Dust flew high in the golden sunlight streaming through the windows in the attic of Crimson Tears. Dust cloth in hand, Faye Donahue swept it along the bookcase she had unloaded. “Edwin,” she said, “Let’s get this pushed against the wall.”
Edwin Van Der Barr crossed the attic to where Faye stood with one hand on the back of the bookshelf, and the other hand under one of the shelves. With a soft “One, two, three!” they hoisted it between the two of them to the wall of the attic.
Often, during the winter months, the roving strays returned home to hibernate or cohabitate, and the attic had a few beds, a rectangular box with pillowed sides resembling an open coffin, and lots of accumulated stuff.
The stuff would be shuffled to the basement for the winter months, into the dungeon (much to Lady Antinov’s chagrin every year). Every year she announced that they should go through it. Every year she had neither the time nor patience to do so. Not even during the winter of the pandemic. But this year, Edwin—the youngest and most curious member of Crimson Tears in a very, very long time—had decided to take an inventory of the boxes. Not just the Holiday decorations (which he categorized very carefully item-by-item on his list, adding the list just inside the box once repacked), but also the stacks of books that Faye was beginning to load back onto the shelf- dusting each one lightly.
Amongst the books was a stack of envelopes, unassuming at a first glance, and he began to open them gingerly one by one. He grinned after opening the first envelope. “Can you imagine Antinov keeping a love letter up here?” he called over to Faye.
“What?!” Faye shook her head. “No, never. And be careful, if it’s as old as she is it might crumble to dust.”
“It’s from 1900 according to the date on it.”
Edwin rolled his eyes. “I’m going to give it to her.”
Faye gave him a LOOK. Then she sighed. “I only am going to warn you once. She may not be appreciative. Actually, those time capsules you have in front of you could be something you don’t want to have to deal with.”
“If I find one of yours, I promise not to read it.”
“It’s not about any of them being mine. I don’t think any of them are, but the fact is that they are up here for a reason: to be forgotten.”
“Or to be saved,” countered Edwin.
Faye let out a grumpy sound before descending the ladder to the upper floor of Crimson Tears.
“My, you seem to have found the treasure trove, haven’t you?” She picked up an envelope by the corner, postmarked 1984 to Lady Antinov’s alias in the 70s through the 90s. “Here, this is a special one. You can have it. Go take a break downstairs and leave the rest of these to me.”
His cheeks turned bright pink as he accepted the puffy envelope and took it with him down the steps. Antinov settled on the floor with minor difficulty, picking up the letter that Edwin had found first. “Now then, let’s find a safer place for you away from prying eyes, hm?”
Edwin settled on the couch in the receiving room. He opened the envelope and found a letter and cassette tape.
The days pass slowly without your shining face, but I find ways to pass the time. I hope you’ll forgive the letter. I know you wanted to sample the coast with me but couldn’t leave your family in Missouri, no matter how I begged. So I wanted to send a little of me back to you, now that I’ve traveled up and down the Eastern and Western seaboards.
I did it the only way I know how. I hope you like it.
P.S. I’m going to go on a cruise from Greenland to Europe. Wish me luck!
“Under protest,” murmured Edwin before showing Henrietta the letter. “Antinov said I could have this letter. I think it’s from a past member of Crimson Tears. Does the name ring any bells?”
“Not for me,” Henrietta replied after a moment of thought. “With a name like Lionel, he could be one of the daywalkers. But if he were a vampire, he would have likely learned Antinov’s real name, not her pseudonym, and used it.”
“Unless he was worried the letter could be intercepted.”
“Oooooh. Good point. Then it does make sense to use her nickname.”
Faye entered the room. Edwin picked up the cassette. “We’ve gotta get a cassette player.”
“I think I know where we can find one.” Faye tilted her head. “Who wants to go to campus with me after sunset?”
Henrietta sighed. “You two kids have fun, I’ve got to go to work tonight.”
“We’ll tell you all about it,” Edwin promised.
“You better,” she said, standing up.
The librarian verified Faye’s campus ID and took them there herself.
“Now, don’t play anything too loud where it could disturb the other patrons,” cautioned the librarian as she unlocked the door. “It’s the time of year when everyone is working on their projects before fall break.”
“We won’t,” promised Edwin.
The librarian nodded curtly and returned to the front desk. Faye brushed a lock of blond hair away from her face as she adjusted her mask. The pandemic had its strong points and weak points, but one of them was blending in a little bit better on campus.
“Would you do the honors?” Edwin asked. The AV room was a mix of television screens, tape decks, an eight track and laserdisc player, speakers, and wires. It boggled him a little.
They recognized all the songs except one. There was Johnny Fark and the Slayers, The Beast Boys, Darkness Falls, and other popular songs from around the early 80’s and before. Even the ones they didn’t recognize they were able to look up on 0ogle. Except the last track on the B side.
Their eyes glazed over. Faye came out of it first. The tape deck clicked with the end of the cassette, and she shook herself at her shoulders and chest, and looked at Edwin with wide eyes. He was murmuring words from the song, ancient words that he likely had never spoken before. His eyes were glazed over. He had gone away, a long way away, and Faye touched his shoulder.
“Edwin!” admonished Faye. She looked as though she had been slapped.
Edwin’s eyes grew wide, and he came out of it with the sound of his name. “Oh god, I’m so sorry Faye. I didn’t hurt you, did I? All I can remember is that we were playing the cassette and a beautiful singer… Faye, I have to find her. I think I’m in love.”
All attempts were countered with newfound obstinate behavior.
As they entered the house, Antinov descended the stairs.
The entire story tumbled out of Faye and Edwin’s mouths, as they talked over each other. Antinov held up a hand. “Edwin, I hope you have learned a lesson about going through other people’s mail.”
“Lady Antinov, I’m going to meet Lionel. I’ve got to.”
“I forbid it.” She turned and began to walk up the stairs.
“Please. Please?” He sang a few bars of the song that had entranced him so. Antinov turned.
“And if he is alive he’s moved from the address on the letter to me. Edwin, when your grandfather left you in my care he insisted that you stay in Saint Louis until you were 21. You’re 19, 20 on Christmas. If you want to break the rules, do it when you’re old enough to earn the consequences.”
“What if I go with him,” said Faye.
“I. FORBID. IT. MUST. I. KEEP. REPEATING. MYSELF? You’re both CHILDREN practically. Faye, letting you take a road trip two years after your turning is practically a death sentence. And we’re in a pandemic. No, you are not driving Edwin to the coast. You are not searching for the phantom singer. You are not to leave Crimson Tears except to go to school, hunt, and come home.”
The internet was obfuscating at turns, but generally helpful. After searching on the Nightweb forums and starting a Dreaddit thread, he began to gather other stories of the beautiful singer, or others like her. Soon he had a binder full of documents he had printed and Identified the mystical creature as a West Coast Syren.
He talked nonstop about it to Faye and Henrietta, and whoever would come visit at Crimson Tears. Everyone except Antinov, who dismissed his obsession in full.
The Christmas Edwin turned 21 was his going away party. He had announced that he would be going on a journey and bought a used Winnebago with a tape deck. Antinov danced with him under the chandelier at the bottom of the steps and sang the song that had been haunting his dreams. He stopped suddenly.
“I never forgot it,” said Antinov, looking at him. He no longer glazed over at the song when he listened to it, but it still captured his mind, attention, and curiosity. “Lionel Sacrecouer is buried in an empty grave in Los Angeles. He goes by the pseudonym of Michael Lyons now. With a y. He’s in San Francisco.”
She gave him a piece of paper from her purse that she had prepared in advance. “Happy Birthday. Please don’t die looking for her… or him… whoever the singer is.”
One road trip later, stopping at camping locations along the way, he landed at the door of Michael Lyons in the tilting streets of San Fran. Knocking on the door, his heart pounded incessantly as footsteps clattered down the stairs on their way to open the entry.
A beautiful voice met him from the other side of the door. “Who is it?” the lyrical sound requested.
Edwin’s heart felt like it would burst. “I’m here to see Michael Lyons.”
There was an unlocking of the door from inside, and then the door opened up to show a half-syren, half vampire, around 19 years old. “Dad will be along in a minute. Come on in.” She smiled with her mouth shut and scurried off to find a mask. When she returned, her mask had a set of ruby red lips at the middle of a black expanse. She tilted her blond-white head. “He mentioned we’d be having a visitor.”
“Yes, I’ve been waiting a long time to meet… him.” He paused. “Forgive me, but… do these words mean anything to you?” He sang a few bars of the song.
“My mom used to sing it to make me fall asleep.” Her eyes widened. “You knew my mom?”
Edwin shook his head vehemently. “NO, no. I mean… no, of course not.”
Michael Lyon had been quietly watching from a doorframe nearby and made his entrance. “I hear you heard the mixtape I sent to Antinov from the coast.”
“Then it seems to have fallen into good hands. Stay with us a few days. I’ll fill you in on what you’ve missed.”
Edwin smiled under his mask. “Thank you… so much. I truly appreciate it.”