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Lost, Page 3

P. C. Cast

  Grandma Redbird’s nose wrinkled. “I believe those are boxers, not pitties, Kevin.”

  “My mistake. That’s what I get for stereotyping.”

  “Well, it was definitely a good guess. Slow down, now. See on your right where that pretty white fencing begins?”


  “There’s a gate just beyond it. Pull in, roll down your window, and press the intercom button. I will do the talking.”

  Kevin did as he was told, turning into a lane that was blocked by a large iron gate. He did a quick glance around as his window rolled down and saw that the easy, tidy look of the little ranch didn’t tell the entire truth.

  The gate, like the well-tended white fence, was threaded with several strands of thick conductive wire. Kevin’s eyes followed the wires.

  “That’s a super-serious electric fence, G-ma.”

  “Yes, I am aware of that. Press the intercom, please.”

  Kevin pressed the white button next to the speaker and a little red light lit up, drawing attention to the high-tech camera pointed their way.

  “Who’s there?” came a woman’s sharp voice punctuated by a symphony of yapping dogs.

  “Sylvia Redbird. I hear you have a litter of puppies. I’d like to take a look at them, if you still have one for sale.”

  There was a pause, and then, “I see a red vampyre with you.”

  Grandma Redbird slid over and stuck her head beside Kevin’s. “It’s me, Tina. This is my grandson, Kevin.”

  “Red vampyres are not welcome on my property or in my home.”

  “This red vampyre is different. I give you my word on it,” said Grandma.

  “Of course you do. You’re under his control. No. You may not enter my property. You may not enter my home.”

  “Tina, send Babos out here.”

  “Dogs hate red vampyres. She’ll snarl and bark and upset the whole pack,” replied the tinny voice.

  “She’s gonna love me. Promise, ma’am,” Kevin said.

  “You’ll be glad you took the chance,” Grandma added.

  “Fine. But when she barks and goes crazy, I’m going to be very upset with you, Sylvia. And I’m bringing my .45 with me. One false move and, grandson or not, I’ll take that vamp’s head off his neck.”

  “As well you should, Tina,” replied Grandma Redbird calmly.

  “Be there in a sec.”

  The intercom connection clicked off as the gate swung open.

  “Don’t drive onto her property,” said G-ma. “Let’s just get out of the car.” She caught his gaze with hers. “The dog is going to like you, isn’t she?”

  Kevin grinned. “They used to—before I was Marked. And then at Zo’s House of Night there was this cool yellow lab named Duchess. She loved me. So, I’m thinking we’ll be fine.”

  The sound of a Polaris’ motor getting closer and closer had Grandma Redbird sighing. “Well, it is too late now if we’re wrong.”

  “We’re not wrong, G-ma. Watch. I can handle this part. Dogs are awesomesauce!” Kevin walked around to the front of the car and stood just outside the property line before the open gate.

  The Polaris roared up, sliding to a stop in front of them. Kevin had to squint against the glare of the vehicle’s lights, but he could see a short woman—probably somewhere around his g-ma’s age. She had a crazy mane of wavy silver-gray hair with streaks of deep purples, pinks, and blues scattered through it. She was old, but her body was still trim, which was obvious because she was wearing yoga pants tucked into turquoise cowboy boots, and a sweatshirt that proclaimed KALE in Yale-styled letters. Holding a cocked .45, she got lithely out of the Polaris, followed by a small, black brindle terrier.

  “Hello, Tina. This is my grandson, Kevin.”

  “Good evening, ma’am,” Kevin said politely.

  “We’ll see how good it is,” the old woman grumbled.

  “Hey! It’s a Scottie dog!” Kevin exclaimed. “I’ve always wanted one of them. I think they’re the coolest little dogs ever.”

  Tina’s green eyes studied Kevin. “You don’t sound like a red vampyre.”

  “That’s because I’m a different kind of red vampyre,” he said.

  “A good kind,” Grandma added.

  “Impossible,” said Tina.

  “Show her, u-we-tsi.”

  Kevin crouched and smiled at the little terrier. “Hey there, little girl! You’re super pretty. Wanna come here and let me pet you?”

  The dog studied him as carefully as the woman at her side.

  “Her name is Babos.”

  “Babos—that’s a cool name. Hi, Babos.” He held out his hand. “Come here, girl.”

  The little dog hesitated, ears pricked at Kevin. She lifted her head and sniffed the air.

  “Sorry I don’t have any treats for you. I’ll know better next time. But I promise that I’m a pretty good chin scratcher.” He made chin-scratching motions with his fingers. “Come here, Babos. Give me a try.”

  The Scottie tilted her head, sniffed the air again, and then with a little huff she trotted directly to Kevin, who smiled and told her she was the smartest, prettiest, sweetest Scottie girl he’d ever seen, while he fulfilled his promise and scratched her bearded chin as she wagged her tail enthusiastically.

  “Huh. Would never have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes,” said Tina. “What is he?”

  “I told you. He’s my grandson. And he’s going to change everything.”

  * * *

  “You seriously have a Scottie ranch!” Kevin couldn’t stop himself from gawking as he and Grandma Redbird followed Tina into the sprawling ranch-style home. As they entered through the garage, a bevy of short, brick-shaped terriers, ranging in color from blond and wheat to black and black brindle, mobbed them. Kevin tried to count, but when he hit fifteen he gave up. “Um, G-ma, were you serious about the puppies? Man, I hope so.”

  Tina smiled at him then—the first time she’d done more than look at him like he was a bug staked on a display board. “I don’t have puppies right now, but I will in a few weeks.”

  “It’s code, u-we-tsi. Humans or blue vampyres, and even blue fledglings who are allied with the Resistance, come to Tina’s ranch and ask for puppies.”

  “But what they’re really asking for is sanctuary,” Tina said.

  “Hope someday I can get a puppy,” Kevin mumbled as he crouched and thoroughly enjoyed being mauled by a herd of Scottie dogs.

  “Why is he different?” Tina asked.

  “That, my friend, is a long story that we’d rather not take time for at this moment, as the Resistance is going to need that explanation as well. Are they here?”

  Tina nodded. “On the top of the ridge. You know where the hunting blinds are, in those trees adjacent to that flat, grassy easement?”

  “I do.”

  “Some of them are in the blinds. Some are working on trying to expand a little cave-like area they discovered just a day or so ago among the rocks on the side of the ridge. They arrived last night, with a few refugees they need to smuggle out—mostly women and children. There’s a winter storm brewing. They thought they’d be safe on the ridge—at least for a few days.”

  Grandma Redbird sighed. “They’re too vulnerable in those blinds. There’s so little shelter in them. I know vampyres are resistant to the cold weather, but it’s just awful that they have to run from place to place like they do. The stress of not having a truly safe place must wear on them.”

  “That’s why they were so excited to find the cave,” Tina agreed. “But Dragon told me that right now it can only hold about five people, and that’s if they don’t mind being crowded together. They’re working on expanding it, but you know that ridge is mostly rock and hard red dirt. It’s slow going, especially in the middle of winter.”

  “Wait, did
you say Dragon? As in Dragon Lankford?” Kevin said.

  “Yes. Dragon Lankford used to be the Tulsa House of Night’s Swordmaster—before Neferet began the war,” Tina said.

  “Is his mate, Anastasia, here too?” Kevin asked, excitement lifting his voice.

  Tina nodded. “She is.”

  “G-ma! Zoey told me to find Dragon and Anastasia Lankford—that they could help me for sure.”

  “Then we are on the right path,” G-ma said with a smile.

  “Man, I hope so.” Kevin stood after giving the Scotties one more group petting. “So, you were saying that the Resistance doesn’t really have a headquarters?”

  “They did have a headquarters, but that was before Lenobia and Travis were trailed, trapped, and killed—along with their horses …” Tina’s words broke off as she tried to compose herself, obviously too upset to continue.

  Grandma Redbird reached out to her, hugging Tina sympathetically, and then finished explaining for her. “Lenobia and Travis had created a headquarters for the Resistance in the middle of Keystone National Park. It’s more than seven hundred acres, and except for the areas near Keystone Lake and Dam, it’s wild and undeveloped, even though it’s only about an hour from downtown Tulsa to the park. It was an excellent place for a rough camp, especially as Lenobia managed to smuggle several horses out of the House of Night when she and Travis left for good. Someone betrayed them. Lenobia and Travis stayed with the horses, drawing the Red Army away from the rest of the Resistance and the innocents they were helping to safety. They were slaughtered. Lenobia, Travis, the Resistance members, the innocents, and every single horse.”

  Kevin bowed his head, sadness and regret filling him.

  “You were there, weren’t you?” Tina’s voice was filled with gravel.

  “No. And I thank Nyx for that. I was still a fledgling when that happened, and fledglings are never part of an actual deployment. They’re not good weapons yet. They have to be fully Changed before enough of their humanity is wiped out for them to be dangerous and expendable.” He grimaced in disgust. “I heard about the slaughter, though. My general, his name was Dominick, gloated about the victory. It—it made me sick. It still makes me sick.”

  “I’m glad you weren’t there,” Tina said, her voice still shaky. “I don’t believe I could bear having you in my home had you been involved in that. Lenobia was a good friend. And those horses …” She shuddered. “I can’t think about what the Red Army did to them.”

  “I’m sorry,” was all Kevin could think to say.

  “Show me. Don’t tell me. Help us stop Neferet and the misery she’s unleashed upon this world, and I’ll believe you’re truly sorry,” said Tina.

  “I will. I promise.”

  Tina nodded briskly and then motioned for them to follow her into the fragrant kitchen. With the herd of Scottie dogs trotting around their feet, Grandma Redbird and Kevin made their way slowly after Tina, careful not to step on paws.

  “I imagine you’ll want to be on your way to join them quickly?”

  “Yes. That would be best,” Grandma Redbird said.

  “Actually, you’re going to save me a trip. I baked a dozen loaves of bread and finished canning my blackberry jam. Never knew vampyres loved fresh bread and jam so much before Neferet changed our world, but they certainly do.”

  Kevin’s mouth was watering as he watched Tina finish packing the bundles of fresh homemade bread and jam into canvas bags.

  “Who doesn’t like homemade bread?” he said. “And yours smells incredible.”

  Tina stopped to look at him. She shook her head. “It’s tough to get used to it.”

  “It?” Kevin asked.

  “I suppose you is a better word than it. What I meant is it’s tough to get used to having a red vampyre who acts like a normal, rational person in my kitchen.” She snorted and added, “It’s almost worth going out with you in the cold and dark to see their reaction.”

  “I don’t expect that it’ll be easy for them to accept me,” Kevin said.

  “You want the truth?”

  Kevin nodded.

  “It’ll take a miracle for them to accept you.”

  “That’s okay.” Kevin grinned at her. “I have it on good authority that Nyx is in the miracle business.”

  “For your sake I hope so.” Tina returned to packing the canvas bags.

  “For all of our sakes, I hope so,” Grandma Redbird said.

  “Okay, Miracle Kevin, help me carry these.”

  Tina loaded Kevin down with as many bags as he could carry, leaving only one for his grandma. Then they followed Tina out the back door and past a built-in pool from which mist was rising like forgotten spirits.

  “That looks awesome!” Kevin said.

  Tina smiled. “That and the Scotties are my two major indulgences. Well, if you don’t count my love of craft beer and pasta. I keep that pool heated all winter. It’s a beautiful thing to float in it and stare through the mist up at the stars. Makes me forget how messed up our world has become.”

  “My friend, would it help to tell you that because of what has happened to Kevin, we have a real chance at defeating Neferet?” Grandma Redbird said.

  “Sylvia, I would love to believe we could go back to how it used to be.”

  “How about more than that?” Kevin spoke up. Both women trained curious looks on him. “How about a world where humans and vampyres are truly allies and friends? Like the two of you are with the Resistance. It’s more than possible. I’ve seen it. It can work, and it makes for a world that’s better than what we had here before Neferet started the war.”

  “You’re not from around here, are you, son?”

  “Actually, I am. Let’s just say I’ve traveled a lot recently.”

  “I want Kevin’s world,” Grandma Redbird said, smiling fondly at her grandson.

  “Well, your world sounds good, son. But I’d settle for peace.”

  “Ma’am, my g-ma taught me not to settle,” said Kevin, sending a cheeky grin to his grandma.

  “He’s a little fresh, but I believe I shall keep him,” said Sylvia Redbird.

  “I’ll tell you what—if you can get the Resistance to trust and accept you, I might believe in that world of yours,” said Tina. “And I might fix you up with a Scottie pup.”

  Kevin’s grin was like sunrise. “Promise?”

  “As long as we’re not at war and you give her or him a good home—yes, I promise.”

  “Deal!” Kevin said.

  “Deal,” agreed Tina. “Okay, pack the bags in here and take this Polaris.”

  She opened the hatch of the metal box strapped in where the back seats should have been. Kevin loaded the bags inside after Tina moved the blankets, boxes of matches, and baggies of blood …

  “Blood!” Kevin exclaimed. “We’re taking them blood?”

  “Of course,” Tina said, nonplussed. “Vampyres can’t live on bread and jam alone.”


  Tina cocked her head. “Young man, in this world where you say humans and vampyres reside as friends, did they also cure the fact that vampyres must have human blood to live?”

  “Um, no.”

  “So, humans there must be fine with vamps drinking blood, correct?” “Yes, I suppose so,” Kevin said.

  “Well, I’m vegan. I really don’t see much difference between drinking human blood and eating a rare steak or a bloody rack of lamb.” She shrugged. “I wouldn’t do either, but to each his own.”

  “Who are you?” Kevin blurted.

  “Just a retired English teacher. Once you teach at a public high school for a couple of decades, not much rattles you.”

  “Obviously. I wish I could’ve been in your classroom. I’ll bet you weren’t boring,” Kevin said.

  “I’ll bet I wasn’t either,” Tina
said. Then she surprised him by giving him a quick hug. “Stay safe. And remember our deal.”

  “No way am I forgetting that you promised me a puppy!”

  “Sylvia, you remember how to get to the ridge, don’t you?”

  “Oh, I believe so. I seem to recall that we just kept taking right turns,” said Grandma.

  “That’s it. Remember to take care at the gate. You touch that electric wire and it’ll fry you.”

  “I remember,” said Grandma. She motioned for Kevin to get behind the wheel. “You’re driving, u-we-tsi.”

  “Slow and steady,” Tina said as Kevin started the Polaris. “We’ve left those old oil trails rough, especially after what happened at Keystone. You’ll have to stop and move logs a few times. That’s on purpose.”

  “I thought you were under Neferet’s protection because of your alfalfa crops,” said Grandma Redbird.

  “I am, but lately the dogs have been alerting in the middle of the night, and it’s not at Dragon and our group. I think the Blue Army has been sniffing around here. Be sure you let Dragon know that.”

  “I will,” said Grandma.

  “When you come to the downed tree that’s too big to move from the path, that’s when you’ll be questioned,” Tina said.

  “I have my code phrase. I am ready,” said Grandma.

  Tina shook her head. “You know they’re going to believe you’re under the influence of a red vampyre. They may attack before you can convince them otherwise.”

  “Then I’ll just have to be smarter and faster than they are,” said the old woman.

  Tina smiled wryly. “Good luck.”

  “Thank you, ma’am,” said Kevin.

  “You don’t have to thank me for helping the Resistance, son. It’s the right thing to do.”

  “I wasn’t thanking you for that. I was thanking you for trusting me—for inviting me in.”

  “I see. Don’t thank me. Just don’t make me regret trusting you.”

  “I won’t. I promise.”

  Kevin put the Polaris into gear and headed in the direction his g-ma pointed—toward a barely discernible dirt path that disappeared into the darkness of the Oklahoma ridge. If he hadn’t needed to keep both hands on the wheel to maneuver around ruts and rocks, he would have been cracking the hell out of his knuckles.