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By Cass J. McMain
Holland House BooksCopyright © 2014 Cass McMain
All rights reserved.
... Even today, there is something that prevents me, should prevent me. Is it him? Of course it is him. What else would it be?
— from the diary of Martin "Moony" Moonrich
Moony lay against the pillow, alternately glowering and smiling at his daughter.
"How many days have I been here?" The smile went back to a scowl. "Pam? How long?"
"Only a few, Dad." She sighed, turning away and flipping through paperwork. "Did you sign all the forms I gave you? I thought there were more of them."
He shook his head, then nodded. "What? I don't remember any forms. Where did you put my hat?"
"For God's sake ... never mind. Here." She handed him the hat. "You don't need it, but here."
Moony took the hat, an old knitted one, from her. He put it on his head and took it off again, then folded it in his hands, squeezing it as though he could extract juice. His eyes opened wide and he stuffed the hat under his pillow as soon as Pam turned her back.
He was sure she was one of them. He felt for the mirror, and held it casually, waiting for Pam to walk back over near the window. She was one of them, and maybe his son was, too. He laughed a little now, at his daughter's turned back. There was a time when he had loved her. Must have, once. Had he ever trusted her? He closed his eyes briefly and felt the wires there again, scraping his eyes.
"Dad, here, you didn't sign this. You have to sign all of these." She handed over a form, tapping her finger on the dotted line. "Here. And initial next to the date there."
He signed, squinting at the paper, and then at her. It was too late to worry about her. But he had to warn Corky. If he was gone, she'd be in danger. He was sure of it. His niece was all he had left; the only one he could tell. "How long will I be here?"
Pam just shook her head at him, tapping the papers. "Sign, Dad." As he reached for the pen, she saw a glint under his robe. "What's that?"
Moony pulled his arms down quickly. "What? Nothing."
But she was already reaching toward the cross he had hidden near his thigh, under his robe. "Dad ... what are you doing with that? Wasn't that Mom's?"
"Not hers. It was mine. She just borrowed it once in a while. But it's mine."
Pam frowned, and tried to take it from him. "I was sure we buried Mom with that cross. That's the big one she always had by the dresser. Right?"
He pulled away with more strength than she had expected and stuffed the cross down the front of his pajamas. "Must have been some other one. This one's mine." The old man slammed his fists against his chest, apelike, and glared at her. "Mine."
She ran her fingers over the bridge of her nose and closed her eyes. "Fine, fine, whatever." Her father had not been rational for months. Maybe years.
He had been brought here to die.
Papers in hand, she turned briskly toward the door. "I'll be back in an hour or two, Dad. If Bruce comes, make sure he talks to the front desk. They had some stuff for him to look over." She whirled away, and did not see him using the mirror to watch her go.
A demon, he thought. His daughter was evil, turned. She was a demon without human feelings: but he knew the truth. He looked into the mirror again. The journal was in the bookcase, mixed with the other books. His will stated Corky would get the collection, but that wasn't enough. He had to talk to her. He wanted her to have it now, before he died, so he'd know for sure that she understood. So he could explain.
She had to understand. He couldn't keep watch anymore.
Moony frowned into the mirror, then felt for the cross and pulled it free. He laughed a little at an old memory: sneaking in at the end of the funeral service and stealing the cross off the body. It was only fair. She had stolen it from him to begin with.
The wires in his eyes grew more jittery, and he fell asleep with a faint buzzing in his ears.CHAPTER 2
Corky knocked at the door as she walked into the office. "Lew? I have a little problem."
Lewis was sitting at his desk with a pile of paperwork, one hand holding a pen and the other hand on the office cat. The cat's tail slid slowly back and forth in front of him.
"Hey Cork." Lewis raised his eyes. "What's up?"
"I hate to ask, but ... I need some time off."
Lew made a face. "Oh." He drew both hands together and put his chin on them. "When?"
"Kind of right away. I'm sorry. I need a week, starting tomorrow. Is that going to be OK? I think I have vacation time saved."
"Crap, Corky. That's not much notice."
"I know, but it's my uncle Moony. He's sick. He's dying, actually." She shifted her weight and leaned on the door frame. "They called me last night. They put him in a hospice, and I guess he's not going to be around much longer. They said he's asking for me. I feel horrible leaving you, but —"
Here Lewis cut her off. "No, no. Corky, don't be silly. I'm sorry about your uncle. Don't worry about it at all. We'll cover it somehow." He reached for the schedule. The cat rolled over on the desk and batted at his elbow.
"Are you sure? I feel so bad."
Working around the cat, Lewis traced his pen down the side of the schedule, nodding his head, biting his lip. The cat followed his pen's movements with sharp-eyed wonder. He had been found as a kitten in the alley behind the bookstore and adopted by the staff. A bookstore needed a cat, after all. They had named him Thump for the sound he made when he knocked over books on the shelves. Which he did. All the time.
"It'll be fine," Lew muttered. Then, louder, "I'll be here, Brenda can pick up a few extra hours."
"Oh, Thump'll just love that, I'm sure." For some reason, the cat did not like Brenda, though he got along with everyone else just fine. He was known to allow young children to carry him around the store, sometimes upside-down. On sunny afternoons, he was almost always lying on his pillow by the register, never showing the slightest concern over who was petting him or rattling paper sacks in his ear – unless Brenda was at the register, because then Thump would rapidly leave his post and sulk in the office. Nobody could figure out why, but everyone had their theories. Lew thought Brenda wore too much perfume – obviously he didn't say this to her face. Nate (one of the boys who unloaded trucks part-time) thought it was some secret evil in Brenda that the cat could sense – and of course he didn't say this to her, either. Corky's feeling on it was that probably Brenda had accidentally set a stack of books on the cat's tail.
Lewis smiled at her. "It'll be fine. Try to relax. Is your boyfriend going with you?"
Corky shook her head. "No ... he doesn't even know I'm going yet. I'm going to call him in a minute and maybe go to lunch with him." It had crossed her mind briefly to ask Seth if he'd go with her, but only briefly. His daughter was coming Saturday, and they had plans. She didn't want to drag him through a miserable trip like this.
"Don't worry about us; this place'll be here when you get back. I'm sorry about your uncle, Cork. You'll be in next Monday, then? Or do you need more time? If you do, you call me."
She leaned down and petted the cat, who bit her gently. "No ... no, I'm sure the week is enough."
* * *
The door of the restaurant clinked shut behind her, and Corky looked around the room, scanning over the tops of heads, past the hostess who stood expectantly, waiting. Corky's eye rested briefly on the hostess, who shot a questioning look at her.
"Oh, sorry." Corky settled her purse on her shoulder. "I was looking for my boyfriend. He's meeting me here." She returned to scanning around the room. "I don't see him; I'll just wait here."
"Alright. I can seat you if you like."
Corky shook her head. "No, that's OK. I'll wait." She backed up a little so as to be out of the way and turned to watch out the window.
Leaves blew past in swirls. She watched cars and people move around in the parking lot, and thought about the week ahead, wondering what it would be like to visit Uncle Moony. Wondering what her cousins would look like. It had been probably eight, nine years since she had seen any of them. No, she took that back. She had seen Moony seven years ago, at her mother's funeral. Moony had delivered a eulogy.
He'll look awful, she thought. And on the heels of that, he'll be out of it. He won't even remember me. The fact that Pam had assured her Moony wanted to see her did nothing to eliminate her certainty that he didn't, not really.
Why would he? She was just his niece. They weren't close, not anymore; hadn't ever been really all that close to start with. Sure, she had spent some time with Moony as a kid, holidays with family, all that stuff. Her mother had made a point of having him visit often, trying to make up for the fact that Corky's father wasn't around. But that was when she was a kid. After she grew up, she hadn't visited her uncle all that often, or invited him to visit her. She flinched a little at this thought.
Well, I guess the least I can do is visit now. She shivered, looking out at the windy day, and spotted Seth coming up the walkway. She waved through the window, and turned triumphantly toward the hostess, smiling as if she had won a bet.
Seth drew her close and pecked her on the cheek. "Waiting long?"
"No, not long." They fell into place behind the hostess and were led to a table near the back. The hostess set out menus for them and slid away rapidly.
"So, you're leaving tonight? Or in the morning?"
Corky sighed. "Probably best to go tomorrow. It's a six hour drive, so ... Yeah." She frowned in mimicry of Seth's frown. "It's not so bad. I'll probably just stay one or two days."
"I thought you took a week off work?"
"I did, kind of ... I told him needed the whole week. But I took the whole week ... in case. I don't know what it's going to be like. I'm thinking maybe I can get done with Moony a little early and come back and have a couple of days free. If not, that's OK too." Corky shrugged and stirred her coffee. "I just thought it might be nice to have a long weekend." She frowned slightly, feeling guilty about leaving Lew in the lurch. "Or maybe not. Just have to see how it goes."
Seth nodded. "But what did your cousin say when she called? Are you supposed to be ... well, waiting for him? To ... er, die?"
"No. No ... well, no. Not waiting." She sipped at her water. "Not that it would be a long wait, apparently, from what Pam said. She just told me Uncle Moony was going downhill fast, and that he wanted me to have some things. Books. You know." Corky gestured meaninglessly in the air. "Not even good books; stupid crap, vampires. I guess he wants me to have them."
"You're sure you don't want me to go with you? I can —"
Corky shook her head sharply. "No, you have Sarah this weekend, that wouldn't be fair. I know you've been looking forward to it. I'll be fine alone. Besides, it's just a crazy old uncle who's probably senile and his shitty kids who I haven't seen in a thousand years, you'd hate them all." She smiled. "Actually, Moony was OK, you might have liked him. A little nuts. He used to do these voices when I was a kid." She cleared her throat and croaked out a fragment of song. Heads at nearby tables glanced fleetingly before returning to their own affairs.
Seth laughed, blushing. "Cork, my love, I had no idea you were so musical."
"Yeah, well. As I said, Moony was OK, back then. Mom had me at his place a lot. Now he may not even recognize me. Well no, I guess he'll recognize me; he asked for me to come, Pam said. His kids, God. You'd really despise them. Bruce is maybe not as bad as I remember him, but Pam is still exactly the same, I could tell from her phone call."
Corky had spent some time with her cousins as a kid. Whenever she and her mother visited her uncle, of course, she was expected to go play in Pam's room. If the truth were known, Corky would much rather have sat in the car reading than playing with Pam's dolls, but that never came out. Corky didn't have much in common with either cousin, really. She thought back to a visit when Bruce had kicked her on the leg – kicked her hard enough to leave a spreading purple bruise. Pam had lied and said it hadn't been Bruce who started the fight. Even after Bruce began to look sorry, when the area around the bruise swelled up and took on a yellow mashed-banana look, and Bruce might even have apologized ... even then Pam insisted it had all been Corky's fault; had stood there in the hall with her fat little face screwed up in righteous, blameful anger and held her brother's fat little hand and accused Corky of kicking him first. Both of them glaring at her with their small, squinty eyes.
"Mean eyes," she said now. "Both of them. Chubby, bratty little shits."
"She can't be all bad, she's trying to help you see her dad one last time. She could have just blown you off, right?"
"Well, maybe." Corky smiled. "I'll try to be nice about everything, but seriously ... she's dragging me up there to collect a box of old books, probably just paperback trash, and mostly it's so she can be all weepy and sad for my benefit. Meanwhile, she and Bruce are going to inherit a fucking mansion. I get books." She snorted, but with good humor.
"A mansion? Is he rich?"
Corky made a wavy gesture with her hand. "Well, it's not actually a mansion. Just a really big house, lots of land. He was sort of rich once, I know. I think it was mostly Aunt Vi's money. I bet he doesn't have much left anymore, with all the medical bills."
"What's wrong with him? Can't they do anything?"
"They tried. I guess he's just got a sort of general organ failure. Mostly it's the kidneys that are giving up, but she said his heart was going, too. And his liver."
"Geez. How old is he?"
"Only ..." she counted on her fingers. "I don't know, maybe seventy-four? Well, I guess that's pretty old. Still, seems kind of too young to have everything falling apart like that. It sounds like he's maybe gotten sort of bad mentally, too. He was always sort of nuts, eccentric, you know. But now ..." Corky shrugged. "I guess sometimes it goes fast."
Their lunches arrived, and the talk turned to more pleasant topics. When Corky got home, she packed a small bag, set her alarm to wake her at the crack of dawn, and went to bed looking forward to getting this visit over with as soon as possible.CHAPTER 3
... I will keep this secret forever. I have no choice.
Corky arrived at the motel the next day around noon, grouchy, hungry, and with a headache. She flung her suitcase on the bed and rummaged around inside for the aspirin, chiding herself quietly as she searched. "Stupid ass, packing it in the suitcase. Purse, Corky, that's the place for the damn aspirin." She finally located them and shook two out, then went to the phone to call Pam.
The phone rang several times before Pam answered it, out of breath.
"Hi, Pam? It's Corky. I just got in."
"Oh, hi. I was in with Dad. Are you on your way over here? You aren't coming right now, are you? They're about to bring his lunch."
Corky made a face. "No, I just got to the motel, so I need to get some lunch, too. How about in around an hour?"
There was a brief silence on the other end. "OK, um. I guess that's alright. He has to take his pain meds after he eats. He's not well, Corky. The doctors ..." Pam trailed off.
"Well, when would be the best time?" Corky was irritated. She didn't want to be in the way, but Pam had asked her to come, after all. This was the sort of thing Pam did that always had put Corky off. Hurry up and wait. "Do you want to call me back? You have my cell number, right?"
"Oh, no ... just go ahead and come after lunch. He's just not well, you know. I don't want you to expect him to be like he used to."
After getting directions, Corky hung up the phone and sat at the desk looking out the window, thinking about what Pam had said. Don't expect him to be like he used to. She wondered what that meant exactly. When Pam first called her, she had said that Moony was dying, talked a little about the organ failure, and hinted that he wasn't really himself — but she hadn't mentioned any specific personality changes. Just that he wasn't expected to live long, and that he wanted Corky up there for the books. The vampire books.
Moony had always been a vampire fanatic, with a huge collection of vampire books. Fan fiction, comics, old first editions, new paperbacks; books that claimed to be filled with "facts" and books that claimed to tear holes in those facts. If it was about vampires, Moony had it. Several copies of some things, in fact. Moony was known to have at least fourteen editions of Dracula. His library was quite vast in many areas, but the vampire books were his personal joy, and nobody in his family was very surprised that he had made special arrangements for this collection when his time of death was near.
Excerpted from Watch by Cass J. McMain. Copyright © 2014 Cass McMain. Excerpted by permission of Holland House Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite Watch is a horror story written by Cass J. McMain. Corky is not terribly thrilled to hear that her Uncle Moony is dying and has asked to see her. Uncle Moony had been a father figure for her as she was growing up, ever since her own father had gone away. She arranged for a week's leave at the bookstore where she worked and started on the 6-hour trip home. Uncle Moony had been obsessed with vampires and had amassed a huge collection of vampire books, which he was leaving to her. When she arrived at the hospice, her rather unpleasant cousins Pam and Bruce were waiting for her. Uncle Moony was out of it more than there in the room with her while she visited, but he made her promise to read 'the book.' It meant life or death, he said. He also gave her a large silver cross, which had been her mother's, and an ornate silver mirror. Cass J. McMain's vampire story, Watch, is dark, fantastic and intense. Corky's visit with her dying uncle opens up a whole new world for her as fantasy and reality converge in a strange place. Her uncle's journal seems to answer a lot of questions about her long-absent father, but she can't really tell if it isn't all the ravings of an unbalanced mind. I loved reading the passages from Moony's journal and especially enjoyed the part of the book that covered Moony and Edgar's childhood. McMain's writing style is fluid and composed, and reading Watch became a compulsion. I just didn't want to stop until I had reached the end, and then I was sorry it was over. Watch is a macabre little gem of a book. It's sly and may get you caught up in its web if you aren't watching. Watch is highly recommended.
A vampire theme, but not a vampire book as we've grown to expect. This is an intelligent, realistic book - no fantasy about it. I was drawn in from the very start, and stayed that way until the somewhat creepy ending. Well written and impeccably presented.