‘I have NO idea how he’s going to be today, but at least there were no midnight calls,’ Rebecca thought to herself as she went up the elevator.
The thunderstorms from the night before had knocked out power to several parts of her home town. Their own power had been out for several hours. It didn’t seem like they had experienced any issues at the Veteran’s Home, according to the front desk when she signed in.
Being a Saturday, Rebecca decided to come up a little early. She had brought her dad a soda, some fried SPAM, and a new shirt she had found on sale. Historically, he’d either complain about it all or be extremely happy. She just never knew which would happen.
She said hello to several people, waved at the nurses at their station, and stopped a moment as she saw another person’s room being cleaned out. Shaw was their name. She also noticed a room that used to be empty now had a new person. She didn’t take time to read the name, though.
Rebecca paused at the door to brace herself. She knocked on the door, cracked it open, and said as always, “You got your pants on dad?”
There was no answer. ‘Maybe in the bathroom or in the cafeteria,’ she thought. Though he preferred food be brought to him. She went on into the room, “Dad?” she said.
She entered into the main part of the room to see her dad still sleeping laying on his side and facing away from her. Very odd for 10:00am on a Saturday, but not completely unheard of. He had gotten on some new medication that made him drowsy. She walked up and gently grabbed his shoulder, remembering to avoid the bruised area from the day before. “Dad?” She whispered.
Bob slowly rolled over onto his back and opened his eyes trying to focus. They were bloodshot and he had a bandage on his forehead where blood was seeping through, but dried.
“Dad! Are you okay? Did you fall?”
Bob smiled. “Hey Becky,” he said quietly. “Yeah. But I’m okay. Just tired. It was a busy night. We really put up a fight against the Strix. Only lost Shaw.” Bob’s eyes drifted off in a memory, “Shaw…man…that guy…” Bob’s eyes opened a bit wider with alertness, “What time is it!?” He asked as he started to sit up.
“Easy dad. It’s early still. 10:00am. I brought some fried SPAM and a new shirt for you.”
He relaxed a bit laying back down, but then sat back up, “SPAM you say? I can smell it! Oh! And you got me a Dr. Pepper. Thanks so much, sweetie.”
Rebecca, still concerned about the latest injury, calmly unwrapped the SPAM and handed it to her dad. “How’s Thomas and the latest on his car restoration?” he asked.
She was taken aback. Her dad hardly remembered Thomas’ name in months, let alone make any comment about Thomas’ restoration of an old ‘65 Ford Mustang. In fact, he’d never commented on it at all even though she’d shared the story a few times.
“Um, pretty good, actually. He said to say ‘hi.’ He’s only got to replace the door panels, and then start the engine rebuild and it should be ready to drive.”
“Hey, that’s something else. I remember when those came out. Kinda wanted one. Your mother wouldn’t have anything to do with the notion though.” He laughed. “Sure do miss her,” he said solemnly but with affection.
It had been even more months since he remembered her mom wasn’t with them anymore. He often would ask for her, or worse, think she was her mom.
“Well, let’s try on the new shirt. I might be seeing your mom sooner than later and I need to look good! Maybe you can give me a shave and a trim while you’re here?”
“Of course I can dad. And don’t talk like that about seeing mom.”
He stopped for a moment and grabbed Rebecca’s hands and looked at her with clarity and awareness, “It’s okay, sweetie. You’ve done good. I know I’ve been a son-of-a-bitch sometimes, and I can’t help it. And I was mad when you brought me here, though I knew I needed to be here. But, the past two days… while scary at first… have made me feel more alive than I have in years.” He smiled and lifted her hands up and kissed them affectionately.
The rest of the visit went remarkably well. She spent a good couple of hours soaking in the clarity her dad was experiencing knowing full well, it may be gone at any moment.
He joked around with the male and female nurses that came in during their rounds. “Can you put some Bud Light in the next fluid bag, Stan?” He asked.
“You know I don’t mess with that piss water, Bob. But I’ve got some Crown Royal I can dump in there.” He said winking at Rebecca.
“Hey, that’s my favorite. Put some of that shit in there, but not too late! I gotta be on my toes for tonight’s skirmish.”
Rebecca winced. The clarity was ending.
“Well, dad, I gotta go run some errands, but I’ll stop back in tonight…Not too late, of course!” She added quickly so he wouldn’t warn her against coming.
“Okay, sweetie. That would be good. I’m getting kinda tired again and could use a nap. Gonna be a busy night! Need all my energy. We’re going to run those sons-a-bitches out of here for good this time. We’ve got a rock solid plan.” He smiled. “Can you fix my sheets before you go? My feet are stickin’ out.”
“Of course dad.”
Rebecca was late. She almost wasn’t sure she should drop by. She was afraid her dad may flip out and really wanted to remember the morning. It was completely refreshing from the past few weeks and months.
But, she needed to check on him. Thomas had said he probably wouldn’t notice if she didn’t drop back by. He was probably right.
But she’d know.
She entered the passcode for the doors, since they were locked after hours, and headed into the lobby to sign in. As usually, no one was at the desk after hours, but she signed in anyway.
When she reached the elevators, she discovered they were off, or just not working. She wondered if that was normal. Luckily, she knew how to get up to her dads floor after the blockade issue the day before. And as she went around to the employee elevator, she discovered it was working fine.
She stepped into the elevator and pressed the floor above her dads. As the doors closed, the lights flickered and a loud deep vibration reverberated around her. It faded as the lights came back on and the elevator started moving. But it wasn’t the smooth sounding elevator she had ridden in before. It was loud and shaky. As she neared her father’s floor, she thought she could hear pops, and bangs, and then shouting. A loud explosive sound caused the elevator to shake and the lights to flicker again. “What the hell?” Rebecca thought grabbing a hand rail.
The doors opened to the floor above her dads and she rushed down the stairs. The sounds of pops and bangs sounded more like gunfire, shrapnel hitting walls, and the shouting more like screaming now.
Rebecca grabbed the door handle in a panic and swung it open to see patients and nurses running up and down the halls. They were ducking behind furniture and, amazingly, running and diving at their ages without slowing down. She could hear the gunfire, explosions, and feel hot waves across her, but couldn’t see them.
She stepped into the hall to begin the mad dash to her dad’s room, but as she stepped across the threshold, the world shifted around her, and she no longer found herself in a hospital, but falling into dirt, rocks, shrubs, and crumbling, shell shot buildings. Suddenly, explosions lit up the woods and buildings around her. It was dark, but the sky was clear save for smoke from the explosions and burning buildings.
Gunfire erupted and pieces of the wall above her were pelted with bullets sending bits of cement and brick raining down on her.
Her mind spun. Was she in the “Voal” her dad had talked about? Was this real? “Dad.” She murmured to herself. How in the world would she find him. And, if this was real, were the Strix?
Another explosion went off a bit too close and she decided to run in the direction she normally would when visiting her dad. She got up, but stayed low. As she rushed forward, she saw soldiers in army, navy, air force, and marine attire firing weapons and hurling grenades. As she ran down what she thought was the hallway she always went down, something tackled her sending her and it tumbling. She twisted around to try to get up on her hands and knees, but someone punched her hard on the side knocking the wind out of her and flipping her onto her back. She felt someone climb onto her and restrain her hands and body. She opened her eyes to a nightmare.
Above her was one of the men she had seen in the basement in the shadows. But this was no man. His eyes were sunken, nose was missing, and a gaunt face that was part of a head that seemed unnaturally elongated. But not only that, he had pointed ears and a mouth full of sharp razor-like teeth that dripped with blood and saliva.
Rebecca screamed as the bald headed Strix opened its mouth wide to feast on her.
Out of nowhere, the butt of a rifle slammed against the Strix’ head causing it to tumble off of Rebecca. The soldier fired multiple times into the creature which then fled into the distance. The young soldier turned to her, looked shaken, but stuck out his hand to help her up. She looked at the man who was both familiar but couldn’t be who he looked like. She looked up past his out stretched hand at his Air Force uniform and saw the name “STEVENS” embroidered on his chest.
“Sweetie, I told you not to come this late, but I’m glad I got here when I did. Let’s get you someplace safe,” he extended his hand out further with urgency.
“Dad? How can…”
The shriek of a Strix was near. Her dad whipped his head around and seemed to see something. He turned quickly back and this time grabbed her loose hand. “Come on, Becky. Move your ass!” She grabbed hold of his hand, jumped up and they both began to run.
“This way, Stevens!” a soldier shouted motioning them to a small building. His name was Parker.
Rebecca had completely lost her bearings and though she’d lost her mind as well as she ran with a younger version of her father she’d never met.
They rounded some rubble and into the half demolished building. Her father pulled her against a wall and had them quickly sit down on the ground. He scrambled on his belly to poke his head out of the doorway, pulled up his rifle to look through the scope to the surrounding landscape.
He backed up to her still staying low. “I think we’re okay Becky. For now. But if it’s anything like the last couple of nights, they’ll be back in 10-15 minutes. But, just gotta get to Parker and Bittle and collect some goodies that will get rid of these Strixie bastards for good.
“DAD! WHAT IN THE HELL IS GOING ON? AM I DEAD?”
Her father looked at her with eyes she hadn’t seen in years. He put a hand on her shoulder like he used to when she ran into challenges in her youth and various times in her life giving her strength and courage.
“You ain’t dead, Becky. But you don’t seem to be affected like me and the others in the VA.”
“How is this possible?”
“I don’t know kiddo, but it’s a second chance for me and the others in here. I’m not sure how they do it, but I’ve watched enough scifi and horror movies with your mother to think that these Strix… actually, I think they’re Stragoi. Energy vampires from the old world of Europe. Maybe… Romania? Seems like I remember dumb stories while in my Vietnam tour, or maybe some books or movies. But I think they LIKE us to relive this part of our lives. It’s when most of us felt most alive. I know I do at the moment.” He heard noises from outside and turned away to keep an eye out.
Rebecca was still reeling. This was all impossible. But it was what was happening right in front of her. And her dad was now the opposite of a weakened old man who had trouble walking, thinking, or remembering what should have been the most memorable of pieces of his life. Like her.
“Dad.” She whispered.
He didn’t look at her, but kept on alert, ‘Yeah, sweetie?’
“I don’t want you to go.”
“I’m not going anywhere, hun. I’ll keep you safe here.”
“No. Dad. I’m not ready…” she whispered in a trembling voice. “I’m not ready for you to go.”
Private Bob Stevens turned and looked into his daughter’s eyes now welling up with tears. This wasn’t about the Battle in the Voal. This was about his battle with Alzheimer’s that was leading him to a place where he would forget everything and everyone including those closest to him. And his only daughter would have to face an angry old man who once loved her more than anything and would no longer recognize her.
Private Bob Stevens had not been a father while he was a young man in the Air Force. But Bob Stevens was. He put down his rifle, took off his helmet, took his daughter into his arms, and held on tight. Rebecca broke down into body wrenching sobs and tears, clawing at her father to get closer. He was the strong man she remembered growing up, though much younger. All the feelings she had came gushing out as she gasped for air in between sobs. “It’s not fair. First mom. Now you. I’m not ready to be alone. I’m not ready for you to go. Please don’t go.”
“I know, sweetie. I know.” He rocked her back and forth ignoring the shrieks, screams, and gunfire going on around them nearby. “I’m not ready to go either. But… being trapped in my mind is awful, sweetie. At this moment, I can remember everything from the past year and even this morning.” He looked down at her. “And you know I haven’t been able to remember even yesterday in a long time.”
Rebecca pulled away a little and looked up at her father.
“This… Voal… these Stragoi, I don’t know what they want, but I’m grateful I’ve gotten to be with you and remember. They lifted the fog I’ve been in for years.”
Rebecca hugged her father tight again and nodded.
“It’s gonna be alright. Maybe not right away, but eventually. Heck… how many kids get to play army with a younger version of their dad?” He laughed.
So did Rebecca.
He kissed her forehead.
Parker and Bittle burst in through the doors and dove for cover. Rebecca and her dad hopped up, her dad grabbing his gun and putting on his helmet.
“You boys ready?” her dad said.
“Hell yeah, Stevens.” Bittle shouted with a sly look.
“I got all the supplies. You sure you remember what to do?” Parker asked.
“That a joke, Parker?” her dad said.
They all laughed like people do when they’ve been under stress and need to let out the anxiety.
Parker and Bittle dumped a bunch of materials onto the floor and went back to keep watch.
Her dad started sorting through things while Parker and Bittle fired occasionally into the darkness.
“What are you doing, dad?”
“You don’t think ALL the stories I told you were made up did you? Whether these Strix did it on purpose or not, they gave me back my memories.” He smiled at her, “ALL my memories.” He turned back to his supplies and set to work.
That’s when it hit her. Her dad had been an explosives expert in the Air Force. He was making explosives from materials around the hospital. Somehow, they weren’t changed in the Voal. Fear swept across her.
“Dad. Things that happen in the Voal are real, though. What if other patients or nurses get hurt?”
“I don’t think the nurses actually come through the Voal. Just the vets. I think they know it happens, but I’ve never seen them. FIVE MINUTES, BOYS!”
“Still the same plan? Lead them down to the cafeteria?” Parker asked.
“You think it will really take them out for good?” Bittle quizzed.
“Only way to find out.”
“Dad… what are you planning? Leading them somewhere to do what?” Rebecca asked.
Her dad looked up at her with a determination she hadn’t seen in years. “Going to blow these strix out of the building and into a million pieces,” he said as he held up a makeshift bomb and grinned.
“There are three, really, though we’ve heard there are sometimes more. Parker, Bittle, and I are going to go hand-to-hand and lead them to the cafeteria, though it looks like an open area with a tent next to it at the moment. The Cafeteria is along the outside wall above the parking deck. So we’ll get them along the wall and at the right moment, I’ll trip the ignition on the bomb and toss it at them. It should blow the real cafeteria wall out and the Strix with it. They’ll be some clean up and I may get kicked out of here, but if we can end these Strix for good… well… that’s a mission worthy of all missions in my book. Right boys?”
“Hell, yeah!” “Bet your ass.”
“That’s crazy, dad! You could get killed. All of you could.”
Bob carefully set the explosive down, grabbed Rebecca, and simply said, “I’m going to go soon anyway, Becky. This will give me a reason and a helluva story… a story that you’ll never be able to tell anyone… or they may lock you up.”
Whether it was the craziness of the situation, the shifted reality, the adrenaline, or the fact that seeing her dad so vibrant and young, Rebecca grabbed her dad’s arms, smiled, and said, “Let’s go kick some Strixi ass!”
The boys yelled in approval and Private Bob Stevens and his daughter stood up to join the boys at the doorway.
“Question, and I’m no military expert, but… who the hell is shooting at you if the Strix are physically attacking you?”
The guys all looked at each other as if it had never occurred to them.
“She’s definitely your daughter, Stevens. Always bringing up stuff that has to make sense.” Bittle said.
“Maybe it’s friendly fire, but they want us to believe it’s them firing,” Bob said.
“Keeping your energy high. Dad, you slept all day today. Maybe they are keeping everything ramped up to feed off of all of you.”
“Okay boys, watch for friendly fire then. Only fire at the Strix.”
The three men fanned out and, although seemed to be moving through a wooded trail, believed it was a hallway heading towards the cafeteria. Bullets ripped into bark and whizzed past their heads.
“Soldiers! Cease Fire!” Parker shouted, “Call out! We believe we’re firing on each other. Parker, Air Force!”
“Bittle, Air Force!”
“Stevens, Air Force!”
“Williams, Navy!” a voice said close to them.
This continued for a few minutes at varying distances. Then she heard, “Jones… Marines!” Something struck her odd. Then another.
“DAD!” Rebecca said quietly. “Fitzgerald and Jones were in the basement the other night. There was a third too… Ratner?”
“Gattner, Air Force!”
“Gattner! That’s the third. THEY’re THE STRIX!” she said.
Her father, Parker, and Bittle pointed silently getting directions on the three.
Parker questioned, “You sure? I play checkers with Jones. Seems okay. I little off. Now that you mention it…stays in his room all the time until dinner, when it’s dark.”
“Fitzgerald is a definite now that you mention it. That cancer story about his nose seemed off. He always had that ski cap on too… even when it’s hot,” Bittle added.
“Okay boys. Got your targets?” Parker and Bittle nodded. “On three… one…two…three!”
The three men opened fire at the targets Rebecca identified. Shrieks filled the air and the Voal shifted slightly as if all of reality suddenly became transparent and the Veterans home shimmered through.
“Push ‘em back, boys!” They continued firing and saw the three Strigoi run the opposite direction towards the cafeteria. Bittle saw them and broke into a sprint behind them.
“NO! Bittle! WAIT!”
Parker started after him. “Dumbass.”
“Dammit, they’re going to screw this up.” Bob looked down at his bomb and fiddled with something on it.
“What are you doing?”
“Making it so I can lob this fuc… sorry… lob this thing into the room. Gonna probably have to pull the guys out and hope we aren’t followed out. Plan won’t work if they get out of the cafeteria.” Rebecca watched what her father was doing.
“How do you set it and how long after you do?”
“Just pull here and you’ve got about to the count of three.”
She looked at him and nodded.
“You can stay here. I’ll be back after you hear the boom.” He smiled.
“Not a chance, dad. I’ve got your back.”
“Like you have the past two years.” He patted her face lovingly and then motioned to get moving.
Just as they started moving, he heard Bittle scream. It was like Tucker two nights before. They were tearing him to pieces in the Voal. In the real world it would look different.
“BITTLE!” He shouted breaking out into a sprint.
Gunfire erupted. Had to be Parker firing.
As they approached the field/cafeteria, it was mass pandemonium. It wasn’t just Parker and Bittle, but the three Strix as well as Dakota, Williams, and Perry. Everyone was in hand-to-hand combat with Fitzgerald, Jones, and Gattner. Though they looked much more terrifying, larger, and stronger than the men swarming them.
“Stay back, Becky!” her dad shouted and he tried to squeeze off a few shots before finally rushing in to fight as well.
Long taloned hands slashed at the young transformed soldiers. Rebecca watched in horror as she saw Gattner grab Dakota up by the throat off his feet and into the air. Two men tried to help, but their blows had no effect. She watched as Gattner took his free taloned hand and eviscerated the dangling man and listened to his screams. She covered her ears, but couldn’t look away this close to danger.
It was then that Bittle became the next to fall at the hands of Fitzgerald.
“NO!” Parker screamed.
“Push them back, men!” Her father cried as he swung his rifle butt and connected with Jones’ head. It was Jones, she knew now, who had pinned her to the ground and almost tore her apart as well.
“That’s it! A few more feet.” He shouted. The military men, though being beaten to death, had the Strix circled and their backs against the cafeteria wall, though to them it looked like dense trees.
Bob pulled the bomb out, “Ready to SCATTER, BOYS! IN Five…” her dad began the countdown and prepared to pull the ignition trigger. “FOUR!”
At that moment, Fitzgerald pivoted away from two men who had him pinned and right into the path of her father. With unimaginable strength, the Strix leader swung his arm and backhanded her father off his feet and flying across the room/field.
The bomb went flying and landed without incident sliding across the floor and stopping at Rebecca’s feet. She looked down for a moment, and then up at her father who was struggling to get to his feet.
Fitzgerald looked from her father to her and to the bomb. He turned and started towards her. But her father in his spry peak of youth, leapt onto the Stix’ back and yanked him backwards into the fray and towards the wall.
“BECKY! PULL IT AND THROW!” The Strix shrugged him off by flipping him forward over his head and onto the ground. Fitzgerald began pummeling her dad with his taloned hands. She watched as she heard clothing, skin, and bone breaking.
“DO IT, BECKY!” He screamed.
Rebecca grabbed the bomb, pulled the ignition switch and yelled, “THREE!” and hurled the bomb towards the Strix now gathered back together thanks to her dad.
The soldiers scattered and Rebecca ducked back. Her last glimpse of her dad was him rolling onto his stomach and covering his head.
The explosion shook the whole area. Debris and dust completely blocked her vision from seeing anything and her eardrums were ringing and she could not hear anything.
After a few moments, she thought she could see lights flashing and suddenly water started streaming down on her from above. She blinked and saw that the Voal was gone and only the hospital remained.
Nurses and security were running around trying to help evacuate the floor.
Fresh air hit her face and when she stood, she could see that the entire wall of the cafeteria was gone. Laying on the floor next to the opening, was her father.
“Dad,” she meekly muttered. She rushed to his side.
He lay face down in his t-shirt and sweatpants. She slowly turned him over to see no indication of being shredded by a taloned Strix, but he was definitely bruised and dazed.
“Dad!” she cradled his frail figure onto her lap and tears started streaming down her face. She wasn’t sure from relief, fear, sadness, hope, or all of the above.
His eyes fluttered. Still with some of the brightness from earlier, but definitely dazed. “Did we get them? Are they gone?”
Rebecca hadn’t even stopped to take stock. She looked around and saw many of the men who had just been fighting, though much older, weaker and frail. Parker was standing close to the hole in the wall with a hand resting for support as he looked down to the parking deck below. A few others were being escorted out of the building. Two men were laying on the floor like her dad. Maybe Bittle and Dakota. Neither eviscerated as in the Voal, but not moving. Fitzgerald, Jones, and Gattner were no place to be seen. “I… I don’t see them, dad. Maybe.”
“No,” Parker said, slowly turning from the hole in the cafeteria wall. “We got them, Bob. We GOT them, goddammit.” Parker smiled as he moved close. “Well done, soldier. Solid plan.” Her dad smiled at him and the clasped hands for a moment.
A nurse came by, “Oh my god! Shayla! Mr. Stevens is on the ground. Get a gurney! Mr. Parker, are you all right? Let’s get you out of here. We’ll be back for you and your dad in a minute, Rebecca.” She grabbed Parker by the elbow and back and began guiding him away to, what she thought, was safety.
“Becky,” her dad said.
“You did good, kid. Nice throw.” Tears welled up again. Her dad coughed slightly and winced in obvious pain. “Becky… I gotta go now. I’m sorry.”
“Dad. No. We’ll get you taken care of.”
“Becky… you know I’ll be ‘gone’ in a little while. The Voal is gone. The Strix are gone. My mind will be gone soon too.”
She knew he was right. She wasn’t ready. But she was more ready after tonight. She had her dad back, if only for a while.
She smiled at him with tears in her eyes. “Okay, dad. Okay. I’ll be okay. It will be okay. I’ll just stay here with you.”
“You were the best thing I ever did, kid. You be good, okay? You be good. Be happy. Do something for yourself from time to time. Don’t put off anything. Okay?”
“Okay dad. I love you. I’m glad I got to see you in action. Even if no one believes me and wants to lock me up.”
Her dad chuckled. He closed his eyes and seemed to relax.
“Becky?” He said.
“Right here, dad.”
“Love you, kid. You did good.”
“Tell mom I said ‘hi’ and I love and miss her.”
He took a few more breaths. Then he smiled and quietly said, “I’m coming home.”