On Christmas day, retired Lieutenant Colonel Cassie White Lynch peered bleary eyed through the smudged glass and pewter-colored mesh of the front porch storm door. A glint of sunlight off a car windshield got her attention. The EMT crew struggled to secure her to a wheeled gurney but her stare remained riveted to the stretch limousine arriving minutes after the ambulance. A thirty-something couple emerged to pick their way up the mud-mired street, past rows of trailers aligned lengthwise on the narrow lots.
No, it can’t be! How’d they…?
A low chain link fence marked the individual properties. Derelict cars, junk, and satellite antennas populated the yards under a bright late morning sun. The man, tall and darkly handsome, fended ahead of the small correspondingly attractive red-haired woman. The yard buzzing with EMT crew told them where to go.
From the depths of a besotted mind, Cassie confirmed her worst fears and wondered how they found her.
And I was so careful all these years.
Her parents hadn’t changed. Hell, they never changed. “Not now. I don’t need this crap.” In desperation, Cassie closed her watery green eyes. She pretended, hope against hope, that when she opened them the couple would be gone. No such luck. With the tan expanse of Mobile Bay behind them, they pressed resolutely ahead, pushed by the chilly damp breeze off the water. The fishy, brackish smell in the air played hell with the delicate equilibrium of Cassie’s stomach.
“That should do nicely,” the fresh faced emergency technician said as she cinched one of the belts securing Cassie to the wheeled gurney. Another unlocked the brake.
In desperation Cassie looked around the trailer. “There seems to be some misunderstanding. I’m okay.” Catching sight of the logo on the ambulance’s side door, she understood the intent was to ship her to one of the facilities owned by her parent’s company. “Anyway, I should be headed to Fed Med.” Cassie’s feeble protest went ignored.
Across the bay, the gray hulk of the battleship Alabama floated on the murky water. The custodial crew had turned the sixteen-inch turrets to the beam and elevated them, as if preparing to dump a couple of broadsides into the fishing camps clustered six miles away. Another group of workers strung bunting in preparation for the fifteenth anniversary of The Dissolution.
Unbidden, a memory penetrated the fog of Cassie’s brain. “Kids, you’re looking at the Big “A” herself.” Dad spoke from the driver’s seat as the family scooted down the causeway leading past the great ship’s original moor, now under water. “I knew men who served on her.”
Nearly a hundred and thirty years after her war, the battleship endured. Coastlines surrendered to the sea, subsequent wars were won and lost, and even the United States was no more, but the old matte gray hunk of steel remained. The tinted glass windows of the wide battle bridge, ninety feet above the oak deck, witnessed all with a vast and cool silence.
A collection of rough-looking people glared at the approach of Cassie’s visitors, shifting attention from the ambulance crew. The crowd relaxed when one of the locals joined the couple, explaining for their benefit how Cassie ‘had a little accident with some pills’. He led the pair to where she reposed in semi-consciousness.
At recognizing her parent’s fair-haired burly companion, Cassie perked up, eyes flaring as much as the depressants in her system allowed. “Roscoe Burke, you’re a worthless son of a bitch.” Her sharp and clear voice, unaffected by the remnants of controlled substances coursing through her, lashed out across the front lawn at her sometimes live-in as the EMTs took the first steps to wheel her out.
The grungy wide-shouldered man shielded a face covered by scruffy chin stubble in a reflexive act of self-preservation.
Meanwhile, Cassie’s parents bore down on an intercept course. The dark-haired male sidestepped a mud puddle as the small woman stared down a large pit bull. The animal kept a healthy distance, slinking in a wide circle while voicing a low growl. Canines hated vampires and lycans, the reason why Cassie never had a dog until after leaving home.
Roscoe raised a hand, unmasking a damp ripe armpit. “Be good, Jasper. Go lie down.”
The animal worked his way over to a stripped car body, lying down in the lee provided by a half-open door.
The men of the crowd fell in behind the trio and catcalled to the diminutive woman with the fiery hair while more than one of the tattered women acknowledged the slim man’s physical appeal in less demonstrative ways. At the end of the street where their car waited, the driver, a vampire, watched them with concern.
Cassie said no more until face to face with the three. With no kindness in her expression, she squinted at Roscoe. “You sold me out.”
“Now hold on Cassie, it aint exactly that way. It’s for your own good. I had to call somebody. For a while we thought you was a goner.”
Cassie feebly lifted her head toward Roscoe and the couple. Unkempt mats of gray hair streaked with shades of orange, hung around an oval face. An unpleasant aura of vomit surrounded her. Except for their extreme differences in grooming, anyone could tell that she and the small redhead were related. With mild confusion, Cassie focused on the pair. “Mom? Dad? Are you going to haul me off by force?”
“It’s for your own good.” Roscoe attempted to remind her.
Returning him to her line of fire, Cassie said, with drug-diluted anger, “You four-flushing asshole, why didn’t you run me to a government hospital emergency room? What’d they pay you for squeaking me out?”
“Cassie, there’s no call for such language,” Mom said.
A large fellow, towering over everyone else, stepped from the crowd. “The lady says she don’t want any part of you. Near as I can tell she’s of age to decide on her own. If she wants the Fed-Med, it’s her choice.” He paused to exchange glances of agreement with several of the others before proceeding. “Now move on. You uptown types got no business in these parts.” He and his supporters began to close in. With growing fear, the EMTs pressed close to Cassie’s stretcher. In the distance, the driver accompanying Mom and Dad edged forward.
“Now Bingo, we didn’t mean anything by bringing them here. After all, they’re her kin,” Roscoe said.
Two brown porcine eyes hunted down Roscoe’s face. “Dumb ass, you should know better than anyone nothing goes down around here without my say so.”
The voice of Cassie’s mother, clear and silvery like the daughter’s, cut through the scene, bringing the general buzz of agreement to a stop. “Jim, tell them who we are and who she is.”
“Cassie is our daughter. We came to take her for treatment in a private facility.”
After a moment of surprised silence, first one then successively more of the crowd began to laugh. Now over twenty strong, they continued their menacing approach. “Didn’t you get it backwards?” Someone asked. “Cassie’s old enough to be your granny.”
Dad tried to hold them in abeyance by continuing his explanation. “I’m Jim White and this is my wife Samantha.” Bingo and his supporters continued to edge closer. A sound of ripping Velcro interrupted Jim. “Sam, morphing is not necessary.” But the words hadn’t left his mouth before the petite woman at his side grew nearly a foot, and filled out with muscle, covered in brownish red hair. A grind of bone followed by a pop of joint and her knees reversed. Her clothes stretched to accommodate expanded lycan mass. The clean-featured dainty face gave way to a ferociously fanged snout.
Following Mom’s lead, Dad transformed too. A few inches of added height, reddened eyes, a yellowish pallor and the tapered, brilliantly white fangs was a less dramatic change. The small mob leaped backward as if collectively touched by a live electric wire.
Now the tallest person around, he surveyed the crowd with a molten stare. “In her present state, my wife can’t speak, but I can. We don’t want trouble, just our daughter.”
“Cassie ain’t going anywhere. She owes me.” Bingo advanced, wielding a large hunting knife. The weapon and his self-assurance encouraged several others to follow.
A second later, Cassie’s self-avowed creditor lay with face pressed to the dirt by Mom’s lycan foot, planted on his neck. A quick arm twist and he dropped the dagger in which, moments before, he put so much confidence. In awe, the crowd backed away.
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