Back in his cabin Gabriel swore out loud. He was supposed to be a hunter, a vigilante sworn to protect the small town of Hania but that woman, whatever she was, had completely thrown him off his game.
“Damn, it,” he cursed. “Damn her. What the hell was I thinking?”
He paced back and forth and wondered how he could have let her cast so much doubt into his mind, especially when he had seen first-hand what vampires could do. How could he have just walked away like that?
He sat down and raked his hands through his hair. When he set out that afternoon it had been to destroy a vampire lair, but when he got there everything had changed. How had it all gone so wrong? He replayed the entire scene in his mind over and over again hoping something would click. How could they be anything other than vampires? There was just no other way to explain the fire in her eyes or the way she commanded the wolf. But how had he destroyed the male? He hadn’t staked him in the heart, and why didn’t the body turn to ash? Why had he lie there bleeding out like a human? Nothing was making any sense. They were not human, Gabriel told himself. They couldn’t be. The woman’s eyes had changed colour from blue to red, he saw it happen. They had to be vampires, there was no other explanation.
Tired and aching, Gabriel shuffled into the bedroom and fell onto the bed. He closed his eyes and thought back to the day he’d sworn to remove all of their kind from the world, starting with the creature that changed him. He needed to regroup, he needed to remember why he was doing this.
He had been hunting animals in the Peaks, the mountain range bordering Hania. He had never believed in killing animals, but starvation could change a lot of things. Determined never to take a human life and burdened with an all-consuming need for blood, hunting animals had quickly become necessary for Gabriel to survive. It had been cold and wet that day, a heavy sunless sky creating perfect conditions for his kind to be outdoors. He had been hunting for almost an hour when he came across a scent that led him up and over a familiar rocky outcrop known as the Bluff. The aroma was delicious and it was strong. He had known right away that it was not his usual prey, but something more enticing. The Peaks were known for caves that humans loved to hike around. Famous for their historical rock paintings, documentaries had been made about mysterious artwork that decorated the walls. Some said the paintings were created by an indigenous tribe that lived in the region thousands of years ago, while other more elaborate theories included everything from aliens to tribes of Bigfoot. When he was a man Gabriel had scoffed at the idea of both, but hell, if he could be turned into something other than human then anything was possible.
When he reached the top of the trail the scent became pungent. The sweet, heavy aroma wrapped around him like an invisible arm, reaching out, beckoning, promising.
Despite the monster that dwelled inside, Gabriel had never been tempted to kill a person, to take a life. The presence tortured him, whispering and pleading, making him despise who he was, but he was strong. He had never killed a human for food and sometimes, just knowing that some part of him was still stronger that it, was all that kept him going. But that day, as the need took hold, he cared little for anyone’s safety. The only thing comparable to the desire he felt was the time he’d touched the soft ripe breasts of Jacinta-Rose Calloway in the front seat of his father’s Buick. He had been 16 and trying to contain himself as she wiggled against him was the hardest thing Gabriel ever had to do, until that scent began to stroke and caress him. Transfixed, he followed it until he reached the gaping mouth of a cave, but when he stepped inside, what he saw tore a hole inside his heart that would never completely heal. Torn flesh and fractured bone littered the dark dusty floor and blood was sprayed out across the walls like the lashings of a crazed artist. Mattered hair was tangled around rock.
In total, the remains of 70 people were found in the cave. According to police, a rogue wolf pack had been responsible for the murderous rampage, but Gabriel knew better. Animals had not created the atrocity he witnessed. He had no idea why he had been spared the same violent death the night he was attacked, or why he had been changed instead of killed, but there and then he decided to destroy every murdering vampire he could find. It was the only way he could still protect the people of Hania; and the only reason he could find to keep existing at all.
Slowly he opened his eyes and let the features of the old bedroom bring him back to the present. The red and green tartan curtains his mother had sewn by hand, the black charred poker that stood beside the fire place, the water stain on the ceiling from that winter when he was five years old and the roof had leaked. His father had built the cabin by hand and living out here, far away from the rest of the world was lonely, but it was safe. He was safe from humans and they were safe from him. For the past 10 years he had tried to live a simple life, mindful that no matter what he was, he remained small in comparison to the trees and the mountains and the Earth. Small in comparison to life itself. Most nights the sounds of the forest were enough to keep him company. The rustling of raccoons as they foraged through the undergrowth like tiny bandits. The mournful howl of the wolves and the fluttering wings of saucer-eyed owls usually filled the lonely void, but not tonight.
As the hours ticked by, Gabriel tried everything he could to stop thinking about what had happened at the farmhouse. He paced. He stared. He picked up a book he’d been reading about Ozzy Osbourne, who he felt sure was also a vampire, but just kept reading the same passage over and over again. Aurora. Was that her name? And what had she meant by strigoi? A vampire was a vampire, wasn’t it? What the hell had she been talking about? And what was a descendant?
He sighed. He couldn’t. There was no way. It was by far the dumbest idea he ever had.
So why was he pulling on his shoes?