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Lush green covered the banks of the river. It would have been beautiful were not for the scull in my hand. Finding bones on an archaeological dig wasn’t unusual, but his one was different. Caucasian, male, one gold tooth, just like Brendan Harper, one of the students who disappeared three years ago.
The university didn’t seem to notice how many students dropped Professor Hamilton’s classes or simply vanished over the years. And I mean years, as in decades. My boss red flagged the case and I’d spent two years undercover waiting for him to slip up.
“Are you ready to join your classmates, Miss Van?”
Icy fingers touched my shoulder and the scull crashed to the ground. It felt as though the temperature dropped fifty degrees. I could feel a tug on my soul, feel my life force drain away even through the protections. Panic closed in. If I didn’t act soon I’d be nothing but a withered corpse for some future victim to find.
A twist of my wrist slipped the magic dagger into my hand as I spun around. I plunged the weapon deep into the lich’s emaciated chest. His red glowing eyes widened in their dark sockets. Bony hands clenched my neck even as his body disintegrated.
“You can’t destroy me,” he hissed. “I’ll be back within a week. Your soul will be mine.”
“Not this time, Lich. I destroyed your phylactery this morning. Oh, and my name isn’t Miss Van. It’s Miss Van Helsing.
Magic is finicky. I’d seen it work before, but not too reliably and there were many charlatans around. But I trusted Damien, loved him. Still, this was one of his wackier ideas, crazier than their hasty marriage three weeks ago.
“You want to jump into that scuzzy water, be my guest. There’s no way I am.”
A frown creased his brow. “We’ve been over this. If you don’t jump in after tossing the coin the magic won’t work. I can’t swim.”
He massaged his head, revealing dark green marks on his arm.
“What’s that green smudge?”
Damien snapped his sleeve down, covering the splotches. He seemed unusually irritated. “Nothing, just some paint.”
I shrugged. He was the magic expert. With a flick I tossed the copper coin in the air. It arced high, then dove strait for the wish pond. Instead of a splash, I heard thump.
Curious, I leaned over to look, but a flicker of movement made me turn. Arms extended, Damien charged, the green ‘paint’ on his arms clearly textured like alligator skin. Yellow reptilian eyes shone with soulless intensity.
My heart shattered with understanding. Damien was a Gator Shaman, bound to the creatures by blood… and I was his next sacrifice. No wonder he knew so much magic. But he didn’t count on my reflexes. Damien tumbled into the water. He cried once before the alligator bit.
I guess he really couldn’t swim. At least I’d inherit his gold. Some wishes do come true.
“Interesting name, Jackrabbit Road.” said Jim, as he and Pauline walked toward the covered bridge over Stone Creek. “Is it because of all the twists?”
“Don’t know, but I bet Gramps Paul does. He knows everything about this town, even about how old Jack Keeley got half-eaten by a demon on the bridge in ’31.
“Demon? Are you serious? More likely he was killed by a cougar, just like that tourist last week. Moonshiners and their delusions are the only legends around here. That old coot must be senile if he believes in monsters .”
“You’re an outsider, Jim. Go see the bridge on your own if you want. I’m going home while it’s still light. By the way, Old Paul’s as sharp as you or me. Just consider yourself warned.”
“Dumb yokels,” muttered Jim as Pauline stomped away. He’d put an end to this nonsense. It was near midnight when he reached the halfway mark in the covered bridge.
“Pauline, that you?”
“Ok, nice joke.”
Thump. Thump. Thump.
Jim looked toward the noise. A pair of small eyes glowed in the distance, low to the ground.
Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.
Was that his heart beating?
Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump. Thump.
A small grey rabbit hopped up to him, ears twitching. Jim burst out laughing. The short-lived relief vanished as the rabbit leaped for his throat. No one heard his screams as the demon’s teeth clamped down.
Ropes dug into Calynn’s wrists, her hands long since numb from their prolonged bondage. Small, superstitious people, the villagers feared her. She was different, marked with the violet eyes of legends. For sixteen years she’d lived with these people, laughed, cried, and worked besides them. Only once did she fail to stain her eyes dark. Now they sought her death.
It took four days for the priests to ‘examine’ her, another two to march to the killing circle with a parade of witnesses. Each step left a numb hole in her heart. Children she had once played with taunted as she was dragged to the chopping block. Of all she had endured, the look in Daniel’s eyes hurt the most. How quickly love had turned to hate.
Hands forced her head onto the block and her nostrils flared. The scent of blood, soaked deep into the ancient wooden rings, was still strong even after nearly fifty year. Something pulled at Calynn, pulsing, calling her name. Hundreds had died on this stump, all of them guilty only in looking different.
Visions of deaths long past surged through her mind as they tied her down. Her heart quickened. Only one had escaped the slaughter. It wasn’t until now that Calynn understood Nana’s dying words or the pain in her dark-stained violet eyes. Voices fluttered in the wind, calling, straining for release.
“It’s time, Calynn.”
Lighting burst from Calynn’s hands, breaking her bonds and releasing the slaughtered souls. It was time.
Smack dab in the middle of Case Western Reserve University’s campus is a little gem of a restaurant called L’Albatros. It’s one of those places that college students ask visiting parents to take them because it’s a tad pricy for the average student. It’s also worth every penny. The decor is fresh and elegant, without being stuffy. We wore jeans to lunch, but clearly could have dressed up. Even though we arrived twenty minutes before opening, we were seated right away and served warm bread. The olive oil had a fresh, crisp flavor, which was perfect for dipping the crusty rustic bread. There was a real danger of filling up on the stuff before our lunch arrived.
My husband ordered the Mussles with Pommes Frites and Spicy Aioli. A generous portion of tender mussles came in a bowl of butter broth topped with fries and a drizzle of aioli. Yum. The fries were crisp and delicious.
I had the Watercress “Caesar” salad. Served with both black and green olives, it was topped with a liberal portion of shaved parmesan. The anchovies weren’t those shriveled bone filled things you get in most places. These were fresh, fileted, with a slightly pickled flavor reminiscent of herring, but much milder.
The Braised Shoulder of Lamb my daughter ordered had a rich and comforting flavor, good for a cold day in Cleveland. It was served with pasta risotto and rosemary jus.
Fresh made pasta, tender, and cut in wide cut strips filled the Pasta Du Jour my other daughter ordered. It came with a healthy helping of roast root vegetables, eggplant, and kale. Shaved parmesan completed the dish.
This fantastic lunch for four was reasonably priced. If you ever find yourself in Cleveland, Ohio, Don’t forget to stop by L’Albatros.11401 Bellflower Road Cleveland, Ohio 44106 216-971-7880 http://www.albatrosbrasserie.com/
I should mention here that L’Albatros is one of Chef Zack Bruell’s restaurants and that wonderful olive oil is his own unfiltered extra virgin olive oil made from California olives.
Sometimes picking a restaurant randomly pays off and sometimes it doesn’t. On a recent visit to Cleveland, Ohio’s, Little Italy, it didn’t. Guarino’s Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge, located at 12309 Mayfield Road, was established in 1918. According to their website many of the recipes, including their marinara sauce, date back to the 1940’s. The Victorian style décor was added in the 1960’s, and it doesn’t look like they’ve made many changes since. Dark walls, a dark carpet, and a dark ceiling were all that welcomed us when we entered, unless you want to count the ragged strip of beads by the bar which bumped my head.
The staff, including an older woman who appeared to be in charge, argued about who was supposed to do what. She greeted us with “Did she (the young woman at the podium outside) send you inside?” instead of “Hello, welcome to Guarino’s.”
The restaurant was almost empty, with a few people seated on the back patio. M ost people were eating on the street at the Feast of the Assumption, so we didn’t let the sparseness bother us. We were ushered passed the family pictures, to a small table with a shredded white lace tablecloth. They must have gotten a good deal on the things because they not only covered the tables, but holes in the ceiling as well.
With such a small a la cart menu, you would expect well executed dishes. Sadly, that wasn’t the case.
We started our meal with a couple of house salads which consisted of simple greens and two thick slices of carrot for garnish. The house dressing, a creamy Italian, was nice but nothing special. My daughter ordered the Caprese salad. It came with three pieces of not quite ripe tomatoes with the equivalent of one slice of mozzarella chopped into chunks and scattered on top. A slight drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette decorated it along with fresh chopped parsley, a garnish that insinuated itself on almost every plate. At the peak of tomato season, I found the tomato quality an affront to the senses and the cheese portion miserly.
For my main course, I ordered Fettuccini Alfredo. The pasta may have been fresh made, but wasn’t cooked fresh to order. The edge pieces not topped with the basic bland and unseasoned white sauce, looked darkened and dry. There may have been some black pepper in there, but not enough to taste. The only other seasoning was a small smattering of chopped parsley dropped on top. After adding spoonfuls of parmesan, which I had to get myself from an empty table, and more pepper, it was palatable.
My husband’s veal saltimbocca, one of his favorite dishes, was another disappointment. Instead of a stuffed and rolled veal, he received a deep fried piece of meat topped with a thin slice of prosciutto or ham, not sure which, and cheese. The pale brown sauce was flavorless and looked to be thickened with cornstarch. A small pile of pasta accompanied the meat, dressed with more of the bland sauce. Again, the requisite chopped parsley was sprinkled on top.
The best dish of the meal was my daughter’s ravioli. The three huge homemade ravioli were filled with a nice but flavorless blend of ricotta and mozzarella. The biggest disappointment was the marinara sauce, which tasted like it came from a can. Other than fresh chopped parsley, we couldn’t detect any other seasoning.
Our friendly but forgetful waitress, not only left our drinks sitting on the bar when we asked for refills, but neglected to serve bread with our meal. And yes, other tables had baskets, but by the time we noticed, we’d had enough. More disturbing was the length of time she took to return our credit card.
Over all, we found the meal adequate, but overpriced for what they offer and the décor oppressively outdated. If ever a restaurant could use a makeover, this one is long past its prime. Maybe Robert Irvine will stop by some day and help them out. Until then, I’m steering clear.