Vampire Games (Chapter Twelve)

I alighted on the balcony.

There, I merged with the serious-looking, dark-haired woman in the flame and, after a moment of slight disorientation, found myself standing naked again on the balcony of the MGM Grand Hotel. I often wondered what the transformation process looked like to an outsider. Did I contort and jerk like they do in the movies? Or did I transform in a blink of an eye? I always sensed that my transformation took only a few seconds, but since my eyes were always closed and focused on the flame, I would probably never know. Maybe I would transform for Kingsley one night.

Yeah, I'm a freak.

I donned the white robe I had left draped over the railing and stepped back into my room. I was just tying the terrycloth belt when I paused. My inner alarm didn't necessarily go off, but it perked up. A slight buzzing just inside my ear.

Someone's here, I thought.

A shape appeared in my thoughts, something glowing – and it appeared, I was sure, directly behind me.

I was moving in an instant, turning, swooping low to the ground, and slammed into whoever was behind me so hard that I drove him into the drywall.

There, I held them up while plaster dust rained down over his shoulders and down onto my raised forearms.

A man. A very beautiful man.

Who gazed down at me with a bemused expression. He was, of course, not a man at all. He was an angel. My one-time guardian angel now turned rogue, so to speak.

I eased my grip and Ishmael dropped lightly to the floor. He shook his head and dust and smaller chunks of wall fell from his long, silver hair and broad shoulders. "Do you greet all your guests this way, Samantha?"

I dusted off my own arms. "Well, let's just say I haven't had a lot of luck in hotel rooms."

If not for a slight prickling of my inner alarm, I would have been completely off-guard. And these days, with my ever expanding extra-sensory perception, someone catching me off-guard was getting harder and harder to do. Unless, of course, that someone was a rogue angel, who seemed to be making a habit of catching me unaware.

"Not as unaware as you might think, Samantha," he said. Unlike other immortals, Ishmael had access to my thoughts. No surprise there, since he'd been my one-time guardian angel. He finished dusting himself off and looked at me. "For the first time, you sensed me nearby. That's quite an accomplishment, and a credit to your growing powers."

Still, I didn't like the implications of that statement. "So you're around me often?"

"What can I say, Samantha? Old habits die hard."

"So, you're often around me?" I repeated, digesting this news.

He nodded. "Myself, and others."

"What others?"

"You know some of them."

"Sephora," I said, recalling the entity I had communicated with last year through automatic writing.

"Yes. Her and others like her."

"Spirit guides," I said, recalling one of my conversations with Sephora.

"Spirit guides, deceased relatives, angels. What some would call your soul group."

"And you."

"Not officially," he said. "Not anymore."

"Not since you fell."

His eyes flashed briefly. "Not since I chose a different path."

Although I couldn't read his thoughts – which seemed damned unfair to me – I could clearly see his aura. And it pulsated around, intermixed with rich color…and deep blackness.

What had once been pure white light – loving light – was now being slowly overrun with coils of blackness so deep that it gave even me the creeps. Even now, something dark and slithery wound around his narrow torso. I watched, fascinated, as it worked its way, around and around, to eventually plunge into his heart region. I was reminded of something monstrous rising up from the ocean depths, something that had no business seeing the light. I shuddered.

"I repulse you," he said. The sadness in his voice was obvious.

"What gave it away?" I said.

I suddenly wanted a cigarette. Needed a cigarette. I headed over to my purse, found the pack of Virginia Slims, and lit up.

Ishmael watched my every move closely. I sensed that he was used to watching me closely. That he had always watched me closely. From either afar, or nearby. He had been, after all, my guardian angel.

Of course, I use that term loosely.

That he failed his job miserably was an understatement. That he had done so purposefully was reprehensible.

"Reprehensible is such a strong word, Samantha," he said. "I needed you to be immortal. It was, after all, the only way we could be together."

"You put me in harm's way. You put my kids in harm's way. You put anyone who ever crosses paths with me in harm's way."

"Only if you do not learn to control who you are, Samantha."

"And I suppose you're just the one to teach me?"

"I can help you, Sam."

"Didn't you cause this mess?"

"I did it for love – "

"Shove it," I said, shaking my head.

His clothing, I noted, seemed to shift in color. One moment, his slacks were beige, then brown, then tan. Or maybe I was just going crazy.

"Not crazy, Sam. My clothing is an illusion, of course."

"Of course. That doesn't sound crazy at all."

I exhaled, and looked at him through the churning cigarette smoke. He was a beautiful man. Perhaps the most beautiful I'd ever seen. Too beautiful.

"And what about the rest of you?" I asked.

"Illusion, of course. But I see I have chosen a favorable form."

"Why are you here?"

He continued smiling, and the darkness that swarmed around him – the black snakes and worms and creepy-crawly things – seemed to grow in numbers. It was as if I was seeing evil multiplying before my very eyes. Deepening, propagating. I shivered.

"I'm here to give you news of your dog."

I looked at him sharply. He was, of course, referring to Kingsley. "What about him?"

"He's not a very loyal dog, now is he?" Ishmael smiled broadly. Wickedly.

"What the fuck do you mean?"

"When the vampire's away, the dog shall play."

I brought the cigarette up to my lips, but instead of inhaling, crumpled it in my hands. The temporary burn made me gasp, but the pain faded quickly. "You're lying."

He said nothing, only watched me from the deep shadows of my room, looking supremely pleased.

I looked at my hand. The red mark in the center of my palm was already fading. I threw the remnants of the cigarette over to the closest ashtray. It missed.

"You're trying to drive a wedge between us," I said.

"I didn't have to try very hard, Samantha."

I sensed the not-so-hidden meaning in his words. "You set him up," I said. "Planted someone."

"Call it what you want, Sam. But your doggie took the bait."

"Who is she?"

"Does it matter?"

A familiar sickness appeared in my stomach. Re-appeared. It was a sickness that had nothing to do with the supernatural, a sickness I had lived with for many, many years with Danny. I rubbed my temples and took lots of slow, deep breaths, and when I moved my hand away, I was alone in the hotel room, but I sensed the angel was near. Always near.

The son-of-a-bitch.