Blood And Soil
Any harder and the knocks would have knocked down the front door. Whoever wanted into the Walkers residence expressed the desire with no small amount of urgency. It was a shock to see Grandma Laurie through the peephole.
Alyssa Walker unlocked about three deadlocks before Grandma Laurie could walk through the front door. These precautions were new, set up in response to a rather nasty home invasion involving a revenge-crazed were-hyena.
From what little Alyssa could remember about Grandma Laurie from personal experience was a woman no one could intimidate. She used to talk about base-jumping and spelunking as if they were common activities for the elderly.
In short, Grandma Laurie was one tough grandmother, the last person a mugger would want to meet in a dark alley. But that invincible bastion of inner strength was gone now, replaced with a woman who reeked of the stench of fear.
Mom seemed to know what Grandma was saying even when she did not use words to say it. "No," Mom replied to Grandma's body language. Grandma nodded in defiance of her daughter. "He doesn't even know where we live."
Grandma Laurie smirked at Mom. "Pax Lupone has his methods." Alyssa had heard that strange name before, always in hushed whispers like a blasphemy traded between church-goers during Sunday service. It scared Mom somehow.
Dad stood up from his recliner, the name shocked him upright like an electrode attached to his spine. "Pax Lupone is dead," Dad said matter-of-factually. "You said so yourself, Mrs. Goode. He died with the Wolf Mistress, remember?"
Grandma Laurie smiled. "You haven't addressed me as 'Mrs. Goode' in years?" Grandma leaned up right next to Dad's ear. "Between you and me, I never much cared for it. I tried to get to call me 'Mom' but you wouldn't have it."
Returning from her tangent, Grandma looked around their living room. "Pax Lupone was dead." Her eyes settled on Noah Walker. "But we both know that the first death isn't always permanent. You have to kill them twice to be sure."
Mom hadn't told anyone that she had told her own mother about Noah's death. In retrospect, it made sense. She needed to be in on the lie lest a truancy officer or child welfare social worker came knocking on her door for Noah.
Grandma Laurie sniffed at the air as she surveyed her two grandchildren. "You two never told them about their Uncle Scott, did you?" Grandma turned to Alyssa and Noah. "Well, to be precise, Scott is your first cousin, once removed."
Alyssa and Noah blinked in unison. "Oh, dead," Grandma intoned as she produced a pen and notepad from her purse. "I've already lost them." She sketched out a pedigree. "My mother had a son. That son had a son named Scott."
Grandma shook her head as she strolled down memory lane. "He was a good nephew. He was quiet but he was a good kid." Dad grunted at that. "His father, my brother, filled his head with notions of Benandanti racial supremacy."
Grandma Laurie locked eyes with Dad. "Scott Pellegrino was a good kid." A fire burned behind her pupils. "And I will have words with anyone who says otherwise." Dad turned his head away from her. "He fell in with the Lupone Clan."
Alyssa felt dizzy from all the facts shooting past her. "To become a member of the Lupone Clan, you had to be less than a quarter-human. Having more than one human great-grandparent was considered a pollution of their blood."
Something snapped inside Alyssa. "That doesn't make any sense." Alyssa shook her head. "Mom's always talking my ear off about Romulus. He wasn't an alien from outer space. He was a regular guy drunk on some divine wolf's milk."
Grandma Laurie gave Alyssa a jolly ear-to-ear grin. "You are right, my dear. You are absolutely right." Grandma stepped closer to her. "But if you made that argument to a Lupone, he'd have your tongue removed for blasphemy."
Alyssa put her hand over her mouth as if to combat the imagined threat of tongue removal. Grandma turned away. "Which brings us to the second requirment for joining the Lupone Clan, the one that destroyed my nephew's soul."
Dad stepped forward. "The second requirement was blood in, blood out. He must kill someone at the behest of his patron or the deal's off and he dies." Dad looked at Grandma. "They told him to kill his own mother and he did it."
Grandma stared down at her feet, channeling her rage into the floor. "His mother was a quarter-human. He loved her and the Lupone Clan saw that as weakness. So when the time came for his initiation, she was the natural choice."
Dad put his hand against his forehead. "Truth is, kids, Scott Pellegrino was a disturbed young man." Dad tried to lock eyes with Grandma but she wouldn't meet his gaze. "You'd have to be to even consider killing one of your parents."
Grandma's head tilted upward and finally locked eyes with Dad. "Just because you never met your real parents and you couldn't save the ones you had gives you no right to speculate as to the mental health of my sweet nephew."
The argument had reached its crescendo. "Your 'sweet nephew' was the reason my parents are dead." Dad balled his hands into fists. "He couldn't stand the thought of a 'pure' Benandanti foundling living happily with human parents."
In all the years Dad had talked about his biological parents, he never once indicated that he knew anything about them beyond the fact that they abandoned him. Dad unsheathed his hunting knife and stared lovingly at its edge.
"If he shows his face around here," Dad said, "I'm keeping it."
A figure stepped out of the kitchen. "Are you now?" With the reflexes of a seasoned hunter, Dad snapped the knife at the man. With equally fast reflexes, the man plucked the knife out of the air and pocketed it. "Mind if I keep this?"
The man, Pax Lupone or Scott Pellegrino, extended a hand to Grandma. "I trust that Aunt Laurie has given me a fitting introduction." Pax looked at Dad. "And, for the record, I didn't have anything to do with your parents' deaths."
Dad growled. "That's a lie."
Pax shrugged. "Is it?" Pax paced around Dad. "The Wolf Mistress saw the darkness in your heart. Bernard. She wanted to see how many people you would kill in the name of your dearly departed." Pax pointed to a scar on his forehead.
"Your killing me ruined our friendship." Pax reached into his coat and produced the knife he had just stolen. "If I give this back to you, you have to promise not to give it back to me, if you know what I mean." He handed it back to Dad.
Grandma Laurie stared transfixed at Dad. "Is that true?" Dad shrugged his shoulders helplessly. "Did you kill Scott?"
Pax groaned at Grandma. "Dear, Wolf Goddess, do you still call me by that stupid name?" Pax shook his head. "Must I resort to some hoary old cliche of saying Scott Pellegrino is dead?" Pax laughed. "I will say it if I have to. I really will."
Without looking in Pax's direction, Grandma spoke, "I wasn't talking to you, Scott." Grandma put special emphasis on his name. "And Bernard here still hasn't furnished me an answer to my question." Her eyes were still locked on Dad.
Dad relented. "You were too blind to see him for what he really was." Grandma's eyes lit up with that same fire from earlier. "The Lupone Clan and the Wolf Mistress were pawns. Pax knew exactly what he wanted and how to get at it."
Pax smiled sheepishly. "You give me way too much credit, Bernie." Pax's smile dropped off his face. "I mean, some of those pawns you speak of forced me to kill my mother on pain of death? You think I wanted to do that? I loved her."
Dad gave a round of applause. "That was amazing." Dad blew a wolf whistle. "You killed your own mother for your furry Nazi friends, then sided with their werewolf allies and somehow you still made yourself out to be the victim."
"I am the victim." Pax turned to face Alyssa and Noah. "Your father, besides being a jerk to me, is a good man, am I right?" Alyssa nodded, feeding into this lunatic's argument. "My dear old dad put me in a cage when I misbehaved."
A sneer swept across Dad's face. "When he told the story to me, it was a coffin at the bottom of a lake." Dad laughed and then glared at Pax Lupone. "This guy can't even keep straight which lie he told to who. He's a cut-rate conman."
"Please." Pax pointed a finger at Alyssa and Noah. "Must we do this in front of the children?" Pax asked in a voice just a bit louder than a whisper. "I mean, here I am trying to help you and yours out and this is the thanks I get?"
"I don't see how this is helping," Mom chimed in at last. "You'd have been more help to us if you had stayed dead." The venom in her words suggested the two had a history between them. "If you have something to say, say it, then leave."
"I never thought you'd end up with him." Pax circled Mom. "I always pictured you with a debonair man of mystery who knew how to tame your wild heart." Pax shrugged. "Too bad the only man matching that description was me."
Dad had pinned Pax's head against the wall between the living room and the kitchen, his knife inside his mouth. "If the next words out of your mouth aren't an apology, the next thing coming out of your mouth will be your tongue."
"I'm sorry, Michelle," Pax said, oddly articulate even with a mouth full of knife. Dad drew back the knife. "That was out of line." Pax brushed himself off. "In my defense, your Bernie did this to me." He pointed to the scar on his head.
Pax allowed everyone to soak in the details of that stretch of dead flesh on his forehead next to his left temple. "Being dead is like being to prison." He answered his own riddle. "You're never the same person who went in."
A pause followed as Pax Lupone was clearly taking a moment to reconsider his approach to this situation. "It's the end of the world and you know what that means." A grin. "Benandanti must return to Rome. So decrees Romulus."
Dad shook with his arms crossed. "What gives you the right to speak on behalf of Romulus?"
Pax shrugged. "Well, how about the fact that I was sent here on direct orders from Romulus himself?"
Dad broke down into one of his fits of incredulous laughter. "If you said you came here on marching orders from the Easter Bunny, I'd have believed that more than this." Pax Lupone pointed at Dad as if he solved one of his riddles.
"Well, there you have it then." Pax spread his arms out in concession to Dad. "If I were lying, I'd have chosen to tell a more convincing lie. I think if there is one thing that you and I can agree on is that I am a much better liar than this."
Dad groaned. "Listen, even if I believed you (and that's a big if), we can't leave now." That got everyone's attention. "There's a vampire war threatening to tear the city apart." He shook his head. "We can't just leave this place behind."
Typical of her dear old dad, he had waited for the worst time to make his world-shaking announcements. Pax just smiled. "A vampire war?" Dad nodded. "Goodie. I've always wanted to kill a vampire. It's been a little dream of mine."
Pax took a deep breath. "Tell you what. I show you how to barricade your little fortress so the next monster can't just break in through the backdoor like I just did. I will accept only room and board as payment for my security services."
Strangely enough, Dad agreed to the arrangement. "You are a scholar and a gentleman, Bernard." In all likelihood, this was Dad's way of keeping an eye on him. Pax turned to face the rest of the family. "I won't even know I'm here."
Noah Walker didn't want to think of Scott Pellegrino AKA Pax Lupone. Mom and Grandma were very much afraid of him, even though Grandma read Dad the Riot Act when she discovered that he had been responsible for his death.
One other aspect fed into Noah's disdain for the oddly charming and equally intimidating Pax Lupone. He had returned from the dead, what Grandma Laurie called a resurectee. Noah had a lot in common with this individual.
As such, he needed to be on his guard. He had taken Holocaust Literature and knew how quickly a Nazi worked over an angry and insincere youth like himself. First, he'd be curious and then he'd be an Apt Pupil saluting a blood flag.
Pax sat at the table as Noah entered the kitchen. Pax had a guitar case balanced on its precarious four legs. "I don't mean to pry, Noah, but how much longer did you plan on avoiding me?" Pax chuckled a bit. "I don't bite ... much."
Pax bowed to Noah. "I salute your devotion to mental purity." Pax smirked. "You believe that exposure to my ideas will dirty your mind and I would use our shared identity as Benandanti resurrectees to pollute your fragile psyche."
Pax flipped off a couple latches on his guitar case. "Alas, I would if I could but I can't. No two Benandanti are alike and everyone's experience with the afterlife is as unique as the patterns on a snowflake. We are almost strangers."
Pax opened the case, revealing a pair of long knives (or short swords depending on one's point of view) in lieu of a guitar. "What we have in common is this war and it has been raging on and on since the dawn of recorded history."
A long knife glistened as Pax Lupone lifted it out from its case. "Despite the war's longevity, I believe that one day humanity will actually succeed in disposing of all the monsters and miscreants that offend its delicate sensibilities."
Pax shook his head. "That will be a sad day for the Benandanti. For when the humans have no use for us, they'll hunt us to extinction until our blood is too weak to breed true." Pax attempted to hand the sword to Noah handle first.
Noah slapped it away. "That was nice speech, Doctor Lecter." Pax tilted his head, too much of a Benandanti to catch the obvious movie reference. "But you're forgetting two things. One, I like humans. I even have a human girlfriend."
Noah lifted up his shirt to show off the scar tissue on his chest. "Two, the thing that did this to me ripped out my heart and ate it." He pulled down his shirt. "Monsters want to be treated like humans? They got to act the part first."
In the blink of an eye, Noah Walker snatched the sword away from Pax Lupone. It went against Noah's nature to turn down the offer of a decent weapon, even from a Wolf Nazi with a mind to destroy his allegiance to the human race.
"I feel like a fag wearing this thing," Ian Rockwell decided as he donned Parker Evans' cape. "I'm a vampire, not a fruity superhero." Ian's neck chaped in this itchy silken cloth. Even a transvestite would have blushed wearing this.
Parker Evans clapped his hands. "You look great, Ian." Parker turned to take the drapes off the window, letting in the moonlight. "Besides, there are those who would hunt us to extinction. We must avail ourself to unorthodox tactics."
Ian massaged his temples. "What tactics do we need?" A rhetoric question with no space for an answer. "Hunter comes near me, I'll rip his head off and mail it in a box to his next of kin." Ian shrugged. "Isn't that how it works?"
Parker shrugged. "If the hunter acted alone and his family had the stress management skills of ten-year-olds." Parker smirked at Ian. "With your luck, his next of kin would also be a hunter and he would swear a blood oath to kill you."
A shadow claw rose up from Parker's fingers. He looked at it. "Such is the curse of our shadow powers." The dark claw retracted into his shadow. "We think we are untouchable. Fire, direct sunlight and sacred icons can touch us ..."
"Wait." Ian held up a hand. "Hold up." Ian looked at Parker. "You mean crosses and crap like that actually work on us?" Ian shook his head. "That stuff's real?" Parker Evans had omitted that part out of Ian Rockwell's orientation.
Parker nodded. "Crosses, holy water, hallowed ground." Parker looked out the window at the moon. "The whole shebang." Ian's mind swam with the fears and thoughts of encounters with burning crosses and acidic holy water.
"Jeez, I thought those were just superstitions." Ian paused. "That Twilight bitch said that ..."
"Did it ever occur to you that vampires were superstitions too?" Parker leaned close to Ian. "That we exist in the same category as lucky rabbit's feet and horseshoes placed above doorways?" Ian tilted his head onto one side.
Parker raised his arms in disgust. "Of course, it didn't." Parker paced around angrily. "Insteed, you listened to the ramblings of some Mormon hack who has never even met one of our kind. Crosses do work. I know that first hand."
From all the old horror movies used to watch, Ian Rockwell thought he could handle the sight of a cross-shaped scar. But as Parker Evans pulled down his turtleneck, the hideous hamburger mark on his neck zapped him of his bravado.
"Jesus Christ." Ian hazarded an exploratory poke at the scar. "Where did you get that?"
Parker tilted his head to the right in order to give Ian a full profile of the scar. "Some seminary brat did this to me."
Ian shrugged. "What happened?"
Parker shrugged in reply. "I turned his face into spaghetti but not before he branded my hide."
Ian still had one more inane question. "Does it hurt?"
Parker chuckled lightly. "Not anymore." Parker pulled his turtleneck up over it. "I am told it will heal someday ... but not today." Parker positioned Ian in front of the mirror and readjusted his cape. "Now, let us continue with practice."
"And there you have it," Noah Walker finished as he walked along side Jason Newton through the halls of psychiatric ward. "My whole life's story, from A to Z, unabridged version, everything that has happened since my last visitation."
Dad had told the family the score when it came to vampires. Some of them would do anything to stop hunters, up to and including the sacrifice of their own lives. Others would run away without even risking the possibility of a fight.
"So, you see," Noah continued as Jason continued to mentally digest everything he had told him. "There is a chance that this might be the easiest hunt I've ever been on or the hardest. And, just in case I don't make it, I wanted to ..."
Jason Newton held up a finger. "Hold it right there." Jason stood in front of him. "You've died before. If you die again, you'll just come back like you did before." Jason shrugged. "You'll miss about a month of school but you'll ..."
Noah sighed. "No, I wouldn't." Noah hadn't gotten to the real bad news. "I only get one extra life. After that, dead is dead." Dad had explained to Noah in no uncertain terms that resurrectees were vulnerable to a second final death.
Noah sighed a second time. "When I first gained these powers, I thought I was going to be this invincible badass kicking evil's candy ass week in and week out." Noah locked eyes with Jason. "Now, I'm half-dead and hell-bound."
Jason smirked. "You always seem to find the bad in everything, Noah." He looked away from Jason. "Or have you already forgotten what life was like before?" Jason reminded. "You had one friend and you were a bully magnet."
Jason continued his argument. "And as far as girlfriends went, you'd have been lucky to go on a pity date." Jason spread his arms. "Now, you got this badass hunter for a girlfriend and you can get your brood like freaking Batman."
Noah glared at him. Jason held his hands up in surrender. "Listen, I'm not saying your roses don't have thorns but it beats being in here." Jason looked around. "Everyone in here goes out of their way to make things boring for me."
Jason reached his closer. "Thing is, you're in the thick of everything right now." Jason shook Noah's shoulders. "Things you do actually matter out there." Jason grinned. "You finally get to be the hero you always wanted to be."
In the midst of his pep talk, Noah Walker didn't know what to think of it all. On the one hand, it was the best advice he had received in a long time. On the other hand, it was delivered by Jason Newton, a patient in a psychiatric ward.
"Are you kidding me?" Scott Pellegrino or rather Pax Lupone paced around in a fit of anger. "That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard." Pax pointed a finger at Bernard Walker. "Since when do hunters help vampires get elected."
Bernard rolled his eyes. "Listen, this vampire war needs a winner," Bernie Walker tried to explain his reasoning to the exasperating Pax. "If a solid leader does not emerge victorious, we need to make sure to install one of our choosing."
Bernie smirked. "I thought you of all people would understand the advantages of politicking."
Pax glared at him. "With Benandanti, sure." Pax shrugged. "And werewolf, why not?" Pax turned to face Bernard. "But I think I speak for everyone when I say you draw the line at blood-sucking parasites." Pax was practically fuming.
Bernard looked over at his wife, his kids and mother-in-law. Each one of them reluctantly shared in Pax Lupone's views. "I mean, why do we need the whole cloak-and-dagger routine? I say we ditch the cloak and keep the dagger."
Bernard dumped the newspaper clippings onto the coffee table. "A good leader wouldn't let any of this show up on the news." Bernie continued. "When word gets around of a masterless city, vampires of all kinds will arrive in droves."
None of this was the reaction Bernard had hoped for. He had gone through and made the deal to back Victor Chirac's play with the promise that his family would be exempt from retaliation for any deaths during the coup.
The time for stop-gap measures and half-answers had came and went. If this city would have one leg left to stand on, it would be cushioned in the iron boot of a tyrant. One who would know how to keep the rabble in check.
"What the Hell is this place?" Noah Walker asked to no one in particular as Dad disposed of the small army in front of the Darkside Club. Noah stared in awe at the poseable neon stripper with fangs jutting in and out of her face.
"I think you answered your own question, Scout." Pax Lupone had taken to calling Noah by that nickname. It was a ridiculous and transparent attempt of his to build a sense of familiarity with him. It failed as much as it succeeded.
Noah wanted to hate him and denounce but Grandma Laurie was neither a dotard nor a fool. If she had seen some good in him, he could not be entirely evil. Noah shook off the thought as he brandished one of Pax's short swords.
Pax Lupone, encased in a loose-fitting robe, transformed into a gray wolf and circled the establishment. According to him, the wolf form worked better for reconnaissance than attack. Better senses but lacking in opposable thumbs.
In preparation for turning back, Pax Lupone had himself fitted with a backpack containing a change of clothes. An intriguing idea to circumvent the issue of nudity. Pax had a lot of clever ideas like this. He was nothing if not clever.
Dad had accepted the gift of Pax's other short sword. Like Noah, Dad was not one to turn down the gift of a weapon. He checked the two thoroughly. They were sacred, built eons ago to kill vampires. They were this and nothing more.
A whisper of air curled past Noah's face as the rest of the family soldiered on. He looked to the wall to see a knife embedded in the drywall. Touching his face with a trembling hand, he felt a horizontal bleed across his right cheek.
"A warning shot." A figure from his past stepped out of the shadows. "To begin what must end." It was Ian Rockwell, risen from the dead and relieved of his crippled body. "Let us end this." A swarm of shadows erupted from him.
The tendrils of shadows, squirming and crawling across the ground like locusts stopped dead in a radius of five feet from the short sword gripped in Noah's hands. Ian smirked and let his shadow hands dissipated. "A challenge, I see."
Ian stepped completely out of the shadows, revealing his formal dresswear and the addition of a cape. Noah would have loved to comment on the sheer absurdity of his clothes but he had no time. Noah lunged forward in attack.
It hadn't occurred to Noah until too late that the addition of Ian's vampiric abilities made this a contest of skill rather than strength on strength. Noah didn't wield this short sword as expertly as Ian wielded that Dracula wannabe cape.
Noah couldn't see where the cape ended and Ian began. Every thrust and slash met either air or cloth. The cape twisted around his attacking arm and wretched the sword from his grip. The short sword scampered across the floor.
Before Ian could attack with his shadow tentacles, Noah smashed an unopened vial of holy water against Ian. Again, he deflected with his cape but enough had seeped through to still cause the characteristic steam to pour out of him.
Feigning weakness, Ian grabbed Noah and pierced his needle-like teeth into the back of his neck. Noah groaned as the blood went out of his neck and into his mouth. As Noah felt the briefest pain, Ian wallowed in newfound agony.
Ian had dropped onto the floor, curled up in a fetal position. Whoever had trained Ian in the ways of vampirism had failed to mention how poisonous shifter blood was to them. He would be in severe pain for many days to come.
Noah turned his head to the hallway. The grunts and cries of his family taking on an army by themselves. Ian Rockwell had been neutralized. His family needed him. Noah gritted his teeth. "Another day." He ran to aid them.
Bernard Walker would remember for the rest of his life how his son Noah came to their rescue. He had launched himself into the fray with a short sword drawn. He must have killed half a dozen vampires in that minute of stilted time.
The acrobatic fluidity as his son danced in and around his opponents left them bleeding, burning or just plain dead. Bernard had gone into the Black Forest after the Wolf Mistress. Bernie had never seen such abandon on a battlefield.
Confident that his family had their defender, Bernard pressed forward into the backroom where the lieutenants and their new chief, Marcus Botero, waited their turn to die in battle. Bernard opened that door to a horrendous sight.
Pax Lupone, in human form in new clothes, stood amidst of the ruins of his slain enemies. Their blood decorated the walls in splatters across the broad well-lit conference room. Pax bent over to inspect the ankle holster of a corpse.
"You were right." Pax said as he hunched down next to the corpse. "Romulus had no part in my coming."
The word "underwhelming" came to mind when he considered the revelation. Pax Lupone, a wolf in wolf's clothing, had lost that deceptive edge that had made him so terrifying a foe. Pax was the broken shell of a worthy opponent.
Pax smirked. "I see no surprise in you." Pax smiled. "For a second there, I thought the Twinkie defense had won you over." Pax was right to think that. His lie was almost too broadly made to be crafted by such a silver-tongued devil.
Pax laughed. "I suppose it is now a question of who brought me back from the dead if not our blessed all-father." Pax's eyes widened. "But who is not nearly as important as why." Pax dug into the ankle holster and produced a gun.
Bernie could have closed the distance in the blink of an eye but not before Pax got off the first shot. It would be betting his life that Pax missed wide with his gun and that Bernie struck true with one of the villain's own swords.
Pax pulled back the hammer, removing another barrier from firing the shot. "Do you know what happens to traitors in Hell?" Bernie shook his head. "I did not go to the places of fire and pitchforks. Those are for better men than I."
Like that, Pax had departed emotionally from his bloodied surroundings to a far darker place. "I went somewhere devoid of all light and hope where the only sounds to be heard were tortured screaming and the gnashing of teeth."
Bernard had once mocked Robert Hilson for believing in such old wives' tales like demons. Yet now, two accounts of the afterlife had featured those impossible animals in prominent roles. It was not as simple as a shared delusion.
With the gun securely fitted between them, Pax continued. "I was yanked from that horrible place by an old African soul. He promised to bring me back to life but only if I served his dark demon master, a creature by the name of ..."
A shot passed through Pax's head. A momentary lance of blood pointed to the ceiling. The corpse Pax had stolen the gun from had a far bigger sun secured in a shoulder holster. Pax Lupone had died his second and final time.
The corpse, clearly dead from the gaping hole in his chest, stood up and faced Bernard. The corpse, a Hispanic man in his late thirties, stared at Bernard as he pointed a gun his way. "Our time is nigh." Like that, the corpse fell over.