleton, Colorado.
You can find out more about Robin at the following websites: