Caleb awoke to the sound of bells.
He sat bolt upright and looked all around, breathing heavily. He had been dreaming of Kyle, chasing him, of Caitlin, holding out a hand for help. They had been in a field filled with bats, against a blood-red sun, and it had seemed so real.
Now, as he looked around the room, he tried to determine whether it was all real, or if he was truly awake and back in time. After several seconds of listening to his own breathing, of feeling the cool dampness in the air, of listening to the quiet, to his own heartbeat, he realized that it was all a dream. He was truly awake.
Caleb realized he was sitting upright inside an open sarcophagus. He looked around the dim, cavernous room and saw that it was filled with sarcophagi. There were low, arched ceilings and narrow slits for windows, through which streamed the smallest amount of sunlight. It was just enough to see by. He squinted at the glare, reached into his pocket, and applied his eyedrops, glad to find them still there. Slowly, the pain receded, and he relaxed.
Caleb jumped up and onto his feet in one motion, spinning around the room, taking stock in all directions. He was still on guard, not wanting to get attacked or ambushed before he’d had a chance to get his bearings. But there was nothing, and no one, in the room. Just silence. He noticed the ancient stone floors, walls, the small altar and cross, and guessed that he was in the lower crypt of a church.
Caleb spun around the room again, searching for any sign of her. He felt a sense of urgency as he hurried to the sarcophagus nearest him. With all his might, he scraped back the lid.
His heart lifted at the hope of finding her. But he was crestfallen to find it empty.
Caleb hurried through the room, going from one sarcophagus to the next, pushing back each lid.
But they were all empty.
Caleb felt a sense of growing desperation as he pushed back the final lid in the room, with so much force that it crashed to the ground and shattered into a million bits. But he already had a sinking feeling he would find it, like the others, to be vacant—and he was right. Caitlin was nowhere in this room, he realized, breaking out into a cold sweat. Where could she be?
The thought of coming back in time without her sent a chill up his spine. He cared more for her than he could say and without her by his side, his life, his mission, felt purposeless.
He suddenly remembered something, and reached into his pocket, checking to see if it was still there. Thankfully, it was. His mother’s wedding ring. He held it up to the light, and admired the six-carat sapphire, perfectly cut, mounted on a band of diamonds and rubies. He had never been able to find the right moment to propose to her. This time, he was determined to.
If, of course, she had come back at all.
Caleb heard a noise and spun towards the entrance, sensing motion. He hoped beyond hope that it was Caitlin.
But he was surprised to find himself looking down, as the person turned the corner, and to see that it wasn’t a person at all. It was Ruth. Caleb was overjoyed to see her there, to see that she had survived the trip back in time.
She walked towards Caleb, her tail wagging, her eyes lighting with recognition. As she got closer, Caleb knelt down and she ran into his arms. He loved Ruth, and he was surprised at how much she had grown: she seemed to be twice the size, and a formidable animal. He was also encouraged to find her here: maybe it meant that Caitlin was here, too.
Ruth suddenly turned and ran out the room, disappearing around the corner. Caleb was baffled by her behavior, and he hurried off after her, to see where she went.
He found himself entering another vaulted chamber, this one also littered with sarcophagi. He could see at a glance that they were all already opened, and empty.
Ruth kept running, whining, and ran out this room, too. Caleb started to wonder whether Ruth was leading him somewhere. He sped up after her.
After tearing through several more rooms, Ruth finally stopped in a small alcove at the end of the corridor, dimly lit by a single torch. Inside, sat a lone, marble sarcophagus, intricately designed.
Caleb approached it slowly, holding his breath, hoping, sensing, that Caitlin could be inside.
Ruth sat down beside it, and stared up at Caleb. She whined frantically.
Caleb knelt and tried to push back its stone lid. But this one was much heavier than the others, and it hardly budged.
He knelt and pushed harder, using all his might, and finally, it began to budge. He kept pushing, and moments later, the lid came off completely.
Caleb was flooded with relief to find Caitlin lying there, still as could be, her hands neatly folded across her chest. But his relief turned to concern as he studied her, and saw that she was paler than he had ever seen. There was no color in her cheeks whatsoever, and her eyes did not even react to the torchlight. He looked more closely and noticed that she didn’t appear to be breathing.
He leaned back in horror. Caitlin appeared to be dead.
Ruth whined louder: now he understood.
Caleb leaned in and placed both hands firmly on her shoulders. He shook her gently.
“Caitlin?” he said, hearing the worry in his own voice. “CAITLIN!?” he called louder, as he shook her with more force.
But she didn’t respond, and his entire body went cold as he imagined what his life would be like without her in it. He knew there was a danger to time travel, and that not all vampires survived every trip. But he had never really contemplated the reality of dying on the trip back. Had he made a mistake to keep encouraging her on the search, on the mission? Should he have just let it go, have settled with her in the last time and place?
What if he had lost everything?
Ruth jumped into the sarcophagi, standing with all four paws on Caitlin’s chest, and began licking her all over her face. Minutes passed, and Ruth never stopped licking, whining as she did.
Just as Caleb leaned over, ready to pull Ruth off, he stopped. He was shocked as Caitlin began to open an eye.
Ruth howled, ecstatic, as she jumped off of Caitlin and ran in circles. Caleb leaned in, equally ecstatic, as Caitlin finally opened both eyes, and began to look around.
He hurried over and grabbed one of her ice-cold hands, warming it between his.
“Caitlin? Can you hear me? It’s me, Caleb.”
Slowly, she began to sit up, and he helped her, reaching in, gently placing a hand behind her neck. He was so happy to see her blinking, squinting. He could see how disoriented she was, as if awoken from a deep, deep sleep.