Authors: S.G. Schvercraft
“Maybe I’m defective.” Jackson smirked.
“Maybe you’re just too new,” I said, not entirely sure if I was trying to convince him or myself.
I took my drink from Tracy as Jackson watched.
“I get it,” he said after I’d had my supper. “So her neck’s healed up, and we can send her on the way with no memory of what happened. Helps us fly below the radar.”
“That’s the plan, but we’re not letting her go quite yet,” I said, suddenly feeling devious.
“She’s cute, wouldn’t you say?”
I reached for Tracy’s jeans, and undid the button. “We’ve already used her body as a vending machine. No reason to stop there when we can also use her body as a playground.”
“Forget it,” he said.
I looked at him. “You don’t like drinking from guys because it’s gay, you don’t like playing with available girls. Is there something else you like that you’re not telling me?”
“If she goes back to her boyfriend feeling sore, she might begin to wonder about whatever time she’s lost. She begins recounting her steps, she may try to account for the hole in her memory. She does that, it could lead to us.”
It was a rational concern, but not one I’d ever heard a male Nightfallen raise before. They tended to think with their dicks first, last, and always. I could tell my predator mind was wondering about him—I could hear the Sumerian background music in my brain grow louder.
“There’s always her mouth,” I said.
“She’ll have a sore jaw.”
“Someone’s bragging now,” I said. Then the humor left my voice. “If I didn’t know better, I’d wonder if you had a conscience.”
It wasn’t fun anymore. It wasn’t a dare. It was a dropped gauntlet.
He accepted it, but played it off like it wasn’t a big deal. “Okay, but I’ve never done this with anyone watching before,” he said.
He took a seat, and I guided Tracy’s face to his lap.
Whatever his initial hesitation, he got over it before long.
But that initial
hesitation kept bothering me.
We were bad things. That was automatic as soon as you dug yourself out of the earth in which you’d been buried three nights before. You were a soulless monster.
That’s not to say you instantly ran around pillaging and slaughtering—our evil was tempered by our self-interest in not being killed, which meant drawing as little attention as possible.
What self-interest was there in not using a girl who wouldn’t remember? The only answer seemed to be Jackson had a lingering morality. As I thought about it during the nights afterward, even though he’d eventually played with her, it seemed like the actions of someone trying to blend in rather than really belonging.
Then there was the fight in the alley. The meathead’s cross had blinded me, but Jackson had walked up to him easily. As if he hadn’t even noticed it. Combine all that with the fact his saliva didn’t have any healing effect . . .
On a smartphone bought with victims’ money, I googled him. His obituary was from a month ago:
Sgt. Jackson J. Wheel died Wednesday at the Harrisburg Veterans Hospital from injuries suffered in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province two months prior.
Born on Halloween night, 1983, “Wheeljack”, as he was known in his unit, was a native son of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. One of three brothers that would all eventually join the military, Jackson enlisted in the Army after graduating high school. His family was enormously proud to see him graduate the U.S. Army Ranger School and join the 75th Rangers Regiment. His service to his country included 10 combat deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan . . .
Along with a list of his surviving relatives, the obit casually mentioned some of the courses and schools he’d graduated from. Their understated titles—things like “Pathfinder School” and “Joint Firepower Control Course”—sounded impressive, even if I had no idea what they were. Three combat ribbons and a Silver Star sounded like a lot too.
At least his story checked out. The obituary’s reference to dying two months after being injured dovetailed with what Jackson had told me about becoming Nightfallen while in a hospital.
I could have left it at that. I liked him, after all. We began getting together every couple of nights. As non-Nightfallen as it may sound, it was nice having him to flirt with, a pleasant break from home life with Nathan and my sisters, where I was losing myself a little more each night, being reduced to a mindless plaything.
Luring food back to the house wasn’t so bad, but constantly buying lingerie to replace what Gina, Cynthia, and I tore off one another was getting to be a bit much. Who knew a big part of what it meant to be a
was modeling fetish wear and having bisexual sex? Increasingly, it seemed like that’s all there was.
But Jackson offered something more: a mystery. I wanted to solve him.
We’d hung out the night before, so it was going to be a few days before we met in Café Trios again. He’d be alone tonight—or at least doing whatever he normally did when I wasn’t around.
He hadn’t shown me his den, so I didn’t know where he would be coming from. But when we’d met in the alley, he’d said that he’d seen me around town. I mostly kept to Dominion Street and the nearby Ramsgate upper quad. Given that it was the heart of the college, it followed he’d be in the area at some point.
I climbed a rickety fire escape to the roof of the same building where I’d taken Tracy, and waited.
The first night, I didn’t seem him. The next night, I was on the roof again. By two in the morning, the Dominion Street bars were emptying out, undergrads milling around to get leads on parties or make a last-ditch effort to find someone to go home with. All that young life shined. In the middle of it, I spotted a piece of blackness.
It was Jackson.
I wondered if he was going to chat up a coed—he had the looks. Instead, he just moved through the crowds like a chaperone, sticking out badly because of his black coat and being at least a decade older than the students.
I laughed to myself. It wasn’t just abilities I’d have to teach him, but basic hunting. Not really befitting a man of mystery. I wondered if I was being silly following him like this.
He began walking the upper quad. I worried he’d hear me moving down the fire escape, so I went down the other side of the building. I couldn’t climb up walls spiderlike, unlike some of the other races, but I was strong enough to catch fingerholds on windows and ledges before jumping down from the second story.
I kept my distance as he made his way to the student union. Jackson paused at one of the side doors, looked around to see if anyone was nearby, then stepped in.
It should have been locked—Tracy had mentioned all the buildings being locked by eleven. Someone was expecting Sergeant Wheel.
I followed him. Listening, I was able to track him through the building’s darkened halls.
He went down emergency stairs to the building’s basement, and from there, into a mechanical room.
The whine of furnaces made it hard to track him, but peeking into the mechanical room, I realized he wasn’t there. With all the heat and noise confusing my senses, it took me a moment to notice a door hidden behind some pipes.
It was unlocked, and the passageway was lit at intervals by dim, bare bulbs. I hadn’t realized Ramsgate College was honeycombed with steam tunnels.
I could feel the heat coursing through the pipes that ran lengthwise down the winding tunnel. The temperature hovered in the nineties, but spiked to well over a hundred degrees in pockets. The decaying asbestos insulation encasing the pipes did nothing for the air quality.
Carefully, I made my way down the tunnel. My hearing was useless with all the knocking, hissing pipes, and the dryness threw off my sense of smell. I wasn’t tracking at this point, more like guessing.
I came to a split in the tunnels. There was a thin coat of dust on the floor, and while it had been disturbed by what I guessed was the comings and goings of maintenance men, there seemed to be a fresh trail going to the right.
I followed it, then followed it again at a four-way intersection.
From time to time there were doorways to what were probably other buildings’ mechanical rooms, but these were locked. Jackson could have locked one of them behind him, but with nothing else to go on, I kept walking the tunnels.
I was about to give up when I entered a section in which the heat and the pipes’ hissings began to lessen. That’s when I heard voices—two men just around the corner.
“Been a while since you checked in,” a voice I didn’t recognize said.
Then, Jackson’s voice: “I’ve made contact with one of them. Given my new social schedule, I can’t always respond to every drop at the snap of a finger.”
“Who’s the contact?” the other man asked.
“A girl. Or at least she once was. She’s still pretty new at this,” Jackson said.
“What’s her name?”
Half a second’s hesitation before Jackson answered: “Markie. No last name. I assume it’s an alias.”
“Markie, huh?” the other man said. “Is she cute?”
“If you like them young, sure,” Jackson said.
“You’re not going native on us, are you?”
“You really think I like drinking blood, McBride? It’s hard enough downing the stuff to stay alive. Even harder trying to look like I’m getting off on it when one of them is watching,” Jackson said. “And that’s not even getting into all . . . the other things they do for fun.”
“I don’t mean to sound insensitive, but be a man and deal with it, Sergeant. You’re authorized to take any action to maintain your cover.”
“Yeah, I know. Rape and murder included.”
“The greater good sometimes means inflicting many smaller sins,” the man said, as if describing tomorrow’s weather.
“They believe in God, you know. They think they’re all going to Hell because of what they are.”
“I just start to wonder if I’m going to go there too, because of all this,” Jackson said.
“Says the guy who hacked his way out of Hadithah with a tomahawk. All of us in this business are Hell-bound. Look at the bright side, if you’re this worried about your immortal soul, you must be doing a good job playing your part.”
“Barely. It sounds simple pretending that crosses hurt you, but my acting is slower than their reactions.”
“Sure. I imagine that they can sense them, while you’ve got to see the cross or church or whatever to know you’re supposed to be in agony.”
“I’m just a soldier. A clandestine-services guy would be better at this.”
“If any had survived the process, they’d be in the slot. Since they didn’t, it’s all you, son.”
“It’s not just acting the part,” Jackson said. “It’s
the part. The process wasn’t perfect. Turns out, their spit heals minor wounds. It’s why there aren’t a bunch of people running around campus with puncture marks on their necks.”
“I’ll talk to Dr. March. Maybe she can do something to modify you. In the meantime,” McBride said, “tell me what you’ve learned. Anything about their numbers?”
“Nothing firm,” Jackson said, “but there’s something you need to know. We’ve been thinking there’s only one type of these things, the kind I’m meant to mimic. But it sounds like there are other types, each with their own specialties and limits.”
I continued listening, resisting my predator mind’s chanting voice as it told me to kill them.
“So you’re basically
Famous Monsters of Hollywood
,” I said to Jackson the next night.
We were sitting in our usual spot at Café Trios, our coffees untouched in front of us.
He gave me a cocky smirk. “You must have been a writer before you went Nightfallen, little girl. That sounds like a cool idea for some trashy teen chick lit. Although, I guess if you wrote it like a thriller, it could make for a surreal Brad Thor.”
The smirk disappeared when I told him I followed him the night before. “I know you’re not really one of us,” I whispered, despite our voices being lost in the mindless coed chatter surrounding us. “I know you’re from the government. I know that there’s some process you underwent to mimic us, and I know that, while it was pretty good, it definitely wasn’t perfect.”
The way he said it, I could tell he tasted the lie in his mouth. His eyes casually scanned the coffee shop, taking in the surroundings. I could practically feel his mind making casualty estimates in the span of a second. Then his eyes returned to mine, not looking at me but
me. I noticed the bulge beneath his black coat—the holster saddling his 1911.
“Of course, if what you say is true, you’d know I’m allowed to do anything and everything to keep my cover.”
“Don’t,” I said before he pulled his gun, “
. Just hear me out.”
His body was still tense, but the gun remained hidden. “Go ahead, then.”
“You said to your contact that you’re a soldier, not really a spy. You’re right. Whatever was done to you, it’s good enough to fool us at first glance. But there are too many imperfections. Over time, they’re going to get noticed. Then they’ll get you killed.”
“Probably,” he said, with the casual resignation of a man condemned.
“I can help,” I said. “I can show you how to act the part better, and run interference for you when those imperfections can’t be hidden.”
His eyes narrowed. “Why would you?”
“Self-interest. I want you to kill my sire.”
“Why not do it yourself?”
“The one that creates you has power over you. That control becomes stronger over time. If I’m in his presence, I’m his slave. He gains more power over me as time goes on. I’m getting the feeling it’s now or never, unless I want to be spend an eternity of nights as a concubine. And it’s not like I can run. I know he’ll find me.”
“Cool story. Could be just a cover, though.”
“If I was setting a trap for you, why would I tell you that I know what you are? Does that make any sense? If I wanted you dead, I’d just lead you into an ambush during one of our campus walks.”