Authors: Under a Crescent Moon
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Erica Langdon (Erica Langdon Editing Services)
Renee Flowers (Renee Flowers Deviant Art)
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I cannot wait to see what you amazing talents come up with.
Hallows Brook, Georgia. 1972.
If the townspeople who called her crazy could see her now, standing in the midst of a chalk-drawn pentagram in the heart of woods no one but contractors entered, with harsh, biting winds threatening to knock her over, they’d feel justified. Some would clasp their hands together and grin; others would smile and nod condescendingly like they’d done from the moment she moved into the sleepy town of Hallows Brook, Georgia, and they’d realized she was not one of
Antoinette Marie Dumond-St. Croix couldn’t give two sweet figs. Instead of making local town gossip about her antics and lack of husband or children, the nitwits should be falling to their knees and thanking her. Most of their souls were damned anyway, with the amount of whoring, thieving, and cuckolding going on, but if not for her, the town would have long since been wiped out by Night Walkers, creatures of the night who preyed on the living.
folklore called them.
Hallows Brook was a small, predominantly African American town in a west Georgia suburb. The
gens de couleur
doctors, lawyers, and real estate tycoons to name a few, were her neighbors. But Antoinette didn’t care for that. It wasn’t the reason she’d moved here two years ago. Gifted with Sight, Antoinette had dreamed the town, had watched the massacre unfold as if she were there. She’d smelled the putrid blood, tasted the waves of fear, and touched the stiff, cold bodies strewn callously about the river-red ground. If the puncture wounds across the victim’s bodies were any indication, it was the work of those creatures. Damned to walk the Earth after the sun’s rays faded, they would perish without blood and discord. They enjoyed pillaging, murdering, raping—any form of chaos to entertain their blackened souls. But for as long as they’d existed, the St. Croix, and a handful of other witch-families, had stood between the Night Walkers and their unsuspecting human prey.
The howling wind whipped at her virginal white gown, molding it against a waif-thin frame that should have buckled to the pressure and blown away, like the many fallen and broken branches that hurtled past her. Antoinette was not swayed. The heavy, hardened-leather book in her hands anchored her, kept her steady as everything else went haywire. Window shutters slammed in the distance and dogs howled their fury. Her name echoed on the wind, a mournful sound reminiscent of death.
Antoinette kept her eyes alert, even when a log the size of a young oak tree sailed past her face. No harm would come to her so long as she remained in the center of the protective circle. After what seemed like hours, eons, the whispers halted. The wind stopped its song and died to a faint breeze.
“Out of the Darkness I call thee, son of Earth, Sky, Wind, and Fire.” Antoinette indicated each element, housed in tiny bottles around the pentagram, before continuing. “Out of the Darkness you must come.”
There was a violent screech, a rabid sound as if an animal had been wounded, and now sought solace in death.
“Out of the Darkness, I call thee, son of Earth, Sky, Wind and Fire. Out of the Darkness, you
Another screech accompanied the first, but this time it sounded more ragged, more human.
She repeated the chant over and over, until her lips tired and her arms sagged under the weight of the St. Croix Spell Book she’d inherited from her deceased mother. Only when the dirt beneath her bare feet shifted did she stop. Stepping away, but never leaving the safety of the circle, Antoinette looked to the crack in the ground.
Lowering the book, she removed the hunting knife from her dress pocket and scored her wrist. The pain was sharp but she bore it willingly, watching her blood seep into the small opening in the dirt. It closed almost instantly, and Antoinette hastily stanched her blood, wrapping the wound with a piece of cloth she’d brought for that purpose.
“Out of the Darkness I call thee, Blooded Protector. Out of the Earth, come to me.”
The ground separated once more, the gap large enough this time to engulf her legs. A hand protruded, covered in the grit and grime of dirt and debris, before a muscled arm followed. Yet further the Earth gave way, and Antoinette felt a jolt of terror she pushed aside. She had no reason to fear the creature. She’d called him solely to protect her. And in the case of any surprises, she had a death spell on the tip of her tongue. The compact Earth burst apart as the creature struggled, the rubble crumbling until at last, his torso emerged.
Slowly, and with jerky movements, he stood, dirt cascading in rivulets from his naked body. The creature was tall, topping her four feet nine inches by at least a foot and a half. He was heavily muscled as well. The streaks of dirt that marred his pale skin did nothing to disguise his strength. Antoinette had never seen a man such as him, probably because he wasn’t. Not a man, and certainly not human.
The silence gradually shocked her into motion. It wasn’t yet complete. The creature had come to her, now infused of four elements, but he required her command.
Wiping down the front of her dress in a nervous gesture, Antoinette eyed his matted hair. She was unable to make out any features due to his head’s limp position on his neck.
“Awaken, Blooded Protector,” she murmured softly, gasping and clutching her throat as his head shot up. The creature took a deep, sucking breath lasting long, uninterrupted minutes as his lungs adjusted. He had eyes the color of a pitch-black night, and features so startling he would stick out wherever they went, and not just because of his pale, almost milk-colored skin. His forehead was flat, his jaw square and hard, his lips look slashed into his face. His features were ruggedly masculine. Handsome, even.
He blinked slowly, and the black bled from his eyes, changing them blood-red for the span of an instant. Antoinette froze. Had it not worked? The words of the kill spell were lining her tongue when his eyes changed to a mossy green. Another blink and he leaned close, his nose flaring as he inhaled of her scent, no doubt smelling the blood through her skin. Within the next moments, he’d gone down to one knee, his face uplifted and cast in the dim light of the hidden crescent moon, as he awaited her command.
Nodding in contentment—all was at it should be—Antoinette found her first smile. “Rise, Blooded Protector. Rise, Victor St. Croix.”
Hallows Brook, Georgia. Present Day.
There was something extremely creepy about the place.
As soon as the thought entered Azaleigh’s mind, she chastised herself for it. Antoinette St. Croix might have been a woman with various
, to put it lightly, but on the occasions Azaleigh had met the tiny woman with the long, checkered, gray-and-black plait and mischievous eyes, she’d remembered her Aunt Toni as being
. Those two occasions had been before her tenth birthday, and smuggled fudge and pralines were involved, so Azaleigh was aware of potential childhood bias. Still, she’d never felt put off by the old woman, like most of her extended family.
It was probably for that reason Antoinette left all of her assets to Azaleigh, the great-niece she’d met twice. Antoinette had no children, was survived by no siblings, and her nieces and nephews all wanted little or nothing to do with her, if the funeral had been any indication. When Azaleigh had asked for volunteers for the eulogy and service, only one nephew, Benjamin Bradley, returned her phone call. Two more had come forward to offer some platitudes and read a word from the Scripture, but that had been it.
Antoinette’s money was an entirely different issue. There were at least three cousins who thought they deserved it. Azaleigh had come close to snapping at Jordan Dumas, who apparently thought herself entitled to Antoinette’s wealth since she’d, as she insisted, put up with the “loony, old bat” the longest. It was Azaleigh’s first time meeting the foul-tempered, entitled woman, and had she not been standing next to Aunt Toni’s open casket, the woman’s weathered but peaceful face smiling up at her, she would have told Jordan a few choice words that would have shocked anyone within hearing distance.
The rest of the family, at least those who showed up, hadn’t been as bad. At the viewing and funeral, there had been indignant whispers: How could Antoinette leave all her assets, including the large, white traditional Victorian house everyone seemed to covet, to Azaleigh Montclaire, a Yankee no one knew? But most of the family kept their thoughts, if not their glares and curious stares, to themselves.
At least a few of Aunt Toni’s neighbors had showed up. Ernestine Wallace, who looked about as old as Antoinette, had spoken in the thin, weary voice of a woman who’d seen more than her share of life.
“Misunderstood’s what Antoinette was. If the people of this town know what she did for each ’n ever’ one of ’em, they’d be here bawling their eyes out. ’stead, some of ’em sayin’ she with the Devil.”
The older woman had patted Azaleigh’s hand and given her a toothless grin. “Some these folk dumber than a bucket of rocks rollin’ down the side of Hallows Brook Hills. Don’t let it bother you none. People who known the true Antoinette known she was a blessed saint.” Although Ernestine seemed a bit senile—she’d carried on a two-sided conversation with Antoinette during her final respects—Azaleigh had been grateful that at least someone had appreciated, if not loved, her aunt.
A draft crept along her body, goose-pimpling her flesh, and Azaleigh shuddered and re-focused on her surroundings. Despite the sweltering temperatures in Hallows Brook on the July day, the basement of Antoinette’s house was chilly. And utterly terrifying.
Azaleigh chuckled, and silently apologized to Aunt Toni. In truth, the spiral cobwebs, some drooping low to cover the dozens of storage boxes, the dank feel and musty smell, and the darkened interior despite the soft yellow lighting of a swinging overhead bulb, didn’t make it particularly welcoming. Add to that the covering of dust and old wooden chairs, some unfinished or broken apart, and the basement could easily be the set for a horror flick.
Gripping the coconut broom in one hand and dustpan in the other, Azaleigh went to work. It was all hers now, according to Antoinette’s Last Will and Testament, and she wanted to comb the entire place for heirlooms to leave the few family members who seemed to have genuinely cared for the deceased woman, before putting the house up for sale. Yesterday, after the burial, she’d gone through the four large upstairs bedrooms and their attached bathrooms. Azaleigh found three beautiful ivory combs, a string of pearls her own mother, still asleep upstairs, would adore, and many silver and gold lockets with the faces of people long dead but still remembered. While Azaleigh doubted Mama would know any of them—her mother had fled small-town Georgia for the city as soon as she turned sixteen—she would ask. On the first floor, Azaleigh had searched through a rectangular living room with a huge fireplace and rose-print chairs, a formal dining room, and maple-decorated sitting room. She’d located intricately designed china plates and hand-crafted silver tea sets.
She didn’t know what to expect in the basement, but Azaleigh was praying for no rats. As a New Yorker, she saw the fast, disgusting critters everywhere: the subway, streets, and occasionally her one-bedroom apartment. Frequent contact didn’t mean she was immune. It was the opposite. If she saw a rat, or if one crawled over any part of her body as she searched this basement, her mother, and half of the neighborhood if they were still abed, would be waking up.
Shaking herself to ward off those thoughts, Azaleigh crept to the closest box. It was marked with bold letters.
It seemed her aunt had planned to give whatever was inside away. Curious, she opened the box to find clothes that would need to be aired out. Still, they were pristine, some never worn, and the others barely touched. Azaleigh dragged that box to one side and moved to the others. Fifteen minutes later, she’d placed five more boxes beside the first. It looked like Antoinette had been planning to do a huge donation before her death. Or maybe she’d forgotten the items in the basement. The woman had died of natural causes at the ripe age of eighty seven, so it was plausible her memory had simply failed.
The last box was directly against the wooden walls, and much smaller than the rest. It was the size of a shoebox, perhaps a bit bigger. Stooping down, she drew a hand over it, and instantly sneezed. She’d forgotten to dust it off. Taking the duster, she quickly did that, searching for markings on the box. There were none. As she opened it, a surge of excitement rushed through her veins. Inside was a smaller box, a ring box, which she quickly retrieved. In the neat, cursive letters of one accustomed to penning letters, not typing e-mails, was one name:
The chill returned instantly, and she almost dropped the box. A quick glance around told her she was still alone. Why was her name on this box? Had Antoinette intended to send it to her? It was possible her aunt had felt her time was near and left this gift specifically for her.
Opening the box allowed her to discover the velvet casing of another. She quickly opened that as well, gasping at the beautiful golden ring with black square face, and an oval-shaped, blood-red ruby in the center. An image, a memory, came to her swiftly. She’d worn it once, on one of her visits to Aunt Toni’s, but then it had been too big for her finger. The older woman had clucked her tongue and said something. Struggling to remember what it was, Azaleigh squinted her eyes.
Not yet, little girl
It was either that or something similar. She’d been six, maybe. Five. It was twenty years ago.
Azaleigh quickly slid the ring onto her index finger, delighted it was the perfect fit, before returning her attention to the box. There was a book, an old hardcover from the looks of it, at the bottom. The rough feel of the cover had her thinking it was an ancient dictionary or encyclopedia. After a few attempts at retrieval, Azaleigh overturned the box. It thudded loudly as it hit the wooden ground, kicking up dust from under the floorboards.
Lifting it, and sneezing as her nose was promptly attacked by dust-mites, she turned the ten pound book over, and stared at the inscriptions.
Livre de Sorts—St. Croix
It was French for Book of Spells, and their ancestral family name, St. Croix.
Eyebrows furrowing, Azaleigh could only nod, an amused smile curving her lips. Even from the grave, Aunt Toni was eccentric. She had the feeling the woman would love to know that.
She spun so fast the book fell from her limp fingers, narrowly missing her toes and echoing through the enclosed space like a gunshot.
There was no one in the basement with her. She spun again, bringing herself back to her first position. Alone still. Her eyes went to the boxes, but they were all pressed against the wall, so there was no chance someone was hiding behind them, ready to jump out and murder her.
She laughed, a dry sound. Obviously, she’d watched too much Wes Craven and Stephen King as a child. Azaleigh looked back to the book at her feet, and was bending to retrieve it when she noticed her black sweats streaked with grime. Brushing them off took less than a minute but it was during that process her eyes came across something in the ground, an outline. The basement floor was covered in dust, yet there were four grooves in the old wood that seemed clean.
Azaleigh immediately slammed her boot-covered foot onto the wood, listening for the sound, before moving a few paces away, and doing the same for another patch. There was a difference. Something was under there, possibly a safe. Grabbing the broom, she quickly swept away as much of the dust as possible before lowering herself to her knees and searching out a lever.
“What are you doing down here?”
Azaleigh screamed, jumping to face the voice, and slapped a hand to her mouth when she spied her mother. The sound halted Priscilla, dressed in a silk robe to cover her negligee, mid-step on the staircase. Eyes wide, she looked as ready to bolt as her daughter.
“Jesus, Mama! Don’t do that!” Thank God her heart was good. According to her last check-up, she was in great shape. Morning jogs, and the occasional treadmill run to keep her cardiovascular health, were working for her.
“Do what?” Priscilla demanded with a sniff, touching her nose as if willing the allergies not to come. “And stop taking the Lord’s name in vain.”
“Scare the shi—. You scared me.” She was an adult woman who could not curse in front of her mother. It was how Azaleigh was raised. Whenever she’d muttered a bad word, Priscilla would give her ‘the look’ which clearly said once was at times tolerable and twice would receive a smacking.
“I’m sorry, baby. I woke up and couldn’t find you anywhere.” She sneezed, a pretty sound to go along with an equally beautiful woman. Azaleigh knew she was pretty if only because she’d been told numerous times of her resemblance to her mother, a dead ringer for Dorothy Dandridge with her thin, heart-shaped face and prominent cheekbones, and her old-world Hollywood grace. From what Azaleigh could see, the only true difference was Priscilla’s complexion, a deeper, caramel hue, and her curvier frame. Her mother had been pampered by Azaleigh’s father, and when he was no longer there, her second husband, Richard, took on the role with gusto.
“I swear, Aunt Toni’s house always makes me feel like someone’s playing Peeping Tom and I’m the unsuspecting victim.” Priscilla shuddered, gripping her pale pink robe closer to her body. “Are you sure you don’t want to change flights and fly out with me today?”
“Mama, I’m closing with the buyers on Friday. It’s only two days away.”
“You don’t have to be here to do that. You can have that man, what’s-his-name again, that nice realtor—Mr. Townes—do it for you.”
“I’d still have to sign.”
“That’s what fax machines are for, sweetheart.”
“I took two weeks off.”
“Doesn’t mean you have to stay in Hallows Brook, Georgia, of all places. A week and some days is a long enough time. Aunt Toni would have been so proud of you, taking charge like you did.” She nodded and clasped her hands together. Even in the dim light and from her distance, Azaleigh could see the large, square diamond on her mother’s left hand. “Come to
with me.” When she lifted a brow, Priscilla clarified. “It’s the new spa over on Park Ave. Beverly and I made appointments for Friday, but you can take her spot. She won’t mind.”
Azaleigh frowned. She wasn’t exactly a ‘spa day’ person. Relaxation to her included sitting under a large tree with enough shade on a bright, sunny day and reading a mystery-suspense or classic novel.