Authors: Danielle DeVor
Copyright © April 2013 by Danielle DeVor
Cover Art Copyright © April 2013 by Buffi BeCraft
All rights reserved
Names, characters, and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
No part of this story may be reproduced in any form or by any means, without permission in writing from the publisher/s.
Published in the United States of America.
For Peter Thomas Steele
This book was born from blood, sweat, tears, and love. Those who know me well will not be surprised that these things are included in a book about vampires that I have written.
Special thanks to the denizens of Purgatory on AW. Your support has been nothing short of amazing. To my friends and family, thanks for putting up with my love of horror over the years. And finally, I have to thank my mother and father specifically. If they hadn’t been as understanding, I wouldn’t have had the chance to study and love vampires as much as I do.
You know you’ve been on the streets too long when the sound of an old man peeing in an alley reminds you of falling rain.
Mathias stood, stretched his back, and walked out of the alley to escape the stench. He beat his hands against his jeans to knock away some of the grime, but it didn’t help much. Then, he scratched his head and ran his fingers through his dirty brown hair.
“Don’t think. Just move.” Mathias raised his head and looked past the tops of the buildings toward the sky. The sun was bright, a little too bright, but then it always seemed that way.
The early morning mist still crept its way around the feet of the buildings. It was a weightless sludge that looked like it was drifting from the river, but Mathias had never been too sure if that was where the mist was really coming from. It showed the city for what it really was: old, dirty, and worn. He felt old. Older than he was, older than he should be, and the way things were going, he’d be dead before long anyway. If he was lucky, he’d make it another year, but the way things were going, it didn’t seem likely.
His stomach growled. “Fuck.” He patted his hands against his pockets, hoping to hear the jingle of change, but the only sound was the slight rustle of fabric against fabric. “Great, just fucking great.” Mathias grabbed his bag and ran out into the early morning throng.
Dawn in New York was like nowhere else on Earth. It was the one time of day when the city felt a little calm. In a few hours, that calm would disappear- replaced by a din that seemed as if it could swallow the earth if it chose to do so.
Mathias ran down the street, narrowly avoiding a wad of fresh gum on the sidewalk. When he could smell the salt in the air, he knew he didn’t have much farther to go. The docks stretched for miles. He walked past the fishmongers that were busy loading the day’s catch into crates. The smell made his stomach growl.
Standing a ways from the crew stood a man in a plaid shirt holding a clipboard.
“Hey Mac!” Mathias yelled.
Mac was generally a decent guy. Kind of grumpy, but tall, and big. He wore an old red plaid shirt and a pair of blue jeans that had seen better days. He kind of looked like a lumberjack, just not as strong.
“Whaddya want, kid?”
“You got any work for me today?”
Mathias watched Mac rub his chin with ink stained fingers. “Not today, kid. Sorry.” He turned toward Mathias. “The order was light.”
Mathias’ shoulders slumped a bit. “Damnit, man. I could really use a job.” He shifted his weight to the other foot.
Mac nodded. “Tell ya what. Jimmy the Fish is supposed to be getting a big order sometime this week. Maybe he can help ya.”
Mathias nodded. “Okay man, thanks.”
Mac shook his head.
Mathias walked further along the docks.
Go work for Jimmy the Fish. Yeah, right. Man’d sell his toenails if he thought he’d get anything for ‘em.
It wasn’t like he had a choice. When you were well-fed, you had choices. When you weren’t...
Just before he reached Jimmy’s place, he ducked behind a crate.
He hoped they hadn’t seen him, or heard him for that matter. What he did know was that a black Mercedes and a man in an Armani suit holding a gun was bad news.
His heart throbbed in his chest.
Too close. Too fucking close
. He knew trouble when it glared him in the face.
“Where’s my money, Jimmy?” Mathias heard a man say.
Mathias tried to breathe, but it wasn’t easy.
“Tony, I’m sorry. I tried. I really did, but sales just ain’t been good lately,” Jimmy said.
Mathias could hear the fear dripping from Jimmy’s voice.
“So what you gonna do about it?” Tony asked.
Mathias could hear Jimmy begin to whimper. “I swear. I’ll... I’ll have it tomorrow.”
Mathias heard a couple of thumps followed by a howl.
“Yeah, you’ll swear all right, Jimmy. Nobody stiffs Mr. Plague. Nobody!”
Pop! Pop! Pop!
A car door slammed. Then, with the squeal of tires and a rush of wind, he was gone.
Mathias couldn’t think. He couldn’t breathe. Suppressing a shudder, he distracted himself, randomly picking at a dirty hole in the knee of his jeans.
Come on. You can do this.
He raised himself up on his knees and peeked around the crate. “Fuck.” Blood was on the ground like a dark pool. He scuttled back and tried to calm himself. Sweat formed on his upper lip. “Goddamnit. I can’t move. Not now.”
He had no idea if there had been only one man, or if they were sending a so-called cleanup crew. All he knew was that he was witness to something he didn’t need to be a witness of, and that put him in a very bad position. The only thing he could do was wait and see if and when it would be safe to get away.
He raised the bottom of his filthy t-shirt and wiped the sweat from his lip. His legs began to cramp. He looked up at the sky. Where the clouds had been earlier, there was nothing but blue sky. “Why is it always this damn hot in August?” He mumbled as he stretched his legs.
The glaring sun beat down on the back of his neck. He didn’t think it could get any hotter, but he also really didn’t want to wait around to find out.
Somehow his stomach didn’t get the message about being quiet because it let loose a growl that was so loud, Mathias was sure that someone had heard it. And yet, nothing happened. He punched himself in the stomach to try to make it stop, but it didn’t work. Another cramp traveled up his leg, and he waited a few more moments. Finally, he just couldn’t keep himself crunched up like that anymore.
He crept out from behind the crate. Mathias had to pause. The blood, the bits of flesh sticking out of the Fish’s body, it reminded him of his last friend and the way she’d died. It smelled, but somehow he wasn’t repulsed by the smell. He leaned over the body. He was tempted to rummage the pockets, but there was so much blood that the money was no good now. Too many people would ask questions. The last thing he needed was to be caught, charged with murder, and eventually hauled back to his aunt’s house. He definitely didn’t want to go there. Being on the street was better.
And then he noticed the bloodstained newspaper still grasped in the Fish’s hand. Today was August 4
. Today was the day he turned fifteen. One year on the street. Somehow, he’d made it. How, he wasn’t quite sure.
He’d seen too much death. “Why am I always watching someone die? It’s like I’m swimming around in a pool of blood.” He stared at the body. “Too bad Aunt Annette didn’t die. She’s the only one who deserves it.” If it hadn’t been for his aunt, he never would have had to resort to living on the street. Evil bitch.
He walked away from the docks, being careful not to go too fast. He didn’t want to look odd, and he wasn’t sure where he could go. The libraries and shelters had gotten sick of him ages ago, and daytime was a hard sell in summer. The nicer looking kids had better luck at panhandling. Mathias never came away with much, people said that it was the haunted and jaded look in his eyes that did him in, but he wasn’t too sure about that. He figured that the people just didn’t feel like giving him any cash.
He paused in front of the window of a bakery, wishing he had the money to buy something inside. It had been so long since he’d had something sweet, but the only thing offered to him was his own reflection, the same ratty brown hair, the same dark blue eyes. At one time, everyone said he looked like his father with his strong Roman nose and his noticeable Serbian forehead. If you asked him, he would have said he looked like nobody.
His stomach rumbled for the umpteenth time, begging to be fed, but today didn’t look promising. He headed straight on into the tide of people, going against the grain. He loved doing that, walking the wrong way on the sidewalk. He always walked against the tide, forcing them to bump into him and notice. Once in a while, some poor sap, ignorantly scared of the street rough that chose to step in front of him, would part with a bit of cash. Most of the time all Mathias got for his trouble was a few extra bruises and the satisfaction that he had added to someone’s morning annoyances.
He didn’t have a choice. The weakness he was feeling wouldn’t go away, and that was the sign. He needed food, and to get money for food, he would have to go to Hell.
There was Hell’s Kitchen, and then there was Hell. Hell was closer than most wanted to believe, but it was there, waiting. To be true about it, to the normal person who walked through it during the daylight hours, it was a normal street in New York, not six blocks east of the N.Y. Public Library. But at night— that was when it changed.
But all the same, Hell was quite a ways from where he currently was, and he was out of money, so he had no choice but to walk it. As things stood, Hell was his last chance to make money that day, and if he didn’t get money fast, he wasn’t sure how long he’d last. He had a long walk ahead of him.
* * * * *
By the time he reached Hell, the light in the sky was fading. It would soon be evening. He ran as fast as he could over to Nic’s. At night, it was almost as if the building was alive, placing feelers around the city to pull in its unsuspecting prey.
By the time he saw the ornate “N” over the doorway, night had already fallen, but he was used to night coming fast when he went to see Nic. He walked to the crusty black door, being careful how he stepped and where, then knocked. He hoped that he was in.
He didn’t like going to Nic for money, but sometimes there just wasn’t any choice in the matter. The man was just plain evil, and Mathias was never sure just how far he was willing to go to get what he wanted. He didn’t want to take his chances. So he never asked for anything big. Mostly, his payment for what he wanted was a little blood, or a piece of hair, definitely things he could afford to part with.
After a few moments, the door creaked ajar. Mathias didn’t bother to wait for an invitation. He’d been there many times by now, and Nic never answered the door himself. He stepped through the doorway and gently closed the door behind him. Nic had a
about slammed doors.
Mathias had once heard him mutter about the disturbance of electrical energy, or some such nonsense. But then, Mathias didn’t care, he was only there for the money. Mathias stepped softly through the building, glancing at the dark wood paneling mixed with varieties of animals decorating every surface. Some were heads hung on the walls like hunting trophies, others, were stuffed and mounted on boards.
Those were placed on tables or on shelves. They seemed to watch him, and somehow Mathias could tell that they were still sort of alive. He didn’t like it. He made his way through the maze and finally reached the basement. There was no need to announce his presence; Nic already knew who had come to the door. Otherwise, Mathias would never have been granted an audience.
He looked around once he entered the room and watched Nic carefully carving various magical symbols into the skin of something. Mathias didn’t want to know what. Nic was dressed in long black robes that had various silver designs sewn into the fabric.
“You’re riding on the tail of the devil, boy. And you don’t even know it.”
Nic raised his eyes and captured Mathias’ gaze. The black that was left in the man’s hair seemed to glimmer with golden highlights from the light coming from the black candles that seemed perched on every available surface. Mathias could feel the dark power radiating from the man. “Remind me never to piss him off,” he mumbled.
“Ah, Mathias, it is a pleasure,” Nic said, his eyes wrinkling at the corners as he smiled, but the smile wasn’t friendly. It was kind of demonic.
Mathias had to try hard not to show any emotion. He kept his face slack, devoid of any expression.
“So, young man, what is it that brings you to me on a night such as this?”