The walkways had a light dusting of snow. While we had been inside winter had come. The chilly winds had picked the water from the sky and froze it into the beginning of five months of freezing bitter air coupled with snow. Swirls of freefalling snowflakes continued with little signs of slowing. Some of the flakes spun in front of us as we walked. They were light and fluffy and the gentle messenger of what was to come. I always thought the first few snowfalls were so pretty and perfect to prevent people from running and hibernating or moving to warmer climates.
Brisk winds helped us walk faster and the cat was few dozen kitty paw steps ahead of us. She did know where we were heading. But then maybe the Greggs took nightly walks over to the Winters'. Or not. Soon we rounded the block and we found the sidewalks were very icy. My cheeks were cold and dry with the blowing winter winds. I wanted nothing more than to curl into my old bed and sleep. I sighed and picked up the pace. The cat walked quickly and soon was on the front walkway of the Winters'. She looked back at us and ran up the steps. We were still slipping and sliding as the cat had already begun to make noises at the doorway.
Maria opened the door and hissed at the cat, "Go away, Banshee, I want nothing to do with you." The cat hissed back and waited for us. Now I had the name for the cat. Banshee. It fit -- a smoke creature that could and would scare everyone. Lightning quick, Harry was on the porch before Maria could close the door.
"Mrs. Winters, how are you this fine evening?" Harry's voice was low and angry.
She stiffened and tried to shut the door on Harry saying, "I didn't ask you in either."
Harry made a noise. It took me a minute to identify it. It was laughter. But not the kind I had been hearing from him in the sparse moments of humor. It was twisted and evil and made the skin on the back of my neck crawl.
"Maria, my pet, and you are my pet, you do seriously think I need an invitation?" Again that scary laughter rode his words and cause Maria to become even more drawn. Her skin was pasty and she was trying to battle Harry with her eyes. She was losing.
He brushed past her like she was a dust mote. I slowly walked up to the porch. I had never been inside their home. I knew where it was, but it wasn't someplace I would just casually visit. Maria met my eyes as my foot touched the top step of the stairs that led up to the porch.
"You found out what you are yet?" Her tone was cruel and mocking.
Stiffening my resolve, Banshee had joined me and stood by my ankle growling, I replied meeting her eyes directly, "A better person than you think I am."
Harry chuckled and said, "She's got you on that one, Maria."
Out of the corner of my eye a pair of shadows lounging in chairs on the large porch caught my attention. I hesitated a moment trying to figure out if it was real on something in my imagination. Yet every nerve in my body screamed to run. Banshee hissed and arched her back while looking directly at the shadows. Slowly I turned my head to see two large men on the porch. They were not known to me in any way other than the visceral feeling of hatred that I couldn't explain.
Harry had already cleared the doorway and Maria laughed manically and slammed the front door locking me out. I could hear the sound of battling behind the door. I wasn't in any hurry to head inside given my new distractions. Without a word I knew these were the two men who had raped Margie. And I also knew they weren't humans. The cat was now complaining and loudly protesting their presence. I objected also but didn't see what I was going to be able to do. They had begun to rise. And they kept rising. One of them was well over six feet and the other a mere inch shorter. They had faces chiseled by anger and sour feelings. I stayed perfectly still. Nobody had said a word and they hadn't stopped moving. Now they walked slowly towards me with meaning. And I knew what they meant to do was not going to be nice.
Harry yanked the door open and I saw Maria clinging to his right leg with both arms wrapped tightly around his knee and thigh. Banshee took advantage of the angle and leaped. Claws first, Banshee landed on Maria, flashing her fangs, and began to aid Harry in removing the now shrieking woman. I watched numbly as the cat lashed out and flayed open the woman's cheek. Blood spurted at first and then flowed in a large river of red down her jaw and throat. I could smell the coppery scent of blood and felt an odd fluttering in my stomach. Harry took his time detaching Maria. I noticed his face had filled back up with fangs. He laughed as Maria and the cat tumbled. I saw that Maria's one arm was nearly off. How the hell did the cat savage her so quickly? It dawned on me that I could see the white of the bone in her forearm. The cat wasn't stopping. She was hissing and calling out some in form of cat-speak. And a cry from the other side of the porch showed me what was answering. I had thought Banshee was huge until I saw this tom cat stroll up speaking back in yowls.
The two men had continued walking towards me silently. I was surprised to see how close they were now. The porch ran the entire length of the house and somehow I had thought they were further away. Not anymore. Now they were about five feet from us. I had yet to hear either of them utter a word much less a sound. I nevertheless knew what was on their minds. Me. They both were watching to see what I was going to do. Snow was now falling faster and muting the sounds from the street. Yet there was an unusual tension in the air that made the scenic snowfall jarringly wrong. The tension was coming from these weird men. They had not slowed while Harry had fanged out. I think that was the correct term. Hell, but really how would I know? Maria was curled into a ball while the two cats played. Blood was freely flowing from her battered and slashed body. Banshee's mate was busy slashing the woman's legs bare. Her stocking were shredded and the very severe dark blue dress she had been wearing was now not much more than threadbare tatters from Banshee's mate's play.
One of the moving monoliths finally spoke at me, "Come."
I wasn't sure what I could do to stop them but Harry had it under control.
"No, she is fine where she is." Harry's tone was cold.
The shorter of the two spoke again, "She must come."
Being the she in question, I wasn't going anywhere without my fanged friend. He may not be my first choice but he certainly was the only choice. Maria was still whimpering while the cats took their time tormenting her like a small rodent. In the back of my mind I wondered where Leo was. Not that I wanted more chaos but it was tapping the back of my brain as one more possible complication. I was wrong in thinking that was the only complication left. That became apparent when I looked down the driveway to see Special Agent Erika Thomason walking with Cinda towards us all. The snow blanketing the walks muffled their footfalls but I simply watched. My eyes were only away from the terrible two monsters for a minute. I glanced back to see Harry was now nose to chest to the quiet larger of the two.
"She is not yours. And you both need to go back to the hell you were spawned from before something bad happens to you." His tone was merely conversational not confrontational. Harry seriously thought he could harm these slabs of walking beef?
They both stopped and looked at Harry. The larger one actually looked down at Harry who was not more than six inches from him. The one who had spoken -- or commanded if I was honest -- was still fixated on me but Harry was definitely in between us, causing him to pause.
Cinda spoke out in Misty's voice, "Hellspawn. That is what they are."
Oh great. The gang's all here. Erika did a double take on Cinda's new voice and attitude. Harry and I didn't blink since we had seen the Cinda-Misty show a few times now.
"Harry, I have the baby monster in my sites." And she did. It was pretty scary how fast she whipped out her gun. Dark and intimidating looking but she held it with power and confidence.
"Erika, I am not so sure you have the right rounds loaded," Harry deadpanned.
On the other hand, I was pretty sure her bullets would simply bounce of these two but didn't volunteer my thoughts. Maria thankfully was no longer making any sorts of noises. She was silently lying in a tight ball bleeding out onto the wood and the cats were busy with grooming and purring loudly. The monster creatures were looming large and waiting for something. The porch was now filled with people, vampires, ghouls and me. I didn't know where exactly I fit in, but here I stood.
Erika simply pulled another smaller gun out of her pocket saying, "Guess again, Harry. Holy water still does some damage doesn't it?" To my amazement it was a squirt gun filled with what appeared to be water. And from what she said, holy water at that, it was all I could to keep the grin off my face.
I don't really know who looked more shocked Harry or the monster twins. They did a mental 'uh-oh' and turned. Never in my life have I seen two creatures move so fast. They thumped down the length of the house, hopped off the edge of the porch and were in the wind before Erika could pull her plastic trigger. Harry chuckled softly.
"Nice move, Erika, you scared the monsters." Harry was still laughing softly. Erika smiled and put her weapons away. Cinda was still doing her channeling of Misty and said, "You aren't free from them yet."
Maria came around enough to spew out, "Curse you all. Damn your eyes and your souls. Banshee was ours. How did you sway him, Lynn? That other horror, El Diablo, has always been a cursed cat." The marmalade colored cat preened at his name. El Diablo, the devil, in Spanish. It was curse from Maria's lips but suited the huge ginger striped tom cat. His size was nearly that of a bobcat. I had never seen cats so huge as the smoky colored Banshee and ginger shaded El Diablo. I didn't bother to respond to Maria as both the cats came to my side and began to weave around my legs and talk at me. They both had quite a bit to say.
Cinda was now at my side saying, "What happened?"
I looked over at her and said, "I don't even know where to start. So how was dinner with the agent?"
She laughed and said, "I don't even know where to start."
We both grinned. I could see Misty behind her eyes but she was letting Cinda talk. The moss green eye flashed at me a wink. Joy, I had two best friends. I still wondered what those creatures were. Hellspawn, Misty had claimed, and I didn't doubt it.
Erika was busy fussing over Harry. I found myself somewhat amused and very hungry. Then it dawned on me that I was staring at Erika's neck the entire time I was thinking how hungry I was. That could not be good. Misty showed up long enough to chuckle and say, "Welcome to reality, my dear."
Her tone was not endearing. It was pretty unnerving. Cinda smacked Misty out of her head long enough to say, "Lynn, you look hungry."
Talk about your understatements. I was thinking of things that never had been inside my head before now. There were murky thoughts of liquid flowing in my throat and gulping down the essence of Erika. That was so not good.
Harry wandered closer to me saying, "Gwendolyn, this is who you are. We can fix this. Don't worry. Besides Erika has a squirt gun loaded with holy water."
He was not kidding; there was no laughter in his voice, he was deadly serious. I deeply gulped in some air and tried to ignore the various odd aches in my body calling to me to do something peculiar and unusual. There was something wrong with me. Maria was now sobbing as the cats had begun to stalk her again. With a detached feeling I watched El Diablo walk up to Maria and lash her face. Purring Banshee was right behind her kindred lapping at the blood flowing. I was strangely drawn to the triptych of the bizarre. I stepped closer to be stopped by an arm. Harry said, "Not her. She is tainted."
Nodding, I looked to see the expression on his face. He really was trying to help. Mentally I shook my head and cleared the empathetic feeling I was getting from Harry. I had to remind myself that he was a cold-blooded, murdering vampire. Frances Gregg had done nothing yet she was being currently being cremated. Folks died around Harry. I knew this without even asking him.
At the same time I knew better than trying to sup from Maria. Everything about her screamed wrongness and contamination, and Harry's comment only reinforced that thought. The cats were still menacing Maria and I was amused. I knew there was something wrong. What more did I need?
Misty chimed in with her warped logic, "Don't worry about being amused. This is all so much more than you realize. Harry, my dear, when are you going to fix her problems?"
Harry smiled and said, "Not for you to ask, now is it?"
Cinda appeared as Misty dove back inside her host's head. Looking around Cinda said, "Why are we all still outside? It is terribly cold."
She was right. But since Maria was still rolled in a ball being swatted around by the mammoth cats I didn't see an invitation inside showing up anytime soon. Harry looked to Erika and said, "I think we need to find out why Leo hasn't shown up to see what all the commotion is."
Erika flashed an evil grin to Harry and said, "Sure thing boss."