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Well, my stalker was gone. I watched on the monitor as the little blue sedan sped away, leaving Charlie, my super, in the dust. After a couple minutes went by, the phone rang. I picked up and said, “Hi, Charlie.” Thanks Charlie, I thought. Thanks. He'd never fully realize how much I appreciated what he did.

“You were right, Angi," he said, his voice rough from emotion. "She was spying on you. Not that she could see anything through those blacked-out windows of yours.” I heard the smile in his voice as he spoke, but then he sighed. “Any idea why a PI's looking into you?” The statement had a good dollop of, "Please tell me you're the good girl I've always known you to be." God, I really didn't want to break his illusions of me. Not now, not ever. He was a sweet old man and probably the only person I'd consider a friend in this fucked up life I was living.

“I have no idea,” I said, shaking my head. “I don’t know,” under my breath. Fuck, I really didn't. I knew plenty of people that would want me dead, plenty more that would try to end me if I forced their hand.  A few more might want to make me hurt, but in daylight? Not unless they wanted the sunburn from hell. And to hire a PI? In vampire society, that would be like offering your balls up on a platter and officially changing your status from male to pansy-assed little girl. Not. Gonna. Happen.

“Well, we know one thing, she didn’t stay for muffins," he said with a show of sardonic amusement.

“Muffins? You have muffins?” I beamed. Charlie made the BEST banana nut muffins in the world. “Come on up!” My voice squeaked through at least one octave as my mouth started to water against all logic. Damn Pavlov.

“I knew you’d say that," he said with a renewed smile. "I’ll be right there.”

  

I’d sent Charlie to do my dirty work because I didn’t want her to think I’d been alerted to her presence. Since I didn’t confront her, I was hoping she'd think I didn’t know the truth. I wanted her to feel at ease. I wanted her to watch me while I went about my daily routine as if nothing was happening, as if nothing was wrong. That and I couldn't go out in the daytime, so confronting her wasn't an option.  Vampires tended to avoid it when at all possible. But that was just me getting sidetracked, once again, distracting myself.

The truth was, I was on edge - a climbing the walls kind of on edge. I must have gotten sloppy. That was the only thing I could think of. The only possible scenario pinging through my head that explained how I could have gotten so totally fucked. That was no private investigator. I knew that like I knew I needed to feed once a week. It took special skills to follow me that well and only one human profession came to mind, a vampire hunter. Shit. I couldn’t see what I’d done to alert her to my presence, my identity, and it was driving me bat shit crazy. I wasn't that sloppy, damn it.

Fortunately, she was sloppy. And sloppy enough to get herself noticed in the first act. At least, I hoped it was the first act. God, what if she'd been following me for days, weeks even. If I was sloppy enough to get noticed, God only knew how long she could have been following me.

No. I shook my head. I refused to put myself through that. I grabbed another muffin Charlie had brought in and chowed down, letting a moan escape my throat. I swallowed. No. I wasn't going to let her get to me like this. It didn't matter how long she'd been on my trail. What mattered was I knew she was there and, once the advantage of surprise was lost, a human had no chance of getting me. None. A smile that would have sent chills down the spine of anyone with half a sense crossed myself face. Oh yeah, the hunt was so ON!



The sun had finally set. She was waiting outside the development with a telephoto lens. She’d changed cars in case that damn nosy super noticed her again. Yeah, didn't need THAT again. As she waited, propped up on the hood of her car, she watched as her subject got out of the house and started locking up. She followed it with the bulky lens as she pressed the button and got into her car. She continued to watch as her subject came in her direction. When it was within a street and making a left, which would lead it right past the pesky little PI, as the super knew her, she dropped the camera on the seat and popped into the car, turning the engine over and clicking the button for her four-ways, pretending she was looking over a map. When the subject passed, she waited until it made a right on the highway and, a few seconds later, she turned off the four-ways, tossed the map on top of the camera and made the same turn.

She started to panic as, even after a minute on the highway, she still hadn’t gotten visual contact with the subject. Had she somehow lost it? Maybe it had only stayed on the highway for a moment before turning on a side street? She had about decided to turn back when, finally, she saw the vehicle weaving through traffic at higher speeds than everyone else. Speeds high enough to qualify as a Nascar driver. Damn. There was no way she'd manage inconspicuous if she didn't want to lose the car.  Deciding it was better to keep up, she floored the accelerator and weaved through traffic, praying for no cops. Good thing she knew her way around high-speed driving.

After about ten minutes of weaving and speeding, the BS turning on its right blinker light and turned on a side road before quickly hitting the blinker again and turning into the parking lot of an old brick building which she passed. She pulled into a parking lot two buildings down and on the left side of the road, picking it because it seemed deserted. Pulling out the camera again, she started to take pictures of the building with the grimy windows and small lettering which could just barely be made out as “City Morgue.”

It worked at the morgue? The BS worked the night shift at the fucking morgue? Fuck, that'd figure, right? She figured she should make sure. Putting the camera down, she rifled through her bag until she found her cell phone and walked over to the pay phone at the opposite end of the parking lot. She rummaged through the pages until she found the listing for the morgue in the tattered, water-logged excuse for a directory and dialed. She was greeted with a surprisingly peppy voice that said, “City Morgue, how may I direct your call?” Wow, way too cheery for an employee at the morgue. She flashed back to the heavyset guy at the check-in that grunted, "What?" every time you disturbed the reading of his sacred comics. He'd always smelled like KFC fried chicken and armpit. This lady would probably smell like gardenias and rose petals.  Probably wore cardigans and slacks too.

“Hi. Um, I’m looking for Angelina Rossi. I’m a friend of hers.” Sound friendly, she reminded herself. Sound nice. Right, like THAT was going to happen. She was biologically incapable of nice and friendly.

“Oh, you mean Doctor Rossi?”

Full head nod. “Yes, thank you.”

“I’m sorry, she hasn’t gotten in yet.”

“But she should be in by now," she improvised. Think. Use what you know to develop a rapport with the lady. "She left her townhouse about fifteen minutes ago. It’s only like a five-minute drive with the way she drives,” she said, making fun of the BS's driving and hoping the woman took the bait. Hell, if the BS had gone any faster in that old as dirt convertible, she would have lifted off the ground.

“Don’t I know it,” the receptionist said. “I once had to ride shotgun with her in the meat wagon. Let’s just say it’s an experience I’ll not soon forget.” She paused, "Or soon repeat."

“Yeah, she isn’t exactly known for her driving.” Bet those BS reflexes came in REAL handy.

“Well, still. She hasn’t checked in yet at the front desk. You’ll have to call back later.”

“Thanks. I guess I will.” Strange. Unless the front desk was in the basement, which she doubted, that receptionist was lying her face off. One thing was certain, her BS did work at the morgue. Smart, very smart. Work where it'd most likely to be able to cover up its own messes. That definitely wasn’t the kind of forward-thinking she expected from a one year old vamp. Not in the least. Interesting.

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Instead of sleeping like I would have loved to, like I should have, I sat at my computer and adjusted one of the outside cameras, angling it at the Honda. Okay so, sure, I was letting my paranoia run rampant, but my brain kept reminding me I had a hunter's, a warrior's, instincts. I couldn't be nothing.

Damn it, I shouldn't run away from something. Anything. I pressed the zoom button, running my fingers through my loose hair, letting the familiar movements reassure me. This was what I should be doing. Take action. Do something. It felt right, good, to be trying to solve the problem, the mystery, rather than letting paranoia and anxiety control me.  

The camera I was using right now was expensive, and well worth the money. It had a phenomenal zoom. I could zoom right into the little POS sedan. Well, this much was certain, I thought to myself with pride, whoever she was, she was definitely spying on me. A caucasian woman with curly, brown hair sat in the driver's seat, her eyes intent on my townhouse.  She didn't look like a PI, she was too heavy to be a vampire. She wasn't a werewolf either because they looked very wolfie this time of night. As I watched from the safety of my office, the woman who looked like she should be working for SWAT or Special Forces never diverted her eyes from the building, as if by staring she could unearth whatever secrets the edifice contained. So, I had a secret admirer, I thought ruefully.  Now, what? 

I let the question reverberate in my mind for a few minutes, metaphorically chewing on the the words. My fingers traced my lower lip unconsciously. What to do? With a crooked smile and a little stroke of genius, I knew. I had an idea. It was going to be good. She'd never see it coming. The smile only grew broader as I stared down the poor unsuspecting woman. She picked the WRONG person. She'd pay dearly for it.



Later that night, as day began outside my sealed windows, I had trouble sleeping. Coming up with a plan to deal with my would-be stalker helped easy my anxiety but, still, something disturbed my peace. I'd first felt I was being followed in the middle of the woods, deep enough I wouldn't expect humans and yet that was undoubtedly what my stalker was.

Then, once more, at my car. There certainly hadn't been a blue Honda Civic in the dirt parking lot. I was certain of that. So, how could a human track me that far? How did she find me at home? My mind raced to conspiracy theories and accomplices, all of which I tamped down, refusing to fall back into paranoia and anxiety.

I closed my eyes and took in a deep breath. Breathe in. Breathe out. Just keep breathing nice deep breaths. In. Out.  Remembering mediation techniques I'd learned years ago, I consciously relaxed my toes and worked my way up my body, finding the little exercise more taxing than usual. After longer than I would have liked, my eyelids grew heavy and I slept a light and restless sleep.

  

She was stationed, waiting in her car. She’d checked out the entire building. During the day, of course. She wasn't stupid. There was an exit out back but the subject wouldn’t leave during the daytime. She was more concerned with who came and went from the building. She intended to find everything there was to know about this... thing. As she waited, an older man with gray hair, maybe in his sixties, walked to the car and knocked on the window. She rolled it down. “Can I help you?” she asked with a bit of pissed off in her tone.

“Well, young miss,” he said in a gruff voice, “I saw you sitting there in that car and I thought you might like some fresh baked goods and coffee while you’re stalking my residents.” He was obviously annoyed but he pulled it off like a good British butler, all polite and sarcastic. Despite the slight hunch and almost farmer boy clothing, he seemed threatening. Ironic considering her background. That and he looked like he couldn't bruise a tomato. Tomatoes aside, she half expected him to say, "If you want her, you'll have to go through me," next. She wouldn't put it past him. He just had that feel, maybe a hero complex or territoriality, she wasn't sure which.

“I’m not stalking your residents, sir. That’s the truth,” she said, never taking her eyes off his. That would be a mistake. His faded gray eyes blazed into her, confident of her lie. He was a shrewd one, all right.

 “Then what are you doing here, sitting in this car with a pair of binoculars in the passenger’s seat?” He motioned to the binoculars with a slight head nod. No point in excess movement at his advanced age. God, she hoped she never got enfeebled. She'd feel caged by her own body, unable to fulfill her purpose, worthless. The thought brought on a whole body shiver she was helpless to prevent.

She sighed, exacerbated with the third degree.  “I’m a private investigator. Someone paid me to keep an eye on Ms. Rossi in 208. I’m just doing my job.” She held up her hands on the last part as if to say, "Whatta ya gonna do?  It's out of my hands."

“Doctor.”

“What?”

“Doctor. She has an MD. She’s a doctor.”

“I didn’t know that," she said without thinking. Shit, she should have kept that little revelation to herself. At least she kept her face straight. Wouldn't want Mr. Keen Eyes to witness her mental backlashing and realize she was more a liar than he already suspected. She could still recover this. Maybe.

He scoffed, shaking his head. “And you call yourself a PI.”

“Hey, I just got on this case," she said with another full body shrug and a lot of attitude. "The only information I have so far is what was given to me by the client. I’m having my assistant run background information as we speak but I like to get a feel for things right away.” She leaned through the window and into the older man's personal space, "I'm not real big on the sitting behind a desk schtick, ya dig?" She winked at him and whipped out a conspiratorial smile.

She wouldn't have thought a person could pull off a full facial scowl but he did. Every facial muscle was involved. She almost sat there in stunned awe. She so wanted to learn that. “Stay away from Dr. Rossi. I mean it," he growled. An image of a gray wolf in full territorial display popped in her head. Yeah, he had that manner about him.

“Or what?” Another little grin. Hey, maybe she couldn't salvage the relationship, but the least she could do is keep it friendly, right? Friendly was nonthreatening. Friendly was disarming. She needed a whole buttload of disarming right now. With his face red as a turnip, Mr. Keen Eyes looked about ready to explode.

“I’ll call the cops," he replied with a glare that said she was about as welcome as jock itch. "If you don’t leave now, I’ll call the cops. I don’t want to see you here again. Do you understand?” He poked his forefinger at her with another snarl, emphasizing his point. As if he was any threat to her? She held back the riotous laughter though. That probably wouldn't win her any favor, just a lightning fast 911.

“Crystal.” She rolled up the window. So much for that…

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Later that night, Ben headed back to the manor, waving and thanking me and generally making a spectacle of himself that made my inner hunter cringe.  I went back to my hunting solemnly and, damn it, quietly.  I ran through battle tactics in my head to kill the time, reviewing scenarios for taking out werewolves individually, what to do when confronted with a group, things like that.  It was too late to catch many of them near the den and surprise them with a katana through his or her neck so I just sat and waited.  That nagging feeling continued to plague me, though.

My nose isn't near as good as a werewolf's but I scented nothing of significance anyway.  I could detect no werewolf, vampire or human.  If anyone was out there, he was downwind.  The night was relatively quiet as well.  No sounds betrayed something large enough to be an enemy, not even a normal wolf.  An owl hooted in the distance and it struck me as sounding uncharacteristically eerie.  I shook my head, chiding myself for letting myself get psyched out by, well, nothing.

After an hour or so, the groundless anxiety started to drain my energy and my nerve.  I was twitchy and irritable, bordering on paranoid and itching for a fight.  At that point, I'd have fought anything to release the energy stored in my muscles, werewolf or not.

Finally, I decided to get gone.  I wasn't doing anyone any good sitting here, fidgeting in a tree.  In the hopes of relieving the tension, I floored it to the car, letting my muscles ease and then burn with the exertion.  When I reached the car, I didn't want to stop and the nagging feeling was back, the feeling like I was being watched.  It was driving me nuts, like a twitch between my shoulder blades that couldn't be relieved.  

 Could someone have followed me?  At that speed?  There weren't a lot of creatures capable of it.  Werewolves aren't that fast and, because of my physical training, I'm faster than most vampires as well, so I didn’t think it was likely.  I was pretty good I what I did.  Even with Ben slowing me down, it would be hard to follow me undetected.  Nearly impossible, in fact.  Anxiety humming through me once more, I scanned the black forest.  The boughs of the Pine Barrens skeleton-like with their needle-laden branches.  I smacked myself on the forehead for coming up with yet another Halloween-worthy bit of imagery.  What was with me tonight?  

I looked into the trees once more, daring them to inspire more demented poetic thoughts but, to my relief, none came.  The trees were simply trees.  The branches were scaled with green pine needles.  The forest faded into black in almost all directions.  A strange draining feeling bordering on sorrow, or maybe dread, filled me, emptying my body of what remnants of strength I laid claim to.  Exhausted, I clicked the key fob and collapsed into the little convertible, letting my head fall back and bounce off the headrest.  A groan escaped my throat before I sat up straight and started the car.  Sleep.  Sleep would do me a world of good.



When I drove into the spot in front of my townhouse, I noticed a blue sedan across the street I’d never seen before.  My blood ran cold and my paranoia got away from me before I managed to grab it by the throat and yank it back down where it belonged.  The car seemed to be an early 90’s Honda Civic, I noted to assure myself I was still in control of myself.  It might behoove me to keep an eye out for that little car.  The anxiety was still there  as I got out of the car, closed the door and hit the button on the clickie-thing until the car gave me a reassuring beep.  I jogged to the door, for some reason uneasy about being out in the open.  After unlocking the front door, I dropped the keys next to the monitor and locked up again, double checking the deadbolt and chain.  Now, time for that sleep I promised myself…

 
Today's entry is a long scene.  About 2,000 words.  Enjoy.
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When I woke up, my alarm clock read ten-thirty.  I rolled out of bed and eased my legs off until I was in a kneeling position.  Yawning and stretching a bit, I took my time standing and heading to the bathroom.  With the flick of a wrist, I shocked myself with the worst hairdo on the face of the planet, exposed by the flicker fluorescent bulb.  Groaning, I turned on the shower and sluggishly got ready to leave for the evening.

After a nice hot half hour shower, I dressed for a run to the mansion, where many of the vampires of my clan lived, unlike me.  Most vampires found it too hard to keep things up in the outside world.  I found it quite easy but, then again, I’m young.  Maybe it will be harder in another hundred years.  Actually, scratch that, with the way technology was going, I'd guarantee it'd be harder.  I grabbed my bag and headed out the door, locking it behind me.   I was still half asleep but my stomach rumbled away like a lawnmower.  I’d catch Mickey D’s, McDonald's, on the way out.  I could see it now: four of those teeny little hamburgers with the small cooked onions, three medium fries because the super sizes weren’t worth it for the money and the largest Dr Pepper I could get, no ice of course.  My mouth was already watering.  I’d drive.  It would arouse suspicion if I ran at top speed around town.  I’d let it wait until I was where nobody could see me.

I sat in my car in the parking lot as I finished my meal and sighed.  The fries were perfect, soggy and salty at the same time.  I love those extra long ones that are invariably flimsy.  When I finished my food, I went on to licking my fingers to get all the salt off them.  One of the many blessings of vampirism, I don’t have to worry about heart disease.  The thought made me smile because my family had a history of it, along with diabetes.  Considering fast food was pretty much heart disease and Type II diabetes in a bag, the thought made me very happy now.  Tossing the garbage back into the bag, I turned the key in the ignition and pushed the manual into reverse while releasing the parking brake.  It took me an hour to get to the mansion, most of which spent waiting at lights that never seemed to turn green because it was just that late.  And to think, if I RAN, I wouldn't NEED to wait for lights...

 The place was as I’d left it.  After trekking through dense pines for about twenty minutes, I finally made it to a clearing filled with tall weeds and dense undergrowth.  Pines surrounded the clearing and my destination, an old stone building, sat perched in the center of a near impossible to cross meadow.  It was massive but dilapidated with twin towers at either end of the building, each having several stones missing and having long since lost a roof.  The roof of the main part of the building was kept in good repair but the building in general was kept in ill repair on the outside to affect a facade of dilapidation and discourage busy bodies.  Leaping through the underbrush instead of walking through, I made it to the door in about a minute.  I pushed my way through the large, heavy wooden doors.  “Where’s Nicki?” I asked a startled vampire who’d been apparently reading on the main stairs.

His entire body seemed to tremble as he slowly rose to his feet.  He opened his mouth to say something but then closed it again and merely lifted his trembling arm toward my right.  “Thank you,” I said.  Hmmm, maybe I should spend more time here.  I had no idea who that kid was.  I clonked boldly into the room where Nicki stood by a bar, pouring himself a drink.  “Nicki,” my voice echoed off the walls, making him jump and spill his drink.  I smiled.  “I need to talk to you about matters of grave importance.”

“Not now,” he moaned before turning to me.  “What is it, Angelina?  What is it that’s SOOOO pressing THIS time?”  He walked around the bar to pour another drink without letting his guard down, without taking his condescending eyes from me.

“I’ve discovered the whereabouts of a werewolf clan.  Close.  Very close.  It could mean trouble for us.  I don’t quite know the size of the den but from the look of it, it might be quite large.  If you wish, I may investigate it further.”  I bowed my head just slightly.  I hated to do so but it was required.  Nicki was the steward of our clan.  Meaning while our true leader slept, Nicki was in control.  It also meant he was responsible for every clan in the country, in effect Steward-King of the US.  Stewards were the only males allowed positions of status in vampire culture.  All other positions were given to women.  There was the leader of each clan, the Chatelaine, which attended meetings that were held once a year to discuss policies and current events and any ongoing problems any specific clan was enduring.  The clans are overseen by the Queen, whom picks a Princess-Chatelaine sometime during her reign.  The Princess-Chatelaine oversees her Queen’s clan and helps with the duties that will one day be hers if she ever gets to see the day her Queen steps down from the throne.  It doesn't always happen.  Unless, of course, someone makes it happen, a time-honored tradition in vampire society.

 The most fascinating thing to me was how the Princess-Chatelaine is picked.  The Queen doesn't pick from her own clan but sleeps and reaches out with her consciousness, searching for her, drawing her to the clan.  It's said she will wake instantly when the Princess-Chatelaine walks through the doors.  Bullshit, I thought to myself sarcastically.  Our Queen rested, in waiting, in a room on the upper floor.  I’d never met her.  One person said she was nice.  I just didn't know or care.  If she was any better than Nicki, I'd smack her for putting him in charge.

“You will do no such thing,” Nicki said between drinks, in response to my request to investigate the werewolves further.  “I am the head of this clan and we will NOT risk a war over your whims.”  Whims, my ass.  He was just a fucking coward.  I held my tongue.

My face started to turn beet red from controlled rage.  I controlled my breathing and tried not to talk through my teeth.  “Sir, if I may say so,” I help up a finger and let out a barely audible grunt as Nicki tried to object, “having a decent sized werewolf clan will draw unneeded attention to us.  There were two POWERFUL werewolves there.  For two to congregate like that, there must  a sizable population of werewolves in the vicinity.  People will notice the quantity of deaths that would bring.  We have to take out these beasts for our own safety.”

“I said we’ll do no such thing.  Angelina, you seem to not understand there's more at stake than your obsession with werewolves.  I have a great deal on my plate right now.  I do not need to add a war with a werewolf clan to it.  That is all.  You are dismissed.”  The smugness rolled off him in waves, smacking me in the face.

Storming out in a stiff limbed manner, I grunted, “Asshole!” as I cleared the doors.  The boy jumped again at my passing and dropped the book on the floor.  I looked over at him.  He was scrawny.  He definitely didn’t eat enough and didn’t exercise enough to maintain decent musculature.  “How old are you, kid?”

 “Twenty-three,” he said nervously, clutching the book defensively against his chest after having kneeled to retrieve it.

“In vampire years, moron.”

His mouth quivered, “Six months, ma’am.”

I rolled my eyes before looking him straight in his, “Alright.  Listen up, kid.  First, if you want to live past today, I’d suggest you not call me ma’am.  Second, if you want to last another six months, I suggest you get your nose out of that book and start eating more and using what you’ve got.  Vampires that don’t know how to use what they’ve got are easily killed.  They don’t last long.”  I walked into the other room and pulled a sword off a rack.  Coming back into the main area, I tossed the weapon at the boy and said, “Here.  You’re gonna need this.”  He handled the sheathed weapon awkwardly, almost as if he didn’t know which end was which.  “Well, put the belt on, kid, and let’s get moving.”

He looked at me petrified as he held the sword by the ends of the belt, “W-w-w-what?”

I rubbed my forehead impatiently.  “Come on, kid.  This is your lucky day.  I’m going to teach you the ropes.”

“What if I don’t need to be shown the ropes?” he asked uncertainly as he fastened the belt around him, fumbling with the buckle.

“You do.  Trust me.”  After a few seconds, I was pushing the main doors open.  He must have realized the virtue of my proposal because he suddenly started running for the door.  “What’s your name, kid?”

“Ben.  It’s Ben.  And yours?” His voice had finally calmed down and he seemed at peace again.  As he’d been when he’d been reading the book.  Good, he adapts well.  Vampires NEED to adapt to survive.

I couldn't help but wonder why he just sat there, biding his time in the manor.  He was young enough.  He could spend the next decade or two living in the real world, making a living.  He wasn't confined there, stuck without the ever-needed ID of today's society.  So why was he sitting on the steps, reading a book?

 “Angelina.”  I extended my hand and he took it.  “Nice to meet you.”

“So how long you been a vampire?”

“Only a year, but it hasn’t been easy.  I was turned by somebody that didn’t much give a shit about showing me the ropes.  I had to figure out everything for myself, which nearly got me killed a couple of times.”  I laughed.  It's funny how easy it is to laugh at things that were damn scary at the time.  “Anyway, being a vamp isn’t easy.  It takes a lot of work, creativity and quite the criminal mind.  On a regular basis, we have to figure out ways of doing things so we don’t arouse suspicions.  I can teach you.  But tonight, I’m going to be staking out a possible wolf den.  While we’re waiting, I’ll show you a few things.”

“Hmm.  Thanks, Angelina.  Say, why doesn’t Nicki like you?”

I chuckled, “Hell, I don’t know.  The truth is, I don’t mind.  I enjoy annoying him.  There's always assholes in your life that just want to get in the way.  That’s just God testing you.”

“You still believe in God?” he asked shocked.  Yeah, bet you're shocked too, huh?  Believe it or not, it isn't impossible to be a vampire and religious.  Sometimes, it's the only thread I have holding me to my sanity.

“Course I do.  I need Him now more than ever.  I sin now more than I ever did.  That’s the damn truth.  So, every night, or afternoon, basically whenever you’re going to sleep, you lie in your bed and you look up at the ceiling and you think, ‘Please God forgive me.  Just give me another path and I’ll take it.’  So yeah, I do believe in God.  I think we all should.  Gives us perspective.  Let’s face it, some of the older ones practically think they ARE gods.”

 He laughed.  Yeah, I thought it was kinda funny too.  It didn’t take us but a couple of hours to get back to the wolf den.  We watched as wolf after wolf left or entered the den and we tried our best to make sure we didn’t double count any.  When everything was quiet, I told Ben tips for getting victims and disposing of the bodies in ingenious fashions.  I started to teach him how to use a sword.  He was quite the quick study but all the while, I couldn’t shake this feeling of being watched.

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She didn’t like it.  Not one bit.  Usually, she was at home in the darkness but now it seemed to enclose her, bind her, threaten her.  She tried keeping her cool but the night seemed filled with dangers and threats.  She knew it would be no good to enter this meeting in a cold sweat with her heart in her throat.  That would be VERY bad.  Good or bad, her body wasn't listening.  She tried to calm herself, get to her natural state.  She imagined death and mayhem and that soothed her a bit.  She ran her hand longingly over the cold steel slide of her holstered .45 and that calmed her the rest of the way.

She dragged her fingers through her long, curly hair.  Not quite nervous, impatience certainly possessed her as she looked at her watch.  Her client was late.  She hated tardiness.  A slight scowl came over her face that did nothing for her features.  Good, mad was good, annoyed was better.  She was accustomed to being annoyed when encountering these things.  Though, if she was going to be honest, nowadays, emotionless was more common.  She checked her watch again.  Fifteen minutes late.  She rested her hand on the stakes shoved precariously in her belt, reassuring herself with their solid weight.  One wrong move, just one, and the demon would be history.  She almost wished it'd try something.  Actually, she did wish it.  Then she’d get both ends of the stick.  She sighed and was once again at ease.  Except, of course, for the fact the monster was late.

She leaned against the old brick wall when a snide little wisp of what passed for a man with a wicked grin on its face darted into sight.  “You’re late, Nickolaus."  She didn't even bother to disguise the venom in her voice as she hissed out the name.

It jumped on a post of the wall easily eight feet from the ground and said, “You’re early,” with a slight accent and a hint of the gentile under many layers of superiority.  Of course, an insecure jackass would NEED the reassurance of attaining the higher ground.

“Do you really want me to smack that look off your face?” she snarled at it, positioning her body slightly forward in that way only women can do right but gay men sometimes achieve.  She bet she could kill it from here, if she tried.  The thought brought a grin to her face that would have sent chills down the spine of a normal person; that and the urge to run.

Holding up its hands, it said, “Hey, hey!  Aren’t we here to do business, vampire hunter?”  Diplomatic asshole.  She resisted the urge to finger her weapons again.

She glared at the monster before her, “We are.  Just hand over the money and the information and I’ll be on my merry way.”  And know someday your ass is grass, asshole.

 It smiled.  “Now that’s a little more to your reputation, vampire hunter.”  The vampire slipped its hand under its coat and pulled out an envelope.  “Here you go, sweetie.  All there, as we agreed.  Just know, if you fail, I will kill you."  Yeah, win or lose.  Ditto, dumbass.  "I think I’d rather enjoy it.  From the smell of you, your blood would be sweet.”  It smiled and disappeared as quickly as it'd arrived.  Without further ado, she leaned against the wall and opened the large flimsy white envelope.  She was curious, to say nothing else, why a vampire would contract a vampire hunter to kill one of his own.  All the better for her.  After all, the money wasn’t usually that great in her chosen field.  She pulled a picture of a skinny, but pretty girl with black hair.  She had an almost mischievous smile on her face, but not quite.  She pulled out the bio sheet and stopped dead when she read the vampire was only about a year old.  What the hell??  Why would it bother with such a young vampire?  Young vampires didn’t last long anyway, from her experience.  The new ones were always easy to kill.  She figured, between people like her and internal squabbles, most didn't survive.  She was certain it could have easily taken care of this issue on its own, so why enlist her and spend all this money?

On the other hand, who cares?  She was getting paid for something she loved to do.  What’d it matter why she was getting paid?  And it wasn't like the vampire was going to survive long enough to reap the rewards of the contract kill, whatever they may be.  She pulled the last thing from the envelope, a wad of bills, 100s, ten grand worth.  It was time to start surveillance on this bitch.


Photo credit: Daniele Zedda / Foter.com / CC BY
 
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When we finished breakfast and there was nothing left on the table, I was still a bit hungry but I didn’t tell Chase.  I never seemed to fill up and most of the time, I was embarrassed by how skinny I was.  Yes, it was true.  I used to feel too fat.  Now, I couldn't keep pounds on to save my life.  Sometimes, I felt like I could float away, if it weren't for the fact I could lift a Mack truck with my thumb and index finger.  I started clearing off the table but Chase quickly interfered and whisked everything away.  If only he knew I could balance all those dishes, pots, pans, cups and silverware on one finger to bring them to the kitchen.  I’ve done it before.  “Fine,” I said, “then what did you get me to watch?”

“It’s a surprise.  Wait until I finish with these dishes," he aimed the statement back at me with a grin that was part affection, part mischief.

“Surprise?  You know I don’t do surprises.  Where did you put it?  Is it in your jacket?  Chase?”  I walked back into the kitchen and right behind him at the sink.

“Yes, Angi?” he said, turning his head slightly to get a glimpse at me.

I glided my hands around him, saying, “Hurry up so I can find out what you got me.”  He was wearing his lightweight jacket he loved so much and there was a rectangular bulge in the front where the inside pocket was.  I slid my hand into his jacket and slipped it out, jumping back as he turned and tried to hit me with the water and soap suds that covered his hands.  Thanks to cat-like reflexes, he missed entirely and I stuck my tongue out at him, waving the box mockingly.  My smile was anything but innocent.  With a smile on both of our faces, I slinked into the dining room and opened the bag with the box in it.  He got me Underworld: Evolution.  I love that movie!  And not a rental either, brand new.  My smile broadened.

Yes, I know it would seem like a weird movie to like but let’s face it, Selene reminded me a lot of myself.  Besides, who wouldn’t love to go around in skin-tight leather, leaping from building to building.  Plus, I loved the way she always lands with a bounce in her step.  I just can’t do that.  Trust me, I’ve tried.  If you put me in skin-tight leather and high heels, I'd be lucky if I landed on my feet and not my ass.  Period.  I could manage a quiet landing but graceful has always been a stretch.  Besides, did a warrior honestly NEED a graceful landing?  Not really.  Just needed to not warn my enemies.

Chase finished the dishes and walked into the living room to find me beaming from ear to ear.  “I guess you liked it.”

“You know it.”  I smiled a little brighter.  I ran over to the DVD player and 42” LCD TV and started the close to impossible task of removing the safety seals from the DVD, which of course was in triplicate along with the skin-tight wrapper.  After about five minutes, I was finally able to get the disc in the player.

As I sat down on the couch, leaning into Chase, he said, “Can’t see why you like this movie.  But I’m glad you’re happy.”

“What’s not to like?  Perfect role model.  Hot-ass chica in skin-tight leather, jumping off buildings and kicking ass.”  I smiled again.  God, if he only knew HOW perfect role model she could be.

“I guess you’re right.”  He smiled back at me.



After the movie, we played cards, drank and laughed.  It was probably about three o’clock when Chase kissed me goodnight.  I locked the door behind him and had already taken my shirt and bra off by the time I reached the bedroom.  I grabbed the sports bra from the bed and pulled it over my head along with the tie-dyed Santana tee shirt and pulled off my jeans before curling up into my queen-size to sleep.  Hmmm, I forgot something… Aw hell, it can wait until I get up again.  I rolled over and started dreaming of doing things with Chase I’d never done before…

Photo credit: Caliban 7 / Foter.com / CC BY-NC
 
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As I hung up the phone, I leapt toward the kitchen.  I loved to cook.  It was by far my favorite activity in the whole world.  No other deed made my heart at peace quite like it.  I’m sure most of you are wondering why a vampire would love to cook.  It’s common knowledge that vamps are on a liquid diet.  Wrong again.  In reality, I have to eat MORE than I used to in order to maintain my metabolism, thank God!  I’d always loved to eat but I had such a slow metabolism I could barely consume a thousand Calories without gaining weight.  Eating and sleeping had always been my favorite activities, though.  It’s strange one of my favorite things is sleeping when I’m an insomniac but, then again, maybe not.  I’ve always loved eating and was well-known in family lore, for example, for my innate ability to eat inhuman amounts of bread.  There was that time at Outback during my teenage years when the waitress looked at me funny and said with a mix of shock and chagrin, "Another?  Haven't you had enough?"  But, that's another story altogether.

As I entered the kitchen, I felt at home.  I glided to the fridge and started pulling out eggs, milk, sausage, bagels, the bacon you only have to microwave because I hate getting burned to hell and back by the grease but absolutely LOVE bacon, and fake biscuits because I’m lazy.  Okay, so the biscuits weren't as fake as the bacon but still...

I pulled out the frying pans, started frying sausage, broke and scrambled the eggs and moved on to starting the pancakes.  I always use these packets that are pre-made (sort of) where all you need to do is add water.  I grabbed three bags and started mixing them to the proper proportions.

In no time, the biscuits were done, the sausage gravy was warming on the stove, the eggs were yellow and fluffy and the pancakes were perfectly golden with exactly three chocolate chips each, evenly spaced.  Am I OCD or what?  I tossed the bacon and the bagels in the microwave and waited for the doorbell to ring to signal break time.  Invariably, I would eat the vast majority of this and there wouldn’t be any leftovers.  Chase would stare at me with a half bemused, half are you crazy look.  I started cleaning up.  I grabbed the spare eggs and bacon, poured myself a glass of milk and grabbed that too.  Remarkably, I opened the door without hands.  Ask me some day and I just might show you how I do it.  I put the bacon and eggs away on a shelf and pushed the blood aside to put the milk away.  Hey, sometimes it helps to have an emergency backup, right?  I grabbed the butter and started setting the table.

In moments, I finished setting the table and started putting all the food out when the bell rang.  “In a minute,” I yelled at the door as I made the finishing touches.  I looked back at the kitchen, now emptied of food but scary in its disorder.  Oh well, I’d clean it up later.  “Coming!” I said to the door again.  I went over, checked the monitor next to the door and there he was on the display, a little weird-looking with the downward angle of the lens but handsome as ever in his jeans and just barely tight-fitting black tee-shirt that looked like it said: “You should see the other guy.”  He had long black hair that came about down to his shoulders.  You couldn’t see it on the monitors but he had the most beautiful blue eyes I’d ever seen.  I unlocked the door.  “Come on in.”  For obvious reasons, I never opened the door for people during the day.  Chase came in, closed the door and I said, “Come on.  I’m starving.”  He laughed.  He had a good laugh.  With a smile on my face that belied my statement, I said, “I’m serious.  Let’s get to eating!”

One of the wonderful things about our breakfasts is they last forever.  We spend most of the time either eating while the other person is talking or vice versa.  We talked about our days (yesterday for him or last night for me).  Of course, I omitted a few details he might not understand.  As for the news, Chase got a call at the hospital about a “disturbance.”  Apparently, a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant for those not in the know) freaked out when she walked into a patient’s room.  A little flustered and maybe fearing trouble, an orderly called the cops.  After they resolved the misunderstanding, the patient was discharged.  Apparently, the staff felt if the patient was healthy enough to have sex, the person was healthy enough to be discharged.  The entire floor had laughs at that person’s expense all day.  I gotta admit.  If I’d been there, I'd have been laughing too, even if I’d been the one walking in on them.

Photo credit: User:Gnangarra / Foter.com / CC BY
 
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As I headed back to town, it was close to sunrise.  I felt it, like an aching in my bones.  But the clan would have to wait until tomorrow to learn of my discovery.  We intended our meeting place to be inaccessible to humans and, because of that, nye impossible to get telephone access.  In the meanwhile, I’d invite my boyfriend over.  Chase was working twelve-hour days Friday through Sunday at the local P.D. as a Detective.  With any luck, he’d be getting up sometime soon and we could get together.  I liked his work schedule because I saw more of him that way.  We usually only meet during the daytime, in part because I work nights at the County Morgue as a Forensic Pathologist.  Strangely, I chose a profession where I’d have to cut up dead bodies all the time BEFORE I became a vamp.  Almost like fate, eh?

I hadn't told Chase I’m a vampire yet and, with luck, he won’t figure it out for a long time.  We’ve been going out together for a year and been taking it really slow.  I told him I had intimacy problems.  The truth is, I’m afraid.  My stomach tied up in knots just thinking about it and I took a moment to calm myself, filling my lungs with deep breaths once more, only for different reasons, obviously.  I really liked Chase and I didn't want to ruin it by confusing it with the cheap thrill I got with a kill.  An image popped into my head of Chase on my couch, pale, not breathing, blood pooling out from a wound.  His eyes would stare back in that manner only a dead person can affect.  I had to admit that, on more than one occasion, I pulled away because I was afraid I’d hurt him.  So maybe I really DID have intimacy issues, just not normal ones.

 To explain away obvious problems that might arise, I told him I had XP.  I told everyone in my development that lie.  When I turned, I moved to a new community, a new city, a new everything.  Better safe than sorry, right?  I moved back to my childhood home of Southern New Jersey, home of the Jersey Devil if you believe in that sort of stuff.  Strangely, I don’t.  I know, I'm a bit of a devil myself, right?  And it’s funny, but the idea of a devil making its way through the Pine Barrens of South Jersey just didn't seem likely.  Then again, neither would an organized pack of werewolves taking up residence west of here near the Pennsylvania border or a clan of vampires in the Poconos.

For those less educated (or those that haven’t read the Dean Koontz books), XP is a rare genetic disorder with only about 2000 cases worldwide.  Its full name is xeroderma pigmentosum and it's lethal.  The lucky ones last until adulthood, most don’t, partially because it’s not caught fast enough.  They can’t endure ANY UV light because their cells don’t have the mechanisms most people have in place to fix the damage (UV light has this unfortunate tendency to damage DNA and, though I know how it works, I'll probably make your eyes glaze over if I tried to explain it all).  The disease is degenerative and sometimes starts with severe sunburns but sometimes the only first signs are increased amounts of freckles and skin that looks a lot like that of an old person.  Their eyes will be extremely sensitive to light which may even lead to blindness.  They usually develop cancers before the age of ten.  Some poor kids even have neurological dysfunctions like deafness and mobility impairments.  The sad thing is, it’s not just sunlight they can’t stand, most electric lighting is intolerable and they can’t use computers.  Windows should be blacked out or covered to prevent even a little UV light from passing through.  They also can’t be around tobacco smoke because they are more prone to ALL forms of cancer.

 I went into my office and slid out the drawer that would usually have a computer keyboard.  I unplugged my laptop from the power adapter and plopped it onto my lap.  Chase would probably freak if he saw me with a computer but what he doesn’t know won’t bother him, right?  Besides, I'd been telling him I only have a MILD case of XP to explain away the inconsistencies.  Booting the computer by pressing the tiny round button with the circle and line through the top, I went beyond the IBM BIOS screen, onto the Windows Welcome screen and finally to my desktop, which was a respectful black.  Black, gray, and purple set the tones of the task bar and everything else.  Why Microsoft insisted on all those pansy-assed pastels was beyond me.  I clicked the icon on my desktop that said “Camera1” underneath it.  It brought me to a web camera I set up.  I began a ritual I started almost a year ago, not long after I turned, and, with any luck, would continue until the day I die.  The camera mounted on the roof and saw clear past the development to a tree-lined field.  I couldn’t see a sunrise in person but, via the wonders of technology, I hadn’t missed a single one since I turned.  As I watched, colors crept across the sky, a ball of fire gliding inch by inch across the horizon, a burning ember gilding the field before it.  As I watched, a tear followed a familiar track down my cheek as it did most every day around this time.  The cool liquid leaving a stiffness along its trail.  Why I’d never acknowledged the pure beauty of this, I may never know, but I'll never forget it again.  Too often, people don't see the beauty that's all around them until it's too late.  I let out a quiet sigh in contemplation of that heavy truth.

When the sunrise finished and I'd wiped away every remnant of a tear, I exited out of Camera1 and moved to Camera2.  Camera2 gave a direct view of the street.  From the comfort of my office, I watched as people went about their petty lives, going to work, running errands, or picking up the kids at the ex’s.  I liked to make up lives for the people I saw as I sat in my second story office.  I found it fun.  Like maybe that balding man in the grey pinstripe is embezzling money from his law firm and his wife is about to leave him with both kids.  Maybe that woman with the blond hair, short black dress and spike heels is actually a skilled thief.  Okay, so they weren’t exactly realistic lives but they were fun to think up.  And, sure, my fantasies trended toward the overly dramatic or tragic but was it really so surprising when that was all my life had granted me lately?

I put the computer down on the desk and dialed Chase’s number.  It rang twice before a slightly husky but groggy voice came on the phone.  “Chase?  Did I wake you?” I said, feeling bad, fretting that my call woke him up.  But, honestly, when's the RIGHT time when you sleep the day away?

His voice instantly perked up.  “Angi?  Hey, how ya’ doin?  I was hoping you’d call today.”

“I’m good,” I said with a smile on my face.  “It’s good to be wanted.”

“So, you want me to get a movie or, maybe, a book from the library?  Anything?”

“Well, just pick a winner at the video store and I’ll make something absolutely fantastic for breakfast.  How’s that?”

“Sounds great.  See ya’ in about a half an hour?”

“See ya’ then.”  An even bigger smile came over my face.  God, I was such a big fool.  Why did I always feel like smiling when I was around Chase?  Aw, who gives a shit?  I'd better get started on that breakfast…

Original image URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/sprengben/6830207657/
Title: Majestic Sunrise from the Summit of Mount Fuji

 
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Well, I managed to get the Feedburner RSS feed up and running, but it quit on me shortly after, refusing to let me set up the email subscriptions.  

You know, this just figures!  Just like me!  I can't count the times I've been on a computer and it just did something stupid.  And I'm not talking about instances where I did something wrong and didn't realize.  I'm talking about being cursed.

You see, while I am a whiz with computers, I also have the innate tendency to encounter problems with them as well.  Like my first desktop.  It never worked right.  We got it refurbished, but no matter what we did, it never worked right.  I think they replaced the CD drive five times before it occurred to them that the problem was with the motherboard.  Or my sophomore year of college.  I was in a computer programming class, Java.  I spend the entire semester going downstairs to the computer lab to compile my code because Javac didn't work on my computer.  I took the stupid thing in so many times it wasn't funny but nobody could ever fix it.  Or more recently, I still have no idea what's wrong with my desktop...  It just won't run this one program.  No idea why.

Anyway, ranting aside, I will get the email subscription up...  Once feedburner cooperates...

 
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I was breathing heavily through my nose so I could better scent my prey.  He was still here.  The strong scent of pine was messing with me but there was still that faint wet dog smell, and the blood chill that went along with it.  I'd lost him, so I was sitting cross-legged, with my katana stuck in the ground and my eyes closed.  The position was reminiscent of a yoga posture.  I pulled a long deep breath in and sank down with the exhale, releasing every molecule of air I could.  I focused on all of the smells around me, on sounds of animals as they traipsed through the underbrush.  I’d been sitting there for maybe three or four minutes now and I was afraid I really had lost him, that all that remained in the vicinity were a few squirrels and an owl looking for a meal.

Suddenly, I knew.  To the east.  In one smooth motion, I launched my body in a way that had taken me some time to perfect.  The grace, strength, and speed attributed to a vampire did not come naturally but had to be learned, trained into muscle memory like with anything else.  We just had more potential than an ordinary human, that's all.

Within minutes of changing course, his revolting scent was getting stronger.  He thought I had given up.  Fool.  He must have stopped too.  Otherwise, he wouldn’t be so close.  I stopped within twenty feet of him, seeing his massive frame through the pines.  He was a big one alright.  My clan warned me about a powerful one in the area.  Apparently, I’d found him.  In my head, I knew the advantage in this situation was mine.  He couldn’t smell me.  But even without a scent, not much beat a werewolf's hearing and vision, so I'd have to be quick and careful.

I waited in the darkness, not even breathing.  Letting my heart just about stop to aid me in my current endeavor.  There was no way he’d hear me but, as I waited behind a tree, I was still concerned he might see me before I was prepared to attack.  I wanted to observe him for a while before I ended him.  As a general rule, I never enter a battle without being fully prepared for what I am up against.

An hour dragged by, but the werewolf hadn't moved.  This worried me.  And bored me.  I've never been good at sitting still.  My impatience only intensified after turning.  As I sat out of sight, but still within range of my sense smell and hearing, I couldn't help but work through the facts in my head.  As I frowned and nearly puckered up my entire face in consternation, I kept coming to the same conclusion: werewolves simply don’t wait around for no apparent reason.  It was a full moon.  There was fun to be had.  And besides, most werewolves don’t have any self-control when they are fully transformed.  I was starting to get the feeling I was in WAY over my head and I didn't like it.  Not one bit.  As I gnawed on my lower lip, I groaned inwardly, not allowed the luxury of making a noise but frustrated none-the-less.  It looked like this was going to be strictly recon.

Fifteen more minutes and another werewolf showed up from the opposite direction.  Though it seemed strange, from what little I knew of werewolves, they’d been planning on meeting each other.  That much was obvious and, from the looks of things,  I had not one, but two, powerful werewolves on my hands.  Though they didn’t talk, no fully transformed werewolf could because of the jaw structure, they seemed to communicate and when they first met, they shook paws, almost like business associates.  It was kind of creepy.  With their paws, they drew diagrams in the sandy dirt.  I couldn’t see what they drew but I only had to assume it was to make up for the lack of speech.  It took another hour before they dispersed.  I followed the one I’d tracked this far as he left the small clearing and headed to the north.  I had a bad feeling about this...

It took a solid hour and a half before I finally got to see where he was heading and there was just one word for it.  Trouble.  As the forest finally opened into empty fields, I saw a large stone mansion in the background.  As my blood ran cold again, I knew instinctively it was a werewolf safe-haven.  My best guess would be the Were I’d just followed was their leader…