Standing at funeral chapel’s entrance, Augustus watched the kind old lady, Maxine Berkshire, return to her car. The services had gone well for her third and final son. Illness this time around. Somehow, that sweet gal carried on with dignity. He watched Maxine Berkshire climb into her Volkswagen Beetle and drive off until the pair of red taillights were swallowed by the forest.
Dark clouds of twilight threatened rain, but it was beginning to look like a weak promise. The patter of raindrops, a welcoming thought, but just his luck the wish would deter the weather, a prayer unanswered.
After standing for hours, first during the proceedings in the chapel and then at the graveyard, his knee felt like it was on fire. He fished into his pocket and yanked the little bottle of pills out. He hooked his cane into his elbow, and opened the bottle. After shaking a pill onto his palm, he looked at it for a moment. Third one for the day, beyond the limit. The medication hadn’t bothered him yet, and his leg needed it more than ever.
He popped the pill into his mouth and swallowed hard.
Closing the double doors, he began his routine of locking up. After weeks of nothing happening, he had given up on arming himself. No vampires. Only the dead looking for a place to rest, and their loved ones saying goodbye, were his only visitors.
Using his cane, he plodded a few wincing steps over to the light switch. Since the gunshot had permanently damaged his knee, walking had become a journey with his new wooden companion. Flipping the switch doused the chapel into a gloom, the row of electric candles at the far end holding vigil over the empty stand where the casket had rested hours earlier. Light filtered in through the stained glass windows.
Heading for the aisle between pews, Augustus spotted a shape beneath the muted blue beams of light teasing the dust. Someone was sitting in the chapel.
“Excuse me,” Augustus said, quietly. The figure remained motionless. After clearing his throat, Augustus tried again, louder.
At first the figure appeared hooded, head lowered as if in prayer. Details shifting out of the darkness, the hood became long strands of hair over shoulders.
Augustus tapped his cane, but the stranger remained still as if an imagined ghost.
The chapel began to smell like the mortuary minus the familiar chemicals. Rot, with a tinge of sweetness.
“The service is over,” said Augustus.
Taking another step, he tapped his cane twice trying to get the visitor’s attention. Occasionally someone would become caught by sorrow, and needed a nudge to return to the world. The visitor sat three rows away and at the far end. There might as well have been a chasm between them. He gazed down taking aim and rapped his cane against the pew.
The cacophony filled the chapel.
Looking up, he found the pew where the visitor had been sitting, empty. No one stood in the aisle.
Heart thumped, and his legs weakened.
He glanced about searching the chapel, peering into the darker recesses beneath the glow of the windows. He hadn’t known vampires to vanish, nothing mentioned in his research, anyway. They might be able to move quickly, but they were bound by the laws of physics like everything else.
Spinning around, his knee gave out in a painful fit, and he swayed. Catching hold of the end of the pew, he steadied himself.
The sound of his thumping heart accompanied the song of towering firs caught up in sudden breeze outside.
He hadn’t seen, never mind imagined, any fangs since that unfortunate night at Pine Mountain Tavern. If nothing else, birdshot to the knee had set his mind straight. Hallucinating didn’t sit well with him, but it was one of the rare side effects of his medication. Very unlikely, his physician had told him twice with indifference.
Dim lighting, he thought, a trick on the mind.
It seemed perfectly reasonable. Sticking to the two-a-day pill limit sounded like a plan, too.
The room darkened, the blue-gray beams retracting into stained glass.
Outside, the woods gave up their song mid-stanza, and the chapel held her breath.
Someone’s outside, Augustus thought. He felt a pull, and his gaze shot to the double doors. He stared at the entrance in the gloom, expecting a knock or the slam of a car door outside. Rain, a damn cougar.
Swinging his poor excuse of a leg out before him, Augustus began marching. Cane rapping, shoes tapping, he hurried up the aisle. He flicked the switches, and a wave of light flooded through the chapel. In two taps, he stood at the doors, reached for the lock, and froze.
It came like thunder in the distance, a deep laugh rolling over pews, across the foyer, and cracking into his skull. He winced at the pain shooting down his spine and into his bad leg, straight for the knee. It was like being shot all over again. Grasping the doorknob, he smashed his forehead against the door and gasped.
As the laughter receded, his pain subsided.
Augustus turned the lock, and threw open the door.
Moisture hung heavy in the air, and the fog sucked on the lamplight at the end of the walk, but enough light held on to reveal the parking lot was empty. The line of trees beyond, however, were ghostly shapes within the fog.
Listening carefully and searching the bowels of the fog, Augustus waited for something to emerge.
Digging into pocket, he wrenched the bottle out. Popping the cap open, he dumped the pills onto the ground and stepped on them, grinding the drugs into dust.
He couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched, and prayed it was due to the medication’s side effects.
Like his prayer for rain, it felt like wishful thinking.