By: Stephanie J. Bardy
Chris sat at the kitchen table and stared straight ahead. Marlon waved his hand in front of his face. Snapped his fingers a couple of times and got no response.
"Do you think we broke him?" asked Reese. She sat at the other end of the table sipping her tea.
As her and Marlon had returned to the house after dealing with the man, they had found Chris staring out at them from the window. He had not spoken a word since then. Just sat and stared.
Marlon leaned against the counter. "Maybe." He cocked his head to one side. "Dinner?" He raised his eyes at her and tipped his head towards Chris.
Reese glared at him. "No. We need him. We just need to snap him out of whatever this is."
Marlon gave a bark of laughter. "This is seeing his houseguest consume the life essence of another human being. This is the inability to accept what he has seen. That is what this is. This is not the first time you have dealt with this. Remember Roanoke?"
Again, Reese glared at him. "Why is it whenever you need to make a point, that is what you use. There have been many other times, many other instances where we have had this as you say, why do you always return to that one?"
Marlon pushed himself off the counter and placed his hands on the table, bringing his face level with hers.
"Because that is where you broke me." He said softly.
"Wha ." Chris stuttered.
Reese and Marlon both turned and looked at Chris. He was blinking and his mouth was moving like a fish out of water.
Marlon took a glass from the sideboard and filled it with water. He placed it in Chris' hand and looked at Reese.
"Drink." Reese said. Pushing her power at him.
Chris blinked again.
Reese pushed harder. "Drink."
Slowly Chris picked up the glass and drank the water. He closed his eyes and when he reopened them, they were no longer glazed. They had focus. He looked from Marlon to Reese.
"What are you?" he squeaked.
Reese settled back into her chair and picked up her tea again. "We need to get you some new varieties of tea if we are to stay here. This Tetley doesn't quite cut it."
Chris stared at her. "Tea? You want tea? You just sucked the life outta a guy and you want tea?"
Reese looked at him. "Of course, I'm nothing if not dignified."
Chris scrubbed his hands across his face. He stood from the table and began pacing the room. Reese sat silently and watched; Marlon was on guard. After about 15 minutes of pacing, he sat back down.
"Are you some kind of vampire?" he asked, "I can't even believe I am asking that, but I can't unsee what I just saw. You sucked that dude dry! Nothing but dust. What did you do to his daughter Selena? She just walked away. Are you a witch? What are you? Where did you come from? How can ?"
"Enough." Reese said. Chris immediately fell silent, but not from any power that she may have had over him. "I can't explain it all tonight. I do not think I can even explain it at all. I have been what you see for as long as I can remember. I do not remember anything before this age. Now, that being said, I have been this age, for a very, very, very, long time. I have seen many things, done many things, until I locked myself away in 1921 in the crypt on this property. Every night I set myself to be tormented and tortured for the sins I had committed. I was not the nice gentle person you see now. I hungered and I fed indiscriminately. Man, woman, child, it did not matter to me. I traveled alone for an awfully long time. Until I met Marlon. We fled together and led a somewhat normal life. Not by his choice, but he came to accept it after a time. I fed on those that would not be missed, and he kept us moving from place to place. I made one mistake, and I was cursed. Each soul I took put a slash on my own. A wound I could not heal, and a torment I had to carry every day. It did not stop me, but I became a little more choosey in my prey and took the ones more deserving of such a death. Which is what you all were. Prey. To be fed on and discarded. Nothing more. Until the burden became to much and I sealed us away." She sipped her tea, watching Chris' face.
He sat staring at her, processing what she had said.
"How do you feed?" he asked.
"I pull the life force, the essence, out of the person. Like breathing in fresh air on a crisp spring morning." She said.
"Do you always kill them?" he asked.
"No, some I have only fed a little, and then returned once the essence had built back up. It is like a reservoir of water; you drain a little and it fills back up. I can feed off someone for an exceedingly long time before it begins to take a toll."
"What kind of toll?"
"Their mind begins to deteriorate. Madness sets in." Marlon replied.
Chris had forgotten he was there and jumped when he spoke.
"Why did you hide?" he asked, keeping an eye on Marlon now.
"The weight of all the souls I had destroyed became to much for me to carry." She said quietly.
Chris nodded as if he understood. He looked at Marlon. "You like her?"
Marlon again barked out a harsh laugh. "No. I was just a mortal man before I met her."
"What are you now?" Chris asked.
"Still mortal, but my mortality is tied to her immortality. She dies, I die." he said.
"And if you die?" Chris looked at Reese with new eyes.
"She gets herself a new lackey." Marlon answered sardonically.
Reese glared at him.
"You do that a lot." Chris said.
Reese looked back at Chris, "What?"
"Glare at Marlon."
Marlon laughed again. "That isn't the worse thing she has done to me."
Chris' eyes widened. "What can you tell me?"
Marlon sat down and looked at Reese. She stood from the table angrily. "Fine. Tell him. If it will make you feel better, tell him. Just get on with it." She walked to the sink and turned on the water, rinsing her mug. "I don't have to stay and listen to it, again." She walked out the back door, across the yard and disappeared into the woods.
Chris got up from the table and grabbed two beers from the fridge. He twisted the top off both and handed one to Marlon.
Marlon took a swig and looked at the bottle. "My how things have changed." He mused. He set the bottle on the table and steepled his hands.
"I met Reese in a small village in North Carolina. She had been suspected of witchcraft and was a prisoner in my jailhouse." Marlon sat back picking at the paper label on his beer bottle. "She was as you see her now, petite, beautiful. She begged me nightly to help her escape, but I believed what the Priests said. I was a good, obedient colonist and my job was to guard her until her hanging."
He fell silent and stared at the table, not really seeing it.
"How did she escape?" Chris prodded.
Marlon swallowed a few times and spoke in a low hushed voice. "I had fallen ill with the strange sickness that had plagued many of us and was not on duty that night. When I heard the screams from the town square, I ran from my house to see what was causing it. The jailhouse was still standing, but all the glass had been blown inwards and shattered. Dust swirled and spiraled around it and around the few bodies that lay on the ground. They looked strange, some like they were sleeping, some looked old and wrinkled. Screams came from every house, every shop, every corner of the village. All at once. People dropped and writhed in pain but there was nothing visible causing it. The screaming continued until there was nothing left but swirling dust and the dead. She left a body here and there, in the hopes of making a statement to anyone who found the village. They found the village, but they did not find any bodies." Marlon' eyes flashed angrily for a moment, then just as quickly, the flat stoic look returned. "The colony was failing anyway. Just like the first had. We were cursed. We took land that did not belong to us, forced out the ones who were there before and killed those who opposed. You can not take something with blood and violence and expect to prosper and thrive. People became sick, babies died, crops failed, just like the first group before us. Reese was blamed because she was unmarried, beautiful and every man wanted her. The wives accused her of witchcraft. I can not even tell you where she came from. She just showed up one day in the village and lived among us like she had always been there."
Chris sat and digested the information for a moment. Then something struck him. "Did you say North Carolina?" Chris was a huge historical mystery buff. "Are you telling me you are from Roanoke?"
Marlon nodded. Not willing to put that into words.
Chris sat back in his chair with a thud. "Holy shit! You are a living legend dude! History books say no one survived! Yet here you sit. A survivor! Wait how did you survive?"
"I spared him." Reese said from the door.
"If that' what you want to call it." Muttered Marlon.
"It is." She walked to the table, took Marlon' beer, drew a long swig, and sat down beside him. Chris sat very still, afraid to draw attention.
"He was kind to me. Over my many years I have been feared, revered, honored, beaten, used, abused, and placed on a pedestal. Marlon is the only person who ever treated me like a person. Normal. Albeit one accused of witchcraft, but normal just the same. He was kind. Back then, I rewarded kindness with life. Which means I would not take it. The townsfolk were not so kind. The men came to me, pawing and begging, the women came to me to rid themselves of the indiscretions they carried out and when the repercussions of their own sins fell upon them, they blamed me. Turned on me. So, I showed them just how powerful I was. I left most as dust beneath my feet. A few I left to be found by the next colony to come and try to live on that land. I destroyed the first colony, and I destroyed the second. For a long time, no one else came."
"No one was ever found in the village." Said Chris.
Reese grimaced. "That was Marlon' doing. He felt it was too disturbing to leave the bodies as I had. So, he burned them. I offered to drain the last of the essence and turn them to dust, but for some reason he felt a burial by fire was more honorable. His choice."
Marlon glared at her. "They did not all deserved to die the way they did. Withered and decayed to dust. The screams of agony were unbearable. These were people I had lived side by side with for many years. Crossed an ocean with. I could do no less for them."
Reese ignored Marlon' outburst and continued. "I stood at the gate; he surveyed my work. He did not seem scared, he was calm, which I later came to understand is a reaction to extreme shock. But it intrigued me. He had seen me at my worst. At my most furious, and he remained standing, facing it all. He even offered me the dog that was running the streets trying to find shelter. It made me laugh. I knew I had been alone too long and wanted a companion. One who would keep me from getting to far into my power. It can be a heady thing. He refused the offer. I took the choice away from him. Once I deem you mine, you lose the will to say no. You do as I bid, whether you want to or not. My will is his command. He can still do as he pleases, come, and go as he pleases, but we have found over the years that being apart causes each of us physical pain. If I want something he has to do it, mind you he grumbles about it most of the time. We have also found that I can not die. We have tried. Others have tried. Marlon remains human. Heals human slow. But he continues to live, and either does not age, or ages very slowly. He has not changed in appearance that I have noticed. We have assumed that if I do die, he will die, but if he dies, I will remain."
Chris again pondered what he had been told. "What about Croatoan?"
Reese looked at Marlon in disbelief. "After all I have said to you, all that you now know, you are asking about some silly word?"
"It' kinda been a mystery since the village was found." Chris shrugged his shoulders.
Marlon laid a hand on Reese' arm. He could sense her frustration with Chris rising, and calmed her.
"We carved the word ourselves. There was a small native tribe nearby, they were kind to me, worshiped me for a time. Because they were a gentle tribe, we felt that if anyone came looking, they needed to be protected when we were gone. We hoped it would like that the savages had killed them. It would discourage anyone else from settling in the village for a third time. They helped Marlon gather and burn the bodies. We also left stones with cryptic messages on them. The Indians were to deliver one to the next person who dare to try and settle in the village. Detailing deaths and Indian attacks. I could not spend every day worrying that someone was hunting us. I did not want anyone pursuing us and I wanted those concerned to think the entire town had perished. It was the best we could do. Over the years we have seen the sensation that the word has caused, and the mystery that surrounds the colony. We remain vigilant and quiet, but we know they will never come for us. Not then, not now."
Chris folded his arms angrily. "So, you passed the buck?"
Reese furrowed her brow. "We what?"
"You blamed someone else." Chris replied.
"Yes. Humans have been doing it since the dawn of time. Why the outrage?" Marlon looked at Chris quizzically.
"Because I just lost fifty bucks dude! I swore the word meant something mystical and your telling me it means nothing." Chris got up and pulled a strange device out of his pocket. Pushing some buttons, he put it to his ear.
"Dan, buddy, I owe ya 50. You're never going to believe what I just found out." Marlon snatched the phone from Chris' hand and threw it across the room. It smashed against the wall.
"What the hell man! That was an iPhone 11! Do you know how much those cost?" Chris was furious. He picked up his phone and looked at the shattered screen.
Marlon walked over to him and grabbed him by the front of his shirt. "You tell no one what we have told you. Understand?" he ground out angrily.
Chris struggled to get free of Marlon, but his grip was too strong. "Let me go man."
Marlon gave Chris a bit of a shake, "I asked if you understood."
Reese had come to stand behind Marlon and held Chris' gaze. She took a small breath in, and Chris felt an odd sensation in his chest. It rose until he felt his breath being pulled from him. Slowly it felt like he was suffocating. Frantically he began to nod his head. Reese breathed out and Chris took big gulping breaths in. Marlon released him. "No one will ever hear what we have just told you. Not from your lips. Understood?"
Chris nodded. "Understood." He croaked.
He had crumpled to the ground on his knees and Reese knelt until she was face to face with him.
"I let you live only because we need you to help us navigate this new world. Do not for one minute think you are not replaceable."
She stood and stretched. "I am tired."
Chris pointed towards the stairs. "Rooms up at the top of the stairs. Help yourself." He was rubbing his chest like it hurt but it was more of a burning feeling like indigestion.
Marlon and Reese headed upstairs to bed and Chris picked himself up off the floor. He retrieved his phone and examined it closely. It looked like it only needed a screen replacement. He would get that done tomorrow and meet Dan for coffee.
He had to tell someone, and he was fairly sure if Reese could not hear him, she could not hurt him.