I listened to Uncle Harry explain why he'd sent his pet werewolf after me -- he implied that it was not sent after me but that Riley was coming to help me. I didn't challenge him on his misguided notion or self-delusion. I very well knew that he was more than a little worried about my intended trip down into the old salt mines that stretched for miles and miles beneath Michigan, add in they all trailed through parts of Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Canada -- all of the bits and pieces traced back to the same four hundred million-year-old vein of thick rock salt that had to be blasted out and hauled up over a thousand feet to the surface.
"Besides Emma, he'll be able to let me know if you need help and he'll make sure nothing happens to you." Uncle Harry said firmly while he was still somewhat trying to explain and defend to me his decision to send Riley to Michigan. He knew that I wasn't glad about the idea, and was pushing me to accept his arbitrary decision to have me under Riley's surveillance. So out of respect for Uncle Harry, I listened without interrupting, slowly twirling yet another lock of my hair and waiting to hear what more he was going to tell me. I didn't think he had some great revelation, but was basically checking on how pissed off I was about the whole thing.
I was also pretty sure that he hadn't called just to pass the time. He probably already figured out that Riley had called me because of his opening statement of 'Emma, sorry I had to'. Hell, for all I knew my cell phone was being tapped by him. Not that I had anything to hide from Uncle Harry and since he had given me the phone, I wasn't going to ask about that. My expectations of privacy weren't like most humans. I was aware of what an invasive, viral world we lived in and knew that somebody was always watching or trying to sneak a look if nothing else. I grinned and waited after slowly saying, "Uhuh."
"My dear Magpie," that was one of Uncle Harry's pet names for me, and meant to make me feel happy and secure, as it was one good slice of my tumultuous life. He'd known well about my love of pretty shiny bits and pieces of history I'd found while digging through long abandoned sites that no living humans remembered existed. Those were the ones that I'd phase in and out of after picking out a treasure or two to keep me amused. He'd been calling me that since I was a mere child. Okay, maybe not a 'mere' child but not yet a teenager. He'd known me nearly forever, at least in my world. Vampires had a longer idea of forever than humans or near-humans like me.
He continued, "I knew that you were worried earlier when we talked. I just know perfectly well that you don't fret about much in life, so if there's something you don't understand and you are stressing about, then I know that if Riley is there I won't worry as much. He'll get your back in any sort of situation." Uncle Harry said quietly.
Unspoken was that he was apparently still in Southern California working on his own bits and pieces of chaos. Not that if I was in distress he wouldn't fly out to rescue me, but I gathered he was under some pressure of his own. He didn't share with me what was going on in his world, but I still heard things. He was a major player in more than one territory dispute with Vampire Masters, and he also had something to do with the Vampire Council but that wasn't as clear-cut. Uncle Harry had his own agenda, I had long ago discovered.
I was smiling while still wondering exactly why it was that he'd called. I knew that Uncle Harry always had a game plan or three. I waited for his explanation. It wasn't long in coming.
"Emma, I have some issues that I need to deal with here and I might not be able to aid you as quickly as I'd like should things get out of your control over there in Michigan. Riley has your best interests at heart, and all I can say is that he's a good man." I bit back a groan. I didn't doubt Uncle Harry's words but found them a bit scary. I couldn't recall a time when he ever thought he wouldn't be able to immediately come to my aid. Whatever was happening in California wasn't something he wanted to deal with, but definitely it was something that he had to despite anything that I needed. That was huge in the vampire world from what I knew. There was no way I'd whine about it because he always had my back. If he was sending Riley over to watch me, I had to suck it up and do what I could to keep him from worrying about me any further.
"Thank you, Uncle Harry. I appreciate your looking out for me." Was all I could think to say while nibbling on my bottom lip.
I wasn't pleased that Riley was flying out to get my back, but at the same time it wasn't something I was going to easily reject. Uncle Harry knew things I didn't, and if he was sending Riley out it meant that he thought I might need some help. He'd been around decades, maybe even centuries longer than me and I wasn't going to dismiss his feelings. I wasn't crazy about Riley, but he hadn't flipped and turned me in for the two and a half million-dollar bounty on my damned ass. Not even 'dead or alive' but just 'dead' from what I'd seen on the Internet.
We hung up and I did actually feel better because there was something about Uncle Harry's voice that always soothed me. My phone made some weird noise, then I saw in the phone's screen that Riley had text messaged me while I was talking with Uncle Harry: his flight information like he'd promised. I clicked on the message icon and read his text. Then I bit back a chuckle seeing that the werewolf was flying out from San Diego on a Southwest flight that didn't just go to Phoenix but also went through St. Louis with two plane changes. From the flight plan he sent he didn't land until nearly dawn tomorrow and I would get to pick up a very cranky werewolf then -- that was even if he made it here. The storms hitting the Midwest could certainly curtail his plane from landing and I wasn't going to be the one to text him back the news. I valued my pelt far more than that and besides, if he was cranky now he wasn't going to be any more pleasant in ten or so hours with layovers and delays. Claustrophobia would be the least of his issues if his flights were anything like the ones I heard about in the past. (Which was one of the many reasons I avoided flying!)
I continued to pore over the handwritten notes I had from my personal interviews, along with the various things I'd copied during my research at libraries and with people I'd met along the way. Some of the most fascinating things to me in my research were the diaries and letters I found. They were slices of a person's life -- not pretty little opinion pieces in the local newspapers. I envied them the ability to write down their thoughts, fears and dreams with little worries about others finding them and reading them, in the long run. I knew that I would never be able to put down my life's story for just anyone to read.
I could imagine that little missive,
Today I was bored after school so I phased out of my backyard and ended up inside a Manhattan subway tunnel. It wasn't the one that people used to catch the trains home but the one I'd just read about from the olden days when the now infamous robber barons had private cars taking them beneath the city to avoid being caught. Those men were raping and pillaging the world with little care. I saw that the walls were covered with lovely broken bits of tiles that were so totally cool. The dust made me sneeze a bunch. There wasn't any light but I had my little flashlight that Uncle Harry had given me so I was able to see the cobweb-coated stuff. When rats began to squeak and run towards me and my light, I didn't freak but I didn't like it, so I popped back home. It was fun. I want to do it again. Next time I'll bring something sharp and nasty to keep the rodents away.'
Yeah, that'd be fun for average humans to read. Not.
I went to the small kitchen and made myself a cup of mint tea. The soothing flavors washed over my tongue, erasing the bad taste in my mouth at the idea of revealing myself in words to normal human beings. I shuddered at the idea of recounting my innermost thoughts and actions. I knew people weren't good about accepting change and they tended to destroy that which they didn't understand. I knew that at a very early age and never wrote a single word about my core thoughts and private feelings. Not to say I didn't pop around my known universe in my free time, just that I knew better than pushing out into the general population with my words anything I felt or thought. All my schoolwork was mediocre and fairly unremarkable. I worked really hard at being average and traveling right under the radar of humanity. I'd learned early that nobody liked different. And I was well beyond different; even at that age I knew in my heart that humans would want to kill me.
I thought I was doing a damn good job of it until recently. Ever since I'd found that cursed bracelet stuck on my wrist nothing was normal. Or at least normal by my standards, admittedly not necessarily an average human's sort of life, but I liked my world. The bracelet was now firmly in Uncle Harry's control, but I still felt the taint of the cursed object. Unconsciously I found myself rubbing my wrist where the bracelet had been stuck until Uncle Harry, with Riley's help, had got it off. Images of Lady Macbeth in a play I once had seen in a theater ran through my mind unbidden. 'Out out damned spot' or something of the sort was grumbled on the stage as the madwoman tried to scour out the stain of blood from her palm.
I sipped more tea and focused on the here and now.
Propping the pages back on my lap, I flipped over another copy of random pages from history and I was pretty amazed to find out how much was on record about the mines. I was further surprised by the variances between the diagrams and drawing of the tunnels illustrated in the different accounts I'd perused, until I thought about how people can't give basic directions. Any map or diagram drawn by the average person was just that -- average. Some of the stuff was to scale, but mostly the maps had comments to help. Things written like 'next to the blue box Ralph keeps his tools in, take a right' so if Ralph's toolbox isn't there say fifty years later that map isn't exactly going to help me much.
There were common elements but every now and then there were some details missing in all the others. Those were the things I wrote down. I figured that could be either a major red herring or an unknown fact. For me it was all in search of the secret room that possibly held some clues.
Yeah, just like an Indiana Jones movie, I'd heard tales of the secret room that held more than just the salt of the earth. Don't get me wrong, it's not that salt wasn't valuable, it just had nothing to do with me and my kind. I had goose bumps on my arms at the idea that there were others out there like me.
I never knew my parents. Which, given my nature, pretty much meant the sperm donor probably was like me and popped in on dear old unknown mommy and she popped me out in shock nine months later. I wasn't left in a garbage can at least, but rather quaintly on the doorstep of a thankfully open church. I was fostered out while the cops tried to find my mother. Eventually I was adopted by a sweet older couple who liked children, but never were able to have any. There wasn't any horrific tale of abuse and ill use, but just me with two parents old enough to be my grandparents. They had no goals or destinations for what I should do, so I just rambled around doing what came naturally. School, friends, a generic life without pressure to keep up a family 'name' or be some superstar -- a good childhood, I felt, given how the rest of my life would twist.