Andrew and I emerged from the house hot and sweaty from the day’s work, and it was only when we were a respectable distance away that we allowed our hands to entwine together. We walked together in silence for a few minutes, content to simply bask in one another’s company.
When we reached Andrew’s truck he once again held the door open for me like a gentleman and I stilled him with a hand on his shoulder. When he turned to face me I stood up on tip-toe and brushed a strand of dust and cobwebs off of his collar before gently tugging him closer and planted a deep, lingering kiss on his lips. He responded much as I expected and the kiss was full of heat and remembered passion. He reluctantly pulled away.
“Cut that out. Distracted driving is now the number one cause of traffic accidents these days.”
“That only pertains to texting.” I boldly reached into his front jeans pocket and deftly removed his phone and held it teasingly out of reach.
He sighed and gave me an indulgent smile. “Give that back.”
I arched an eyebrow at him. “Or what?”
In answer he scooped me up and settled me firmly on the passenger seat. I squealed in surprise and kissed him once again, feeling giddy. The combined scent of his cologne and sweat were powerfully arousing, and it took a tremendous show of willpower to break the kiss. Without taking my eyes off of him I smoothly tucked the phone into the waistband of my jeans and then yanked the shirt down, daring him to retrieve it. The smoldering look in his eyes informed me that he would like nothing more than to relieve me of his phone—and of all my clothes—and that the only thing keeping him in check was the fact that we would be visible to anyone on the street.
He shook his head ruefully. “That’s not fair. Now all through dinner I’m going to be envying my phone for being so close to that beautiful body of yours.”
I felt my face warm. “Well, then I suggest we go for fast food. How does Whataburger sound?” Memories of our first “date” together flashed through my mind and it seemed like a lifetime ago that we had shared our food and engaged in such easy, casual conversation.
He smiled. “No, I only go there when I need cheering up. Right now I’m in a pretty good place thanks to you.”
I swallowed thickly before responding. “Me too.”
His face suddenly brightened. “Hey, I know. Let’s go to Merle’s seeing as how it’s close by.”
Merle’s. The place where Andrew and I had first met, although neither of us had realized it at the time.
Before I could respond I was suddenly aware of movement behind us, of five dark shadows darting in and out of the light cast by the streetlamps with calculated, inhuman speed. There was no mistaking that they were headed right for us, and as the one to the left came within twenty yards of where we were I caught the unmistakable flash of his crimson aura flashing brilliantly around him.
The fact that I had run into two separate groups of my own kind today was beyond coincidental. I may have lost sight of the two from this afternoon, but the five headed right for us knew exactly who I was and—worse yet—where to find me. The possibility that I had been followed here was entirely plausible, and I mentally kicked myself for being so careless. For all I knew, this afternoon’s encounter had been planned or staged to get me to come out of hiding.
My heart slammed up into my chest and I felt a cold fear course through me. We were about to be ambushed and Andrew was only seconds away from being caught squarely in the middle of what I had hoped to shield him from the moment we met. The figures paused briefly, no doubt sensing my elevated heart rate, and without a word they split off into two groups—one headed to the left and the other to the right—effectively surrounding us.
Andrew must have seen the look of abject fear on my face because he immediately turned to see what I was looking at, and in the space between one heartbeat and the next I came to a decision: I was going to have to confront these creatures—there was no avoiding that—but Andrew must be protected at all costs.
In a blur of movement I sprang up and out of the seat and brushed past him with enough force to send him reeling, and in the next instant I had my knife out in one hand and his phone in the other. I tossed him his phone and he fumbled for it awkwardly, his reflexes still trying to make sense of what was going on. “Andrew, get in the truck and drive away!”
So many emotions warred on his face. “What are you talking about, I’m not leaving—!”
“Do it!” The figures to the right were rapidly closing in and if Andrew didn’t act now, there would be no escape.
I rushed towards them with my knife out at the ready, barely conscious of Andrew’s frantic shouting behind me. The ones to the left hesitated briefly, but at a sharp command from one of the figures on the right, they put on speed and raced towards the truck.
I let go of all of my inhibitions and sped forward at inhuman speed, far too fast for Andrew’s eyes to track and just barely fast enough to catch up to the three figures on the right as they came within inches of intercepting him as he scrambled clumsily into the driver’s seat. I distinctly heard the click of the locks as he engaged them and then the hammering blows they rained down on the side of the truck. Andrew was safe for the time being, but he had to put as much distance between them and himself as possible.
The ones on the left had now climbed on and into the bed of the truck and were trying frantically to shatter the back window. The engine roared to life and the truck shot forward, causing them to tumble roughly to the truck bed. Andrew slammed on the breaks and threw the truck into reverse, and in the dim light cast by the street lamps, I saw them thrown back by the truck’s inertia, whereupon they landed roughly onto the pavement. Breaks screeched and tires smoked as Andrew threw the truck into drive and I watched the taillights speed away for an instant before launching myself at the nearest figure. I caught him around the waist and brought him down to the pavement with a startled cry. Not giving him a chance to recover, I plunged the knife deep into the side of his neck and the blood squirted hot and thick over my hands, coating the handle.
He wailed miserably and pitched his weight to the side in an attempt to throw me off, but I twisted my knife in cruelly up to the hilt, his hands flapping uselessly in the air. With a feral growl I jerked the blade free and he gurgled and choked out his last seconds of life on the pavement. The hunger whipped furiously within me, excited and enlivened by the thrill of the hunt, but this was no time to feed. This was survival of another kind, and I turned my attention to the other figure who had seemingly vanished.
Too late, I realized that he had used the momentary distraction of his companion’s death to circle behind me, his body tensed for the attack. He slammed into me with bone-rattling force and I pitched forward, the knife skittering out of my hands and across the pavement. We hit the ground hard and I felt a rib crack, but the pain only added a sense of urgency to the situation. I hooked my hands into claws and lashed out, striking him in the eyes. He howled in fury and wound his fists in my hair and then slammed my head against the ground. Dark spots danced before my eyes but I kept striking out with my right hand, occasionally making contact with his face and the side of his head.
Snarling furiously, his hands closed tight around my throat, cutting off my air. Panic seized me and I bucked and writhed, barely managing to maneuver my right knee up and away. I managed to wedge it between our bodies and then I cocked it back and struck him between the legs. With a pained grunt he released his hold on me and I used the opportunity to struggle up into a sitting position. With a predatory swipe I latched onto the side of his neck with my blunt teeth and bit down hard, moaning in pleasure as the taste of his blood hit my tongue.
The first few threads of his life-force began to swirl and eddy in the air around us as I drained him and I saw a look of utter astonishment flash in his eyes. I used every ounce of my considerable strength to pin him down, my knees pressing down on his thighs with immovable and relentless fury. My hands pressed into his upturned palms like a lover and the gravel dug painfully into his skin as he lay helpless underneath me.
I bit down harder, worrying the wound so that it widened and increased the flow, reveling in the thick, warm gush that splashed around my lips. I drank deeply and felt his life enter me, seeking out the tiny injuries that I had suffered this night and restoring my body and soul. I lost all sense of time in these moments, lost all awareness of my surroundings which in hindsight was quite dangerous given the situation.
Pain suddenly ripped through me, white hot and potent. I screamed in agony as I felt a knife—my knife—slip up and under my ribs, mere inches away from my heart. I released my victim and whirled around to face my attacker, but not before they managed to withdraw the blade and stab me once more. My blood poured heavily from my wounds and I fought back a wave of weakness as whatever life-force I had just imbibed flowed out with it. Hot breath ghosted across my face as my attacker gripped me around the throat and hauled me roughly to my feet. I kicked and clawed at them as I strangled and hung suspended off of the ground, my efforts useless as I saw them cock their arm back, my knife gleaming dangerously in their grip.
So this is how it ends, I thought dully as unconsciousness threatened to overtake me and I felt my limbs fall to my sides, leaden and dead. My last thoughts were of how poor Andrew was going to deal with the inevitable fallout and how he would spend the rest of his life seeking the answers to questions about what had happened to me this night, questions which had no easy answers.
I love you, Andrew. I closed my eyes and steeled myself for the final agony.
Tires squealed seemingly inches away from me and without warning I went flying backwards and the vice-like grip around my throat vanished. I hit the ground hard and I rolled over on my side, gasping and choking for air. Andrew’s truck sat idling yards away and I could see him scrambling out of the driver’s side as he rushed towards me.
My attacker was nowhere to be seen.
I hobbled to my feet and was half-limping, half-running towards him. We had to get out of here now before our attackers regrouped and came back.
To my right, the headlights of the truck illuminated the final ruination of my second victim as they gasped their last breath and the rapid disintegration of their body began. Andrew’s eyes bulged in terror as the man’s skin shriveled away and cleaved to the bones and the jaw yawned open, revealing teeth that were turning black and falling away by the second.
I staggered towards him and with a convulsive yell yanked him to his feet and dragged him towards the waiting cab of the truck. I shoved him in ahead of me and then got behind the wheel, my breathing harsh and strained.
“Oh my God, what just happened back there!?” His skin was pale and he was shaking with delayed shock.
I stomped on the gas and sped away as fast as I could, heedless of his questions and of the blood still trickling slowly from my wounds. The cool night air swept in from the shattered back window and glass glittered like diamonds on the upholstery and dashboard. I risked a glance in the rear view mirror and saw the three remaining attackers streaking down the road after us and I increased our speed. Soon enough they fell away from us but it was only after I had blown through several red lights that I allowed the pressure on the gas pedal to subside. Getting pulled over was going to have its own unique set of complications, and the last thing either of us needed was to be incarcerated and questioned separately. Andrew had seen enough to know that otherworldly forces had been at work, and my own actions would have undoubtedly raised his suspicions as to what I was.
Those questions would have to be dealt with later. Right now I had to get us far away from here and back to the safety of my apartment. My wounds were now itching and the skin around them felt tight, which indicated that they were healing. I would still have to feed within the next day or so to be at maximum strength, as I had no doubt that my attackers knew who I was and would be in the process of trying to track me down. The fact that they had shown up in force at a place that Andrew and I happened to be at tonight was more than just a coincidence, and I gritted my teeth in frustration.
Andrew was in danger and I had no one to blame but myself and my own loneliness.
“Katrina, please just tell me what is going on—”
“Not now. First we need to get us both out of here and somewhere safe.” I could feel his eyes on me—beseeching, questioning—and I risked a sidelong glance at him. He had pressed himself as far back against the passenger side door as he physically could and he hurriedly averted his gaze. Instinctively I reached out to comfort him and he flinched, clearly afraid of me.
The action sent a spasm of pain through me and I withdrew my hand, which I realized was heavily slicked with my own blood. I gripped the steering wheel and fixed my gaze on the road ahead of us and felt the silence fill the space between us, the silence which divided us as surely as the knowledge that I was no more human than our attackers, did.