Authors: S.G. Schvercraft
Dave yanked away, my fangs lacerating him the length of his forearm.
He stood up, falling against the alley wall, looking at his wound in disbelief.
“Christ, somebody help!”
The screams sounded so strange when I thought about how cool and confident he’d been in the bar. What a difference five minutes made.
I turned to face him. His blood must have been smeared all over my mouth, and I could only imagine how dramatically crazed I looked as I continued grinning at him.
I was loving the
of it. The sting of his elbow strike against my skull, his voice piercing the night, the drunk rush of his blood entering me, warming me. This was what it was to truly live.
My senses were so focused on Dave that I noticed the oncoming footsteps only when they were practically on top of me. Four men, sizes varying from squat to tall, all powerfully built, rumbling down the alley toward us.
I recognized them: Dave’s friends from the bar.
They must have left the Grogg a few minutes after us and, walking down Dominion, heard their friend’s shouts.
“Hey, man, you all right?” one of them said, not completely sure what was happening in the alley’s near dark.
“He’s cut bad,” another said, slightly slurring. “Did this bitch cut you?”
Yet another, also tipsy but clearly influenced by Ramsgate’s anti-rape campaign, said, “Hey, um, you weren’t, uh, trying to do anything to her, were you?”
“She bit me!”
Dave yelled. “She’s . . . like . . .” He hesitated.
There was a split second during which the four friends looked at him as though deciding whether to have him committed to a psych ward.
Then one of them looked at me, and said, “Whoa.” The others looked as well, saw what I was.
I could have run then. But I heard my predator mind, that satanic instinct inside all of us. Constantly there, like a radio you can’t turn off, forever tuned to the classic evil station. Usually it’s just background music, and ignored because I’m generally doing what it wants anyway. Between running and fighting, though, it had cranked to wake-the-neighbors loud inside my head:
They’ve seen you. They know. Kill them.”
It can be resisted with effort, even when it’s that loud. But when it comes on suddenly, there isn’t much chance to fight it.
And so I was rushing at the four of them before I was aware the decision had been made, hissing like a Dracula’s-bride cliché, fingers stiffened to claws.
The big guy in front stepped back quickly, pushing the others back as well. It was a clumsy move but enough against my mindless attack, my raking fingernails only slashing his T-shirt and barely cutting the skin beneath.
With the collar of his T-shirt torn, the cross necklace he wore was exposed.
At least, I assumed it was a cross. I hadn’t actually seen one since I’d gone over to the Nightfallen. My kind perceived them as mini-suns. I sometimes wondered why they didn’t shine to us from beneath clothes—why didn’t I see it beneath the big guy’s T-shirt, when a flashlight would have shined through easily? The popular theory, which Nathan believed, was that God hated us, and
so decreed that any weapon against us should be easier to conceal.
Looking at the cross had temporarily blinded me, and I covered my eyes.
“Come on!” Dave said.
I felt him tackle me. The others, finding some courage, joined in, and like a wave all five of them were falling on me.
I could have taken two of them. Maybe even three. But against strong men that knew how to restrain somebody, with that cross dangling from the big one’s neck? No way.
Two of them pinned my arms, while the other three stomped and punched me. My focus was now on what was happening to my body. I heard my ribs splinter, like a thunderclap that followed the pain’s lightning agony hitting my nervous system.
I couldn’t get leverage on them, these blurs of pulsing life so deliciously close, beating life’s approximation out of me.
My pelvis broke, and I howled. My predator mind was back to its normal broadcasting schedule of whispering satanic verses in a language long dead—and being absolutely no help whatsoever to me.
Insanely, I thought about the ‘90s movie version of
. As a girl, I’d thought it lame how a bunch of guys led by Anthony Hopkins could just stroll into a crypt with guns and stakes and kill a vampire. After Anne Rice and Joss Whedon, it hadn’t seemed like that’d be enough.
The joke was clearly on me. These guys didn’t need an old professor leading them, or even to be able to drive without getting a DUI, to handle little old me.
The problem for them was that, though they were holding me down and smashing my body, they weren’t ending me.
Slowly, they realized it too.
“Get a stake,” Dave yelled. “We’ll shove it in her heart.”
“Dude, where are we going to get stake?” one of them said, panting from kicking my torso and face.
“A leg from a barstool . . . anything!”
“I have a pocketknife,” another of them said before pulling out a Swiss Army knife and slashing the thin blade into the side of my throat.
My neck tightened as I continued struggling. It was going to take all night for him to decapitate me.
I hadn’t been immortal that long, and I couldn’t believe this was how it was going to end. The pain arced through me like an electric current, and tears flowed from my eyes. It was tempting to let them kill me, to be done with the pain, but I kept trying to fight them.
I had no choice, really. We all knew where we went once we were killed, and any pain we experienced on earth was a thimbleful of what was awaiting us there.
A voice boomed like a drill instructor:
“Let her go.”
Dave and his friends stopped pummeling me to look behind them at who had said it.
“Just keep walking, man,” one of them said. “Believe us, this is not what it looks like.”
I was still on the ground, but between the redwood-like legs of the men surrounding me, I could see the newcomer approaching us. He was a sucking black hole, totally devoid of life, just like me. I thought it was Nathan, but seeing the blackness’s nuances—much smaller than Nathan’s, meaning he was younger and less powerful—I recognized him as the man in the dark overcoat and Army cap at the bar.
“I know exactly what it is,” the man in black said.
“He’s like her,” Dave whispered.
I somehow managed a laugh. “You’re right about that,” I said.
I could feel terror reverberate through them like a plucked guitar string. They would have run if Dave hadn’t spoken up to the man in black. “We handled your girlfriend here pretty easy. I don’t think you things are as hardcore as in the movies.”
“How’s this for hardcore?” the man in black said, then pulled a handgun from beneath his jacket. I recognized it as a 1911, the same design as the battered, Vietnam-vintage .45 my grandfather had let me shoot.
Dave and his friends stepped back, some of their arms instinctively going up.
“Run,” the man in black said.
This time, they did, breaking for the opposite end of the alley.
“Why did you let them go?” I asked, still lying on the pavement, wondering if I’d be able to move before sunup.
“The sound of gunfire would draw more attention than screams,” he said. “Besides, five deaths, whether they’re from guns or drained blood, might be too suspicious for this little burg.”
“Leaving living witnesses isn’t?” I said.
He shrugged. “Drunk, frat-boy meatheads—who are they going to tell? Who would believe them? Besides, if anyone was going to call the cops, we’d be hearing sirens by now.”
“What kind of undead carries a gun?” I asked, as it disappeared into his coat.
“Old habit.” Kneeling beside me, he pulled off his hat.
His hair was short on the sides, slightly longer on top, and as black as his coat. He looked as though he’d been older than me when he’d been alive—mid to late twenties when he’d nightfell, I guessed. He was taller than Nathan, and his eyes were brighter, blue as the daytime sky I remembered. Handsome, definitely, but also hard-lined, as if the world had treated him badly before he died.
From his coat, he pulled a plastic blood packet. “Here,” he said, holding it before my mouth.
The blood was clearly hospital grade, which was harder to get than various vampire TV shows made it seem. Maybe he had someone living helping him? Still, rather unusual for someone so new to have set up a Renfield relationship. I wanted to ask him where he’d gotten it, but couldn’t stop myself from biting the bag. The blood had been coagulated by the cold outside, and seeped out with all the effort of sucking molasses through a straw.
But still, it was life. I began to heal. It would take more to get me completely right, but it was enough that I could feel the pieces of my pelvis beginning to knit.
“Why are you helping me?” I asked after a while. Altruism wasn’t exactly one of our strong points, and I was in no condition to give him sex.
He sat against an alley wall. “I’m new to this. Looking for someone to show me the ropes. I’ve seen you around town. Was getting ready to make introductions, but the pretty boy rolled up on you first.”
Self-interest. That I could believe.
“That’s so funny. When I saw you, I thought you were trying to steal him off my plate,” I said.
“Nah. It’d be pretty gay if a guy drained another guy.”
Strange. Most of us reveled in any degeneracy. Besides, food was food. But another question came more immediately to mind. “Why would you need my help? Where’s your sire?”
“‘Sire’?” he asked.
“Oh, you are new, aren’t you? Sire: the one that made you.”
“He didn’t stick around.”
“‘He’?” It sounded funny, given his commentary on male-on-male drinking a moment before.
“Yeah. The humor isn’t lost on me. Anyway, I was laid up in the Veterans Hospital. Flesh burned, and a paraplegic on top of that. Doctors had me so drugged up, I thought the guy who showed up in a World War I uniform was a figment of my imagination. Especially when he started talking about how his flesh was ruined in an American war too and someone had healed him. Going on about how sometimes soldiers deserved second chances. Next thing I know, it’s three days later and I’m clawing my way out of the local vets cemetery. Never saw him again.”
Whoa. Better than my origin story.
Nathan wouldn’t like it, of course, another male sniffing around his harem. But the man in black was nice to look at, not to mention cool, with his gun and blood packet, his soldier confidence and weird origin. It was easier to disobey Nathan whenever I wasn’t near him, and what he didn’t know wouldn’t kill me.
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Jackson Wheel. Yours?”
I finally had the strength to sit up. “Virginia Dare Weston, but please do call me Ginny.”
“I was beginning
to think you weren’t going to make it,” Jackson said, as I slid into the seat across from him.
“Well, you know how it is,” I said. “Takes a girl some time to make herself beautiful, especially after she’s had the ever-loving hell beaten out of her.”
It was a couple of hours after sundown, and we were in one of Echo Valley’s triumvirate of independent coffee shops. Each shop had its own culture; this was Café Trios, the meeting place of hipsters and the bohemian pretentious. Everyone here was so thin and sickly looking that Jackson and I were probably the only ones that didn’t look undead.
We sat away from the window, not wanting anyone to notice our lack of reflections. We each had small mugs in front of us, but neither of us drank our coffee. Like so much our kind did, the mugs were just camouflage to blend in with the cattle around us. It was loud enough that we didn’t have to worry about being overheard.
It had been three nights since the alley. We’d agreed to meet here tonight, mainly because I’d thought it’d take me that long to heal enough to be presentable.
“You’re looking better, by the way,” he said.
“Thank you.” I smiled. I had to take his word, since the pools of still blood we could see our reflections in were poor substitutes for mirrors.
“Your sire nursed you back to health?” he asked.
“And my sisters,” I said.
“It’s a nice way of saying the other girls in my sire’s harem.”
“How many are you guys?”
“Just me, my two sisters, and Nathan, our sire.”
“You seem pretty okay with the arrangement.”
“What choice do I have?”
In some ways, death had been liberating. I’d been such a good girl growing up. Too bookish, too much of a shrinking violet, there was no chance I’d be that nuclear-hot, life-of-the-party girl that every boy seemed to want.
But then the Nightfallen found me. I was forever sixteen, and no longer needed makeup for my eyes to look smoky and my lips to be slut red. My skin, so pale before, looked healthy and sun-kissed now. Suddenly I had serial killer self-confidence, and my body moved with a hypnotically liquid grace. These were adaptations, naturally selected, so that I could find victims easier while blending in among the living. Darwinism in action.
No need for parents now. I could have all the nice things I’d seen at the mall and online, either by hitting my headlights on someone or simply taking it by force.
There were trade-offs, though. The ones I had known about included sunlight, crosses, mirrors, and blood. The one I hadn’t was how much a sire would loom over my existence.
After the alley, I had limped back to the foreclosed Victorian that had been our home the past couple of months. Getting up its half mile-long, ice-covered driveway, abandoned and unplowed, was difficult.
The previous occupants must have resented being forced out. To spite the bank, they had smashed the fireplaces’ marble and the winding staircase’s thick, mahogany rails on the way out, making the downstairs look like a haunted house.
They had left the upper two stories untouched, though, and there was luxury in the polished hardwood floors and the decorative plaster of the ceilings. This was our den now. The candles we burned, hidden from the outside world by the blackout curtains we’d installed against the sun, made it look warm and romantic, despite the constant chill.