Authors: S.G. Schvercraft
“Why trust me? I could just kill you once I take out your sire.”
“I don’t think you will.”
“Why wouldn’t I?”
“You already had the chance but didn’t. The guy in the steam tunnels—McBride, right? You didn’t give him my real name. If you had, I’d be on a kill list already, wouldn’t I?”
I put my hand on his. “Why didn’t you give me to them, Jackson?”
He pulled his hand away. “It’s in my interest to hold some things back. I’ve been in the military long enough not to trust civilian command.”
I wondered if it was the truth, or if he was just trying to justify it to himself.
I told him where Nathan and my sisters were located, where they tended to stay within the foreclosed Victorian, and warned him about the frozen-over road. I told him that Nathan was Civil War vintage and, therefore, very powerful, and also that even though my sisters were relatively young, they were still incredibly dangerous.
We went over weaknesses again—religious objects, heart being pierced by the wood of a pine or oak tree, fire, decapitation.
“One thing I don’t get,” he said. “If you’re under his control whenever you see him, why haven’t you told him about me already? I’d think he’d want to know about any new vampires in town.”
“Right, I guess you wouldn’t know this. We have a predator mind. It’s this inner voice. Our most elemental self.” Jackson looked confused. “Think of it as the undead equivalent of a conscience, except instead of telling us to be good people, it tells us how to survive and spread evil. Sometimes simple commands, sometimes running conversations
“Our own wills get trumped by our sires, but our sire gets trumped by the predator mind. It’s why I held back on telling Nathan about you—my predator mind was protecting me,” I said.
“Then how come you didn’t try to tear my throat out when you were eavesdropping on me?” he asked. “I’d think that little voice inside your head would be telling you to, given what I am and who I work for.”
“It did. I’m able to control it when I can anticipate it.”
“So predator mind trumps sire, sire trumps willpower, but willpower can trump predator mind? Like rock-paper-scissors.”
I was about to tell him that was an oversimplification. Nightfallen like to make everything about us epic. But then I thought about it. “Yes,” I said, “that’s basically how it works.”
We talked more details about the attack. Then he said, “I’m going to kill the girls too. Got a problem with that?”
I actually had some affection for Gina and Cynthia—we’d shared so much, and if there’d been some jealousy, well, it wasn’t like I hadn’t had drama with my high school friends too. But both my predator mind and will agreed that they’d hunt me forever if Nathan was killed and they knew I had a hand in it.
“Fine,” I said.
“Okay. I’ll hit them tonight.” He looked at his watch. “Will only take me a couple hours to prep and stage once I leave here.”
“You can’t just do it during the day?”
“The same process that made me a decent fake makes me vulnerable to sunlight. I won’t combust in it, but I’ll die of toxic shock before too long. So it’s nighttime or never,” Jackson said.
“You don’t have any backup? Someone you could call for a daylight attack?”
“What backup? This is a black-book operation. I can count on my hand the people in government that know about it, and still have a thumb left over. I’m the operation’s only warfighter.”
“Do you need anything from me?” I asked. “I can’t be near Nathan for the fight, but I’ll get you whatever supplies you want.”
He shook his head. “You’ve already given me their location and strength—that’ll be enough. Besides, I have decent equipment back at my bunker. Nothing military grade—all store-bought civilian stuff, so if it’s found, nothing will get traced back to anyone important. Don’t worry, it’ll be enough.”
“You get that bullets aren’t going to kill them, right?”
“Sure, but I saw what enough kicking and striking did to you. Figure my AR-15 will bust up their bodies enough for me to get close to behead or stake them,” he said. “Now, you go find someplace to hide for the night. We’ll meet here tomorrow night, an hour after sunset.”
I made my way up Dominion Street, toward campus, looking for a decent place to bed down. My predator mind was still chanting in the background, louder than its baseline but not screaming, that I shouldn’t be helping Jackson. I spent most of the walk rationalizing with it, explaining to it that, once free of Nathan, I’d be able to spread more darkness and destruction. That seemed to placate it a bit.
Reasoning with your most animal psyche is distracting, so I didn’t notice the heel clicks behind me until someone spoke.
“Hello, little one,” a melodious female voice called.
“Are you stepping out on the master with another male?” said another.
I don’t have any body heat, but those voices made the stolen blood in me run cold. I turned quickly. Two women were behind me, radiating blackness—Cynthia and Gina.
“Who was that male in the coffee shop?” Cynthia asked.
It seemed as though Nathan was speaking through her.
“He’s no one,” I said, the lie sounding as lame in my mouth as the ones that had come from Jackson. “Just a Nightfallen noob—I’ve been showing him the ropes.”
“You’re lying,” Gina said. “All that cattle in the coffee shop made it so we couldn’t hear whatever sweet nothings you two were whispering, Ginny. We were watching through the window, though. We saw your hand on his.”
“Even if he pulled his away, it doesn’t excuse your betrayal,” Cynthia said.
“It just means that everything you’re about to endure, you’re going to suffer for someone that didn’t feel as strongly about you,” Gina said.
Between them, they had seventy years on me, and they’d come to fight. It was over almost before it started.
I turned to run, but Cynthia caught a handful of my hair. “None of that, little one,” she said.
My head wrenching backward, I saw Gina pull a Union Army bayonet from her Louis Vuitton. We’d used it to drain deer and bears, and the occasional man or woman too. Gina plunged it into the side of my neck.
Another two or three slamming stabs, and I felt the metal pierce through my back and into my stomach, heart, and lungs.
Since I was suddenly weakened, it was easy for them to gag and bind me with their superior strength.
“Nathan wants to have a talk with you,” Cynthia said.
“You know, back in the ‘80s, when someone said they needed to have a talk, it meant they were going to break up with you,” Gina said.
“This breakup is going to be very hard on you, little one,” Cynthia said, as they carried me into the darkness.
Dance by Firelight
Back in Nathan’s
presence, I wasn’t myself anymore. I was simply his.
He sat on his throne, and I kneeled naked before him. Cynthia and Gina were on either side of me. My sisters had given me some deer blood so that I’d heal enough not to be disgusting to our master.
I could hear my predator mind weighing whether taking my punishment like a good girl would ensure I’d come through this alive or I’d be killed faster. For my own part, I didn’t care if I lived or died, so long as I made him happy.
Nathan was dressed in his usual fashion jeans, no shirt, holding the bayonet Gina had gutted me with like it was a scepter. “Ginny, you disappoint me,” he said.
The words hurt more than my still-healing wounds.
“I know you are, dear. I regret having to hurt you. There is a lot of regret to go around tonight. Perhaps, however, we may begin regaining one another’s trust. Doesn’t that sound nice?”
“Yes,” I said.
“The beginning of trust is honesty. I need you to be honest with me. Who is this male you’ve been seeing?”
There was push-pull inside of myself: my will wanting to tell him everything, down to Jackson’s attack tonight, and my primal mind desperate to hold back what he really was. Their compromise came from me in a languid voice: “His name is Jackson Wheel. He’s a former soldier, Nightfallen new.”
“A sergeant,” I said.
“I was a major, but here you are slumming with an enlisted man. I thought women generally tried to find better mates. I suppose I should be insulted. Wait! I am.” Then he cracked the back of his hand across my face. “Tell me more about this Sergeant Wheel. Do you find him attractive?”
“Have you slept with him?”
I heard my sisters behind me tittering. “No.”
“You wanted to, though?”
“I did,” I said, then rushed to add that I was a fool. I pled with Nathan, telling him that I only wanted to be with him, that anyone else was stomach turning, begging him to use me now.
I was silenced with another crack across the face, hard enough that had I been alive, it would have shattered my jaw.
“Where may I find Sergeant Wheel?”
“I don’t know.”
“You haven’t any idea where he sleeps?”
“No. He did say something about a bunker, though.”
“A bunker? In what context did he say this?”
“Talking about his guns.”
“Armament? What kind?” Nathan asked.
Nathan sneered. “A mass-produced piece of aluminum to turn a single plebeian into a platoon. Why would the newly undead need such a weapon?”
I was about to answer, but my response caught in my throat.
Nathan said, the words echoing through me like a gunshot in a cathedral. “Answer me, or I’ll pull that pretty head of yours from the stump of your neck.”
I couldn’t hold back anymore. “To break up your body enough so he can behead or stake you.”
For the first time in three years we had been together, his regal detachment gave way. “You told him where we nest.”
It was a statement, not a question, but I answered him anyway. “Yes,” I said, tears flowing.
“And when does your new friend plan on accomplishing this?”
I glanced over his shoulder to his grandfather clock. It had been two hours since I had left Jackson at the coffee shop. “Now.”
From the first floor, there was the sound of glass smashing. There was a whiff of gasoline, then suddenly a growing orange light madly flickering up the staircase.
“He’s set fire to
?” Nathan said, shocked, sounding as though he’d just been on the receiving end of a dinner-party insult.
He sprinted downstairs, and we followed. The living room was already engulfed in flames, filling with smoke.
Instinctively, Gina, Cynthia, and I rushed to put it out. A small, plastic gasoline can came through another window, a burning rag stuffed in its spout.
“Down!” Nathan cried, as the can exploded, throwing liquid flame over what little portion of the downstairs wasn’t already burning.
Everything was burning now. Even with our enhanced strength and speed, there was no saving the old Victorian. The fire forced us back up to the second-floor landing.
Nathan ripped a curtain from a window to see his attacker. From the yard below, there were flashes like paparazzi cameras. Bullets shattered the window Nathan was standing in front of, smacking wetly into his chest. The rounds penetrated, neat little holes that oozed black, as if he were leaking motor oil. Their force pushed him against a nearby wall, but he didn’t fall. His age made him strong, and I felt bizarre pride in my master for this. Had it been a living man—or even me—those bullets would have popped his chest like it was a meat-filled balloon.
Cynthia and Gina were about to go to his side, but with more rounds incoming, he held up his hand.
“The fire and gunshots will bring the police. The unplowed drive will slow them, but we still haven’t much time. Save what you can of our possessions. Go! And you”—his bloody mouth sneered as he turned to me—“I need a distraction. Make yourself useful, and come at him from behind.”
I nodded, then ran to the other side of the house. Still naked, I smashed through a drawing-room window, landing in the snow. With the warmth of the burning Victorian at my back, I raced toward the woods surrounding the house.
I ran in a large arc, swinging around the house. As I put distance between Nathan and me, there was a sudden awareness, like the moon peeking through clouds, and I felt more like myself again.
What am I doing?
There was still confusion, though. My willpower hadn’t quite regained control of my body. My legs kept racing as I started circling back toward Jackson—and back toward Nathan. And then I was Nathan’s again.
Coming toward the house through the trees, I could see that the Victorian’s first floor looked like a funeral pyre. I saw a figure silhouetted by flames, the snow at his ankles almost golden in the firelight—Jackson. His back was to me, and he was close to the tree line.
I gave no dramatic growl or vampiric hiss as I broke through the trees—my predator mind forbade it.
He heard me anyway.
Jackson turned like he’d been expecting me. For the first time, I saw an AR-15 in person—it seemed smaller than on TV. Dressed in black, the rifle in his hand, a 1911 on his hip, and what looked like a tomahawk sheathed on his belt, he could have passed for the star of an Xbox game.
The AR’s muzzle flashed once, and suddenly my stomach looked like a spilled meatball sub. In the light of the burning house, I screamed.
He frowned. “What happened, Ginny? Change your mind, or was this a setup after all?”
From the house came the sound of broken glass. One of Nathan’s Civil War vintage rifles came sailing through a window, its bayonet making it into a javelin.
With his back to the house, it almost caught Jackson in his spine, but he rolled out of the way. The rifle landed inches from me and stuck upright in the frozen ground.
Nathan jumped from the window, a cavalry saber in hand.
He crossed the yard to Jackson so much faster than I could have. Jackson got off a couple of rounds into Nathan’s chest, but my master didn’t stop.
Lying on the ground, my hands keeping my innards in my body so that they’d heal faster, I could see Jackson’s face in profile. He was smiling.