Great stories about good people caught in difficult situations.


Chapter Two Hundred and Sixty-Two : The Viking

Chapter Two Hundred and Sixty-two

The Viking

Friday night — 9:45 p.m. MST

Denver, Colorado

Sissy waited by the coal tunnel door until she saw Mike’s Bronco start into the garage, and then she ran to meet him. He was pulling in when she noticed he had a passenger. Sissy ran to Mike’s side of the truck.

“Sissy!” Mike said as he got out of the Bronco.

“We thought you were helping at the site!” Sissy said.

“It’s been a complete mess,” Mike said. “I tried to get there, but got stopped by the state patrol, and then I tried to get home and got stuck in traffic. I’ve been sitting in the car for hours.”

Anxious to tell him what was going on, Sissy shifted from side to side. Mike’s eyes flicked across her face.

“What’s going on?” Mike asked.

“Jill’s in labor, and . . .”

“That’s what her doctor said.” Mike gestured to the man getting out of the passenger seat of the Bronco. “I found him standing on Colfax, just standing on the street. He said Jill’s in labor and he can’t get inside the Castle to help.”

Sissy’s eyes went big.

“Why can’t he get in?” Mike asked.

The doctor gave Sissy an evil look, and Sissy panicked. It was her job to tell Mike everything, but she hadn’t counted on the doctor being here. She opened her mouth, but nothing came out. As sure as if the doctor has placed a spell on her, Sissy couldn’t talk. Mike patted Sissy’s shoulder and moved around her.

“Come on,” Mike said. “I’ll show you the way.”

“But . . .” Sissy’s eyes pleaded with Mike.

He smiled at her, and looked at the doctor. The doctor gave Sissy a smug look. Sissy felt like her mission had been raided by this doctor. She scowled.

“It’s all a little weird, but we set this up so that Val could have some privacy.” Mike gave the doctor a broad smile.

“I feel like I’m in a movie.” The doctor smiled. “A fair maiden needs my assistance and I need to fight my way to her.”

Mike laughed and moved toward the coal tunnels. He stopped at the door.

“Are you coming, Sissy?” Mike asked.

Sissy groaned at herself and turned around.

“Mike, I . . .” Sissy started. She made the mistake of looking at the doctor. He gave her another evil look, and she swallowed hard. “You . . .”

“Come on,” Mike said. “You can tell me on the way.”

Mike’s hand moved over the coal tunnel keypad lock and the door opened.

“At least you get to see a little bit of Denver’s history,” Mike said. He held the door for the doctor. “These tunnels were made to move coal from the railway lines downtown out to the mansions east of downtown during inclement weather. Just head down the stairs.”

“I’m moving a little slow these days,” the doctor said. “Injured myself.”

“We’ll go together,” Mike said. “Right, Sissy?”

He gave her a long, unreadable look, and then smiled. He gestured to the door. Sissy slunk through the doorway. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed the keypad’s backlight was red, instead of the usual green. She glanced back at Mike, who gave her a bright smile.

“How is Jacquotte?” the doctor asked when Mike reached the tunnel floor.

Mike waited for Sissy before stepping forward in the dimly lit brick-lined tunnel. The doctor limped as if he’d hurt himself in the crotch. Sissy wished she’d been the one to hurt him, and then was embarrassed by the thought.

“She’s doing really well,” Mike said. “Val’s sister had her baby, Maggie. Jackie and Maggie are best friends. Isn’t that right, Sissy?”

“Katy too,” Sissy said. “Katy takes care of them. If anyone hurts Maggie or Jackie, boy, Katy, she makes sure that person suffers. Big! You can imagine what she’d do to someone who hurt her mom. Katy and Jill are really close and . . .”

Sissy looked up to see if the men were listening. Mike patted her shoulder in a “there, there” paternal way and asked the doctor a question. Sissy scowled at herself. The doctor blathered on.

Sissy couldn’t believe Mike was acting like this. Mike was Sissy’s friend. Whenever he got back from traveling, he’d always made a point of setting up special time to spend with Sissy. He always wanted to hear all about Sissy’s dancing and her possibilities for dance companies. That was the reason Tanesha had sent Sissy to wait for Mike. Sissy was the one who was supposed to get through to Mike.

But there was no getting through to Mike tonight.

“Come on, Sissy, keep up,” Mike said brightly when Sissy fell behind.

“Teenagers,” the doctor said. “They always shuffle here and there.”

Mike laughed. Sissy was so disappointed in Mike that she started to cry. Up ahead, she noticed a light was out in the tunnel. If she didn’t know better, she would have sworn someone was standing along the tunnel there. She touched Mike’s arm, but Mike seemed oblivious to everything.

“How far are we going?” the doctor asked.

“It’s a little less than a mile,” Mike said. “Not too far, but far enough away from the paparazzi’s prying eyes.”

“It’s hard to imagine you have to live with this constant curse of prying eyes,” the doctor said.

“You know, I remember those magazines when I was a kid,” Mike smiled.

“My mom used to subscribe,” the doctor chuckled.

“I never realized they were such vultures,” Mike said.

“I don’t know that they were when we were kids,” the doctor chuckled. “I’m a bit older than you are, but . . .”

Sissy could have sworn there was someone standing just at her side. She looked into the gloomy tunnel and saw nothing. She swallowed hard and moved closer to Mike. She got too close and knocked into him by accident. He caught her arm to keep her from falling over.

“You okay?” Mike asked.

Sissy gave a nervous nod. He gave her another one of those annoying pats, and kept walking. She glared at his back.

“Come on, Sissy,” Mike said. “You’ve got to keep up, or the tunnel ghosts will get you.”

“Tunnel ghosts?” Sissy asked.

Mike had always said he didn’t believe in ghosts. He even said he didn’t believe in Mrs. Celia, whom Sissy had seen lingering around the Castle. Mike gave her a bright smile and she jogged to catch up.

“Did you say ghosts?” the doctor asked with a chuckle in his voice.

“Sure,” Mike said. “These tunnels are notoriously haunted. They used the tunnels to move bodies out of Cheeseman.”

“When it was a cemetery?” the doctor asked.

“Exactly,” Mike said.

“I’ve heard that story,” the doctor said. “It was a Jewish cemetery?”

“That’s right,” Mike said. “When the light is exactly right, you can see the burial mounds in the grass at Cheeseman Park.”

Sissy began to feel like she’d been in this tunnel most of her life.

“I will tell you there’s a kind of ‘close feeling’ in these tunnels,” the doctor said. “I keep thinking there’s someone just right there. But when I look . . .”

“Nah,” Mike cut off the doctor. “No one can get in here. It’s sealed off completely by Homeland Security.”

“You must feel safe,” the doctor said. “I’ll tell you that I was impressed with all the security you have there at the house.”

“Isn’t it amazing?” Mike asked. “Jake set it up. Of course, it’s mostly to keep the press out, but every once and a while, we get a drifter or drunk from Colfax.”

“You’re close to the street there,” the doctor said.

“I think there were a couple murders down here,” Mike said. “You remember that Saint Jude thing?”

“The serial killer?” the doctor asked.

“He buried a few people along this coal line,” Mike said.

“He buried some under our house!” Sissy said.

“Very creepy,” the doctor said.

The doctor gave Sissy a patronizing smile, and she felt stupid. She glanced at Mike. He was usually her big defender. Whenever Charlie or Nash made Sissy feel stupid, Mike always spoke up for her.

Not tonight.

Sissy couldn’t believe it. She was about to say something when she felt someone near her again. Mike and the doctor kept walking. She stumbled and fell. The big guy who was Teddy’s guardian stepped out of the gloom. He grabbed her elbow and set her on her feet. She was so surprised she almost fell again. He winked at her, put his finger to his lips, and stepped back into the dark

Sissy looked ahead at Mike. When she looked back for the big guy, she couldn’t see him. Mike stopped walking.

“Sissy?” Mike squinted against the dim light.

“I fell.” Sissy ran up to them.

“Try to keep up,” Mike said in a stern voice.

Sissy was so surprised her mouth fell open. She was about to protest when she realized that Mike was playing a game. He was pretending to be a jerk so the doctor wouldn’t catch on to what was going on. Feeling like a secret agent, Sissy stood a little taller.

“Yes, sir,” Sissy said.

Mike’s eyes flicked to Sissy. His lips turned up in a partial grin before he asked the doctor a question. They continued along the coal tunnels. Sissy felt people around every once and a while. She kept her mouth shut and pretended to be a good little girl. She grinned at her own pretense. She wondered if she’d see her idol, Alex Hargreaves, in the tunnels. Alex was Mike’s friend and the big guy’s boss and . . .

Sissy was so lost in thought that she walked right past their stairwell without giving it a glance.

“That’s our neighbors,” Mike lied. “We’re just up ahead.”

The wood barrier, that usually sat next to their wooden stairs was gone. They were now walking in a part of the tunnel Sissy had never been to.

Sissy shivered. This part of the tunnel was way creepier than where they usually walked.

“Just up here.” Mike pointed to a set of stone stairs.

Sissy thought they might still be under the Castle but she wasn’t sure. She tried to catch Mike’s eye, but he refused to look at her. She swallowed hard and followed.

“Please.” the doctor gestured for Sissy to go up the stairs first.

Sissy glanced at Mike, and then started up the short stairwell.

“It always surprises me when young people don’t know their manners,” the doctor said as he followed Sissy up.

Sissy came to a door. Because she couldn’t think of anything else to do, she opened the door and stepped through. They were standing in gloomy stone hallway. She took a step forward and heard the door close behind her. She put her foot out to take another step and she felt a man’s arms around her. She gave him a strong elbow, but he didn’t let go. He pulled her into a dark corner. His mouth was right next to her ear.

“It’s Sensei, Sissy,” he said in her ear. “Use your other senses.”

Like he’d taught her, she took a deep breath in to use her other senses besides her eyes. She could smell his distinctive cologne. She could feel his powerful hands, and the warmth of his body. He felt safe. This was Mr. Colin’s teacher. Even though he was blind, he was an incredible martial artist. Sissy let him pull her deeper into the gloom.

“What’s going on here?” the doctor asked.

“You’ve got some nerve,” Mike said. “You think you can sell off Jackie’s blood and stem cells and get away with it? Sell my sister and her children to the highest bidder?”

Mike’s terribly scary father stepped forward.

“We’ll take this from here, son,” the man said.

“You won’t get away with this,” the doctor said.

A few other men stepped out of the gloom. Sissy only recognized the really big, pale white guy who was usually with Teddy’s guardian.

“It turns out that a lot of people are looking for the owner of Experiri Genetics,” Mike’s dad said.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” the doctor said.

“You slipped us in the hospital,” Mike’s dad said. “After we were nice enough to take you when you… hurt yourself. But look around. You’re not getting away this time.”

“I want my lawyer,” the doctor said.

“We’ll get right on that,” Mike’s dad said, and the men in the room laughed. He turned to Mike and said, “Jillian needs you.”

“Where’s Sissy?” Mike asked. “Sissy?”

Sensei let her go, and Sissy ran to Mike. He gave her a hug and whispered, “Sorry,” in her ear.

“Can you get us out of here?” Mike asked Sissy.

“Follow the gargoyles,” Sensei said.

Sissy turned to look at him.

“How did you know?” Sissy asked.

“I can see them.” He smiled at her.

“Gargoyles?” Mike asked.

With those words, a gargoyle appeared. It guided Mike and Sissy the end of the hall and up another flight of stairs. They were almost to the top when Sissy heard Mike’s father say, “You picked the wrong family to fuck with.”

She shivered at his voice. She would have looked back, but they turned the corner, went through a door, and were suddenly, miraculously, standing in the kitchen of the Castle.

“This way!” the gargoyle said.

They followed him to the room where Jill was in labor. Heather and Tanesha met them at the door.

“What’s going on?” Mike asked Tanesha.

“Jill is in labor,” Tanesha said. “But Katy says the babies are too afraid to come out. Your mom’s here. Your brother, Steve, got here a few minutes ago. Jill thought you might be able to help.”

“Candy? Meg?” Mike asked about his sisters.

“They’re on their way,” Tanesha said.

Mike let Tanesha lead him to Jill.

~~~~~~~~

“Where are we going?” Valerie asked James as they crossed the street toward his car.

Since the fairy magic didn’t work on James, they’d decided to take his car to where he thought the Celts might have buried Queen Fand. Sam and Delphie chatted with Celia behind them. Jacob was talking with Gilfand, the gargoyle, on the other side of James. When Valerie asked the question, everyone fell silent to listen to the answer.

James gave her a soft smile and walked to his car. Valerie got into the passenger seat; Sam, Delphie, and Jacob squeezed into the back of the small sedan. Gilfand landed on Valerie’s headrest. When everyone was settled, James cleared his throat.

“There’s a historic site a couple miles from here,” James said. “It’s called Balladoole. It’s also the site of a large Celtic fort. My guess is that they had to break up the magic of Fand and Manannán to gain power specifically for this fort.”

“They would have needed to keep her body close,” Delphie said.

“Like a talisman,” James said. “I thought the same thing.”

He started the vehicle and pulled onto the street. They drove through the small city of Castletown and started on the A5.

“Is Balladoole a cemetery?” Valerie asked.

“No, but there was a Viking burial there,” James said. “Someone of some significance was buried with his ship. The site was excavated in 1945 by a German imprisoned at a POW camp on the island. I’ve always wondered if he got something wrong.”

“Why?” Jacob asked.

“Because he only found the remains of a man and an adult woman,” James said. “Vikings usually burned a young female slave alive when they buried their powerful leaders. These remains are said to be of an adult woman who was buried quite some time before the Viking.”

“Queen Fand,” Sam said.

“My thought,” James said. “We’ll have to dig her up.”

“If she is Queen Fand, I will take her remains back to the monolith under Castle Rushen,” Gilfand said.

“And break the curse,” Delphie said. “That’s brilliant.”

“The question is: How are we going to do the digging?” James glanced in the rear view mirror at Jacob. “It’s the wee hours of the morning. I left my shovels at home.”

“I can get you shovels,” Gilfand said. “I may be male, but I am fairy-kind.”

James smiled. They turned off the highway toward the Irish Sea, went down a low hill, and parked near a thicket. They set out on foot across a wide footpath.

“This is where the Celtic fort stood.” James pointed to the rocks and ruins of the fort.

“It’s a good spot for a fort,” Jacob said.

“Especially if it’s protected by a fairy queen,” Gilfand said bitterly.

“Indeed. This way.” James pointed across the low grass of the monument. “You can see the outline of the Viking ship over there.”

They stopped at the edge of what had been the Viking ship. Large boulders marked the oval outline. The wooden ship had decomposed, leaving a depression in the grassy field.

“The ship rotted away,” James said. “They found the bodies, a shield for the man, lot of nails, stuff like that.”

“When was it buried?” Gilfand asked.

“Tenth century,” James said. “Sometime around 900 AD.”

“Does the timing fit?” Delphie asked.

“It does,” Gilfand said.

Without warning, the gargoyle transformed into a human-looking man of medium build. He looked strong and fit. He had long, dark hair, light chocolate skin, and a fierce brow. He wore the exact thing Jacob wore — jeans and a dress shirt, but he still had pointed gargoyle ears and sharp claw-like fingernails.

“That’s an impressive trick,” Sam said.

“I thought you could use some help digging,” Gilfand said.

The fairy clapped his hands, and a variety of shovels appeared.

“Sam, why don’t you get what you need?” Delphie asked. “Jacob and I will see if we can intuit where her remains lie.”

Sam nodded and started looking over the shovels. Jacob and Delphie moved out into the depression where the Viking ship had been buried.

“We’ll need a couple edgers too,” Sam said to Gilfand. “Jake likes a round-point shovel. I like a drain shovel — you know the long, narrow blade.”

“There is powerful magic here,” Delphie said.

“Not evil,” Jacob said. “But very strong, dangerous magic.”

“Angry,” Delphie said. She was almost at the end of the ship when she stopped. “Here. She is here.”

Sam brought Jacob a shovel and edger. He gave an edger to James.

“What’s your plan?” Jacob asked Sam. After years of working together, Jacob knew that Sam had laid out the most efficient way to do the job.

“We cut the grass,” Sam said. “Peel it back so we can replace it. In this moist environment, no one will know we were here.”

“Then dig?” James asked.

“No,” Sam said. “We don’t have time for digging. We need to get this done before anyone sees us. I was thinking that Jake . . .”

Jacob turned to look at his father. Their eyes held for a moment.

“You’re sure?” Jacob asked.

“Yes, son,” Sam said.

“What?” James asked.

“Show me where?” Valerie came past him with an edger.

Delphie pointed to where she thought the female skeleton was buried.

“Dad?” Valerie asked.

“We cut here.” Sam moved a couple feet from where Delphie thought the remains lay.

Valerie stuck the flat, half-moon blade of the edger into the grass. Jacob took an edge near her. Sam pointed to where James was standing. James watched Valerie and Jacob work before sticking his edger in the turf. Sam looked around for Gilfand, only to find him working away next to Jacob. Sam went behind them with his drain shovel and started loosening the sod from the soil.

“I’ve been able to connect with the male,” Delphie said. “The Viking.”

“And?” The word came out in a huff as Valerie was breathing hard from her work.

“He says there was another woman buried here,” Delphie said. “A female slave, a child, buried just below his hands. He was the leader of a battalion of war ships that raided throughout Britain. They had an encampment on this hill.”

Delphie gestured around her.

“Jake? Val?” Sam gestured for Jacob and Valerie to use their edgers to help peel the sod off the soil. Jacob dropped his edger for his round-pointed shovel. Together, Jacob, Sam, and Valerie dropped to their hands and knees to roll back the grass. Gilfand worked the edge of the turf to help separate the grass from the dirt. James leaned on his edger to catch his breath.

“They could live here and raid the islands around.” James’s words came out in spurts with his breath.

“Hidden here by the fairy fog,” Gilfand said. James started using his edger to help Gilfand.

“That’s right.” Delphie smiled. “He says that the Celts disturbed his slumber. They took his slave’s skeleton and replaced her with another one. He’s not sure why they did this, but he’s very upset about it.”

“‘How will I move to the next life?’ he asks,” Delphie said. “‘I have no one to take my life force to my ancestors.’ I think he means his soul. ‘I am stuck here, away from my parents, my family, my brothers-in-arms.’ He’s kind of hysterical.”

“Why didn’t he transition when he was buried?” Valerie asked.

“I asked the same thing,” Delphie said. “He says he did, but the slave girl is the vessel for his . . .soul. When she was removed, he was forced to wander. Gosh, that’s sad.”

Delphie fell silent as they worked. James took Valerie’s place, and she went to stand next to Delphie.

“This would be a great place to keep bees.” Delphie smiled. “Provided the chauvinist below moved on.”

“Anything I can do?” Jacob asked.

“We should find the slave girl for him,” Delphie said. “He’s really stuck here until we do.”

“But most people transition without slave girls,” Valerie said.

“The mind is a powerful tool,” Delphie said. “For the very inflexible, their afterlife echoes their beliefs. As powerful as this man was, he’s stuck here because he believes he should be. Pretty sad, I think.”

“Okay, that’s probably enough,” Sam said.

There was a six-foot-wide oval around the spot where Delphie thought Queen Fand was buried. Sam gestured for James to move back. He stood next to Valerie.

“Mom?” Jacob asked.

“She’s over here.” Celia pointed to the lower edge of their oval.

Jacob closed his eyes. He quieted his mind, slowed his breathing, and focused. In his mind’s eye, he tried to see Queen Fand’s remains. He shook his head and scowled.

“What is it?” Valerie asked.

“She’s not all here,” Jacob said.

He raised his hands and pulled the female skeleton from the grave. The partial remains floated for a moment before Jacob gently settled them on the grass. Gilfand fell to his knees in honor of his queen’s human remains.

“Is that her?” Delphie asked.

“It’s my lady,” Gilfand said. “But . . . where’s the rest of my queen?”

“Yes,” Delphie said. “Where is the rest of Queen Fand?”

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