// ON THE ROAD: MID AMERRKA //
The group continues on the roadtrip. MANDARC, haven taken a midday meal, seems calmer and less fidgety.
The car is finally drying from the morning’s rain.
The car; the van, has taken on a reverent silence. They’ve changed over to talk radio. Something about changing legislation in Cali regarding self-driving cars.
CEDRIC. YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT MY FRIEND IN STRIXHAVEN IS MAURICE WEATHERSPOON.
CEDRIC tries to feign non-chalance.
CEDRIC has never met MAURICE, but he is familiar with the name.
Some years ago, CEDRIC began a courtship with the Vampress SVETLANA OBOROVSKY, a woman of Russian origin. SVETLANA had two daughters, the Americans ESTHER, OPHELIA. Both girls had married mages they met in New York City.
MAURICE was ESTHER’s ex-husband.
HE’S ALL THE WAY OUT HERE, EH?
STRAUD pauses a moment.
I DON’T THINK HE WAS EVER ONE FOR LIFE IN THE BIG CITY.
WHEN’S THE LAST TIME YOU SAW MAURICE?
HE WAS IN TOWN FOR A CONFERENCE.
HE SEEMED WELL.
Traffic begins to slow. What is the holdup?
The radio cuts to an advertisement for a charity. The commercial is schlocky and irritating.
PROBABLY AN ACCIDENT UP AHEAD. LANE’S BLOCKED OFF AND EVERYONE’S RUBBER-NECKING.
IT WILL BE GOOD FOR YOU BOYS TO MEET MAURICE. HE HAS BEEN A LOYAL FRIEND FOR MANY YEARS.
VLAD did not make friends easily. The words of praise, endorsement, set CEDRIC at ease.
HE’S A SORCERER?
He changes his tone, as if to address someone different.
It’s KEVIN he addresses.
YOUR FATHER KNEW HIM TOO.
STRAUD pauses, as was characteristic in his manner of speech.
I BELIEVE HE MOVED OUT HERE SHORTLY AFTER THE DIVORCE.
MANDARC is ever clueless, be it his fault intentionally or not.
DIVORCE? SHOULD I KNOW THIS GUY?
STRAUD spares no expense.
HE IS ESTHER OBOROVSKY’S ESTRANGED HUSBAND.
A silence hangs over the car. The TWINS were never a comfortable topic of conversation.
I GOTTA SAY I’VE NEVER REALLY UNDERSTOOD THE APPEAL OF THOSE TWO.
But no one has anything useful to say so the conversation drops.
CEDRIC wonders where SVETLANA found herself right now, in this moment.
It has been weeks since they’ve seen each other. The TIGRESS rarely left her lair.
THEY DON’T LOOK ANYTHING LIKE THEIR MOTHER.
The traffic eventually clears up. The slowdown had caused the closure of all but one lane. It was a slowdown they didn’t need but at any rate, they had no set arrival deadline.
(thinking) Get in. Get the dog. Get out.
CEDRIC has a thought, interrupting his brooding. He addresses the entire car.
WHAT IF THEY’VE MICROCHIPPED THE DOG?
EW. I CAN’T BELIEVE PEOPLE DO THAT STUFF.
THE CHIPS ARE ONLY ABLE TO BE READ BY SENSORS EMPLOYED BY VETERINARIANS.
THEY DON’T HAVE G.P.S.?
THEY SELL THOSE TRACKING TAGS FOR YOUR COMPUTERS AND CARS AND STUFF. WOULDN’T SURPRISE ME.
I HAVEN’T BEEN KEEPING UP ON THAT …
AT ANY RATE, WE’LL ADDRESS THAT ISSUE WHEN WE COME TO IT.
The MASTER pauses a moment, for emphasis.
BUT YES, MANDARC, IT IS A LITTLE DISGUSTING.
LET’S STOP AT THE NEXT STATION AND FILL UP. I’M DOWN TO A QUARTER TANK.
The car continues on its objective until the gas station is reached.
When they reach the gas station, KEVIN exits the car to fulfill the necessary steps to refuel the car.
CEDRIC has been ruminating over his words while the car’s been silent. He exits the car.
HEY. I JUST WANTED TO APOLOGIZE FOR PUTTING MY FOOT IN MY MOUTH EARLIER.
…OH? I DIDN’T NOTICE.
But CEDRIC intends to yield no ground.
OH, THAT STUPID COMMENT I MADE.
‘YOU DON’T LIVE NEXT TO HER!’
IT’S OK. I KNEW WHAT YOU MEANT.
AND ANYWAY, I DON’T LIVE NEXT TO HER ANYMORE.
YEAH. DRIVE’S GOTTA BE KILLIN’ YA THOUGH.
IT’S NOT THAT BAD ONCE YOU GET USED TO IT.
The sound of gas slurping through the pipes is the only noticable ambiance.
HOW’RE THE CATS?
OH, GOOD. GOOD.
I THINK THEY GOT USED TO HAVING YOU AROUND.
THEY’VE BEEN FIGHTING A LOT LATELY. PLAY STUFF. YOU KNOW HOW CATS ARE.
BUT I THINK IT’S GOOD, GET ‘EM SOME EXERCISE. THEY’RE BOTH LITTLE CHUBS.
YOU EVER BEEN TO STRIXHAVEN?
NOPE. NOT I.
I THINK DAD HAS.
It is 5:13 PM when KEVIN careens off the highway, bound for a heavily forested exit.
How much of these trees are old-growth?
Of course, there are no signs pointing them in the direction of a town called STRIXHAVEN.
He peels off the road and parks over the worn gravel edging of the road.
And he exits the car. CEDRIC considers sitting in the car a moment, but the presence of STRAUD, MANDARC overwhelm him. He thinks better of it.
(thinking) It would be good to stretch the legs.
KEVIN has walked a handful of paces from the car and faces the treeline. There is an attractive mix of deciduous and evergreen trees. The leaves are just starting to come in. A car drives by, overly fast, and the resultant rush of air flows, pushes through CEDRIC’s hair.
When the car has left, he sets it straight again.
He leans against the van and crosses his arms.
When was the last time he’d gone so far by vehicle? This was a huge country; easy to forget when one lived in a city.
KEVIN squats down to finish his cigarette, but it’s still lit.
CEDRIC had left his hometown a long time ago. It now seemed a distant memory, getting blurry at the edges.
Just the way he preferred it.
Without once consulting a map, KEVIN leads the party to a large, symmetrical house. It’s made of timber and as the sun sets, light reflects asthetically off the panes. It’s a fine colonial style.
There is no other house in sight.
There is but a single car in the driveway.
GOOD. I HOPE MAURICE IS ABLE TO ENTERTAIN OUR…
They exit the car and approach the house. To the right of the double door is a small circular button. The doorbell glows a pale pinkish orange.
KEVIN presses the doorbell. The sound of the alarm is audible even from the outside of the house.
The group glances about themselves.
In a minute, a young man answers the door. He’s tall but not overly thin. Atop his head grows dark crimson hair.
GOOD EVENING, SIRS. CAN I… HELP… YOU?
His eyes scan over the four, searching, unsure. But then his gaze lands upon VLADISLAUS STRAUD.
The man’s trepidation evaporates.
C-COUNT?! IS THAT REALLY YOU?
The three youngers step aside to allow the old friends to get view of each other. MAURICE expels air in a disbelieving, happy, laugh. This is just about the last person he expected to ring at his buzzer.
IT’S GOOD TO SEE YOU. IT’S BEEN TOO LONG.
STRAUD reaches out his hand to offer a handshake. MAURICE steps forward to accept the offering, locks hands with him, and then seems to lose himself in the reverie. He continues his forward motion, stepping into STRAUD and embracing him in a one-armed hug. He pats him on the back, trying to vent his excitement.
COUNT. IT IS SO GOOD TO SEE YOU AND KNOW THAT YOU ARE WELL.
PLEASE, PLEASE –
He steps aside as if to allow his guests first.
MY HOME IS YOURS.
Inside, the house is lit dimly with candles. Support beams suggest the division of spaces. A fireplace crackles and lends heat to the modest, sparsely decorated space.
I’D LIKE YOU TO MEET MY ASSISTANT, MANDARC SOO.
He waves his hand in the opposite direction.
THIS IS MY TRAINEE, THE YOUNG CEDRIC.
AND OUR THIRD IS VINCE’S SON.
MAURICE says nothing, but seems to straighten his posture. He turns to KEVIN and reaches out his hand.
KEVIN. IT’S… SO GREAT – SUCH AN HONOR – TO FINALLY MAKE YOUR ACQUAINTANCE.
But KEVIN hardly notices the bravado.
AND YOURSELF. YOU HAVE A BEAUTIFUL HOME. THANK YOU FOR RECEIVING US ON NO NOTICE.
OH, ANYTHING, ANYTHING! I LIVE ALONE THESE DAYS; I ENJOY – WELCOME – THE COMPANY.
MANDARC looks around the house. He has his hands in his pockets. He is not hostile, but he is certainly unnerved.
CAN I GET YOU ANYTHING? I WAS JUST ABOUT TO SIT DOWN TO DINNER.
THE CHICKEN’S IN THE OVEN AND I’M GOING TO MICROWAVE SOME MASHED POTATOES.
AIN’T FANCY BUT I WASN’T EXPECTING ANY GUESTS THIS EVENING!
ANYTHING WOULD BE GREAT. I’M FAMISHED.
YEAH THAT’S NO SHORT DRIVE. DID YOU DRIVE ALL DAY?
YEAH, WE STARTED THIS MORNING.
IS STRIXHAVEN YOUR FINAL STOP?
The blond can hardly contain himself amid the pleasantries.
WE’RE HEADED TO THE GATEWAY.
MANDARC looks over toward him, making eye contact.
What is said surprises MAURICE. He frowns.
…WHAT – BUSINESS – DO YOU HAVE IN SAINT LOUIE?
THINGS ARE GETTING… UNWELL OUT THERE.
I DON’T KNOW THAT YOU SHOULD EXPECT THEM TO THROW OUT THE WELCOME MAT.
STRAUD senses the rising tension.
THIS IS NOT A SOCIAL VISIT.
MY ASSOCIATE HAS HAD SOMETHING STOLEN FROM HIM AND WE INTEND TO RETREIVE IT.
MAURICE tries to absorb the information.
IS THERE ANYTHING I CAN HELP WITH?
I THINK WE SHOULD ALL TOGETHER BE AN ADEQUATE MATCH FOR OUR DEARLY DEPARTED FRIEND AND THE YOUNG MASTER WEASLIE.
MAURICE turns an expression of inquisition.
WEASLIE IS MIXED UP IN THIS?
A moment of silence falls over the room.
I’M GOING TO GO CHECK ON THE FOOD.
PLEASE RECLINE WHEREVER YOU SEE FIT. HELP YOURSELF TO MY HOME.
I’M SORRY THE PLACE IS A BIT UNTIDY. LIVING ALONE HAS ITS COSTS.
At the dinner, there are six strawed chairs. The table is simple, but with tasteful embellishment.
(thinking) It looks handmade.
The arrangement sees MAURICE at a far end, KEVIN at the opposing head. CEDRIC, MANDARC flank KEVIN, leaving the seats around MAURICE empty. VLADISLAUS seems to have disappeared in the hustle, not intending to join the young men for dinner festivities.
MANDARC shifts uncomfortable in his seat. The young vampire seemed to always fixate on food, both angry it was a ritual in which he could not participate but also fascinated by the intricate protocol that led to a satisfactory experience. Perhaps it was a forbidden science.
If MANDARC were truly what he suspected, it was entirely possible he’d never eaten a bowl of cereal.
THIS IS WONDERFUL, MAURICE. YOU’RE A WONDERFUL COOK.
MAURICE, as if taken aback by the compliment, stutters, stammers.
OH – IT’S NOTHING.
BUT THANK YOU.
MANDARC looks around the room, surveying the windows.
(thinking) Always looking for an escape route.
(thinking) Vlad will return soon enough. And how long until you again wish him gone?
I WAS THINKING YOU BOYS COULD TAKE THE SPARE ROOM UPSTAIRS.
THERE ARE A FEW CHOICES; I PRIMARILY FIND MYSELF ON THE FIRST FLOOR – THEY MIGHT BE A BIT DUSTY BUT –
ARE YOU INTERESTED IN ANY AFTER DINNER REFRESHMENTS, ENTERTAINMENTS? I JUST GOT IN A BOX OF CUBANS.
I THINK I MAY JUST HAVE TO RETIRE. IT’S GOING TO BE AN EARLY DAY TOMORROW.
After the repast, the three go upstairs to investigate the spare bedrooms. The first that draws their interest has a wooden-paned double door adorned with gauzy curtains.
They open the door, step inside, and find VLADISLAUS STRAUD sitting in a cushioned wooden chair.
The window is open and the air is chilled.
The three spread amongst the room’s space.
His voice is calm and clear.
THE WINDOW IS OPEN.
MANDARC is gone from the room.
KEVIN eyes himself in the mirror, cupping his chin.
GEEZ. I NEED A SHAVE.
He disappears into the adjoining bedroom.
I TRUST MAURICE WAS MORE THAN HOSPITABLE.
I THINK HE WANTED TO PLAY CARDS BUT I JUST WASN’T UP FOR IT TONIGHT.
THAT’S FINE. HE’S A TOLERABLE HOST.
MORE THAN THAT.
I BELIEVE IT.
KEVIN yells from the restroom.
CAN ONE OF YOU GO ASK MAURICE FOR A REAL RAZOR? THIS ELECTRIC PIECE OF SHIT AIN’T GONNA CUT IT.
Night falls. KEVIN prepares for an evening’s rest. MANDARC, CEDRIC leave the room and assume what seems a natural position flanking the entrance to the spare bedroom.
Neither enjoy true rest so what need have they for a bed?
CEDRIC hears KEVIN shift in his bed.
It’s… what time? There is no clock available.
STRAUD sits in the hallway, opposite his acolytes.
There is nothing to say except to guard the former Vampire until daylight breaks.
In the early morning light, before the sun has fully risen, MANDARC begins to shift in his position. He feels insecure in his deviation.
In a defensive anticipation of their objection, he speaks with defiance.
IF WE WERE ONLY ALL GIFTED AS YOU, GOLDEN CHILD!
STRAUD has little patience for MANDARC’s moodiness.
LEAVE US, MANDARC.
MANDARC scoffs and collapses into a bat, quickly flying out a nearby window.
CEDRIC is quiet.
HE IS POISONED WITH THE IMPATIENCE OF YOUTH.
AND YET HIS MASTER CLAIMS ONE OF THE –
LET THERE BE NO CONFUSION.
HE MAY HAVE CHOSEN ME AS HIS MASTER BUT THAT DOESN’T MEAN I CLAIM HIM AS MY OFFSPRING.
STRAUD seems to relent.
I TRY WITH HIM, ALWAYS.
BUT MY PATIENCE WEARS THIN.
HE REMINDS ME TOO MUCH… OF DAYS LONG PAST.
HE HAS SUCH POTENTIAL.
POISONED BY THE ELDERS OF FIRSTHOME?
I TOLD YOU TO NEVER MENTION THAT STORY AGAIN.
MY MEMORY IS A FUNNY THING.
I MUST REMEMBER TO NEVER TELL YOU ANYTHING.
GOOD THING YOU FORGET FROM TIME TO TIME.
MANDARC IS A GOOD MAN. HE IS WHAT THIS PLANET NEEDS. WHAT WE NEED.
WHAT, SOMEONE SO ENGROSSED IN HIS FORMULAE THAT HE FORGETS WHAT THE LETTERS MEAN?
STRAUD is silent a moment.
MANDARC MAY YET SHOW A POTENTIALITY THAT WE CAN YET BARELY COMPREHEND.
SOMETHING I FOUND MYSELF UNABLE TO MASTER.
SO YOU’RE USING HIM.
IF ANYTHING, HE WILL FIND AN ADVANTAGE BY THE ASSOCIATION.
AND IF HE FLIES BACK TO HIS FORMER MASTER, FURIOUS AT BEING REDUCED TO YOUR MERE BUTLER, WHAT THEN?
I CAN ONLY HOPE THAT HE’S BEEN SPOILED BY OUR KINDNESS. OUR ACCEPTANCE.
THE DOCTOR DOES NOT TOLERATE SUCH EMOTIONALITY AS HE IS SUSPECT TO.
AND YET ALL MANDARC WANTS IS A FIRM HAND.
WILL NOT THE DOCTOR PROVIDE THAT TO HIM?
I DO NOT INTEND TO RAISE MY HAND ‘GAINST THE YOUNG MAN.
NO, HE MUST COME TO LAWFULNESS OF HIS OWN ACCORD.
YOU TREAT HIM WITH TOO MUCH GIVE ON THE LEASH.
BOLD WORDS FROM ONE AS YOUNG AS YOU.
YOU’RE ONLY AS OLD AS YOU FEEL; A SENTIMENT YOU SHOULD UNDERSTAND, ‘CAPTAIN’.
IF YOU LET HIM WANDER, YOU’LL BE THE ONE CAUGHT ON THE SHORT END OF THE LEASH.
WHEN YOU HAVE STUDENTS OF YOUR OWN, YOU’LL UNDERSTAND HOW LITTLE CONTROL YOU ACTUALLY POSSESS.
THAT’S MY AIM.
I HATE CHILDREN.