Heir Of Ashes
I had just finished chopping onions for Paul when the sky broke.
It wasn’t really a kaboom, but more like giant rocks tumbling down a hill. Like a giant avalanche.
On its heel followed the torrential downpour I’d been hearing about for the past few days. A sense of foreboding kept nagging at me, a feeling that I was missing something that I should know. Or see.
“Do you need anything else before I go?” I asked Paul as I hung my apron on a peg and tried to shake the sensation away. I could hear some of the crowd outside dispersing, going home to celebrate another weekend with family, friends, or just be alone after a fulfilling meal; and the booming laughter of those who lingered for a drink and latest gossip in the diner.
“That’ll be all,” he said, sending me a distracted smile over his shoulder.
I went inside Paul’s office and grabbed my purse, a huge monstrosity my friend Michelle had desperately tried to destroy, but inside were things I couldn’t leave behind if I had to make a hasty exit. Dr. Maxwell’s journal was also inside. It had helped me sort a lot of things since I had escaped, even if it hadn’t been the one I wanted, and I never went anywhere without it.
I slung the purse on my left shoulder and let it dangle on my right side, the easier if I needed to run, then let myself out from the back door of the diner. The downpour was like a water sheet in front of me, blocking anything farther than a few feet from view.
Already water was gathering on the street, herding the brown leaves that had gathered at the edges toward the drainage system.
It was unbelievably cold for October, but I’d only been there for three months so I wasn’t sure if this was the norm for early autumn.
I shivered involuntarily and tucked my gloveless hands inside my pockets. I loved autumn, when trees turned into that burnish gold color and animals scurried to gather supplies for the winter, but it seemed like here, in this small town, winter had already arrived.
Another flash of light appeared, just a few yards to my left, followed immediately by a loud kaboom! And the bucket of giant rocks down the mountain.
That sense of foreboding returned, and I glanced around, found nothing that felt out of place.
Paul’s Diner was only two blocks away from Marian’s bed and breakfast and, on a clear day, the lack of tall buildings in between would have given me a clear view of both. I hurried to the small B & B where I rented a small room on the second floor, wondering if Rudolph (AKA “Rudy”), the local troublemaker, would be waiting for me by the door like he did most days despite of the downpour. I believe the only reason his bullying didn’t extend to outright harassment was because I refused all other offers from other men. That, and the fact that most of the townsfolk had become a little overprotective of me, believing I was hiding from an abusive husband.
As my long legs ate the small distance between the diner and the old brick house, I thought about calling Michelle and asking her over so we could do something fun. I had missed the excitement of going out with my friends during my teen years, locked up in a bedroom in the PSS headquarters in Washington. I had permission to watch the world from a TV and read about it from books whenever I wasn’t down in a lab. Sometimes I was sent to the small library where I received a rudimentary education, but it was nothing near what I’d have learned had I gone to school.
I didn’t see Marian behind her desk in the foyer, but when I passed her office door I heard the low sound of a talk show and saw reflective lights coming from the TV. I’d stop by in the morning and pay my rent then; I knew how much she hated being interrupted from her talk shows. Plus, I was soaked to the bones and my appearance would only prompt her to pour one of those awful teas down my throat, so I took the back stairs on the corner and headed up to my room, the last one in the corridor, telling myself I’d grab some dry clothes, then backtrack and dry off the water trail I left behind.
The moment I unlocked the door and reached for the switch on the wall to my right, I knew that someone was inside, even before I spotted the silhouette sitting on my bed. And not a friendly someone either if one counted his scary, inhuman aura. Panic reared its head so fast, so furious, it had me paralyzed in an instant. I forgot all the carefully-laid plans I had so meticulously drilled into myself over and over, even before I had escaped the PSS’s HQ, for moments like this one. My mind… blanked.
For a long moment, my fear paralyzed me. I felt its icy grip around my heart, simultaneously spreading down to the pit of my stomach and up around my neck. Then, he moved. But he didn’t attack, instead he—flipped a page?
The casual way he sat on my bed, flipping through Michelle’s latest fashion magazine as if he had yet to notice me, broke through my terrified mind and expelled the paralyzing grip panic had woven around my limbs. My first instinct was to run.
But, as fast as I was, I wasn’t sure I could outrun a vampire.
Think, Roxanne, think.
I eyed his red and purplish, almost-black aura and struggled through the terrified haze to remember what I had read on Dr. Maxwell’s journal. Red for a vampire that lived on blood, and only a made vampire lived solely on blood. I deduced the purple part indicated how long he’d been a vampire, assuming he’d once been human with a simple blue aura.
One thing was sure from the color of his aura; he was old. Very old.
This was such overkill. It was like firing a cannon ball at a mosquito.
If I ran, he’d only chase me. Made vampires—especially old ones—shed their humanity once they transition from alive to undead, so anyone I passed while fleeing him would only mean more prey for him to play with.
Especially sweet, over-protective old Marian.
So, I tried my best to hide the fact that I was scared shitless and entered the room, turned on the light, and closed the door behind me. I think I saw a flicker of something—respect?—in his eyes, but who knows, it might have been annoyance that he didn’t get to chase me around town. Then again, he didn’t know I knew what he was, seeing that aura reading wasn’t a normal trait, even among the preternaturals, so maybe I had an advantage there.
I just had to figure out how to use it.
So, in a valiant attempt at bravery, I threw the key down on the dresser to my right, crossed my arms over my chest, which was in no way impressive with the way my hands trembled, and leaned back on the door in a gesture that mimicked ‘I’m such a bad ass’, but was really so I wouldn’t melt into a quivering pool of fearful goo.
I saw a mocking, condescending smirk form on his lips and, for the first time, noticed his unnatural features.
Corpse-like, he was thin, so thin he looked on the verge of emaciation. Or like a very well fed skeleton. I’d been so focused on the twisted, double-colored aura that I hadn’t even paid any attention to his strange features.
His bones—cheek, skull, arms, and ribs—were so pronounced that he looked more like a skeleton dressed in skin than anything else.
And then he changed. Right in front of my eyes.
Dark, lean, handsome.
His hair was long, curling lazily at his shoulders. Green eyes, a thin nose that had been broken at some point during his human life, nice full lips. His body, which a few seconds ago had been all bones, now looked also extremely nice. He was dressed all in black. From the tips of his shining boots to the V-shape of his knit shirt, everything was black.
I gave myself a mental shake and for a moment I thought the handsome GQ vampire image would stick. For a second, both images superimposed. There was a stabbing pain above my eyes and there sat the emaciated dude again.
“Are you lost?” I asked, proud my voice didn’t crack or shake.
His eyes glittered coldly, sending a chill through my body. And then… he laughed.
A deep, coming-from-the-belly sexy laugh.
Oh shit, I was amusing him. I was prey, entertaining the predator. I had to get away from him, put as much distance between us as possible.
But first, I had to distract him. Somehow, I had to disable him, to keep him from finding me again. Maybe strike him hard enough to render him unconscious while I fled? I just needed to get closer. In retrospect, I could tell how foolish and naïve that idea was.
He tilted his head to the side in an unnatural gesture that had my heart skipping beats.
He was so far from human, a tiny, frightened voice squealed inside my head.
Sensing my fear, he closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, an expression of bliss crossing his face.
“Smart enough to be afraid.” He watched me for a moment, his eyes moving slowly over my body. It felt like fire ants. “Yet, you are still standing.” He tilted his head to the other side, puzzling over me, a very reptilian movement.
My heart skipped another beat, then kick-started into an accelerated drum.
“If I bolt, you’ll only think I’m game—which I assure you I am not.” I shrugged, a jerky move that belied my tone. Then I added in a shakier tone, “I’m already amusing you and I’m just standing here.”
He gave that mocking, condescending smirk again. “I like you. Very brave, very courageous,” he said, and I noticed his voice carried a British accent. Of course it did. I bet he was turned at a time when Indians were the only human life in the Americas.
“Yeah? Unfortunately, I’m not interested at the moment. Perhaps you should try again in a month or two.” I pushed away from the door and took two steps, close enough, with only two more steps to go. “Who knows?” I shrugged again, “Maybe then I’d be interested. Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like to be alone.” I pointed a thumb behind me, my hand jerking when a vicious kaboom! blasted the air.
“You know why I am here, little one?” he asked, serious now. I was glad he deemed me neither worthy nor dangerous enough to get up from the bed. He remained calm, relaxed even.
I shrugged, took one more tiny step, and stopped cold when his eyes narrowed into thin slits. He didn’t look just like an emaciated dude anymore. He looked dangerous, his eyes gleaming with inhuman intelligence and awareness.
Scratch plan A. If I couldn’t get close enough to strike him unaware, I needed to come up with an alternative. Time for plan B. Now, I just needed to figure out what plan B was.
“I’m here to take you back. Enough playing the damsel in distress. If you wish to bring anything you’ve acquired, then go ahead and bring it. You have five minutes.”
“What makes you think I’ll go back?” I asked, my mind whirling for something I could do.
He showed me his teeth. Straight, nice, white teeth. It wasn’t a smile or a sneer, just… teeth.
“I have some papers for you to sign before we leave,” he said, returning his attention to the magazine as if my accompanying him was a foregone conclusion. “A disclaimer that entitles the scientist’s full rights for the next ten years …” He flipped another page. “Hmmmm. Nice shoes.” Flip. “During this ten-year period, if you give them your full cooperation —”
I lunged for him, talons out. Straight for his throat. I didn’t know if a stake through the heart was the right method to kill a vampire, but decapitation was a sure way to kill anything living—or nonliving—or animated, or whatever it was they called a made vampire.
I hit something hard and for the fraction of a second thought I hit the mark. Just the time it took for my brain to process his bony fingers around my wrist, exactly where the fur and padded paw ended and my human wrist began.
I hadn’t even seen him move.
Without any pause or hesitation, I tried again with my free left talons. When I found both my wrists imprisoned by his bony fingers, I kicked his shin with my right cowboy boot while simultaneously wrenching both my hands back with as much force as I could muster, slicing his hands in the process.
He howled, letting go of me and getting up, fangs out. I stumbled back a step and without losing momentum, kept going for the closet where I kept the broom I used to clean up my room so old Marian wouldn’t need to. As weapons went it was pretty lame and harmless, but it was all I could think of at the moment.
Despite the head start and the fact I could move very fast, I’d taken only two steps before he tackled me from behind. I fell with a loud oomph, almost banging my nose against the hard wood. I struggled, trying to free my legs, but his strength was tremendous, and I only managed to gain a few inches. Nevertheless, I kicked—more a hard shove—with the spare inches I had and heard the satisfying grunt of pain. Not waiting for him to recover, I put all my strength in my upper body and pulled myself—and him along—a few inches to the closet door and held on to the frame. Again, I struggled to free my legs and continued kicking/shoving every time I gained an inch or two.
“Stop it,” he snarled, his voice guttural, his arms tightening around my legs to prevent me from moving.
Inch by inch, I moved, hope filling my heart when the tips of my fingers brushed the handle of the broom.
Then something sharp pierced through the fabric of my pants, into the back muscles of my right shin. I stiffened when the vampire began sucking, paralyzed with fear. That was how vampires controlled their prey and made them slaves. By drinking their blood.
With a cry of despair and outrage, I pulled myself again with renewed determination, the frame of the closet creaking with indignation, the vampire’s fangs tearing through my muscles like scissors on thin paper. My hand brushed the handle of the broom again, but it slipped away. Finally my left foot came free and I stomped on his head once, twice, the muscles of my shin tearing with every kick. My leg slid, though his fangs still sucked, caught on a frenzied feeding and embedded in the tendrils of my ankle. The pain was so overwhelming, it almost outdid reason. I pulled myself again, crying out with the agony of tearing flesh. I reached and grabbed the broom, and with a herculean effort of will, flipped my upper body and began thwacking the vampire on the side of the head until the handle broke and I had a makeshift stake in my hand.
I quickly stabbed him in the shoulder, and, as if he had just now realized I was fighting him, he let go of my leg and shot straight up and away.
I picked the other side of the broom, the one with the bristles—considerably shorter—and got up slowly, almost sinking back down when I put some weight on my right foot.
The vampire reached back and unhooked the handle of the broom from his shoulder, his malnourished face contorting with anger. There was an alien redness in his eyes, his fanged, opened mouth dripping with my blood.
I took a step back, careful to put as little pressure as possible on my right side. Regardless, I almost passed out when the pain zinged through the entire leg. My vision dimmed once, and I had to swallow bile twice. If I passed out, I would be waking up inside a cage. That is, if I ever woke up again.