A girl ran down the back streets of Lexington, Kentucky with ease. Her breathing even, her footfalls steady as she turned corner after corner, never looking back.
She was eighteen and long and lean from having done this in hundreds of towns across the eastern seaboard.
A voice in the darkness behind her called out. It echoed off the bricks that surrounded her and pursued her down the alley. With a stoic expression, the girl put her head down and lengthened her stride. Her braided hair failed to restrain unruly wisps of gold as she raced through the night. Her pale eyes betrayed no emotion.
Her name was Mallory Scout and she’d been running since her escape from the womb—that’s what it felt like most days. It was second nature at this point.
While running was what she excelled at, navigating the alleys of Lexington was something of a gamble. She hadn’t been in town for long and she was still getting used to the geography of the place.
“Well Scout, isn’t this a surprise,” a voice cooed just loud enough to be heard over the sound of her measured breaths.
The girl skidded to a halt on wet asphalt. This wasn’t the same voice as before. She quickly surveyed her surroundings. The alleys here were brighter and cleaner than those she’d left behind. This wasn’t where she wanted to be at all. The smooth cement walls practically glowed with money. She’d taken a wrong turn and ended up some place worse than before.
“Seems like someone’s got you on the run,” the speaker was in front of her. Above her. She tried to pinpoint the man as his lofty words floated down. She could hear the amusement in his voice. He was on a fire escape. Had to be. She could feel his gaze boring down on her from the darkness. “Would it have anything to do with the trouble you’ve been causing in the Lewis brothers district?” He inquired pleasantly.
“Val,” the girl panted, trying to figure a way out of this new predicament, “it’s been awhile.” She tried her best to sound casual.
“I know.” Scout could have sworn she saw a flash of white in the shadow of the fire escape. Teeth. A toothy smile didn’t bode well for her. “Almost like you’ve been avoiding me,”
The fire escape squeaked ever so slightly, a response to shifting weight. Instead of addressing a shadow, Scout found herself standing opposite a tall, darkly dressed man. He stood out in an alley glowing with silver, the result of a waning moon shining on grey walls. It had nothing to do with money at all. She made a face.
“You just can’t keep a low profile in this town,” he smiled again, revealing sharp teeth. “ After you crossed me, you went and had a go at the Lewis Brothers?” The condesension was obvious in the shaking of his head.
“Just the one brother,” Scout informed Val coolly.
“They are peas in a pod. You can’t have one without the other.”
Val was suspicious of her tone and stepped closer, “Explain.”
The girl shrugged, “Ryder and I got into a bit of a disagreement.”
“Which explains why he was shouting for you.”
“That wasn’t Ryder.”
Val started to disagree. He was going to say something about how he’d been around longer—that he knew their voices better. There was something about the way the girl was handling herself that had him on edge. He could smell blood on the air—and it wasn’t hers. “He’s been around longer than you’ve been alive,” was his only retort.
“True,” Scout agreed. She held up a rusty machete, “I don’t know how long this has been around for though.”
Val’s eyes narrowed. He refused to believe it.
Scout saw his expression darken, “I don’t want to start any trouble with you tonight,” she said. “I’m just trying to get home.”
“It’s too late for that. I’ve got a score to settle with you.”
Scout didn’t miss the baring of teeth in her general direction. There was a reason she’d been trying to avoid Val and his gang.
On Scout’s first day in town, she got caught out after dark. Since she had a knack for finding trouble everywhere she went, she’d been trying to get the lay of the land. In her experience, the only thing more dangerous than wandering the alleys at night was running them blind. That was how Scout met Sofia.
A dark-haired woman with a waspish face appeared among the shadows.
Sensing a presence, Scout turned to face her.
“Sweetheart, you chose the wrong alley,” the woman crowed.
Scout eyed the woman before replying, “I don’t want to fight you.” Scout wasn’t sure why she said it. It wasn’t going to change anything. No one ever took her seriously. For Scout, it was a better alternative than “you don’t want to fight me,” which is a clear challenge. But “I don’t want to fight you” gets mistaken for complacency, or something worse—if there is such a thing.
Given the choice, Scout would rather talk it out than brawl, but vampires aren’t exactly known for their skills as conversationalists.
Sensing the impending fight, Scout readied herself. She didn’t know why they always thought she was easy pickings. Was it because she was a teenage girl out after dark? Scout was very good at defending herself.
As expected, the woman charged. Scout dodged, but grappling was unavoidable. They threw each other around for awhile until the dark-haired woman slipped up and Scout became the victor.
It wasn’t until after that Scout learned the vampire she’d killed was Sofia, Val’s Mate. Scout had successfully managed to avoid him and any attempts at revenge until now.
‘Mates’ is something vampires take very seriously. Scout was young when the theory of Mates was described to her. Something about polarized personalities. They “just know.” She needed a more tangible description than that and nobody could give her one. Maybe it was knowing her parents’ marriage failed that made her a skeptic. She found it hard to believe that anyone could stick together for decades, let alone centuries, but apparently they did. The bond was supposed to get stronger with time, which was why Val was not someone Scout wanted to run into after dark. According to the locals, Val and Sofia had been around since the Louisiana Purchase.
When you break a bond, it can have detrimental effects on the partner, or to whoever broke it.
Scout had never been much good at keeping a low profile. Which is why she shouldn’t have been surprised when evading Val and his men brought her face-to-face with the Lewis brothers. She’d bitten off more than she could handle with them and made a run for it, hoping her feet would lead her home. Unfortunately, they had led her right back to Val.
Scout gauged the vampire’s threat level—there were no visible signs of aggression in the way he carried himself. She knew better. She took a step away from him for good measure.
“What exactly did you do?” He wanted to know.
“Um…” Scout made a face, “you’re going to have to be more specific.”
“What did you do to Ryder?”
“I hate to break it to you, but the pair of them have been dead for near on a hundred fifty years.”
“That’s where this came in handy,” Scout held up the machete and looked at it.
Val’s expression turned sour. Now he could see blood on the blade. “You’re telling me you lopped off Ryder’s head?”
“Yep.” Her voice was quietly confident.
He still seemed skeptical, “You managed to off a Lewis?”
“Why is that so hard to believe?” Scout wanted to remind Val that she’d killed Sofia, but that wasn’t going to help her get out of this situation. “The way I see it, I just did you a favor.” She hadn’t been in town long but she quickly learned about the two rival factions that ruled the streets at night. The Lewis Brothers presided over the downtown area, all cobble streets and western-style store fronts. Val’s crew preferred the more modern side of town. Scout tried to stick to the boundaries, but the line that separated the two gangs was subject to change.
Because of the constant gang feuding, Scout clung to the smallest of hopes that Val would give her a free pass through his turf. She had taken out one of his biggest rivals.
Val’s sharp features were unreadable.
“I’m just trying to get home,” the girl said softly. “I don’t want any trouble.” Scout wasn’t lying. She didn’t want to fight Val. Ryder had not been easy to beat and Val had a few more years of fighting experience.
She hadn’t planned on taking a wrong turn and ending up here.
“Here’s what’s going to happen,” Val informed Scout, taking another step forward and basking in moonlight, “you’re going to go back and finish off Wyatt.”
Scout started to object but Val cut her off.
“You’ve already taken care of one brother. The other shouldn’t be so hard. And if he does kill you, my only loss is the chance to kill you myself.” He waved her away.
Scout didn’t move. She disapproved of this plan, “Why would I do that?”
“It’s what you do, isn’t it? Kill our kind?”
“Only when provoked,” she responded coolly. It was the part everyone seemed to forget.
“Look at it like this: you kill Wyatt, or I’ll kill you here and now.”
Scout managed a grin. A challenge. She could work with that. “You don’t think I could beat you?”
“I’m older than I look.”
The girl shook her head, it was a cliche vampire response. It had been funny at first, but it got old quick. “I’d do it if I had a death wish,” Scout said, referring to Val’s demand. “The second I set foot on Wyatt’s territory, he’ll sic his guys on me.”
“Consider them your warm-up.”
Scout made a face, “I’m already warm. There’s too many of them and not enough of me. If I did manage to kill them all, I wouldn’t be in any shape to take on Wyatt, and I won’t have solved your problem.” The Lewis brothers and Val battled over the streets of Lexington like the Jets and the Sharks of West Side Story—only without the romance.
“That does prove to put a hitch in my plan,” he acknowledged, stroking his well-manicured beard. “You make a good point. I would never want to skew the fight so much in Wyatt’s favor. I’ll send some guys to clear the way—and to make sure you don’t run out on me.”
“I’ve never backed down from a fight,” she told him hotly.
“One you could win,” he pointed out.
“What happens when I do win?” She wanted to know.
“What do I care?” Val shrugged, “After tomorrow you’re not my problem anymore.”
“How do you--?”
“You’re wasting my time.”
Scout ignored the jibe and cocked her head, “Do you know where I’m going?”
“Out of my town, that’s all I care about,” Val waved his hand dismissively.
It sounded as though a breeze tore down the alley, but no wind touched Scout’s face. She swallowed hard, trying not to think of the number of vampires that would result in such a sound. Val commanded a sizable crew and all vampires possessed light feet that made them almost impossible to detect. Normally, you had to rely on that elusive sixth sense—that feeling that something isn’t quite right (it typically manifests as the hair on the back of your neck standing on end). The fact that Val’s cronies were audible was not a good sign. Every single one of them was gunning for her blood if she so much as thought about stepping in the wrong direction.
Scout exhaled as she turned and bounded back down the alley. How did Val know she was leaving? She didn’t have time to dwell on it. She needed her brain to help her find her way back onto Lewis territory. She had a knack for returning to places she had only been to once before. She never questioned the why of it. Whatever the reason, it helped Scout stay alive.
Scout always felt turned around in big cities. Tall buildings obscured landmarks. It led to a lot of aimless running after dark, which often leads to trouble—her current situation being an obvious example.
As the girl retraced her steps, she tried to reason through what had just happened. Not only had she survived an encounter with Val—someone she’d been avoiding since she’d done away with his Mate some weeks before—he had sent men with her. They were to clear the way for her, but also to kill her if she misstepped. Why would he do that? Scout didn’t entirely believe he’d let her get away clean. She knew what happened to folks who only killed one of a pairing. They didn’t die swiftly or painlessly. She had the nagging feeling his men would collect her after her win and return her to Val so he could exact his vengeance. She’d be easy pickings then. Taking out two vampires with a lot of years on them in a single day was no easy feat. Scout was fairly confident she couldn’t handle three.
Was it possible Val’s hatred of the Lewis Brothers was greater than his love for Sofia? Scout doubted that. It seemed more likely that Val was using her knack for killing vampires to clean the city of his competition. She hoped it would work.
If she were cocky she might think Val had delegated her to fight Wyatt to save his own skin. She had killed Sofia. She claimed to have killed Ryder. Her record in this town was something to balk at. She might get lucky in a tussle.
Scout shrugged to herself as she ran. No point in trying to analyze the thought process of a vampire. It almost never made sense. She was just glad Val had let her go. All she had to do now was find her way back to Wyatt and pick a fight. After that she just had to stay alive. That wasn’t so hard.
Scout turned a corner and felt eyes on her right before she heard the slow drawl of Wyatt Lewis.
“Back so soon?” The voice sounded both surprised and pleased, like a cat with a goldfish.
“Took a wrong turn,” she answered, pulling up short. “Thought retracing my steps might set me right.”
She was nowhere close to Ryder’s body.
She’d heard the Lewis Brothers liked to play with their food. It was why she ran like hell after offing Ryder. She wanted to get out of there before Wyatt arrived.
He’d clearly found the remains of his brother and came tracking his killer. Now they were standing at the opposite ends of a crumbling brick alley. It felt like something out of an old western. He was standing just beyond the golden glow of a street lamp, his cowboy hat low on his brow.
Stay alive, Scout reminded herself. Pick a fight.
“And now that we’ve found each other?” He seemed curious.
Scout loosed a smile that wasn’t entirely genuine, “Can’t leave a job half done.”
“Oh yeah?” Wyatt sounded amused.
“Don’t you want to see what I’m made of?” She wondered. “I’d like to see if you’re half as terrible a fighter as your brother.” Talking trash was something she was very good at. Luckily, it came naturally to her, which was funny, because she didn’t pick fights anymore.
“I am a little surprised that you made it this far.”
“Why?” She asked. “I am pretty—”
“Resilient was actually what I was going for,” she responded, “but, hey, what’s in an adjective?”
“Won’t really matter after I’ve ripped you limb from limb.”
“Well, let’s get to fighting.”
He stepped into the dim light provided by the street lamp. He stood about five-six, dead about a hundred and fifty years. He maintained the dress of his time period, not that cowboy boots, slicker, and cowboy hat were at all out of place in present day Kentucky. As he stepped forward, his spurs clinked quietly, the long leather jacket whispering his movement. His dark felt hat cast a shadow over a ragged face. His stance was reminiscent of an old western shoot out. The only things missing were the town church chiming high noon and that obligatory tumbleweed.
Scout panicked for a split second, worried that Wyatt would pull a gun. He didn’t need to carry one nowadays. His teeth were more deadly. And Scout was pretty sure a gunshot wound was not how Wyatt wanted to end things with her. She’d killed his brother. He would want her death to be up close and personal.
Scout abandoned that train of thought and focused on Wyatt, waiting for him to make the first move.
The Lewis brothers had never been big on patience. It was a miracle their banter had lasted as long as it had.
There it was.
A trembling of fingers.
A tick he maintained from his gun fighting days. Any second now he was going to…
The cowboy lunged.
He had pretty good air time, but Scout was used to this kind of assault. She jumped to the side and spun, ready to face him and caught a fist right to the face. Her body bent unfavorably upon impact. Her machete clattered to the ground, dropped as a response to the sheer force of the blow.
Without the weapon, Scout improvised. Her fingers clenched and a fist swung up in retaliation. She had one hell of a left hook, or so she’d been told.
Scout made contact. His recoil gave her time to recover.
Wyatt attacked again.
Scout blocked most of his hits and managed to hold her ground long enough to get in a few shots of her own. She went for a kick, but he caught it, and spun her to the ground.
Scout lay on her back, catching her breath, waiting for the cowboy to jump her—to come in for the killing blow.
“Do you think I was born yesterday?” He scoffed.
Scout shrugged and maneuvered into a stand, pocketing the stake that had made him wary. She liked to keep one in her back pocket when she was expecting trouble. “It was worth a—” she was straightening to her full height when Wyatt charged.
His shoulder connected solidly with Scout’s hip bone, driving her backwards. Scout was pretty sure his aim had been to tackle her back to the ground, but she had a low center of gravity.
Then there was the dumpster.
Scout was doing alright keeping her balance, but she couldn’t do it forever. Relief was not exactly the word that came to mind when she was forced into the dumpster.
Pain, followed by shortness of breath, and the seeing of stars, when her head collided with the metal bin.
She couldn’t help gasping for air, trying to force oxygen back into her lungs.
Because vampires have heightened senses, it was no surprise when Wyatt’s attention was caught by her struggling breaths. He took advantage of this display of weakness to get a better hold on Scout. He latched onto the girl’s neck and squeezed.
That sure didn’t help.
Scout attempted to distract him by knocking off his hat and scratching at his face with one hand while her other hand crept towards her back pocket.
“You know—” she gasped as he attempted to swat her hand away from his face, “I thought—you had—a more—thoughtful — death in mind.” She continued to struggle, “Strangulation — is so — petty.”
Wyatt chuckled, an eerie smile lighting his features, “I’m not going to kill you — yet. What fun would that be? I just want you unconscious. I won’t have to deal with any smart remarks. It will make you a lot easier to manhandle. Keep fighting. Please.”
Another annoying ability of vampires: their super-human strength. Speaking for Scout was a struggle, but she was determined to have the last word. She was stronger than most, so that helped, but Wyatt seemed to be exerting almost no energy.
If Scout had more air to waste, she might have laughed at his words, “What — are your plans?”
“Well — pain. Lots of pain. Bleeding. Dismemberment. Screaming. Should be a good time,” he gushed, his excitement palpable.
“I don’t—know if you—know this—” she spoke in fits and starts but she refused to be silenced, “I don’t scream. Haven‘t ever. Don‘t plan to.”
“You will,” he replied with the same sort of sick enthusiasm.
“Don’t—think—so,” Scout managed a weak smirk as she drew the pointed piece of wood from her back pocket and thrust it deep into his chest.
Wyatt’s grip loosened as he reeled back, and the girl dropped a few inches from her elevated position back to the ground.
Vampire deaths are not as they are in storybooks or cinema. They do not burst into flame when rays of the sun touch them. They avoid daylight because they are nocturnal creatures, but they will wander about in daytime if they’ve got a good reason. They do not dissolve into dust when they are killed, though it would make cleanup easier. Instead, there is a lot of stumbling and moaning as the wood poisons the flesh.
Scout was young when the why of things had been explained to her. She really didn’t care so long as it worked. It had something to do with the ancient ways, how vampires came to be, something about how both used to be alive. The stake had to stay in, that was the important thing. If removed, by a coroner, for example, it was entirely likely the creature would heal itself and return to its killing ways. It had happened to her on more than one occasion when she had not properly disposed of a body. Fire and beheading were the most effective methods, but not the easiest to come by. You had to work with what you had, and right now, Scout had a wooden stake.
When Wyatt had exhausted all the curses in his arsenal, he collapsed in a heap with the rest of the common trash.
Scout couldn’t help smirking at the irony as she passed him, scooping up her machete along the way.
She deliberated, for the briefest of moments, about leaving the body for Val’s guys to take care of. She decided she didn’t want to risk this turning into a loose end. Her stake had poisoned him but she’d heard it was the age of the tree—or was it the age of the wood—that determined if the vampire stayed down.
Regardless, her stakes weren’t that seasoned. She made them out of whatever she could find. She’d heard of Vampire Hunters with boxes of unused stakes passed down over the centuries, ensuring that their future generations had the right tools to do away with any vampire. Scout wasn’t that lucky. True Vampire Hunters had established lineages. It was a family business you couldn’t avoid. Scout wasn’t one of those. She had only herself and learned what she needed to along the way to survive.
Scout turned back to the problem at hand: what do with Wyatt? Might as well use her machete since she had it. The girl strode back and separated Wyatt’s head from the rest of his body. She hastily cleaned the sword on Wyatt’s slicker and broke into a jog. She’d done what Val had asked. She could only hope he would keep his word and let her go.