A knock came at my door shortly after nine in the morning. I looked out the window from my upstairs room. Delivery truck in the driveway. Hmm? I didn't order anything?
I was just getting ready to hop in the shower after a long shift at work and didn't want to run downstairs to answer the door. Maybe they would go away thinking I was not at home, or they would leave whatever it was they were delivering, at the door.
I was ready for a long hot shower, a shave, and a few hours of sleep. I had just come off a twenty-four hour shift at the firehouse. We didn't have a single call until three o'clock in the morning. Nothing good happens at 3am, and this was no exception. Some called it the 'bewitching hour', or 'the devils hour' because it seemed that bad things happened at three in the morning. Last night was certainly no different.
Some call it 'tragedy', I call it 'job security'.
It seemed that stupid people came alive at that hour and I usually met them when they've gone and wrapped their car around a telephone pole or rolled off a cliff. Those people who drink and drive? Those are the one's I call, "Stuck on Stupid."
This morning however, we had a fire, a semi-tractor-trailer hauling some hay, over heated its brakes. Hay fires really stunk, cotton bails, manure and hay...they just stunk and I stunk. Who ever the person was at the door, man or woman, didn't need to get a whiff of me right now. No, they could just come back later.
"BAM, BAM, BAM."
I live in a small town, where everyone knows everyone...and usually everyone's business. Ours was a town where you could leave doors and windows unlocked. In fact, I can't recall the last time I locked my doors for anything. Even during two week hunting trip to Alaska, I left the house open. The neighborhood kids liked to come over and play 'X-Box', (I'm the reigning 'Halo2' leader in town,) and they felt that while I was gone, they could hone there skills.
They're parents would also come over and either chat, borrow, or just veg out and talk. My house, or home, has swinging doors. My refrigerator always stocked. My satellite TV paid up. I trusted my neighbors and they trusted me.
The annoying person knocked again. My eye's rolled to the back of my head in frustration.
"Come on in,...I'm in the shower." I yelled downstairs.
I had just stepped into the shower, not completely wet yet.
"BAM, BAM, BAM!"
This time there was some urgency to the knocking. "Argh!"
Stepping out of the shower, I put on a rob and went downstairs. What in the world does this person want?
As I neared the door, I began to wonder if it was some emergency. It wasn't uncommon for a friendly neighbor to pay a visit for some reason or another to ask for a Band-Aid rather than call 9-1-1. I usually had a large first-aid kit on hand for that very reason. If it was more serious, then I could at least stabilize the person and then call 9-1-1.
"Bang, bang, bang!"
"Scrud, chill out a minute...I'm coming!"
As I came down the spiral stairs I looked out the window. A white delivery truck had parked out front. I knew the delivery lady for years. She was my High School math teacher. Mrs. Jones. She had a way about her that reminded me of the dark ages. If I got a math problem wrong, I would often get a rap on the head with a wooden ruler. After I came back after twenty years from working as a firefighter in Phoenix, she had retired and worked as a local delivery driver. Mrs. Jones knew I left the doors open and she never felt like she could just barge in and leave a package unless I signed for it. Too much 'by the book' for my taste. Only this time it didn't sound like Mrs. Jones' knocking. Frail, arthritic hands can't bang like that. Which is what started worrying me...If it was Mrs. Jones...she's in a world of hurt.
"Bam, Bam, Bam!"
"Alright, alright, keep yer' panty hose on" as I neared the door. Suddenly the front door flew open, a young woman handed me a medium sized packed, "Where's the bathroom?" All I could do was point. She looked like she was in pain and I was not about to prolong her agony by asking twenty questions. She darted for the bathroom on the balls of her feet. She must have really needed to go, hence the reason for the insistent pounding on the front door to get in. Heck, if she had known me, she could have walked on in, left the package, taken a Coke from the refrigerator and thus save her any possible embarrassment. I could wait for introductions when she came out.
I went to the kitchen and double tied my robe. I didn't want any stranger catching a glimpse of something and ruin any chance of a friendship occurring.
Grabbing a knife from the drawer, I began opening the package. Thoughts crossed my mind as to what it might contain.
There was nothing that came to my mind that I had ordered and my birthday was in July, not October.
A letter in the box was sealed with a dark red waxy substance. I had seen these old fashioned methods of sealing envelopes from the Victorian age, or earlier part of this country. Those early settlers didn't have peel and seal envelopes to enjoy. Rather, each family had it's signature crest in which they dripped hot wax to the back of an envelope and then pressing their 'mark' on the wax, showed it was sealed by the sender and unopened while in transition.
I began to wonder at a possible prank that my buddies at the fire house were conjuring up. Every year at Halloween, which is my favorite holiday.
Cracking open the wax, I opened the large envelope.
It was an invitation to 'Castle Frankenstein' for a reading of a "Will".
"Castle Frankenstein?" I started laughing.
My surprise guest soon appeared from the bathroom, a little red in the face, but with a slower, more relaxed gate. "Sorry for rushing in like that, I couldn't hold it any longer and almost had an accident on your front porch."
"No problem," I offered her a Coke. "If you ever need a pit stop, my doors are always open."
"Thanks." Both for the offer and for the drink. "What is that?"
"I think it's a prank my buddies from my old firehouse in Phoenix are trying to pull on me." I removed the box from the package. It was an elaborate box. About the size of a toaster oven. Twelve inches long, six inches high and equal in depth. It had a shiny black leather feel with impeccable metal carvings for the corners, rear hinges and front clasp. There was a small key hole.
"Did this come with a key of some kind?"
"I don't think so, this was the only package that I think I had for you today."
"Hmm, well I guess I won't be able to open it then."
"That's too bad, I was hoping to see what was in the box."
I examined the box on all sides. It would have been easy to crack it open with a hammer and a screwdriver, but after looking at the artwork and skill that went into making such a box, I chose not too.
"Maybe the 'boys' sent the key separately. Halloween is still a while off, maybe they to add to the suspense."
"I hope I am working when it comes. I'm dying of curiosity."
"You know what they say, 'Curiosity killed the cat'.
"Yeah, but satisfaction brought her back."
I looked into her eye's and we locked. I had finally taken time to notice just how beautiful she was. All I caught before was a uniform and a dark head of hair streak past me. Now I saw a slender young lady of about 30. Olive toned skin, high cheekbones, dark brown eyes. Her hair trailed to her hips in a long braid. Her uniform was typical, but sure looked good on her. She stuck out her arm. "I'm sorry, my name is Valeria, you can call me Val." "Valeria...beautiful name for a beautiful lady."
She smiled. "And you are?" She looked at her clip board, "Mr. Love?"
I was becoming mesmerized. "Uh, oh, yes...that's me. Sorry. You can call me Pete." I shook her hand. It was a little cold, but then it was fall and it was a little cold in the house.
"Well, I'll tell you what. If you get anymore packages for me, feel free to come on over and we can open this prank together."
"Are you sure it's a prank?"
"I've seen a lot of weird stuff in my day and I don't believe there was ever a 'Frankenstein' castle. Yeah, I think it's a prank. My buddies and I go way back on playing jokes on one another. They teased me when I bought this house last year because the realtor said it was 'haunted'. I raised my hands and waved them in a mocking manner.
"You don't believe in ghosts?"
"Oh, I do, I do...I just don't believe this place is haunted." I looked at her and realized I could smell myself and I feared she could smell me too. "Hey look, I've got a shower waiting for me upstairs and I probably stink to high heaven. We had a fire last night and..." She smiled. "I get the hint." She motioned toward her truck. "I have more deliveries to make anyway. Don't wanna get fired." "No, we don't want that." I added. "I hope to see you later with the key." "Yes, the key." She excused herself and I watched her drive off to her next destination.
I must have fallen asleep after the shower. It was dark when I awoke. As it usually gets in October. I got up, put on some sweats and a tee shirt, combed my hair and went downstairs to fix something to eat. The clock toned six o'clock. Clicking on the television, I watched the evening news on FOX while I started to fix something for dinner. After that fire, I felt like a nice juicy steak and potatoes meal. Try to regain some protein.
A car pulled up. With the evening shadows and darkness, I couldn't see who it was.
I chopped some vegetables as I waited. I smiled inside hoping my Halloween pranks were in working order. Setting up a timer for the evenings, when the little 'trick or treaters' came to the door they were met with a fun surprise. Just then, I heard the shrill of a screaming cat, then a howl of a wolf. I rigged a sheet with a skull on a string to whip past anyone who was at the door. This was followed by a tiny scream...the scream came from the guest. I laughed aloud and walked to the screen door. Valeria standing on the porch with a small envelope. "Hi" "Hi yourself...that thing is awful." "Yes, it does sorta catch you off guard doesn't it. Come on in. Have you eaten, I'm just starting dinner." "You cook?" "Every firemen cooks or he goes hungry." "I'm impressed." "Wait until you taste it, you might want to change your mind." "You seem to be healthy enough, so it must be good."
I wasn't quite sure how to take that comment. I always ate good, exercised, and did Tai Chi in the morning. Other than the occasional chicken wing, I was as healthy as a horse.
I looked into her eyes, they looked inviting. She looked inviting.
"I have another delivery for you. It came late and I thought it might be the key to that box you received."
"You have dinner with me, and we'll open it together."
She looked into my eyes with a glimmer of hope.
"That's nice of you, but won't your wife be upset?"
"Not married. You?"
"No, not married, not even attached. Always the brides maid, never the bride as they say."
"If you don't throw up at my culinary skills, I would be happy to cook dinner for you."
"It's a date."
I threw another steak on the grill. "How do you like your steak?"
"How do you like your steak?"
"Not so rare, I like my meat thoroughly cooked."
"Opposites attract I hear?"
I looked over my shoulder to see a smile form in the corners of her mouth. Almost a mischievous smile.
I could hardly take my eye's off of her. She was breathtaking. White button up blouse, faded jeans, and sandals. He hair, where earlier in a long braid, was now loose and flowing. I might be a little naïve in the realm of women, but she looked as if she prepared for this evening.
Heck, she'd probably had the key all the time and waited to see if I would invite her over for dinner. Women were sure tricky creatures. Not that I was complaining. Valeria could trick me all she wanted and I wouldn't care.
We made small talk. I served her dinner, poured some apple cider and lit a fire in the fire place to chase away the chill. I learned a lot about her, and she learned a few things about me. I kept steering the conversation back to her. I felt like I had known her, met her once before. She was as comfortable to me as if we were long lost friends that met again after a long absence. She said she was from Romania. Transylvania to be exact and moved to America to expand her horizons. She ended up in this little town to take the summer off and enjoy the mountains. She decided to stay around for a while after getting to know the towns people. I was glad of that.
I asked her if she was a vampiress, after all, stories of 'Transylvania' and all.
"Want me to show you?" She licked her lips in a sensual way then let out a laugh.
"Maybe I should have sprinkled some garlic on that steak."
"Maybe you should have." She raised one eyebrow and tilted her head forward. "Hey, I'm dying to see what's in that box. Can we open it?"
"I'm tellin' you, it's just a practical joke from my buddies. For all I know, it's a blow up doll with fangs glued onto it."
"That's a pretty nice looking box for a blow up doll."
"Well, one way to find out...still...it seems odd that they would send such an expensive trick..."
"I'll tell you what, if it's a trick, then I will give you a treat."
"Now you're really starting to scare me. You sure you're not a Vampire?"
Valeria raised her hands in the air and let out a shrill laugh. "Eee, hee hee hee!"
"That's a Witch laugh, not a Vampire laugh...Vampires don't laugh, they just make slurping sounds."
"Okay then....'Sluuuurp!" I don't know how she did it, but that was the grossest sounding slurp I had ever heard.
"I thought you were a fireman, aren't firemen supposed to have strong stomach's?"
"Not all of us. Let's go open that box."
We took our plates to the sink and I brought the box down from the shelf. Opening the envelope, I slid out the skeleton key. Holding it up for her to see, "Oooh, scary!"
"What's so scary about a key?"
"Why, it's a 'skeleton key'...."
She gave me a wry grin.
I slid in the key into the key hole ever so slowly. Valeria leaned forward. I turned it slightly. She leaned closer, "AAAH!" I let out a yell.
She screamed and bolted upright.
I laughed and slid off my chair.
"Oh, you're going to get it..."
"I hope so."
I finished turning the key to the right and the box opened slightly. A mist of white dust emerged with a whoosh of air. You could have heard a pin drop. Val offered her hand to me as we looked over at the box. I stood and reached for the box and lightly touched it. Nothing happened. I opened it further and found a bright red stone in the center of the box. It was surrounded by a dark velvet cloth that lined the interior of the box. "Wow!" A scroll was beside the stone.
I lifted the scroll and read it. "Bring this stone as a sign of your heritage and birthright."
"Can I touch it?"
"Sure, it's just a plastic rock. These guys are great."
"This doesn't look or feel plastic Peter, it's heavy. Here." She handed me the stone. As I touched it, there was a flash of light and then darkness.
* * *
I awoke with my head spinning. "What happened?"
"Welcome!" It was a voice I was not familiar with. It was male, mature and smooth sounding. I detected a strange dialect. My mind swam and I imagined the likes of Bela Lagosi in the room. I couldn't move. I was strapped to a long table. My vision cleared and I noticed various strange electronic devices on the wall, on the floor and directly above me. "What happened?"
"You had an accident, you are...(he paused to add emphases) recovering."
"Where am I?"
"You are home my boy, you are home."
The thunder cracked. I was dreaming right? Right? I looked around. Lightning flashed and lit up the room.
It was not my room.
I was laying on a four poster bed with some kind of netting surrounding me.
I was hearing voices in my head.
"He will heal my dear, it takes time."
"But it's been two weeks daddy."
Two weeks for what. My head spun around. Pain filled my body as I tried to move. Another flash of lightning and I saw fresh stitches in my arms and hands. I pulled back the sheets the covered me and waited for the next flash of light. "Aagh!"
Then the door opened and a flicker of flame lit several torches on the wall and illuminated the room. Valeria and an unknown man stood before me. "Good Evening Peter." Came the smooth voice from the man. "I see that you are awake."
"What the heck happened to me?"
Valeria came over to me and sat on the bed. "You had an accident Peter. You were...you were." She ran out of the room crying.
I looked up at the man standing before me.
"She is very attached to you my boy. It pains her to see you in such a state. You see, you were involved in an accident and died from many wounds."
"I brought you here to Castle Frankenstein to offer you a new life."
"A new life?"
"I had to do what I could to repair your broken body my dear boy. In time you will be strong again and be as good as new."
"How did I get here?"
"The red stone I sent you. It was a gate for you to come home."
"Home? Where exactly is this place?"
"You are in Romania."
Now I was really confused. "Don't think I am not appreciative of what you've done for me Sir..." "My name is Vladimere, you may call me Vlad, or if you prefer, Doctor Frankenstein." Lightning flashed again, loud thunder rolled through the sky as if on cue.
"When you are ready, you may dress and join us for dinner."
He was gone before the next flash of lightning as if he never stood in the room.
I was dreaming, I had to be dreaming. When I moved however, the pain assured me that I was in deed awake. My hunger pains also told me that I was awake. I tore off the sheet covering me and I gasped. I looked down and saw a swelling that I had never seen before. "I can't go downstairs with THAT!" My stomach growled. An internal war was waging and hunger overcame any embarrassing factor I might have with this new girth. I reached for my sweat pants and pulled them on..gently. I dressed as much as I could and went downstairs.
Doctor Frankenstein sat at the end of the table with Valeria seated next to him. A chair sat opposite her and I sat there. Valeria kept her brow downward and wouldn't look at me in the eye. "Hello Val." "Hello Peter. I hope you are feeling better." "I am now." A smile formed at the corners of her mouth. She had a sweet smile. I was sure it could melt butter on a winters day.
A servant soon appeared and brought large trays of food. It was truly amazing to see the amount of food that was brought before us. Pheasant, Turkey, Lamb. Fruits and vegetables of various kinds. Breads and fresh wines lined the table as well.
"Please my boy, eat. Tell me if you like my new recipe for cooking pheasant."
"You don't have to tell ME twice...thank you Sir." I should have had better manners, but my stomach was screaming for something to digest. I reached for a leg of pheasant and began to devour it with wanton desire. It tasted like nothing I had ever had. It was a unique flavor that I couldn't place. If I ever got back to the fire house, I would have to cook this for the boys. There was also a new sensation. I could feel the effects of the food as if it were healing me with every bite. The more I ate, the better I felt. It was incredible.
"Our food has special additives my boy, I am quite positive you are feeling those effects even now."
"Yes Sir, I believe I am. What ever it is, I wish I could bottle it and use it back home. The fella's at the firehouse would die for this."
"Really?" He smiled. "Interesting use of words my boy."