I stared again at each figure in turn, willing them to give me an answer. Maybe I just wasn't concentrating hard enough. My fingers absently reached for my pendant, and I glanced down at it, then back to the golden trio. Nothing. If there was something special about these three, I sure couldn't make it out. Enough of this, at least I have the books. There must be a treasure trove of information there, if only I can decipher it.
Mom had been amazed when I led her down to the secret hideaway. I noted with relief that Denis had already cleaned up the rock shards, and removed the crumbling skeleton from the center of the room. He was now in the process of carefully going through the ancient crates and cataloging their contents for the museum.
"See?" I pointed out to her. "The serpent figure was right on this table here, along with all these books. I've been wracking my brain and I still haven't a clue what to do with those statuettes though."
"You're trying too hard, dear. I'm sure the answer will come to you when you least expect it. Now, let's have a look at these books, shall we?"
As mom moved closer to the table to examine the dust-covered volumes, Denis interrupted us with a look of concern.
"I'm sorry, love. I used the museum's best archaeological techniques, but the skeleton still fell to dust as soon as I touched it. I wasn't sure what else to do, so I gathered the dust into one of the smaller vases." He gestured slightly at the small urn that he had placed on the rough table.
"I wanted it off the floor for you and your mom. Poor guy, maybe when things have settled a little more around here we can give him a proper send off."
I gave him an understanding smile.
"I know you did your best, hon. I wonder what he was doing down here all alone?"
Turning back to the table, one particular dusty volume caught my eye. It was bound in plain brown leather, except for a small design painted in the center of the front cover. I carefully blew the dust away to get a better look. My eyes grew wide in amazement, and my hand flew to my pendant. I glanced at the pendant, then back to the painted design - an amber circle, with a tiny flower embedded in the center.
Carefully controlling my excitement, so as not to damage the book, I gingerly cracked it open. It appeared to be in much better shape than the cover had revealed, and the pages turned easily under my shaking fingers. At first I thought it was written in French. My French wasn't the greatest, but I should as least be able to make out the gist of the writing.
Upon closer examination, however, this was no form of French that I had ever seen. I recognised a word here and there, but that was all. I sighed in frustration. I would need to find an expert in ancient Romance languages, which would undoubtedly require a trip to France. And there was no way I could leave Juniper now. It would be years before I could follow this lead.
It was several weeks later, and once again little Juniper had me up at three in the morning. Denis was at the warehouse, and everyone else was sound asleep. Suddenly I heard the the sharp sound of someone knocking on the front door. Gently lowering Juniper back into his crib, I tiptoed downstairs to investigate.
I paused for a minute in front of the door. Who in the world could be disturbing us in the middle of the night? I shrugged off a vague sense of foreboding. Most likely it was one of my dad's informants. They tended to show up at odd hours.
I was completely unprepared for what I saw when I threw open the door. I tried to scream but, as if in a nightmare, no sound would come out. It was all I could do to slam the door shut again as fast as I could.
My heart was pounding out of my chest in a panic, and I was gasping for breath. What was that...thing.. doing on my front porch? I could still feel his cold eyes boring through to my very soul, and ... his fangs were... oh no! My babies! I had to protect my children! What should I do?
Suddenly I found my voice again.
Papa was downstairs in an instant.
"What's the matter, Dilly? You look like you've seen ghost!"
"Not a g-ghost, papa. There's a.. v-vampire.. with h-huge fangs.." It was all I could do to point weakly toward the front door.
Papa didn't look nearly as concerned as I thought he would.
"Hm.. shoulder-length reddish brown hair? Red shirt?"
I nodded numbly, and began to panic again as he approached the doorway.
"Mel! Good to see you again. I'm sorry about that. Come in, come in. Any news?" I stared in shock at my dad as he turned back to me.
"Dilly, this is your mom's Great-Uncle Mel. He's been my eyes in Bridgeport, looking for your sister."
Hmph. So this is what my mom means when she talks about our 'Bridgeport relatives'. The panic in my chest was fast becoming replaced with annoyance. They could have warned me, for pete's sake.
Mom had heard all the commotion and had hurried downstairs to investigate. She and my dad gathered close around 'Uncle Mel' to listen to his news. I shuddered a little and hung back, but still close enough that I could hear.
"I have good news. We found your daughter. El is with her out in the car right now. She was afraid to come in, afraid you'd be angry with her."
"Is she.. alright?" My dad hesitated. I knew what he was trying to ask, without asking.
"Come on, see for yourself!"
Mel winked at me and flashed his fangs as we filed out into the front yard. I glared at him, which made him laugh.
"Mom? Papa?" It was Lotus and she was in fact alright, waving at us with an apprehensive little smile.
My dad reached out his arms to her, welcoming her home.
"Papa! Oh papa, I'm so sorry. I was so afraid. I thought you'd be so angry."
"Oh, baby girl, no. We all love you, and we missed you so much. Welcome home!"
It was obvious that Lotus was practically asleep on her feet, so papa took her gently by the shoulders and led her off to bed, a huge grin on his face the whole time. I haven't seen my dad smile like this since... well.. since the night of that fateful prom,
I turned back to our guests, to find Mel giving my mom a rundown on all the details of the past few days.
"So anyway, it was late, and I decided to go out and hu.."
At this point I noticed El giving him a warning glance, and flinging a sharp elbow into his ribs.
"...err, have a drink at the Plasma 501," he continued, rubbing the side of his ribcage.
"And I noticed a girl huddled on the sidewalk next to the building. I wouldn't have thought anything of it, but I caught a glimpse of green hair. At first she didn't want to come with me, but.. ahh... I can be very convincing."
"We're so grateful for your help. If there's anything we can do for you.."
"Well, there is one thing. It's almost dawn. Do you think we could stay here for the day? We'll head back to Bridgeport tonight."
"Of course. You can have the spare bedroom in the basement."
I stared at my mom in disbelief while Mel smirked at my discomfiture. She hadn't really invited these creatures to stay the whole day!
I had been planning to see how Denis was coming with the artifacts he was cataloging, but unfortunately the way to the crypt led through the spare bedroom. I debated waiting, but finally decided no vampires were going to keep me from doing exactly what I wanted in my own house.
"Just like old times, eh El? Remember the last time we were in this room? They've even kept the same decor all these years."
"Excuse me," I interrupted the reminiscing. "I need to get through to the stairs."
"Sure thing," Mel grinned at me. "What's so interesting down there, anyway?"
I guessed there was no harm in telling.
"We discovered some ancient French artifacts and books. But we can't make out the language."
"Books?" Elvira showed some interest at the mention of books.
"Could I see? I'm a bit of an expert on ancient France."
"She's right, Daffodil," Mel cut in. "She was raised there, weren't you dear? And she has a photographic memory - never forgets a language. She helped my brother Ren with some old maps, if I recall."
I reluctantly handed over the ancient tome.