It took a stolen car but she eventually found her way back to her car and, ultimately, her apartment. It was strange but stealing a car didn't bother her in the least. It should have, she thought, her mind flitting back absently to her former career, images of tactical gear and clean-cut uniforms accompanying it. Her past should have made her cringe at the idea of stealing but it was a necessary evil. Her old morality was but a distant memory, the attached emotions and mores long since faded and chipped away until they no longer affected her at all.
She still couldn't believe she'd gotten out of that mess. A fucking nightmare was what it was. And that bloodsucker trying to convince her she was a vampire? Bullshit. She'd dumped the pint of blood in the bathroom sink, and stared back at her ever familiar reflection, seeing nothing evil in the mirror and knowing deep down nothing had changed, that she was the same.
It had just been playing mind games with her, that was all, she tried convincing herself as she sped through the utilitarian studio. Consciously, she was convinced but she seemed to need to reiterate it, mull it over in her head every few minutes as she tossed her paltry collection of clothes and weaponry in a duffel. She moved about the small space with calculated efficiency, her movements cold, smooth and somehow unattached, almost robotic as she packed the barebones items that so symbolized what her life had boiled down to. The only other item to her name was a mattress she'd picked up for next to nothing, which had a mildly irritating odor she couldn't quite place. She wouldn't be bringing it with her. She wasn't even sure she was abandoning this apartment yet. She just knew she had to get moving. Had to keep moving. As she tossed the duffel in the trunk and slammed the trunk closed, she reminded herself of a fact that had been a rule of her life for years now – a moving target was hard to kill.
I slept fitfully, tired but unable to sleep. My head throbbed and my body was starting to sing with the need to feed as I lay in bed, trying to drift off. I felt a bit off, but that figured. I'd be hurting when I woke. It was frustrating having to wait to go out before I could hunt. Even worse, I knew I'd have to find a victim first. Justine would have to wait and my twitching, restless body and mind couldn't help but remind me she was a ticking time bomb, just waiting to go off.
Justine pulled up in front of a metal gate chained closed with a padlock. The night was over. She was safe for a few hours from the beasts she routinely hunted. She never slept at night anymore. Best to keep the same hours as your customers, after all. Not to mention, a BS couldn't get her at her most vulnerable if trapped in its lair.
She made easy work of picking the padlock and moved the gates out of the way. In no time, the entrance to the little used trail was again locked as if she'd never come through, and the beat up car was traveling deeper into the shaded forest. The spot had the advantage of hiding her from law enforcement, which might take notice of a person sleeping in her car, and had the added bonus of being miles away from civilization and, hopefully, far away from more bloodsuckers as they'd likely stay close to their prey. She drifted off to a light sleep disturbed only by an unease that seemed to settle into her bones.
I woke, as I'd guessed, in pain. I got ready in a daze. Attempting to appease the ache, I tried to drown it in food, lots of food. I'd always been one to stress eat or eat to try to sooth my stomach. Logically, that rarely worked, frequently making it worse, but I did it anyway. When I'd cleaned out the fridge, I commenced pacing the narrow townhouse. The pain pulled at my muscles, at my very sanity, but I continued, alternating between pacing, sitting and rocking in a fetal position groaning. There were hours until daylight and I knew without a doubt I would never make it to Philly. I wasn't even sure if I could drive.
Justine woke up achy and sweating despite the canopy overhead cooling the car. She felt weak, drained of energy. Great, she was coming down with something. That was the LAST thing she needed. She got out of the car and stretched, hoping that working the kinks out of her tortured muscles would ease some of the ache. It didn't.
The back seat of a car wasn't exactly the ideal place to sleep but it worked in a pinch. She opened the trunk, pulled a change of clothes out of a duffel and quickly whipped them on. A wave of dizziness hit her as she reached into the trunk for weapons, forcing her to hold the lip to keep upright.
As she steadied herself, keeping her eyes closed and taking deep, slow breaths to ease the dizziness, her heart went a mile a minute, fluttering in her chest like a hummingbird's wings. She slumped to the ground, still holding the trunk's edge, but now holding her chest with the other. Big, ragged gulps of air did nothing to dampen the strange feeling. She whimpered on the ground until the episode passed.
She sat against the car, shaken, long after the feeling passed. Eventually, looking out into the growing darkness, she reaffirmed her resolve, the resolve that had carried her along when nothing else could, and slammed the trunk down. As she made her way to the driver's side door, her mind seemed to take on a new shade, yet familiar like a second skin. This tint to her thoughts came about like a curtain falling over a scene on a play, masking the chaos of the scenery in flux behind it, leaving only a deceptive serenity behind.
It was an apt simile. Her life was in chaos, constantly in flux. She wasn't sure what the passing tornado would leave of her life or who she'd become. But she could rely on what she'd always been – a fighter. And she knew of one particular thing that deserved her full attention.
"Thanks, Shifty," I said between gulps. It was always weird trying to drink from a bag of blood, weird and messy. It was by no means ANYTHING like drinking from those stupid pouches of juice. "Shifty" glared at me, which was by no means threatening, although it was supposed to be. Everyone else called him Swifty. I called him Shifty because he was always up to something. You could almost always see that mischievous gleam in his eyes. Shifty was small by today's standards if not by those of the era he was born. At least, he was shorter than me. Though muscular and certainly dangerous, he was a playful puppy dog in comparison to his companion and best friend, Blunt.
I wasn't short but Blunt always made me feel like a child. I wasn't sure exactly how tall he was or how much he weighed but the man was a giant. He could make a person's blood run cold with a single look, and that was WITHOUT carrying Magdalene. Magdalene was a ninety-five pound sword I wasn't sure had EVER been sharpened and was never meant for anything more than gracing some aristocrat's parlor. No other sword was like it. In Blunt's hands, Magdalene made the stoutest of hearts shake with fear – especially since he swung it around like it weighed two ounces.
I finished the blood and looked to the only two true friends I'd made since becoming a vampire. "Thanks for the blood," I said, relieved and satisfied. I'd called Shifty about a half hour before sunset and he'd agreed to bring me blood. I was afraid if I'd left my house as I was, I wouldn't have been as careful as I needed to be.
Shifty gave me a pointed look and sat on the table in front of me, giving off the air of a wild cat ready to pounce. "Spill."
I looked to Blunt for help but he merely said, "It's not like you to let things get this bad." Though I was unbelievably young in comparison to the duo before me, they'd always treated me with respect, perhaps because, like they, I had a warrior's heart.
"I have a problem."
"Well, duh!" The comment came from Shifty. I gave him an eyebrow raised in question. "What? I'm not allowed to pick up colloquialisms?" I shook my head. Though Shifty looked like he could be just as much at home on a pirate ship or entertaining courtiers, he was adamant about picking up modern speech. Blunt was not so fervent and tended to be more old-fashioned in his speech patterns. He tended to be more reserved anyway so, really, nobody noticed. "As I said, spill, Ange."
I glared at him. I preferred Blunt's stoicism to Shifty's natural effervescence. "Nickolaus wants me dead."
Shifty shorted, "What's new? He wants all of us dead."
The smallest of smiles graced Blunt's face, an infectious expression I couldn't help returning.
"Yeah," I continued, "but he didn't pay a vampire hunter to do the job." Shifty took in a swift breath as Blunt snarled. There might have been a curse word somewhere in the noise but I couldn't tell. Shifty's exhale was colored with at least a dozen different curse words in various languages. I recognized mierda and scheisse but the others in foreign languages were lost on me.
"He's dead," Shifty snarled after the flood of curses and anatomically impossible suggestions ceased.
"He's mine," I snarled back, making it clear any retaliation would be mine to dispense. He nodded in assent.
"Ask of us what you will," Blunt offered, bowing his head slightly. Even in jeans and a t-shift, it was easy to imagine him living hundreds of years ago.
"I need to track down the vampire hunter. I, of course, caught her before she could do me any harm but she escaped after I punished her."
"Then what's the problem?" Shifty shrugged his shoulders. He froze a moment, then asked, bewildered, "She?"
"She lives still?" Blunt interjected, asking the more pertinent question.
"I turned her."
"Merde," Blunt hissed under his breath. Shit, indeed.
Justine blinked into the late afternoon sun, wishing she hadn't gotten so fucking used to nights. Her eyes weren't accustomed to full on daylight and it was giving her a splitting headache. She scowled down the road, going on sheer stubbornness more than anything else. Whatever illness she'd come down with was for the birds. She didn't have time for this shit.
She pulled into traffic as a mild headache settled in for the long haul. She was achy and lethargic and her chest hadn't eased up a bit. Any other person would have gone to a doctor, maybe even a hospital, but Justine didn't like doctors. Or hospitals really. She'd seen enough of them and was certain a bit of will power would see her through, just like it had everything else.
She had to stop at another light. For once, she didn't know what to do. It'd been awhile since she'd felt indecisive. She wanted to go after the bloodsucker now. She'd always relied on decisive action. Well, in all due honesty, she just relied on action. She needed to be DOING something. It was killing her that the smartest choice of action was to wait. The creature would be expecting retaliation or some sort of immediate action against it. Now was the time to regroup, to strategize and prepare. A plan started to form in her addled mind.
"This is hopeless," I grumbled to the sky.
"Difficult, not hopeless," Blunt intoned in response, patting me on the shoulder.
"It's a fucking needle in a haystack is what it is."
"You can say that again," Shifty scoffed. Blunt glared at him.
"She will not elude us for long. It is only a matter of time." Yeah, until she completely snapped. I wanted to punish her, not create a monster. I tried not to think what would happen if we failed to find her. Blood. There would be blood. Lots of blood.
"God, we don't even know her last name!" I screamed in frustration. "We have nothing to go by! I keep thinking she would feel scared, cornered, would go somewhere she feels safe or comfortable or at least like she has a strategic advantage. But we don't know anything about her."
I glared at Shifty, "He's not going to tell us anything about the vampire hunter he PAID to have kill me."
A wicked smile that chilled my blood crossed Shifty's face as he rubbed his hands together, "We could make him." The grin stretched wider and I suspected mere mortals would probably run panicked in the opposite direction upon seeing that face. A shiver rolled up my back.
Shifty and Blunt might respect the hell out of me. We might even be friends, but at a moment like this, there was no denying they had centuries on me when it came to experience and the tempering effect that went along with it.
My two warrior friends departed with words of encouragement for me as well as a few pats on the back. The search had borne no success and invisible walls hemmed me in despair. I was keeping a close eye on the morgues but wasn't holding my breath. After all, as a vampire hunter, I was sure Justine had become an expert at eliminating the evidence.
Within minutes of clicking the door shut behind me, I found myself on the couch with a bag of chocolates. "Shit," I said to myself. I honestly didn't remember picking up the bag at all. Or eating half of it for that matter. Wasn't it unopened when I left earlier? Damn.
I tended to stress eat. Well, I ate when I was bored too. Actually, I pretty much ate constantly but I REALLY ate when stressed. And it was never anything good for me. In fact, mostly it was chocolate. Chocolate soothed my stomach so if I was stressed, I ate chocolate to calm the anxiety churning there. Hell, I'd need a COUPLE of bags of chocolate to alleviate the potential ulcer I was cultivating with this Justine mess in the air. I looked down and realized I was grabbing at air, an empty bag. Well, rats. Boy, was I glad vampires didn't tend to have weight problems.
My binge eating had been a major problem when I was a mere human. I was always a solid thirty-five to forty pounds overweight and though I was fairly good at taking the weight off when motivated, even keeping it off with relative success, it didn't take much to get me right back to my peak weight. Stress at work, too much on my plate, or changes in schedule – any one of those things could cause weight gain. The worst was the schedule changes, which tended to force me to eat extra meals. Eating an extra meal every day was a major problem when you had to constantly watch what you ate. For me, it meant gaining fifteen pounds over the course of a five-week summer session.
I looked down and frowned at the empty bag of chocolates and the detritus consisting of balled up foil wrappers. I was too wound up to go to bed, or read, or watch TV and before I knew it, I found a handful of Hershey's Miniatures in my right hand and no idea, again, how they got there. Sighing to myself, I dropped the wrapped chocolates back in their home in the candy dish on the coffee table. All but one, which found its way to my mouth as I began pacing the living room. I HAD to find Justine. Yesterday!
If Justine thought she felt bad yesterday when she got up, she must not have known what bad felt like. This morning, or afternoon in all due honesty, she didn't have the energy to get her ass out of the damn back seat. She could barely breathe, she was exhausted and no amount of food or sleep helped. She wanted to move, she really did, but moving required effort, effort she couldn't seem to muster.
She even tried getting out of the back seat once or twice, only to find her head spinning briefly before she fell right back into the uncomfortable fucking seat with a grunt. Whatever this bug was she'd gotten was a doozy. It was all that BS's fault – keeping her tied up in that office for God only knew how long. She scoffed at the roof of the car but couldn't pull together the energy to hit anything and her cry of outrage sounded more like a whimper, pissing her off even more.
She wasn't a pansy, a pussy, damnit! She was a fighter, a defender of the average joe! She'd been a cop, SWAT even! She didn't keel over because of a damn illness. She'd have rather the damned BS killed her in that stupid office tied to that blasted chair than end up rotting away in her rusted out car in the middle of the woods. She imagined a Park Ranger discovering the car long from now. The body of a young woman in a black t-shirt and black cargo pants, mummified in the back seat. The newspapers would read, "Mummified Mystery Maiden Found," and in smaller print, "Police hint at connection to organized crime." She sighed. Wouldn't that be an undignified end to a rather undignified life?
And that pissed her off royally. She wasn't some whiney female that ruminated about her own demise. She couldn't think of a single damn time she'd thought of how she'd die. She'd never cared. All she'd cared about for a long damn time was taking as many bloodsuckers down with her before she went. She sat up and held the roof as the world spun, then got herself up and out of the car, her determination and willpower back with a vengeance. She was going to kill some fucking vampires... Or die trying.
Because I'm still feeling guilty, I'm posting the full chapter today instead of half like I'd normally do. Enjoy.
I sat against a table across from her for about an hour or two before she finally came to. “Buenos días, Justine.” I smiled brilliantly at my hostage. She glared at me again. I didn't blame her really. I would too if I were in her shoes. She was looking a whole hell of a lot better than she had for the past few weeks. I must say it looked like she just might be recovering. Good.
“Justine, I’m so sorry. This will be very hard on you. The others won’t accept you. They’ll try to kill you, with any likelihood. You're a murderer in their eyes. I had to do this. It fit the crime. I’ve given you a new life, one you may truly hate, the one thing you fear, but it's fair and I did it because you tried to take mine.” Death wouldn't have been punishment for someone like her. We both knew that. Even torture would have been endured, with her hating me all the while but not truly feeling punished. It was really the only option available, the only punishment appropriate. I didn't relish her rapidly approaching realization of what had happened.
I looked away from my captive, whose face was now drawn and shocked. I wondered what she was thinking. Was she connecting the dots? Was she putting two and two together? Reading between the lines to realize what I'd done? My conscience gnawed away at me from the inside out. It was cruel, what I’d just finished, but I’d told the truth. It was necessary. It was right, I told myself. In a desperate attempt to appease my damaged sense of right, I said, “You’ll need a place to stay at first. If you wish, you can stay at mine. My boyfriend won’t like it but he can deal.” Then again, I felt like I hadn't seen him in half of forever so maybe he wouldn't even notice. Man, I had no life.
“You have a boyfriend?” Justine asked, almost simultaneously saying something with bloodsucker in it but I couldn’t make out any more than that. I let it go with a shrug. The sneer that crossed her face momentarily was quickly overtaken by a hard set to her jaw and eyes – a look I'd become familiar with in the last few weeks.
“He’s not a vampire," as if to answer what her next question would invariably be.
She spun her head around in whiplash fashion, “Wait, he’s human? Normal?” She was stunned. Go figure. Her shock turned to menace and a finely tuned killer instinct bled through her eyes, directed at me. I shrugged that off too.
For some strange reason, I felt the need to justify my actions. “I’m a fairly young vamp. I haven’t quite figured everything out yet. I like him. He likes me. I haven’t told him my secret but we’re taking it real slow because I want more out of him than just my night escapades. It's taken everything I am to separate him in my mind’s eye from all my night-time conquests.” A gloom came over my face and I was suddenly in a real mopey mood. I walked away from my captive, fed up with all her questions. She could just go to hell for all I cared.
I came back about an hour later with a knife. I saw as her eyes bulged momentarily and knew what her assumptions would be. But as always, her face returned to a vicious scowl, her eyes shooting daggers at me that could cut steel. “Come on! I thought you said you weren’t going to kill me?” Her voice trembled a little, really the first time since this all began, but with the sneer, I couldn't tell if it was fear or anger. Yup, assumptions confirmed. I walked behind her. “Come on, what are you doing?” she said with an infinitesimal bit of panic in her voice. I stood behind her, took the knife and ran the blade back and forth until the fraying stopped and it went right through. She whipped her hands around in front and started to rub her wrists reflexively as she leapt out of the chair, more a stumble than a leap, and slammed her back to the wall, glaring at me. At the same time, I came back around and lounged in the chair she'd vacated, my posture saying it all - I was better than her and not at all worried about the threat she might impose, which, of course, was nil.
Not saying anything but making it obvious she wasn't going anywhere yet, I handed her a pint of blood. “Drink. I don’t want you going crazy on me, 'kay?” My tone left no room for argument.
“I’m not going to drink that filth,” she spat out in protest. Apparently, listening wasn't her strong suit...
“Come on, it’s AB positive, the good stuff. That’ll fill you up good. I’ve got pasta on the stove too, then we’re going out.”
“What for?” Her eyebrows were scrunched so low they practically made her eyes disappear.
“It’s a Saturday, what else?”
She looked at me solemnly. “Oh,” was all she said as she stared at the red-filled plastic bag that lay on the floor in front of her.
Minutes later, she joined me in the kitchen. I turned around. The bag was empty and she looked a little green. “How can you do that stuff?” Her voice was kind of thin and weak. If not for superior hearing, I might not have heard the words at all.
“Well, the first time I did it, as I told you, was while in a state of delirium not to mention excruciating pain. I drink blood because that state terrifies me. I wait until I start to feel weird, when I know I’ve only got hours until I start to feel it. You’ll feel out of breath at first. Then pain will come. It’s not pleasant and you’ll do just about anything to prevent it. You just haven’t experienced that or connected drinking blood will alleviating it.”
“Oh, okay." She didn't sound relieved, though. Or convinced.
"Besides, I didn't really mind the taste of blood before I turned so it doesn't bother me now." Justine's mug whipped around in utter shock, her mouth gaping and making little sound. I shrugged. "I was accident prone. It wasn't uncommon to have an open wound and suck it until it stopped bleeding. It just tastes like a penny, really. Fresh blood is best, though. The real gag factor is when the blood starts to clot and, no matter how many times I do it, cold blood still makes me gag. Even if it DOES have chemicals to prevent clotting." I turned on Justine with a conspiratorial wink, "And let me tell you, they don't advertise that the chemicals they add makes the blood taste like shit." I turned back to the kitchen and got to work.
Justine started to follow. "God, that smells good. What the devil is it?” She seemed to speak almost begrudgingly, like she expected me to poison or attack her at any second.
“Just BBQ pasta. That’s another thing. You’ll spend a hell a lot more on food now. Your metabolism is substantially faster. And the better sense of smell makes it so anything you liked the smell of you LOVE now and didn’t like, well, you HATE it now. If you didn’t like the smell of garlic before, you’ll be completely intolerant to it now. I can’t eat spicy foods anymore because I had a mild intolerance for it before I was infected. All your senses are enhanced and so are your reactions to them. Come on, time to eat.” I grabbed the food out of the kitchen with professional skill and put everything on the dining room table.
“Great, I’m starving.” We both ate with gusto, although I noticed Justine didn't eat any food until she noticed me eat it without harm. The first bite went to feed her napkin surreptitiously. In a strange way, considering the company, it was kind of nice not being the only one around here with an inhuman appetite. Kind of made me feel like I wasn't a pig for once.
I knew she’d watched me on the hunt but I felt it was important for her to get first hand experience. I never got the chance when I was turned. Instead, I nearly got myself killed or confined permanently to a hospital because I didn’t know what was going on. Yeah, two thumbs up to my little brother.
From now on, at the very least, I’d be her mentor, maybe even her friend. And I wasn't going to fuck it up like my brother did. I'd teach her what she needed to know. I'd help her through the transition. Help her get accustomed to this new life. With a little luck, she could do this.
The ride was uncomfortable, painfully so. Half a dozen times along the way, Justine imagined herself flinging the car door open at sixty miles an hour and jumping out, rolling along the side of the road until she finally came to a stop. In her head, the door resisted almost beyond her ability to hold it open. It nearly took off a limb when she leapt out. When she hit the ground, she imagined the impact on her body. Something would probably break so pain would slice through her like a knife. She would, of course, get right back up and take off at a dead run but, even in her imaginings, she was trapped because every time it ended with the BS catching her.
She glared at her captor once more but the monster was oblivious. It gave her chills how normal it acted but then again, she still remembered the coldness in its voice, its demeanor, when she was tied to the chair. It was all a façade, wasn’t it? Without making a sound, she continued on in her head, the one place that was all hers, the one thing that hadn’t changed. The BS might have had strength, speed, but Justine had cunning and the advantage of surprise.
Time passed without it really registering and, eventually, she found the back roads abandoned and civilization enveloping them, in a matter of speaking. Cars filled the roads with people making the twice daily jaunt between work and home, the traffic enough to slow but not stop progression. On the sidewalks and leaning against storefronts were individuals in gang colors or simply kids up to no good. There was a time, that would have spurred her to action. Now, all she saw were rats. Mostly harmless really but ugly all the same. You chose not to see them but they were there and, just like rats, utterly characteristic of places like this.
Her head spun in turmoil, unable to rectify the façade with her long accustomed reality, with her hate. Words like murderer, evil and monster ricocheted through her head nearly at the speed of light, repeating in a never ending chaotic pattern. Images of snarling monsters she’d killed in the past intermingled with images of the BS sitting at the dinner table, intermingled with it staring her down while Justine was tied to that chair.
Then, with a final image, her brain cleared of all the chaotic noise. A single image, a single memory, tinted red with blood, rage and pain. A broken form, soaked red with blood along her collar, matted in her once beautiful curly brown hair. Body positioned in an impossible angle, thrown away as if it were garbage, leftovers. An animal attack, the coroner had said. Accidental death, the report had read. But it hadn’t been an accident. She’d seen the wound. An animal would tear the flesh of its victim but there was no tearing. An animal would cause lacerations elsewhere from claws. There were no cuts. Just a crumpled form, drained of blood and left with the refuse, no longer a person but an empty vessel, drained of what made it special, life.
In a moment of clarity and resolution, she heaved the door open while the car was moving and jumped out, landing in a roll, then quickly getting up and disappearing into the night. Her shoulder and hip hurt. Her clothes were torn, abraded. She had no means of transportation. But she had training. She knew how to disappear. She’d done it so many times before. She would do it again. The night wasn’t just a vampire’s friend, it was hers as well.
I stared at the open door as it smacked forward and bounced back, not quite closing. I had to remind myself to close my gaping maw, catching flies and all that. I looked around but I was stuck in heavy traffic, cars on all sides and no parking in sight. I looked back at the sidewalk but she was already gone, her dark clothing allowing her to disappear. Shit. This was bad, very bad.
When I got home, I was exhausted. It took a good five minutes for me to find a parking space nearby and, even then, I was convinced my car would get stolen before I returned to it, no matter how much of a crap car it was. It was a Volkswagen so probably the parts were worth a heck of a lot more than the whole because, Lord knows, the parts cost a small fortune.
I looked everywhere for Justine, even tried hunting by scent but never came up with a lead. It didn't help when your quarry was in the middle of a transformation that changed her scent so that from minute to minute, she didn't smell the same. Finally, when I was risking getting burned if I didn't call it a night, I headed home.
At home, I settled on hot tea and a hot bath to sooth my rankled nerves. I needed to relax, forget for a little while. I couldn't search for her during the daytime. No point in fretting about it. The tea finished before the bath filled so I placed the cup in the bathroom to cool as I gathered supplies. I went to the linen closet in the hall bathroom to get a fresh towel. I would have preferred a hot, fluffy towel fresh from the dryer but I settled on just the fluffy part.
I didn't notice it right away. After all, the linen closet was on the opposite wall, so my back was turned. But I glimpsed it briefly when I walked in and my mind registered it on more than one level as I took the extra-large cream bath towel off the shelf. My nails dug into the soft material and my whole body shook. I turned around slowly and looked at the sink with dread. There was a faint pink tinge to the cream porcelain, what looked like a brownish dirt line around the inside of the sink. An ordinary human might not have noticed. But I recognized the appearance. I could smell it. Very faint. Watered down. There was probably a clot still in the drain. Blood. My stomach sank as the scent enveloped me. I'd created a monster and now someone was going to pay with his or her life.
Okay, because I've been bad lately (Naughty, Dani! No chocolates for me!), this is about three times as much as I usually post.
Also, you may noticed that the chapter numbering skipped Chapter 6. Yes, that is correct. I rearranged the chapter designations (split about three chapters) in the book files so I'm using those chapter designations to keep my brain from imploding.
I turned and opened my eyes. The LED read 4:05. I groaned and rolled over, hoping if I ignored it, it would go away. It was too early to get up. I hated when I woke up early. Ruined my day and made me impossible to deal with. With the remembrances of a dream tickling my mind, I pulled the covers back to my chin and squinted my eyes shut. No point getting up if I didn't have to. Maybe I could get back in the dream. Could have sworn it was a good one.
She got to her usual spot overlooking the BS’s townhouse and waited for her prey to rise. She knew from experience the BS slept in so it would be a while before it got up, let alone went out the door. She sat in her car and read a book while she trained a listening device on the townhouse. She might not be a PI, but she’d gotten all the toys over the years. That specific device came in handy when dealing with creatures that could hear substantially more than mere mortals could unassisted.
It was eight o’clock before she heard stirring in the house. Since she couldn’t see into the residence, she waited until she heard the telltale sounds of jingling keys and the latch of a door, something to signify her subject was ready to leave. When the subject left, it made a right on the highway, pulled into a Blockbuster and left a half hour later with one movie in hand before returning home. Great. It was staying in.
When she got back in position, she trained the listening device on the house until she heard the movie running. She was itching for something to happen but she wasn't looking forward to a repeat performance of last night. She didn't think her stomach could handle it. After checking her equipment, she went back to her book.
Two hours later, she recognized the change as the credits began, music but no voices. Shortly after, the electronic music of the PS2 Welcome Screen played and the machine turned off. Minutes later, the subject was outside again and, upon inspection, sans movie. It wasn’t returning it, which was probably good news, although she was having a hard time generating her customary enthusiasm for the job.
The BS turned left on the highway this time and, after a lengthy drive, was back in the middle of nowhere; the place it'd gone to dispose of the body yesterday. What other purpose could it possibly have for this place? She mentally crossed her fingers, hoping the monster would lead her to the rest of the monsters. A nice thought, but she doubted she could keep up if that was the case. Most likely, she'd just get left in the dust. The only reason she’d found the werewolf den was because she'd been told the BS would show up there, not because she followed her. In a car, she could easily follow, on foot and out here, she was doomed. She was only human, after all.
None-the-less, she tried and, once the BS was out of sight and in the woods, she crept across the clearing, attempting to avoid being exposed for too long in case the BS looked back and saw her, moonlit and blatantly obvious against the background. She wore black to fit in with more urban surroundings, not wilderness, but with enough cover, she'd slip into the shadows easy enough. Wouldn't matter where she was. Her BS wore all earth tones and she suspected it was to blend in more in these environs.
She reached the edge of the woods without being spotted and headed in. It was dark but she could just make out the BS's khaki jacket. Slowly and carefully, so as not to make a sound, she made her way to the jacket and as she got closer, she realized it wasn't moving. As a survival instinct stretched her nerves taut, it wasn’t until she was right upon it that she realized with a sinking feeling in her gut it was not on the subject. Shit. Spinning around, the last thing she saw before the lights went out was the BS, sans jacket, swinging something at her head.
I left the vampire hunter’s car on the side of the road, partially because I couldn’t drive two at the same time and partially because she wasn’t going to need it. Not anymore. I brought her back to my place and took a chair from the dining room, bringing it into my computer room, facing it away from the computers. When everything was set, I lugged the hostage up the stairs, tied her up and waited. Impatiently.
She woke up with a migraine and pain in her wrists. Her ankles too. She was groggy and her brain didn’t seem to process anything right. Sounds didn't seem to register even though they gave her headache superpowers. She opened her eyes but a shockwave of pain flashed through her skull. Yay, more superpowers, she thought sarcastically. She closed them again. Her brain worked marginally better that way but still nothing was moving around in her head. After a few minutes, the pain started to dull and she was able to think enough to say, “Sheee-it.” Bad. Fucking. Day. She wanted to curse and scream and rend, but just working her jaw sent a knife through her skull so anything more active than, say, wiggling her toes was out of the playbook for the time being.
“How’s the head?” said a gentle voice in front of her. Gentle? Something was fucking wrong with her mental processes today.
“Like a coconut that just got cracked." More knives and yangs. "Thanks for asking,” she said sarcastically. She opened her eyes. There was her subject, the damn BS, sitting in front of her on a chair. It looked just as uncomfortable as the instrument of torture she was glued to. The only difference between the two, that she could discern, being she was tied up and the BS was leaning with its legs wide and its elbows on its thighs, relaxed but engaged. “You,” she said with a scowl on her face, the muscles not wanting to cooperate without protest. She started to squirm in her bindings, ignoring the mind fuck.
“Relax, chica, you’re going to be here a while," it shook its head. "The questions are going to start simple, like who are you? How did you find out about me? How did you know where I was?” It leaned back as it spoke, spreading its arms in a supplicative manner. Right, humble my ass, she thought.
“I’m not telling you shit, bloodsucker,” she glared.
The BS frowned but there was a twinkle in its eye. Had it been hoping for that answer? God, she hoped not. She shivered at the possibility of being at the mercy of a sadist. “I was afraid you’d say that.” Bull. Shit. In an instant, she cried out and realized that, in a movement she didn’t even see or notice, the BS came up to her, broke one of the bones in her right hand and returned to the same spot on the chair, as if it hadn’t even moved a muscle. She'd never realized vampires were that fast. She'd always taken them by surprise. An ordinary human wouldn't want to get in a one-on-one with a vampire many orders of power faster and stronger, right? A smart human did the cowardly thing and backstabbed the bastard. A wave of panic overcame her, flowing in a cold wave from her head to her toes, as if anticipating the BS's next words. “There are 206 bones in the human body. That’s 205 to go. After that, I can start cutting. When I get bored with that, I can start with amputations, starting with the fingers and toes and moving up from there. If you know what you're doing, a person can survive a long time like that. And you know I know what I'm doing. You followed me to my work. And you know what, I think I’d rather enjoy playing with you considering you were going to kill me. Well, what do you say? Do we play or do we talk?” Damn, she really didn't like that little half smile. That smile said she WISHED, HOPED, her captive wouldn't talk. She shied away from thinking about what that would entail.
Scared but not willing to say anything even though she knew damn well what was coming and it wasn't going to be a picnic, she spat in its face.
The BS didn't even bother to swipe the saliva off. “Very well.” Again, without any sign of movement, there was a new pain in her hand and now misery had company, an evil twin hell-bent on making her day. “Shall I continue?” Damn smirk had doubled in size to match the pain.
Breathing heavy, she said, “No.” There was no point. What difference did it make? She was going to die either way. She might as well turn this vamp against her employer. At least one vamp would die through her actions this last time. Last time. Damn, didn't think it would come so soon. Not that she had any delusions of seeing old age but still, she wasn't even out of her twenties. But that was life for ya, right?
Funny, she wasn't afraid. Wouldn't most people be afraid? But here she was, facing what was probably a violent and painful death and she was completely calm. Ain't life a bitch.
“All Right then, what’s your name?”
“Justine.” Her voice was even. Where was the fear? She just heard resignation in her voice. Huh. Go figure.
“Justine. Just. Ironic, eh? Not exactly just are you, Justine?” Damn smirk was back.
“Just? You kill people on a weekly basis. I'm saving lives. THAT'S just.” Was it really about saving lives, though? She'd been doing it so long. She could still remember the catalyst, though, and it had NEVER been about saving lives. Never. But you justify your actions, don't you? You make yourself believe you're a hero, that what you're doing is right. Doesn't mean your intentions are good, or your motives.
“What you're talking about? I only kill the willing." And where was the logic in THAT statement? "But I'll have you know, I kill more often than that.”
“What?” Now she was confused.
“Werewolves. I kill lots of werewolves. Werewolves are so much worse than vampires. They can’t control themselves. When they're in the same area as vampires, it increases exponentially our chances of being exposed. We kill them because they can kill several times a night, if not more. They'll attack anything that comes across their paths.” The BS paused for a minute. “What exactly do you know about vampires?” The look in its eye, on its face, said it figured her knowledge was less than nothing in the grand scheme of things. Contemptuous bitch.
“I know enough," she said, "I know you kill people and you need to be stopped. I know your strengths and weaknesses,” Justine said with bile.
“Ah, you know nothing. Vampirism isn’t what you think it is. You think of it as an evil that must be destroyed at all costs. You're so," it paused, collecting itself, "The truth is nothing of the kind. Vampirism is a disease, a bacterial disease. It's caused by a multi-drug resistant bacteria. The newly turned quickly develop septicemia and anemia. After a while, all but some portions of the innate immune system are destroyed and the bacteria take on the role of the immune system, destroying all the normal flora, all the bacteria that normally live in the body, protecting their turf without harming you. They're symbiotes. A good example is the bacteria living in the stomachs of cows. Without them, the cows can't digest grass.
"Anyway, back to what I was saying. As you're turning, on a cellular level, you're changing genetically as the bacteria transfer plasmids to your cells. It works like a virus in that it transfers portions of DNA, which is then transferred to your DNA, or the host DNA for the bacteria. It takes a long time for a person to completely turn, weeks maybe even months, some even years, and the symptoms of vampirism will gradually increase as the symptoms of the septicemia decrease. Granted, what is defined as 'completely turned' doesn't necessarily mean the entire body has turned, only that enough has turned to be considered wholly vampire.
“I was turned by my brother. Dante Giovanni is his given name. He liked to kill by biting the wrists. It’s not a pleasant way to go. Trust me. It doesn’t bleed out as it does with the neck. It takes longer. He’d intended to kill me. I don’t know why. I could see it in his eyes. He left me for dead but I didn’t die. Someone found me, I don't know who but someone. I was treated for my injuries at a hospital and was released after I could walk without being dizzy or falling over. Unfortunately, I got sicker, weaker. I became pale, tired, hot and cold at the same time, restless and anxious and lazy, clammy and after a while, even a little blue. I ended up back at the hospital again and diagnosed with septicemia. They tried to treat me but to no avail. They gave me at best a week to live as I got worse and worse because I had fewer and fewer white blood cells. Again and again, I lasted longer than they expected. Miraculously, I started to get better. Blood tests still showed bacteria in the bloodstream but my symptoms were going away. They thought it was signs I was dying. They thought my body was just no longer fighting it. You know, shutting down.
“At the same time those symptoms were going away, other problems were developing. I started to be more and more sensitive to sunlight. I’d always had problems with my eyes and bright lights but now it was almost intolerable. Not to mention I was also having other problems. I was constantly starved. I couldn’t get enough food and hospital food didn't exactly help. I was getting more and more hungry and nothing was helping. They thought it was denial. My anemic symptoms started to get worse though and I started to experience severe pain throughout my entire body. It turned out the bacteria were now attacking my tissues, starting with red blood cells. They started me back on blood transfusions but that was only a temporary fix. When I went too far between transfusions, I would go into states of delirium; reality was completely irrelevant to me at that point. One day, they misjudged lengths between transfusions and I killed my first victim, an orderly. Due to the delirium I’d been in before the incident, no charges were brought but I was kept in restraints after that. Mentally unstable, they said. They would have put me in a mental ward, if not for my other medical conditions. And the fact I was dying. They figured, what was the point?
“By then, it had been over a month since I was bitten by my brother, who prefers to call himself Giovanni now. I hated him. Still do. I hadn’t seen the light of day for two weeks. It took a couple of weeks before I convinced the doctors to let me take my treatments on an out-patient basis. Since I never had a problem before a week span and started to undergo delirium after the seven day point, we agreed I come in every seven days. I, on the other hand, had other things in mind.
"I needed to know what was happening to me. I couldn't go to my brother because he tried to kill me. I needed to find someone else that could help. I spent weeks researching vampirism, trying to sift through the myths and lies, looking for a bit of fact. It wasn't easy. I put posts on hundreds of message boards looking for information. Eventually, I got what I was looking for. I left town that very night and traveled north. I worked jobs here and there and made my way to Jersey, where I’d grown up. I hadn’t been there in twenty years but it still felt like home.” It stopped, seemed to pull inward and said, “But back on subject. How did you find out about me? I wasn’t careless. I’ve never been, so how did you find me?”
“You’re right. You're the most careful vampire I’ve even seen. I would have never guessed you were only a year old.”
“So…” An edge seemed to flood the room. Impatience.
“Another vampire paid me to kill you. I was more than willing to do the job because this isn’t exactly the best paying gig and I was looking forward to possibly killing the subject, you, and the vamp who paid me. His name was Nickolaus, by the way.” Nothing like biting the hand that fed you when said hand was your enemy.
An ugly look came over the BS's face. “Nicki.” Malice dripped from its voice like blood.
Wow, she'd been in the biz too long if she started waxing demented poetic. Justine knew there was bad blood between the two, even before this revelation. She took a deep breath, calming herself.
“Thank you. I have everything I need from you.” The finality of that statement unnerved her.
The BS turned away from her for a moment. “You know, usually, I’m compassionate to my victims. I take them when they're high on adrenaline, a natural painkiller and quickly so they aren’t likely to feel anything. They die so fast they don’t even know what hit them. That’s the benefit of bleeding the throat. It bleeds out quick. But you're a murderer, Justine. You don’t deserve a quick release. That would be too good for you. You deserve to suffer. I may kill people but I never let them suffer. I doubt I can say the same for you. From the hatred in your eyes and exuding from every pore, I suspect you like to torture them before they die. That’s why I’m not going to kill you. I’m going to do something far worse. You’ll wish you were dead,” it said with resignation before it picked a frying pan up from the table behind it. There was a blur of motion and the lights went out again.
I kept an eye on my captive over the next couple of weeks, treating her and checking her progress. When awake, she would snap and growl at me, throwing venomous invectives my way as if they were air. I would untie her when she was unconscious and I was there to keep an eye on her so she wouldn’t have any major problems, like her hands turning black or something. I wasn’t completely heartless. In truth, I didn’t want to hurt her. I hated it. I kept her here because I wanted time to think. What the hell was I going to do about Nicki? He was the steward, after all. He controlled the entire clan and I didn’t have a clue what to do about his treachery. If you had a problem with a vampire, you could either talk it out with them (not likely), sometimes with a mediator, fight them (usually), many times with a mediator, or avoid them, practically growling whenever you came in contact with them. You just didn't pay a vampire hunter to kill the person. That was just wrong. I took a deep breath to calm myself out of my rage.
I finally accepted what needed to be done. I was down to deciding the how and when. I’d have to be careful. There were quite a few loyal to him and if I did this wrong, I'd get killed in the process. However, I knew there were at least a couple of friends I had at the manor who despised Nicki and would likely help me if it came to that. I just might be safe. Maybe. I hoped…
I winked down at the receptionist with a little grin. There was something about her I liked. Didn't really know her. She was personable in a no-nonsense way I came to respect. "So, what'd she say?"
She shook her head, "She said she was a friend of yours."
I laughed, "Yeah, like I have any friends."
She looked concerned as she spoke and I knew that mothering instinct was coming out in full force, "You could always come out with me and my friends. We'd be happy to have you."
"Sorry, Becca. I don't have friends for a reason. I don't play well with others. I'm not a people person and I'm very independent. Come on, you can't say you never noticed."
"Well, of course I noticed. You'd have to be a blind man not to. But still, you're a good girl, Angelina. If you say this lady is bad news, I believe you." Becca was about fifty or so and acted as mother hen to just about everyone at the morgue, no matter the shift. Sometimes, she liked to take a special interest in me for no other reason than I seemed to have no one.
"Thanks. I don't know what's going on but I don't need her bothering me at work." I didn't need her bothering me at home either, but there wasn't anything I could do about that.
"No problem. Just leave it to me." She gestured to the doors with her head, "Now get outta here. There're stiffs in there with your name on them. Scoot."
"All right. I'm gone." As I walked away, I shook my head. It used to bother me when people tried to fix all my problems. I used to hate when people felt like they knew what was best for me. Now, I just saw it as both sad and pointless. No one could help me but me.
The subject didn’t leave the building until four in the morning. Dutifully, she followed at a distance far enough so as not to be noticed. In fact, she was so far behind she could barely keep a peeper on the BS, keeping her speed down to avoid drawing attention of the 5-0 variety since she didn't have the heavy camouflage of other traffic. Fortunately, the BS went straight home, possibly to go to sleep. What an eventful day! She felt like celebrating with a shot but decided against it.
The same thing happened for the next few nights. All the BS did was get up, go to work, and go back home again. Blah, blah, bo-ring. She didn’t get it. What was so damn threatening about this vamp that someone wanted her dead? And not just dead, would pay to have it done. She could understand a BS having a quarrel with another BS and whacking the compatriot in a fit of rage. After all, they were murderers. That's just what they did. But contract kill?
Thus far, the subject didn’t even seem that interesting. She worked five nights this week. The following night, a Saturday, her subject went on the prowl. Finally. Think ill of her all you wanted but she was ready for a little action, even if it meant there was a serial killer on the streets itching for a victim.
That night, she watched as her BS left the house, as normal, got in the car, as normal, and turned left at the highway, not so normal. Even at the speeds she tended to drive, it still took an hour to get there. Eventually, they were in Philly. It continued to drive like a demon on crack as they got into worse and worse neighborhoods. The BS parked the car and got out on a street that looked like you were more likely to get shot and robbed than greeted hello or even what up? She parked a half block down and tried to keep an eye on the predator as she made her way through a group of hoodlums, her fingers twitching at each of her easily accessible concealed weapons, that is, the ones still appropriate for taking down a human. The BS grabbed one by the shirt and, not so involuntarily, led him into the alley. Then, for those with better night vision, it proceeded to make out with the young man until it whispered something in his ear, led him to the car and took off. The idiot stumbled along behind as if he'd hit the jackpot. Oh-kay...
Several minutes behind them, she followed as the BS left the city in the dust and parked in the middle of nowhere, continuing to make out with the barely post-pubescent boy. She watched as the subject started to nibble on his ear, shoulder, neck. In the meanwhile, the boy was too excited by this unique occasion to realize he was doomed. He was eating it up. After some lengthy foreplay, the BS ended it by tearing out his throat. It ended so quick that, even with a telephoto lens, she never once saw a single ounce of fear in the victim’s eyes, only pleasure, excitement, ecstasy. Again, not what she’d expected. This one seemed to play with its victims so as never to give them an opportunity to scream or resist. Furthermore, it only took he-hos – guys that would literally sleep with anything that propositioned them, so long as the propositioner didn't have three legs. The boy would have probably followed a female Igor if she'd angled her finger at him.
After it drained the life from the body, the BS took it out and laid it on the ground. It then proceeded to whistle loudly five, maybe six, times. She flinched at the high-pitched squeal the BS made but opened her eyes once more as the sound faded to echoes in the trees. After maybe fifteen or twenty minutes, she heard dogs yipping and yowling in the background. From the sound of it, an entire pack. The sounds were getting closer, louder. Suddenly, she wasn’t sure they were dogs at all. There was something off about the tone, the character of the noise. There was just something wrong about the whole thing.
A pack of eight dogs left the woods and entered the clearing. Yeah, those weren’t dogs, all right. The carnivores had pointy ears, bushy tails that pointed to the ground with white tips, a white belly and a dark brown ragged coat. Each animal must have weighed at least thirty pounds, probably more. She had the feeling they were coyotes, but wasn’t sure since she’d never actually seen one. Seriously, who met up with coyotes in the inner city? After a lengthy bit of lurking in the shadows, the pack left the woods at full speed and went straight at the body. She gasped and held her hand over her face. She'd seen a lot of bad things. She'd seen people's heads blown apart by gunshot wounds. She'd seen how a bomb blast could plaster little bits of limbs to the remaining walls, the blood little more than burgundy stains, the brains the consistency of old runny cottage cheese. She'd seen a lot in her time but nothing had quite prepared her for this. She closed her eyes so as not to look, but she still heard the wet tearing sounds, the growls and snarls as the pack fought over the best bits. She held back a gag and took a couple of deep breaths, telling herself it would be over soon and there was nothing she could do for the guy. After all, he was already dead and she'd get him justice soon enough.
In less than five minutes, she'd almost gotten over her case of the dry heaves and the pack had ripped every chunk off the victim until there wasn’t even any blood left because the BS had sucked him dry. Leaving in a prance, the coyotes trotted back to the woods with prizes that made her want to vomit even though she was dry. She was about to hyperventilate. She couldn’t believe it, that son of a bitch fed the poor guy to coyotes. She got in her car and just wanted to go home and rest.
Deciding she’d learned enough for the night, she drove home on autopilot. By the time she pulled in the parking lot, she realized what an abnormality this vamp really was. It was a year old and yet, from all she could see, was better adapted to the life than any she’d ever encountered. It had picked victims from areas where they’d never be missed, lured them away so they wouldn’t cause a commotion, and fed the victim to coyotes that, let’s face it, would eat anything and leave no traces left but a few bones at their den, which no one would find. She hadn’t even gotten a chance to see what the defenses at the vamp’s home were like. She held no doubt they would entail the kind of planning she saw with everything else it did. No wonder there was a contract out on its head. This bitch was a force to be reckoned with.
As I walked to my car, I looked down the road in a distracted way and noticed the car was now gone. Hmm… she must have decided after the dog display it was time to call it a night. I smiled a little inward smirk. What she was doing? What was keeping her? I mean, if it was me, I would have acted by now. So why wait? What was her plan? I had to figure she’d make her move soon. Maybe tonight. Probably tomorrow night. This did seem an awful long time to stalk just one vamp. But then, I'd never met a vampire hunter before and I had to figure that was what she was. Maybe they were all that slow? Slow and cautious, planning methodically, searching for an enemy's weaknesses and patterns. That would come in handy when you knew you lacked all physical advantages. Humans didn't stand a chance against the average vampire in a fight and if she knew I was a hunter, a warrior, she might be trying to be extra cautious. One wrong move could cut that kind of career short quick. Deciding I might as well call it a night too and pick up a movie when I woke up tomorrow evening, I drove home satiated, my mind in turmoil…