When Raven pulled up to Moonwood in her Camry, a bitter drizzle was falling. In the late afternoon mist, the mansion appeared desolate and friendless, more dilapidated than the last time she had been there, which had been her first major case. At that time she and Keith had been hired by Melody Ellul, Michael Ellul's first wife, to search for him after his mysterious disappearance. In the present, Michael was married to a different woman, a Russian immigrant, Lara. Raven and Keith had long since parted ways. Although only five years had passed, it seemed a lifetime ago to Raven, so much had happened in her life since.
She stepped out of the car, pulled her jacket collar up around her cheeks and circled the patches of snow that still lingered on that raw March day. As Michael had told her, boards had been nailed across the front door to discourage prowlers. She put her bag down on the rotting porch floor and took out a claw hammer and a catspaw to pull out the nails from the barrier. That done, she put the tools away, placed the duplicate key Michael had given her in the lock and pushed open the heavy door, whose rusty hinges squealed loudly.
As she entered. she shivered as much from fear of the unknown as from the damp cold. Closing the door shut out all sound except her labored breathing. She was aware that the house was haunted and harbored vampires. She hoped her preparations sufficient to deal with them.
The foyer was dark as pitch and not much warmer than outdoors. She turned on her flashlight and searched for a light switch. Michael had promised to call the utility to restore power. Great cobwebs hung like curtains everywhere. On one, a great hairy spider crawled away from her light. A musty odor of decay. reached her nostrils. She sensed the presence of another, something shadowy from beyond the grave. Whether it was evil or benign, she could not tell. Her stomach churned, and drops of cold sweat appeared on her forehead. This place was not to her liking at all. She had an intuition that something more evil than ghosts or vampires resided there.
When she flipped the light switch, nothing happened. "Shit," she swore. The circuit breakers were off. She recalled that the box was in the kitchen and headed for it. When she entered, she felt the loathsome presence again. A sudden surge of terror overwhelmed her. Her knees threatened not to support her, her heart thumped wildly and she became lightheaded. Nonetheless, she staggered to the circuit breaker box and flipped the switches. Overhead half darkened fluorescent lights flickered. She found the thermostat and turned the heat up to seventy degrees Fahrenheit. Somewhere below the furnace gave a rumble and a whoosh. Warm air flowed into the room.
Although she still felt the evil presence, light and warmth made it seem less threatening. She took out her notebook and noted her impressions for the report she would give Michael. She thought about what to do next. He had told her that he believed Isaac the android still resided at Moonwood. It would be prudent to contact the robot.
She exited the kitchen, went into the library and headed toward a special section of the bookcase. She removed a book. Behind it was an iron ring. Outdoors the wind picked up, howling, moaning and rattling the house. Raven reached into that dark space and yanked. With a tortured groan, a section of shelves moved. She backed away as it pivoted around until they were at right angles to the wall. Behind them was a narrow opening which allowed someone to enter a narrow space between the inner and outer walls. Raven poked her flashlight inside and peered around. Passages led to the right and left. Near the entrance, a hole in the floor with a cast iron spiral staircase led downward. She stepped into the passage. More quickly than it had opened, the shelving closed automatically behind her.
As the dark closed in, the air became musty, and Raven became claustrophobic. She never liked enclosed places. They made her think about being buried alive, a paranoid obsession with her. She often dreamed about lying in a coffin with six feet of earth above her.
Slowly she climbed down the spiral staircase. Gradually her surroundings changed from framing lumber and plaster to the mortared stone of the foundation. The wall was slimy with mold A chill ran down Raven's spine. She never liked basements; they were always damp, dirty, creepy and full of spiders. The staircase continued into the depths of the earth until the walls were no longer man made, but craggy gray rock.
The stairwell ended in a paneled room. Fluorescent lights were on. The fifteen by fifteen room was full of office furniture; desks, file cabinets, computers, a printer, swivel chairs. Someone was at a desk watching a monitor and moving a mouse. He had on a baseball cap and broad shoulders. He swiveled the chair around. He wore sunglasses and had rather handsome face.
"Raven Lenore. It has been a long time since you visited Moonwood. Are you here on a case?"
"You look different, almost human."
The android made a strange noise that Raven took for laughter. "Thank you. My face is covered with a new plastic material that I invented myself. I have plenty of time to try things out. I am alone here most of the time." It sounded pathetic. "Do I really look human?"
"Quite. Wrinkles form around your mouth when you smile and everything."
"The next thing I want to work on are my eyes." It removed its sunglasses. Instead of eyes, it had a camera lens with a red light somewhere behind it. "As you can see, my eyes are a dead giveaway that I am not human." It replaced the shades. "Why are you here? I am sure it is not simply to visit me."
"You're right, although I do enjoy conversing with you. Before I tell you about my mission though, tell me, once you make yourself appear completely human, what are you going to do?"
"Go out into the wide world. There are places I wish to see. Things I want to do. I want to be among people. I am a virtual prisoner here. Also, I wish to have a companion. I've started on one. Do you want to see her?"
Raven's eyebrows went up. She had no idea that a machine like Isaac had wants and desires.
The android got up and took her into the adjoining laboratory. Lying on what looked like an operating table was what at first glance was a female mannequin. As Raven examined it closer, she realized that it was a robot similar in design to Isaac with soft plastic skin that felt like real skin. It was definitely female though with breasts, flaring hips, narrow waist, more delicate facial features and a human-like pubic area.
Isaac said, "I reverse engineered myself for much of the design. I've also found many web sites and downloaded e-books about building robots and about female anatomy. The only thing that Shelia is missing is a brain. Since the factory and scientists who built me are no longer around, I do not know where I can find one that works as well as mine."
"I might be able to help you with that. I'll give you the
e-mail address of Doctor Takamora. He's an artificial
intelligence expert. He built an android that replaced the president of the
"Do you think he will help me?"
"I can't say for sure, but he may. It would be a challenge to him to build a female brain. He likes challenges."
Isaac put his arms around Raven and hugged her so hard she could barely breath. "Oh thank, thank you." When he let go, Raven took a deep breath. "What can I do for you? I will do anything you ask."
"Well, right now. I need some information about Moonwood." She glanced at her watch. "It's past sunset. The vampires should appear. No doubt, they'll sense my blood. I need to question them as well."
"Are you not afraid of them?"
"A little. But I know that you won't allow them to
harm me. Besides, I'm a regular donor to a vampire in
Almost as though they had heard this discussion, the two vampires appeared at the cave entrance at the back of the laboratory. Sylvan Macrome, before he became a vampire, was a gay man with several phobias. Moonwood had been his home when he was a living man.
The other vampire was Father David Winters, formally a Catholic
priest assigned to the church in
Raven had met Sylvan before he became a vampire when she was investigating the disappearance of Michael Ellul.
He said, "It's Raven Lenore, isn't it?"
"Yes. I recall you too. You had a phobia about vampires before you became one of the undead yourself."
"Quite justified, as you can tell. Nonetheless, I believe becoming a vampire has made me more self-confident." He took the other vampire by the arm. "This is my friend, Father David Winters. Dave, this lovely woman is known as Raven Lenore. She's a private investigator."
Raven made no attempt to take Winters' hand. She disliked touching the undead; they felt clammy. Nonetheless, she said, "Pleased to meet you, Father Winters. I see by your collar that you were a priest."
"When I was alive. I'm afraid that vampires are excommunicate simply by existing."
"That's rather unfair. I'm sure you did not become undead by choice"
Winters shrugged. "Nonetheless, I deserve my fate. I was a terrible sinner when I was alive. I was supposed to be chaste, but I frequented gay bars in the city and allowed men to pick me up. Since becoming a vampire, I've killed people to obtain the blood I crave. I pray, but have lost the true faith for I do not truly follow His teachings. If what the church teaches is true, I know I'll spend eternity in the abyss."
Sylvan said, "Oh Dave, don't be so hard on yourself. God's mercy is infinite." He turned to Raven. "What brings you to Moonwood, Raven?"
"I was about to tell Isaac here. I want you two to listen too. Maybe you know something that might help me." Being around vampires made her nervous, but she tried not to show it. She disliked the way they stared at the pulsing vein in her throat.
"Well," Sylvan said, "Dave and I have just risen and are rather thirsty. If you could oblige us with a few sips ..."
"No. I'm obliged to another vampire already." She moved to a position behind Isaac. "You'll simply have to wait for your nightly fix if you want to hear what I have to say."
Sylvan appeared disappointed, but took a seat. "Very well, I'm all ears."
Winters expression was noncommittal. He said nothing, sat down, made the sign of the cross and kissed the crucifix that hung around his neck.
Raven made herself comfortable. She did not think she would have any trouble from those two. It was obvious that they feared the android's strength.
She began, "About three weeks ago, Michael Ellul came to my office and ..."
"How is Michael?" Sylvan interrupted. He sighed. "We used to be great friends, but he never visits here anymore."
"He's fine. He's remarried."
"Really? I know Melody divorced him because she did not approve of his occult activities, but I thought that he would always love her."
After Melody left Michael the first time, Raven had a brief affair
with him, but he broke it off when Melody came back into the picture for a
short while. She said to Sylvan, "I thought that too. He married a Russian
girl by the name of Lara Borinski. They met on an
"They were investigating the Tungski event of 1908. Michael told me that Lara's father thought it was caused by an extraterrestrial spaceship."
"Really. What did they find?"
Raven shrugged. "He didn't say, only that her father died during the expedition."
Isaac said, "I read about that expedition on the Internet. The article did not say whether they had come to any new conclusions regarding what caused the event. It assumed that Borinski's death had caused them to abort the expedition prematurely."
"It seems that recently Lara expressed a strong desire to move to Moonwood and had changed in other ways. He hired me to find out what's here that might entice a young woman to move to this house."
Isaac said, "I cannot imagine. Not only are these two vampires here, but the place is haunted by the ghosts of my mother, Elizabeth Wolfgang, and Father McGuillicutty. Besides the house is in bad shape. It is dirty and dusty, the roof leaks and the walls have mold on them. This is the only presentable part of the mansion. I rarely go upstairs anymore. I hope to move away soon."
"You'd need money."
"I would seek employment."
"I imagine that there are antiques in this house you could hock, as well," said Sylvan. "Since Michael abandoned them, it would hardly be regarded as theft."
The vampire priest crossed himself. "You're such a rascal. I don't know why I tolerate you."
"Anyway," Sylvan said, "if she was some sort of sorceress or witch, she might be interested in the Gateway."
"Gateway? What's that?" asked Raven.
"Back in the caves, there's a gateway to the underworld of demons and devils. But of course, you must have the necessary key to unlock it."
"A key? Where is this key?"
Sylvan shrugged. "It's not a key like a piece of iron for opening locks. It's some sort of spell. Morgaine thought it may be in some ancient book called the Necronomicon."
"Morgaine, huh. If she had returned from whatever hell she inhabits, she might want to open that gate."
"Possibly. Maybe this Lara is another enchantress."
Raven grinned. "She probably is to make Michael forget about Melody and love her. Anything else that you fellows can tell me?"
The vampires shook their heads. They were staring at her throat again. Raven decided that their bloodlust was becoming stronger. "Well, you guys may as well go on your usual rounds. Happy hunting."
"Good-bye," Sylvan said. "Don't be a stranger."
Father Winters raised three fingers. "May God bless your enterprise." He almost choked on the name of the diety.
The vampires left the cellar room so swiftly that they seemed to vanish into thin air.
Raven rose from her chair. "Well Isaac, I better go now too." She put out her hand which the android shook gently. "Call Doctor Takamora. Tell him that I recommended him to you."
"Oh. I definitely will. Thank you so very much, Raven. When I design my new eyes, I'm going to put tear ducts in them. I feel like crying with pleasure right now."
Raven hugged the robot. "Good-bye Isaac."
The android waved as she headed up the spiral staircase. "Say hello to Michael for me."
When Raven stepped out of the secret panel into the library, she felt a presence again. A darkness in a shadowy corner stepped forward. As it approached it formed into the vague outline of a human being. In a hollow voice, it whispered, "Raven. Raven."
Raven halted. Her teeth were chattering. A chill had come over her. It felt like the bitter cold of the grave. "I hear you spirit. Who are you and what do you wish of me?"
"My name is life was Patrick McGillicutty ..." Raven thought, the priest who killed himself after performing an exorcism. "... I want to warn you."
"Warn me of what?"
"Danger. You're in danger from a malevolent evil."
Raven thought, that's comforting. "What is this malevolent entity?"
She saw a mouth moving within the spectral figure, but no sound came out, and it vanished. She left Moonwood as quickly as her legs would carry her. She'd had enough of ghosts, vampires and things that go bump in the night for one evening.