Salt and Iron

By: Tam MacNeil
James van Helsing is the youngest son of the famous monster-hunting family—and the family’s big disappointment. He’s falling in love with Gabe Marquez, his oldest friend and son of the family the van Helsings have worked alongside for years. Things get even harder for James when he becomes what he and everyone else despises most—a magic user.

He didn’t mean to evolve into such a despicable person, and he knows using magic is illegal, but there’s nothing James can do about it, no more than he can stop himself from loving Gabe. Just when things can’t seem to get worse, he and Gabe are called to help nab a network of magicians who are changing destiny. Not just any destiny, but the destinies of the van Helsing and Marquez families. James foresees a terrible fate, one in which monsters emerge from the cracks, along with his dark secret. And that’s when people start to die.





Acknowledgments





With thanks to Casey Blair, Ian Llywelyn Brown, Sarah Olsen, Sandy Skalski, Beth Wodzinski, and to the whole crew at VPXVI, who were and continue to be relentlessly wonderful.





One





REPORTER: HOW does it feel to be a member of such a famous family?

James van Helsing: Well, it’s a privilege that I’ve thought a lot about. I mean, growing up with a name like this is like living in a history lesson. You sort of discover that everybody knows about Grandpa van Helsing, because of the stuff that happened with Dracula, and that’s always the first question people ask. [Laughs] But the fact is, we’ve been monster hunters as long as there’ve been records. Any time I look at a text on magic or on monsters, there’s a… a, you know, a grandma or a great uncle or somebody saving the world.

Reporter: That sounds like a lot to live up to.

JvH: Yeah, it is. But… I’m up for it.

Reporter: Are you?

Abe van Helsing: Of course he is. He’s a van Helsing. It’s in his blood.

[Laughter]





JAMES TURNS off the TV. He’s never liked watching himself but does it anyway, whenever there’s a thing about the family on, and always when it’s him. Sort of like penance. He usually has a drink when he’s watching. It makes it easier to bear the stupid, stumbling comments, the ramblings and lost threads, the jokes that aren’t funny.

He upends the last dribble of whiskey into his glass, wondering as he does if it’s going to make any difference now, considering the little bit left and the state of him. He drains it anyway. Another drop in the ocean.

Then he heaves himself to his feet, head somehow both heavy and light, hands as unwieldy as balloons, and gets himself over to the bathroom to relieve himself and have a squint in the mirror.

“Let me tell you about James van Helsing,” he tells the reflection, working the slack tie around his neck into an untidy knot. “First thing you need to know is don’t trust that guy. He talks big and he’s got a big name, but he’ll always let you down. Not like the big brother, Abe. Abe’s a solid guy. You need something done, you should probably go to Abe.”

The knot is wrong. He has to undo it and retie it. Should be able to do this blind. Knows he’d maybe overdone it with the whiskey but hadn’t thought he’d had quite that much to drink. He laughs a little at his fumbling hands.

“Second thing is, look at that kid. I mean, look him in the eyes. Even he doesn’t believe it. If he wasn’t sitting there with Abe he’d’a run away like a… like a….” He’s got the knot sorted out but forgets what he was lecturing his reflection on.

Someone knocks on the door to the bathroom. This is his place, and nobody’s supposed to come in here. This is where he lives. It rankles, but the knock is quiet and respectful. So it’s probably not family. If it was family, the door would have just banged open against the tile, even with the risk of a mutually embarrassing pants-down interruption. The only people who’re polite enough to knock are the staff.

“Don’t be shy,” James calls, “there’s a party going on in here.”

The soft snk of the door handle turning. Rob stands just outside. He’s in his suit and tie too, so the reporters are probably starting to trickle in for the announcement. “You got a sec?” he asks, leaning on the doorframe. “Your mom’s asking for you.”

“Yem,” James says. It was supposed to be Yeah, no problem, but it didn’t work out like that.

Rob squints at James. Rob’s been with the family a long time. He’s probably about five years older than James is, which makes him Abe’s age, or near enough as makes no difference. But he looks older. Lines make furrows at his mouth and crease his forehead like a newspaper. His nose is pretty much flattened, as if somebody once used it to polish a floor. Maybe that’s what happened. Sometimes the sidhe have a hell of a sense of humor.

“James,” Rob says quietly, “are you shittered?”

“Yeah.” No point in lying. “Too drunk to see Mom, that’s for sure.”

Rob sighs and pretends to pick something out of his eye. “Okay.”

Nonplussed. Takes a fair bit to faze Rob. He’s not in charge of a team of sidhe hunters for nothing. Not like James, who trades on name. Rob’s actually got the chops to do the job. Any job, it seems.

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