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Chapter 6

I was dreaming. I found myself in the same field as I'd been in during the strange dream that I had experienced in the hospital. Once again, the crop was lush and green, and my feet were bare. The air was cool and fresh, so I definitely was not in Alabama. The sky was darker and thick black rain clouds were collecting on the horizon. It looked like it was going to be a terrible storm.

The Old Man was there also. This time he was sitting on a small grassy mound. His hair was still wild and white, his cane sat on the ground next to him, and he was absently polishing his small round glasses on a white handkerchief.

"Hello, Boy. Welcome again here." His accent was still thick, reminding me somewhat of my grandparents on my mom's side of the family. A deep Eastern European sound, but not from any of the languages that I spoke.

"What am I doing here?" I asked, sitting down on the grass next to him. We watched the storm front approach. The wind was beginning to pick up and the crop was waving under the onslaught. "I thought you said that we wouldn't meet again unless I did something stupid and got killed."

"I was wrong. I new at this too," he answered. "Is closer now. So I help more easy."

"What is closer now?"

"You will see. It comes." He pointed at the storm roiling across the distant landscape.

"What comes?"

"The storm. I show you when can. I help you if can."

"Help me with what?" This was a confusing dream, not helped at all by my host's mangled English.

"The evil comes. The Cursed One brings. You will stop, if can. If not, time will die." He stated it as if that cryptic information was a simple fact.

"Who are you?"

"I told you. I am friend. I here to help." He spit on his glasses and continued to polish them. I noticed that he wore a small Star of David around his neck. His clothes were old and simple, and appeared to be sewn by hand.

"What's your name?"

"No one ask that for long time."

"That doesn't answer the question," I replied.

"My name not matter now, Boy. I am just Old Man."

He held up the glasses and examined them, nodding in satisfaction before placing them on his face. "Is good. Help me up, please." I stood, and then lent him a hand as he slowly rose to his feet. I retrieved his cane and handed it over. The polished wood was surprisingly heavy and dense.

As I looked up I realized that somehow the storm had drawn impossibly close. The blue sky was blotted out and the wall that was approaching was a swirling mass of darkness, clouds, and lightning. The sky had taken on a green halo and I could feel the energy crackling through the ground. The crop was lying down or being torn out of the soil as powerful gusts struck us.

"We go now. I show you what I can. I need your help."

"Okay," I answered, not knowing what else to say.

"You help me. I help you. No can promise it will work, but I will try." He grasped my wrist. His cold hands were frail and arthritic.

He adjusted his glasses and watched with hard eyes as the storm approached. It was moving across the land like a tidal wave now, closing on us with what seemed like malevolent intent. As it grew closer I could see that there were shapes in the clouds—warriors, monsters, death, plague, famine, suffering, pestilence and war. My pleasant dream was changing into a nightmare. The roar of wind and crashing of thunder and wails of something else washed over us. The wall of black hit us, and we were swiftly engulfed.


Still dreaming. Only now, I was somehow above the MHI compound. I had no body, but somehow I could see, and not only that, I could see everything. Walls meant nothing to me. Maybe seeing wasn't the right term. I was aware of everything. I was not limited by the information that my eyes could register or that my brain could process. I found my body sleeping peacefully in the barracks. Trip, in the bunk above, was reading some pulp fantasy novel as he did every night. The man was a fantasy book addict.

The rest of my fellow trainees were sleeping or pretending to. In the women's barracks I was not surprised to learn that Holly Newcastle slept in the nude. As interesting as that sight was, I moved on. I was no Peeping Tom, or in this case a peeping ghost.

The office/fortress was totally open to me now. It was much larger than any of us had realized, with a huge underground level that was a complete secret to the trainees. In the dark corners I glimpsed that not all of the other employees were human. What a strange dream. On the top floor our instructors were holding a meeting around a huge table. Julie, Harbinger, Sam, Milo, and Grant were arguing about something. I focused in on that, and somehow my presence joined them in the room. Movements were cloudy, and the voices were indistinct and muffled because of all of the other sensations I was receiving without my normal faculties.

"No other teams are available. Just us and the Newbies. Boone's team's in Atlanta. They just finished a case, and they can meet us on the way. I can send them the schematics." Julie was speaking.

"We'll need extra men," Sam said, his voice echoing strangely. "Freighter that big is too hard to cover with just two teams. And we don't have an effing clue what we're facing."

"The Newbies aren't ready," Milo stated flatly. "Most of them would get killed if it gets hairy."

"Who do we have who's ready then?" Harbinger asked. "We can keep them in reserve. They don't need to be in front."

"Mead, Lee and maybe Triple J," Grant said. "Green could, except that oaf put him in the hospital."

"Newcastle can handle support," Milo added.

"Agreed," stated Harbinger.

"What about Pitt?" Julie asked.

"No way. He's out of control," Grant replied hotly.

"He's also the best shooter we have. I hate to admit it, but he's even better than I am," Sam said. The big cowboy banged the table for emphasis.

"Pitt's a hothead. He'll blow it," Grant retorted.

"He is a natural leader, however." Milo stuck up for me. "Put him in charge of the Newbie squad. The others will follow him."

"I vote that he goes," Julie said. "You heard the French. They lost a whole team on that boat. We don't know what's out there. We need every shooter we can get."

"I don't like the Frenchies, but their Hunters are first rate. I'll give them that," Milo said. "If something on that ship took out their team, then I'm guessing that it's bad news. I've got a feeling we're going to need trigger pullers."

"Done. Wake up Pitt, Jones, Mead, Lee and Newcastle. Let's move, folks. Clock's ticking," Harbinger ordered. Grant sulked and the rest of the team sprang into action.

Cool, I thought to my disembodied self. This was an interesting dream. Harbinger jumped as if somebody had startled him. He turned and scowled at the corner of the room that held my consciousness. Before he could act, my presence was suddenly jerked out of the room, through the roof, and into the night sky, leaving the man scowling in puzzlement at the now empty room. I heard the mysterious Old Man's voice.

"Sorry. Lost you for minute. I not done this before."

The ground flashed by below as my awareness sped through the air at what had to be a thousand miles an hour. The darkness was interrupted by the occasional lights of human activity, and finally a mass of lights on an otherwise dark coast came into focus as we appeared to slow. I could sense masses of people, most sleeping, a smaller number awake. The ocean stretched black and unrelenting before us, while above, unfettered by normal human senses, I could make out literally billions of stars. It was beautiful.

Then I was on a dark beach. Behind me was a patch of swampy forest, lit by incandescent gasses and teaming with life. Out to sea, something approached. I could sense the shape of men in a small lifeboat. The boat moved soundlessly toward the beach, propelled not by wind, oar or engine, but rather by some force that even in my dream state I could not understand. As the boat approached, the sounds of life behind us were suddenly silent as every living creature either fled or hid. Somehow I knew that even the fish in the water were swimming away from the boat in a panic. They knew something in their simple brains that all of the sleeping humans nearby did not. An unnatural fog, somehow icy in the humid southern air, swirled around the small craft.

"He comes," said the Old Man.

"Who is he?" my dream self asked.

"I know him as the Cursed One."

There were multiple shapes in the boat. Some appeared to be human, and were crouched low in the hull, red eyes scanning the beach, noses sniffing the air for prey. I recognized them from Harbinger's lectures. Vampires. The kings and queens of the undead, and from the vibe that I was getting from them, these were ancient and powerful beings. Master vampires. According to my lessons, masters were solitary creatures who had never been known to work together. Apparently the lessons had been very wrong. My dream was getting ugly.

Standing in the midst of the creatures was some thing. At first it appeared to be a man. Cloaked in a huge robe, only the reflection of what appeared to be a polished steel breastplate and helmet could be made out through the unnatural fog. The armor reminded me of the type that the conquistadors had worn. A sense of pure evil emanated from the cloaked being, an icy feeling of dread that I could feel piercing through my consciousness. I could not imagine how horrible it would have been if I had been there in my physical body instead of in this dream. As the image drew closer I could see a mass of withering blackness glistening between the creases of the armor and under the helmet. I could not comprehend what it was, but it certainly was not flesh. Somehow the twitching movement brought back memories of the boxes of live earthworms that my father used to fish with.

It looked almost like the famous painting of Washington crossing the Delaware, only this time featuring a host of evil undead, and some hideous monstrosity in the place of the great general. There was a name painted on the side of the craft. Antoine-Henri. The lifeboat glided up onto the sand with a crunch, and the vampires immediately sprang out and formed a protective circle around the thing. Some splashed out into the surf to cover that direction. There were six of them, both male and female, and they were unnaturally graceful and swift. They were evil and savage, but somehow beautiful at the same time. A seventh vampire remained in the craft with its master. If the thing was the commander, then that vampire was its lieutenant. I felt a seething hatred around me. It was coming from the Old Man, and it was directed at that seventh and final vampire in particular. It was a tall, pale thing with a hatchet face, slicked back hair, and a dark trench coat that it wore like a uniform. The vampire actually stood at attention as the armored monstrosity glided onto the beach.

When the thing touched the sand, the whole universe jolted. A blast of discomfort rippled through every living being for hundreds of miles. You may have felt it yourself; an unexplained shiver, a sensation of fear that had come out of nowhere, a crawling feeling in the pit of your gut, a jolt that tore you out of sleep. That was the Cursed One setting foot on his new land.

The lead vampire announced something in a foreign language. It took me a moment to recognize it as Portuguese, or a dialect thereof. I knew enough of the language to understand.

"Welcome home, Lord Machado," the creature crowed, bowing deeply. All of the other vampires forming the perimeter immediately bowed as well, the ones in the surf submerging themselves completely in the saltwater waves. It did not matter to them. They did not need air. The abnormal fog drifted up onto the beach, serving as the fanfare for the abomination before us. "Your kingdom awaits."

The thing was silent. It slowly rotated, taking in the sight. Beneath the cloak and armor I could not tell how it moved, but it was black and damp and slithery. It turned until it looked right at us. I could feel its gaze sweep across us, and if I had been in my body I would have been trembling. I could not see eyes, but somehow it knew we were there. Instantly the vampires jerked up and followed their leader's gaze, somehow locking onto the Old Man and me. I felt fear greater than I ever had before. Greater than when I had died. Greater than anything I could imagine. The creature did not want my life. It wanted my very soul and the soul of every person I had ever loved.

"Hello, Byreika." The lead vampire smiled, revealing pointed incisors. "My, it certainly has been a while, hasn't it? I see you brought a friend."

The Cursed One raised a strangely jointed, cloaked limb and pointed at us. I could feel the flash of panic from my incorporeal companion. With an explosion of sand and seawater, several massive shapes crashed into the surf around us. I had not sensed them circling above. Giant horrific things with massive wings beating, they surrounded us, and moved toward us, murder in their blank eyes. They were enormous clawed beasts, horns and talons glistening with sea spray.

"Get us out of here!" I screamed.

The world jerked wildly around us as my consciousness was pulled again through the night sky, faster this time than before. The winged monsters below us sprang into pursuit, blasting holes through the ice fog with their gargantuan wings, but they were limited by their physical bodies and we were not. Far more terrifying than the monsters was the feeling of the Cursed One somehow trying to latch onto us to keep us from escaping. It was as if a net of blackness were being thrown, and we were the target. The creatures beneath us rapidly shrank from view. Somehow we slipped through the evil grip as my consciousness screamed across the sky at unbelievable speeds. I had one last view of the MHI compound before I flew through the roof of the barracks and slammed back into my body.


I awoke screaming, tearing at my sheets, and crying for the Old Man to save us from the Cursed One. Trip was standing at my bedside, shaking me.

"Owen! Dude! Wake up. It was a dream. Calm down."

Gasping for air and lying back on the sweat-stained sheets, it was only a dream. The storm. The Old Man. The Cursed One. The vampires. It was all a dream. Everything was fine.

"I had the worst nightmare," I gasped.

"No kidding. You were really freaking out. Everybody was. Just a couple of minutes ago everybody in the barracks woke up. Like the whole place was having a nightmare or something. I get the feeling that something really bad just happened."

Then our door opened. Earl Harbinger and Sam Haven were standing in the hall, both were suited up in full armor, bristling with ammunition and weapons.

"What's the racket?" Harbinger asked.

"Just a bad dream," I answered.

The Director of Operations frowned at me. He had felt the strange sensation as well. "Both of you. Grab your stuff. Get over to the armory and get suited up. We have a mission. Consider the weekend cancelled," Harbinger ordered, as he slung an ancient Thompson submachine gun over his shoulder.

"We have a ship to catch," grunted Sam, while twirling the ends of his mighty mustache. "Think of this as a field trip."


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