Robin‘s Car – Morning
“So,” Angie was saying from the passenger side of the front seat, “where is this girlfriend of yours, anyway?” Outside the car, other vehicles were passing by or, in some cases, were being passed by.
“Lewiston, Maine,” Robin replied.
“And what’s she doing there, slaying vampires?”
“Nope,” said Robin. “She’s investigating reports of a spectral beast lurking around a hospital. It’s kinda like an anteater, but not quite. Or so they say.”
Angie hesitated nearly half a second. “You’re kidding, right?”
“Not even a little bit.”
With a short laugh, Angie shook her head. “Well, lucky for me then!”
Robin gave her a glance. “Mind if I ask you something?”
She snickered. “Not even a little bit.”
He almost ignored this. “Why are you here?”
“Not my idea. Mr. Giles said he wanted this done right away and –”
“I didn’t mean in this car. Why are you joining the Council?”
“Don’t think I’ve got what it takes?”
“Honestly? I have no idea. You might be a disaster or the second coming, but either way – what’s motivating you?”
Angie didn’t answer for a while. She waited until Robin took the exit that read “Barlow College” before saying a word.
“You got any brothers or sisters?” she asked.
“Let’s just say I gotta look out for Violet.”
“You think she needs looking after?”
“She always has.”
Robin gave a small grin. “I don’t think Vi’s the same girl you knew before. She holds her own just fine.”
“She seems the same to me. Same boring clothes, same boring shoes. Hell, she’s even still got that same old ratty hat,” Angie countered with a chuckle.
“Well, exteriors can fool you,” Robin answered.
Barlow College – Old Hospital – Later
The building appeared almost abandoned. What looked like a clock tower, the arms frozen at eleven o’clock, rose from the top. Many barred windows were broken, while at least two doors were nailed shut. Above the edifice, the skies were gray, swarming with clouds.
Robin peered out the driver’s side window at the structure. “Wonder where Uncle Fester is,” he joked, making Angie grin.
“It does have that lived-in look,” she agreed.
After parking the car, Robin got out, followed by Angie, as a balding old man with glasses stood up from the stoop in front of the building and approached them. He waved in a cheery manner.
“Mister Wood, is it?” he asked.
“Glad to meet yer,” said the old man. “I’m Wiggins, the caretaker.”
“Hello, Miss.” He nodded at her, then followed her gaze to the building behind them. “Yeah, it sure do look spooky, huh? Used to be a private hospital way back.”
“Really?” asked Robin. “When was that?”
“I dunno. Hundred years ago or something. College got the land, didn’t know what to do with the building. Just used it for storage.” He shrugged.
Angie, meanwhile, was looking around the area at the other college buildings, which were at least a hundred yards away. “Isolated.”
“Yep,” agreed Mr. Wiggins.
“Students probably think this is a good make-out spot.” She waggled her eyebrows.
“Actually, no,” was his instant answer. “Not with what folks say.”
“What’s that?” Robin inquired. When he got no reply, he said, “What do folks say?”
Still, Wiggins said nothing, but simply headed back to the building. “This way,” he called after them. And they followed, sharing a look – Robin’s cautious and Angie’s amused.
“The good news is,” Wiggins went on, “there’s power, and despite what you might think, the place don’t have rats. You prob’ly don’t believe me. No one does. But true, no rats. Here’s a key.” He took something out of his pocket and handed it to Robin, without meeting the other man’s eyes. “Yer gonna be alone up here, suppose you know that? Can’t even get any good security for this place.”
“And why’s that, exactly?” Robin asked.
“They get spooked. Don’t come back here,” the caretaker continued, grumbling to himself as he led them.
“Lovely,” Angie muttered, as she looked around the grounds again.
Nova Scotia – Allister Home – Rowena’s Bedroom – Same Time
With a flicker, Rowena’s eyes finally opened. She took a moment to let them focus, glancing around at the small room. It was a bare place, with piles of old books in odd little corners here and there.
Sitting beside the single window was Willow, the morning light illuminating her.
For several long moments Rowena said nothing, but just continued to gaze at Willow, who in turn kept looking out the window. Eventually, Willow turned and smiled. “Good morning, sleepyhead.”
“I was watching the dawn.”
“That’s a good place to do it,” Rowena said, wiping the sleep from her eyes.
Willow looked out the window again. “Wow. You grew up here, with the ocean right outside your window. Not right outside, not like you could jump out a-and do a dive or anything, but still…it’s there. Right there. And watching the sun come up, it was like this swarm of fiery-colored glass beads.”
“I missed it.”
“My window. When I went to the Academy. It was what I really missed.”
They said nothing for what seemed like the longest time, enjoying the morning and doing little else but breathing. Eyes met eyes, unhurried, and almost in unison they knew when Rowena was going to rise. Willow helped her up, watching her face and listening carefully to her breath.
“I’m all right,” Rowena reassured her.
“Not yet,” Willow chided.
“Okay,” the blonde said with a smile. “But I’m much better and once I get moving, I’m okay.”
Willow didn’t look convinced.
Rowena cupped Willow’s cheek and pulled her in for a quick kiss. “I swear. You’ll see.”
Nova Scotia – Allister Home – Dining Room – Later
As Rowena and Willow entered the room, Mary Grace looked up from her coffee and newspaper.
“You missed everything,” Mary Grace told Rowena. “Breakfast. Dad leaving.”
“I needed to catch up on my sleep.”
Mary Grace simply nodded. She didn’t look at her sister, so she saw neither the expression of puzzlement on Willow’s face, nor Rowena shaking her head, as if she were thinking ‘Not now.’
“We’re going to the lake,” Rowena told Mary Grace. “I promised to teach Willow how to ice skate, so let Mom know.” She gestured slightly with the two pairs of ice skates she had in hand.
“Sure,” mumbled Mary Grace.
“We’ll be back later,” Rowena said, as she took Willow’s hand and led her towards the front door. They stopped at the closet long enough to remove some winter coats. On the way out, the front door opened before them, and Joseph stepped inside.
“Morning, Joseph,” Rowena greeted him.
“Slept in, huh? Good for you!”
Rowena gave a very tiny shrug. “It’s our vacation.”
He grinned and winked.
“Enjoy it while you can, kiddo! You too, Wilma!” He stopped himself. “That was wrong, wasn’t it? No, don’t tell me.” He made a great show of concentrating, tapping a finger to his lips and staring at Willow with intensity. “Winifred? Wanda? Starts with a W, that I know…” He snapped his fingers. “Wilhelmina!”
“Willow,” said Rowena, annoyed, while the witch just grinned.
“Damn it,” he said with mock anger. “I would’ve guessed it!”
Rowena led Willow by the hand, out of the room and towards the front door. He watched a moment as they left, one eyebrow fractionally higher than the other. “Hmmmmm.”
Now Mary Grace looked up. “Hmmm what?”
“Oh, nothing…just thinking.”
Nova Scotia – Allister Home – Moments Later
Rowena was breathing hard as she made strides as long as she could across the snow.
“Hey, are we in a rush?” Willow asked. “I don’t think the ice will melt anytime soon.”
“I’m sorry, we just needed to get out.”
“Well, slow down already.” At Willow’s words, Rowena did. Her panting made wisps of mist in the cold air. Willow stared at her. “What was all that about?”
“Do you want to buy a boat?”
“Do you want to buy a boat?” she repeated.
“Of course not…”
“Well,” interrupted Rowena in a firm tone, “Joseph was in that gear. Believe me. He was in salesman mode and I – I just don’t want to be around that right now.” She looked uncomfortable, but then met Willow’s eyes. “Besides, I’ve been thinking about this for a long time. I want to show you the lake. Teach you how to skate. Just you and me. Okay?”
At that, Willow reached up and touched her on the cheek. “You know it’s okay,” she said. “I’m just not getting what’s going on, is all.”
“Sometimes,” Rowena said, after a moment, “my family drives me nuts. Mary Grace is being surly, Mom is control freaking and Joseph has that look he gets when he thinks somebody just might be willing to fork over loads of cash for a yacht or something. He knows I paid for Dad’s new boat last year. He knows we work together. Trust me, if he was a killer whale, you’d be a cuddly, baby seal in his eyes.”
Willow giggled a little at this image. “Aren’t I always cuddly?”
“Very much so, but not with Joseph,” Rowena said in mock warning, waving her finger.
That got Willow grinning. “Then let’s go to the lake.”
Rowena smiled, and they headed away, hand in hand. Neither of them saw the curtain of the window in the front of the Allister house move. It seemed as if someone had pushed it aside and then released the curtain, setting it in slight motion.
Barlow College – Old Hospital – Library Main Room – Same Time
As Wiggins flipped a switch in the main area of the library, bare light bulbs flickered and illuminated the room. The windows were both barred and boarded up. All along one length of the room were desks, five in all. Piles of boxes were everywhere.
Robin entered, followed by Angie. The latter turned up one side of her lip.
“Who’s your decorator? I love what you’ve done with the place,” she said.
“Yep,” sighed the custodian, “not much to look at. A right mess, I tell ya.” He shot his glance through the room exactly like someone looking for something. Or someone.
Robin pointed at a bare section of wall. “What’s that?”
On the wall was a piece of graffiti, a spray-painted message in bright orange that read, “The Creeper Is Gonna Get You.”
“That?” snorted Wiggins. “Local boogeyman. Creeper’s s’posed to be the last poor soul admitted to this place when it was a hospital. Asylum, really. Story goes, the man got forgot when they closed the asylum, so he’s still here, hauntin’ the building, eatin’ children, that kinda thing.” He shrugged and shook his head. “Nonsense, if ya ask me.”
“Is this it?” Angie asked, gesturing around the room. “The whole collection we’re supposed to check up on?”
“Yep. This is all of it.” Wiggins hesitated. “Ya take my advice. Just stay here while ya work. Top two floors not too safe anymore. Nobody goes up there. With good reason, too.”
“The Creeper?” Angie asked with a skeptical grin.
“Nah, the floorboards. This ain’t the most sturdy building around,” he answered, but didn’t meet the eyes of either Robin or Angie.
“Infested with rats, most likely,” Robin whispered to Angie.
“No rats. No, no rats,” Wiggins mumbled. Then he blinked, looked up at the two of them. “Things to do. Lots of things. But I’ll check up on ya later, I will. I will.” At that, he turned and headed out. He didn’t so much walk as scuttle, albeit in slow motion. He didn’t say anything more, but went out exactly the way he had come in minutes before.
Angie turned to Robin. “This can’t be typical. Please, tell me that meeting up with guys like that is not typical. Even if you have to lie, tell me.”
“No, he’s not typical.”
“You’re lying, aren’t you?”
She winced, and he laughed.
“No,” Robin began, “actually that guy is about as weird as you get, among humans anyway. Come to think of it, he’d be called odd among some demons. Let’s get started with the desks,” he said, pointing to them lined against the wall. “Once they’re checked out, we can work from them.”
“Right.” Angie went to the desk nearest her, a battered antique with rolled top. Robin went to the more modern model next to it and began opening drawers. It took several tries for Angie to succeed at rolling open her desk, and even then, the cover stopped an inch or two short of the top. She peered inside. “A whole lot of papers.”
“Give them a once over, see if there’s anything interesting.” Robin had already begun taking out papers and notebooks from the first drawer he’d found.
“And what constitutes interesting, Professor Wood?” Angie asked.
As he turned the pages of what looked like a bookkeeper’s account book, he continued, “Just pretend you’re a historian looking for details.”
“Why?” Angie pulled out a collection of letters tied with a ribbon. Examining the stack, she saw that they were all stuck together with some kind of dark, viscous liquid. She dropped the packet of letters with a grimace. “Most of this stuff is bound to be junk, right?”
“Most of it,” Robin agreed. “Maybe all of it. But…you never know.”
Angie sighed, nodding. “Historian. Right.”
Maybe half a minute later, both she and Robin looked up when a sound came through the ceiling from the floor above. It had been some kind of thud, or maybe a footfall. Whichever the sound had been, the ceiling had muffled it.
“Wiggins said no rats,” Angie noted.
“And he seemed like he had his act so together, too.” Robin grinned. “I didn’t want to go upstairs anyway.”
“Fine by me!” Angie said. She began unfolding a yellowed newspaper that nearly crumbled at her touch. “Huh,” she said, “did you know that the Titanic sank?”
“I’d heard a rumor.”
“Banner headline,” she noted. Then she bent over the paper, reading. “President Taft expresses hope that most if not all passengers survived the event.” She clucked her tongue. “Some things never change. Politicians still don’t want to give any bad news.”
“Good point.” After another moment or two, she looked up and cocked her head. “Have you met a lot of demons?”
“Fought more than I’ve met,” was Robin’s answer, as he continued flipping through pages. “But some of them are nice enough. They just look different, is all.”
“Okay, well that’s actually good news, when you think about it.”
“You don’t sound too thrilled.”
“It…just…takes some getting used to.”
Above them, another bumping noise came from the second floor. Angie jumped.
“Rats, just rats,” she muttered to herself, as she reached down and pulled open a drawer. “That’s all that’s here, just a bunch of –” Angie jumped back in alarm. “What the hell?!”
Not only had the front of the drawer come off in her hand, but something had tumbled out onto the floor, rolling towards her as it landed.
It was a human skull.
End of Act Two