The sedan purred along the country road. Hedgerows, farmhouses, and unconcerned cows drifted by outside. There was a soft ridgeline running parallel to the road on the south, dotted here and there with the country houses of the wealthy.
The older man was driving. He was probably completely bald, but he had begun to shave his head close so long ago that one couldn't tell when he had reached that state. His hands were gnarled and strong on the wheel; on the back of the right hand a pattern of old scars twisted up his wrist like an old fishing net.
The younger man sat behind him, although the passenger seat was empty. He watched out the window as the rural vista slid past. The sedan was easily forty years old, long and smooth, although without the fins or frills that were the hallmark of one era, or the sharp square edges that were the hallmark of the next. Despite its age, the car was quiet enough that the wind of its passing was louder than the engine.
Both men were dressed in suits, water-blue, plain-looking. The older man had a black tie on. The younger man's tie was pale green.
"Look at that," the younger man said. "Why would anyone build such an ugly house?"
"Two ugly houses," the older man said. "Both of those are Lord Aganini's. He's trying to evoke the leaning tower of Pisa."
The houses in question huddled against the hillside, poured concrete confections that for some reason didn't seem out of place in their laconic setting, like oddly twisted rocks that simply hadn't grown lichen yet.
"Does he ever have to live in them?" the younger man asked.
"I couldn't tell you. But there are lots of these country houses here - close to the city, the land's cheap, and your only neighbors are a handful of bumpkins."
The younger man watched the houses drift by. There was quiet, and the whistle of the wind. The sky was slate grey, overcast. Rain was scheduled for the evening.
"Lady Colinbroke, right?" the younger man said finally.
"That's right," the older man replied.
The older man rumbled in his throat. "Let me put it this way. Her uncle, by marriage, was Lord Colchester."
"The Lord Colchester? Hero of Blenheim?"
"So she's been here for... why is MEA sending us now?"
"Because something's changed. Don't ask, I don't know what. Probably ate one of Lord Aganini's kids or something. You read the notes on her?"
"Yeah." The younger man looked out the window. "Vampire, right?"
"More or less. You read."
"Right." A roadside cow had lifted its head to watch them pass, and the younger man watched it, watching them. "I hope this won't be like Varna."
"It won't," the older man said quietly. "Nothing could be like Varna."
They rode in silence a few more miles, then turned left onto a smaller, less maintained road. They were passing through the lowlands now, the hill and its country estates left behind. Tilled fields and run-down barns appeared then hid themselves behind thick hedges. An abandoned petrol station went by.
Ahead, another crop of roadside buildings drew close. They were abandoned, with the exception of a bar on the right, flickering neon advertising a beer that went out of fashion two decades ago. The sedan slowed.
There was a woman standing at the side of the road, opposite the bar. She was wearing a shawl which covered her hair and shadowed her face. Her dress was of some sand-colored fabric, covered in lace.
The car pulled to a stop next to her, and the younger man leaned over to open the rear door.
"A ride, my lady?" he asked.
She smiled, briefly, then slid into the car. The door closed after her, though no hand had emerged from her shawl. The sedan started forward.
The younger man examined their passenger. She was young and pretty, and soft gold hair was visible at the edges of her face, under the shawl. Her eyes were in enough shadow that he could not determine their color. She seemed pale, washed out, all the colors of her skin and clothes drab and worn.
"Please take me by my home," the woman said, speaking to the driver in a soft voice.
"Huldon Manor?" he asked, not turning.
"Then you know me," she replied.
"I do, Lady Colinbroke," he said.
She said nothing. The road turned left, along some ancient property line, and the neon of the pub winked out in the distance.
"Your uncle is Lord Colchester?" the young man asked her.
"Aye," she replied softly, not facing him. "A man with a fine talent for murder." There was a bitterness in her voice that surprised him.
He let the story behind her words lie quiet, not pressing for more. She wore her sadness tighter than she wore her shawl, and did not invite questions. And so they rode.
The scenery was slowly changing. They had passed the last of the farms some time ago, and the land had gone from fields to pasture to, now, scrub brush and wild grass. Far off on their right, a tall building was coming closer.
"My lady," the driver said, "we draw near."
She paused a moment before replying. "You are here for me," she said, and it was a question.
"We are, my lady," the older man replied.
"You cannot touch me by day," she said. "And at night..."
"We know, my lady," he answered. "At night you become a creature of the most severe evil."
The sound of the wind was dying, as the car slowed.
"That is why we are here," he added. "We shall do what needs be done."
"Strange," she replied distantly, "I believe you might," and finally turned to look at them, at the older man still gripping the wheel, and at the younger man seated next to her in the rear of the car. Her eyes were ice blue.
The building was close, now, an imposing stone block, windows broken behind tattered shutters, crowned by a forest of crumbling chimneys. The rusted iron gate hung half-open.
The car stopped at the gate.
"We are here, my lady," the older man stated. He opened his door, and stepped out of the car.
The woman looked out at the manse. "I wish it," she said, in a whisper meant for only the younger man's ears, "but I am very afraid."
"Do not be afraid," the younger man said. "It is not the end. We are simply sending you further, to where you need to be."
He kissed her on the cheek, and felt nothing, though she looked at him with her pale blue eyes. Then she stepped out of the car through the closed door, and began to move towards the mansion.
The younger man stepped out of the car, and walked around back. The older man was already there, opening the trunk. He watched the woman drift through scattered debris, and pass through the closed front door. He sighed.
"The sun will go down in half an hour," he said, pulling a black bag from the trunk. He handed it to the younger man. "We have to find her before then, so that we can stake her precisely as she becomes solid again."
The younger man simply nodded, and looked at the door she'd walked through. Despite the general decrepitude of the building, it seemed solid, and doubtlessly locked and barred. He sighed.
The older man took another bag from the rear, and closed the trunk. They shared a look, and started in through the gate.
Afterword: This is all from a dream I had Sunday morning. It made enough coherent sense that I didn't want to reveal its nature before you read it, but now you know. Sorry it ended where it did - blame my wife.
Oh, and MEA is the Ministry of Extranatural Affairs. Pronounced "me-ah", as in "culpa".
- Sun Ra
Columns by Sun Ra