"Are you two okay?" Bernard Walker stared at his son Noah and Robert Hilson's daughter Samantha holding hands as they sat next to each other on the sidewalk. It was a cute little scene next to the ashes of a dead landmark.
Without warning, cop mode kicked in. "You two didn't have anything to do with this … did you?" Noah and Samantha took turns narrating what had happened. Guy had shot six people and somehow set fire to the restaurant.
The news reported two people were killed and four more currently in critical condition. The two toe-tags belonged to the gunman, Arturo Alvarado III, and an unidentifiable corpse found in the burnt remnants of the kitchen area.
Noah and Samantha confessed to killing Arturo tag-team style but the other corpse was a mystery to them. Moreover, the unknown corpse had not been fell by the gunman's aim. He had burned up. Thank God for dental records.
As Bernard broke away from the two young lovebirds, he joined the search for evidence of arson and murder. Amidst the ashes, Bernie noticed the tiny gun and the knife Noah and Samantha had confessed to killing Arturo with.
"Hey, cop," a less-than-germane firefighter yelled at him. Bernie pointed at himself as if to ask, "Who? Me?" The very rude firefighter answered his unspoken question. "Yeah, you. Did you find anything?" He shook his head.
Firefighter shook his head with transparent annoyance. "Keep looking." The guy wearing the fire helmet and heaving around that huge fire axe returned to the slow work of tearing down J'Adore, decades-old mainstay of the city.
Back when Bernard Walker first thought he wanted to be a cop, sometime in kindergarten, the allure had been the whole knight-in-shining armor bit. To live without moral compromise was a great deal even with the crappy hours.
As he grew up, Bernie had to find a better reason to want to be a cop. Everyone (including cops) had occasions to turn Mother's picture to wall and just do what had to be done. He pocketed the gun and the knife and walked away.
During this obstruction of justice in the name of a supernatural masquerade, Bernie, self-flagellating masochist supreme, pondered the question of what his foster parents would think of him right now. Thank God they were dead.
Ian Rockwell spent his days waiting for calls from anyone he cared to talk to. Since his stay in the hospital, Ian had more conversations with therapists (both mental and physical ones) now than he did with his friends and family.
It had an irony to it. Irony. Ian laughed at himself. Another word he might never have learned had this wheelchair not made him disinclined to leave home. Ian had been a bastard with years and this was scared them all away.
Therapists (the mental kind) had deconstructed his story of what happened ten thousand times over, pointing out all the flaws and the gaps he could not account for. Regardless of their prodding, Ian still knew what had happened.
Walkers were the freaks of nature. Their patriarch had emasculated his new group of cronies who specialized in offing freaks like them. When Ian tried to settle the score with that turd Noah, his milf mom stabbed/crippled him.
Now, Ian had nothing left but to go to school and watch his classmates and his teachers pretend not to feel sorry for him and then go home to endure all the same crap from his parents. Ian's life had hit the proverbial rock bottom.
As Ian Rockwell sat up alone in his bed feeling sorry for himself, he had not suspected that he wasn't, in fact, alone. Ian felt a presence in the darkness of his room. Ian reached for Dad's shotgun. "Try it, freak! See what happens!"
The intruder pulled the string on the lights in Ian's room. In the fluorescent glow of the three sixty-watt light bulbs, Ian saw a brown-haired metrosexual grinning like he had gotten a fifty-percent discount on his nails and haircut.
"I already know what will happen." The man took a step towards Ian, giving no consideration to the kind of mess he'd become if Ian pulled this trigger. "It would be loud and smelly and pass right through me like Mexican beer."
The smug home invader extended his hand to Ian Rockwell. "Parker Evans is the name. Recruitment is my game." Parker grinned as Ian shook his hand in spite of himself. "Be all that you can be." Parker looked at the open door.
Parker's shadow peeled off the carpet, took the shape of an animated tendril, closed the door to his room and even had the dexterity to lock the door. "As for what I am, I'm like Peter Pan except my shadow knows how to behave."
Ian didn't understand a word this freak was saying. "War's coming." Parker smiled. "Nasty one too. Admiral Chirac got fragged. Now, the back-stabbing lieutenants and the less-than-back-stabbing lieutenants want to duke it out."
Parker Evans shrugged, both his hands palm-side-up. "Me, I have to work every angle of this damn war because if I end up on the losing side, that will be all she wrote." Parker shook his head. "I will be as extinct as dodo crap."
Ian still struggled to grasp the basics of whatever Parker had in mind for him. "But let's forget politics for now. I'll be a decent drill sergeant (unlike that A-hole in Full Metal Jacket); I'll teach you how to be a good vampire."
All reason riled against Parker's proposal. Ian knew personally that all these deals with the devil ended the same, with him wearing the dress and getting screwed. Ian was curious about one thing. "Will I be able to walk again?"
Parker shook his head. "No." He leaned up close to Ian. "You will be able to run, jump or disappear. Those will be your only choices. Where we're going, only losers walk." Parker tilted his head. "You're not a loser, Ian, are you?"
Ian shook his head. "Of course not." Parker bit off the tip of his tongue. "So, are you, Ian Rockwell, ready to go running with the Devil?" He nodded with perhaps more enthusiasm than the situation warranted. "Let's rock and roll."
The blood mark manifested differently for each people and apparently for each time done. Victor Chirac's first blood mark from Lena had none of this violence and illness. It happened quite smoothly and without major incident.
This was not that. Nergal might have only prolonged Victor's life by a week when he decided to make him human again instead of killing him outright.
Like a lot of latter-day vampires, Piotr was self-conscious about the potency of his blood. Indeed, this "rejection" happened more in younger generations.
Victor Chirac tossed and turned in the flatbed of a rusted-up 1948 Ford F-1 Pickup Truck Piotr and Natasha had provided for him. An improvised cover made of wooden planks provided him the only protection from the elements.
The three-step process of turning a human being into an undead bloodsucker required the formation of a blood mark. A personal glyph would materialize somewhere on their bodies after a marking (done by an exchange of blood).
Unimaginatively enough, Victor Chirac's blood mark was the letter V on his solar plexus. He checked his upper torso once again. Despite ardent wishing bordering on prayer, the blood mark had not yet set in after all this suffering.
The second step would be the easiest. He would have to imbibe human blood with the blood mark in place. This intermediate step would spark his veins with the mystical properties of human blood and lead to the final step.
In the final step, in the forty days after taking the first step, the supplicant would have to die. Being a species prone to ritual, vampires often conducted this as a rite-of-passage for the blooded, complete with a ceremonial dagger.
At the end of the forty days, if the human still lived, the blood mark would vanish and the frustrated blood sire would have to decide whether to kill the host or start over again from scratch. Indeed, only a rare few chose the latter.
Victor Chirac recited from memory the three steps on the path to vampirism to keep his sanity intact and away from the thousand and one pains plaguing his human body. Victor stared at the "ceiling" and prayed for painless death.
As the memories of the transformation process only accented his pain, he let his mind drift to the paradoxical nature of his blood sire. Piotr Chernov had been made by Victor Chirac himself and now Piotr was the one making him.
Victor Chirac had been sampling Russia cuisine when the great superpower known as the Soviet Union arose from its humble soils. Piotr Chernov and Natasha Belova were caught up in the turbulence of "history in the making."
Much like today, Piotr and Natasha were the worst kind of lovers, oblivious to everything except each other. As Moscow fought against history, it had become too obvious that their blood was chosen to serve as the fuel for a revolution.
Victor remembered that night when the Bolshevik troops arrived to take the city. He remembered the detachment sent to where Piotr and Natasha lived. Though Victor would never admit it, he had thought it better not to interfere.
Yet, somewhere inside him, his ego still smarting from the bloodshed of two revolutions he had barely survived, Victor had grown tired of humanity and their sad revolutions. When would the vampires enjoy their own revolution?
Victor must have killed over a dozen soldiers before he discovered Piotr and Natasha kneeled in a corner, moments from sealing their suicide pact. Victor bared his fangs. "Please," he said in fluent Russian. "There is another way."
Victor Chirac never understood romance. Despite common depictions of the French as die-hard romantics and sex fiends, Victor had lived a chaste life before Lena, a Russian woman of great antiquity and even greater appetites.
Still, he could guess what they wanted from context. Death did not scare the two lovers as much as the prospect of being separated. For them, that would be a worse fate. The two lovers wanted to be together for the rest of eternity.
Eternity, Victor thought bitterly to himself. Humans have no sense of scale. Victor, not even the age of the youngest vampire elder, had seen the rise and fall of civilizations in his pithy collection of decades, a far cry from eternity.
Victor Chirac would never admit that he had not seen anything special in the two. That decades-old lie that he had was the thing that had earned him their loyalty in the decades that followed. It was a generous deception on his part.
Lives of Natasha and Piotr had hinged on the whim of an immortal who saw nothing of value in them except the sumptuous possibility of a night's worth of food and entertainment. Victor had licked his lips in anticipated pleasure.
It frightened Victor Chirac to think about how casually he might have turned a pair of future friends into an evening banquet of blood. By pure chance, he had mentioned something about America during his pre-feeding monologue.
Piotr Chernov interrupted his speech and Victor Chirac did not slit his vocal cords, a sign of the trust that would evolve between them. Piotr knew of this ship that could take Victor into North America by crossing the Bering Strait.
The notion of returning to the New World by heading east instead of west had never occurred to Victor. Like all great ideas, an eastern sea voyage was a masterpiece of simplicity and precision, the exact idea Victor needed then.
"You are a smart young man." Victor helped Piotr off the floor. "How would you like to stay a smart young man forever?" Piotr grinned at him. He loved the idea and added only one provision. "Yes. Natasha's free to join us."
Piotr Chernov volunteered to be turned first. To make sure that immortal life would be comfortable for his lover. When Piotr learned just how much a sire would dominate his own kindred, Piotr chose to turn her, to become her sire.
Victor Chirac awoke sweating icicles from his latest bout with the fever. His memories had merged seamlessly with his dreams. He checked his chest for his blood mark, the two pinkish-red lines fused at his solar plexus. At last …
News of Ian Rockwell's "accident" tore through Chaney High like a twister. Rumor had it that his parents had found him in his room with a shotgun clutched in his fingers. The coroner ruled his death an accidental discharge.
Everyone else, Noah Walker included, were skeptical. Both parents had full NRA memberships and imprinted in their son strict gun safety. Also, rumors of prior suicide attempts had reached the Chaney High student in the know.
Noah pulled a flyer off the wall. It had the time and location of the funeral listed as well as a picture that captured Ian Rockwell's resemblance to actual human beings. He hoped he'd have so good a photo when he died … again.
Noah was jealous of Ian Rockwell's current status. Noah had died fighting a wendigo and his death (however temporary it turned out to be) was not even acknowledged by a circle of loved ones numbering in the double digits.
Not even Jason Newton knew yet about his brief stint with the afterlife. His death (and subsequent resurrection) had been covered up with the half-assed excuse of having gone to live with Grandma Laurie. Noah felt truly gypped.
Ian Rockwell had taken the coward's way out. Students had to feign grief to mask their overwhelming relief. Ding dong, the dick is dead. For his single-minded dedication to unfaltering cruelty, Ian would receive a hero's funeral.
On the other hand, Noah Walker, the closest thing this crappy world had to a real hero, had died. With his demise came an endless flood of consequences.
As a result of six weeks of being dead, Noah had missed his finals and stood a chance of getting held back a year for it. Noah Walker had gone to Hell. In his absence, Noah's life had followed in his downward spiral into the abyss.
Noah still didn't know what his nightmare had meant. Sammy reassured him that it could not be what it seemed to be. Sammy theorized that postmortem amnesia mixed with his own insecurity had bred that nightmare/hypothesis.
Besides, as Samantha Hilson had pointed out a million times already, if this mythical descent into Hell had befallen Noah, it did not explain his return. A great many of Hell's tormented longed for escape. What made Noah unique?
What makes me unique? Noah felt as though he had been wrestling with that question his whole life. Most times he ignored it, reasoning that the question did not need answering because Noah wasn't unique in any way whatsoever.
Recent developments had outed his denial as sheer cowardice. Noah was, at least, special but that didn't answer that question. Being a Benandanti didn't make Noah unique. There were Benandanti before Noah and would be after.
"Unique" was a different animal than "special." Someone considered special did not exclude the possibility of there being other people special like them. Anyone considered unique was, by the definition of the word, one of a kind.
Ian Rockwell felt a metallic clank of a shovel against the solid mahogany of the casket his parents had picked out for him. Even in death, nothing but the best for their star pupil. Ian took the clank as a sign of Parker Evans' arrival.
In a bout of strength unreal for his wiry frame, Parker ripped open the casket and extended his hand to help Ian up. "Nap's over. Time for the night shift." Strength surged through Ian as he jumped and landed next to his tombstone.
Parker Evans gave Ian a golf clap. "Bravo. You've figured out how to access your blood to channel greater strength. I did not even have to show you; you just did it. It's a good start. It's a very good start." Parker paced around Ian.
Parker clicked his fingers. "But you need fuel." Parker reached behind a tall angel statue and produced a young Hispanic lady, bound and gagged. "I will bet you all the tea in China that you are hungry." Ian licked his lips. He was.
From all that Twilight hype and other vampire fiction, Ian had expected a lot more from the bloodlust. Perhaps, Ian's lack of angst came from the fact that he was not an Edward poseur. Being a vampire meant being a killer. Simple.
Ian felt a row of shark-like teeth slide down from his gums. He made a cut in the woman's ample almost-neck. Why did he have to pick a fat chick? Ian wondered as he struggled to get past the thick deposits of her adipose tissue.
Ian Rockwell looked at the palm of his right hand as he dug into the woman. His vampire birthmark, a seven-pointed star, glowed bright red as he sucked the blood out of her. It was beautiful like the bioluminescence of a box jelly.
Ian sought out an animal metaphor to distance himself emotionally from the ways of his new flesh. Edward had been a cold-blooded killer for a while. It didn't take all that much to go from immortal badass to vegan coffin stuffer.
Animals were the proper metaphor for handling life. Animals did what they did without any conscience. Animals killed when they needed to, slept when they needed to, ate when they needed to, and that was the whole of their law.
Parker Evans' choice for his first feeding was an insult when Ian stopped to contemplate the sexuality of the act. From that second he rose, Ian had been something of a vampire virgin. He had popped his cherry on Hefferella here.
Tears streamed down her cheeks. Ian dug deep on the vein. Ian kissed the fat chick as she trembled in his arms. "Yeah," he crooned in a deep baritone. "It was good for me too, baby doll." With that, Ian twisted her head backwards.
Victor Chirac strolled into the Darkside Club. One of his edgier concepts, he knew that would find its market in no time. Victor had gotten the notion for it from Anne Rice of all people. A way for vampires to hide out in the open.
It was a strip joint with one key difference. Those strippers pretending to be vampires were actual vampires. In a modern society where Googling "clown porn" yielded 547,000 results, a spot for suck addicts was a logical addition.
Even on a slow night like this, Victor could spot the two categories of club-goers. In the far corner was a quintet of "marks," five drunks in team jerseys who wanted a different sort of strip club and took this walk on the wild side.
In the front row next to the pale eternally young beauties were the "smarks." Those guys were in on the caper. Differentiating between the marks and the smarks was of critical importance. Only a smark came for "the full service."
Marcos Botero, a hot-blooded leftist from the Spanish Revolution, enjoyed the company of the young ladies of the Darkside Club. If there was an ideal place to start the search for the usurping Spaniard, the Darkside Club was it.
Victor Chirac looked in on a human receiving the full service. While smarks would sometimes ask for sex in addition to getting serviced, this was mostly feeding. The guy was off to Neverland while the stripper drained his blood.
Piotr and Natasha, always in synch with each other, bashed in the metal door to the back office and took point on both ends of a long conference room. It was a strangely formal setting for the behind-the-scenes look of a strip club.
"Victor Chirac." Marcos Botero rubbed his slender hands together as if the friction could start fire. "A pleasure to see you." Victor doubted that. "Come in." Marcos extended on a hand to the available seats. "Mi casa es su casa."
The four traitors that Arturo had failed to kill were seated. The quartet gave off a bunch of twitches punctuated by stillness. Marcos had turned the four. "No," Victor said. "Mi casa es mi casa. You have no claim to my territory."
Urbine, May, Gibson and Jones, the four cowardly traitors, should have died when J'Adore burned. Instead, they were immortals now, the end product of unauthorized and unsanctioned turns done by this insipid revolution junkie.
"I didn't pretend to," Marcos corrected with the eloquence of a natural-born diplomat. "I'm but a steward waiting on the return of the true king … you."
Victor nodded. "A true caballero," Victor said with ample sarcasm. "In that case, sir, I release you from your burden and I take back my rightful throne."
"It is not a burden," Marcos said, perhaps a little too quickly. "Believe me." The four Judas vampires snickered at how expertly Marcos managed this debate. "Perhaps … you would be kind enough to grant me a brief stay of regency."
Marcos Botero could dance around the real question all night long so Victor cut him off at the root. "Do you question my right to rule?" The seven words shook the room like thunder. "Have my decades of loyal service gone unnoticed?"
"You bowed before a demon." The sharp statement of fact stabbed Victor in his heart. A mincing fop of a wordsmith, Victor had not expected so bold an accusation from Marcos. "Leadership belongs to leaders who hungers for it."
After years of squatting in his territory under a banner of friendship, Marcos Botero had finally shown his true colors. Whether he was called the steward or the regent, he wanted to be the big boss calling the shots in Victor's city.
Victor Chirac looked over at the four traitors. They were okay with their old boss reduced to a ceremonial figurehead. "Do not listen to this fool," Victor cautioned them. "He would bring plagues of hunters down upon our heads."
Marcos countered with equal venom. "'Do not listen to this fool?'" Marcos parroted Victor's words. "'This fool' plans to wash away old blood with new blood. 'This fool' is not a demon-loving coward drunk on his own dreams."
Victor bared his fangs at him. "If you do not surrender to me, your skull will make a fine drinking goblet. Would you not agree, Nattie?" Natasha nodded. "It is confirmed. Your brain is far less precious than the skull that shields it."
Marcos bared his fangs at him. "When all is said and done, you will see … that it was you that should have surrendered to me." Marcos giggled. Victor said nothing in reply to his threat. The three of them sauntered out the door.
"How did you become a vampire?" Ian Rockwell struggled to find a way to overturn through Parker Evans' decision not to talk to him. Apparently, Miss Consuela Jacinto was supposed to last them the week before she had to die.
Parker Evans shook his head as he practiced twirling his cape like a matador tempting the rage of a bull. It was, by far, the gayest thing Ian had ever seen before. "I don't believe I know you well enough to have that conversation."
Ian shrugged. "Fine." He could only hoped that the frustration he felt would not show through in his voice. "Go back to twirling your fruity cape." Ian's brief stint as a homicidal badass had earned him censure from his blood sire.
Parker sighed and let his cape fall to his sides. "I killed a couple people," he said like he had mentioned about he had for breakfast this morning. "No big deal." Parker rose his cape in his arms and continued his cape dance routine.
Ian threw his arms into the air. "No big deal?" Ian circled him. "I killed one snack girl and you nearly bit my head off." Ian gripped his sinuses. "How is killing more than just one person before becoming a vampire 'no big deal?'"
Ian Rockwell calmed himself down enough to ask a purely clerical question. "Who were they?" Parker winced like that question stabbed him in the eyes.
"My girlfriend," Parker Evans answered Ian after a pause of twenty seconds or more. "And some random whore." That got Ian's imagination roaring into full power. Perhaps, the girlfriend had caught him in the act with his whore.
Still, regardless of how much that scenario entertained his mind, Ian needed to give his blood sire the benefit of the doubt. "Why did you kill them?" The caped murderer laughed at Ian for asking that question. "What's so funny?"
Parker shrugged. "I do not know why I killed them." The caped vampire had twirled in place to avoid looking at Ian. "If you know why, that would make one of us." Parker twirled again to face Ian. "Because I really do not know."
His answer froze blood in Ian's veins. Whether done out of hatred, revenge, jealousy, love or just plain boredom, people didn't kill people for no reason. The fact that Parker didn't even know his reason scared the crap out of Ian.
Ian nodded. "What do you remember?" Parker's brown eyes dilated in reply to Ian's intuitive leap. He had not mentioned anything about amnesia but his lack of knowledge about his motives suggested a general lack of memory.
Parker tilted his head back and forth, giving the question its fair hearing. "I don't remember much. Me and my girlfriend were making out. Next thing I know, I'm in an alley and they were dead, my hand on the murder weapon."
Ian leaned in close. "What did you do?" Ian's question was how Parker had become a vampire. Killing two people while blacked out, however horrible, did not turn a person into a vampire. Something must have happened next.
Parker let out a long breathy sigh. "I tried to kill myself." Parker held out an imaginary blade in his hands. "When I realized that I was going to go to jail for what I did, I thought I'd put that pig-sticker in my heart and end it all."
Ian asked Parker the obvious question. "What stopped you?" Another one of his leap of intuition, this less impressive than the one before. Corpses didn't have the capacity to turn. Something must have stopped his suicide attempt.
"Not a what," Parker corrected him. "A who." Pause. "Victor Chirac stopped me." Parker spoke that French-sounding name like he had dropped the name of a famous celebrity. Ian didn't possess Clue One about who that could be.
Ian shook his head. "I'm sorry. Victor who?" Ian had taken classes of French in high school, mostly for the chicks. This flaming French teacher with this ugly wig called him a buffoon. He got suspended for calling for him a faggot.
"Chirac," Parker Evans replied. "Victor Chirac is the vampire lord in these parts." Parker took a moment to revise that statement. "Or, at least, he was." Ian could see the gear turning in his head. There resided a bigger story here.
"What happened?" Ian prompted Parker as he sat on the floor of their flat in complete motionless silence. "What happened? Did he die or something?" A devilish grin appeared on Parker's face. Just the opening he had waited for.
"Or something." Parker sprung to his feet. "He got mixed up with a demon." Ian's eyes widened. He had not thought to ask him about other supernatural beings like werewolves. "He should've known better than to trust a demon."
Ian thought to steer the conversation back to the original line of questions. "Why did he turn you?" This question of why Parker Evans had become a vampire depended on the motives of this vampire lord Ian Rockwell had never met.
Parker smirked. "He said I had potential." Ian didn't bother to point out that this was the judgment of the same demon-dealing vampire. If that irony was lost on him, Ian had no intention of being the one to enlighten Parker Evans.
Ian cut in with another question. "Then he offered to turn you into a vampire and you thought he was insane, right?" Ian could see the exchange so clearly now. Parker must have been scared witless getting propositioned by this stranger.
Parker grinned. "Yes and no. Victor did offer to turn me but I believed him." Ian crooked an eyebrow. "After what happened, anything seemed possible ... If Santa Claus had offered me a job as an elf, I'd be at the North Pole by now."
Ian Rockwell sighed. "Listen." Ian had Parker's full attention. "I'm sorry for killing the girl." Parker shrugged. "I thought you vampires were supposed to kill people." Ian shrugged too. "I hadn't expect you to go Al Gore on me."
Parker raised his hands palm-side-up. "It's a common misconception that we vampires are mindless killers." He smiled and rested his cape on a coat rack.
"We are not?" That statement was the most confusing Parker had told to Ian since trying to explain the tripartite initiation for vampiric metamorphosis.
"No, we are not." Parker cracked his neck. "Humans kill for reasons alien to our kind. They kill in the name of God. They kill for sport. They even kill to keep the oil pumping that fuels all their petty little cars and automobiles."
Parker Evans' monologue must have had a point in there somewhere. With a little luck, he'd get to it sometime in this century. "We kill to live. We do not live to kill. If we kill too much or too often, we endanger our own survival."
Ian clicked his fingers. "Oh, that's right." Ian licked his lips. "The hunters." Ian laughed. "You mentioned them." Ian grinned. "Tell me something." Ian's shadow arched up from his back like a scorpion's tail. "What can a bunch of retards with crosses do against this?" Ian punched three holes in the drywall.
Parker gritted his teeth in reply. "We all go through that phase at one time or another. When we think nothing can harm us." Parker turned his head to Ian. "Those 'retards with crosses' have spent the last twenty generations learning all the ways to kill us. If you ever meet one of them, I suggest you run away."
Ian Rockwell already had plans for if he ever met a hunter and none of them would include running away. Ian never ran away when he was human. Why should he start as a vampire? Ian grinned at the triad of holes in the drywall.