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.