The Strays: An Unexpected Gift

ALTERNATE UNIVERSE: The Strays, a Magnificent Seven-Supernatural AU


Editors' Note: The third story in The Strays AU. This follows Truth Unfurling. This is a Supernatural AU and assumes the series Supernatural as canon for the universe in which The Strays exists. For more on the nephilim check out the miniseries The Fallen.

An Unexpected Gift

by The Neon Gang

Saturday, May 27, 2006

10:47 PM

In the library, Ezra shut the book he'd been reading and leaned back in the worn, comfortable leather chair, enjoying the quiet.  He was stretching when the buzzer near the French doors sounded, announcing someone at the rear gate.

Glancing at the grandfather clock next to the fireplace, Standish frowned.  It was almost eleven; no one should be at the gate at this hour.  All the Bed and Breakfast guests for the weekend had already arrived yesterday evening, and they came and went through the front door of the mansion.  And while several of the hunters who lived and worked from the rear of the house were absent, none were due back before Sunday night, and they certainly wouldn't buzz to be let in if they were back early.  Of course it might be some other hunter who needed a place to hide, rest, or heal up after a difficult hunt…

Pushing to his feet, Ezra headed over to the intercom as it buzzed a second, then a third time.  "I'm coming," he grumbled at the unknown individual stabbing the button at the rear gate.  "I'm coming!"

Reaching the intercom panel next to the French doors that opened out onto the expansive backyard, he pressed the button down a little harder than necessary and said, "Yes, what is it?"

"Delivery," was the somewhat bored-sounding reply.

"A delivery?  At this time of night?" Ezra replied, his suspicion discernible in his tone of voice.

"Yeah, Night Owl Express.  It's a big crate, too.  Expedited."

Ezra's eyes closed momentarily.  That explained things; Night Owl Express was a 24-hour express shipping company, one that they had used on several occasions when they needed to ship objects as quickly as possible.  "Who is the crate addressed to?" he inquired.

"A Dr. Josiah Sanchez at The Stray's Bed and Breakfast," was the reply.  "This is the place, right?  An older woman at the front told me to bring it around here to the back."

"Yes, this is the place.  Very well, I'll buzz you in.  Follow the sidewalk around the building to the French doors."

"French doors, got it," the man replied.

Ezra hit the lock release, then walked over to the French doors and unlocked them.  He opened one, waiting for the delivery man to appear.  A few moments later the motion sensitive lights at the corner of the mansion came on, followed a moment later by the man, who was pushing a large wood crate on a hand-truck.  He stopped when he reached the open door.  "Where do you want it?"

Ezra thought for a moment, then jerked his head, indicating the space behind him.  "You might as well just leave it in here for now."  He'd get the others to move it to the exam room, or Josiah's private quarters, tomorrow.

The man nodded and lined up the crate with the opening, rolling it into the library, once Ezra had stepped back out of the way.  "Anyplace in particular?" the deliveryman asked, glancing around the space.  The walls were lined with bookcases, and a large desk took up one corner of the space.  A huge flagstone fireplace snapped as flames danced across the logs inside.

"Uh, next to the desk, please," Ezra instructed, guessing Josiah might like to take a look at whatever was inside when he returned from his symposium on Sunday.

The deliveryman quickly maneuvered the crate over to the desk and set it down.  He looked over at Ezra.  "Wow, this sure is some kind 'a place you got here."

"Yes, well, thank you," the hunter replied.

"You, uh, want me to take it out of the packing crate for you?"

"If it's as heavy as it looks, yes, please," was the response.

The deliveryman snorted softly and shook his head, no doubt thinking that Ezra wasn't used to hard physical labor, and he would be right.  Standish was, however, quite used to a demanding physical routine, but if he could avoid performing manual labor, he did so, and gladly.

The deliveryman used a crowbar to open the top of the packing crate, then pulled out the straw-like material that surrounded the object inside.  That object turned out to be a wooden trunk, with heavy metal accents and lock.

Leaning over, the deliveryman picked up the trunk using the metal handles at each end and lifted it from inside the crate.  He swung to the right and started to set the trunk down on the floor when one of the metal handles gave way and the trunk slipped from his hand.  It landed on the hardwood floor with a loud thud, accompanied by a cracking sound.

"Goddamn it!" the deliveryman yelped.  "Hey, I'm really sorry," he added quickly, looking contrite and worried at the same time.  "That handle just gave way on me."

Ezra stepped up and, with the deliveryman's help, they shifted the trunk so they could survey the damage that had been done.  There was a short but deep divot gouged from the hardwood floor, and the handle was twisted slightly, but that seemed to be the worst of the damage.

"I'll go get a form," the man said on a huff.  "You turn it in with a receipt for the repairs to the floor and the trunk, and the company will reimburse you."

"Thank you," Ezra replied, knowing Mrs. Potter wasn't going to be happy when she saw the damage to her hardwood floors, but at least they wouldn't be paying for the repairs.

The man swiftly tossed the majority of the straw-like packing material into the now-empty packing crate, then wheeled it out, muttering under his breath as he left.

Ezra stared down at the trunk, wondering what was inside.  He looked up sharply as Mrs. Potter entered the room.

"I heard a crash," she said, frowning when she saw the trunk.  "Was that the delivery?"

"Yes, the deliveryman dropped it when he removed it from the packing crate."

She gasped softly and hurried forward to survey the damage.  Seeing the gouge that had been inflicted on her perfectly clean and polished hardwood floors, she clucked and shook her head.  "I'll get someone out to make the repairs on Monday."

The deliveryman returned, handing Ezra the form and the paperwork for the trunk.  He shot a sidelong glance at Mrs. Potter, who had leveled an unhappy glower on him, making him blush.  "Again, I'm really sorry about the damage.  That handle just gave way…"

"Yes, well, we'll take care of it," she said, shooing the man back out the open French doors, then closing them and locking them.  She hurried to the intercom and pressed the button, listening as the man exited the gate, which fell shut behind him, clicking as it locked.  Turning back to look at the crate, she said, "I'll go get my camera and take some pictures for the insurance report."

"It's getting late, Mrs. Potter, I'm sure that can wait for morning," Ezra told her.

"No, no trouble at all," she replied, muttering to herself as she left as well.

Ezra smiled as he watched her go, knowing she wouldn't go back to bed until she was sure everything was ready for the repairs to be made, bright and early, on Monday morning.

Deciding that a nightcap was in order, Ezra headed to the kitchen to make himself some tea, and to see if there was any more of Mrs. Potter's lemon cake leftover from supper.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Saturday, 11:23 PM

As soon as Ezra left the library, a tiny sphere of yellow-white light slipped through a narrow crack in the side of the old trunk.  It hung in midair for a moment, then darted back inside the trunk as if afraid to venture any farther.

The sphere re-emerged again a few seconds later, this time floating up above the top of the trunk, hanging in the air for several seconds before darting for cover as soon as Mrs. Potter stepped back into the library, turning on the main lights that ran down the center of the ceiling as she did.

The tiny sphere of light immediately shot from its hiding place to the lit ceiling lamps.  Three blubs exploded in turn, casting the room back into relative darkness – lit only by the fire burning in the fireplace, and by the small banker's lamp on the desk, which Ezra had been using to read.

The older woman gasped in response to the popping bulbs and jumped slightly.  She walked to the wall-light switch and flipped it up.  Several small lights that circled the room above the bookcases came on.

She lifted her camera and took several pictures of the damage to the floor, then took one more, just for good measure.  A moment later, each of the lightbulbs that were on popped loudly, one after the other, each going out in turn.

"What in heaven's name—?"  The heavy coat rack that stood near the end of the desk tipped over, one of the brass-covered knobs on a coat arm striking Mrs. Potter on the head.  She fell.  A moment later, the banker's lamp on the desk popped and went dark as well.

"Mrs. Potter?" Ezra called as he stepped back into the room with his tea and a thick slice of lemon cake.

"Down here," she groaned, trying to sit up as she checked her tender skull.

"Good heavens," Ezra said, quickly making his way over to her and grateful for the firelight so he could see what he was doing.  "What happened?" he asked as he set the dishes on the desk, then reached for her.

"I must have slipped and fell," she said, sounding a little confused.

"Here, allow me to help you up," Ezra said, assisting the woman to her feet.  He saw the fallen coat rack and picked that up as well.  "I think you might have bumped this and knocked it over on you."

"You must be right," she agreed, but she was frowning.  "I'll have to call an electrician in the morning," she added.  "All the lightbulbs in the room blew out."

Ezra frowned.  "I suppose it could have been a power surge of some kind."

She nodded.  "Apparently.  I'll go check the fuse box."

As Ezra watched her leave, a small swarm of tiny light spheres slipped unnoticed from the crack in the trunk, following the first sphere to one of the old air duct grills, slipping through the iron openings unnoticed to hide inside the duct.

Turning back to the desk, Ezra picked up the delivery slip and held it close to his face to read.  He didn't recognize the return address, but the trunk had definitely been sent to Josiah.  He took the delivery slip, his tea and cake, and headed for his suite to see what he could find out about who had sent the trunk, and why.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Sunday, May 28, 2006

12:52 AM

Sitting in front of the computer on his desk, Ezra used Skype to contact Josiah, who was attending the First International Symposium on Mythopoetics and Religion in Los Angeles, California.  He would be on the UCLA campus through the Memorial Day holiday before finally heading home to Colorado.

"Ezra, what are you still doing up?" Josiah asked as he sat down in front of the camera.  "It's almost one in the morning there."

The younger man smiled.  "I could ask you the same thing, but I'm guessing you were having some interesting conversations, while I, on the other hand, was dealing with some of your business."

Josiah chuckled.  "Well, I was having a rather interesting conversation about Trickster figures in non-North American cultures… but what do you mean, my business?" the older man asked, leaning back and grinning at Standish.  The younger man had been working with Josiah and the others since 2003, and while Ezra was one of the night-owls in the group, he rarely stayed up past midnight any more.

"Yes, well, someone has sent you an old wooden trunk.  Were you expecting it?"

"An old wooden trunk?  Really?" Josiah asked, leaning forward, his curiosity engaged.  "No, I wasn't expecting anything like that.  Who is it from?"

"Bob Smith."

"Well, that's as helpful as 'John Doe.'"

Ezra nodded.  "When I searched the return address for Mr. Smith it came back to an empty lot on the south side of Boston, although the trunk itself was actually mailed from Deming, New Mexico."

"Curiouser and curiouser."

"Oh, it gets better," Ezra told him, a touch of drama in his voice.

"How much better?"

"The Night Owl Express employee who processed the trunk in Deming is also missing," Ezra told him.

"This is rapidly moving toward unsettling."

"I agree," Ezra said.  "And, I'll admit, I'm curious as to what's inside this new trunk of yours."

"Yes, so am I," Josiah agreed.

"Then I guess we'll just open it up this morning – once I get everyone up, that is."

Josiah frowned.  "Be careful."

"Don't worry, we'll do a full examination before we crack the lid," Ezra replied, trying to sound pained by the older man's apparent lack of confidence in them.

"I know, but—"

"We are not all impulsive," Ezra scolded him.

"Mmm," Josiah replied, giving him a dubious look.


"Yes, you."

Ezra grinned.  "Yes, well, I must have learned it from the best."

Josiah rolled his eyes.  "Just be careful, okay?  And let me know what you find."

"I will," Ezra told him, looking far too happy for a man who was up so late.  "Now, I'm going to go wake the others so we can get started."

"Who's still there?"

"JD, Chris, and Vin.  Nathan and Raine left Friday morning for their trip to San Francisco, and Buck's still in Las Vegas, with whoever his latest paramour might be.  He won't be back until Wednesday."

"I'm serious, Ezra – be careful," Josiah said again.

"Worry-wart," Ezra teased.

"Yes, well, I have every right to be with the six of you!"

"Good night, Josiah," Ezra told him.

"Good morning, Ezra," he replied before ending the connection.

Standish leaned over and finished off his tea, then stood and stretched.  He knew the others wouldn't thank him for refusing to wait to open the trunk until morning, but he had a feeling he needed to find out what was inside, and the sooner the better.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

2:51 AM

Four hunters gathered around a table in what they called the "exam room," a small room in the basement of the old servants' quarters that had been set up to examine objects that were potentially dangerous.  And in their line of work that turned out to be a lot more items that they had thought possible.

"All right," Chris said, then yawned before he continued, "the integrity of the trunk is substantial, even though it's old.  There's just one small crack in the wood, and that's recent – probably from when the delivery guy dropped it, getting it out of the packing crate."

"I can't pick up any disturbances in the auric field," Vin added.  "An' there's no occult or other signs or markings on the surface anyplace."

"No magnetic aberrations on the pisio scan either, and no internal heat source," was JD's contribution.

"So, we can conclude that there are no indications of any supernatural presence," Ezra summed up for them.

"Yep," Vin acknowledged.

"No wires, electronics, or explosives, either," Chris tossed in, making JD look more than a little troubled.  The blond and Vin exchanged grins behind the younger man's back.

"So, it's just what it looks like, then… an old trunk," Ezra said with a sigh.

"How's Mrs. P doing?" Vin asked while the others stood, staring at the trunk.

"She's fine," Ezra replied.  "I told her to go get some rest."

JD grinned.  "Betcha she cleaned up the library first."

Vin nodded.  "You're probably right."

"It's an old trunk that's in pretty good shape," Chris said, pulling them back to the matter at hand.  "How old, you think?" he asked Standish.

"Six, maybe seven hundred years," Ezra told him.

"Really?" JD replied, looking a little surprised.  "That is old."

"Don't see why we're just standin' here starin' at it…  Let's open it up," Vin said.

Ezra frowned at the latest stray Josiah had adopted just five months before, but Vin was more than met the eye, the man having had an angelic pater.  "Has anyone ever called you impulsive?" he asked Tanner.

It was Vin's turn to look a little surprised.  "Uh, no… well, just Chris."

The others laughed – Chris called Vin a lot of things.

Vin just shook his head.  "We gonna open this or what?"

"Yes, Mr. Tanner, we are going to open it," Ezra assured him.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

2:31 AM

While the hunters were examining the trunk in the old servants' quarters, Mrs. Potter went to the mansion's basement storage room and took down a box of lightbulbs from one the shelves, then carried it up to the library.

The single sphere of light was hovering behind a small statue on a bookcase, and as soon as the older woman stepped into the room, it zipped straight back into the air duct to hide.

Using the light from the fireplace, she swept up the blub shards on the floor and whisked them into a dustpan, then deposited the debris into the small trash can that was next to Josiah's desk.

Then, she took the trash can and carried it with her as she went around the room, replacing all of the broken lightbulbs in the wall fixtures, discarding the remains into the trash can.

When she was done, she went back to the desk and used a whiskbroom and the dustpan to clean up the broken banker's lamp bulb, then replaced that one as well.

She yawned.  It was well past her bedtime, but she hated to leave things untidy.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

In the exam room, JD bent forward and sprayed lubricant into the trunk's old lock mechanism while the others watched.  He waited for a few moments, then tried to pry open the lock, but it refused to budge.

Chris sighed.  "Why don't we just get the cutting torch and get this over with?"

Ezra nodded, he'd waited long enough.  "Do it."

"I think it's out in the car barn," JD offered helpfully.

"Great, then you can go get it," Larabee told the youngest member of the group.

Dunne sighed heavily and rolled his eyes, but he left to get the torch, goggles, and a welding jacket.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Her clean-up complete, Mrs. Potter turned on the banker's lamp, then collected the broom and dustpan, as well as the trash can, and went to put everything away and empty the trash.

As soon as she was gone, a single sphere of light swooped out from the air duct and shot directly at the banker's light.  It popped and went out.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

As soon as JD returned with the welding equipment, Chris pulled on the protective jacket and fired up the cutting torch, going to work on the recalcitrant lock.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Mrs. Potter walked back into the library with the empty trash can and frowned.  She crossed to the desk and set the can down in its usual place and tried the banker's lamp switch.


Then she saw the pieces of the broken blub lying on the top of the desk.  Throwing her hands up, she spun and headed off to get the whiskbroom and the dustpan again.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Chris grinned triumphantly as he pulled the lock off.

"Think it's full of treasure?" JD asked the others.

"Only one way to find out," Chris replied as he and Ezra lifted the lid while Vin and JD crowded in to see what was inside.

"Looks more like a bunch 'a junk t' me," Vin commented as his gaze swept over the jumble of artifacts inside the trunk.

Ezra reached in and began taking out the items – a doll, a buckle, some old clothes, pieces of a bridle, a wide strap of leather with another buckle, a silver water pitcher, then… bagpipes.

"Hey, would you look at that!" JD said, grabbing them from Ezra.

"Be careful!" Ezra snapped.  "Those appear to be rather old; they might be valuable."

"I know what I'm doing," JD told him, confidently beginning to arrange the pipes as if he intended to play them.

"You know how to play bagpipes?" Chris asked, a little dumbfounded.

"Doesn't everyone?" JD replied with a cocky grin.

"Yeah, bagpipes were real big in m' neighborhood growin' up," Vin deadpanned.  "Y' really play them things?"

JD blushed slightly.  "Well, I used to… When I was growing up in Boston I was in a rock 'n' roll pipe band – when I was in middle school and high school.  It was a, uh, good way to, uh, meet girls."

"Don't tell Buck that," Vin cautioned.  "He'll take 'em up an' it'll be like cats gettin' skinned 'round here all the time."

"You try to teach Buck how to play those things and I'll plug the both of you – permanently," Chris warned the younger man, green eyes narrowing.

"Hey, I'm not stupid," JD countered, shuddering at the thought of Buck trying to learn to play the pipes.  He grinned at Chris.  "But you're Scottish, right?  I could teach you, if you wanted… goes real well with a kilt…"

Vin grinned.  "Ya have t' have a lot 'a hot air t' play those things…"

Chris shot Vin a glare, knowing Tanner was teasing him.

"So there's nothing to stop Buck from learning!" JD teased the absent man.

"If the comedy routine is over, I'd like to continue," Ezra said, still removing objects from the trunk.

"Where do we start?" JD asked, looking over the collection of apparently random, worthless objects.

"By finding the dates and the locations of origin for everything in that trunk," Ezra said.

JD groaned.  That was going to take a good deal of time.

Chris nodded.  "If there's a pattern, maybe we can find out whose idea of a joke this was."

The phone hanging on the wall rang, and Vin picked it up.  "Yep," he said.  "Sure, I'll let 'im know."  He hung up and turned to Ezra.  "That was Mrs. Potter, she wants t' see ya in the library."

Standish turned and left as JD finally got the bagpipes arranged and made a few test blows.  Chris and Vin beat a hasty retreat from the room, each of them grabbing one of the objects on their way out.

JD watched them go with a grin.  He looked down at the instrument, recognizing that it wasn't quite what he was familiar with, but they were in amazing condition for something as old as he suspected they were.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

"What is it, Mrs. Potter?" Ezra asked as he walked into the library.

"There's definitely some kind of electrical problem here in the library.  I wanted to make sure you knew about it, in case it becomes more widespread in the mansion."

"I take it the lightbulbs keep exploding?"

She nodded.

"It's more than likely power surges, or perhaps a short; or something might be wrong with that particular batch of blubs," Ezra offered.

"Well, I have no idea what it is, besides very annoying.  I'll call an electrician later this morning," she told him.  "But, until then, I suggest you leave the lights off in here."

"An excellent idea," Ezra told her.  "Now, please, do get some rest," he scolded her.

She smiled.  "I'm going to do just that.  Good night, Mr. Standish."

"Good night, Mrs. Potter," he replied, watching her leave.

Then, Ezra frowned, wondering if the electrical problem could somehow be connected to the mystery trunk, but he couldn't imagine how.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *


3:25 AM

A single, tiny sphere of light popped out of the air duct as Chris walked into the great room on the hunters' side of the mansion.  He was carrying the silver water pitcher in one hand, and had three large books tucked under his other arm.

The blond turned on a lamp sitting on an end table, and the sphere darted back into the air duct, but remained just behind the grill, as if it was watching the blond.

Chris set the books and the pitcher down on one of the coffee tables, then went to the kitchen and made himself some coffee.  He brought a cup back to the great room when it was done, sitting down and placing his coffee mug on a coaster on the coffee table.  Then he reached into his pocket for the handheld tape recorder he'd grabbed earlier, setting it down next to his coffee mug.  He took a sip of the hot coffee, then turned his attention back to the books, thumbing through two before he found what he was looking for.

"There it is…"

Picking up the tape recorder, he pressed the 'record' button and said, "The hand work and the maker's mark looks older, I'm starting with the nineteenth century, and working my way back.  It was common for silversmiths to make their work look older than it was, and therefore more valuable, so they could charge more for it…"

Chris reached for the pitcher, but his hand stalled as he saw a streak of light in the corner of his eye.  A split second later his coffee mug cracked and broke, hot liquid spilling across the coffee table.

"Shit!" the blond snapped, grabbing for the books and getting them out of the way of the liquid rapidly spreading across the flat surface.  Then the bulb in the lamp on the end table exploded and the room was cast into darkness.

"What the—?" Chris started to say, but the sofa he was sitting on lifted up and tipped over, spilling him onto the floor behind it.

"Son of a—" Larabee growled, scrambling up onto his hands and knees just as the curtains behind him fell off, rod and all, covering him up.  The next thing the blond knew, something metallic bounced off his skull and he yelped in pain and surprise, but he continued to wrestle with the heavy fabric of the drapes, glaring out at the dark, empty space once he was free.  And, just as he did, Vin stepped into the great room and hit the light switch, turning on all the lights in the room at the same time.  He blinked and stared at the sight that met him – a wild-eyed, glaring, tousled Larabee, crouching behind a tipped over sofa like he was a child waiting for an imaginary Indian attack.  Tanner grinned.

"It's not funny, damn it!" Larabee snarled, his hand coming up to rub tenderly at the bump that was starting to form on his scalp.

"Oh, yes it is," Vin replied with a grin.  "What happened?"

"How the hell should I know?!"

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

3:50 AM

"Don't think there'll be any permanent damage," Vin said as he checked Chris' scalp.  "Didn't even break the skin."

"Good thing the drapes fell over you," JD told the blond.  "That probably padded your head from the… whatever it was."

"I'd feel better about it if I knew how the hell the drapes got there in the first place," Larabee grumbled.

"Did you see anything?" Ezra asked him.

"Just a small flash of light," he told them, "and I heard some kind of high-pitched sound, but I don't know what it was.  It all happened so damn fast…"

JD glanced around the great room, frowning slightly.  "Okay, you were sitting on the sofa, reading.  You reached for your coffee.  Maybe Buck microwaved that mug one too many times, and the heat from the coffee made it crack and break…"  He was winding up now, letting lost in the scenario he was painting.  "You half-stood, grabbed the books, turned to drop them on the couch… and tipped it over.  You dropped the books, grabbed for the couch, leaned too far over, and started to fall.  So, you grab the drapes and pull them down over you, and the metal rod smacks you on the head!"  He stopped, looking rather pleased with his reconstruction of events.

"Sounds good, JD… just one problem," Chris replied in a somewhat strained tone of voice.

"What's that?" JD asked.

"It's not what happened!" Larabee bellowed.

"Hell, JD," Vin intervened, "he was drinkin' coffee, not whiskey."

JD frowned and blushed at the same time.  "I was just trying to find a logical—"

"There was nothing logical about this," Chris stated emphatically.  "I heard the curtain rod pop out, and I looked up…  That's when I heard that noise."

"What kind of noise?" Ezra asked.

"A hum, I guess, maybe a droning sound.  It kind of reminded me of voices.  Then the drapes fell down over me and I was trying to get them off.  That's when the metal thing hit me."

"Y' took the silver water pitcher t' research, right?" Vin asked.

"Yeah," Chris said, then looked down at the coffee table, but the pitcher wasn't where he'd left it.  "Where is it?"

"I don't know," Vin replied, holding up his hands when Larabee shot him an accusatory look.

"It can't be gone; I put it right there on the coffee table," Chris argued, pointing.

The four men glanced around the room.  Ezra spotted the tape recorder on the floor and picked it up.  Vin finally located the pitcher, lying on the floor across the room near the air duct.

Ezra rewound the tape and pressed the 'play' button.  They heard Chris' comment, then the sound of the coffee mug cracking, the pop of the light bulb shattering, the sound of the sofa and Larabee hitting the floor, then a high-pitched noise a moment before Larabee's yelp.

"See!  That's the noise I heard!"

"It seems there might have been more in that trunk than just a pile of old junk," Ezra said and the others nodded their agreement.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

7:25 AM

On Ezra's computer screen Josiah was yawning.  "I take it there's a problem?"

"I think the trunk might be haunted," Ezra told him.

"Surprise, surprise," the older man replied, scrubbing his hand over his face.  "I told you to be careful."

"We ran every test available to us before we opened it," Ezra told him.  "And every result was negative."

"Anybody get hurt yet?"

Ezra shook his head as he said, "Nothing serious, anyway.  The entity doesn't seem to be malevolent, exactly, more mischievous; and it likes the dark."


"Yes, I believe so," Ezra said.  "It seems to get upset when you turn the lights on."

"So turn the lights out and go to bed; you've been up all night."

"I'd rather wait until we've identified who the ghost is."

"If it is a ghost," Josiah cautioned.

"Did you get the images of the objects?"

"I did," Josiah replied.  "I don't remember seeing anything like them in any of the old hunters' journals we have.  And I can't recall anything from lore about a trunk like that, but there's so much stuff…"

"JD and Vin are digging through the books in the library now, and Chris and I are continuing to identify the objects inside.  Any guesses as to who might have sent it to you?"

"Guesses?  Plenty," Josiah replied.  "It's not like a hunter doesn't make some enemies along the way, and while it was addressed to me, it could actually be meant for anyone in the house.  All my strays have enemies of their own, as you well know," he added, eyebrows climbing as he peered at Ezra.

"Granted, but since it was addressed to you, I prefer to think it was meant for you – at least until we can prove otherwise."

"And you're hoping you can build a pattern from the objects to do that."

"Yes, I hope we can," Ezra agreed.  "I'll keep you in the loop."

"I'll be here.  I have a lecture to deliver at ten, and I'll be in panels before that, and after lunch, but you can call me if you need me."

Ezra nodded.  "Maybe we were a little too eager to open that trunk," he admitted.  "I can't help remembering what happened to Pandora when she opened the wrong box…"

"Yes, but she was able to close it again before Hope was lost."

"Yes, well, I don't think it was Hope that escaped from this box."

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Sunday, May 28, 2006

6:10 PM

After talking to Josiah, Ezra had returned to his work, trying to identify and date the objects inside the trunk.  Vin had eventually given up looking for references to the trunk itself, leaving that to JD as he pitched in to identify and date more of the "junk" inside.

After a quick break for lunch, they all went back to work, and now it was nearing the dinner hour.  They gathered in the great room, where the items were scattered across the furniture.  The drapes were open, light from the setting sun filling the room.  Before long they would need the electric lights again – the electrician having assured them earlier that there was nothing at all wrong with the mansion's electrical system.  He had no idea why lightbulbs kept exploding, and suggested they get themselves some new ones.

"So, let's hear what everyone has found," Ezra said, standing at a rolling whiteboard that he had maneuvered into the great room.

"Going by the silversmith's mark on the pitcher, I put it coming from Wales, eighteenth century," Chris said, and Ezra started two columns, one with the header "place of origin" and the other "date of origin."

"This thing here is part of a sixteenth century English board game," Vin said, holding up a broken piece of wood with a checker-like design on one surface.  "An' the bridle straps an' the wide leather strap are from a saddle, most likely Austrian, eighteenth century."

"This is Irish linen, fourteenth century," Ezra explained, reaching out and holding up the cloth.  Then he set that down and picked up the remaining parts of a wooden carving.  "And, from the style and the wood of this carving, this is Belgian, late seventeenth century."

"Well, this one I have an exact date for," JD said holding up the doll.  "The doll's dress is embroidered to Clarissa of Annecy – which is in France – 1860.  I'm running a search on the name now."  JD then added dates and locations for several more objects, which Ezra added to the whiteboard.

"Okay, so now we know where most of this stuff comes from, and when it was made, but I'm not seeing how it's related," Chris said.

"Different counties, different centuries," Vin agreed.  "I don't see any connections."

"The trunk and the bagpipes appear to be the oldest objects," Ezra commented.

"The pipes are from Scotland, given the cross design on the wood, I'd put it at thirteenth century," JD told them.  "But the presence of bagpipes in the British Isles before the Fourteenth Century is contested."

"The trunk is Thirteenth Century as well," Ezra added, putting those on the whiteboard to finish the list.

"I say we start there, then," Chris said.  "It's the only common denominator we have, and they're the oldest objects."

"If it is a ghost, it might be whoever owned the trunk an' the pipes," Vin offered.  "Maybe they got passed along t' his descendants."

"Worth looking into," Ezra agreed, nodding.

"Y' tried the pipes yet?" Vin asked JD with a grin.

"You know the expression 'waking the dead'?" JD replied with a grin.  "I don't think it's too smart in this house right now."

"You're right, but it would be interesting to hear what they sound like after all this time," Ezra commented.

"I might try 'em out," JD said, then added quickly, "But not in public.  It's been years since I played, and these aren't the same kind, exactly."

"An' y' don't want t' scare the poor visitors in the B-an'-B," Vin teased.

"We should go get something to eat," Chris told them, glancing at the clock.

"Yes," Ezra agreed.  "I have a feeling we're in for another a long night ahead of us."

JD smiled.  "Just ignore any wheezing you might hear in the next fifteen minutes… it's either my lungs collapsing, or the bagpipes."

"Don't be late for supper.  Y' know how Mrs. P feels about that," Vin warned him.

"Don't worry, I'll be there," JD assured him.  "I'm starving, and I smelled pot roast cooking earlier."

They watched the younger man go, then Chris sighed and said, "Guess we'd better not use salt rounds in the shotguns either.  A couple of blasts and the visitors will be hightailing it out of here faster than you can say 'bankruptcy.'"

"An excellent point," Ezra replied.  "But that doesn't mean we might not want to carry some iron weapons once the sun goes down."

"I'll go see what we have in the armory," Chris told them.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

7:51 PM

JD sat in in the library with his laptop, working on the recording Chris had made in the great room.  Now that he had the odd sound isolated, he wanted to see if he could find a match for it on any Internet database.  He started the search, then stood and stretched.  Knowing it might take some time to find a match, he reached for the bagpipes, which he'd left on one of the sofas.

It took a while, but he finally got the instrument arranged properly and gave it a test.  As it had earlier, the pipes responded.  He grinned and tried again with the same result.  Deciding that he wasn't going to damage the instrument if he tried to play it, he closed his eyes and began to experiment, glad that the library was the farthest room from the Bed and Breakfast side of the mansion.

A single sphere of light slipped under the door and into the room as if summoned by the sound of the pipes.  It rose, following behind JD at shoulder blade level as the hunter paced across the floor, trying to coax music from the old instrument.  The tiny sphere of light made an occasional high-pitched sound.

JD stopped and turned, but the light zipped along behind him, staying out of sight.

When he didn't hear anything else, JD started playing again.

The light responded once more, following the young hunter, making the same high-pitched noises.

JD stopped again and swung around, faster this time.  But the light was swifter, this time zipping out under the closed library door.

JD glanced around, catching sight of a yellowish glow at the base of the closed door.  He took three long strides and jerked the door open, but there was nothing in the hallway.  He frowned and continued to peer down the hallway, but he still saw nothing in the dark corridor.

Then the computer beeped behind him, he closed the door and walked back to the machine.  There had been no match found.  With a sigh, JD set the pipes aside and sat back down in front of the computer to see if he could find another way to identify the source of the noise on the tape.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Chris was back in the great room, this time using a lamp to look through several books to see if he could dig up information on the trunk itself.  The fact that Josiah and Nathan had books in the library that might actually help him do that was a little disconcerting for the man of action.  He much preferred doing battle with the supernatural rather than reference books, but this time he had little choice.

After nearly two hours, he closed the latest book he was using and scrubbed his hands over his face.  He was tired, and if he was going to be worth anything, he was going to need some fresh air and some coffee – in that order.

Standing, he arched his back, then headed for the library, and the French doors there, so he could head outside for a few minutes.  He briefly contemplated a run, but he decided he didn't want to be gone that long.

As he stepped into the short hallway that led to the dark library, he stopped, cocking his head to the side.  He could swear he'd heard the sound of glasses clinking, and high-pitched laughter.

He took two more steps, and stopped again when the sounds repeated.

Then there was a distinct fluttering sound, and the suit of armor that stood in a wall niche just to the left of the library doors fell with a resounding thud onto the old Navajo rug that decorated the hardwood floors in the short hallway.

The next thing Chris knew, that rug was pulled out from under him and he fell forward, landing on top of the armor.  He grunted and pushed himself up, just in time to see the silver pitcher come flying toward him out of the darkness.

Chris jerked his head back just in time to avoid being hit a second time.

The sound of footsteps on the stairs seemed to stop the activity in the hallway, and Vin reached the bottom of the stairs a moment later, taking in the sight of Chris pulling himself up off the floor.

"What happened now?" he asked.  "Y' okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine – no thanks to that damn ghost, or whatever the hell it is."

"I heard a crash."

"It knocked the armor over, then tripped me," the blond growled.  "Then it threw that damn pitcher at me – again."

"Did it hit ya?" Vin asked, giving Chris a quick once over, but he couldn't see anything in the dark.  He tried the light switch, but nothing happened.  "Just like the rest of our side of the mansion.  All the lights are broken.  Servants quarters are fine, though."

"Damn it," Chris huffed in frustration.  "I'm getting really tired of this crap."

The two men entered the library and Larabee started a fire in the fireplace.  Once that was going, they glanced around the space, finding it in a state of utter chaos.  Books had been pulled off the shelves and strewn across the floor, knickknacks had been knocked from the shelves, some of them broken, and the large chess set had been moved to the center of the room.

"What the hell…" Chris said, glancing around.  "Mrs. Potter is going to have a conniption when she sees this mess."

"Look like a party was goin' on before y' crashed it," Vin said as he glanced around, shaking his head.

"Maybe it's a poltergeist…"

Vin walked over to the chess set and looked down at it.  "Huh, well, whatever it is, it was one move away from checkmate when y' interrupted – no wonder it got pissed."

Chris kicked something as he took a step forward and looked down.  It was the silver water pitcher.  He bent and picked it up, then held it out for Vin to see.  "This damn thing's nearly brained me twice.  Once more and I'm going to beat it into a plate."

"Whatever it is – ghost, poltergeist – it's a regular party animal," Vin teased.

"Go get JD and Ezra," Chris said, frowning as he slipped his hand into the container.  "We need to run some tests."

"What kind?" Vin asked, curious.

"There's some kind of residue inside this pitcher, and there were stains on that doll's dress, too.  I have a hunch what they might be."

"Stay put," Vin said, "I'll be right back with 'em."

Chris nodded, glancing around the quiet room.  Putting aside all the prankish behavior, he knew they would be making a huge mistake if they underestimated whatever the hell this thing was.  He shook his head.  "Just your average, beer-drinking, chess-playing, thing-that-goes-bump-in-the-night… not."

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

10:47 PM

Ezra was sitting in front of his computer once again, talking with Josiah.  The older man was chuckling.  "I'm sorry for not taking this more seriously," he said, "but you have to admit, everything you've told me so far is pretty… comical."

"Yes, I would agree, but…" Ezra replied, trailing off.


"It doesn't feel comical."

Josiah nodded, his expression turning more serious.  "I'm sorry, I know that must be true.  Have you picked up anything useful from the objects?"

"Surprisingly, no," the younger man replied.  "Nothing at all, in fact."

"Given the sheer number of items were dealing with, I'm surprised as well.  I hope Chris' idea to test two of the items will bear some fruit."

"As do I," Ezra agreed.  "And you're sure you have no idea who sent this?"

Josiah shook his head.  "Some of the items seem familiar, but I honestly have no idea.  The line between malice and mischief can be… tenuous."

There was a knock at Ezra's door.  "Yes?" he called.

JD opened the door and leaned in, saying, "I think we're actually getting somewhere."

Ezra nodded.  "Can you Skype Josiah into the exam room?"

"Yeah, sure," JD said, then disappeared, pulling the door shut behind him.

"See you there," Josiah said, and the screen went blank.

Ezra stood and headed for the exam room, hoping they might be getting closer to solving the mystery.  He had a bad feeling that they needed to, and as quickly as possible.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

When Ezra reached the exam room, JD was just getting the connection set up.  He projected it onto a screen that took up the good portion of one wall in the room.

"Hello, everyone," Josiah greeted and the others greeted him in response.  "So, I hear you have some information?"

"I think we might," Chris told him.

JD nodded.  "The doll.  It belonged to Clarissa Mayhew, born in London on March fifth, 1856.  She married a guy who was a rather famous hunter in and around Paris.  We have three volumes of his journal in the library."

"Clarissa and her aunt were bludgeoned to death in their beds," Chris added.

"And just t' make things creepier, the stains on the doll's dress are human blood," Vin added.

"You want to talk creepy?  The residue in the silver pitcher is poison – very lethal," JD said, then quickly added, "well, back when it was used way back when.  It's too old to be dangerous now."

Josiah frowned.  "Date and place for that pitcher?"

"Welsh, eighteenth century," Ezra told him.  "Why?"

Josiah frowned.  "There was another hunter, in Cardiff, who was poisoned… 1760 or '61, I think.  JD, in the database we've been working on, pull up a list of unsolved hunter deaths."

"Give me a second," JD said, turning to the computer and getting to work.  A couple of minutes later the report was printing.  It was longer than anyone expected.

"Wow.  That's a lot 'a hunters…" Vin said.

"Can you run that list against the objects in the trunk?" Josiah asked their computer whiz.

"Yeah, just a minute," JD replied and started typing.  Another few minutes passed, then Dunne went a little pale.

"What is it?" Chris demanded.

"Another hunter died during a hunt on horseback, in Vienna, 1705…  And another one was—"

"Every one of these pieces is a trophy," Ezra interrupted, "from a hunter who was killed – by what, though?"

"We need to know what this entity is, and who sent it to us," Chris said, feeling his anger start to grow.  Someone, and something, was trying to kill them.

"The 'what' is more important than 'who' for the moment; your safety is primary," Josiah told them.  "How are the lights doing?"

"Every light on our side of the mansion is out.  The rest of the B-and-B is unaffected, and so are the outbuildings," Chris told him.

"If you need anything, I'm here," Josiah told them.

"Thank you," Ezra replied, "but there's really little you can do at this point."

"Still, I'll head back as soon as I can.  I'll leave now, if you want me to."

"No," Chris told him.  "The fewer of us in danger the better."

Josiah didn't look like he agreed, but he nodded that he understood.  "Be careful."

"We will," Ezra promised.

The Skype connected closed and the four hunters exchanged looks.

"I feel another all-nighter comin' on," Vin groaned.

"It does appear so," Ezra replied.

"Gonna go make some coffee with that little electric generator under the sink, who wants some?" Vin asked.

Three hands went up.

Chris reached over and handed Vin a flashlight and a short sword made of iron.  "Keep the light on," he told Vin.  "We'll be over there in a couple of minutes."

"Deal," Vin said, then headed for the mansion and the kitchen.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

11:05 PM

Vin made his way across the backyard to the kitchen.  He checked the light switch as he stepped into the room out of habit, but every light in their half of the mansion was still out.

He shook his head.  Evidently the entity thought of the kitchen as belonging to their half of the mansion, although Mrs. Potter cooked for the guests in the Bed and Breakfast there as well.  At least it ought to be light outside by the time she needed to cook.  The large windows in the room would make that possible without the electric lights, and the stove ran on natural gas.

Using his flashlight, Tanner carefully scanned the kitchen space, then set his sword down next to the coffeemaker and lifted the lid.  Taking out the old grounds, he added those to the compost bucket under the sink, then added a clean filter and measured out the coffee – no easy feat when he had to hold the flashlight at the same time.  Vin finally pressed it against the side of his neck and cranked his head over to hold it in place while he worked.

Behind him, a tiny sphere of light slipped into the room from under the door, followed by several mores spheres in quick succession.  They zipped up to hide under the large wooden table that dominated the center of the room.

Once the coffee was in the filter, Vin pulled out the glass pot, rinsed it, then filled it with cold water.  He turned, the pot in hand, then heard an odd sound the moment before his flashlight shattered with a loud pop!  And, a split second later, the glass coffee pot shattered as well, sending the water all over the tile floor.

"Damn it," Vin swore as he set what was left of the pot on the kitchen counter, then shook the flashlight, but it was clearly beyond repair.

Moonlight streamed in through the windows, making the room dim, but not completely dark.

Vin picked up his sword and glanced around, listening carefully.  He grinned slightly when he heard a noise coming from under the metal cake cover on the counter.  He carefully took hold of the ring at the top of the cover, then lifted it, slowly.  The noise was easier to hear and a soft yellow-white glow illuminated the room.

Holding his breath, Vin tilted the lid to the side and saw the collection of small light spheres, which quickly zipped away.

Vin set the cover down on the counter and tried to watch the tiny spheres, but they scattered all over the room.  This was clearly no ghost.  And he didn't think it was several ghosts, either.

"Alrighty then," he said under his breath as he slowly backed up closer to the wall.  "Come on, y' little bastards, whatever y' are," he said.  "C'mere…"

They tiny spheres of light hung in the air, and Vin could hear an odd sound coming from them, although it was muffled with the spheres so scattered.  He was sure, however, that they were communicating.

A slightly feral grin lifted the hunter's lips as he taunted, "Come out, come out wherever y' are…"

A single sphere of light shot toward him from somewhere to his right and Vin swung his sword, and missed.

"All right, a' gonna give me another shot?" he asked, his eyes narrowing slightly as he peered around the room.  "C'mon, y' little pricks…"

Again, a single sphere of light shot at Vin, then zinged around his body faster than the hunter could follow.  That put a full smile, albeit a feral one, on the hunter's lips.

"All right, guess that's strike two, huh?  Y' gonna give me one more chance?"  He waited, ready, peering around the room.  "C'mon… c'mon, y' damn cowards…"

Hearing a noise, Vin looked up, catching sight of a tiny sphere as it started its run at him from up near the ceiling.  He tracked the light and swung the sword, slapping the sphere of light against the wall with the flat side of the blade.

There was a high-pitched squeal, muffled by the iron.

Vin pulled the sword back just in time to see the light fizzle and pop out.  There was a black smear on the wall, like a small firework had exploded against the surface.

A low, menacing buzz filled the room, and Vin quickly glanced around the kitchen.  Many of the tiny lights had emerged from hiding and were darting through the air at amazing speeds, clearly agitated by what had just happened.

"Y' don't sound too happy," Vin said as the lights began to circle around him – safely out of range of the sword, he noted.  Then, individually, the lights began to swoop in closer and closer.  The hunter ducked and weaved, trying to keep the lights away from him, but one snuck past, and a small cut appeared on Vin's right cheek.  He sucked in a sharp breath in response to the stinging cut.

Once one of the light spheres had drawn blood, the others were emboldened and they began to rush at him.  Vin tried to keep them back, swinging the sword in wide arcs, but the lights were too fast, zipping in to leave more and more short, shallow cuts on the hunter's body.

Then one of the lights made a run at the back of Vin's knee and his leg was knocked out from under him.  He fell, landing hard on his butt.  The sword bounced once on the tile floor and landed out of reach.

"Damn it!" he snarled, scrambling back as best he could while sprawled on the floor.

The lights pulled back as well, regrouping as a swarm up near the ceiling.  Vin kept pushing himself toward the heavy wooden kitchen door, watching the lights as he did.

Then, one of the lights from the group made a run at him.

With nothing else to do, Vin held up his hand, palm out, to ward off the approaching light.

"Ahh!" he yelled when the light struck his palm.  It felt like someone had driven an ice pick into his hand.

That galvanized his survival instinct and Vin turned and lunged out of the kitchen, then used his foot to kick the heavy door shut behind him.  He scrambled to his feet and leaned back against the door to ensure it remained closed.  He could hear and feel the impacts as the lights struck the wood, but the door held.

Then, holding the wrist of his injured hand, he turned and headed for the relative safety of the out buildings, catching Chris and the others as they headed for the mansion.

"Get back to the servants' quarters!" he yelled.  "Now!"

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

11:27 PM

Back in the exam room, JD used a large magnifying glass to examine Vin's palm.  Frowning, he reaching over and picked up a pair of fine tweezers and began to explore.

Vin yelped, loudly, and jerked his hand back.  "What the hell!"

"There's definitely something in there," JD explained, grabbing Tanner's hand and peering through the glass.

"No kiddin'," Vin snapped.  "What's left of my hand!"

"I need some more light," JD said, scowling as he tried to find an angle to see what was embedded in the man's hand.

"Here," Chris replied, grabbing a handheld spotlight off a shelf.  "Watch your eyes," he said as he joined them and turned it on.

"I see—" JD started, but then there was a tiny, high-pitched scream followed by an equally tiny explosion.

"Ouch!" Vin yelped.  "Damn it, JD, what are you doin'?"

"I didn't do that!"

"Then what was that?" Ezra asked.

"I don't know, but I heard the same sound when I crushed one 'a 'em with the sword," Vin offered.

"You what?" Chris asked.

Vin just offered him a lopsided grin and shrugged.  "Had t' use what was at hand so I slapped one of those lights against the wall with the sword.  Squashed it like a bug."

Ezra rolled his eyes.  "Thank you for that wonderful image."

"No, wait!" JD said, excited.  "That's why the run from the light.  They aren't photophobic, the light can kill them!"

"But they were out when the lights were still on," Chris argued.  "They destroyed the blubs."

JD bounced in his seat.  "I know!  I know!  Most lightbulbs have a limited range of wavelengths."  He pointed to the spotlight Chris was still holding.  "But that one has a full spectrum, just like sunlight.  That's what killed it!"

"So they're afraid 'a light, but only sunlight kills 'em?" Vin asked.

"Apparently," Ezra said.  "And iron as well."

"Hold still, Vin…" JD said, turning his attention back to the man's palm.

"They're out for blood now," Chris said, watching Vin squirm.

"Hold still," JD scolded.

"I'm tryin'," Vin hissed back.

"I got it!"

"What is it?" Chris asked.

"I can't tell…  It's so small I can't really see it…  Give me a second…"  JD took the object he was holding in the tweezers and put it in a glass petri dish, then slid that under a stereo microscope and worked to bring it into focus.  "Oh my God," he breathed.  "You're not going to believe this!"

"What?" Chris half-growled.

JD flipped a couple of switches.  "Look at this.  Seeing is believing."

"Huh," Ezra said.  "Well, if I hadn't seen it myself, I wouldn't believe it."

"Looks like a tiny bug," Chris said with a frown.

"I wish that was all it was," JD said, then used the computer to enhance what he was already sure he saw – a tiny suit of medieval armor.  "This is really wild…"

"That would explain how they can break lightbulbs," Ezra said, peering at the image on the screen.

"Yeah, it's a steel-covered bug," Chris replied.

"It also explains why Vin was in so much pain," JD offered.  "This thing must have been slashing away inside him until the light killed him.  See?"

Chris nodded.  "These guys are loaded for bear.  Look at that… unbelievable."

"It's a full suit of armor, an ax in one hand and a sword in the other," Ezra confirmed.

"Great," Vin grumbled, shaking his throbbing hand, "armed, steel-covered, flyin' sow bugs…"

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

11:40 PM

"If I hadn't seen it for myself, I'd think you all were pulling my leg," Josiah said over a Skype link.

"Believe me, I wish we were," Ezra replied.  "Whoever sent those things here to kill you meant business."

"Light-sensitive, ruthless, tiny, flying creatures…  You know what we're dealing with here, don't you?" Josiah asked.

"What?" Chris demanded, glancing at Vin.

"Gentlemen, we have an infestation of fairies," Josiah stated matter-of-factly.

"Fairies?" JD echoed.  "Excuse me, but I don't remember Tinkerbell going after Peter Pan with a battle ax."

Josiah smiled.  "The Victorians sanitized the ancient legends, created that picture of tiny, gentle things with gossamer wings.  Most of them are no more than paranormal gnats, but some of those little people are anything but gentle."

"How do we kill them?" Chris asked.

"Sunlight, sometimes iron, but we don't have weapons small—"

"Got that one covered," Vin interrupted.

Josiah looked a little doubtful.  "Just be careful.  These things can kill."

"Figured that out," Vin said.

"We'll be careful," Ezra promised.

"Keep in touch, too," the older man told them.

"As soon as we have something worth telling you," Standish promised.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Just after midnight

Monday, May 29, 2006

The four hunters readied all five of the full spectrum spotlights they had, attaching each to a battery pack so they could be carried with them.

"Okay, we have a few hours before it gets light and they go back into hiding," Chris told them.  He looked at JD and said, "I want you to look into that armor, put it together with everything else we have, and find a connection."

"I will," JD promised, taking one of the lights, just in case.  "The more we know, the more we have to work with."

Chris nodded.

"What are we doing?" Ezra asked the blond a little hesitantly.

"We'll go see if we can find any more of those damn things, and light up their asses."

"Be careful," JD told them.

"I am always careful," Ezra stated.

Chris and Vin exchanged grins.

The three hunters headed back to the mansion, splitting up once they were inside, each man taking a different floor, Chris getting the basement, along with the first floor.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Vin stopped when he heard what he thought might have been a muffled yell.  Cocking his head to the side, he waited and listened, but there was nothing else.

Using a regular flashlight to illuminate his way – the full spectrum light in his free hand as if he was holding a gun he was ready to fire – Vin continued on, quickly checking the second floor of their side of the mansion, and finding nothing.

He caught up to Ezra as the man was coming down from the third floor.  "Find any?" he asked.

"Not a single one," Ezra replied.

"Thought I heard something down on the first floor."

"Then we'd better go check," Ezra replied.  "It's probably just Mr. Larabee, expressing his frustration on the walls or the furniture."

Vin grinned.  "Probably."

The two men made their way down to the first floor, but they didn't find Chris there; in fact, they found nothing there and nothing out of place.

"Let's check the basement," Vin said, starting to get worried about Chris.

"I'm right behind you," Ezra assured him, and they cautiously made their way down the stairs.  Once they were in the basement they could hear a high-pitched buzzing sound coming from somewhere down the hall.

"C'mon," Vin said, swiftly leading the way.  "Chris!" he called.

There was no reply as they quickly checked the rooms and storage spaces until they had reached the far eastern side of the basement.

Stepping into the room at that end of the finished hallway was like walking into an exploding firework.  Chris was lying on the floor, the tiny spheres of light darting in and out, leaving cuts all over his body.  Larabee was swinging the full spectrum light, occasionally catching one of the spheres in the beam.  When he did, the sphere squealed and exploded.

Vin and Ezra switched on their full spectrum lights as well, using the beams to clear a path to Chris.

"Chris, y' all right?" Vin demanded.

"Been better," the blond replied through gritted teeth.  "Think my leg's broken."

Vin saw a collapsed wooden shelf, and Larabee's hand on his leg.  "Ezra, grab Chris an' get 'im out of here.  I'll cover ya!"

Standish did as he was told, reaching down to seize the blond under the arms and dragging him toward the door.  Vin moved with them, keeping them bathed in the full spectrum light, shielding them until they were out in the hall.  All the while, he could feel the cuts appearing across his back, but he just grunted and kept moving.

In the hallway he slammed the door shut, then found a piece of wood and wedged it under the knob to keep the pesky creatures from forcing the door open.

Reaching down, Vin and Ezra lifted Chris and carried him back to the infirmary, the man hissing and cussing the entire way.

"I hate to say it, but we need to get Mr. Larabee to a hospital."

"No!" the blond bellowed.

"Hell, y' ain't gonna be able t' chase these things with a broken leg, Chris," Vin told him.

Larabee cursed under his breath, but he knew they were right.  His leg was already throbbing so badly that it was making globes of light pulse in front of his eyes every time his heart beat.

"I'll call Chanu," JD said, reaching for the phone.  The EMT was a friend of theirs and he knew the kind of work they did, even if he didn't know all the details.

Forty minutes later Chris was on his way to the hospital in the back of an ambulance.  The other three watched the vehicle until it was out of sight, then JD said, "Come on, I have something."

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

1:51 AM

"What did you find?" Ezra asked as soon as they entered the exam room.

"They're the Clan Cavandish," JD explained.  "I found this crest on the chest plate of the armor.  The tartan field behind the two dragons matches what's on the bagpipes.  I did a search of the Scottish heraldry database and the tartan belonged to the clan Cavandish.  They were vicious marauding highwaymen who turned to the occult to escape the law.  In 1296 two hunters assisted a small army sent by Robert the Bruce to capture or kill them.  The hunters were able to neutralize the occult object they had gotten hold of, and the clan was captured.

"Their souls were cursed to live in eternal darkness, never to see the sun again, then they burned at the stake.  In response to the sentence, the clan leader, Ian Cavandish, promised that, 'we can drink enough of our enemies' blood to hold us through the daylight hours.'"

"That certainly explains their aversion to light, especially sunlight," Ezra said.

JD nodded.  "And it was hunters that allowed them to be caught."

"Which explain their grudge against hunters," Vin added.

"It looked as though they were working themselves into a frenzy down there," Ezra said.

"They're here t' kills us," Vin said.  "We need t' stop 'em."

"Before they start in on the other side of the mansion," Ezra said.

Vin frowned slightly, then said, "Don't think they can."

"What makes you say that?" Ezra asked.

"Hell, Ez, don't ya think they would've if they could?  At least knock out the lights over there, but they haven't."

"Maybe they can only target certain kinds of people," JD offered.

"Hunters," Vin supplied.  "I don't think huntin' 'em will work, either," he added, frowning.

"They know we're armed, too," JD added.

"They aren't goin' t' make this easy."

"We'll have to trap them somehow," Ezra concluded.

"What do we use for bait?" Vin asked.

A small, dangerous smile lifted the corners of JD's mouth.  "I think I know.  I isolated the sound from Chris' recorder, slowed it down…"  He turned to his keyboard and started typing, then hit enter.  A high-pitched sound started to play.  "That's a tiny bagpipe."

"What are you suggesting?" Ezra asked the youngest member of their team, not at all sure he wanted to actually hear it.

"I'm pretty sure they came to listen when I was playing that bagpipe earlier…"

"No," Ezra said, shaking his head.

"No one else can play," JD argued.

"Did you see what they did to Mr. Larabee?"

"He's right," Vin interrupted.

JD huffed and stood up.  "I can do this.  Really.  Look."  He turned back to the computer, ending the sound of the minute bagpipes and pulling up blueprints on the large screen on the wall.  "This is the original heating duct system for the mansion.  The pipes converge in this corner of the basement, where the old boiler used to be."

Vin started nodding, seeing where JD was going.  "If we can lure 'em down there, we can seal them into that room."

"This could easily backfire on us," Ezra cautioned.  "Are you sure you're game?" he asked JD.

"I can do it.  I play, lure them to the room, you seal them in and we use the lights to kill them."

"Sounds simple enough," Vin admitted, "but there's no guarantee they'll all be drawn in by the pipes."

"And if they aren't, we won't get a second shot," Ezra cautioned.

"They already know we're on to them," JD said.

"If we can take out half, it'll be easier to track the rest of 'em down," Vin added.

Standish sighed softly.  They were right, but he didn't relish someone else getting hurt.  Josiah was going to be upset over Chris as it was…  Still, what alternative was there?  "All right," he said, "let's do this."

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

5:37 AM

JD stood, playing the old pipes as best he could in the basement.  He picked a tune he knew and did his best, then moved to another, and another.

Slowly, the tiny spheres of light begin to appear out of the air duct pipes, one by one, or in small groups.  In the mansion, Vin was slowly sealing off the ducts, starting on the third floor and working his way down to the basement.

The tiny spheres hung in the air as if mesmerized by the sound of the pipes.  After several minutes, one of the spheres moved closer and began to slowly circle around JD.

Soon, all of the spheres were circling around JD.  The young hunter kept playing, slowly able to do a better and better job as he adjusted to the differences in the old instrument.

In the exam room, Ezra watched the computer screen, able to track Vin as he moved through their side of the mansion, sealing the vents, while he watched the increasing number of light spheres as they circled around JD.  Taking the laptop, he headed across the yard to the library once Vin arrived to seal the vents there.

When he reached the dark room he found Vin and together they turned to the stairs leading down to the basement.

"Wait," Vin said, "we need all of 'em…"

On the laptop screen they watched and waited, eventually more spheres arrived through the pipes in the basement and joined the circling procession moving around JD.  When no more appeared, Vin nodded. "Now."

The two men headed straight down the stairs into the basement, moving as silently as they could toward the eastern room, Vin sealing off the vents in the other basement spaces as they went.

The sound of JD's playing grew louder and louder as they approached the far eastern room, the same room where Chris had gotten attacked, but they knew JD was all right since the bagpipe sounds never wavered.

Reaching the door, Vin grabbed the doorknob and Ezra set the laptop down against the wall.

Tanner looked at Ezra, counting silently, "One, two, three."

They opened the door, entered, and shut the door, jamming a board under the knob to keep the spheres from forcing the door open.  Vin immediately began to seal the last vent as Ezra turned his full-spectrum light on the spheres, an entire group of them exploding.  The remaining spheres began to whip around the room in chaotic a frenzy, attacking and cutting the hunters whenever they could.

As soon as Ezra's light had hit the spheres, JD dropped the pipes and grabbed his own light, adding his beam to Ezra's while Vin moved from pipe vent to pipe vent, sealing each as he went.  Around him the spheres attacked, small cuts opening all over his body.

"All done!" Vin called.  "They can't get out."  And with that he reached for his light as well.

Now three beams of light swept across the room, catching the spheres and exploding them, but there were several shelves in the room, and the spheres ducked into them to hide from the beams of deadly light.  After several minutes there were no spheres visible.

"Did we get them all?" JD asked, his head whipping around as he tried to look everywhere at once.

"Don't know," Vin said, still crouched down, his light sweeping through the air.

"Listen," Ezra said, cocking his head slightly.

A series of faint knocking sounds could be heard.

"They're still in here," Vin said, realizing that the fairies were trying to escape through the now-sealed pipes.  "They can't get out."

Out of nowhere they were swarmed again.  Three of the spheres sped toward each of the hunters.  Two of the spheres committing suicide, but breaking two of the three lights bulbs.

"My light!" JD cried.

"Mine as well!" Ezra added.

"Over here!" Vin called and the two hunters rushed to him as he used his light to hold off the remaining spheres, but it cost him several more cuts.

The spheres retreated once more, disappearing into the clutter.

"Here," Vin said, handing the spare light to Ezra.  Tanner handed his light to JD and pulled the iron sword from under his belt.

Two more attacks were launched, the lights killing more of the creatures, but another one was destroyed.

"I counted ten left," JD said, panting, tossing his broken light aside.  He was bleeding from more cuts than he could count, and more than either Ezra or Vin.

"We have to get JD out of here," Ezra said.

Vin shook his head.  "We make a stand here, take 'em out."

"I'm getting lightheaded," JD said, then fell to his knees.

Ezra grabbed him.  "We have to go!"

The spheres attacked again, Ezra trying desperately to protect them from more cuts.  Vin bent over JD, trying to protect him while Standish used the light to fight the creatures back.

Then, one of the spheres slipped past Ezra and his blub was shattered.

"We have to get JD out!" Ezra cried as the remaining spheres began to attack them at will.

Vin turned toward the door, but in doing so he saw the sunlight just beginning to enter the garden window.  With a yell, he slung the iron sword at the glass, which shattered under the impact.

Early morning sunlight streamed into the room, and the remaining fairies screeched and exploded.  All except one, which dove at Vin, who raised his arms to protect his face, but then the sphere veered sharply and it sped toward the broken window.  It exploded in a burst far greater than the rest, the force of it knocking Vin and Ezra off their feet.

The three men lay on the floor for a long moment, stunned, then Vin rolled up and forced himself to his feet.  "Ezra?"

"I'm alive," he replied.  "Help me up."

Vin did, then the two men turned their attention to JD.  Lifting the unconscious man, they carried him to the infirmary.  Ezra did what he could to stop the man's bleeding, while Vin called Mrs. Potter, telling her that he and the others were going to the hospital.  She assumed it was to see how Chris was doing, and he didn't bother to correct her impression.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

10:03 AM

Almost three hours later, Vin and Ezra sat in Chris' hospital semi-private room, the second bed now occupied by JD, who was still sleeping.

Larabee had listened to the two men describe what had happened, and shook his head.  "The kid's got more guts than brains sometimes."

"I heard that," JD mumbled, his eyes still closed.  He had gotten cut more than the other two, and had bled enough to require an IV after the doctors had treated the plethora of cuts.  Vin and Ezra had been treated as well, but they hadn't lost as much blood and were therefore not given an IV to help boost their fluid volume.

"Go back to sleep," Chris told him with a grin.  Then he looked back at the other two men and asked, "They're all gone?"

Vin nodded, then gestured to Larabee's leg.  "How long are they gonna keep you?"

"Just today," Chris said and frowned.  "They'll put me in a cast in an hour or so, then I can go home."

"Good t' hear," Vin replied.

"Yes, that is good news," Ezra agreed.  "It was not as dire as it might have been."

Chris sighed and nodded.  "And you guys?"

"Lots 'a gauze pads taped t' body," Vin said a little sheepishly.

"Ditto," Ezra replied.

Chris nodded.  "But not as dire as it might've been," he said, looking at Ezra.


The men grinned.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

1:14 PM

Josiah shook his head as he took in the condition of the four men scattered in the library.  JD, Ezra, and Vin still had bandages scattered across their exposed skin like some child had decided to play doctor.  Chris was in a cast and forced to use crutches for the time being.

"I take responsibility for everything that happened," the older man said sadly.

"Why?" JD questioned.

"Because the box was addressed t' ya?" Vin guessed.

"No," Josiah replied, "because I allowed myself to take the situation too lightly, and it nearly cost all of you your lives."

"None of us could have known what was happening, Josiah, even you," Ezra said.

"You did," Josiah countered.  "You said there was some evil purpose.  I lost sight of that, and for that I'm sorry."

"We, Josiah.  We lost sight of it," Chris said.

"But I'm the one with the final responsibility for the safety of this group and its members."

"Whoever sent that box is the one respon—" Vin started to argue.

"Oh!  I forgot to tell you," JD interrupted.  "The man who brought the trunk to be shipped, he was found, nearly dead, but he survived.  The trunk was originally addressed to Chris, care of Josiah and the B-and-B.  I had the company send me the original form the man filled out.  It got here this morning."  JD pulled a slip from the pocket of the flannel shirt he was wearing.

"It was addressed to me?" the blond responded, grabbing the piece of paper from JD's hand.  "Who was this guy?"

"Martin Tyler, but he said he had been given a hundred bucks to ship the trunk, and he didn't ask the name of the man who gave it to him."

"May I?" Ezra asked, holding out his hand for the slip.

Chris handed it to the man.  Ezra took it and immediately flashed on the red-eyed demon he associated with the night Chris' wife and son had been killed.  He sucked in a breath and set the paper down.

"What?" Chris said.

"The red-eyed demon," Ezra replied, still trying to catch his breath.

Chris met Vin's gaze and he snarled, "It's time we hunted that bastard down."

"Think we better wait 'til ya get out 'a that cast," Vin said quietly.

Chris nodded, but he wasn't going to wait long.  He looked back at Ezra.  "Can you see where he is?"

The younger man shook his head.  "No, I'm sorry.  I just get a flash of his face, his eyes…"

"I have software we can use," JD cut in, "we can make a composite drawing, like they do with police witnesses."

Ezra nodded.  "I will do my best."

"Thank you," Chris said.

"We'll find this demon, Chris," Josiah promised.

Vin nodded, feeling the tattoos that hid his wings begin to tingle.  It wasn't a good sign, and he wondered just what they were getting themselves into.

Fallen angel Cambriel, the red-eyed demon summoned by Ella Gains.

Continues in The Tethered Goat


[1] Authors' Note:  This story was originally intended for the recycling zine A Small Circle of Friends, but it wasn't finished before that zine ceased publication.  We just couldn't let the story die, so it appears here for your enjoyment.  The story is based on the "Lights Out" episode of Poltergeist: The Legacy.