Situated in Beth-Hill, where imagination meets reality, is The Rose Emporium, owned by elderly and not-a-little-odd Rose Duncan. The large Victorian house smackdab in the middle of nowhere is a cross between a pawn shop and an antique store that caters to supernatural creatures needing to barter. Rose’s twenty-something niece, Abby Duncan, discovers that the world isn’t made up of just run-of-the-mill, ordinary humans but an entire spectrum of unusual beings. With her preconceptions about what’s normal and what’s not turned upside-down, Abby is in for a whole lot of startling truths, mysteries–about herself and the people and places around her–and danger.
Winston Matthew Delaney, a former vampire hunter, has been sentenced to seven years labor at Madame Mim’s Teahouse. In his late thirties, Winston has spent most of his life strongly believing that vampires have no place in the world and his purpose was to eliminate them. He’d been training his own apprentice Josh to believe the same when he was captured. Josh continues to seek out his master and rescue him. But, shocking himself most of all, Winston discovers a truth that changes everything he’s ever believed and based his principles on: Most vampires have no desire to kill and proliferate; instead, they only want to live their lives in peace.
Arabella Bauer believes her brother died in a car accident. In part, that’s true. But he was a no-good drunk and actually caused the accident that took the life of one of the men in the other car involved. Only Colin survived. Despite being badly injured himself, Colin killed Arabella’s brother in retaliation.
Arabella is contacted by Josh, who attempts to win her over into believing vampires are real. He gives her information that leads her to The Rose Emporium…and Colin, a vampire…
Genre: Fantasy: Vampire ISBN: 978-1-922548-47-4 Word Count: 80, 990
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His name was Winston Matthew Delaney, but at first, they called him Hunter. Not for any fond reason, but to warn others of what he had done. After he awoke in a room at the teahouse with his wounds bandaged and a goblin guard at the door; after he heard the story of what had happened after he’d collapsed from loss of blood; after they had taken him away and let the vampire who called himself Colin go free, Madame Meg stood over him and informed him that he was now to be the teahouse’s dishwasher, since his sentence had been given to her to carry out.
Winston did not remember a trial. Nor did he recall any formal sentencing. But he–and the Hunters in general–had very little experience with Faerie as a whole, save for dire warnings that no one from Faerie was to be trusted. And he had ignored their warnings. His predicament was his own fault for disregarding the rules of the Faires, especially since he could have waited until after the Faire was over to make his move, but he’d gotten caught up in the thrill of the chase, and he had lost.
Apparently, his impatience would cost him seven years of service to Madame Meg. That was traditional, she’d explained, and although he’d spent many years doing odd jobs while Hunting (because Hunters were not supplied with anything but information by the rather loosely-structured organization, and perhaps sometimes weapons, all depending) he couldn’t imagine washing dishes for seven years. He couldn’t imagine doing anything but hunting vampires for seven years, although Madame Meg had told him that his vampire hunting days were over.
And it was true that merely thinking about vampires made his mind turn to sludge; the first time it had happened, he thought he was having a stroke, because he couldn’t speak for days afterwards.
He could wash dishes, though, and while standing at the sink, he had no control over his actions. He washed dishes, day in and day out, stopping only when the goblin appeared to escort him to his room.
And they gave him a room; they didn’t force him to sleep in a dungeon or on the floor. They didn’t chain him to the sink, although he was effectively chained, since he was not able to break the spell or compulsion to stand there and wash their accursed crockery and cutlery. But he found, after a while, that he didn’t have to concentrate on washing; he could let his mind wander, or listen to the conversation around him, and when he did that, he realized that the teahouse wasn’t just a teahouse at a Medieval Faire.
But considering that the goblins were actual goblins (he wasn’t sure about Madame Meg or Victor or the two guardians, Grey and Toby, who peeked in on him once or twice) he shouldn’t have been so surprised.
The Faire only lasted for a set number of weekends. As far as he knew, the shops and restaurants and the teahouse closed after that until the next Faire. Those vendors and performers who traveled, like Colin and his little troupe of companions, would move on to the next Faire.
The teahouse merely moved. One day, he watched the comings and goings outside the back of the teahouse; the next morning, he looked out the window to see a completely different scene. A path stretched from the back door of the teahouse through a dark, ancient forest that seemed to beckon to him; his hands stilled as he stared; a teacup slipped out of his hand and shattered on the floor.
“Oops!” Victor said from behind him, and Winston found himself bending down to gather up the pieces; he wasn’t in control again, not that he had been before. But this time, something happened; his hands were shaking; the shards of porcelain pierced his fingers and one larger piece sliced through his palm.
“Meg!” Victor shouted, then, softer, “Please stop. There’s a broom in the pantry…”
“I can’t,” Winston said helplessly, and watched as his fingers, slippery now, tried to pick up the last remaining pieces. For the first time since he’d started his sentence, he felt fear. Real fear, unlike he’d ever felt before. Because if they could force him to hurt himself, then they could force him to die, and he truly wanted to survive this intact. Washing the dishes was one thing, but now…
“Stop,” Madame Meg said from the doorway, and Winston obeyed. He had no real choice, and no desire not to do so; the cut on his palm was throbbing now, and he wondered if they had doctors in Faerie. It was deep enough to need stitches, and he had a suspicion the teahouse now nestled in a forest no human Hunter had ever visited. “I give you leave to speak. Why did you drop the cup?”
“The forest, outside,” Winston said. “The teahouse moved.”
“It did,” Madame Meg confirmed. “Sit down; let Victor see to your wounds. I’ll sweep up the pieces.”
“How…” Winston began, then wondered if she would mind his questions. Since she hadn’t forbidden him to speak, he decided to continue. “How did it move?”
“Magic,” Madame Meg said calmly.
Winston nodded. Of course it was magic, although that wasn’t quite what he’d meant to ask. He wanted to know why the teahouse had moved; where it now sat, and how they received supplies in what looked to be the middle of nowhere, and…and…
But of course they had no reason to tell him anything at all, because he was merely a Hunter. And the dishwasher.
So he sat still at the table, feeling odd that he wasn’t standing at the sink, and let Victor use tweezers to pluck shards of pottery from his fingers, and bandage his wounds, and he tried not to think of any questions at all, even though they clamored in his mind.
“We’re here because there will be a Faire in about a week,” Madame Meg said after a moment. “We’re at this Faire every year. You’re likely to see some unusual patrons; take that as a friendly warning.”
“Do they know about me?” Winston asked, because he’d been on the receiving ends of unfriendly stares and outright derision. He’d realized fairly quickly that the goblin who escorted him to and from his room wasn’t there just to prevent him from escaping, but also to prevent him from coming to harm.
Colin had not wanted him dead, but that didn’t mean everyone shared his point of view.
“No,” Madame Meg said. “Not from us, at least, although I’m sure the gossip has spread. Erik will make sure you remain intact.”
Erik was the goblin. Winston hadn’t known his name before. In fact, he hadn’t known that goblins were capable of speech or that they wore clothing, either.
He hadn’t known a lot, and he wondered if they realized how much he was likely to learn in the next seven years.
But if his life as a vampire hunter was over, then what would he do with that information?
Winston didn’t see Erik anywhere, but he knew that the goblin would not be far away. “Thank you,” he said to Victor, who nodded and tidied away the first aid kit.
“I suppose you won’t be washing dishes for the next few days,” Madame Meg said, a trifle tartly, as if he’d cut himself on purpose.
“I don’t mind,” Winston said. “If you have gloves–”
Victor cleared his throat meaningfully. Madame Meg pursed her lips. “Victor would like me to tell you that you’ve been washing the same dishes over and over again. We’re not quite that busy.”
“Oh,” Winston said. “I see.” He looked down at his hands. “Couldn’t I be more useful to you another way other than washing imaginary dishes?”
The noise Victor made was somewhere between a laugh and a cough. Winston suspected it was more of a laugh.
Madame Meg waited for a moment, as if she expected him to add something else, but he wasn’t quite sure what to add. He didn’t feel as if he could apologize for what he had done, because he didn’t feel sorry for what he had done. He was a Hunter. A vampire hunter. There was really nothing else to say, now that his sentence had been passed. He had no intention of attempting to escape or to force his captors to free him; they weren’t treating him badly, after all. He would do his time and hopefully survive. Maybe not to hunt vampires again, if Madame Meg was right, but he could do other things. He’d worked many other jobs in his pursuits, and he could do so again.
“How long were you a Hunter?” Madame Meg asked abruptly.
“Fourteen years,” Winston said, truthfully, because he had no reason to lie.
“And how many vampires did you kill?”
“And how long did you stalk Colin?”
“A year and a half,” Winston said. “Solitary vampires were more of a–”
And then, it happened again. He choked on his own words; would have fallen right out of the chair if Madame Meg hadn’t pulled him back upright.
“Can we not agree that vampires should be allowed to live their lives in peace?” Victor asked.
Winston could not reply at first, since he was gasping for air. “Will that make it stop?”
“It likely would,” Madame Meg said gravely.
“But it is not what I believe,” Winston said, and felt that terrible choking sensation rise up again. “And I cannot lie to you.”
He awoke sometime later in his bed with no memory of how he had gotten there. The door was closed; he was alone, and apparently in control of his actions, because when he pushed back the covers and swung his legs over the side of the bed, nothing untoward happened. He stood. Walked to the window and opened the shutter to see what lay outside.
The forest. Dark now; the night lit by luminescent flowers that hung from the trees. The trees still pulled at him; beckoned him; the path offered him countless adventures. He’d opened the window before he realized he’d moved. Froze in place, then, because he knew they would come for him now, and probably lock him away for good, but no one came. The door did not open.
Outside, snow began to drift through the heavy branches of the fir trees. Winston stood there for a moment, feeling the bite of the cold air, wanting to climb out the window and disappear into the forest, but he hesitated, not wanting to ruin what seemed to be a fairly complacent imprisonment. But then that strange dissociation enveloped him again and he found himself with one leg over the sill, and then, cautiously, dropping down to the roof below. From there, it was only a matter of lowering himself off the side of the kitchen and dropping the last few feet to the ground below.
Again, he tensed, waiting for a cry of alarm, but nothing happened. The teahouse’s windows were dark; there was no sign of Victor, or of Madame Meg, or Erik or any of the other goblins.
He was, it seemed, free to obey the pull of the forest and the path, and so he did. He had no real other choice. Outside, the pull seemed even stronger; although he wasn’t dressed for the weather, although a voice in the back of his head shouted that this was Faerie; that someone had enchanted him; that he would surely die before the night was through. But he found himself helpless not to walk down that path, and so he did.
He walked for hours, or what seemed like hours on the twisting, winding path through the trees. It was a quiet walk, though cold, there was no wind and the snowflakes drifted lazily through the trees. They melted as soon as they touched the ground, however and the air was fairly warm, under the trees.
After a little while, he sensed a presence, watching him, hidden in the trees. He paused, but the pull continued; he could no more resist it than he could agree with Victor’s assessment that vampires should be left to live their lives in peace.
The path led him to a cottage that sat under two immense fir trees, and it seemed that the trees had grown up around the house, supporting it on two sides. The thatch of the cottage’s roof was thick with moss and glowing flowers like the ones that had lit his way.
Its door was open. Winston, being naturally suspicious as a Hunter, would not have normally walked right inside. But the compulsion, if that’s what it was, informed him that he would be perfectly safe doing so, so that’s what he did.
“Ah,” the old woman who sat in front of the fireplace–in a rocking chair, even, and he did not remember seeing smoke from the cottage’s chimney, although the fire was blazing– “I wondered who I’d caught. Who are you?”
“My name…” All at once, the compulsion left him; he swayed, reeling on the doorstep.
The old woman leaned forward. “Come here, please.”
“I can’t.” Winston took a step backwards.
“They’ll find out I’m gone,” Winston whispered. “And they’ll…”
“You’ll not be punished,” the old woman said. “If I have to swear it to you, I will.”
He had no real choice but to believe her. Slowly, he walked inside the cottage, closed the door behind him, and sat down in the chair that sat across from the rocking chair. “My name is Winston.”
“Winston Matthew Delaney, who used to be a vampire hunter?” the old woman asked.
“I…I can’t say I used to be a vampire hunter,” Winston said. “I am no longer permitted to hunt them due to my sentence.”
“Seven years, I heard,” the old woman said. “What will you do in that seven years?”
“Right now, I’m the teahouse’s dishwasher,” Winston told her.
“And you’ll be happy to do that for the next seven years?”
“I don’t think I have a choice,” Winston said.
“You have more of a choice than you realize,” the old woman replied, and now she sounded a bit like Madame Meg. “You can choose to release your hatred against vampires and grow, or you can nurture it and shrivel up and die.”
“Why can’t we agree to disagree?” Winston asked curiously.
“Because it involves someone’s life,” the old woman said. “You can call me Mallory, by the way.”
“Mallory,” Winston said. “I’d say it’s nice to meet you, but I’m not sure you believe that.”
“I believe that nearly everyone has good in their hearts,” Mallory said. “Even Hunters who have murdered six vampires.”
“We call it ‘dispatched’,” Winston said.
“Which is a polite term for murdered,” Mallory said crisply.
“I didn’t want to lie to them,” Winston said. “And tell them something that isn’t true.”
“Your lot has made a living creating poisons and potions to incapacitate vampires,” Mallory glanced at something over his shoulder; Winston had to stop himself from looking. “Do you know their formulas? The symptoms of your venoms?”
“Not all of them,” Winston said. “I never really liked poisons and potions.”
“But some of them?” Mallory pressed.
“Yes,” Winston told her. “Some of them, yes.” He had a feeling she’d gotten to the real reason she’d brought him here, but her line of questioning didn’t make him feel any more secure.
“If I gave you a list of symptoms, would you tell me the poison used?”
“To save a vampire’s life?” Winston asked, curious now.
“If I say yes, would you refuse?” Mallory asked.
“I…I don’t know,” Winston said slowly. On one hand, he was bound to Madame Meg for seven years. Seven years of service. Seven years without hunting anyone at all. On the other, saving one vampire could well mean the deaths of countless humans; Hunters as a rule did not believe their claim that they drank blood from the willing and not from prey.
He’d heard, of course, about Russell Moore, the hunter who had been captured by Ethan Walker and turned into an ally, not an enemy. He knew about the false treaty the wizards’ Council had signed with the supposed heads of the Hunter network and every head of a vampire household who was willing to put their name to a piece of paper that held no weight or power at all.
He was bound in service to Madame Meg for the next seven years. She hadn’t treated him badly so far, although Winston did not believe that she wouldn’t enact some punishment for obeying Mallory’s compulsion.
“I could guarantee that you would have control over your actions from now on if you do this,” Mallory said, sweetening the pot a bit more. “You would still be in service, but you’d have the ability to get the dustpan when needed instead of slicing up your fingers.”
“And if I honestly don’t know?” Winston asked.
“Then you’ll be no worse off than before,” Mallory said.
“And the vampire will likely die,” Winston said.
“Yes,” Mallory agreed, and folded her hands in her lap, and waited.
After a moment of silence, Winston asked, “What are the symptoms?”
“She was found in the forest, senseless, three months ago,” Mallory said. “It is no spell. Sometimes, she has fits; although they’re lesser in frequency now than they were before. She has not spoken in those three months; when she opens her eyes, it is as if she cannot see. I do not know her name or where she came from, but since she wore clothing made past the Veil, I assumed she came from your world, and I assumed she’d had a run-in with one of your fellow hunters.”
“And no one knows what’s wrong with her?” Winston asked. “There’s no one else you can ask?” He truly didn’t want to help this vampire, even if it meant he could have control of his hands again. He truly didn’t want to help, but he found he was curious, nonetheless.
“Not anyone able to travel here who knows anything at all about vampires,” Mallory said shortly. “Can you help her?”
Reluctantly, Winston asked, “Are her pupils dilated?”
“No, they are pinpricks,” Mallory said. “And she’s growing weaker; can you help her?”
He could have stayed silent. He could have walked back to the teahouse and perhaps slipped back into his room before they even noticed he was gone. He could have survived the rest of his sentence without ever betraying what he held to be important: that vampires did not deserve to live their lives at all.
“Why did you become a Hunter?” Mallory asked abruptly.
“Because vampires prey on humans,” Winston said simply.
Mallory snorted, unimpressed. “Humans prey on humans much more than vampires. And yet I don’t see you murdering your own kind.”
When Winston did not reply, she continued. “Do you know that in the past ten years, the number of humans killed by vampires could be counted on one hand?”
“Not counting the number of humans turned by vampires, or the number of humans deceived by vampires.” Winston realized then that the strangling sensation had not overcome him as soon as he started to talk to Mallory about vampires. His mind had not turned to mush. Just in case it was a fluke, he said, carefully, “I believe that vampires should be scourged from the earth.” Nothing happened.
“And perhaps I believe the same of Hunters,” Mallory said crisply.
“And yet I’m still here, and still alive,” Winston said.
“Can you help her?” Mallory pressed.
It wasn’t really could he help her, but would he help her, truly. Would he be willing to ignore the fact that he felt she should be dead to save her life.
He opened his mouth to refuse. And found himself asking, “Can I see her? I give you my word I will not harm her.”
It was as if his subconscious had made a decision he couldn’t quite bear to voice.
“Of course,” Mallory said, and stood up from her rocking chair; she barely came up to his chest. “Follow me.”
She walked with a cane, although Winston detected no discernible limp, and led him down a dark and narrow hallway. There were two doors; she chose the right hand one, and opened it.
Inside a dimly lit room, on a narrow bed, lay a girl–a woman, he supposed; she was probably close to his age, although it was hard to tell with vampires. Her face was thin; all angles, but she was quite beautiful, with dark hair and pale skin. Too pale, Winston thought. Vampires were not prone to sickness, but they were prone to poison, and he knew the signs of this without even examining her.
But he went through the motions nonetheless, gently; she seemed too fragile to treat otherwise. And she did not awaken, which was troubling. A vampire should have sensed the presence of human blood and acted accordingly, especially one so wounded as this dark-haired girl.
“Was she wounded otherwise?” he finally asked, and stepped away from the bed.
“Both her legs were broken, and there were other wounds as well,” Mallory said softly. “Those have healed.”
“And you have a store of herbs here?” Winston asked.
“I do,” Mallory said, which didn’t surprise him at all. “But if you tell me what to prepare–”
“If I am to damn myself, then I should do it myself,” Winston said, and she did not argue.
When she showed him her stores, he realized that he could easily prepare a potion that would kill her patient; despite his sentence, he could eliminate one more of the creatures from the world. And perhaps that would have been the kinder thing to do, in truth, because even with the antidote, he wasn’t certain she would recover after three months. But even thinking that, he couldn’t bring himself to do it. This particular vampire wasn’t hurting anyone right now, and perhaps would never hurt anyone again. This particular vampire was likely a bloodthirsty fiend and probably wouldn’t have hesitated to kill him outright if she were well, but she wasn’t well. And Winston wasn’t the type of hunter to kill wounded prey and call that a success.
So he mixed the antidote, and watched as Mallory helped her drink, and he felt as if he’d done something particularly terrible, because she was a vampire, and he had let her live.
He wasn’t really surprised when Erik arrived to fetch him, and did not resist when the goblin led him back along the path to the teahouse and its now-familiar kitchen where Madame Meg and Victor waited. But from then on, he had full control over his hands, and he had to pay attention to the dishes–which were dishes, not imaginary ones–and Victor even allowed him to make some soup and sandwiches (although since it was a Goblin Faire, the ingredients were…interesting) and soon, he had free reign of the kitchen.
Erik escorted him back to his room every night, as usual; Madame Meg did not strike him down when he picked up a knife to chop vegetables or slice something into pieces; his hand healed, and he couldn’t stop dreaming about the dark-haired vampire he had tried to save.
He didn’t dare ask about her; his nocturnal trip to Mallory’s cottage was not brought up at all. But what wasn’t mentioned soon became too large to ignore, and weeks later, out of the blue, he blurted, “Did she live?”
Right in full view of everyone.
“She did, yes,” Madame Meg said after a moment. “And I believe she’s up and walking again, albeit slowly, and with a cane.”
Winston couldn’t look at her to see the scorn on her face. He turned back to the sink, although it was empty. “Thank you.”
He couldn’t decide whether or not to be happy that his potion had worked, so he busied himself with wiping down the countertops, and after a little while, Madame Meg, at least, went away.
Victor stayed, but Victor did; the kitchen was his domain, after all. But he did not mention the dark-haired girl. “I think it’s time you learned to blend our teas,” he said instead, and Winston happily followed him into the storeroom, glad to have something to occupy his mind–other than vampires, because he was no longer certain how he felt about vampires, especially one particular dark-haired girl whose life he had saved.