Happy Halloween! A little spooky reading for you…

In the spirit of Halloween, I giving you a sample from my book , Tesla St. Vrain, Aetherstorm. If you like vampires and the ghosts that supposedly haunt the St. James hotel in Cimarron, you may enjoy this bit.

The stage slowed, indicating that they were nearing the city. She could feel that the road was now paved with brick as the ride became smoother with fewer bumps. Just then, a human-shaped shadow zipped across the sky. Tesla was only able to detect its presence because she was looking up and saw it obscure the stars as it passed. Immediately her mind went into fight mode. It had to be a vampire of some sort but was it a friend or foe? She rolled over onto her knees and drew the pistol secured in her thigh holster. Then, clicking the hammer back, she slowly peeked her head over the canvas to take a look.

There, casually sitting on a pile of luggage, was Doc Holliday. He reached into his overcoat and pulled out a small cigar, placing it into his mouth. He struck a match against a button on his vest with a cupped hand before bringing the flame up to the tobacco. Clouds of smoke billowed from his mouth, racing back into the darkness. Then, after a long drag on the cigar, he finally looked up and spoke to her.

“Why Miss Tesla, what an unusual way for a woman of your stature to travel.”

“It beats walking,” Tesla replied as she sat up, facing him. “Besides, I really needed a rest.”

“Well, if you have sufficiently recuperated, I have instructions to escort you to a particularly important gathering with a notable Voodoo priest and a rather irritable Irishman.”

“I suppose I shouldn’t disappoint them. How did you find me?”

“A search party was dispatched after Lady Katherine had returned. The full-bloods went in force to the fort. However, I assumed that a young lady with your abilities and intellect would have made it out and not try to walk back all alone. So, I chose to watch the roads leading into town. It appears that my intellectual prowess has not failed me.”

“It would be the most logical choice.”

“Indeed,” the gunfighter said coldly after taking another puff off the cigar. “I take it that your spying mission was successful?”

“Yes, it was.”

“I told you that you would be a daisy,” Holliday said before taking a final puff of the cigar and flicking it to the ground. “I assume that ghosts can fly. Otherwise, I can carry you for a short spell. Our destination is not very far from here.”

“I can manage, thank you.”

“Then we should be on our way.”

“After you,” Tesla replied as she stood. The coach’s roof was wobbly as it crossed over the uneven brick pavement. It required a balancing act on her part, but she was determined not to lose face in front of the gunfighter.

Holliday smiled as he levitated upward, pausing briefly before shooting into the night sky. Then, with reservations, Tesla crossed the veil and sent her ghost flying up after him.

Below, the sheer size of New Orleans struck her. It was a maze of flickering lights broken by the reflective darkness of the Mississippi River. In some ways, it reminded her of her hometown of Brest. The busy ports and dark winding streets created a sense of déjà vu as they soared over the city.

True to his word, the flight was short. They descended quietly into a dark alley before slipping unnoticed onto the street. Except for a few people, the streets were empty. Their footsteps echoed slightly against the surrounding buildings that lined the road. Still, Tesla could not shake the sensation that they were being watched. She knew that the unseen eyes were not ghosts, for she could sense them. It had to be something else. The uncertainty of the source bothered her.

Holliday, however, seemed unconcerned. He strolled casually along with his hands in his pockets, whistling a tune that sounded vaguely familiar. Taking a few quick steps forward, she caught up to him as he headed for a white building on the corner of Bienville and Bourbon Streets. An elaborate hand-painted sign hung above the door that read “The Absinthe Room, 240 Bourbon Street”. They took a quick glance at each other before reaching for the doorknob.

Almost instantly, a small, portly man in an expensive suit opened the door for them and, without a word, strode back inside. This prompted another quick, silent exchange between them before they too entered the building. As they started to follow the man inside, Holliday leaned in close to Tesla and whispered.

“This is a vampire safe-house. So, stay close to me until we are upstairs.”

Tesla nodded and moved closer beside him. Strangely, she was not worried so much about vampires anymore, not after seeing the nosferatu.

Inside, the faint smell of anise and cigar smoke filled the air. There were large and fantastic paintings on every wall, their styles as different as the subject matter depicted. Items of old were displayed on shelves and cabinets, their mysterious purpose or usefulness long forgotten by the proprietors. In the center of the room were decorative marble fountains used for dripping cool water into glasses of absinthe.

Tesla’s mouth dropped in wonder. The interior reminded her of places she had seen in France when she was too young to explore inside. She wanted to examine everything, even the smallest detail. Then, a cultured voice broke her out of her reverie.

“If you would be so kind, this way.” instructed the small, portly, well-dressed man. His sudden reappearance startled her, causing her to jump back. Then, slightly embarrassed, she looked at the floor while she followed the men through the room. The patrons of the establishment paused, diverting their attention to watch them as they passed. Suddenly, Tesla felt that her cautious approach regarding vampires was justified. Then, as if by prophecy, a voluptuous blonde woman rose from a chair near the bar and approached them with an alluring smile.

“Hey, Doc, who’s your pretty girlfriend?” the strange woman said.

“She is not a lover. She is a co-worker. Her business is not any concern of yours.”

“But what if I want to be her business?” the blonde said in a flirtatious way, moving in closer to Tesla. “I adore women with freckles.”

“Amanda, back off!” Holliday warned. He pulled back his coat to expose his Colt Paterson revolver, his index finger tapping slightly on the trigger.

The blonde woman stepped back, acting appalled. “Okay, okay, there’s no need to draw iron on me! Of course, I was only joking.” Her lips pouted as she briskly turned and walked away.

“A vampire?” Tesla asked softly.

“Indeed, one looking for dessert. Keep on walking as if nothing had happened.”

“She seemed to know you.”

“Quite a few women know me. Most I would not bother to trust.”

They continued following the short man across the room and up a small staircase when all at once, a sickeningly dry, sweet metallic scent hit her fully in the face. The nauseous smell was so intense that she actually began to gag. She had to stop, pausing over the railing, to control the urge to vomit.

“Are you ok?” Holliday asked, turning to look back at her, his voice laced with a small amount of concern.

“Yes.” She managed to answer as she wiped her mouth. “I don’t know how you can stand that smell,” she said in a rush, trying to clear her head.

Holliday looked at the short man for a moment, then turned back to Tesla. “Why, what smell do you mean?” he asked.

Tesla laughed shakily before answering. “That noxious smell! It smells like….” And then she got it. It smelled like blood, and yet here she was in a vampire safe-house. She glanced down at the crowd below. Some were drinking absinthe. She could tell by the green color clouding their glasses. But others held large glasses of red wine, swirling them delectably as if they contained something expensive and precious. So, were they actually drinking red wine or…?

“Maybe the journey just got to me.” she finally said to soothe Holliday’s concern. “As I said earlier, I am quite exhausted.”

“Then perhaps we should get you upstairs so that you can take a rest,” said Holliday. There was a strange twinkle in his eye, something that told her that he was aware of her exigency.

The small man ushered them up the remaining steps and into a large room at the end of the hall. It was even more strangely furnished than the rest of the building. Books of all types were thrown around haphazardly, and several firearms littered an immense wood table that sat in the center of the space. The oddest object was a brass bell that sat perfectly in the middle of the table. It looked like a child’s room who did not like to clean up. However, the sight of Dante and Shylocke was immediately reassuring.

“Miss St. Vrain, I’m glad that you could join us,” Dante said with a slight smile. “We were beginning to worry about your whereabouts.”

“Thank you, sir,” Tesla replied politely. “I am sorry if I worried you.”

“Please, take a seat and inform us about what you have learned.”

Tesla and Holliday took a seat across from one another, shuffling their chairs to face Dante. Tesla looked over at Shylocke, who was seated next to her, and took a deep breath. She knew that the information she had obtained would be received like a bad dose of medicine.

“Sir, everything is a trap,” she began. “Doctor Skin is aware that the Ministry of Psychical Defense has formed an alliance with the full-bloods. They know that we plan to attack them and are preparing a counter-attack.”

“Bloody bloodsuckers!” bellowed Shylocke. As he spoke, his emotions bubbled up to the surface. “I told ya that da bastards couldn’t be trusted!”

Holliday nodded in agreement. “It does appear that we have a fox in the hen house. A most unfortunate change of events.”

“I was aware that such a situation could exist. Thus, the reason for our undisclosed meeting,” Dante replied calmly. “Mr. Holliday, are you certain that the full-bloods do not frequent this fine establishment or have any eyes hiding about?”

“It is tighter than a virgin’s corset, sir. The half-bloods have sentries posted in all directions. No one enters unnoticed.”

“Good. Tesla, start at the beginning and give me as much detail as you can remember.”

“Yes, sir,” Tesla replied, placing her hands in her lap. She twiddled her fingers together playfully as a distraction from her nervousness. “After Lady Katherine left, I followed Doctor Skin and a man named Dubois to a chamber just off the main cavern. The doctor wanted to know if Dubois had managed to get any information from a ghost named Kennedy. Dubois told him that the ghost was insane and that he was unsuccessful.”

“I reckon from yer expression that you know this eejit, Dubois?” Shylocke interrupted, speaking directly to Dante.

“Yes, he is a petty, power-hungry politician,” Dante said bluntly. His face contorted into a look of disgust. “He has run for mayor on several occasions in the past, and his alliances with the vampire clans are well known by all. Go on, Tesla.”

“Doctor Skin then asked if he was able to obtain any information from another ghost named Mr. Wright. But, again, he was unsuccessful because that ghost was being guarded by another ghost and the proprietor of the hotel was aware too. I think Mr. Wright is somehow trapped inside a room in the hotel because Dubois said the owner had padlocked the door.”

“What is the name of this hotel?” Dante asked.

“They called it Lambert’s Place. They did not mention where it was.”

“I have heard of such accommodations,” Holliday added. “There is a hotel in Cimarron with that name, New Mexico Territory. I stayed there with Wyatt on our way to Tombstone.”

Dante nodded at Holliday, scribbling the town’s name on the piece of paper on the table in front of him. “Please continue Tesla.”

“He then asked Dubois if he had any word from the Skinwalkers. Dubois told him that the enslaved Indians would be ready to dig in a month. Doctor Skin left after that, telling Dubois to ready their defenses and to take no quarter. I knew that I could not allow the nosferatu to have such an advantage. So, I cut the timbers that held the ceiling of the resurrection chamber in place. It appeared that it collapsed most of the underground lair. What wasn’t buried was drowned by the seawater that rushed in through the fractured rock. I hope that my actions were not too premature, but it seemed like the appropriate action at the time.”

Suddenly, Tesla’s body was jolted forward as Shylocke’s hand slapped on the shoulder.

“Way to go, lass!” he exclaimed. Now you are suckin’ diesel, my friend!”

The compliment, especially being called a friend, hit Tesla unexpectedly. A huge sense of pride swelled in her chest that wanted to burst forward. Her eyes began to water as if she was going to cry, but she composed herself and held back the joyful tears. Then, when she looked back at Dante, she saw a huge grin on his face. It suddenly dawned on her that it was the first time she had seen him smile.

“Well…that explains why you were tired, Miss Tesla,” Holliday professed. “I do believe that a celebratory round of liquid refreshment is long overdue.” Then, reaching forward, he picked up the bell and rang it.

Soon the sound of rapid footsteps could be heard racing down the hall. The small, portly, well-dressed man soon appeared in the doorway with a quizzical look upon his face.

“A round of your finest, sir!” Holliday proclaimed as he spun his finger in a circle.

“Indeed, sir,” the short man replied before rushing back out into the hall. The room was quiet for a moment until Shylocke spoke up.

“What is the craic with these Skinwalkers? Are they some sort of cult associated with these morans?”

“If I recall correctly,” Holliday interjected, “the Navajo believe they are witches who can turn into or disguise themselves as animals. They are evil things that are seldom discussed with outsiders.”

“The real ticket is over there,” Shylocke scoffed softly. He tapped his finger on the table with such force that Tesla could feel the vibrations on her arm. “Abducting Lord Byron is just a ruse to divert our attention elsewhere,” he continued. “Once he is safe, our attention must be focused on this new problem.”

“I would agree,” Holliday remarked. “It is reasonable to assume that Doctor Skin knows that we do not have the Triad. It is actually out west, and he plans to dig it up once he ascertains its location.”

“The ghosts must know,” Tesla added. “Why else would he go through such an effort to interrogate them?”

Shylocke nodded in agreement. “Aye, that would be worth looking into.”

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