THE CRIMSON FLOW

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Chapter 3.1 - HORS D'OEUVRE

Riley’s fascinated eyes followed the vampire’s hand as it held a little plastic stirrer, moving in circles around the cup. “You drink coffee, too?” he asked, somewhere between perplexed and disbelieving.

“Yes,” Luke replied, nonchalantly. “Although, it’s not my favourite drink.” He smiled, allowing the mere hint of fangs to show. He suppressed a laugh as the man’s eyes widened. “It doesn’t taste of anything for me, but I am not averse to it. I never liked the food they serve in places like this though. It’s disgusting.”

“No, it’s not,” Riley protested.

“Hmm, well I dare say to you it isn’t.”

A tray with a double whopper, large fries and a Coke was planted in front of his guest. “Enjoy,” the waitress said to Riley, her voice betraying revulsion at his bedraggled appearance.

Riley looked up at the young girl in her charcoal and light grey uniform. “Thank you,” he muttered, ravenous before diving straight into the food. The girl quickly rejoined her workmates behind the counter where they whispered among themselves, affording quick glances at the two mismatched customers sitting in the window booth.

Luke smirked and took a sip of his coffee. He studied Riley over the rim; his face impassive, eyes taking in the smallest detail. The young man was obviously starving the way he rammed in the food, taking little time to chew. He held the burger as if it were Smeagol’s ‘precious’, his eyes idolising the grease-loaded burger and soggy salad, before devouring another large bite. Within seconds, it was nearly gone but then he started in about the fries, half a dozen or more at a time and washed them down with a noisy slurp of Coke.

Before he managed to shovel another load of carbs into his mouth, Luke reached over and gripped him by the wrist. “Slow down or you will have indigestion - or worse, you’ll vomit.”

Riley blinked rapidly, then he gave a curt nod as he swallowed his fries. “Sorry. It’s been a few days.”

Luke slid back in his seat, his fingers still embracing his coffee. “You really should have washed your hands better too,” he commented, eyeing the dried blood under fingernails and ingrained in the creases of his skin. Riley grunted, too engrossed in his meal to care.

The vampire huffed before starting with his questions. “So, tell me. How did you end up with Barnett?”

Riley drank some more Coke before answering. “Well, it was about 11 o’clock at night - maybe four or five nights ago, I’ve lost track of time. Anyway, I was in the park walking my dog, Diesel. He was a really friendly dog, but when he saw them ...” He quietened, then stuffed some more fries in his mouth.

Luke sat, waiting patiently for him to continue, although he suspected what was coming.

Riley resumed his story. “Diesel sensed something was wrong. So did I to be honest; I mean, 4 people hunched over one of the benches and the noises coming from them - well it was kinda creepy, you know.” He paused again and took a deep breath. “Diesel ran over to them growling and barking. I shouted on him to come back, but... then it was too late.” His voice became a whimper.

“They ate your dog?” Luke asked not bothering to hide a smirk.

Riley grimaced then looked at the remainder of his meal, the burger having slipped from its bun, lay glistening, covered in relish. He looked as though he was about to gag. “They killed him,” he said with a nod, doleful. “Then they tossed him aside, like a piece of garbage. That was when they noticed me.” He lifted the burger, but with a sigh, he placed it back on the tray, his appetite seemingly dampened.

Luke shifted forward, forearms resting on the table. “And why did they decide to let you live?”

After a few moments, Riley shrugged. “Not sure, really. They were pretty well sated that night, I saw a few corpses as they led me back to the warehouse, so I think I was seen as a snack for later.”

Luke snorted, shaking his head. A sneer rippled his mouth, a show of disgust. “So, you watch them make mincemeat of your dog, they then kidnap you, keep you incarcerated in a God awful dump and - what - you go from hors d’oeuvres to a wanna-be vampire?”

Riley seemed a little uncomfortable. He glanced towards the staff behind the counter who still observed them with a degree of disdain. He knew they thought themselves better than him for all they just served greasy, fat-laden food and sugar-loaded death.

But, he’d survived alongside monsters for days and had witnessed things which would soon rid those smug little burger-bunnies of their sneers. He inhaled, inexplicably bolstered.

He turned resolute eyes to his host. “At first I was terrified, I won’t lie. I thought they were just crazy bastards; inbred loons having come down from the mountains, kinda thing.” He coughed out a laugh. “But, when I saw some of the feats they were capable of; their speed, their nimbleness, the way they transformed just before a kill, I - I became curious.”

“Curious?” Luke guffawed. Then his mind suddenly conjured a memory - the night his family had died. He too had been curious, morbidly fascinated, in awe of what he’d witnessed.

He studied the young man across the table from him. One thing he had to admit, Riley had earned some credit - he had survived being fed on by the hive and found the strength to kill 3 of them (for all they’d been pretty stoned from their last supper). Even incapacitated by such substances, vampires were still notoriously hard to kill by healthy mortals, let alone one whose vital fluid had been frequently sucked out.

“They told me about you,” Riley continued, enthused. “Barnett spoke very highly of you for all he seemed to be a complete asshole when you last met.”

“He was an asshole! And prone to not following instructions.”

“That’s something I’m good at - following orders.”

Luke continued to eye him, weigh him up.

Riley forged on. “Listen, I have no-one who’s gonna miss me. I work freelance, a copy-reader, and sometimes clients are slow to pay me. I was loyal to them, yes, did as I was told but, I was getting nowhere - although it wasn’t for the lack of trying. So, I will do whatever it takes to become - well, like you. I won’t let you down, I promise.”

A few moments passed while Luke gave it due consideration. A slow, calculated smile stretched his lips. “Oh, I know you won’t.”

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