The Woes of the Cliche
This should probably go in my author blog but the people who primarily read my author blog are… wait for it… wait or it… authors! And authors, god love them, will generally regurgitate all of the marketing guru advice they’ve been busy absorbing (and often paying for) along their quest to make oodles of money. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is a bad thing, if it’s your goal, but, it’s not the perspective I am looking for just now.
Off and on over the years I’ve gotten flak for my book covers (see above). They don’t look like 90% of the vampire book covers because they aren’t actually written for 90% of the vampire readers. My strongest reviews usually come from people who say “I don’t normally like modern vampire books, but…” On the other hand, there is a percentage of PNR fans that do like them, and it’s a market I haven’t really tapped into. It’s also a market that may not like the books, but I digress.
With that in mind, I decided to experiment and made more “traditional” – ie cliché – covers for my Special Edition versions of the books – this is a combo of two books in one, along with special content, at a savings.
Despite the new covers, the two book combo, and the extra content, together, in their first three months, they sold only 40 copies. Meanwhile, the first two books with “bad covers” (Shades of Gray and Legacy of Ghosts) sold 153. Why? Perhaps the cliché covers are blending in. Or is it a lack of reviews on the Special Edition pages? It could be advertising – they were featured on different sites – or maybe it’s a lack of deeply entrenched back links. In other words, there are a lot of variables to consider.
With that in mind I decided to remove a few of those by temporarily creating new covers for the books on Amazon only. If my Amazon sales leap upwards at a higher rate than B&N etc. then that *should* tell me that, yes, the covers are an issue. But, what should I do for those new covers?
A tour around Amazon using search words like “vampire” or “vampire romance” reveals that there are only six kinds of book covers for paranormal books – but which one should I use?
1. Hunky man/Sexy scene. This cover demonstrates that the focus of the story is on the hunky male and/or the sex between him and his counterpart. If I buy this book I expect lots of sex. I expect the hero to be called “beautiful” and “sensual” at least ten times. There might be some violence. If the hero is alone on the cover, I expect violent scenes to end with the female trembling from fear or shock and being rescued by the hunky hero so that they can go have sex and I wouldn’t be surprised if he has at least one monologue where he feels regret and angst and tells himself that he should “stay away” from her . If the couple are pictured together she may be tougher than the solo counterpart, but they will still leave the battle and have hot, steamy sex.
2. Kick ass/sexy/sad woman. This kind of cover says that the woman is the main component in the story. If it has a “kick ass” woman I expect her be super tough and not need a man, while also outwitting those whose paths she crosses. I also expect violence since she is probably some kind of hunter. If it is a sexy woman then I still expect her to “need no man” but she will be having hot, tumultuous sex with at least one, and possibly two or more. I expect very light violence, with the main focus being on her sensuality or her burgeoning relationship. If she’s in modern clothes I expect it to be clicky and feminist ala Sex in the City, but if she has more historical attire then the hero will “tame” her. If the woman looks sad or lost then I expect the book to focus on her emotional journey as she overcomes some terrible tragedy. There may or may not be sex in this story. Violence will be light.
3. The totally cliché vampire element. Dark castles. Bats. A man/woman with fangs. A goblet of blood. This cover shows that the main element of the story IS the vampires – everything else comes second. I would expect something heavy, historical and traditional ala Dracula. Someone will use old fashioned/obsolete words. There is a good chance of violence and it will probably be bloody, though the descriptions may or may not be gruesome. There will probably not be explicit sex (if the fanged woman is pictured alone, see #2. If she is posed with a man in a sensual scene, see #1).
4. Cutesy art work. This cover says “Chic-lit” and makes me think of the Ya Ya Sisterhood and stuff like that. Cute, modern, edgy and feminine. I expect the vampires to be worried about fitting into their skinny jeans, or cleverly outwitting their boyfriends. They will drink margaritas and have girls night.
5. Totally random object/scene. Think Twilight, or Fifty Shades. Though the artists will cite symbolic bull, this cover tells you nothing. But, the font choices and colors on these covers will tell you whether it is a “masculine” or “feminine” book. If it has a funky font I expect a YA novel with light violence and some romance, probably a girl who is discovering her “abilities”. A serif font leads me to expect a more serious story, possibly with a male protagonist who has deep regret over something. Sex and violence are both possibilities. A sans serif font will tell me that the protagonist (be they male or female) is tough, there is plenty of violence, and it’s probably going to be fast paced, but also likely to be contemporary. A script/cursive style font says it is a romance and more than likely the protagonist is a female. There is probably sex involved, violence is doubtful. If it’s super curly or cutesy then see #6.
6. Completely out there. This cover says “I may have vampires, but I’m different”, which makes me expect different. In fact I will expect it to lean heavily towards another genre, depending on the style, such as fantasy, sci-fi etc. That there would be lots of violence would not surprise me at all. The same with sex. There may even be deeper themes involved.
So what do I do? My series doesn’t fit into the first category (though book one might me able to), so hunky heroes and steamy sex scenes are out. I might have a female protagonist, but she’s not kick ass, she’s not sultry and she isn’t lost and weeping, so category two is out. The books are a quick, light read, with no heavy history, so category three is out. Katelina might drink margaritas, but the series is the anti-thesis of chic lit (or at least I hope it is) so category four is out. This leaves me with “completely out there” – which I’m already doing – or “totally random object/scene”, which is what I have decided to go for.
Remember how I said that artists of these abstract covers will give you a lot of symbolic bull? Well I’m no different.
Since the first book does have a heavier romance element it got a hunky hero silhouette. I could give you a lot of crap about the symbolism of the tree, but really I just like trees.
For book two I swapped out the heavy pink/red color of the original cover for a simple blue because, though there is some heavy romance moments, the main challenge in the story is the characters’ regret and how to deal with that. This also contributes to the choice of the graveyard motif, which not only conveys the regret and lost moments, but also gives it a gothy, vampire-ish tone. Plus it looks cool.
Book three is faster paced with less emphasis on the hunky hero and more on a new character, who wants desperately to involve himself in a triangle just because I told him not to. The highway and the red color scheme reflect the fast pace, as well as the conflict. Not to mention red happens to be the new character’s main color.
The fourth book has even less emphasis on the romance, and more on the culmination of the story arch with Oren and Malick. A lot of things are wrapped up. I went for purpley-blue to give it the edge of feminine. The bulk of the heavy action takes place underground, which doesn’t lend itself to a silhouette, but there are some defining scenes at a country house, so I went for that. I could also claim that the lonely scene emphasizes that, as a human among vampires, Katelina is alone among the monsters.
In book five the romance is still taking a backseat, but there’s a bit of a triangle that refuses to go away, so it got a feminizing purple color. The vampires leave the US and do some globe hopping as they search for an ancient relic. Not only do they visit Japan, but the Japanese images evoke tradition, agelessness and a bit of mysticism, which fit the theme of the book perfectly.
And if you’re still reading this mindeless pap, there’s blood splattered on them to symbolize violence and vampirism and all that.
The question is: Will the cliché covers make more people buy? If so will it lead to people who feel they were promised something the series doesn’t deliver? Or, like the special edition covers, will it make no impact at all? Place your bets now!
P.S. All the images are still my own. I’m not really interested in the various limits stock photos place on usage.
PPS – I’ll do an official announcement on my author blog in a couple of days maybe.
Velnya – Blogophilia 16.5
WARNING: a HAPPY story….
It’s time for Blogophilia, the fun blog group where Marvin gives participants prompts to use in their weekly posting. This week’s prompts are:
- Blogophilia week 16.5 – “Behind Closed Doors”
Bonus Points:(Hard, 2pts): use a quote from P.J. O’Rourke(Easy, 1pt): include a spring break destination
This is the LAST vampire morsel, a story about a character from my Amaranthine series that, for one reason or another, never got to say much. As an especially snifty thing I am slowly revising these and publishing them on Smashwords as freebie reads. I am going to bundle them together – probably next month – and publish the collection. Meanwhile you can get them individually at Smashwords, Barnes&Noble and other retailers for free
Speaking of Amaranthine vampires – book four is out now! yay! You can go here for all the details 🙂
(You can find mention of Velnya in Legacy of Ghosts. Traven and Jeda are in Ties of Blood & Ashes of Deceit. This story takes place in 1855 near Springfield, Massachusetts )
Moonlight splashed on the leaves and the last of the summer grass. Velnya peered through the window and let the evening breeze kiss her skin.
“Turn your head, ma biche!”
She is slipping back to French. Oh dear
Velnya did as ordered. Her sister’s brush strokes were more violent than necessary, and Velnya bit her lip to stop a complaint.
“Place your hand just here.” Jeda pressed her fingers against her skull, and Velnya obeyed. This was not the way she had imagined the preparations for her wedding day. In her mind there was a number of cheerful bridesmaids snipping flowers and giggling, discussing the mysteries that young ladies could only speak of behind closed doors; the dreams, the possibilities, the endless years stretching out before them that would promise them happiness.
Instead she had her sister and her cold, angry eyes staring down at her in the mirror.
It was more than she could bear.
She turned in her seat and caught Jeda’s pale hands in her own. “Let’s not fight. This should be a happy occasion!”
“And it would be, if you were not going so far away! Why must he take you to the Nebraska territory? He has a fine house here!”
Velnya sighed and drew her hands back. “I’ve told you already. He’s worried that the hostility between the states will turn into something more serious, and he wishes to be as far from it as possible, and of course he wants to move farther away from his master.”
Jeda’s voice was controlled, but her eyes narrowed dangerously. “The same master he moved here not two years ago to be near? Why the sudden need to get away? And so far away?”
Velnya fidgeted with the lace on her sleeve. “I know, it is far. But not so far as it could be. It’s not as if we were going to Mexico.”
“For now,” Jeda bit back. “Who knows what he plans to do in another year, or five!”
Velnya smiled softly. “Of course we won’t. What purpose would such a move serve? Oh, Jeda! It really isn’t so very far as it could be, at least there will not be an ocean between us, and we are not going immediately.”
“No, you will go to Virginia first, to honeymoon on his plantation – another home he will leave behind – and then you will go to the wilds. There is nothing there, only dirt and shacks made of sod! There won’t be any of our kind!”
A soft rap sounded on the door and Traven’s voice floated through, “May I come in?”
Velnya glanced down at herself. She was properly dressed, it was only her hair that wanted finished.
“Yes,” Jeda called, and forced Velnya to turn back. She jabbed a pin into a coil of hair forcefully and added, “Hold still.”
Velnya sat motionless and watched in the mirror as the door opened and Traven walked in. His chestnut hair gleamed in the candlelight and his clothing was more ornate than was the fashion, a remnant of their earlier lives, before they became what they were now.
Velnya had been one for so long, a century at least. Each night the moon had risen to shine on Jeda and her husband and Jeda’s lonely younger sister. Though Velnya was with them, she was always alone; the one who allowances must be made for, the extra, the third wheel.
Traven stopped next to Jeda and spoke to her in soft tones; the furniture had been moved, the guests were ready, the flowers were set, the minster had arrived from Springfield. The words were unimportant. What did men and women have to talk about but the mundane? What mattered wasn’t the conversation, but the way they stood near one another without shyness. The way Jeda’s eyes would stray to Traven and something would soften in their depths. The way they said goodnight to one another every morning.
Velnya was tired of watching it and not having it for her own.
But Jeda wasn’t happy. “It’s not too late,” she murmured. “The wedding could still be postponed until we can convince him to stay. If he truly cares for her he will understand.”
“And what if he doesn’t?” Traven hissed back. “She will not find a better match. He’s an Executioner, Jeda! No, the head of the Executioners! Think of it! You know who his master is! Imagine having such an ally!”
“I am not interested in an ally, but in a husband for my sister! One who will not drag her away to the wilds!”
Traven took her hands and his voice turned into a soothing lullaby, “And would your mother not have said the same of me, bringing you here?”
“That is different! We don’t have to live in a shack and bury ourselves in the dirt!
“And neither will they. They will have a house and all the things of comfort, ma mie. Can you imagine one of his rank and privilege going without? No, he will have only the best and so will your sister. Being gloomy is easier than being cheerful. Instead of seeing the clouds, the separation, you should see the silver lining, such as your sister’s happiness. ” He looked past his wife and met Velnya’s steady gaze. Something in his eyes said it wasn’t her happiness he cared for, but the advantages the match might bring him. “Have you asked Velnya what she thinks?”
Jeda pulled away from him and back to her sister. “Yes.”
“She says she is happy in this match.”
Traven gave a satisfied nod. “As such, there is nothing more to discuss. Velnya wishes to be married, I have given my blessing, and even now the guests and groom are gathered.” He bowed to the ladies and added meaningfully, “ Let us not leave them waiting.” Then he slipped out the door.
Jeda finished her work in silence. Velnya watched her progress in the mirror and noted that she wiped her eyes more than once. Each tear filled Velnya with trepidation.
Despite the assurances Traven had given, they knew nothing of this Nebraska. From what Velnya understood it had only become a territory a year before. She had never seen a frontier and had no idea what to expect. Would there be wooden houses with pianos and chandeliers and carpeting or would it be shacks of sod – whatever that was – as Jeda insisted? Velnya had heard of vampires that, with no shelter from the sun, were forced to dig holes to protect themselves in the daytime. Would she really have to stoop so low? Would they not have proper coffins in a dark room or cellar? She thought of lying under the earth with the worms and the bugs, like one who was dead, and shivered. Surely Traven was right; he had to be.
Jeda helped Velnya to her feet. She placed the veil, then stepped back to eye the effect. When she didn’t speak, Velnya prompted, “Is something amiss?”
“No. It is perfect. You are perfect.” Jeda turned suddenly stern. “Promise me that this is what you want.”
Velnya swallowed hard and a thousand doubts suddenly screamed through her brain. Is it what I want? Do I want to go to the Nebraska territory? Do I want to be married? Or do I want to watch my sister and always be on the outside?
She knew the answer to the final question, and it made the rest superfluous.
“Yes. I want to marry him, Jeda.”
Her sister picked up the bouquet from the washstand and weighed it in her hands, as if it was a physical manifestation of her options. “You know he will be gone much of the time with his work. You will be alone.”
“Only at first,” Velnya assured her. “He’s going to speak to his master and ask to be set free. He’s more than paid his blood debt. Once he does, he will come home to stay. ”
“And will his master let him go?”
It wasn’t something Velnya had considered. “Why wouldn’t he? What could a master gain by holding on to their fledgling? After all, Henri let Traven go.”
Jeda made a soft noise in her throat and looked away. A secret glittered in her eyes, but it was one Velnya didn’t care to know, so she let it pass without comment.
A soft knock sounded on the door. Instead of Traven, it was a woman with hair almost as black as the sisters’. A small boy hung off her hand, his eyes. Velnya recognized them as friends of her fiancé. They were his neighbors in Virginia, and they were vampires, too. That they had made the journey to Massachusetts said much about their relationship with him.
“Yes?” Jeda asked politely.
The woman – Mrs. Jesslynn Cotterill, if Velnya remembered correctly – replied, “Mr. Laurent asked me to see if you were ready.”
“Yes. Tell him to start, please.”
There was a long moment as the two dark haired women surveyed one another; an invisible clash of wills that washed past Velnya. At last Jesslynn broke away. “Of course. Come, Alexander.” Then she tugged the child out the door.
As soon as they were alone, Jeda moved to a bureau and removed a small box. She handed it to her sister. “I believe Mère would want you to have this.”
Velnya opened the box to reveal – “Momma’s cross.” She lifted it out gently and held it in her palm, turning it this way and that so that the candlelight reflected on the silver. “She gave this to you.”
“No, she gave it to us.” Jeda stuffed the bouquet in Velnya’s surprised hands, then tied the necklace around her neck. “Wear this always, ma biche, and it will bring you luck.” She blinked back the emotions. “Come, they will be starting.”
The words had barely left her mouth when the music began. Jeda gave her sister a last look and a quick hug, and then hurried through the door to make her descent as the matron of honor.
Velnya took her place in the hallway and waited nervously for her cue. She could see Traven standing at the bottom of the stairs, ready to walk her down the aisle and give her away. It wasn’t that she disliked Traven. In his own way he had done what he thought best for all of them, but she always felt that beneath the surface of his smooth words and suave demeanor was something coiled, like a snake, waiting for the opportune moment to break lose and reveal his true intentions.
I won’t need to worry about it any longer, she told herself. Nor would she need to worry for Jeda’s safety. She was his wife. No man would allow harm to come to their own wife.
The first strains of the wedding march swirled up the stairs and Velnya straightened her shoulders and glided down the stairs. Her eyes moved from the flowers and gleaming candles, to the assembled guests, each dressed in their finest. Her fiancé had very few guests; only his neighbors from Virginia and a dark haired man he’d introduced as Jamie. The rest were acquaintances of Traven and Jeda, part of the burgeoning vampire society in the area.
At the far end of the room, between two large gilt candleholders, stood the minster – The Guild’s official minster, no less – in his robes and finery, the bible in his hands. And in front of him stood her fiancé. His dark hair hung down his back and he wore his usual black suit. What was different was the rose in his buttonhole.
Though he couldn’t see her face, she felt as though he met her eyes, and a smile stole across her lips. In his face she could see the reflection of her girlhood dreams. Here was her future, her fairytale prince, the man that would take her hand on winter strolls and whisper good night in her ear. His were the arms that would shelter her when she rained tears and the laughter that would celebrate when she bubbled with joy.
And he would be hers for eternity.
She wouldn’t have to be alone ever again.
And that’s the last of the morsels! For now.
- Sarah – Blogophilia 13.5 (ramblingsfromthedarkness.wordpress.com)
- Michael – Blogophilia 8.5 (ramblingsfromthedarkness.wordpress.com)
- Nirel – Blogophilia 10.5 (ramblingsfromthedarkness.wordpress.com)
- Troy – Blogophilia 14.5 (ramblingsfromthedarkness.wordpress.com)
Troy – Blogophilia 14.5
WARNING: Violence, male/male sexual situation
It’s time for Blogophilia, the fun blog group where Marvin gives participants prompts to use in their weekly posting. This week’s prompts are:
- Blogophilia week 14.5 – “In Order to Live with Myself”
Bonus Points:(Hard, 2pts): use the words “Waiter! Check, please.”(Easy, 1pt): mention the Full Moon
This is another vampire morsel, a story about a character from my Amaranthine series that, for one reason or another, never got to say much. As an especially snifty thing I am slowly revising these and publishing them on Smashwords as freebie reads. Eventually I’m planning to bundle them altogether into a single volume, but that’s something in the distant future, as there are several tales to tell!
Speaking of Amaranthine vampires – book four is out now! yay! You can go here for all the details 🙂
(You can find Sarah in Shades of Gray. This story takes place sometime before Shades of Gray. I don’t know when. It doesn’t really matter. )
Troy leaned back against the metal building and stared at the sky. Shreds of clouds drifted past the full moon, like tattered silk, and a lone bird called in the distance. The sound was harsh and eerie.
It was lost on Troy.
God, I am so fucking bored. I don’t know why Claudius put me on greeting duty.
But there was only one guest left to arrive and then he was done.
The noise of a motor reached his ears and his shoulders tensed. The sound grew louder and a black car appeared, a cloud of gravel dust trailing behind it. Troy stood and stuffed his hands in his pockets as the vehicle pulled to a stop.
The back passenger door opened and a tall, thin woman climbed out. Her hair was as black as the sky and her expression cold as ice. She sniffed disdainfully and lifted the hem of her scarlet dress, as though the slowly settling dust had contaminated her.
Troy muttered to himself and then moved to meet her. He gave her a once over that left a leering smirk on his lips. Her ass wasn’t bad, but she didn’t have much in the top department. Ah well, not like he was gonna get her, anyway. She was there for the big boys. Claudius didn’t have a chance either, though no one had better tell him that or he’d have one of his fits.
The woman’s cold face got colder. “And you are?”
Troy cleared his throat loudly and made a show of a low, sweeping bow. “My master Claudius bids you welcome, madam. Allow me to escort you, and if there is anything else I can do to make your stay a… pleasurable one…” he trailed off and let the smirk demonstrate his meaning.
“That won’t be necessary,” she snapped. Her words danced with a foreign accent, Italian maybe? He didn’t know, and he didn’t care. Like the rest, she was a self absorbed, bossy bitch.
“However, you can keep Costus entertained.”
Her random statement pulled him back to the conversation. “Costus?”
She motioned to the car, as if that was an answer, and then walked purposefully past him, towards the tin building and a pair of guarded double doors. “I do hope it’s better inside than outside!”
Troy didn’t bother to explain the subterranean den concealed by the small metal structure. Why bother? The bitch would see for herself. Maybe he’d get lucky and she’d get lost in the labyrinth of tunnels before she reached the throne room and the conference.
The guards opened the door and leapt out of the way quickly. Troy watched her disappear inside, then turned back to the car and scratched his bald head. “Who the fuck is Costus?”
The back driver’s side door opened and a sulky teenage boy climbed out. Dark messy hair obscured his eyes and the set of his shoulders said he’d rather be anywhere else. His thoughts were the same.
Just the kind I like.
The boy slouched around the car and threw his bangs from his face with a jerk of his head. Cold, dark eyes gave Troy a once over. “Who are you supposed to be?”
Troy returned the long look; from the kid’s leather footwear, past his pressed pants , sharp blazer, and the open neck of his crisp white shirt. “First tell me who the fuck you are.”
He sniffed disdainfully. “I’m Costus, obviously.”
“And obviously I’m the asshole who’s stuck babysitting you while your momma plays with Claudius.”
The change was instant; the kid went from sulking boredom to raw fury. “She is not my mother, you insolent-”
Troy snorted. “I don’t care who she is. I’m not stuck with her, I’m stuck with you. Let’s go.”
Costus’ anger flickered. “Go where?”
“I’ve been greeting the envoys all night and haven’t had time for more than a snack, so I’m hungry.”
Costus looked ready to argue – and he was. Troy could hear the thoughts bubbling through his brain. He didn’t want to take his car, didn’t want the driver to know where he was going or what he was doing. His sister – That’s who she is, not his mother. I knew they looked alike – wouldn’t like it. She’d told him not to go anywhere and charged the driver with keeping him out of trouble. Then she’d lectured Costus. He was tired of being lectured. He wasn’t a child, and hadn’t been for two hundred years.
Troy’s shrug was fake casualness. “Unless you think your mom would get mad?”
As he expected, that did it. Costus’s face twisted and he snapped, “She is not my mother, and I don’t care if she’s angry!” He turned and jerked the back door open. “Are you coming or not?”
The interior was black leather; the smooth, sensual kind. Troy briefly imagined the kid’s naked skin on it, white against the black. Kid. Though he called him that, he wasn’t. Costus’ thoughts had betrayed his age. Hell, he was older than Troy was by nearly a century. That was the beauty of vampirism. Age was relative; it just depended on how you looked at it, so everyone was only as old as you wanted them to be.
The town was nearby and there wasn’t much to it. It was larger than some of the others, but it was nothing like home. Not that Manhattan had been a great place to live, especially not the part he’d been in. Hell’s Kitchen, they’d called it. The name fit in a way that people who’d never been there couldn’t know. Or at least it used to fit. Last time he’d been there it was full of high rise bullshit and nothing he recognized. Sure, some of the old buildings were there, but they were occupied by suits and yuppies. Oh well, all the old gang was gone too, so it seemed fitting. Not like he needed any of them now, anyway. Truth be told, he didn’t need anyone.
Except for some fun.
The driver glanced back to them. “Where would you like to go, sir?”
Costus looked at Troy from the corner of his eyes, as if seeking the answer.
Oh yeah, this kid’s like putty.
“We’re hungry,” Troy barked. “Take us to a restaurant – a nice restaurant.”
“Erm. A restaurant… sir?”
“Do you always talk back to your superiors?” Troy demanded with authority. “I don’t know what kind of a coven they’re running, but where I’m from, the low men on the totem pole show the proper respect and do what they’re told!” As if to seal it he met Costus’ eyes. “Is this how you let them treat you?”
“No!” the kid cried with moral outrage. He pounded his fist into the seat. “Do as you’re told, Piotr!”
Troy could hear the driver’s worried thoughts; worried about being demoted, worried about being killed. Worried about being kicked out of the coven and left to fend for himself. He was a vampire like them but he was new – really new. Troy saw a flash of thought, a half formed image of a pretty girl with a bloody face whispering, “Do you want to be like me, pretty Piotr?” And then she was gone and Piotr was alone in the rain and he didn’t understand.
Good. He knows what it is to be alone. He fears it. Where there’s fear, there’s control.
Troy smiled, but not kindly. “You better listen up, there, Piotr, or they might have to replace you with someone competent.”
He could feel Piotr’s fear double.
The restaurant was attached to a hotel. It was nice, but it wasn’t the million dollar kind. There weren’t any of those around. Piotr parked the car and nervously hopped out and opened the back door for them. Troy climbed out and straightened his leather jacket. Costus got out behind him, a frown on his face.
He doesn’t understand, but he will.
Troy motioned to the kid and headed for the door. Like an uncertain puppy, Costus followed into the lobby and to the desk where a lady asked for their reservations. He saw it in her mind; there’d been a cancelation. The Whites- whoever the hell they are – weren’t coming. That sounded like the perfect table to him.
He fished around in her head for their full names but could only get one: Ron. That was enough.
“Ron White said he had to cancel his table and he thought maybe we could have it instead.”
She looked doubtful. “You’re friend of Mr. White?”
“Either that or he’s just calling strangers about his reservations.” He gave her a tight, friendly smile. “Ah, come on honey, I bet you don’t get paid enough to do detective work on everyone who comes in here. The bosses probably don’t appreciate the work you already do. No need to make more for yourself on our account.”
He heard her agree silently. They didn’t pay her enough, and the manager forgot her birthday. It wouldn’t have been so bad if she wasn’t sleeping with him. But he still forgot it. The bastard!
“I could speak to the manager and see if he thinks it’s okay?” Troy suggested.
“Oh, that won’t be necessary.” She motioned to a passing girl. “Show them to table twenty-six.”
They wound their way through restaurant, past clinking glasses and chattering diners. The table was in the center of the room, under a heavy chandelier. The old fashioned version of wealth.
The young lady hurried away and left them with a pair of menus. Costus blinked at his, and then at Troy. “You know these White people?”
“Sure, kid. I know everyone.”
Costus’ forehead seemed to fold in on itself. “I’m not a kid,” he hissed between his teeth.
Troy’s return grim was wolfish. “My mistake.”
When a waiter appeared, Troy ordered for both of them. Once they were alone again, Troy leaned back in his chair and surveyed the room. “What do you prefer? Boys or girls?”
“Girls!” Costus snapped a little too quickly, his cheeks slightly pink.
Bullshit. You’ll settle for anything that comes your way. Boy, girl, what’s it matter to you? Once the fangs are in they all feel the same.
Only they don’t.
Troy ignored Costus’ vehemence. “Take a look around and find one you like.”
The kid gave the room a casual glance; the kind of casual glance where the owner was secretly cataloging everything and everyone. Troy listened to his inner comments; this one was too fat, another too old, another too young. One was too skinny and a fifth was unattractive.
“That one,” he said finally, and nodded towards a girl with black hair and eyes the color of shadows. She reminded Troy of Costus’ sister, only without the attitude.
He didn’t mention the resemblance. “All right. Keep an eye on her.”
Their food came. They pushed it around the plates and Troy even tasted some of it, then spit it back in his napkin. Costus wasn’t as good at the charade. His back was rigid, his shoulder’s stiff, and he looked toward their prey far too often.
He’s gonna spook her.
He needn’t have worried. She was dining with an older lady – an aunt – and when Troy reached for her mind he found it all giggles. She noticed Costus’ attention, and she liked it. She was already planning on how to get rid if her aunt for the evening.
And then, she did.
She and her aunt disappeared towards the lobby and Troy climbed casually to his feet. He snapped his fingers impatiently, “Waiter! Check, please!”, motioned to Costus and then stalked out after them. He made it outside in time to see the pair separate; the older lady hobbled off towards her car and the girl made a show of stopping to dig through her purse for an imaginary “something”, her eyes on the building and her secret heart hoping that the “hot guy with the dark hair” would come out any second.
It evidentially took Costus a couple of minutes to deal with the bill, and when he stormed through the door he looked as angry as anyone who’s ever been left with the check. Troy caught his furious eyes, winked and subtly nodded towards the girl, as if to say, “There she is, tiger.”
He got the hint.
Troy leaned against a planter and smoked a cigarette while Costus stumbled through his opening lines. Her name was Andrea. He was just passing through. She was just recovering from a messy breakup. He was single. It went on through one cigarette and half of another, then Costus invited her to go with them. She giggled and said she shouldn’t.
Then, of course, she agreed.
Troy had already spotted the car in the parking lot and led the way. Andrea asked who he was and Costus explained him away as an uncle. She seemed to find that appealing.
A family girl.
She squealed when she saw Piotr. “Oh my God! You have your own driver!” Troy could hear her thoughts clicking away; visions of dollar signs, luxurious mansions and private jets. She thanked her lucky stars for finding a rich boy. It was every nineteen year old girl’s fantasy.
Nineteen? Huh. She looks twenty.
They climbed in the backseat together, Andrea in the middle. She blushed and giggled and talked. And talked. And talked. “Oh wow, look at the seats! Oh! They’re so smooth. I’ve never been in a car like this. Wow, you must be rich. What do your parents do? My father works for the railroad and my mother’s a teacher. So this is your uncle? What does he do? He looks like a rock star in that leather jacket. Oh my God, is that it? Are you guys rock stars or something?”
Troy tipped her a wink. “Shhhh. Don’t tell anyone, honey. We’re traveling incognito.”
She put her hands to her face and suppressed a squeal. Questions followed; what band were they in? What kind of music did they sing? Had she ever heard of them?
Troy put his finger to his lips, and she fell silent. He leaned close to her ear, as if to whisper a secret. He could smell her hair; honey and peaches. What an interesting combination. Her skin smelled like citrus with a hint of flowery perfume. Under it was the scent of her blood. Warm, salty, thick.
His words were more breath than sound, “If we tell you, we’ll have to kill you.” He laughed softly at his own joke, and she smiled nervously and leaned away. He could hear the alarm bells ringing in her head. Something wasn’t right. She could feel his malintent.
As does most prey, just before the predator strikes.
With lightning precision, he struck. His fangs sliced through the pale skin of her neck, just below her jaw. She shrieked and tried to climb into Costus’ lap, her arms and legs flailing in the confined space. Troy roughly pulled her back and grabbed a fistful of her hair. He jerked her head to one side, to give him better access. More blood.
With the blood came the visions.
She was six. Candles burned on a birthday cake. She cried because another girl was mean to her. She told her she was ugly. Poor little ugly girl in her birthday dress. Mother soothed her. Told her she had guests waiting.
The scene changed.
Snow fell and cocoa steamed. Her best friend lay on the couch with a bowl of popcorn. They watched horror movies. The TV flickered. A Hollywood vampire snarled, blood on his face. Artificial, yet somehow more believable than the real ones.
Believable because they weren’t in the middle of nowhere New York. Real vampires wouldn’t be there. Not really.
Or so she thought.
The visions pounded over him, and he sought the worst ones; the tears, the pain, the agony. Breakups, broken hearts, loneliness, grief. He felt them all, just as she had, one after another breaking over him like waves on the shore. She felt them too, as raw and fresh as if they were new, and she screamed.
He could still hear Costus, like a small beating light at the edge of his peripheral vision. Troy broke away from Andrea’s streaming consciousness to concentrate on him. Costus had fed earlier but the smell, the sight, the screams – his desire was growing, building. His lips pulled back from his teeth. He wanted the heat, the taste, just a drink. Only a drink.
“Come on,” Troy whispered around a mouthful of her throat. “You picked her.”
Troy edged away from her mind and let her come back to the present in time for Costus’ bite. He bit into her naked shoulder, teeth rending flesh in the quest for her blood. She jerked and fought, hitting him with one arm, kicking her legs uselessly against the seats. And her screams – her screams were terrible, terror-filled. The kind of screams a horror movie producer would pay extra for.
The kind of screams Troy loved.
He let her go and leaned back into his corner of the car. He watched as Costus took hold of her writhing, flailing body. He pulled her to him and bit harder, deeper. Her back arched and her breasts strained against her dress. Her blood smeared around Costus’ mouth. He tightened his hold for better access and wrapped his hand around the bite Troy had made. Blood oozed between his fingers; scarlet against the pale of his skin.
She went limp in his arms, but still he drank, oblivious to Troy, or to Piotr who was still driving, mild concern on his face as he glanced into the rearview again and again. Troy could hear his thoughts. His mistress wouldn’t like this. She was going to be mad when she found out. There would be hell to pay.
He has no idea.
“She’s empty,” Troy whispered, his voice husky. Costus’ eyes met his briefly, a flash of incomprehension. He wanted more. It wasn’t about the blood anymore. It was about…
Yes, that’s it. That’s exactly it.
Troy pulled the girl from Costus’ arms and stuffed her into the floorboards. The kid stared at him with wild, half crazed eyes. Troy didn’t wait for them to clear.
He pounced on Costus and knocked him back against the window. Troy grabbed his shirt in both hands and pulled it open. Buttons popped and pinged on the chrome and leather. The skin underneath was smooth and pale. Under the passing streetlights, it gleamed like polished marble.
Troy caught Piotr’s horrified eyes in the rearview and his smile grew into something smug. It was the driver’s job to look after Costus and keep him out of trouble, but there wasn’t a damned thing he could do now.
Troy bit. Costus gave a strangled cry and batted at Troy, aware for only a moment of what was going on. His awareness disappeared as his blood filled Troy’s mouth and their minds touched. Oh yeah, the kid was older than he was. He could see it; see the funny clothes, hear his sister’s urgent voice. Costus was born into darkness first, turned by a friend of his mother’s he called ‘Uncle’. The bloodlust tore through him. In his rage he attacked his sister. She screamed but he was strong now – so strong-
Costus’ scream tore through the car and Piotr slammed the brakes. Troy let the scene go; let it slide away, back into the depths of the kid’s memories, and reached for something else, something better. Costus moaned and his body relaxed. The pleasure built, coursing through both of them. They shifted until they were nearly laying down, Troy on top of him, pressing him down into those smooth leather seats. Costus unconsciously wrapped his arms around him, pulling his attacker closer, tighter. His back arched and his body shuddered.
Yeah. Oh fuck, yeah.
The orgasm ripped through Troy and he let go. The connection snapped and cold air slapped him in the face. The door was open and Piotr leaned in it, screaming. Without a thought, Troy slammed him in the face with his fist. The driver stumbled backwards and Troy slid out of the car in a flash. He grabbed Piotr by the lapels and lifted him, his teeth snapping in the driver’s face. He could take him now – right now – gorge himself like some big, fat spider and leave him lay. He could-
The cry was shaky, but demanding. Troy looked up to see Costus stumble out of the car and lean against it. One hand held his shirt together and the other was out, almost comically, like a traffic cop giving directions. “Leave him!”
Troy dropped Piotr to the ground and stepped over him. “Whatever you say, kid.” He ducked past Costus and slid into the backseat. “We better head back, your sister will want to know where you are.”
He could hear the argument in Costus’ head. Hear him mentally shout, “She’s not the boss of me!”, but he didn’t say it. Instead he fumbled himself into the car and settled into the corner.
Piotr stood and wiped himself off. He opened his mouth, the beginning of a tirade. Troy knew what he was going to say and cut him off. “You’re just a lowly nothing peon. Go ahead, run back to your mistress and tell her what happened. See if Costus goes along with you, because he won’t. He’ll say you’re full of shit and she’ll punish you like a dog for lying. That should be fun to watch.”
Piotr looked to his master, but Costus didn’t meet his eyes. Troy knew he was right, and now Piotr did too.
Without a word, the driver got in and started the car. They pulled back onto the highway and sped through the night towards Claudius’ war den. Troy watched Costus from the corner of his eye. There were wet wipes in a door compartment and he used them to clean himself; his hands, his face, his chest. His fingers trembled as he buttoned his blazer. It wasn’t enough to hide his gaping shirt and the missing buttons. Troy could hear his panicked thoughts as he tried to come up with a lie to explain it. All his attempts were stupid, but Troy didn’t care.
Not my problem.
The car pulled to a stop and Troy hopped out and stretched. He glanced back to the pale faced kid inside. “You coming, prince charming?”
“No. I-I’m going back to our hotel.”
“Suit yourself.” Troy slammed the door and stepped back. He watched as it pulled away, spitting gravel behind it, then faded into the embrace of the night. Costus’ sister would have to find another ride, or else sleep there during the day.
Troy turned for the metal building and thought of Costus and his downcast eyes. It was an expression he’d seen before; half guilt, half bewilderment. Uncertain about what had just happened, and if they’d wanted it or not.
Of course he did. And if he didn’t then he at least deserved it. They all deserved it with their mansions and their money. Hell’s Kitchen might be a swanky address now, but in his memory it wasn’t. The lessons he’d learned on those streets would stick with him for an eternity. You took what you wanted because no one was ever gonna give it to you. Only the strongest survived, and to be the strongest, he’d given up his soul, long before he’d become what he was now.
And in order to live with myself I don’t try to get it back.
After all, what did a vampire need with a soul anyway?
It would just get in the way of the fun.
I am working on Patrick as a Novella, so that leaves only Velnya’s story to write before the short story collection will be complete. Yay! Not sure what I am doing for her as there are several things I’d like to see.
- Sarah – Blogophilia 13.5 (ramblingsfromthedarkness.wordpress.com)
- Michael – Blogophilia 8.5 (ramblingsfromthedarkness.wordpress.com)
- Nirel – Blogophilia 10.5 (ramblingsfromthedarkness.wordpress.com)
Sarah – Blogophilia 13.5
It’s time for Blogophilia, the fun blog group where Marvin gives participants prompts to use in their weekly posting. This week’s prompts are:
- Blogophilia week 13.5 – “Absolutely Never … well … MAYBE”
Bonus Points:(Hard, 2pts): include the words “haunting numbers” …. and a pair of dice showing 2 and 6(Easy, 1pt): include something that needs liquid fuel
This is another vampire morsel, a story about a character from my Amaranthine series that, for one reason or another, never got to say much. As an especially snifty thing I am slowly revising these and publishing them on Smashwords as freebie reads. Eventually I’m planning to bundle them altogether into a single volume, but that’s something in the distant future, as there are several tales to tell!
Speaking of Amaranthine vampires – book four is out now! yay! You can go here for all the details 🙂
(You can find Sarah in Shades of Gray. This story takes place during Shades of Gray – if you’ve read the book, this happens the same night that Katelina meets Jesslynn and the baby in the nursery)
Sarah sat on the couch, a bright orange pillow clutched in her lap. “I know it’s been hard on Katelina. I really think she needs to talk to someone. I suggested she call you and set up an appointment, but she’s so stubborn.”
The therapist nodded. Her blonde hair moved with her head, like a solid piece of hairsprayed perfection. “Her boyfriend was murdered, wasn’t he?”
“Yes. They still don’t know who did it.” Sarah frowned. “Though the police have been harassing her about it for a month. And now there’s some joker calling her at work.” She sighed again. “I’m sorry. I know this isn’t what we’re supposed to be talking about.”
“We can talk about anything you want,” the therapist assured her. “Why do you think this is bothering you so much?”
“Because she’s my best friend,” Sarah answered without thought. “We’ve been friends since we were kids. She was there for me through a lot of crap.” The therapist nodded, and Sarah went on. “I can’t stand seeing her like this. She says she’s fine, but I know better. And then some jack ass thinks it’s funny to call and say they know who killed him…” she trailed off and shook her head. “I’d like to ring their neck!”
“Did their joke upset her?”
Sarah absently bunched the pillow with her hands. “Of course it did!” Her voice dropped. “She went home early and I haven’t seen her since. I thought I should give her a little time, but I don’t know. It’s been a couple of days. Maybe I should call her?”
“What do you think?”
Before Sarah could answer, the timer buzzed.
“And that’s our session for today.” The therapist stood up and offered a lipstick colored smile. “I’ll see you next Friday?”
Sarah dropped the pillow to the couch and swept to her feet. She shook the doctor’s hand, murmured the usual goodbyes, and headed out into the corridor. The colorful fish photographs and cheerfully painted woodwork didn’t make her feel any better.
Her cellphone went off and she tugged it from her purse. Brad’s familiar, smiling picture flashed on the screen and a silly grin stretched over her face as she answered it. “Hey, honey. What’s up?”
“Hey, sweety. Just calling to see how you’re doing.”
Sarah juggled her purse and let herself out through the glass front door. It was only five, but the October sky was already growing dark and the air was crisp. She wished for her jacket and hurried to her car. “I’m okay. Just leaving the therapist now.”
It was a joke, but it made her frown. “No, not really.” She sighed. “I’m worried about Katelina.”
“I’m sure she’s fine, honey. She just needs some time.”
“I know.” Sarah unlocked the door and slid in behind the steering wheel. “I just wish to God she’d never gotten tangled up with Patrick! He was bad news from the get go!” It was a familiar speech, but she launched into it, anyway. “He was a drop out – we went to school with him, though he was older than us – you’d think that would have clued her in, you know? A guy who can’t even graduate isn’t going to get anywhere. And he wore eyeliner – eyeliner! What kind of responsible guy wears eyeliner? I’ll tell you – none!”
The tirade continued as she started her car and pulled onto the road. Brad made little noises of agreement until she paused for a breath and then he threw in, “I’m sure it will be fine. Are you coming in tonight?”
His question momentarily confused her. “What?”
“To the bar? Hello! Earth to Sarah! I work tonight, honey, and I thought you were going to come in and keep me company. Unless you’re too busy?”
Her cheeks flushed. “No, of course I’m not too busy.”
“I wasn’t sure. Your Patrick tirade can go for hours, after all.”
She could hear the smile in his voice and she responded with a sheepish laugh. “Okay, okay, I get the hint. I just never liked the guy.”
“Me either, but he’s dead now. It’s so long and good riddance, and time for everyone to move on, huh?”
“I know, I know. My therapist says I have trouble with letting things go.”
“I think she’s right.” His voice turned to innuendo. “Maybe later tonight we can see if you have trouble letting me go?”
Sarah giggled. “Oh, you! All right, let me just change and call Katelina real quick, and I’ll be right there.”
“Okay. I’ll be missing you until then.”
They exchanged their kissy-sounds and goodbyes, and then Sarah dialed Katelina’s phone. It went straight to voicemail. Undeterred, she tried twice more, as though it would magically ring through if she only called enough. As she pulled into the driveway of her little rental house, she surrendered and left a message.
“Hey, it’s Sarah. Just wanted to make sure you’re okay. They said you didn’t call in today, or yesterday. I know you kind of flake sometimes, but I just wanted to make sure everything is all right. Call me.”
There was nothing to do but wait.
Sarah took a shower and changed into the little red dress she saved for special occasions. Tonight wasn’t really special, but she knew Brad felt neglected. On their last date she’d spent the whole night fretting about Katelina. He’d joked about it, but it was obvious it upset him.
“I’m going to show him just how important he is”, she thought as she spritzed on his favorite perfume.
She checked her phone as she headed out the door, seeking the familiar, haunting numbers, but there were no missed calls. Damn. Where the hell is she?
She called Katelina – got voice mail again – and made up her mind. She dialed Brad’s phone and he answered on the second ring. “Hey, whatcha need?”
“I called Katelina but she didn’t answer.” She heard his sigh, and she rushed on quickly. “I’m just going to stop by her place for a little bit, to make sure she’s okay, and then I’ll be yours for the whole evening.”
“I promise! I just can’t enjoy myself while I’m worried about her, you know? I swear, it won’t be five minutes and then I’m all yours. No more distractions. Just you, me, and a few dozen drunks hanging around the bar.”
He laughed lightly. “As long as they’re a few dozen drunks who are tipping.” He sighed. “All right, though I think you’re worried over nothing. Every time that girl breathes wrong, you’re fussing and fretting. Sometimes I just feel like you love her more than me.”
“Of course I don’t! You know I love you and Mr. Winky-boo.”
She could feel him cringing. “I wish you wouldn’t call it that.”
“Why not? Oh, come, on, lots of guys have names for it.”
“Cool names. Not something like that. It sounds like a puppet from a kids’ show or something! For Christ’s sake, we’re not in junior high.”
She couldn’t stop the giggles anymore. “All right, all right. I’ll stop calling it that if you stop dogging me about being a worry wart.”
He gave an exaggerated sigh. “Deal. Now go check on your air headed friend and I’ll see you later.”
“She’s not an air head.”
“Really? And how often is she completely irresponsible?”
“Absolutely never … well … maybe once in awhile…” she trailed off. “Okay, she’s a fruit cake, but so are you.”
“I’ll pretend that means I taste good. See you soon.”
They repeated their kissy-ritual and hung up. Sarah started the car and backed into the street. Just a few minutes, she promised herself.
The street was crowded and Sarah had to park her car two blocks away. Most of the shops on Main Street were closed, but the ballet studio was letting out and the street was thronged with parents picking up their little princesses in time whisk them home for a late dinner.
Must be nice, Sarah thought bitterly, then just as quickly she chided herself. Her therapist had told her that when she started to feel like that, she should count her blessings. It didn’t matter where she’d come from, only where she was going.
Easier said than done.
The street lights tinted the evening orangy-pink. Sarah hurried down the sidewalk to the book store. Katelina’s apartment sat above it and her living room windows looked out on the street. Light blazed from them and a person shaped shadows flitted across the blinds.
Good. At least she’s home.
A cheery red door led to a steep set of stairs. Sarah hurried up them and froze at the top, one hand on her purse and the other on the stair railing.
Katelina’s door sat at the end of the hall, wide open. A slice of the front room was visible; the coffee table was overturned and the floor was heaped with books and other items, including what looked like the couch cushions.
Eyes narrowed in determination, Sarah marched through the door, her cell phone in one hand as though it was a weapon. The disarray was even worse inside. The two large bookcases had been emptied and the armchair was overturned. From where she stood, she could see part of the kitchen; the cupboard doors were open and broken dishes littered the floor.
Fury swept through her. After everything that had happened, how could someone do this?
Glass shattered and she stormed towards the sound. Inside the bedroom she found two men. One had long black hair and chestnut colored skin. He’d have looked at home wearing feathers and buckskin. A scar across one cheek only made him look wilder. The other had short red hair and dark eyes. His skin was pale white, and something about the way he stood, perfectly still and staring, seemed wrong.
She refused to let them intimidate her. “What in the hell do you think you’re doing?” She brandished her phone. “I’m calling the cops!”
The Native American took a step towards her, his eyes narrowed and his hands loose fingered fists at his side. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”
She jabbed the icon for the phone app. “Just watch me!”
With a snarl he leapt at her, and she ran. She pounded down the short hallway, the intruder behind her. Her purse fell from her shoulder and she let it go. Maybe he’d trip on it.
She made it to the front room before he tackled her to the floor. She kicked and flailed, but he was too strong. A thousand panicked thoughts raced through her head, each one culminating in the certainty that she had to escape.
A voice floated from behind them, “Did you get her, Joseff?”
The reply came through clenched teeth, “Obviously.”
“Good, then let’s get out of here.”
Her captor stood and pulled her to her feet. She tried to swallow down her terror and remember what she’d learned in self defense class. She knew the first step was to remain calm.
Easier said than done!
Joseff jerked the cell phone from her hand. Impossibly, he crushed it in his palm and dropped the pieces to the floor.
“My phone!” Sarah shrieked. That’s it! She slammed her fist into his surprised stomach and followed it with a sweeping kick to the back of his knee. He didn’t fall, but the moment of surprise gave her an opening and she took it.
She was just to the front door, one foot in the hallway, when he grabbed her arm and swung her around. Her face smashed into the door frame and pain exploded from her nose. She stumbled backwards and Joseff knocked her to the floor.
Something warm and wet ran down her face; blood. The familiar sensation flung her back in time. Suddenly she was a little girl again, crouched in the closet, hiding from her father’s beer scented fury. She trembled and terror crashed through her. Help me! She begged silently. Save me. Someone, please.
She wasn’t a little girl, she was a grown woman, and the only person who was going to save her was herself.
She took stock of her surroundings, looking for a weapon. A broken-spined book lay next to her. Useless. A pair of dice showing a two and a six were near her left hand. Useless. There was a bottle of nail polish – useless – and half of a broken glass ashtray.
She slowly wrapped her hand around it, the jagged edge out, and readied herself.
“She’s going to be trouble,” the red head quipped.
“Brilliant observation, Lennon!” Joseff jerked her to her feet. He shoved his face in hers. His dark eyes snapped like fire that left her breathless. “Listen here Kate, or whatever your name is. You can cooperate or you can die. The choice is-”
His words shook her out of her momentary trance and she struck. The broken glass tore at his check, but did a fraction of the damage she’d hoped for. He roared in surprise and fury and then punched her in the face. She fell backwards over the armchair and lay stunned.
Joseff loomed over her, his face twisted and lips pulled back from his teeth – No, fangs! Jesus! He has fangs! He grabbed a handful of her curly hair and lifted her by it. “Enough games, you stupid human!”
She had a nanosecond view of his fist crashing towards her face.
The world went black.
When she opened her eyes she was greeted by the same suffocating blackness. Her face throbbed and, though she tried to move, she couldn’t. It was as if she was tied up.
She took a deep, exhaust scented breath and choked. She could feel the hum of a motor, the vibrations of movement.
I’m in the trunk of a car.
Which could only mean one thing: she was being kidnapped.
But why? If they wanted money they’d have just taken her discarded purse. If they wanted to rape her, they’d have done it back at the apartment. If they wanted to kill her, she’d already be dead. She didn’t know them, so why-
“Listen here Kate, or whatever your name is…”
“Oh my God, they’re after Katelina!”
The realization jolted her. Why would a pair of thugs be after her best friend? What in the hell was Katelina mixed up in?
Patrick. It had to be something to do with him. Probably drugs. No doubt, that was what he’d been killed over and now – and now what? And now they were after Katelina, only they’d grabbed her by mistake?
In her mind, she ran through scenes from movies, lectures from her self defense class, random reality TV shows. None of them had any advice for this scenario. Not even Cosmo had a “What to do if you’re locked in a trunk” article. Like usual, she was on her own.
You can do this, she told herself. Just hang on until we get wherever we’re going. Then they’ll open the trunk. But how long would that be?
Minutes ticked past, or maybe they were hours. Trapped in the dark without her phone, Sarah had no idea how much timed had passed. The car thrummed along at a steady pace. She was jostled over bumps, but for the most part the ride was smooth. Probably an interstate, she told herself.
Her mind wandered. She thought of Brad. She could picture him leaning on the bar, his sandy blonde hair glinting in the row of colored lights, and his blue eyes twinkling with mischief. Only, they wouldn’t be. They’d be ringed in worry and impatience, while he checked the clock and wondered what was taking her so long.
Hopefully he’d go to Katelina’s when he got off work, and when he found it in shambles… what? He’d call the police? And just how would that help her, when she was God knows where?
The car slowed and then the road suddenly got bumpy – very bumpy. She could hear something pinging into the bottom of the car: rocks. They were on a gravel road.
It felt like an eternity, but at last the car pulled to a stop and the engine fell silent. Sarah heard the car doors open and footsteps crunch across gravel. They stopped nearby and someone banged loudly on the trunk.
Lennon’s voice sounded tiny and distant through the metal. “You sure she’s not dead?”
Someone slotted a key into the lock and then the trunk sprang open. Sarah squinted against the onslaught of artificial light; too bright after the blackness.
Joseff grabbed her by her shoulders and pulled her out of the trunk. With her ankles bound, she couldn’t stand on her own, so he flung her over his shoulder and carried her towards a small brick building that sat seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Several cars were parked in the gravel parking lot, and a security light threw harsh, strange shadows.
The metal door of the building scraped open and a blonde man appeared. His hair was longish and tucked behind his ears. His eyes held neither hatred nor pity; the expression of someone who was simply doing what they were supposed to.
“You got her?”
“Yes,” Joseff answered smugly. “She walked right in and practically asked us to take her.”
The blonde moved aside so they could enter. As they passed through the door, Sarah missed banging her had against it by mere inches.
They walked down a brick hallway and the blonde asked, “Was Jorick there?”
Jorick? Who’s Jorick?
“Nope,” Lennon answered from behind. “She was all alone.”
“Hmmm. The way that Michael and the others talked, she left with him.”
Michael? Who the hell were these people?
Joseff made a noise of agreement. “I know, but he wasn’t there and it’s not our problem. Let Michael explain it.”
“He can’t. He’s dead.”
Sarah felt a stab of icy terror at those words. Michel was a stranger to her, but that they could be so nonchalant that someone – anyone – was dead…
“Claudius kill him?” Joseff asked as they came to a door in the far wall. The blonde opened it and they started down a set of stairs.
“Yes. He had him burned, shortly after you two left.”
Lennon made a noise in his throat and Joseff grumbled, “I always miss the entertainment.”
Burned? Oh my God, it’s the mafia, isn’t it? There was no other explanation. But the mafia doesn’t have fangs. She still remembered her captor’s flashing teeth. Maybe it was my imagination. It had to be.
The trio of men fell silent as they reached the bottom of the stairs and Sarah concentrated on her surroundings. The room was large and open, like a big basement, with gray walls and floor. A chandelier, strangely out of place, hung from the center of the ceiling, and beneath it sat a large, wicker chair.
A door to the right opened up and several people trailed out. Among them was a bald guy, two scantily clad women, and a sulky blonde teenager. Sarah didn’t recognize any of them, but there was something about them, something that seemed… wrong.
If this is the mafia, then they don’t look like they do on TV!
The group moved to the center of the room and the teenager dropped into the chair. His cold eyes surveyed them and Sarah shivered.
Joseff dropped her to the cement floor. With no hands to catch herself, she landed painfully on her shoulder. She bit back a cry and told herself to stay calm. Work on the rope on your wrists. Try to get your hands loose. You can still escape.
The Native American propped his foot on her hip and declared, “We’ve brought her, Master.”
“Have you?” The teenager stood and moved to her, absently rubbing his hands together. She froze as his gaze moved from her feet to her head and back again, so intense that she could almost feel it, like fingers gliding over her. “She is interesting. I could see why they might fight over her.”
The bald man made a noise in his throat and walked towards them. He stopped a few feet away and broke into rough laughter.
The teenager’s head snapped up and his cold eyes narrowed. “And what do you find so amusing, Troy?”
“It’s not her,” he answered, his smile wide and fanged.
Fanged? No, that had been her imagination. People didn’t have fangs. The mafia did not have fangs!
The teen frowned. “Are you certain?”
Joseff growled low in his throat and stepped harder on her hip. “Who else would it be?”
Troy shrugged. “Damned if I know, but Patrick’s girl is a bit of blonde fluff who looks like she might crawl under the bed at the slightest provocation.” He broke into harsh laughter again. “This one’s kinda cute, though. I bet we could find something to do with her.”
His leering tone made her stomach twist. And his fangs continued to taunt her; shiny, sharp, real. How could he have fangs?
The teenager’s face clouded and he glared at Sarah, as if it was her fault. “If you’re not Katelina, then who are you? Speak!”
Joseff ground his heel into her and she yelped, then choked out, “Sarah. Sarah Townsend.” She could tell from their expressions that more was expected, but she refused to play their game.
“And just what do you have to do with anything?” the teenager demanded.
She summoned up all of her courage and stared back. “Untie me and I’ll tell you.”
The teen motioned with his hand. “Joseff.”
The Native American leaned down and grabbed her by her throat. She choked as he lifted her off the floor, crushing her windpipe in his hand. The same hand that had broken her phone to bits. Oh God.
“I’m- I’m Katelina’s friend,” she gasped out.
“What? I didn’t hear you.” The teen motioned to Joseff again and he released her. She landed on her face and rolled over, still coughing. “I’m Katelina’s friend,” she repeated, her voice raspy.
“Her friend, hmmm?” The young man’s eyes glittered like daggers. “Then tell me, where is she?”
“I-I don’t know.”
He leaned down, though not close enough to actually touch her. “You don’t know, or you refuse to tell?”
Her voice rose, though she didn’t know if it was from anger of terror. “I said I don’t know!”
“Hmmmm.” The teen straightened, turned on his heel, and stalked back to the chair. He draped himself over it and stared at her with bored disdain. “I imagine you don’t know where Jorick is, either?”
Jorick. They’d mentioned him earlier. “I don’t know who he is.”
He snorted. “Of course, play innocent. But, we’ll see how long you can keep it up for.” He snapped his fingers. “Troy! Have you heard from Peter and Javier?”
“No, Claudius – Master,” he corrected quickly.
Claudius drummed his fingers on the arm of the chair. “They should have reported by now, unless they’re dead.” He narrowed his eyes at Sarah. “Are they dead? Did Jorick kill them, perhaps?”
When she didn’t answer, Joseff kicked her in the back. “He asked you a question.”
Though she knew they weren’t playing, she shouted, “I don’t know who they are, or who Jorick is, and I don’t know what happened to any of them! Let me go now and I won’t call the police!”
Troy’s grin seemed to grow even wider, if that were possible. “Let me have her, Master. I’ll make her talk.”
Claudius nodded disinterestedly. “Very well, Troy. Do as you please.” He glanced back to her and added absently, “If she knows anything, I would appreciate the information while she’s still able to speak.”
A terrified scream strangled itself in Sarah’s throat and she struggled against her bonds. This had to be a joke. Wasn’t there a TV show where they tried to scare people? Maybe she was on it. Or maybe it was a nightmare. Or maybe-
Troy bowed low, and then pounced, like a cat with a mouse. He snatched Sarah up by the front of her dress and smiled into her face; that wide, toothy, fanged smile. She could see herself reflected in his eyes, feel the heat of his breath.
Oh God, maybe it’s real.
Troy snickered and glanced to her captors. “Stand back, boys, and watch how it’s done.”
Joseff snorted contemptuously and the other two remained silent. Sarah tried to catch their eyes and send a silent plea to them, but they didn’t look at her. Her gaze swung wildly to the group clustered around Claudius’ chair. Surely one of them would help her. One of the women, maybe?
Help me. Save me. Someone, please.
Troy laughed again, and she told herself she wouldn’t scream, no matter what.
Easier said than done.
I am working on Patrick as a Novella, so that only leaves Troy and Velnya’s stories to write before the short story collection will be complete. Yay! Troy is next week, so I think I’ll just see where the prompts take me. As for Velnya… Hmmm. There are a couple of different stories I am interested to see of her, so it will depend on the prompts and random inspiration, LOL!
Patrick – Blogophilia 12.5
It’s time for Blogophilia, the fun blog group where Marvin gives participants prompts to use in their weekly posting. This week’s prompts are:
- Blogophilia week 12.5 – “When I was just a child”
Bonus Points:(Hard, 2pts): Incorporate gauché as a feeling or an anime character(Easy, 1pt): Include the word “Placebo
This is another vampire morsel, a story about a character from my Amaranthine series that, for one reason or another, never got to say much. As an especially snifty thing I am slowly revising these and publishing them on Smashwords as freebie reads. Eventually I’m planning to bundle them altogether into a single volume, but that’s something in the distant future, as there are several tales to tell!
(You can find Patrick sort of in Shades of Gray and Legacy of Ghosts. This story takes place roughly two years before Shades of Gray starts – and six months after the Michael story)
CONTENT WARNING: Language, mild sexual content and some violence.
“I said I’m a vampire.”
Patrick stared at his brother. He looked from his wild eyes to his fangs, and rejected the image. “Mikey, look, you’ve been gone six months, then pop up on New Year’s day with this stupid story?“
“Dammit, Pat! Why don’t you believe me? Look at this!” He gestured wildly to his teeth.
Patrick drew a final puff from his cigarette and dropped it to the snow, where it died with a hiss. “I don’t know where you’ve been or what you’ve done to yourself, but there’s no such thing as vampires.”
“What the fuck? That’s it? I’ve spent the last month trying to get away so I could come find you, and that’s all you’ve got?”
“I don’t know what you want from me.”
“How about some help, you’re my goddamn brother!”
Patrick’s eyes moved from his agitated sibling to the brick building. Only one square of light shone back; his own living room window. “Look, if you need a place to crash, you can sleep on my couch for a few days, but I don’t want tangled up in your shit.”
“I don’t need a place! I have to sleep with Claudius and the others! What I need is free of them!”
Patrick sighed and absently tugged out another cigarette. Dilated pupils, agitated delusions; it was obvious Michael was tweaking on something, and whoever the fuck this Claudius was had probably given it to him. “Mikey, if you’re involved in some kind of gang-”
Michael roared and tackled his brother to the ground. Patrick threw up an arm and Michael ripped into it, tearing through his leather jacket and into his skin. Patrick screamed as burning pain shot through him. It coursed up his arm and slammed into his brain. His only thought was escape; he had to make it stop. He kicked and bashed Michael in the head with his free hand. His brother held on, like a bulldog with a steak, and Patrick hit him again and again.
Michael suddenly let go and fell back, snarling. His lips were pulled back from his bloody teeth and his eyes burned with rage.
Patrick used his good arm to scramble backwards, like a crab. When he was clear of Michael he pulled himself to his feet. He glanced quickly to his bleeding arm, then back to his brother. His voice shook as he demanded, “What the hell?”
Michael stood slowly and licked his lips. He took a cautious step forward and Patrick jumped back, one hand up. “Stay away from me!”
The fire in Michael’s eyes died and he looked repentant. “Pat, I’m sorry-”
“No! I don’t wanna hear it! Just get the fuck outta here” Michael didn’t move, so he shouted, “I said go!” and lunged at him. With a yelp, Michael took off, moving much too fast.
Patrick staggered backwards and slouched against the building. He raised a trembling hand to his face and wiped at his damp brow.
Mikey is fucked up.
Patrick left his ruined jacket draped over the couch and cloistered himself in the tiny bathroom. He turned the sink on and cleaned his arm the best he could. The skin and meat were torn, as if an animal had been at him.
An animal. Yeah, that was what Michael had been like. He sure as fuck hadn’t seemed human. But drugs could do that. They could turn you into something unrecognizable.
But they don’t do that to your teeth.
Patrick closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against the cold mirror. He didn’t know what Michael was, or what he was mixed up in, but he knew one thing: he needed something to drink. About fifty gallons worth.
“Man, you look like shit.”
Patrick looked up through blurry eyes and slowly came to terms with the voice and face. “Hey, Anthony. What’s going on?”
“I should be asking you that. Where the hell have you been?” He sniffed the alcohol scented front room and frowned. “I stopped at the gas station and they said they hadn’t seen you for days. You’re fired.”
Patrick sat up, panic in his eyes. “Fuck. What day is it?”
“Wednesday, man. They said you were scheduled for the last three nights.”
“Fuck!” Patrick dropped back to the floor. “You think I could talk ‘em into cuttin’ me some slack?”
“I doubt it.” Anthony nudged an empty bottle with his toes. “Did you know Mikey’s back in town? He wants to talk to you.”
Patrick threw an arm over his eyes to block the sunlight that fizzed through the window. “Yeah. He was here the other night.”
“So you find out where he’s been?” Anthony pointed to the wad of crusty, stained gauze taped over Patrick’s wound. “What’s that?”
“He was all fucked up.” Patrick paused and then added reluctantly, “He fuckin’ bit me, man. He said he was sorry afterwards but…”
“Shit. I just saw him last night. He seemed kinda out there, but he didn’t get violent or anything. He just said he wanted to see you.” Silence fell and Anthony moved to the couch. He knocked aside a discarded fast food bag and an empty bottle so he could take their place. “You should prolly look him up. You know he gets in trouble by himself.”
“Yeah, I know, it’s always been that way. When I was just child I had to always look out for him, but I can’t spend forever taking care of him. And what’s to stop him from attacking me again or something?”
“Meet him somewhere public, man. Like McD’s. He can’t pull any shit there. The manager will call the cops.”
Patrick lowered his arm and stared at the crusty bandages. Had it been a week? Maybe more. He should change those. “I dunno. I can’t get ahold of him, anyway.”
Anthony fished in his pocket and produced a cell phone. “He left a number. I can call him and tell him you wanna meet.”
Though it felt like a bad idea, Patrick nodded and, as Anthony scrolled through his contacts, he staggered to his feet and to the bathroom.
Better try to look alive.
It was just after seven when Patrick ordered his food and sat down at a corner table, wearing his leather jacket. He’d repaired the sleeve with electrical tape. It was crude but effective, and at a glance it was hardly noticeable.
Michael appeared a few minutes later, hands in his jacket pockets and the hood pulled up to conceal his face. He took a seat across from Patrick and the brothers stared at one another.
He doesn’t look right, Patrick told himself. Something’s wrong with him.
“I’m a vampire.”
There’s no such thing as vampires.
Michael cleared his throat. “How’s your arm?”
Patrick’s gaze moved to his fries. They were more comfortable to look at; more familiar. “Eh, it’s a’right. Almost healed.”
Michael nodded and then nearly exploded, “I’m sorry about the other night, alright? You just pissed me off so bad!”
“Just forget it.” Patrick hazarded a glance at his brother and as quickly looked to his half eaten burger. “So where the hell have you been?”
“I told you, with Claudius and his coven.”
Patrick sighed. This was pointless. It’s the same shit all over again. “And who the fuck is Claudius?”
Michael stared at him as if he’d dropped from the sky. “He’s that dick I was mowing the yard for, remember? Owns that huge mansion?”
Patrick flinched in surprise. “Yeah, I remember. The master dude, or whatever, that you wanted to rob.”
“Yeah, that’s him.” Michael rubbed the back of his neck. “I found them all sleeping in the basement in their coffins – coffins, man! They’re all vampires; him, that prick Troy, the hot chicks. I told Claudius that if he didn’t pay me off I’d tell everyone their secret and…” he trailed off and spread his hands. “So they made me into one of them.”
God, he’s fucking nuts. Patrick didn’t want to admit it, but there was nothing he could do. Michael needed to detox and then see a shrink. A really, really good shrink. Maybe he had brain damage. Or maybe that Claudius had brain washed him or something. Either way, the best thing he could do right now was get the hell out of there before something happened.
Michael stared at the half eaten food with longing in his eyes. “You gonna eat that?”
“Nah, you can have it.” Patrick pushed it towards him, but Michael shoved it back.
“I can’t eat food anymore,” his voice dropped to a whisper. “Just blood, now.”
That was it. “I hate to bug out on you, but I gotta get up tomorrow and look for a job, and it’s a long walk home from here, so I better get going.” He stood quickly and fumbled with the tray. “I’ll, uh, I’ll see you soon though, huh?”
Michael stood too quickly; one minute he was in the chair and the next he was standing beside Patrick, the tray in his hands. “I’ll walk with ya. You have no idea what’s roaming around out there, man.”
A shiver raced down Patrick’s spine. I’m not afraid of what’s out there, just what’s in here.
Tiny snowflakes drifted from the heavy black sky. The moist air turned the streetlights to bloated globes of light. Patrick walked at a brisk pace, his eyes on his brother. Michael chatted continually about his “coven”; about the other vampires, about some hotty named Arowenia, “She’s beautiful , man, but she’s like fourteen or fifteen. I mean, she was. Now she’s like hundreds of years old. So is it sick to check her out? Is it like pedophilia, or is it like a granny fetish?”
Patrick’s answers were monosyllable grunts. He clutched his coat to him, as if it would protect him from the lunacy.
They turned down a narrow street and had gone a handful of steps when a man appeared in front of them, as though he’d just formed from the shadows.
“Holy shit!” Patrick leapt back, his blue eyes like saucers. The man before him was tall with long, ebony hair and dark eyes. Dressed all in black, it was only the pale skin of his face that stood out from the shadows.
Michael bristled, his teeth drawn back from his lips. “Who the hell are you?”
The man surveyed them a moment. When his eyes landed on Patrick he found he couldn’t move. He felt trapped, pinned down. It was as if the guy was staring through his eyes and into the back of his skull. Beads of sweat popped out on his forehead and his watery knees quivered.
The man broke eye contact and Patrick felt himself sag. He stumbled back a step before he caught himself. His heart pounded in his ears. There was something about this guy that said he’d kill them and not lose any sleep over it. All of Patrick’s instincts told him to run; run now.
The man studied Michael a moment, then said, “An interesting question. More importantly who are you?”
“Like that’s any of your business.”
Patrick gaped at his brother’s attitude. Was he trying to get them killed?
“You’re with Claudius.” It wasn’t a question, but stated as a fact. The kind of fact that suddenly made some of Michael’s delusions a little more plausible.
Michael glared back. “And you’re not.”
“No,” the man drawled. “I’m not.” He gave them both another once over. “And you don’t want to be.”
Patrick stirred. “How do you know that?”
Instead of answering, Michael commented coldly, “You must think you’re a mind reader.”
“I am.” And that’s when the man smiled. It was a slow, full smile, not particularly evil, though not exactly kind, either. It wasn’t the smile itself that made Patrick’s heart stop, it was the teeth. Like Michael, he had fangs.
The smile disappeared and the man met Michael’s eyes and held them. Patrick got the impression that he was trying to determine if they were viable, or useful. His decision apparently reached, he said, “Perhaps we’ll meet again.” Then, he seemed to disappear back into the darkness.
It was a full minute before Patrick could breathe. “Who the fuck was that?”
“I don’t know. Another vampire.” Michael glanced at his brother. “I told you there was all kinds of scary shit running around here.”
You’re not kidding.
Patrick couldn’t reconcile what he’d seen, and what Michael had told him, with the reality he knew. One of them was wrong. Either there were monsters or there weren’t. Unfortunately, he was starting to think that the monsters were real and that everything he’d known up to then was the illusion.
It was a terrifying idea.
It was five days before his brother came back. The snow fell hard outside and Patrick huddled on the couch, a nearly empty bottle of Jack clutched tightly in his hand.
Michael wasn’t wearing a coat. He brushed the melting snowflakes off of his t-shirt and flopped on the other end of the sofa. “I didn’t think I was ever gonna get away.”
“Yeah,” Patrick muttered around a mouthful of whiskey. The span of a heartbeat passed, then he asked suddenly, “Let’s say all this vampire crap is real. Is there a cure or something? “
“No, man. Once you’re a vampire, you’re that way forever. There’s no going back.”
Patrick asked the question he’d been dreading, “So what do you want me to do?”
“I need you to help me get outta there. They all treat me like shit, like I’m some kind of servant. I have to wait on them all and they call me names, and that son of a bitch Troy knocks me around because he knows if I fight back, they’ll all gang up on me. It’s bullshit.”
Patrick closed his eyes. Even in his inebriated state there was too much truth in his brother’s eyes. “Then leave.”
“You don’t get it! I can’t just leave. They’ll hunt me down and kill me!”
“Then go to the police or something,” he muttered hopelessly.
“Oh, great fuckin’ idea, Pat! I’ll go to the cops and say, ‘Hey! I’m a vampire!’ and if they don’t kill me then the other vampires will!”
Patrick flung the bottle across the room and shouted, “Then I don’t know what the hell you want from me!”
“Help me kill them.”
Patrick fell back against the couch. I can’t deal with this. “Are you serious?”
“Yes! Look, you can sneak in during the daytime and go down to the basement and-”
“And what?” Patrick asked sarcastically. “Pound stakes through their hearts? That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard!”
“Do you have a better one?”
Patrick started to say no, and then he suddenly remembered the guy they’d run into the other night. The scary black haired guy. Another vampire. That was what they needed. “What about that vampire guy we ran into? Maybe we could ask him for help?”
Michael rolled his eyes. “Now who has the dumb ass idea. We don’t even know where to look for him!”
“I don’t think we need to,” Patrick said quietly. “I think he’ll find us.” The idea did nothing to cheer him.
The park was eerie in the dark. The hulking jungle gym sat back in the shadows like a crouched monster waiting to spring. The swing set cast long shadows, like tendrils of evil that snaked towards Patrick and Michael as they leaned on the teeter-totter housing.
Michael’s shoulders suddenly went stiff. Patrick followed his gaze. At first he saw only darkness and then, just as he had last time, the guy seemed to materialize from the darkness, as if he was a piece of the night.
“You’re looking for me?”
Michael watched the newcomer through narrowed eyes. “You’re the mind reader, you tell me.”
Without hesitation, he asked sharply, “Why should I help you?”
Michael grabbed his brother’s arm. “Come on, Pat. I told you this was a fuckin’ waste of time.”
The space of a heartbeat passed, and the mysterious man replied, “I didn’t say I wouldn’t help you, I only asked why I should.”
Patrick nodded hopefully. If the vampires were half as terrifying as this guy, there was no way they could deal with them alone. They needed someone who could help them and, though he couldn’t say exactly why, he was sure this was the guy for the job. “Let’s give him a chance.”
Michael glared past his brother to the man in question. “Why? We don’t even know who he is!”
“Does it matter?” Patrick asked desperately.
“He knows who we are!”
The man all but rolled his eyes, “My name is Jorick, though it may be a moot point. Exactly what do you want from me?”
Patrick answered quickly, “He needs help to get away from Claudius.”
Jorick studied them silently. The moments stretched thin and taut, heavy with the oppressive winter atmosphere. Finally, he said, “Let me speak to my associate. We might be able to do something.” He started to walk away, then stopped and looked back. “Return here in a week.”
And then he disappeared.
A week later found Patrick back at the park, huddled in his leather jacket. Michael paced nearby. A field of cigarette butts was strewn on the ground between them, and Michael was working on another.
“You’re sure this is a good idea?”
“It’s as good as any,” Patrick muttered.
It’s all a bad idea. A bad, crazy idea.
Jorick appeared, walking from the shadows as usual, with a second man. The new comer had blondish hair that made Patrick think of a lion. It wasn’t just the hair; there was something feline about him, though whether it was his face or his movements, Patrick wasn’t sure.
They came to stop in front of them. The tension thickened as the four sized one another up, and then Jorick spoke, “This is Oren.” He gestured to the brothers. “Patrick and Michael.”
Oren nodded, his attention on Michael, “You’re members of Claudius’ coven?”
“No, I am. Pat’s not.”
Oren frowned. “Then what does he have to do with anything?”
“It’s his brother,” Jorick answered.
Patrick shivered. How did he know? Oren turned to him and met his eyes. It was the same as it had been with Jorick; as if the guy was looking straight into his brain.
It ended suddenly and Oren looked back to Michael. “Do you know who I am?”
“One would assume you’d know who you were dealing with before you asked for help,” Jorick commented. Michael glowered back and Jorick went on. “Whether you are aware of it or not, Oren’s coven is at war with Claudius.”
Coven. Did that mean that Oren was a vampire?
Understanding flickered over Michael’s face. “You’re the guy who he’s been fighting with forever?”
“Not forever,” Oren bit back.
“It has been ongoing for some time,” Jorick countered, and then dismissed it with a gesture. “Regardless, I have spoken with Oren and we’re willing to help you – for a price.” Michael started and Jorick held up a hand. “It’s only fair. You want us to do something for you, then you should do something for us.”
The logic felt sound, so Patrick nodded eagerly. Michael, however, was still sour. “Like what?”
“Spy,” Jorick said flatly.
Oren bristled. “I wouldn’t call it spying, but rather information gathering.”
“For how long?”
Jorick rubbed his chin. “A few months, perhaps? That should be enough time for Oren to finally wrap this up.” His dark eyes slid sideways to his friend and then back again. “After which time he will offer you sanctuary – both of you, if necessary.”
Patrick’s eyes went wide with surprise. “Me? Oh, I’ll be a’right. They’re not after me.”
“Not yet,” Oren agreed. “But I wouldn’t rule it out.”
Michael scowled. “I was hoping to get away from them now, not in a few months!”
Oren started to answer, but Jorick silenced him. “It’s up to you. Leave now, on your own, and deal with the consequences alone, or wait a few months and have the guarantee of protection. It’s of no consequence to us, either way.”
“If I don’t agree then who will you get to spy?” Michael demanded.
Jorick shrugged. “Someone else. Claudius has an extensive coven. If we decide we need a spy, then we will recruit one. You can always fall back on your original plan.” He glanced at Patrick. “I’m sure you can eventually wear your brother down and he’ll agree to storm the basement. Of course, it’s sunlight that is the vampire’s enemy, not just daytime, so once he’s down in the dark, lightless cellar it won’t seem like such a good idea anymore. Maybe he’ll get lucky and actually kill a couple before they rip his head off.”
Cold terror filtered through Patrick and settled in his stomach. For a moment he could almost smell the damp, dark cellar in his imagination; feel the blood pounding in his ears and know that his death was coming. And it would. Jorick was right. Michel would hound and push and wheedle until he’d finally agree just to get him off his back and then…
“No!” he cried suddenly. “Jorick’s right, Mikey. This is the best way.”
“For who?” his brother demanded. “Pat, you don’t know what they’re like! I can’t take months of this!”
Jorick interrupted before Patrick could answer. “It’s something for you to think about. I’ll find you when you’ve made your final decisions.” He motioned to Oren. “Come. We’ve made the offer, it’s up to them, now.”
Patrick watched with horror as his only hope disappeared into the darkness.
When they’d gone, Michael demanded, “Can you believe that?”
Patrick turned on him. “Yes, I can! God dammit, Mikey, what did you expect? That they’d do you a favor for nothing? Who the hell do you think you are?”
He didn’t wait for the answer before he stormed back to his apartment.
“Come, on,” Michael whined. “Just go out and look around. Please?”
“No!” Though it had been over a week, Jorick’s words still rang in his ears. “I’m sure you can eventually wear your brother down and he’ll agree to storm the basement.”
“Dammit, Mikey, I’m not going to die for this!”
“I’m not asking you to die! I’m just asking you to go check the place out and see what you think. If you say it’s too hard, then okay, enough said. I’ll drop it and we’ll come up with a better plan.”
“Then come up with a better plan now!” Patrick paced a worried circle around his living room, waving an envelope. “I have enough shit to deal with right now! I have to figure out how the fuck to pay the electric bill before they shut it off!”
“It’s January, they can’t shut it off.” Patrick glared at him, and suddenly Michael’s demeanor changed. A sly gleam settled in his eyes. “Claudius is rich.”
Patrick waved it away. “I think I’ve heard this shit before.”
“No, you haven’t. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you’ve got enough money to pay all your bills; rent, electric, you name it.”
“And how are you going to do that?”
“That’s what brothers are for.” He offered him a winning smile; though the fangs ruined the illusion and made Patrick long for a drink of something; anything. “Brothers stick together and help each other out.”
“No, Mikey. I’m happy to help you most of the time, but this is ridiculous! For Christ’s sake, you’re one of them and they scare you! What the fuck am I supposed to do against them?”
“I already told you.”
“And that Jorick guy told you what would happen! He said they’d kill me!”
“And you’re gonna take his word for it?” The silence was his answer. “Fine! Forget it! Just let me down, like everyone else! Excuse me for thinking I could trust you!”
His brother slammed out the door before he could finish. Patrick stared at the door, and in a fit of fury flung the electric bill towards it. “Oh, fuck you!”
Michael knocked on the door the next evening. When Patrick answered it, he shoved a bulging envelope in his hand, then abruptly turned for the hallway.
Patrick thumbed the envelop open and stared at the contents: cash. Lots of cash. He flipped through the bills in disbelief, then looked up in time to see his brother starting down the stairs.
“Mikey! What’s this?”
Michael looked over his shoulder, “I told you I’d help you out. We’re brothers, remember?”
“But where the hell did you get it?”
Michael shook his head sadly and then made a point of turning his back and walking down the stairs.
Patrick called after him, then swore under his breath and followed. He took the stairs two at a time and landed in the lobby. There was no one there. He ran to the door and flung himself out it and onto the sidewalk, but again there was no sign of his brother.
He looked both ways, then fell back against the brick building. He looked to the envelope still clutched in his hand. There was a lot of money in there. Maybe enough to live for a few months. That would give him time to find a new job.
But Michael didn’t do it to help him out. He knew his brother was just trying to guilt him.
So why is it working?
The sun was high when Patrick called Anthony.
“You need a ride where?”
“Look, it’s some huge house in the middle of nowhere. Michael’s staying there.” He reeled off the directions. “So can you take me or not?”
“Yeah, I guess. I’m at Twila’s now. Let me get done here then I’ll be over, a’ight?”
“Cool. Just kinda hurry, huh? I gotta stop and pay the electric bill and don’t wanna be out there after dark.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever you say, man.” Twila giggled in the background and Patrick knew what they were doing. “Catch you later.”
Patrick tossed the cellphone onto the couch next to the envelope. Blood money. That’s what it was, only it for his own blood. Just like the donation centers he hit up. The difference is they just wanted a little bit. Michael wants all of it.
It was after four before Anthony showed up, a Cheshire cat grin on his face.
“Where the fuck have you been?”
“Hey man, there’s more to life than bein’ your taxi. Twila was feelin’ lonely.” His grin grew. “Twice.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. I don’t wanna hear it.” Patrick slung his coat on. “Let’s just get this shit over with.”
He dropped the bill through the after hours slot, then repeated the directions to the mansion. It was either his memory, or else the directions themselves, but something wasn’t very clear and they ended up circling back roads for over an hour, listening to Placebo CDs.
As they passed a peeling barn for the third time, Anthony turned the music down to ask, “You’re sure there’s really a mansion out here? Twila said she’s heard stories about one with some kinda stone wall, but she ain’t never found it. Maybe it’s just an urban legend?”
“Was he sober?”
It was a fair question. “I think so. I don’t know.” Patrick slouched in the seat and covered his eyes. Reality and the monster-reality were crashing together and he wasn’t sure what was real again.
Anthony took a chance and steered the car down a pot holed road they’d previously ignored. “We can keep looking for awhile. But I’m gonna need some cash for gas.”
Patrick nodded and leaned his forehead against the window. His stomach knotted in fear, though he wasn’t sure from what. Was he scared of not finding the place and learning that all the vampire shit had just been his imagination? Or was he more afraid of it turning out to be real?
“Holy shit! Look at that!”
Patrick’s stomach tightened as he saw the stone wall and the set of wrought iron gates. So it is real…
Anthony parked in front of the gates. They climbed out and to find they were locked. “Now what?”
Patrick swallowed down a lump of terror. “Just, you know, kinda wait here for me. I’ll, uh, I’ll just go in.”
“By yourself?” Anthony frowned and shook the gate. “You sure that’s a good idea?”
“Yeah, it’s cool.”
No it’s not! Let’s get the fuck back in the car and get out of here!
“Okay then. I’ll hang around for an hour or two.” Anthony slouched back to the car and paused, one hand on the door and his eyes on his friend. “You’re sure about this?”
“Yeah, sure.” Uncertainty must have flashed in his eyes because Anthony’s frown deepened. Patrick thought about reassuring him, but knew it was useless.
He climbed the wrought iron gates and dropped down on the other side of them. Anthony was still waiting by the car, and Patrick looked back to give him a final wave before he turned and trudged towards the house.
No, mansion. That was a good description for it. Made of stone, it was decorated with statues, like something from a creepy horror movie. Shiny windows reflected back the early evening sun and reminded Patrick how little time he had.
He walked around the perimeter of the house first, checking windows and nudging the foundation. There were no basement windows, in fact there was no sign that there even was a basement. But Michael had been right about one thing; it was quiet. Way too quiet.
Patrick made his way to a side door and tested it. As he’d expected, it was locked. Despite the early February chill, beads of sweat formed on his forehead as he pulled a metal shim from his pocket and slipped it between the door and the frame. He worked it back and forth a few times, then leaned on the door.
The door swung inwards and he caught it before it could bang back into the wall. He mopped at his forehead and shoved the shim back in his pocket.
What the fuck am I doing?
It was a question he didn’t have an answer for. He stole softly through the house, his eyes growing bigger and bigger as he moved from one outlandish room to another. It was like a mansion from the historical PBS shows his mother watched; chandeliers, red carpet, even a mirrored ballroom. But nowhere was there a door to the basement.
Maybe Michael is crazy, he thought with relief. Maybe I just broke into some eccentric millionaire’s house. Fuck, I better get out of here!
With that thought, he turned, to find a thin, mustached man staring at him. Patrick yelped and then, something crashed down on his head and everything went black.
Patrick opened his eyes. The room was bright and blurry. He tried to block it with his hands, but they wouldn’t work. He tugged harder and discovered that they were tied behind his back.
What the fuck?
Panicked, he tried to move his legs, only to find they were similarly restrained. He lay on the floor in a smallish room. The only furniture was a desk, some assorted chairs and a couple of display cabinets. Patrick’s eyes roamed from object to object, fluttering fearfully over the swords that hung on the walls.
Oh my God. What kind of freaks are they?
The door opened and a bald guy wearing a pullover and sunglasses walked through. If Patrick had to guess, he’d have said he was a repo man. Behind him was a kid of maybe fifteen or sixteen. He had long blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail and was dressed in a costume that matched the house; ruffled shirt, brocade vest and tight fitting trousers.
The blonde sat in a chair behind the desk and crossed his legs, his eyes on Patrick. Something glinted in their depths that made Patrick’s blood run cold. He was sure it was death he saw shining in them.
Silence stretched while they stared at one another. Patrick waited for the terrifying mental crush that he’d encountered with Jorick and Oren, but it didn’t come. Maybe these guys weren’t vampires? Maybe-
“So,” the blonde drawled suddenly. “An intruder?”
The bald guy grinned, flashing a pair of fangs. “Theo found him roaming around the house.”
Shit. They are. They’re fucking vampires. Oh God! Oh fuck!
The blonde tapped restless fingers on his leg. “And what, exactly, are you doing here?”
Patrick tried to speak, but he couldn’t. It was just as well, he had nothing to say.
“Troy, make him talk.”
“Yes, Claudius – Master!” The bald guy practically leapt forward and grabbed Patrick by the back of his neck. He hauled him up and shook him so that his head flopped back and forth.
Patrick gave a low, horrified moan-like yell, and Claudius shouted, “Enough!”
Troy dropped him back to the floor. With no hands to catch himself, he slammed face first into the floor.
“What were you doing here?”
Patrick lifted his head and spit out a mouthful of blood. Oh God. “I-I was just looking around.”
Pain radiated out from his nose. Was it broken? He thought it was bleeding but he wasn’t sure. Maybe it was just his mouth.
Patrick shook his head violently. “No, no! I was – my – my brother-” he broke off.
“Your brother?” Claudius looked suddenly interested. “Who is your brother?”
Patrick swallowed another mouthful of blood. “M-Michael.”
Claudius’ blue eyes glowed briefly. “Really? I had no idea that Michael had a brother.” He looked to his bald lackey. “Did you?”
“Nope,” Troy said quickly. “He never mentioned him.”
“So you were here looking for your brother, Michael, perhaps?” Patrick choked on the answer and Claudius jabbed him with a pointy toe. “Answer me!”
Patrick felt it suddenly; the pressure of someone behind his eyes. He looked up sharply to see Troy smirk and readied for Claudius’ anger at the lie. But Troy kept the truth to himself. “Should we kill him?”
Claudius leaned back in the chair and drummed his fingers on his leg again. “No,” he said slowly. “Not yet. Call Michael in here.”
“Yes, Master.” Troy bowed quickly and disappeared out the door.
Claudius studied him through heavy lidded eyes. “How convenient of you to show up when I’m having a party. Though you’re hardly dressed for the occasion. How gauche.”
Troy reappeared, hauling Michael behind him. Michael stopped just inside the room, panicked eyes going from Patrick to Claudius.
“Is this your brother?” Claudius demanded.
Michael looked at him one more time; met his eyes, pale blue looking into pale blue, terror meeting terror, and then he looked away. “No. I don’t know who he is.”
Patrick choked and Claudius smiled; a fanged, horrifying smile.
“In that case, you won’t mind if I feed on him.”
Patrick held back a scream as Troy released his captive and moved toward him. Free, Michael bolted for the door, but Claudius barked, “Stay!”
Michael froze on the threshold, his face pale and his shaking hands gripping the door frame. “I-I don’t really need-”
“I want you to watch,” Claudius purred. He motioned to Patrick again and Troy hauled him upright, setting him on his feet. With one hand, he tugged the leather jacket opened and grabbed a fist full of Patrick’s t-shirt. The material ripped noisily, revealing a swath of pale chest and stomach.
Claudius snapped his fingers. “I can’t feed on him from here!”
Troy dragged him closer and Patrick struggled. He was no match for the stronger vampire, who shoved him into Claudius’ lap. Patrick froze, his eyes locked with Claudius’. Though he looked young, at least ten years younger than Patrick, the emerald depths screamed a story of ages come and gone. Patrick felt the full crush of the centuries and he whimpered.
Claudius’s lips drew back from his teeth, like a slow arousal and then he struck. Patrick screamed as fangs pierced his chest, right above his nipple. The pain faded, only to return with double the force. It burned, white hot and searing, like he imagined branding felt.
The room wavered and he tried to concentrate on his brother. Michael stood back against the wall, his eyes tightly closed and his hands fists at his side. Patrick was conscious of a voice screaming, “Michael!”, but he wasn’t sure if it was his or someone else’s.
The pain increased and his head throbbed with it. He writhed, his every nerve on fire. He couldn’t take any more! God kill me! Make it end! Please!
As if on command it stopped, like slamming into a brick wall. He was suddenly aware of himself. He lay limply across Claudius’ lap, his skin covered in a sheen of sweat, the young vampire’s mouth still locked onto him.
“Stop!” Michael repeated. He stood across the room, his shaking fists clenched and his face twisted. “Just – just stop! Yes, he’s my brother, all right!”
Claudius broke the connection and leaned up. Patrick looked at Claudius’ bloody face and then looked away as quickly.
Claudius licked his lips slowly, and asked, “Then what should we do with your brother? Should we kill him? Or… “ An idea blossomed in his deep green eyes. “No. No, we should keep him, shouldn’t we?”
Michael made a strangled noise in his throat and Claudius nodded to himself. “Yes, I believe that is exactly what we’ll do. After all, a vampire may have human agents. Though I don’t believe we need anymore of them here. I have heard of those who have humans – marked humans – and allow them to live on their own, so long as they remember who their master is. I wonder, could you remember? Or would you rather die?”
“You could turn him, too,” Troy suggested.
“No, then we’d have the two of them here, making trouble. I don’t want this one on equal terms.” He looked at Michael. “I’ll let you decide. Should I kill your brother or let him live?”
Patrick struggled but Claudius tightened his hold. A dot of blood was on his chin and, as if suddenly aware of it, Claudius’ tongue darted out to clean it away.
Michael looked wildly from one to the other. Patrick could almost hear his panicked thoughts, and he shook his head hard, though he wasn’t sure what it meant. He didn’t know what decision he hoped for, so how could his brother?
Michael sagged. “Let him live.”
Claudius gave a single nod, then he turned back to Patrick. His eyes moved over the expanse of naked skin and then, without warning, he bit Patrick catty-corner to the ragged wound. Patrick shouted, but it lasted only a moment.
It was a command and Troy handed his master a pocket knife, open and ready. Patrick whimpered as Claudius poised it over his skin, right under the new bite mark, then cut what looked like a crude half moon shape.
“There.” Claudius tossed the knife to Troy, who licked the blade. “You’re properly marked.” Disdainfully, he knocked Patrick to the floor, where he landed like a horrified bag of potatoes. “You belong to me, now. I suggest you remember it, or your brother’s immortal life will be a very short one.”
He stepped over Patrick and stopped at the door, his attention on Michael. “And I suggest you remember who your master is, lest your very mortal brother come to harm.” Then with a smirk, he called to Troy, “See that our guest is shown out.”
Claudius strode from the room, and Troy cheerfully scooped Patrick up. “Don’t worry, boy, we’ll take care of you.” He followed his words with a gruff laugh that made Patrick’s stomach turn.
Wordlessly, Troy carried Patrick out of the house and towards the gates. The sun was long gone and the night sky spread above them; cold and unforgiving.
A large stone fountain was in the middle of the driveway, and Troy stopped on the other side of it. He dropped Patrick roughly to the ground and then used his pocket knife to cut the ropes that bound his wrists and ankles. Patrick sat up and flexed his limbs. Purple bruises blossomed where the rope had cut into him. He opened his ruined shirt and dabbed at his still bleeding chest. He could see the teeth marks, see where Claudius had-
Troy’s rough laugh cut into his thoughts and he looked up sharply to see the bald vampire gazing down at him. His eyes shone with a mixture of cruelty and amusement and something else. Something Patrick recognized but didn’t want to think about.
He scrambled to his feet. His knees buckled and he caught himself on the fountain.
“What’s wrong?” Troy asked. “You looked scared, little boy.” He traced Patrick’s jaw with his finger and Patrick jerked away. Troy moved closer, so that his breath was in Patrick’s face. His whisper was husky, “Are you scared?”
“Fuck you! I’m not a little boy!” Patrick stumbled backwards, but his shaking legs betrayed him. Troy caught him and pulled him to him, roughly. Patrick fought, but he was too weak, and his struggles only made the vampire laugh.
“Now, now, be a good boy. We don’t want the master to hear, do we?” Patrick kicked hard, but it had even less effect than is earlier efforts.
Troy’s eyes skimmed over the open shirt and the bloody, exposed skin. A smile twisted over his lips and he murmured something, then he struck. His fangs sliced through Claudius’s first bite and Patrick cried out. His body went stiff, prepared for the onslaught.
It didn’t come.
Instead, it was like being touched, very slowly, all over. Instead of pain, it was pleasure. Patrick struggled against it. He looked down; saw the top of Troy’s bald head, saw his hand splayed out against his own pale skin. Somehow this new sensation was worse than the pain had been; sicker.
It intensified. Patrick tried to hold back the moan but it escaped against his will. The sensations crashed through him like ocean waves, one after another, pounding against his consciousness. He could taste the darkness that threatened to engulf him. It tasted like cherries, like alcohol and sex. It was the flavor of a hot summer night, of a party in Anthony’s backyard where the girls were drunk and slick-
A horn honked. At the sound the illusion world rippled. Troy growled low in his throat and bit harder, and then, he moaned and his body convulsed.
He released Patrick and let him fall to the cold grass. Patrick dragged himself away on the backs of his arms, too weak and confused to stand.
Troy wiped at his mouth with a shaking hand, then his gaze swept to his victim. Something in his expression made Patrick’s stomach turn and his cheeks flush. “You better get out of here, little boy, while you have the chance. And don’t even think about mentioning this to anyone. No one will believe you, and if they do, they’re not going to care.”
Troy turned and strode back towards the house. The horn sounded again and Patrick realized what it must be: Anthony.
“I’m coming!” he called weakly. He tried to shake off the clinging cobwebs of – what? Was it fear? horror? No. He knew what it was, and it made him sick.
He crawled towards the wall and used the gate to pull himself to his feet. He could see Anthony’s car parked on the other side; headlights on, motor running. The driver’s door opened and Anthony climbed out. He ran to the gate and tugged it open. Patrick stumbled and he caught him.
“Holy fuck! Are you all right?”
“I’m fine,” Patrick assured him. He straightened and lurched towards the car. His stomach heaved, and he had to stop and throw up.
Anthony drew back, his face wrinkled in disgust. “You drunk or something? You look like shit and your nose is bleeding. Maybe you should go to the hospital.”
Patrick wiped at his face with the back of his hand. “No. I just – I just wanna go home.”
“Yes!” Patrick rounded on him, suddenly furious. “Just fucking take me home, all right?”
“Hey, look, whatever.” Anthony backed away, hands in the air. “Just don’t flip out on me.”
“I’m not –“ he paused and lowered his voice. “I’m not gonna flip out. I just want the fuck outta here, all right?”
He pulled the door open and collapsed in the passenger seat, holding his coat closed.
I can’t fucking deal with this.
Anthony tried to pry out of him what had happened. When he met silence, he talked too cheerfully about himself. Patrick leaned his forehead against the window and watched the town flash by it. He nodded to Anthony’s words, though he didn’t really listen to them.
“I almost gave up on ya. I went home for awhile, then Twila said that was shitty. But you did say an hour. You didn’t say nothing about hanging out until, like, midnight. Then I thought about Michael and the way everything with him ends up in a big fuckin’ mess and thought maybe Twila was right and I better come back and, well, there you were-”
They passed the park and, for just a second, Patrick thought he saw someone by the jungle gym.
Anthony slammed the brakes and the car squealed to a stop. “Shit, what’s wrong? You gonna puke again?”
Patrick threw the door open and leaned out, eyes searching the darkness. “Is that you?” he shouted. “Are you there?”
Anthony craned his neck. “Um… who are you yelling at?”
Patrick climbed out of the car and stumbled towards the park, clutching his coat closed with one hand. “Are you there?” he shouted again.
He turned back to see Anthony’s worried face, peering out from the car. “Just go. I’ll see you later.”
“You want me to leave you at the park like this?”
“That’s what I said!” Patrick waved one arm wildly. “Go!”
“Whatever. It’s your funeral.” Anthony pulled the door closed and took off, leaving a fading stream of music and exhaust behind.
Patrick turned back to the park and lurched towards the jungle gym. As he drew closer he saw Jorick step from the darkness, his face grim. Patrick stumbled and fell to his knees. His stomach twisted and he fought to hold it down; he had nothing left to throw up, anyway.
He could feel Jorick’s eyes on him, probing, seeking. Hot tears stung the back of Patrick’s eyes and for a sick, wild moment he hoped to hell Jorick saw it; saw everything. “What are they?” he whispered. “What in the fuck are they?”
Jorick’s voice was deep and somehow reassuring, despite his words. “You already know the answer. They’re vampires, the same as I am. The same as your brother.”
“No.” Patrick choked and spit in the snow. “Michael’s not like them.”
A moment’s silence passed, and then Jorick said quietly, “Some are crueler than others. You should go home, rest, eat something. You’ve lost a lot of blood.”
“You’re going to kill him?”
Jorick blinked in surprise. “Who? Claudius?”
Patrick nodded. “And Troy. You and that Oren guy, you’re going to kill them?”
“I imagine so.”
Patrick nodded again. “And if Michael and I help you, you can kill them sooner?”
Jorick hesitated. “I suppose so.”
Patrick gathered his strength and forced himself to his feet. He clutched the jungle gym; the cold metal bit into his hand. “Then we’ll help you. So long as you kill those fucking sons of bitches we’ll do anything you want.” He met Jorick’s surprised eyes with his own tortured gaze. “Promise you’ll fucking kill them.”
“We’ll kill them.”
Patrick nodded and leaned against the jungle gym. That was right. They’d kill them.
And if they don’t, I will.
I mentioned somewhere that Patrick wants his own sequel novella, well he sure gave it a damn good try here. I finally cut him off, but he wants to keep going. I don’t know why he thinks he is so important, but he does. Or maybe it’s some of that author indulgence that wants one. Hard to tell. Anyway, I am tempted to finish this up and put it up as a novella.
Next up is Sarah, and then Troy. I am kinda squeamish about him, now. I always knew he was a bastard, but he’s apparently a bit sicker than I thought and not sure how much of that I want to do. Anyway, then there’s just Velnya and the first collection is finished. Yay! Fun!
Nirel – Blogophilia 10.5
It’s time for Blogophilia, the fun blog group where Marvin gives participants prompts to use in their weekly posting. This week’s prompts are:
- Blogophilia week 10.5 – “Whereat With Blade …”
Bonus Points:(Hard, 2pts): use a foreign expression (used several)(Easy, 1pt): include transcendental in your blog
I posted last week but was too late to get any points, so I made it on time this week. It’s is another vampire morsel, a story about a character from my Amaranthine series that, for one reason or another, never got to say much. As an especially snifty thing I am slowly revising these and publishing them on Smashwords as freebie reads (Herrick is new on Smashwords, in fact). Eventually I’m planning to bundle them altogether into a single volume, but that’s something in the distant future, as there are several tales to tell!
(You can find Nirel in Legacy of Ghosts . This story takes place in Indiana in 1967.)
CONTENT WARNING: mild sexual content
”Whereat with blade,
some demon shudders,
hiding under smoky glass
the colors run like virgin teardrops…”
Nirel tuned out, though the rest of the poem was in the same vein. Maybe it was because he wasn’t as high as the others, or maybe it really was utter tosh, but he just didn’t care. When the girl finished, everyone else clapped and reeled off compliments. The best one was from a guy in a pair of dark bell bottoms. “That was beautiful. It is so in tune with modernism and the core of socio-transcendental-patterns of a new age.”
Nirel scoffed and lit another fag. Either that guy saw something he didn’t, or else he just wanted in her knickers. It’s probably the second one.
He felt the eyes and turned his head to see Agnes staring steadily at him. He gave her a nod and then looked away, as if that would discourage her. Times like this made him wonder what he’d been thinking when he’d made the sisters what he was; immortal and unchanging: vampires.
Her dark eyes bored into him; expecting something more. He shifted uncomfortably and finally swept to his feet. He muttered about needing air, not that anyone listened, and strode out the door.
The porch sagged. He leaned against a peeling railing and listened to the sound of the rain as it pinged the shabby roof and the late summer vegetation. Drip. Drop. Plop.
He wiped the rain drop from his forehead and, with a filthy glare at the leaking roof, he hunkered down in a shadowy corner, away from the moisture.
The front door opened and closed. Agnes took a few faltering steps and squinted into the dark. He watched her eyes widen and a small smile curve over her cherry lips when she spotted him.
“Why are you hiding in the corner?” she asked and giggled. “Don’t you like the rain? I’d think it would remind you of home.”
“Eh, I don’t care either way, love.” He drew the last puff from his fag and threw it out into the rainy yard. “Alright so I’m here.”
She frowned. “You make it sound like some kind of duty.”
Isn’t it? He kept the thought to himself and gave a non committal shrug. Her frown deepened and, with a roll of his eyes, he caught her and pulled her to him. She resisted for just a minute; the feminine proof that she was the one in charge, and then she surrendered and snuggled into him with a soft sigh. He wrapped his arms around her and tangled his fingers in her chestnut hair. He leaned close and his lips brushed her neck where a knot of old scars was still visible. He inhaled deeply, breathing in the scent of her hair, her skin, her blood.
And then he bit.
She moaned softly and melted over him, like warm butter. Her blood filled his mouth, warm, spicy, sweet. He closed his eyes and tasted her; her thoughts, her dreams, her desires. They were all there, scattered at his feet like jewels and he chose which to look at and which to ignore. She tasted good, she felt good. Suddenly he wasn’t sure why he objected so much.
A wave of pleasure swept over him, and engulfed them both. With a shuddering groan, she tugged open his shirt and bit his chest. Her fangs sunk deep and he felt the initial pull as she drew his blood into her mouth. Then it was gone and there was nothing but him and her crashing together to the beat of the rain.
She cried out as the orgasm ripped through her, and he followed a moment later. His lips released her, and he traced his tongue over the still bleeding wound. She lay against his chest, murmuring soft sounds, like a kitten. Time and reality came back into focus as the blood pleasure faded. He closed his eyes against it. The soft landscape of her mind had been better and yet-
And yet he didn’t love her.
“It doesn’t matter,” she whispered, as if she had plucked the thought from his mind, though it was an ability she didn’t have.
She just knows .She always bloody knows.
“I love you enough for both of us.”
He sighed and brushed her hair back from her flushed face. “I doubt that, love.”
Music drifted out to them; heavy on the guitar and lean on meaning. The rain sped up and low thunder rumbled in the distance. Marijuana smoke wafted through the open window and he breathed it in. It was weak and diluted, just as they were.
He changed the topic. “You got one picked out yet?”
She giggled like a mischievous child. “I thought the one in the paisley, with the dreamy eyes.”
“Dreamy?” He snorted. “’e didn’t look dreamy to me, but call ‘im what you want.”
“I didn’t say he was dreamy, just his eyes.” She sighed. “I want to look into those eyes while I drink from him.”
The door banged open and Iris stepped out. She adjusted her glasses and peered into the shadows. Despite the gift of vampirism, neither of them could see well. “It’s an improvement!” Iris had cried with delight as she looked on the world with her new eyes. “Oh look, Agnes! Look! I can see the stars.”
As mortals, they’d obviously been very blind.
Iris hurried to them, a faint look of disapproval on her face. “Are you about ready to go? I’m bored.”
“Not yet,” Agnes turned to face her sister, though she still held a wad of his shirt in one hand. “I haven’t eaten yet.”
Iris crossed her arms. “Then hurry up. These parties are so boring. I don’t know why we come to them.”
It was a tune he’d heard before. “If it’s not your scene, love, you don’t have to come.”
“Yes she does!” Agnes cried and grabbed her sister’s arm with her free hand. “I want her to come.”
Iris adjusted her glasses, as if to make herself look sterner. “Then feed so we can go!”
“All right!” Agnes giggled and stepped away from Nirel. “I’ll be right back,” she trilled and nearly danced to the door and back into the house.
Agnes turned her stern gaze to Nirel. “What about you?”
“I’ll catch something later. None of ‘em caught my fancy.”
“Not a lot does.” He could see the wheels turning behind her eyes, as though she were trying to formulate an especially witty and pointed remark.
He didn’t give her time. “You’re the one who was bored, not me.”
“Well, yes, but these parties are boring. The drugs don’t do anything for me-”
“Nothing at all?” he asked with mild surprise. They might be vampires but he still got a buzz.
“That’s what I just said. The music is terrible and the company even worse. Can’t we do something exciting?”
He tugged a fag from the pack and lit it. “And what would you find exciting? Cutting my ‘ead off, maybe?”
“That might be a good start,” she admitted with a huff. He glared back and she softened. “Oh, you’re all right, I suppose. But can’t we do something ‘vampire-ish?’ It’s been five years and nothing has changed! We might as well still be human! Surely there has to be something more than this.”
“Ya got any ideas? I’m all ears.” He took a deep puff and breathed out a cloud of vaporous smoke. “What do ya expect to ‘appen? Vampires are just people who live forever, so of course it’s all the same.”
“But we don’t have to hang out with… them!” she made a sweeping gesture towards the house and its mortal occupants. “Shouldn’t we be with our own kind?”
He snickered. “Vampires ain’t big on packs. Why d’ya think I’m by myself. How long do ya want to spend with someone before you’re tired of them?”
“Well I’m tired of this.” Iris stomped her foot for emphasis and the porch shuddered just a little. “I want some adventure!”
The door opened and Agnes appeared, licking her lips and smiling serenely. “He was delicious!” she declared as she came to a stop before them and grabbed Nirel’s hand. “Are we ready?”
Iris narrowed her eyes. “Yes, more ready than you can guess.”
It was still drizzling the next evening. Iris donned a rain poncho and bulldozed her way out the door. Agnes didn’t bother with a coat, only grabbed Nirel’s arm and dragged him into the rain.
“Oh!” she cried with delight. “The drops are cold! Do you feel them?”
“Eh, not really.” His gaze swept from her rapt face to the fringe of dark trees that bordered the property. Over the sound of the storm he could hear Iris clomping through the underbrush, pointedly searching for soggy prey.
“What?” His attention swung back to her. “Sorry.”
She batted his apology aside. “I said try! Here!” She grabbed his arm and extended it, forcing his palm up. “Now concentrate. Feel the drops as they land on your fingers.”
He sighed inwardly. If it would shut her up he’d play along. “Yeah, yeah. I feel it. Cold.”
“See?” She giggled and released him so she could step away and look up at the dark sky. “Iris is angry.”
“Yeah, I know. She’s bored.”
Agnes’s face clouded and she met his eyes. “Are you?”
He looked back to the trees and bit off another sigh. “Love, I’ve been bored since I was born.”
“Even when you’re with me?”
He cringed at the clingy question. “Agnes-”
“It’s all right. You don’t need to answer.” She followed his gaze and stared at the trees as if she could see through them. “She wants to leave.”
The non sequitur jarred him. “What?”
“Iris. She wants to leave you. She wants to go that guild place where the other vampires are.”
Nirel shoved his hands in his pockets. “It isn’t what she thinks it is, like some kind of bloody summer camp. It’s just a place where some of them go, mainly the prats who rule the rest of us. What she wants is a proper coven, but even that won’t be what she’s ‘oping for. They just turn on you when it suits ‘em and leave you behind to take the fall.”
Agnes caught his arm and said softly, “You could come with us.”
“Not if you’re goin’ to the bloody Guild. I’m sorry, love, but that’s not a place I want to visit.”
She sagged against him, her voice a whisper nearly lost among the rain drops. “What am I supposed to do? I can’t leave her but…” she turned to him with liquid eyes. “Please, Nirel? I know you don’t love me, but-”
The answer was on his face and she looked away. “It isn’t fair! Why must I always choose? Why is it always what she wants or what I want? Why can’t we both be happy?”
Her misery was too much for him. “Look, maybe you should let ‘er go by ‘erself? You could stay ‘ere and we could… I don’t know. We could do sumthin’.”
She shook her head emphatically. “I can’t leave her, you have to understand. We’ve always been together. I just – I can’t!” She exploded in a shower of tears and ran for the house.
Nirel took an absent step to follow her, then stopped. He could hear the squishy-squashy sound of Iris stomping her way across the lawn towards him.
“She told you?”
He didn’t bother to face her. “Yeah. So when ya leavin’?”
He could imagine the way her face scrunched up. “You don’t have to sound so delighted about it! You might pretend you care about her!”
“Why bother?” He turned for the trees. “I’m gonna go feed. I’ll be back.”
Iris shrieked after him, “You’re a jerk!”
Maybe I am, but you’re a petulant cow.
He half expected them to be gone when he returned. They weren’t. Agnes sat in a chair in the kitchen, her skinny knees up to her chin. Iris banged around deeper in the house; in the bedroom, it sounded like. Ah, I bet she’s packing. Well good riddance.
Nirel shook his shaggy red hair out and wiped the rain from his face. He peeled off his sodden shirt and jacket and tossed them in the sink, then he dropped into one of the kitchen chairs. “She’s in an ‘urry?”
Agnes answered with no enthusiasm, “Yeah. Once she makes up her mind she likes to jump right into it.” They fell silent and she dropped her legs and leaned on the table. Absently, she traced a circle on the table top, the mark from an old moisture ring. “She spent so long sick. We couldn’t do anything; we couldn’t even go outside when we were little.” She sought his eyes, pleading. “You have to understand.”
He leaned back in the chair and noted the soft creak of the wood. “I never said that I didn’t.”
Iris’s voice floated from the bedroom, “I can hear you, you know!”
Agnes dropped her head to the table. “Yeah, I know,” she murmured. “So what are you going to do- once we leave, I mean?”
He realized suddenly that it was their house. They’d grown up there, in the middle of nowhere Indiana, two sickly girls, their aging mother and her religion. From what he understood it had been powerful enough to count as a fourth inhabitant. “I dunno. Go find sumthin’ to do, I reckon.”
“You could stay here. We’ll probably come back.”
“Yeah, maybe.” The tension was heavy; like the shadows that hung in the corners. He stood and stretched. “I’m gonna go to town. I’ll be back.”
He grabbed his wet shirt from the sink and hurried out the door. Agnes’s surprised face hung in his memory even as the door slammed behind him. Hurt and surprised.
What did she expect?
He took another hit and handed it to the girl across from him. She had red hair the color of a summer sunset and eyes like green grass and she was so blitzed out of her mind she didn’t even know where she was.
“What did you say?”
He hadn’t said anything, but that didn’t matter. “I said she’s leaving.”
Her red tinted eyebrows drew together. “Who’s leaving?”
“Agnes. She and her sister are packin’ their shit and ‘eading out.”
“Bummer. Is she your girl?”
“No.” He leaned back on his elbows. “She’s just a girl.”
The redhead held the smoke in her lungs, then let it out in a sweet scented cloud. “Did you date her a long time?”
He rolled his eyes. “Eh, five years.”
Her green eyes popped. “Wow, that is a long time. No wonder you’re so cut up.”
“I’m not cut up.” She offered the joint to him and he waved it away. “I don’t care.”
She was suddenly distracted by her hand. Obviously she’d been doing more than just pot. When she came back she blinked at him and asked again, “What?”
A guy in a dark blue pullover lounged behind her. “He was telling you about his girlfriend.”
“Oh were you?” She fixed him with a vacant stare. “What about her?”
Nirel ground his teeth to keep from snapping, “No, I wasn’t.” He was suddenly sick of the whole vapid, stupid crowd. They didn’t know their arse from a hole in the ground. They probably didn’t even know their own bleedin’ names. Iris was right, there had to be something more.
The thought filled him with fury and he bit off his words savagely, “I was tellin’ you ‘ow we met. It was snowing and I was ‘ungry and there was their house, out in the middle of nowhere. So, I go right up and I knock on the door.”
He could still see it in his head. The door was locked and he pounded on it. He could smell their blood and he wanted it; he needed it. It had been days since he’d fed. After the massacre, his coven had abandoned him and left him to take the punishment. He was the newest, after all, the least important. The redheaded executioner had spared him, but the lackeys had left him bound and gagged in the abandoned house. He’d had to wait for the rats to chew through the rope. He’d caught one of them, but the rest of them ran and he’d stumbled out into the snow, looking for something better.
He’d knocked, over and over and over. Finally the door opened and the woman had stared at him. Short and gray, with cold, hard, unrelenting eyes; eyes that promised to suffocate those they loved and destroy any who endangered their carefully arranged kingdom. The kind of eyes that haunted a person’s dreams.
He’d killed her on the doorstep. Her blood splashed up the door and when he’d drained her he’d almost licked it off the woodwork, except he could smell the others; two others. It wasn’t just their blood, but the odor of a sick room. They’d be weak…
The guy in the pullover cut into his memories, “So what happened?”
An evil smile stretched across Nirel’s face. “I killed their mother and then I went through the ‘ouse ‘til I found the sisters cowering in the bedroom, dressed in their nightclothes and beggin’ me to spare ‘em. But I was too ‘ungry, so I drained ‘em both and now I’m gonna do the same to you.”
The red haired girl blinked vacantly. “What?”
Her question ended in a scream.
Nirel wiped the blood off of his face and left. The screen door slammed with echoing finality. Someone was bound to find the two bodies soon. Maybe later tonight. Maybe tomorrow. The others had run from what they’d later think was a drug induced hallucination.
He hadn’t needed to kill them. They normally didn’t; they just took some and left them alive. But tonight was the kind of night to revel in death and blood. It felt good. It felt like some kind of power.
The rain had slowed, but it still dripped in fat, splatting drops. Nirel walked randomly and listened to the noise in his head. It was nonsense and it didn’t make him feel any better.
The sky was rosy to the east when he ducked into an abandoned root cellar. It smelled of earth and wet and mold. He flopped across a bin of rotten potatoes and closed his eyes. He could see Agnes; see her huddled in a ball on the floor in the bedroom, crammed back as if to hide from him. Iris was on the bed, her hair cropped short and her arms waifishly thin. She squinted at him, no doubt trying to make sense of the smeared vision of a withered monster. He grabbed her first, only because she was closer. Her skin tasted like sweat and medicine, and her blood had the bitter tang of chemicals, but he didn’t care. It tasted like life to him.
Agnes screamed and lunged at his legs. She sobbed and begged him to stop. “Not my sister. No! Not her! Me! Take me!” and he hadn’t cared. One was as good as another. He dropped Iris back to the bed where she curled into a trembling ball, her hand to her neck.
He remembered how Agnes’s tears had tasted, and how hot her blood was as it filled his mouth. Iris cried; a constant flow of inaudible whimpers meant to be pleas. And there, in Agnes’s mind he saw it all. He saw the two girls, born weak and sickly. Saw the day their father left them. Saw their mother and her despair. Saw as Iris got better, then worse, as Agnes, the youngest but strongest battled for a life and ran away, only to find that the world outside was cruel. He watched her crawl home, her dead dreams packed away in her suitcase with her toothbrush.
And he’d turned her rather than watch her die. Not because he cared but…
Because I was bored.
His rest was patchy at best, and he was grateful when twilight came.
The rain had stopped and stars peeped between tattered clouds in the deepening sky above him. He trudged the familiar path back to the lonely clapboard house. No lights shone in the windows, and he hesitated on the lawn for a moment before he plunged through the door into the silent kitchen.
“’ello?” He didn’t know why he bothered. He already knew they were gone.
He didn’t turn the light on. He didn’t need it. He could see in the dark, like he was supposed to. Not like them.
An envelope lay on the table and he picked it up. He recognized Agnes’s slanting handwriting. “To Nirel” it said, and underneath in smaller letters she’d added a hasty, “Please read this. XXO.”
He stuffed it in his pocket and dropped into the kitchen chair he’d been in the night before. “You have to understand,” she’d said, and he did. He understood.
“No skin off my nose, eh?” The darkness creaked around him, as if the house and its ghosts were answering, so he added, louder this time, “You ‘ere me? It’s no skin off my nose. I don’t care what they do. I don’t care where they go. You ‘ere me? I don’t care-”
He broke off and laughed softly to himself. “Goin’ crackers already, ain’t I?”
The wind whispered through the corners, and he shivered. He imagined he could feel their mother’s eyes on him, like they’d been that first night. They were angry eyes. Vengeful eyes. Eyes that wanted to punish him for what he’d taken away.
He stood and made show of gathering his things, as if to prove to the phantoms that he was leaving. With his bag over his shoulder he thumped out of the house and locked the door behind him. The key seemed to burn his fingers, but he didn’t know what to do with it. Stick it in a plant somewhere? Toss it in the creek?
He settled for jamming it into his pocket with the letter. Her letter. What could she have to say to him? Probably more clingy, whiny bullshit.
“I love you enough for the both of us.”
But it didn’t matter because he didn’t love her. He’d never loved her.
And he’d keep telling himself that.
Yeah, so it actually DOES tie in with some characters who should be showing up in the fifth book (Iris and Agnes, that is). Actually, Iris has a short cameo in the Ashes of Deceit. But hey, Que Sera, Sera.
Anyway, next up is Patrick. I am pretty sure I know what story I am doing for him, so it may be easy. Then again, sometimes that makes it harder…
Michael – Blogophilia 8.5
It’s time for Blogophilia, the fun blog group where Marvin gives participants prompts to use in their weekly posting. This week’s prompts are:
- Blogophilia week 8.5 – “A Happy Journey”
- Bonus Points:
- (Hard, 2pts): mention 3 songs with a color in their title
- (Easy, 1pt): quote Pink Floyd
I am too late to actually get any points, but here it is, anyway. It’s is another vampire morsel, a story about a character from my Amaranthine series that, for one reason or another, never got to say much. As an especially snifty thing I am slowly revising these and publishing them on Smashwords as freebie reads. Eventually I’m planning to bundle them altogether into a single volume, but that’s something in the distant future, as there are several tales to tell!
(You can find Michael in Shades of Gray . This story takes place roughly two and a half years before Shades of Gray starts)
CONTENT WARNING: Language, mild sexual content and some violence.
Michael’s mother shoved a piece of paper into his hand. “Call them.”
He muted the TV and glanced disinterestedly at the phone number scrawled in hurried ink. “Who is it?”
“It’s a about a job, Mikey. You’ve been out for two months and all you do is lay on the couch and watch TV. Pat’s more productive than you, and that’s saying something. I told you the only way you’re staying here is if you work!”
“What kinda work is it?”
Yard work? What did his mom think he was? “I don’t know shit about yard work and I’m too smart for that crap anyway. I’m not some manual laborer.”
“No, you’re so clever, aren’t you? So clever that you landed yourself in jail! For God’s sake where else are you going to get a job with two drug convictions?” She tossed a cell phone onto his chest. “Call.”
There was no point in arguing when she was in one of her moods – not for him anyway. His brother Patrick could have sweet talked her, but hell, he could sweet talk a harpy if he put his mind to it. “Fine, whatever. I’m callin’, I’m callin.”
He dialed the number and waited. The rings peeled off, one, two, three, four, five –
“Hello?” The voice had an accent that made Michael think of Mr. Belvedere. “The Durand residence. How may I help you?”
“Um, yeah. My mom told me to call about the lawn job or whatever.”
There was a pause and then, “Are you enquiring for the sake of employment?”
Mr. Belvederedrew an audible breath through his nose. “Name please?”
“Mr. Mullins, please come to the manor tonight after dark. The master will wish to speak with you.” He gave him a handful of directions, then bid him a crisp goodbye.
At his mother’s question, Michael snapped the phone closed and tossed it back to her. “I have to see ‘the master’ tonight.” He tried to add the right snooty inflection, but failed. “Sounds like a pain in the ass.”
Michael found the ‘manor’ easily enough – it was the only set of iron gates in the county. He drove through them, his eyes wide. The house was huge. Made of stone, it was decorated at seemingly random intervals with angels and gargoyles, like something from a horror flick. Bright light shone from its many windows in yellow patches.
Michael wasn’t sure where to park, so he pulled the Geo off to the side. On his way to the front porch, he paused at a large carved fountain ringed with cherubs. On closer inspection, he discovered that the seemingly innocent angels had bat wings and fangs.
“Man this place is whack!”
The front door was large and made of polished wood and frosted glass. The sound of music and laughter leaked out through it and he wondered if they were having a party.
He knocked and the door was opened by a tall thin man in a suit. “Yes?”
The accent and attitude were the same as the man on the phone. “Um, yeah, I was supposed to come about the yard job?”
“Of course.” The butler – Michael was sure that was what he had to be – looked down his nose. “This way please.”
He led Michael into a grand entrance hall. A set of sweeping staircases filled one wall and glittering chandeliers hung from the ceiling. At the far end, between the staircases, a set of French doors opened onto a room full of people. Michael caught a glimpse of glittering jewelry and swishing skirts before the butler led him away.
He followed the man down a long hallway to a white room. “Wait here.” And then the butler shut the door and disappeared.
Michael moved uncertainly to a green velvet chair and sat down in front of a large desk. His eyes roamed the room; a suit of armor stood in one corner. Jeweled medieval weapons hung on the walls and glinted from glass fronted display cabinets. Above the desk hung an old portrait of a mustached man, and a well polished silver sword.
The door suddenly opened and the butler walked in, followed by a young sneering man who might have been eighteen. His blonde hair was pulled back and he was dressed in a ruffled shirt and vest like someone from one of the PBS shows Michael’s mother watched.
They must be having some kind of costume party.
The young man moved behind the desk and glared at Michael as if he expected him to do something.
“Hello?” he suggested.
The young man looked ready to shout, but instead he drew a deep breath and sat down. Without a word, he gestured to the butler.
The servant quickly took his place next to the desk. “The master would like to welcome you.”
The master? Fuck he’s just a kid! Must be fucking nice to get born into all of this!
The butler explained the job. It was basic grounds keeping; mowing, hedge trimming, cleaning out the creepy fountain. Basically, he only needed to worry about the front and side lawns. The extensive gardens in the back of the property were under the domain of the gardener.
When he finished, Michael asked, “How much does it pay?”
“Two hundred dollars a week.”
For two hundred dollars Michael wanted to say no, but he thought of his mom. She was right. Where the hell else was he gonna get a job with no references and no questions asked?
There were no contracts to sign, only the instructions to be back the next morning. The master glared at him with searing eyes. At the first chance, Michael stood and gave a quick, “Okay, thanks. I’ll be here tomorrow.”
He made it to the door before a cold voice drawled, “There is one more thing.”
Michael turned around to find the blonde kid staring at him. “Uh, what?”
“We value our privacy. At no time are you to be in the house, unless you are invited in. Do you understand?” A thousand terrible threats glittered in his eyes and suddenly that house was the last place Michael wanted to be.
“What if I have a problem or something?”
“Then you will knock on the door and wait for someone to answer it and address your problem.”
Michael managed to nod and with a gesture he was dismissed.
He couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
The next morning, Michael’s mom kicked him off the couch and out the door. The manor was only slightly more friendly in the sunlight. The fanged cherubs in the fountain seemed to leer at him as he parked the Geo and made his way to the door.
The butler showed him to a shed where the tools were, including a brand new lawn mower. He gave him a set of basic instructions and waved towards the collection as if their actual functions were beneath him. Then he left.
What the fuck did I get myself into?
Michael was sweaty and out of sorts by the time he got home. His brother was on the porch, a beer in his hand. “Have fun at work?”
“Ah, fuck you, Pat.” Michael dropped next to him and groaned. “My back is killing me.”
Patrick snickered. “So how’d the first day go?”
“Like shit. The fucking butler is a prick. After I got done he walked around the yard pointing out everything I missed and said next time I should do a more ‘thorough job’. I’ll give him a thorough job, ass hole.”
Patrick laughed. “You gonna quit?”
Before he could answer, his mom leaned out the door and quipped, “No, he’s not!” She leveled her gaze with Michael. “If you quit this job, then you can find somewhere else to live. And you-“ she jabbed Patrick in the back “-if you encourage him you’ll be out on your ass, too. It’s time you both grow up and take responsibility for your lives.”
She went on and Patrick mimed a chattering mouth with his hand. Michael snorted and snagged his beer. It wasn’t as if they hadn’t heard this before. It’s like some kind of periodic ritual.
The job didn’t improve; it got weirder and worse. He hadn’t seen the master – or anyone for that matter – since his interview. It was like the whole place was deserted, except for the butler. The asshole of a butler. The man was too picky. Every time he inspected Michael’s work, he’d add something new that Michael needed to do. By the third week it took so long to get everything done that he was working into twilight.
Michael slammed the shed door closed and wiped the sweat from his forehead. The night bugs were already screaming in the trees and lights were popping on in the manor’s many windows. This might only be three days a week, but it ain’t worth this shit for two hundred bucks.
He clomped towards the house and banged on the door – the side door, they couldn’t have the lowly help accessing the front entrance, now could they? – and waited for the butler. If that jackass finds something to criticize tonight I swear to God I’ll fucking quit. He can do his own fucking weed whacking!
The door opened, but instead of the sneering, suited man, there was a bald guy with cold gray eyes. “What d’ya want?”
“A million dollars, what do you think? I just finished the yard and I’m going home.”
“Oh, you’re the yard guy. You better come in and tell Miguel. This isn’t my deal.”
Michael wanted to argue, but there was something about the man’s eyes that made him shiver. Like that master guy. “Yeah, okay.”
He followed the bald guy into the house. He led him through a pair of paneled rooms and into a large, sparkling kitchen. The butler stood next to a table, supervising a pair of women who were frantically packing ice into what looked like a giant punch bowl. He looked up and narrowed his eyes at Michael. “What do you want?”
The bald guy answered for him. “He’s done with the yard and he looks pretty worn out.” He clamped a hand on Michael’s back. Though the gesture was supposed to seem friendly, it made Michael shiver. “I thought we might invite him to the party.”
The butler winced. “As you wish, Master Troy, though perhaps you should ask the master’s permission?”
“Ah, Claudius won’t mind. He was moaning last night about how bored he was.”
Though Troy stood behind him, Michael could almost feel his smile. It made his skin crawl. “That’s okay. I should probably get home, anyway.”
“Nonsense. It’ll be great. The best party you’ll ever go to!” With a little too much force he steered him towards the door and through the house to the entrance way. Michael was surprised to see several people, all dressed to the teeth, loitering near the stairs. In the center of the group was the blonde haired kid – the master, again dressed like something form a historical.
He turned to the new arrivals and his face turned dark. “What are you doing in the house?”
Troy answered for him. “It’s okay, I invited him in. We need some new blood at these things.” He broke into a boisterous laugh that was taken up by a few of the others.
The hilarity melted away as a group of young women came down the stairs. Michael had to forcibly hold his mouth closed. Holy shit! They’re fucking’ hot! Though hot didn’t do them justice; they were beautiful, like something off of TV or a glossy magazine page and he couldn’t look away.
It was the girl in the middle of the group who knocked the breath from his chest. Her hair was long and pale blonde and she wore a midnight blue dress that fell to her feet. She came to a stop before them and Michael choked. Her eyes matched her dress and they were like staring into an endless ocean. For a wild moment he wanted to drown in them and forget everything else, but the reality of her age pulled him back. She couldn’t have been a day over fifteen.
Too fuckin’ young for you. That’s jail bait right there.
Claudius caught her hand and brushed his lips across it. As he dropped it, he looked to Troy. “Should your joke go amiss, you’ll take his place mowing the lawn.”
Troy’s demeanor changed for a moment, like slipping from one shirt to the next. “As you command.” He gave a stiff, formal bow and then tugged Michael away. “Come on boy, those aren’t the ones you’re looking for.”
Michael followed, still wrapped in the spell of her ocean colored eyes. It was only the giggles of a threesome of women that pulled him out of it. He blinked at them stupidly. Man, more hotties? What is this place? Like the playboy mansion?
The darker of the three grabbed him by the front of his tank top and pulled him towards her. “It could be,” she murmured, her breath cool on his face. “Why don’t you come with us and find out?”
Warning bells went off in the back of his mind, but they were muffled by another thought. When am I ever gonna get a chance at something this hot again? The answer was never and he wasn’t about the throw away his one shot.
Troy seemed to evaporate. Michael looked from the spot he’d been standing in to find he was in a ball room. One wall was made of shining mirrors and, as he watched, one of the panels opened in the shape of a door – a secret door – and a well dressed couple slid out. The woman dripped with jewels and the man-
“Are you coming?”
Michael looked to the girls, and managed to nod. With a chorus of giggles, they led him through a maze of glittering rooms. His eyes strayed from their breasts to the opulent surroundings long enough to think, Holy shit, this guy’s got more money than I thought, but then his attention was pulled back to the ladies, almost against his will.
The room they stopped in was a bedroom, or it had the air of a bedroom, but there was no bed. Only a chaise lounge and a scattering of other furniture. The girls pulled him to the lounge and knocked him back onto it. He laid back, a stupid grin on his face as the darker girl hitched up her skirt so that she could climb on top of him, straddling him with a pair of long, tanned legs. She leaned close to him. Her lips moved down his jaw and to his throat, where they stopped. She flicked out her tongue and licked him, as if testing the flavor. He moaned and shifted, arching his back and grinding his hips into her. Over her shoulder he could see the other two girls, holding hands and licking their lips.
“Are you ready for the night of your life?” she asked, her voice a whisper against his skin.
Patrick let out a lungful of smoke. “And then what?”
Michael shook his head and snagged the joint back. “I dunno man, it’s all a blur after that.” He took a hit and held the smoke, though it leaked out with his words. “I’m tellin’ ya though, whatever it was, it was fuckin’ wild.”
“Yeah, no shit. I can see the hickies.” Patrick took the joint back and balanced it in his fingers. “It looks like they chewed on your neck.”
Michael exhaled the smoke and ignored his comment. “I been thinkin’ about something. I mean, shit they got a lot of stuff in that house. I mean a lot of stuff that has to be worth a fortune.”
“They’re rich man, that tends to happen.”
“No, you’re not getting me. Think about it. They got all this really rich stuff, right? But there’s no one there all day. I mean no one.”
“Are you listening to me? Man, you’re like ignoring me. You’re always ignoring me.”
Patrick giggled, “Okay, say it again. I’m listening.”
“There’s no one there and they got all this stuff. There’s just that fucking butler, Miguel hanging around. I hate that prick. I hate that fucking smarmy master kid, he thinks he’s so clever. I know he does. He sat there are smarmy mouthed and shit like he was better than me, but he ain’t, and he ain’t smarter. I’m smarter. I’m smarter and I’m gonna use my brains. I hate that job but I need money. We go in, we take the shit, and we sell it for money. And if that prick of a butler catches us we fucking kill him.”
Patrick exploded into laughter. “Are you fucking serious?”
Michael frowned. “Yeah, I’m fucking serious. We could be rich. Rich enough to get outta this place and buy a real life.”
Patrick exhaled a thick cloud of smoke and eyed his brother. “Man, money don’t buy a life. You want a life, you gotta do something with it.”
“And you gotta have money to do that.” Despite his buzz, Michael felt suddenly sour. “You in or what?”
“Come on Mikey-”
“Don’t Mikey me. Are you fucking in or out?”
Patrick’s good mood flickered. “You’re just fucked up. When you sober up-”
“In or out?”
All signs of amusement disappeared. “I’m out, Mikey. It’s a stupid plan that’s gonna get your ass back in jail.”
“Fine. Who needs you anyway? You know what? Fuck you.” He jerked to his feet. “I’ll do it on my own.”
Patrick snorted. “Only a moron would do it.”
Angry words stuck in Michael’s throat and his only response was a strangled noise of fury before he slammed out the door.
The sun was high in the sky when Michael stopped. He dropped the weed whacker to the ground and leaned against the house. I don’t give a fuck what Pat says. I’m sick of this shit.
He reached into his pocket and wrapped his fingers around the cool metal of the gun. It was just a Colt Junior, snagged from his mother’s purse, but it was enough to take care of Miguel if he needed to. Part of him hoped the fucking butler got nosey. He could picture the self-righteous prick with a hole between his eyes.
He kicked the weed whacker for good measure and marched towards the house. Instead of knocking on the side door, he threw it opened and charged inside. He paused in the doorway to the next room, waiting, the gun drawn and ready in his nervous hand.
When Miguel didn’t appear, Michael lowered the weapon and tried to come up with a plan. He hadn’t brought a bag and since he was alone he couldn’t carry much. It would be better to find a couple of small things that were worth a lot.
He thought of the bejeweled weapons in the office, and hurried through the unfamiliar house, opening doors. When he finally found the office, he also found the butler.
Miguel was hunched over the desk, a drawer opened and his eyes bulging with guilt and surprise. He was going through ‘the master’s’ stuff, but Michael didn’t care. He raised the gun in a single motion and, before the startled butler could react, he pulled the trigger.
The sound was loud; louder than Michael had expected. He stared, dumbfounded at the butler, who stared back. Then Miguel looked down to where a red spot blossomed against his white shirt. With a strangled gasp, he clutched his bleeding chest and exclaimed, “Oh my God!” before he tumbled backwards and fell over the chair.
Michael held the gun out and noticed that the barrel shook. Holy fuck. I shot him. I fucking shot him. Oh my God.
He staggered back and dropped the gun. He could hear the butler moaning. Why is he making so much noise? Shut up! Shut up!
He hurried around the desk and stared down at him. Miguel lay half on his side, clutching his chest. Blood leaked from between his fingers. Michael’s hands clenched and unclenched and he looked around wildly. What should he do? Should he hit him in the head with something? His eyes landed on the silver sword on the wall and he thoughtlessly pulled it down.
He turned back to Miguel and raised the sword like a baseball bat. The butler choked and grabbed his leg. His blood smeared on Michael’s jeans. He stared ta it; at the bright red against the pale blue denim. Miguel gasped out, “Help me.”
Michael slammed him in the head with the flat of the blade. Miguel cried out and he did it again and again and again. The room blurred and he lost track of it; lost track of himself. When he came back to reality he was shocked to see Miguel’s face and head beaten and sliced into a bloody pulp.
He backed away and dropped the sword to the floor. His arms were speckled with blood. Miguel’s blood. Somehow this didn’t feel like he thought. It had all gone wrong.
He ran from the room. His feet pounded down the corridor until he saw a bathroom. He ducked inside, his stomach heaving, but there was no toilet; only a sink and a bathtub. He turned in helpless circles. Bile gagged into his throat and mouth and he lurched for the tub. The vomit hit with enough force to splash back. Just like Miguel’s blood. The thought made him wretch harder.
When his stomach was empty he fell back on the floor, exhausted. He had to fix this. It was all fucked up and he had to fix it.
Wash away the blood, he told himself. He stood on shaking legs and turned on the sink. Fancy hand towels hung nearby and he wet them down and savagely swiped at the blood that speckled his arms, chest and face. Just get rid of the blood. It’s okay. It’s okay.
He dropped the ruined towel in the sink and stared at himself in the mirror. Wild blue eyes stared back; eyes that didn’t have a plan. He needed a plan. He’d killed someone and if he got caught it wouldn’t be jail this time, but prison. He’d have to get out of the country. Maybe Mexico? But to do that he needed money.
He took a deep breath. Come on man, you’re smart. You can do this. And he could. He was in a fucking mansion surrounded by money. He just needed to grab something and get out. But what? He couldn’t stand the thought of going back to the office. Fuck, there’s stuff everywhere. Just grab something.
When he could walk with steady steps he followed the corridor back to the entrance hall. His eyes fell on the double French doors and the ballroom beyond He thought of the mirrored wall and the secret door. If the stuff upstairs was worth a fortune then what would be down there?
He felt along the wall, desperate fingers scrabbling at the smooth glass. “How the fuck do you open this? Come on!”
As if by command, something clicked and the door sprang opened. He gave a soft cry of delight and ran down the dark narrow stairs. The light gave out before he reached the bottom and he stumbled when he hit the floor. He flicked his cigarette lighter to life and examined the room by its wavering flame. Candles in massive golden holders stood on either side of the door. He hurried to light one of them, then turned back to the room to find ten large wooden boxes neatly arranged in rows. Excitement coursed through him as he thought about what must be inside. He envisioned gold, like treasure from a long forgotten children’s cartoon.
He hurried to the first and pried open the lid. There was no gold inside, but a man with a pale face and closed eyes.
Holy shit! He’s dead!
Michael jumped back and knocked into the candleholder. It fell with a clatter and the candle went out. In the dark he scrambled for his lighter and flicked it to life in time to see the figure leering over him, mouth opened, fangs gleaming.
He grabbed the fallen candlestick and swung it. It slammed into the guy’s head and sent him sprawling. Michael scrambled to his feet and raced up the stairs, his heart pounding in time to his footfalls. He skidded through the ballroom and out the double back doors to the sun drenched veranda. He cast a look back and saw the guy burst through the secret door, half of his head bashed in and bleeding.
Oh my God! How is he still walking? He should be dead!
The man saw him, and with a fanged, inhuman snarl lunged towards him, but stopped just before he reached the pool of late afternoon sunlight that spilled through the doors. He gave a wordless cry of fury, and then turned and shouted, “Miguel! Where the hell are you, you worthless piece of shit? Miguel!”
Several more men appeared, storming through the secret door, fangs bared. Just as the first had done, they skidded to a halt at the edge of the sunlight.
Michael was frozen in place by terror, but when no attack came his muscles began to uncoil. What the fuck? Why aren’t they coming out here to get me?
And then he decided he didn’t care why. With a final, horrified look at the snarling crowd, he ran.
He took a shower and changed his clothes. His mother came home from work. She made dinner. He ate. Patrick came shuffling in the door, smelling like alcohol and cracking jokes. Despite the fact there was a dead butler at the manor, the police didn’t come. The world moved on just as it always had and Michael floated above it in a surreal bubble of confusion.
Maybe I dreamed it? He ducked into the bathroom and fished through the hamper for his jeans. Speckled and smeared with blood, they matched his memories. Something had happened at that house.
He had a word for what they were; what he thought they were, but it felt ridiculous on his tongue. Vampires weren’t real. They couldn’t be. And yet, there they’d been, or something very like them. He’d seen their fangs. He’d seen them stop at the patch of sunlight. There was no other explanation and, despite the absurdity, so many things made sense now. Why the house was deserted in the daytime, why there was a secret door, and coffin-like boxes in the basement. Why they hadn’t gone to the police yet. It was because they couldn’t risk an investigation!
With that realization, Michael relaxed. He was safe. They couldn’t do anything to him because he knew; he knew what they were and if they so much as breathed wrong he’d tell everyone. He’d take the police to the manor in the daylight, show them the secret door and lead them down to the basement. He’d tell the whole God damned world! And then what would they do?
The more he thought about it, the more he realized his silence was worth something. They had plenty of money. They could afford to give him some. No, they should give him some! He deserved it!
He jammed the jeans back in the hamper and strode through the house. His mom and Patrick were on the couch, he tossed “I’ll be back,” at them and headed out the door. As it shut behind him he heard Patrick laughingly call, “Have a happy journey!”
The lights were blazing in the manor windows when Michael parked the Geo. He climbed out, straightened his shoulders and marched to the front porch where he pounded on the door. Fuck having to slink in the side entrance.
The door opened and Troy stared at him. “Well, well, you came back.” He grinned, his fangs clearly visible.
Michael flinched back from the teeth. His cowardice embarrassed him, and he snapped out, “Damn straight I came back. I want to talk to Claudius. Now.”
Troy moved back so he could enter, “Then come on in.”
Michael walked into the entrance hall. People – no, vampires – stood around in tiny clusters, holding glasses of red wine. No, not wine. I bet that’s blood.
At that thought Michael suddenly wasn’t so sure of himself, but he’d be damned if he let them know it!
He followed Troy past the curious stares and down the hallway, towards the office. As they walked, they passed the three women from the other night. The ladies giggled and waved at him. Their full lips curved into fanged smiles and they laughed when he winced away.
Troy stopped and held the office door opened. “In here. I’ll go fetch Claudius.”
Michael hesitated. Behind his eyes he pictured Miguel lying on the floor in a pool of blood, his face and head mutilated. He couldn’t face that room, but he didn’t have a choice. Without waiting for a response, Troy walked away and there was nothing for him to do but go inside.
Come on, you can do it. Just go in there and get this shit over with.
He forced his feet to move over the threshold and then into the room. The silver sword he’d used on Miguel was clean and hanging on the wall above the old portrait. What did you expect? Did you think they just left the mess?
He sat in the green velvet chair in front of the desk and waited. When Claudius swept through the door, Michael’s heart froze in his chest. He took his place behind the desk and crossed one leg over the other. Troy followed and stopped next to the desk, an amused twinkle in his eyes.
When Michael didn’t speak, Claudius snapped, “What do you want?”
This guy is just a kid, Michael reminded himself. I’m older than he is. He’s just a stupid kid and I’m smarter. I’ll show him. He cleared his throat and announced with as much bravado as he could muster, “I know what you are.”
Claudius arched a single brow and tapped his fingers on the desk. “Do you, now? Somehow I doubt it.”
“I do,” Michael insisted. “You’re-” the word stuck, as if it was too silly to say. “You’re vampires.”
“Well, well. It seems you’re more intelligent than I gave you credit for.” Claudius leaned back in his chair. “So, we’re vampires. What of it?”
Shit. Michael had expected him to deny it. Some rational part of himself had even hoped Claudius would simply laugh and churn out another explanation – an explanation that made more sense. His voice turned hard to hide his discomfort, “So if you want me to keep quiet you’re gonna have to make it worth my while. I want one million dollars, in cash, or I tell everyone I can find.”
Claudius made a strange noise in his throat and stood, his back to Michael and his eyes on the portrait that hung over his desk. “Do you know who this is?”
Michael blinked at the non sequitur. “What?”
“The portrait.” Claudius turned to face him, his eyes cold, blue fire. “He was my father.” Claudius fetched the silver sword down from the wall and Michael shifted uncomfortably. The young man held it at arm’s length, as if checking the edge. “Do you know what happened to him?”
The atmosphere in the room changed perceptibly, and Michael looked to the door, only to see that Troy now stood in front of it, that fanged smile on his face. “No.”
Claudius’ tone was emotionless. “I killed him, with this sword. And do you know what I learned?”
Beads of sweat popped out on Michael’s forehead. “Uh, no?”
“I learned that it’s all rather pointless. Even a worthy foe is not so worthy once they’ve fallen at your feet in a pool of their own blood. And an unworthy foe… Well…” He looked to Troy. “Deal with him.”
Michael yelped and tried to get out of the chair, but Troy was too fast. He pinned him back, fangs flashing as he bit though his throat. Michael screamed and fought, hands and arms flailing. He managed to pitch himself, chair and all, backwards, and scrambled away, his neck torn and screaming in pain. He pressed a hand to it and came away with a palm full of blood. His own blood.
Troy lunged at him again, Michael dodged, but only barely. The bald vampire grabbed him and threw him across the room. He smashed into one of the display cases in a flurry of glass and bits of wood.
“Watch the furniture!” Claudius shouted.
Michael tried to scramble to his feet, but his leg wouldn’t work right. He looked to see it bent at an odd angle. Oh fuck, it’s broken. Oh fuck. Oh-
Troy grabbed him by the front of his shirt and pulled him up. He shrieked as his weight landed on his leg. He had a momentary glimpse of Troy’s flashing fangs before the vampire ripped into his throat again.
The pain was more than Michael could stand. It radiated out from the bite, like fire under his skin. He twitched and tried to scream, though the sound was more a gurgle than a cry. The edges of his vision turned black and the room smeared; shiny white walls, shiny metal weapons.
Troy obeyed Caudius’ command and dropped Michael back to the floor in a bloody heap. He choked on his own blood and reached a hand to his neck to try to stem the flow. Oh God.
Claudius stood over him, a self satisfied smirk on his cold face. “You thought you could get the best of me? You, a petty mortal! Where is your cleverness now? You slip out of your depth and out of your mind with your fear flowing out behind you in crimson rivers. Death stands behind you in the shadows, ready to drag you to hell. Was it worth it?”
Troy leaned casually on the desk. “Death is too good for someone like this. I got a better idea.”
Claudius snapped his attention to his subordinate, no doubt angry that his poetic scene had been interrupted. “And what would that be?”
“We should keep him. Since he killed Miguel we’re short handed.”
Claudius clucked his tongue and looked over Michael’s bleeding, broken form. “We have enough humans, I don’t want any more. Especially one we can’t trust.”
Troy’s cruel eyes turned crueler. “Then don’t leave him human. Have someone turn him.” His gaze shifted to the group of vampires who stood in the hall, peering in, no doubt drawn by the noise. Among them was a young woman in a red dress, her eyes on the floor. “Elsa’s a fairly new vampire and since Lennon turned her she doesn’t have any powers to pass on. Of course, you could just kill him, if you think that would be a better punishment. I just thought that dragging it out might make him think twice.”
The room tilted and Claudius’ answer turned into an ocean of unintelligible words in Michael’s ears. He tried to concentrate on what was happening, but it slipped through his grasp. Not like this. I can’t die like this.
Though Michael missed the beginning of the sentence he knew those words were a command. He looked up to see Elsa standing near him. Like all the other women there she was beautiful. Hell, even the men were beautiful. He was dying, surrounded by the beautiful people.
Elsa looked down at him, pity in her eyes. The command was repeated and her shoulders slouched with defeat. She knelt down, her knees in his blood. It was red, like her dress, like her lips, like the ring that was slowly expanding around his vision; a red circle slowly expanding to blot out the world.
Elsa wrinkled her nose at the mess on his neck and lifted his arm to her mouth. He felt her breath on his skin as she hesitated and then, with a last look to Claudius, she bit.
Michael gave a gurgle; a gurgle of blood, death, fear. Pain radiated from the bite, hot and burning, then morphed to something else; cool, soothing ocean waves that lapped over him. He looked at her, looked at her red lips wrapped around his arm, the curl of hair that fell in her face and those deep, brown eyes; eyes filled full of pity. Pity for him. Pity for her and pity for the new life he would lead.
A life of punishment.
Who’s the clever one now?
Next up is Nirel. I know I said that LAST time, but really. Nirel is next. He doesn’t have to tie into anything so like Kariss and Adam, I have no idea what it will be.
Kateesha – Blogophilia 3.5
It’s time for Blogophilia, the fun blog group where Marvin gives participants prompts to use in their weekly posting. This week’s prompts are:
Blogophilia 3.5 Topic: “You are cordially invited”Bonus Points:(Hard, 2pts): Incorporate: ‘Ice Water Castles’(Easy, 1pt): Include the name of Lady Godiva’s horse
This week is another vampire morsel, a story about a character from my Amaranthine series that, for one reason or another, never got to say much. As an especially snifty thing I am slowly revising these and publishing them on Smashwords as freebie reads. (Elsa just went up the other night) Eventually I’m planning to bundle them altogether into a single volume, but that’s something in the distant future, as there are several tales to tell!
(You can find kateesha in Shades of Gray & Legacy of Ghosts. Her story takes place in May, 1865, roughly a month after the end of the American Civil War)
CONTENT WARNING: Sex, blood and violence, not only separate but all together. You’ve been warned.
(Seriously, what can you expect from Kateesha?)
Kateesha and Daniel steered their horses through the trees. The night clung to their shoulders like the black cloaks they wore, and they moved through it wordlessly. Ahead, shafts of moonlight danced into a clearing. Kateesha stopped and threw back her hood. Her dark skin gleamed and her mahogany eyes skimmed the surroundings.
“I can smell them.”
Her partner reined his horse to a stop and looked left to right, his eyes invisible beneath his hood. Though she couldn’t see them, she knew them. She’d gazed into them more than once, watched as his pupils flared and shrank with blood lust. They made her think of another set of eyes; eyes so dark they seemed black, fringed in heavy lashes and shimmering with a thousand demons.
He’d been her partner so many times, in more ways than one. They’d come from the old world together, just her, him and their master. She’d sworn an oath of blood to them both, though she knew she would break it a thousand times over if Jorick told her to. On his word she’d betray Malick and damn the consequences.
She thought suddenly of her master. Though the ancient vampire was shorter than she was, he seemed a giant. His long beard and flowing hair were the color of fresh snow, and his eyes were like staring into the heart of a lightning storm. When she’d last seen him, he’d sat at a long table and glanced absently at a piece of parchment. “It appears we have a coven in Arkansas that has overstepped their bounds. My daughter, you and Daniel will bring these wayward children back to us so that I may chastise them myself.” A dark look came from one of the council members and Malick added, “Gently, of course.”
“Of course, Father.” Though they used those titles, the relationship was not of human birth. Rather, he was her father in blood; her father in darkness. The mysterious man who’d swept through the brothel and brought her an immortal kiss, promising her a new life and a mate for eternity.
“Where are they?”
Daniel’s question brought her back to the task at hand. “Near.” She motioned towards the source of the scent. “It appears they’ve chosen to gather in the woods. However, their den is not far from here, if our information is correct.” She spurred on her horse, “Giddyup, Aethenoth.”
The animal whinnied and followed her directions at an easy pace. Kateesha breathed in deeply, as if seeking assurance. Yes, she could smell them still. Five men, or the remnants of them now made immortal. They gathered around a campfire, no doubt more for comfort than for warmth or light. Beneath their scent was the smell of human blood from more than one source. They’d made their meal and either kept the corpses or neglected to clean themselves.
The camp fire was suddenly visible between the trees and she slowed her horse to a walk. Old leaves crunched beneath his hooves and small animals scurried away. Though vampires could move silently, the horses couldn’t.
She signaled to Daniel and they stopped and dismounted. She tugged a sword from her saddle and motioned him to do the same. She hid the weapon under her heavy black cloak and crept forward. As they drew closer, she could see five figures huddled around the fire. They wore tatty, stained gray uniforms, relics of the newly ended war. Beards sprouted from their chins and faces, clotted with gore and blood. Seven bodies lay crumpled on the ground around them. Five wore the Union blue. The other two had dark skin and were dressed as civilians, or more likely ex slaves. All of their throats were identically torn out. The youngest, a boy of perhaps fourteen, still twitched. His eyes rolled in his head and his blood dyed his shirt crimson.
Daniel laid a hand to Kateesha’s arm. She stopped, an annoyed question in her eyes.
“Perhaps I should speak with them?” he suggested.
The word was cold, and he shivered under its power. “Because you’re a woman. Few men take orders from ladies.”
His reason was a lie and they both knew it. It wasn’t her sex they might take exception to, but her color. Though the human’s president had freed the slaves, and been shot for his efforts, the citizens of the south still held the same opinions they had before. “I’m no lady, but fine.” Her tone was a soft purr. “You play the mighty man, and I’ll stand in the shadows this time.”
Daniel drew to the fore and she followed a few steps behind. They were nearly within the circle of light before the vampires noticed them. Their heads snapped up in unison and they squinted uncertainly at their visitors.
Kateesha reached out and touched their minds. As she moved from man to man, she saw scenes of blood and death; battlefields, dead comrades, a bleeding wife, a burned house, the twisted bodies of children. Yes, war was cruel and it had fostered this coven. They’d been nursed on the teat of destruction and nurtured by prejudice and ignorance. It was a coven destined to cause trouble.
The blonde nearest to the dying boy spoke first, “And who might ya’ll be?”
Daniel opened his cloak and flashed the silver medallion he wore around his neck; three pieces of intertwined metal that formed a twisted knot. “We’re here on official Guild business.”
A vague understanding washed over them. “If I rightly understand, that there Guild is the vampire gov’ment, ain’t it?”
Kateesha snickered behind her hood and Daniel answered impatiently, “Yes. Your presence is requested immediately.”
They laughed. Daniel’s body tensed. “This is no laughing matter.”
”Maybe it is and maybe it ain’t,” the blonde replied. He stepped forward and adjusted his bloody coat. “Why don’t yer try invitin’ us nicely?”
Daniel ground his teeth. Kateesha moved next to him and silenced him with a thought. “I’ll handle this.”
“Is that a woman?” a redhead demanded. “This gov’ment’s sendin’ women ter do men’s work? Pshaw, we ain’t got nuthin’ ter worry ‘bout.”
“Don’t you?” she asked, her voice silk. “You are cordially invited to accompany us to the Guild’s fortifications where you will have an audience with our Master. Will you ever so kindly accompany us?”
They laughed again and the blonde slapped his knee. “Now that’s more like it. Good to see a woman what knows her place.” He turned back to Daniel. “Despite your right hospitable invitation, I’m afraid that me ‘n the boys will have ter decline on account a the fact we got too much work ter do here. The war may be officially over, but we reckon that with these new abilities we ought ter be able to start ‘er up again real soon. I reckon we could take a whole regiment by ourselves. Give them Yank bastards sumin’ ter think about.”
Kateesha’s laughter was light and silvery. The men glared at her, arms crossed over their chests. “And just what do yer find so funny, Miss?”
She dropped her hood and fixed them with her dark eyes. “I doubt you could successfully route a company composed of orphaned children, let alone a regiment.” She saw his reaction in his mind; saw what he thought her punishment should be for daring to speak out to a white man. It had been the punishment of another girl; a slave girl. Bound, ravaged and left to die. Kateesha’s hand went to her sword before he even spoke.
“Hey there! You watch what you say, you nig-”
The word fell unfinished. With a single stroke of the blade, Kateesha severed his head.
The men jumped back, eyes as large as saucers. The redhead cried, “Holy Jesus! Who are you?”
Kateesha smiled a broad, fanged smile. “I’m the devil, and I’ve come to collect.”
Of the remaining four, two ran. The other pair attacked, or tried to. Too young and inexperienced, Kateesha cut them down in seconds. The scent of blood filled her nostrils and stirred her in a way that nothing else could. She wanted it. She wanted the feel of it, the taste of it. She wanted to bathe in it while Jorick watched, but since he wasn’t there Daniel would do, just as he had before.
Her eyes flamed with lust and she grabbed his hand. “Come, we’ll catch the others.”
They raced headlong through the woods. Terror and youth made their prey clumsy and their lead was quickly lost. The men squealed. The leader, a brunette, tripped over a tree root and crashed to the ground. The redhead fell over him and landed in a horrified tangle of limbs.
Kateesha threw aside her sword and grabbed the redhead with her bare hands. She knelt, one knee in the middle of his back, and pulled his head back to expose his throat. Daniel stood over the brunette, his sword pressed to his chest.
“Oh sweet Jesus,” the redhead whimpered. “Please, in the name a the holy mother, have mercy. We didn’ do nuthin’. I swear. I swear we didn’t do nuthin’.”
She leaned down, her breath hot against his ear. “Isn’t that a pity, then? To die as a punishment when you haven’t had the fun of the offense?” She flicked his earlobe with her tongue and he whimpered. Her fangs scraped over the delicate curve of his ear and then, she bit. She clamped down savagely and tore. His ear came away in her mouth with a spray of blood.
His screams echoed through the trees. She spit out the ear and licked her lips, her dark eyes shining. The brunette vampire screamed and writhed under the point of Daniel’s sword. “Oh, God. No! Please, no!”
“Don’t worry,” Kateesha purred. “You’re next.” She turned back to her bucking, shrieking prey and buried her fangs in the side of his neck, under the bleeding hole where his ear had been. She ripped the flesh, peeling it away. His blood was hot and thick, and she gulped mouthfuls of it. His screams grew louder, higher pitched, more horrible as she bit into his shoulder, rending skin and shirt together in a mangled mess.
She met Daniel’s eyes. His nostrils flared and she could feel his desire; his need. The hot blood pulsed in her hands. She lifted a palm full and licked it, wiping the last of it over her face and her neck, to the collar of her cloak. She arched her back, and licked her lips, promising him anything he wanted.
He was weaker than Jorick had ever been. That small display was too much temptation and he broke under it. With a savage snarl, he threw aside his sword and set upon his terrified captive. The younger vampire screamed as Daniel’s fangs tore through his flesh. Hot blood sprayed out, coloring Daniel’s face and sandy hair.
Kateesha laughed and attacked her victim again. This time it was his wildly waving hand; his wrist. The bones snapped and popped and he shrieked. She could hear his terrified thoughts. He begged God to let him die, to let him pass out. Anything to end this torment. Thanks to his immortal blood, no such grace would be granted him.
The rest of his limbs cracked easily and she left him lay, broken and bleeding in a heap. Her heart raced and the smell of his death intoxicated her senses. But not just his death. The blood of his victims was still fresh in his system and not yet fully mixed. She could smell them; smell the negro and his life of labor, and the soldier and his prayers to see his new baby one more time. She could taste them and the cocktail inflamed her.
She peeled back her robe and gathered handfuls of the blood. She brought it to her mouth, and let the excess run through her fingers. It streamed over her heaving cleavage and down the bodice of her gown. She looked up to see Daniel watching her, his face and clothing covered in blood. The brunette vampire lay dead beneath him. His back was torn open. His broken ribs and spine were shiny in the moonlight. Next to him lay the squashed remnant of a heart.
A Quick kill.
Without words, Daniel moved to her. She pulled him to her roughly. The broken vampire next to her moaned softly, not so lucky to share the fate of his comrade. She wiped blood from his shoulder and smeared it over Daniel’s face and his eager lips. His tongue darted out and cleaned her fingers. Without breaking eye contact, he smeared blood over her cheek, down her neck. She leaned back and tore at her dress and the corset beneath. Cloth ripped beneath her impatient fists and she discarded the scraps.
With fresh handfuls, he painted her dark breasts in crimson. She moaned and ground her hips against his. He pressed back, his need a hard knot of urgency.
She tackled him to the ground. He writhed beneath her and she straddled him, rubbing her body against his. She stared into his eyes, not black but green. They weren’t the eyes she wanted to gaze into, but they would do for now. They would be a vehicle to her memories, to the night in the eastern territory so many years ago when she and Jorick had bathed in the blood of the rogues. She’d drawn scarlet symbols on his skin and licked him clean again. She could still remember his scent and the soft growl when he surrendered to her and the blood.
She closed her eyes and mentally conjured Jorick. Sightless, she ripped at the clothes of the man beneath her, no longer Daniel, but another. She tore away his cloak, his shirts, and ran her hands over his naked chest. He groaned her name; a plea to end the agony of his need.
A plea she would gladly grant.
With an inhuman howl, she sank her teeth into his shoulder and bit. His hot blood filled her mouth and the world shifted; pulsed. He bit back, his teeth sharp. The pain was delicious and then it melted into something more. Her every nerve burned, quivered, screamed. Torn between ecstasy and agony in a world of shimmering shadows and screaming desire. It no longer mattered if he was Jorick or Daniel or someone else. Only the blood and the need mattered.
Something pulled her from her trance-like absorption and she released Daniel, though he held on, his teeth buried in her arm, his expression glazed ecstasy. She turned her face to the broken redhead. He lay next to them, his gurgling mouth opened and his dying eyes wide. Kateesha laughed and wiped the blood from her.
“Do you want some?’ she asked huskily. “Do you want to die like you’ve never lived?”
Before he could answer, she sank her fangs into his good shoulder and his world exploded in a flash of nightmare pleasure.
Traveling by night, it took them a week to get to the Guild’s fortifications in Iowa. Half brick, half wood, what would soon be a monstrosity was only partially finished. Kateesha could imagine the coming grandeur, but she didn’t care. This was already the third location since she’d come to the new country. It would move again.
Malick waited in the audience chamber, a long, low room paneled in wood. Five chairs sat at one end, under an antique tapestry. He sat in the center chair, a pale woman on his left and a dark skinned male on his right; two of the five council members.
Malick’s thundercloud eyes swept over the newly returned pair. His question came like a gentle slap, “Where are those you were sent to bring back?”
Kateesha dropped to her knees before him. “Father, they were troublesome and we were forced-”
“Forced?” The room seemed to shake with his displeasure. “Would you lie to me? I can see the events in your mind! I see the orgy! Is that what you make of your missions? Do my orders mean so little to you?”
Kateesha could feel his fury. “No, of course not, Father!” She dared to look up and offered him her most winning smile. “They were of little use. Ignorant, uneducated, filthy-”
“As were you when I found you!”
The smile disappeared from Kateesha’s face and her eyes went as cold as ice water castles. “They deserved their deaths!”
The dark council member leaned forward. “It is not your judgment to make! Your job is to carry out your orders as they are given to you!”
“Yes,” the woman agreed. “You have disobeyed too many times, Kateesha. You are a dangerous element that has proved uncontrollable, and your partner in this is no better. Leave us while we decide what your fate will be.”
Kateesha felt the blood drain from her face and her stomach twisted. There was only one fate for breaking the laws: death. Panic consumed her and she threw herself prostrate on the floor, her hands on Malick’s feet. “Please Father!” she cried. “We’re sorry! We did not mean to disobey you! It will never happen again!”
“So you’ve said before,” the council woman answered sharply. “Yet here we are. Your words are lies that you shine with your charm. I will not fall prey to such traps. Now leave us!”
Kateesha snarled at her and turned her eyes to Malick. “Father, please! Forgive us! I beg you! Have mercy!”
Malick withdrew his feet and pointed silently to the door. His face was as unreadable as marble, and the blood in Kateesha’s veins turned to ice.
“Go,” the dark council member ordered. “We will call for you when a decision is reached.”
And so they went. Not just out of the audience chamber, but out of the building, to the stables. Their horses were too tired to be taken again. Kateesha threw a single, regretful glance back at Aethenoth as they rode away on someone else’s steeds.
The horses ran full tilt and only when they could take no more did Kateesha call a halt. Daniel slid from his saddle, his eyes on the lonely road behind them. “They’ll hunt us.”
“Perhaps. Would you rather have stayed there and waited for your death to be handed to you?”
His silence hung heavy. At last he answered, “No.”
“Good. Once the horses have rested we’ll need to find shelter. It will be morning soon.”
Daniel nodded and then, in a tone so low she could hardly hear, he asked, “Do you love me?”
The question caught her by surprise and she laughed. “Should I?”
He looked away. His mouth twisted unhappily. “We’ve been partnered on several missions now. We work well together. We-” he broke off but she could see the bloody memories in his mind.
“We fuck well together?” she asked unabashedly.
He balked at her language, but didn’t deny it. “I’ll do anything you want me to, you know that.”
She patted down the horse absently. “I’ve heard that a hundred times, or a thousand. That’s the second line every man uses, right after ‘you’re beautiful’.”
“You are,” Daniel said quietly. “I’ve never met a woman like you.”
“And that’s the third. Next you’ll promise me your undying devotion, and maybe your soul.” She made a dismissive gesture with her hand. “It’s the same. You’re all the same.”
Except for Jorick.
Daniel had no reply.
They rode for days. When they grew tired of running they took a farm house and kept the occupants for their dinner. They dragged their deaths out to a week, but then they drained the final child.
“We will have to hunt tomorrow,” Kateesha said as she mopped herself up.
Daniel nodded absently, his eyes still clouded with the after moments of their feast. His clothing lay in a heap beside him and the last of the child’s blood was smeared across his chest. He gazed at Kateesha as she cleaned herself and pulled on layers of white linen undergarments. A chemise, a corset, petticoats-
A knock sounded on the door. While Daniel went stiff, shocked back to the present. Kateesha sniffed the air and smiled. She could smell their visitor. She knew who he was and she knew what he wanted, but she was sure she could persuade him otherwise.
She wrenched the corset opened so that her ample breasts nearly spilled out the top, and carefully smoothed her hair. After a quick glance in the mirror, she dropped one strap of her chemise, leaving her shoulder naked and whispering to be touched.
That should be enough.
She opened the door and let her eyes drink in the man before her. Tall and lean with broad shoulders and silky hair as black as midnight. She knew how that hair smelled and smiled at the memory of it wrapped around her fingers.
His voice was neither hostile nor friendly, only impatient. “You know why I’m here.”
“No, Jorick,” she said innocently. “I have no idea.”
“Malick sent me.”
“Did he?” She gazed at him from under heavy lids, and let her eyes slide lower, past his belt. Her tongue flicked out involuntarily and traced her full, lower lip. “I thought perhaps you’d come to see me.”
Jorick drew back a step, his face hard. “I’m married now.”
Kateesha leaned against the door frame and pouted. “Yes, I know, and to such a plain, timid little thing. Can you truly be happy with her? Oren’s sister would suit you more. Even that little girl in Texas would have been a better choice. Sarita, wasn’t it?”
His nose curled with disdain. “You know I have no love for Spaniards.”
“She wasn’t a Spaniard, but a Mexican and she filled your bed easily enough.”
“There is a difference between sharing love and a bed.”
“And do you love this new woman, this Velnya? Can you really?” Kateesha was suddenly on him, her hands on his shoulders, her breasts pressed against his hard chest and her lips brushing his neck. “Can she really give you all the things I can?”
Jorick knocked her away. Surprised, she stumbled and landed on the floor in a heap of petticoat. She jerked to her feet, her forehead puckered in anger. “Don’t do that again!”
“I’ll do it as many times as necessary. Malick ordered me to spare you, so get out of my way!”
She reached for his mind and plucked the scene from it. The council was angry. They shouted. They demanded her blood. Jorick must be sent. Only he was strong enough to do what must be done without falling victim to Kateesha’s charms. But Jorick was tired. Newly arrived from a dispute in Indian territory, he wanted to go home. His little wife needed him. She sent terrified letters, afraid of the local population. Cattle had died. First only a handful and then by the herd. They blamed her. They called her a witch. But Malick owned him the same as he owned Kateesha. He’d given them his blood and gotten their unwavering loyalty in exchange. Jorick was nothing more than his dog, and his request was denied. Only… No. Privately, Malick made a deal. He would free Jorick from his debt if he spared Kateesha and took only Daniel’s life. Jorick agreed quickly. He had other things to attend to.
Jorick shoved past Kateesha and stormed through the house. She leaned against the doorframe and closed her eyes. She heard Daniel shout, and then she heard the scuffle. Wood smashed. Something ceramic broke to bits. Then, Daniel screamed. At the sound she had a sudden vision of his lust filled eyes locked with hers and something fluttered in her chest. She dismissed it cruelly. Daniel was nothing. He was a diversion. A replacement.
Jorick reappeared, a splash of blood across one cheek. Kateesha moved quickly and used her petticoat to wipe it away. He jerked back and glared at her. “I don’t have time for this.”
“Don’t you?” she asked, packing every innuendo she could into the syllables. “Velnya will keep for a night.” She caught his hand and tugged him towards her. “I’ve missed you, and I know you’ve missed me. Come, for one night it will be like it was. Do you remember that night under the stars, after we’d defeated the rogues?” She pressed against him again and looped an arm around his waist. “Do you remember the way they tasted? The way I tasted?” Her lips hovered over his throat. “I remember your flavor-”
As if he’d suddenly broken free from a spell, he jerked away. “No!” He stepped back and ran a hand through his hair. “No.”
“But, Jorick, I love you.” She reached for him. He caught her hands and held them away from him.
“No, Kateesha, you don’t. You love a shadow. I’m not that man anymore and now that Malick has released me, I am free, and I won’t be that man ever again. I don’t want to be.” He dropped her hands and turned for the door. “If you value your life I suggest you give the council at least a year to forgive you before you stage a return.”
He didn’t wait for her reply, but ducked out into the night. She glared at his disappearing figure with narrowed, burning eyes. How dare he reject her? How dare he turn his back on her? On a whim she could make any man crawl through the mud for her, begging for a word, a touch, a taste. How dare he resist!
She threw her pride aside and plunged out into the darkness. He stood next to his horse, one foot in the stirrup. She rushed towards him. “Dammit Jorick! You are who you are! You can’t run from your nature simply because you wish it to be something different! You can not take shelter in a falsehood!”
He paused to look at her. “That was never my nature, Kateesha, only yours and Malick’s. It is the falsehood I’m running away from.”
He swung into the saddle in a smooth motion and nudged the horse forward. Kateesha’s hands turned to fists at her side. “You can’t hide, Jorick!” she screamed. “You love me, and you know it! I was made to be with you! You belong to me!” Her words turned shrill and hysterical. “I will have you! One day you will beg me for mercy on your knees! Do you hear me?”
He didn’t look back. His only acknowledgement was a flippant half wave. Then, he spurred his horse forward and rider and animal raced away into the darkness.
Kateesha stood alone, her petticoats gleaming white under the moon and one fist raised as she shouted, “Do you hear me, Jorick? You’re mine and you’ll always be mine! Do you hear me? I own you! I own you!”
There was no answer. She dropped her fist and glanced back to the opened door. Inside Daniel lay in a pool of his own blood, shattered and dead. She shoved away the burgeoning emotions. She couldn’t afford to care. Daniel was of no consequence. Jorick was her goal. They were bound together for eternity, whether he understood that or not. He was hers and ultimately she was his.
Regardless, he’d chosen Velnya over her.
Only for now, she told herself. Only for now. One day he will repent his choice.
She’d make sure of it.
Next up is Nirel. In fact I *think* there’s only four left and then Collection 1 will be ready for publication – yay!.
Kariss – Blogophilia 45.4
It’s time for Blogophilia, the fun blog group where Marvin gives participants prompts to use in their weekly posting. This week’s prompts are:
- Blogophilia 45.4 Topic: “Angels in the Snow”
- Bonus Points:
- (Hard, 2pts): use a pick-up line
- (Easy, 1pt): include “rules are meant to be broken”
This week is another vampire morsel, a story about a character from my Amaranthine series that, for one reason or another, never got to say much. As an especially snifty thing I am slowly revising these and publishing them on Smashwords as freebie reads. (Claudius just went up the other night) Eventually I’m planning to bundle them altogether into a single volume, but that’s something in the distant future, as there are several tales to tell!
(You can find Kariss in Legacy of Ghosts. Her story takes place in Iceland and bounces back and forth between 1784 (during the Mist Hardships) and the early 1820’s)
“Who are you, again?”
Kariss ground her teeth. “I’m your granddaughter, Pala, Kariss’s daughter, remember?”
The old woman nodded and Kariss relaxed a little. How she wished she could tell her the truth.
Truth was a word that meant dark shadows and screams in the night. It wasn’t the thing her mother needed right now.
Her mother coughed, the signal she had something to say. Slowly, she worked her voice up and croaked out, “Kariss was a good girl. Did you know that? She was always a good girl. Until she disappeared.” The old woman squinted and peered through the gloom. “Where were you when she disappeared.”
“I wasn’t born yet.” Another lie. “That’s when she met my father. I’ve told you that, Grandmother.”
“Hum. Maybe you have. I don’t think so well these days.” She coughed again, long and ragged. “Where is your grandfather? Where is Vagn?”
The cold wind rattled the house and Kariss shivered, more from habit than from cold. The cold didn’t bother her anymore, not since the darkness had taken her. The darkness stole many things from her, including the sun. If only it had taken her heart with it. Then, she wouldn’t have to hide in the shadows and watch her mother die.
“It was during the Móðuharðindin, that’s when she left. Have I told you about that? The livestock died. Everything died. Kolli died, and Kariss disappeared. Her brothers looked for her, but they’re gone now. Where did they go?”
“Manitoba,” Kariss answered. That was what the weathered letter next to the bed said. It seemed that everyone had gone to Manitoba.
“Yes, yes. That’s right. My sons have made lives in another place, except for Styrr and Athan. The famine took them. Athan was Kariss’s twin, did you know?”
His name brought with it a pair of laughing blue eyes and a head of curly brown hair. A crooked smile beamed at her from the memories and her chest tightened painfully. “Yes.”
“He was killed by a man who wanted his food, but he didn’t have any. I can’t remember his name now. It was so long ago. That man’s wife died and I always thought that drove him insane. Athan was a good boy and he knew it. There was no bad blood between them. It was the loss and the hunger. It makes people do things.”
Kariss nodded wordlessly. She’d imagined his death a hundred times, and each was worse than the one before.
“I named them after the Kappas. You don’t know them, they left, went home or somewhere better. They stayed with Fjola that summer. They had such lovely names.” She broke off into a cough. “They’re gone now. Everyone is gone now. So many have left. There will be nothing left. Even Kariss has left.”
“I’m here, Grandmother.” She took her mother’s withered hand in hers and squeezed it softly. The return pressure was light and fluttery, like a butterfly. So weak.
“Your hand’s cold, child! Cold like the wind.” She closed her tired eyes and murmured softly, “Cold.”
She touched her mother’s withered cheek, so different from her memories. In her memories her mother was stern and firm with bright, flashing eyes and a temper to match. It was only when Kariss’s father kissed her that she softened. And then she would smack him and tell him to behave. “We have enough children!” she’d say and point to whichever was nearby. “Do you want another one like that one?”
Watching her parents had been like peering into her own future, only instead of Vagn it would Kolli. Kolli would come home and she would point to one of the children and say, “Do you want another one like that one?”
No. She didn’t want that. Or she thought she didn’t.
No one knew where Andrei came from. He breezed into town just as the Mist Hardships were at their worst. He was exotic and intoxicating, and he stole much of Kolli’s attention. Then came the news that Kolli and six others were killed in an accident.
When Athan told her, her knees gave out. He picked her up and cradled her while she cried. Her words were thick with misery. “Not Kolli. No, not Kolli.”
“He wasn’t the only one,” her brother reminded her gently.
The others didn’t matter. Why didn’t Athan understand that? “Not Kolli.”
Athan carried her to the house. Her mother met them at the door. Her face said she’d already heard. She laid a rough hand on Kariss’s shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
Kariss cried harder. What did sorry do? It didn’t bring her future back to life!
The moon was full when he came to her. She heard his whisper in the mist and rose, half fearful and half hopeful. The grass was cold under her feet. The night sang its symphony in her ears. She covered her nose to hide from the thick air.
And there he was.
She ran to him, but stopped short. It was him, but it wasn’t. He was wrong. His eyes were too bright, his hair too shiny, his skin too smooth. She took a step back, suddenly afraid. He smiled.
His teeth were too white; too sharp.
She screamed. He caught her in his arms and hauled her away from the house. He whispered soothing words and they seeped into her brain. Andrei was in the hollow just beyond the hill. He stood ringed in old flowers and silvery moon light. He held out his arms in welcome.
The word whispered through her brain and she trembled. She felt him run through her mind like white lightning. He withdrew and her trembling legs folded on themselves. She landed on her knees in the withered grass.
“She is worthy.”
Kolli hurried to her and she flinched away. Terror shook her lips as she whispered, “You’re dead. They said you were dead.”
“No, Kariss. Andrei saved me, and he can save you, too.” He took her hands in his. “If you accept it and swear yourself to him he can give you ever lasting life. You will never grow sick, or old, or hungry. It’s true freedom.”
It was a beautiful word, but it was a lie. There was no freedom. It was only enslavement of another kind; enslavement to the darkness, to Andrei’s whims, to blood.
A tear slipped from her eye and she caught it on her finger tips. The old riddle came to mind, one her brother had asked her: I was born in your eyes, live on your cheeks, and die on your lips. What am I? *
What am I?
The answer to that question was one word; one horrible word that she refused to think about. If she could only shut it out perhaps it would go away. Maybe it would all go away. Only, it wouldn’t.
There was a sound; a footfall. Soft and muted in the snow. She stiffened and sniffed the air. The familiar smells of home were there. Under them was something else equally familiar. Musky, heady.
He is here.
She stood quickly. Her mother stirred in her sleep, as if she sensed the intrusion, but she didn’t wake. Kariss fixed her blankets with trembling hands, then hurried to the door. She flung her cloak over her shoulders as she plunged out into the night.
The sky spread above, strewn in crystal clear diamonds. The salty tang of the ocean filled her nose. In days gone by the cold would have stung her cheeks. Now it only caressed them like the cool hands of a lover.
He was suddenly in front of her. His pale face gleamed in the moonlight and his angry eyes glittered with the light of a thousand stars. The same eyes she’d seen on that long ago night under the full moon.
Her breath caught and his name came to her lips like a worried sigh, “Kolli. You found me.”
“Of course I found you. I knew where you’d be.” He reached for her. At the last second the caress turned into a slap that made her ears ring. “What did Andrei tell you? It’s one of the rules, you can never go back! Someone might recognize you!”
She stumbled back, hand to her face. “Some rules are meant to be broken, Kolli. She’s my mother, and she is dying all alone!”
“As did my mother, and my sisters and your brothers and countless others. We gave them up when we accepted his blood. That was the price we paid for this freedom.”
“What freedom?” she asked bitterly. “To wander the nights eternal while all we once knew withers? What freedom is that?”
“The freedom of life.” He caught her and pulled her to him. She resisted, her spine straight, but the familiar warmth of his arms softened her. “We are alive, Kariss. Alive and together.” He nuzzled her neck and his voice dropped to a whisper. “Unless you anger him. I’m – I’m sorry for being harsh, but what would I do if he punished you? What if he…” he choked off, but she knew the rest.
What if he took back the life he’d given?
She found no words, only stood wrapped in his arms and the cold wind.
He let her go and took her hand. His eyes searched the landscape around them and a faint smile played on his lips. “Do you remember when we were young?” He prodded the snow with his boot. “Do you remember how we used to wait for the first snowfall? And when it came, like a blanket to cover the world, how we used to run through it? Do you remember how we used to make angels? And then the spring would come and melt it all away.”
“Yes, I remember.”
He breathed deeply, as though inhaling the memory. “What will you do now? Will you share it with her?”
Both the question and answer made her stomach clench. “No. She’s too old and frail. Her mind is gone. I doubt even the blood would bring it back.”
“I am sorry.”
And she knew he was. If she closed her eyes and concentrated on the tiny pulse of him in her mind, she could feel his sorrow, like an aching tooth. He was sorry for her and for himself, and so was she.
He let go of her hand and stepped back. “Take tonight but no more. You’ve been here a week already and we can’t risk any more. Tomorrow when the sun sets we must leave. Andrei is waiting.”
“Did he send you after me?”
“He didn’t need to, but yes. Our blood debt is unpaid. Until it is, he owns us. You know that as well as I.”
He turned away and started up the hill. After a handful of steps he stopped and turned back. “Only tonight, Kariss. Tomorrow we have to go back.”
Though she nodded, it wasn’t in agreement.
The house should have seemed warm, but it didn’t. Andrei’s blood had taken that, too. She sat next to her mother’s bed and watched her sleep.
She remembered the rest of that long ago night. Intoxicated with his blood, she’d run back to the house. Her feet failed her and she dropped. Fire sliced through her. The pain would pass and she would run again, as if hell’s demons followed her.
And maybe they had.
She banged into the house. The door left open, moonlight spilled in behind her as she stumbled to her mother’s bed. Mother could make it all right. She could take away the burning pain, the terrors screaming in her brain. She could save her.
She fell on her knees next to the bed. Under her heavy gaze, her mother stirred in her sleep and muttered, “Vagn, tend the fire.”
Nonsense from her dreams.
Kolli’s footsteps were soft. He stopped behind Kariss and laid a hand on her shoulder. “Come. Pack your things so we can go. Andrei is impatient. Everything will be better now. You’ll see. We’ll be happy.”
Happy. Kolli had been wrong. It had been so long since she’d felt happy that she’d forgotten how.
She stared through the darkness and listened to the winter wind howl. It was a lullaby for the damned and she knew the words by heart. She knew the empty, aching darkness it screamed about.
Her mother coughed and she turned her eyes to her. She watched her chest rise and fall and listened to the heavy, labored breaths. How many more would there be? A hundred? Half a dozen?
The rasping breaths were torture. The sluggish heart beats were agony. It could go for days, for nights, for weeks. She could linger, slowly decaying, while Kariss sat at her side, forever young, forever whole, forever safe.
How much more could she stand?
She brushed her mother’s gray hair from her face and she woke. She fixed Kariss with a pair of watery blue eyes and asked weakly, “Who are you?”
A single tear slipped down her cheek. She met the blurry eyes and focused on them; focused on the feeble mind behind them. “Sleep. Sleep and dream of better days. Dream of your husband and your children when life was sunny.”
Her mother’s eyelids sagged, and then dropped. Kariss bit her lip until she tasted her own blood. This was not the mother of her memories. Gone was the stern face, the flashing eyes, the quick temper. This was a feeble woman waiting for the angel of death to take her away. If he refused, then so be it. She would play his role.
She leaned over the sleeping woman and breathed in her leathery, sick bed scent. Gently, she turned her mother’s head to one side, exposing her wrinkled neck. Her lips hovered over the pulsing vein.
“Goodnight, Mamma. Sleep and be free.”
Her mother’s eyes went wide. Her whole body jerked, suddenly animated. Kariss pressed her down into the bed and drank. The hot blood filled her mouth. She swallowed it, mouthful after mouthful. Her mother’s feeble limbs waved once, twice, then fell still, too weak to fight, and still Kariss drank. She reached for her mother’s memories, buried under layers of too much hardship. She sorted through them, sifting, seeking. And there it was.
The sun shone. The snow sparkled. A bird called, loud and harsh. She stared through eyes that weren’t her own; her mother’s eyes. She looked at the assorted children that peppered the wintery landscape. They ran and laughed. They fell and rolled and made angels in the snow. They were all good children, or as good as they could be. All too thin and too loud, as children were want to be. She didn’t have much in the world but she had them and Vagn and so she was happy.
Happy. That feeling Kariss had forgotten.
The scene faded. Kariss fought to hold it, but it ebbed away with her mother’s life. The old woman fell still on the bed and there was only blackness inside her head. Black and cold like the winter night.
Kariss pulled away and wiped tears and blood from her face. The old woman stared back at her with wide, glassy eyes. The wound on her neck bled and scarlet blossomed on the pillow.
She swept from the house and into the night. As if he’d known what she’d do, Kolli stood nearby, waiting. She stopped next to him and he took her hand. His eyes moved to the stars and he said softly, “Aren’t they beautiful? I remember when we used to lay in the grass and try to count them. It seems so long ago, yet nothing has changed.”
Her voice was wet with tears. “You’re wrong Kolli. Everything has changed.”
“No, Kariss. it’s only we who have changed.”
In that moment she understood the truth. You can never go back. It wasn’t a rule meant to protect yourself from discovery, but to protect your heart. You could travel to the places of your childhood and drink in the faces of those you’d once loved, but it could never be the same. It wasn’t that they had changed, but that you had changed. So long as you stayed away, you could tell yourself that you were the same, but when you stood face to face with the past, you’d find only the dark, ugly truth and all the illusions would melt away, like her forgotten happiness and the lost angels in the snow.
* Note to Marvin – I was born in your eyes, live on your cheeks, and die on your lips. – this is my pick up line. The entire line is “I’m like your teardrop; I was born in your eyes, live on your cheeks, and die on your lips.”
Next up is Kateesha. I don’t know if it will be another origin story or if it will be the slaughter of the coven she got kicked out of the Guild for or something else.
Jesslynn – Blogophilia 42.4
It’s been awhile since I’ve gotten to do a blogophilia post, hopefully it won’t be so far in between them in the future! I’ve really missed everyone!! What is Blogophilia? It’s the fun blog group where Marvin gives participants prompts to use in their weekly posting. This week’s prompts are:
- Blogophilia 42.4 Topic: “Third Time’s a Charm”
- Bonus Points:
- (Hard, 2pts): incorporate a quote from Emily, Charlotte or Anne Bronte
- (Easy, 1pt): include a caution sign wording (like “Danger! Do Not Go Beyond This Point”)
I’m going to pick off vaguely where I left off, by posting short stories about characters from my Amaranthine series that, for one reason or another, never got to say much. As an especially snifty thing I am slowly revising them and publishing them on Smashwords as freebie reads. Eventually I’m planning to bundle them altogether into a single volume, but that’s something in the distant future, as there are several tales to tell!
(You can find Jesslynn in Shades of Gray. Her story takes place on a plantation in Virginia in January, 1820)
Jesslynn peered through the window. Outside, the world was still and silent like an empty room. Snowflakes dropped from the sky and the dawn’s feeble beams tried to slice through the mantle of clouds.
By contrast, morning was well under way inside. Warm smells drifted from the kitchen where the slaves had already been at work for two hours. Breakfast would be ready soon and Jesslynn turned her thoughts to her family; or what was left of it.
A baby’s wail broke through the house, shrill and unhealthy. The sound tore at her heart and she closed her eyes against despair. She could hear Nan’s quick steps as she hurried to fetch the child and bring him down. Jesslynn straightened her spine and readied her face. The fruit of her womb might be weak, but she was strong.
A dark, wrinkled woman appeared with a squirming bundle in her arms. Without a word, Jesslynn took the baby and dismissed the slave. She turned dark eyes on her son and cooed to him softly. His small face was screwed up in misery but instead of bright red, his skin was pale like linen. Her chest tightened. She had seen that color before. It was the color of death.
Her eyes stole to the window and the family cemetery beyond. There were eight markers. The newest belonged to her mother-in-law, dead six months and good riddance. Next to her was Oren’s father, Jesslynn’s father-in-law. He’d been dead before she ever married into the family. It was the other stones that caused her heart to skip. They belonged her children. Though she’d born eight, only two survived infancy; Alexander, who would be five in June, and Tristan, the baby in her arms. At six months it was uncertain whether he would live to see his first birthday.
She looked from the stones to the naked vine that wound around the cemetery’s fence; roses that her husband and their neighbor, Jorick Smit, had planted. When she thought of Jorick, she shivered. They’d planted those flowers in the dark. At first she’d thought it some old world superstition, but then she’d taken stock of him and paid attention. Her conclusion was drawn quickly; he was touched by demons. Demons that kept him from aging, growing weak, getting sick.
She looked down at the child in her arms and made up her mind.
Her husband stood in the snow, bundled up against the January wind. Strands of tawny blonde hair escaped his ponytail to blow in his face. He stared at her. A mixture of horror and disbelief shown in his amber eyes.
“What you say is…” he broke off and shook his head.
“Is what? A sin? I am tired of righteousness if the bones of our children is all it rewards us with.”
“No. Impossible. I’ve told you before that it is your overwrought imagination. Jorick is not an agent of demons, nor a warlock, nor a wizard. He is as human as you or I.”
“Have you ever seen him in the sunlight?”
“Perhaps. I don’t remember.”
She narrowed her eyes shrewdly. “No, you haven’t, and neither have I. Neither have his slaves, or anyone else you care to name. I’ve asked them, Oren. You must go now, before the sun can set, and catch him up. Reveal the truth of his secret deeds, for honest people don’t hide their deeds, as he does. The mark of the devil is on him. I feel in my heart that he is not human. You see that he does not age nor grow weak, nor sicken? He remains unchanged – not his hair, not his face, though it has been six years since he took the plantation from his uncle – if uncle the man was to him!”
“There are others who don’t sicken. Perhaps Jorick is blessed with a strong constitution?”
“No! You know as well as I! You have remarked on it before. You try always to pass it off as some casual observation, made in jest, though we know that is a falsehood, for you can sense the truth of the matter. It’s in his eyes, in the way his skin seems to gleam, in the way he moves and the way he talks; how he never opens his mouth all the way, as if he is afraid some secret will leak out. Don’t deny these proofs, my husband! You know them to be true!”
Oren’s shoulders sagged. “Yes,” he said softly. “You are right. There has always been something about him. But to suggest that he has a pact with the devil?” Oren closed his eyes against the idea. “If you are right and I catch him in some secret rite, then what?”
“You must demand he share the secret!” She broke off from adding “before it’s too late”, though it was on her face.
“What if he refuses?”
She caught Oren’s hands and gazed hard into his eyes. “Then you must make him!”
“Must I think of everything?” She threw his hands away and turned her back on him to stare at the small, snowy cemetery. When she spoke again, her voice was calm, but not warm. “You owe this to your children and their future, Oren. You will find a way. You will make Jorick share this gift and you will bring it to us.”
Though his words were what she wanted to hear, his uncomfortable tone was not. “You’d better.” When he made no reply she turned back to him. After glancing both ways to be sure they were unobserved, she brushed a quick kiss across his cheek. “Go now. The overseer can handle the slaves. Safe journey, my husband.”
It was early afternoon when Oren left. By dinner he had not returned. Jesslynn hid her fears behind a mask of stern indifference, though she couldn’t feign an appetite. Oren’s sister Torina sat at the far end of the table. As she ate, she chattered about the plans for her new dress. When no one answered her, she eventually fell into a pouty silence.
Alexander finished his meal and folded his hands primly in his lap. “Mother, where has Father gone?”
She fought to keep the apprehension from her voice. “To call on Mr. Smit.”
Torina cooed delightedly. “Will Mr. Smit be joining us this evening?”
Jesslynn cringed inside. Torina was as vapid and useless as her mother had been. “I can’t say.”
“I do hope so!” Torina patted her hair and bent to examine her reflection in a silver server. “I’m quite taken with him.”
“I’m sure.” The words were out before Jesslynn could stop them, but they made little difference. Torina had been in and out of two engagements. Perhaps Jorick Smit would be next. If they were lucky, Torina would actually make it to the altar this time. The third time’s a charm.
Alexander looked at his empty plate. “May I be excused, Mother?”
“Yes. Go to your room and study your French lesson. You have yet to give me a sentence for the day.”
The small boy looked on the point of arguing, but wisely snapped his mouth shut. With an exaggerated sigh, he climbed off the chair and scampered out of the room.
Torina blotted her lips with a napkin and dropped it on the table. “You’re too strict with him sometimes, and others too lenient.” Her nose wrinkled. “Children are such a bothersome trial. I can not understand why you and my brother insist on having them, one after another.”
Jesslynn’s face went hard. “I imagine you would feel that way as you have no prospects for a husband or a home of your own with which to birth a child in.”
Torina’s eyes flamed, but her voice was honey, “You have misheard, dear sister. The trouble is that the prospects are too numerous. But that is bound to happen to a woman who has been blessed with the beauty and temperament to attract men.” She looked suddenly sorrowful. “Oh! I must apologize. Of course you would know nothing about the trials and tribulations of beauty and warmth. I imagine that’s why you accepted the first hand that was offered to you.”
Jesslynn ground her teeth. “Better to take the first than to grow old a spinster.”
Torina batted her eyes. “Perhaps that was a concern for you. However, it’s something I doubt I need to fear.” She swept up from the table in a swish of long skirts. “When Oren returns, tell him I’d like to speak with him about some important matters.” Then she disappeared from the room.
Jesslynn glared after her. When Oren returned, Torina would be the last person he’d see!
Only he didn’t return. Not that night, or the next morning. The day dragged past, cold and grey, and still there was no sign of him. As the sun set, Jesslynn’s uneasiness turned to fear, and she sent a rider to fetch her brother.
She met him at the door. Fabian shook the snow from his boots and studied her. “What is so urgent that I must be called away from my dinner?”
“It’s Oren.” She laid a hand to his elbow and steered him towards the parlor. “Come, I’ll tell you everything.”
They stood in front of the fireplace and the story tumbled out in hushed tones. When it was over, Fabian sulked. “You believe that Jorick Smit is an agent of the devil, and yet you expect me to go to his house, alone, and seek out your husband? If he caught Jorick in some unholy ritual then no doubt he is dead.”
The word was one she’d imagined before; heavy and dark it dropped like lead through her thoughts. She tried to ignore it. “Do you expect me to go? A woman, traveling alone in the dark?”
“You could send a slave?”
“And have them learn the secret?” She grabbed his hands. “Do this for me, Fabian, and if he has been successful I will share with you! Think of it, to never grow sick or frail!”
Fabian whined, “What if Jorick has killed him? Would you lose a husband and a brother both?”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “Then be smarter than Oren. Be quicker and quieter! Go and look, only. If you do not see him, return to me and we will discover some plan together.”
Fabian argued for half an hour more, then gave in. Jesslynn watched him go, and paced the floor while he was gone. When he returned, she ran to the door, to find him alone.
Fabian pulled off his winter gear, scowling. “The slaves said that Oren and Mr. Smit left just after dark and have not yet returned. They say that your husband was alive and well when last they saw him, though Jorick was unusually grim and severe.”
Jesslynn clutched his arm. “Perhaps he has taken him to see the source of his secret?”
“Perhaps.” Fabian shook her off. “And now that I have run your errand I’m hungry. You took me from my meal, so I expect you to provide me with another one.”
“Yes, yes,” she gestured him towards the kitchen, her thoughts elsewhere.
Despite the word of the slaves, Oren did not return. Fabian ate and drank. At midnight he helped himself to the guest bedroom. It was three days later when he finally went home, and Oren was still missing. Jesslynn sent messengers with questions. The slaves said the same thing: Jorick and Oren had gone but not returned.
She feared the worst.
After one week she forced her brother to accompany her. After sunset, they ventured to the Smit plantation. The dark young woman who answered the door tried to keep them out. Jesslynn barged past her. With Fabian at her heels, she swept from room to room, but found only shadows. The beds were untouched, and the drawing room was cold.
The slave woman followed their inspection, wringing her hands and begging them to hurry and go. “If the master comes back he won’t be pleased!”
They were in the master bedroom when Jesslynn spun on her heel to face her, “When will he be back? Tonight?”
The fear in the young woman’s eyes doubled and she looked away. “I don’t rightly know, Ma’am. Maybe tonight, maybe a month. The Master is often away on errands.”
The slave woman took a step back, her hands twisting in her apron. Different fears warred on her face, and her voice dropped low, “He ain’t right, Mistress. He ain’t… he ain’t right. You best to go ‘for he comes back. He has an awful mean temper. He don’t like no one to peer into his business, Ma’am.”
“I do not fear him.” She swept her eyes around the room; from the heavy wardrobe to the four poster bed hung in garish, red curtains. “What errands does he leave on?”
“I don’t know, Ma’am. He gets a letter, then most times he orders the horse to be made ready and he and the messenger go. No warnin’.”
“What do these letters say?”
The woman’s eyes got bigger. “I don’t rightly know, Ma’am. I can’t read, and even if I could he burns them.”
Jesslynn grunted in dissatisfaction. “And did he receive such a letter this time?”
“No, ma’am. Not this time. Like I told the Master there,” she nodded to Fabian. “Master Cotterill came and they spent the night locked away. The next night they left as soon as it was dark and they ain’t been back since.” Her voice turned pleading. “Please, Ma’am. Please go home quick. Go home and forget what I told you.”
“I told you,” Fabian said peevishly. “This was a wasted trip.”
Jesslynn stepped close to the slave, her eyes narrowed and her voice hard to cover her own fear. “The moment they return you are to send a messenger to me, do you understand? No matter the time of day or night. Otherwise, I will be forced to mention that you’ve gossiped about your master’s business behind his back. As he values his privacy, I’m sure he will be most grieved to hear of it!”
The woman squealed. Jesslynn grabbed up her skirts and swirled from the room with the command, “Come, Fabian.”
Fabian helped her into the carriage and then climbed in next to her. At a word, the driver took up the reigns with a “Yawh.”
Fabian seemed amused. “Will you really betray her to Mr. Smit and his temper, I wonder?”
“Perhaps.” Jesslynn stared at nothing, her expression cold. I am strong. I am fierce. I am resolute. I am strong.
“Really? How unlike you. You’re too soft with your own and I can’t imagine you jeopardizing another’s.”
She dismissed his concern. “Mr. Smit is softer. A fearful slave would never have spoken to us unless spoken to, and certainly would not have betrayed such confidences.”
Fabian leaned back in the seat. “Or perhaps he’s crueler and she’s more afraid of him and what he might do if he knows you’ve been there. She may have told you so that you’d leave before he arrived and found you in his chambers.” A wry smile twisted his lips. “I can’t imagine that your husband would appreciate such a visit, either.”
“Then he should have come home!” The veneer slipped away and her terrors shown on her face. “What if he never returns? What will I do?”
Fabian shrugged. “Remarry. You’d be a wealthy widow. Mr. Smit is unwed-”
The slap was loud. Fabian put a hand to his stinging cheek and scowled.
“Don’t ever suggest such a filthy thing, again. If Oren is gone, it is his doing. I would no more marry the instrument of my husband’s destruction than I would throw my child to wolves! I am not Torina! I do not hand my affection to the highest bidder!”
Fabian smirked and relaxed back into the seat. “She only does so for a short while, usually an hour at a time.”
She should have slapped him again for his crude remark. Instead, she grunted her agreement.
“Is Father coming home?”
Jesslynn caught her breath and tucked the blanket under Alexander’s chin. “Of course. I told you, he and Mr. Smit have gone to Charleston on business. They’ll be home soon.” She pressed a kiss to her son’s cheek and inhaled his sweet, innocent scent. How much longer can I continue this charade?
She closed the door and found Torina in the hallway, frivolously dressed in her new skirt and matching shirt waist. “You expect us to believe that story?”
“Yes.” Jesslynn answered coldly and made to move past her. Torina caught her arm and held her back.
“He always tells me when he’s going somewhere and asks if I want him to bring anything back. He wouldn’t go without speaking to me first and telling me goodbye. Why would this time be any different?”
Jesslynn jerked away and glared, her lip curled in fury. “How should I know! Perhaps because you’re his sister and not his wife! Now get out of my way!”
Shocked, Torina stepped back, and Jesslynn stormed by her, anger pulsing in her veins. She’d had enough of her, of Fabian, of all of them!
She changed into her night dress and shut herself in her room, Tristan in the bed next to her. She picked up her embroidery and worked without really seeing it. Inside, her mind clicked away, making plans. If Jorick returned without Oren she would confront him. She would take Fabian and five of the most able bodied field slaves. She’d demand answers, and she would get them!
Tristan cried; a soft, mewling whimper. She scooped him up and cradled him close to her. He was so pale and so weak. She tried to nurse him, but he refused to drink, only made those soft, sickening noises. She clutched him tightly. “Damn it! Where are you Oren? Why haven’t you come home? Why haven’t you brought the secret? Where are you?”
The dog barked. She stood and crossed to the window. Torina stood before the porch in the arms of a man. Jesslynn couldn’t see his face and she didn’t want to. She made a noise of disgust and moved back to the bed. We will never be free of the harlot!
She heard a raised voice; the man. She glanced towards the window, but from her vantage point she could only see darkness. It’s no matter. Let them fight.
And then Torina screamed.
Jesslynn laid Tristan aside and hurried back to the window. She drew aside the curtain to see Torina struggling with-
She dropped the curtain and stepped back. She didn’t want to know who he was. Let him do as he pleased with her. It was something she gave away for free to other men. Let this man take his share, too. Let her scream. Let her lay in the cold, bruising grass and know misery for once in her selfish, pampered, spoiled life. Let her suffer.
Jesslynn climbed back into bed and pulled her baby to her. Torina screamed again and again and Jesslynn closed her eyes tightly against the sound. Tristan cried for her, though Jesslynn shooshed and soothed him.
A door banged. Feet ran across the floor. The house slaves were awake. She heard the front door open and she heard Nan cry, “Lordy! What have you done? What-” her words were choked off in a terrified cry.
Jesslynn squeezed her eyelids tighter. Where was Oren? He was the Master of the house! He should handle this! He should – but he was gone. Gone and useless! And what use was he when he was there? He was a body, at least. A body who could stand at the door with a rifle. Now someone else must hold the rifle and she must stand behind them.
She tucked the blankets into a hurried nest, lest Tristan roll away, and dressed quickly. There were more footsteps, scurrying, hurrying, running to the scene in the front of the house. She could see light flare; a torch. One of the slaves shouted, and then the gun went off.
Tristan wailed and Alexander was suddenly there, his eyes wide in his terrified face. “What is it?”
She pulled him into a hug and squeezed him tight. Her son. Her only son that would survive. Reluctantly, she released him. “I don’t know yet. Stay here with your brother and stay quiet.”
He nodded, and she took a last look at them before she hurried out the door.
The house was dark, and she had no candle. She stubbed her toe on a heavy sideboard and banged her knee into a low stool. There was no time to stop. She could hear someone shouting outside. She could hear Torina screaming again.
Two of the kitchen girls stood on the porch in their nightdresses, their eyes wide and their terrified fingers pointing away into the shadows near the carriage house. One of them held a torch. The flickering flame threw harsh, stark shadows. Henry stood on the bottom step, the rifle to his shoulder. The barrel shook in time with his hands. At his feet, red against the snow, was a splash of blood. It trailed away into the darkness, mingled with drag marks, disappearing towards the carriage house.
Jesslynn made the sign of the cross. The devil had come for Torina at last. For one wild moment she thought again to leave her, but there had been Nan. The slave woman had been good to her and to her children. She didn’t deserve to suffer for Torina’s sins.
“What are you waiting for?” Jesslynn demanded. She grabbed the torch from the trembling slave and marched forward. The women wailed, and Henry hurried after her, the gun up.
The night was cold. The stars were tiny and brittle, like bits of broken glass. The snow was frosted over and crunched under her feet. The heavy silence was broken by soft, guttural noises and something that sounded wet and sloppy. The doors of the carriage house were open and the closer Jesslynn drew, the louder it grew.
And then she saw it.
A man lay near the doors, his body broken and crumpled. It was Torina’s lover. Blood stained the snow around him. Just inside the carriage house crouched Torina. Her hair had fallen around her face like a shower of flames. Her dress was torn and bloody. A gaping wound on her neck bled freely. More horrifying, she held an unconscious Nan in her arms. Her mouth was fastened around the old woman’s neck. The torchlight shone in her green eyes and Jesslynn bit back a scream at what she saw there; lust, hunger and madness.
“Do not enter!”
It was Oren.
She pulled to a stop, the torch held high. Slowly, Oren stepped from inside the shadowy building. He was dressed as she’d last seen him, only without his coat or hat. His long blonde hair flapped free in the wind. Blood ran down his chin and stained his shirt and hands.
“God save us!” Jesslynn made the sign of the cross and moved back. Oren stared at her, the expression on his face a mixture of sorrow and fear. He took a step towards her and she backed away. The torch shook in her hands and slipped from her fingers. The flame burned for a minute, throwing long, black shadows, and then it sputtered and died.
She heard the gun go off behind her, but she didn’t stop. The two girls were still on the porch. She’d nearly reached them when he called to her, “Jesslynn.”
The girl’s shocked expressions made her stop. She looked over her shoulder and then looked away quickly. His face was clean and his shirt was gone. He stood half naked in the snow, his tawny hair whipping around his face.
“Go inside,” she ordered the girls. “Alexander and Tristan are in the master bedroom. Go to them and stay until I come for you.”
They babbled incoherently and fled into the safety of the house. She could hear Oren’s footsteps crunching through the snow, moving towards her. She couldn’t bring herself to face him.
At last he stood behind her. She could feel him there, so close that his hot breath warmed the back of her neck. The proximity tightened her spine and her shoulders like a fist. She couldn’t move.
“Jesslynn.” Her name was more a breath than a word. Softly, he touched her cheek. His warm fingers trailed down her neck to her shoulder and she shivered. “You wanted the gift, Jesslynn, and I’ve brought it.” His voice turned brittle. “Look at me, wife. This is what you wanted. Look at it.”
Almost against her will she turned and stared into his face. It was different. He was different. His golden eyes seemed to glitter with an intensity they’d never held before and when he opened his mouth she saw the fangs.
“God preserve us!” She fell back. “What have you done? What have you become? What have you done?”
He closed the gap between them and cradled her face in his hand, forcing her to look at him. “I did as you asked. You wanted his secret and here it is. Do you still want it?”
A twig snapped. She looked over his shoulder to see Torina hovering in the shadows. She wiped the blood from her face with a gory hand and swayed on her feet. A maniacal smile spread over her face and long, shiny fangs glittered in her mouth.
Whether gift or curse, he had given it to his sister first.
In that moment she hated Torina more than she had ever hated anyone.
“You shared it with her?”
There was regret in his voice. “I had no choice. I – I couldn’t stop. The man – his blood. I hurried to come home to you. I did not drink first. She did not know me. She screamed. I – I did not mean to bite her. But then… I couldn’t let her die. She is my sister. There was no choice.”
No choice. No choice but to save his sister. She buried her fears behind her fury. “Will it save our son?”
Oren hesitated. “Yes. But Jorick said we must not use it on the children, not until they’re grown. Once they drink they will never age, never grow.”
He nodded uncertainly and she focused again on Torina. The redhead stumbled backwards and fell to the ground on her knees. Her eyes squeezed shut and she held herself as if trying to stop her insides from spilling out into the snow. A high, horrible sound issued from her lips.
“It is the change,” he said softly. “There is pain. It comes and goes, then disappears in a day.”
Torina threw her head back and howled. She fell onto her back and writhed, her arms around her mid section. Her bloody hands left red, wet spots on her new dress. Blood. Pain. The mark of the devil.
And then she pictured Tristan.
“Yes,” she whispered, her voice almost inaudible. “Yes. Give it to me.”
Oren crushed her to him. She could feel his heart pounding against her, the warmth of his hard body, the texture of his hands as he pulled her head to one side, exposing her throat. He brought his lips to her neck. His breath was hot. He hovered, lips brushing her skin, and then, he bit.
Jesslynn held back a scream. She would not howl like Torina. She would not draw attention.
I am strong. I am fierce. I am resolute.
I will save my children.
Like me, they will be strong.
You can find Alexander and the whole Cotterill family in the free short story Alexander.