The Prince of Lies: Marko Jaks
by T. Glenn Bane and Theresa Bane
Chasing a vampiric ghost through fog is never easy. It gets even more tricky when it’s a moonless night in North Carolina and you’re somewhere along the Appalachian Trail trying to remember if the cliff’s edge is to your immediate right or left. Not that it mattered; I was completely disoriented and had to make a decision fast. No matter the vampire or its form, this is a game of blood and these monsters play for keeps. The fiend that I had been tracking, a misplaced species of vampire originating from the Caribbean called a jumbie, was wailing out a cry filled with pain, hunger and desperation. As soon as its bellow ended the creature would charge again, forcing me to act.
I had two options. Plan A: I could take the gut wrenching blow it’d deliver as it passed rough-shot through my body, hoping the assault would still leave me on my feet and give me time enough to get my bearings. If this worked I could try a counter attack in the hope of crippling it when it came back around. Plan B was much simpler: I dive for cover in a random direction, taking my chances that I didn’t nose dive off a cliff. In theory, this would buy enough time to look for my hunting partner, Thomas Kyd, who had the weapon we needed to destroy this thing. We split up about an hour ago to widen our search, and I hadn’t seen or heard from him since.
For me, it was a no-brainer; I was in hunting mode and thinking very short-term, very goal-oriented. That’s what happens with my kind when we’re on the hunt; we lose sight of what humans like Kyd would consider to be important–personal safety and tactics. Dhampires may be perfect vampire killing machines but we make for lousy decision makers in the heat of the moment.
My preternatural senses came alive moments before the raging ghost began its charge, the last notes of the jumbie’s war whoop still hanging in the cool mountain air as it flew towards me. Tracking my prey is something I am fairly decent at once my adrenalin is up and pumping, fueling the dark half of my nature. And right now, my twin hearts were beating hard, reverberating in my head like tribal drums, carrying my senses to the edge of savagery. Even though I could not see exactly where it was, I could sense the general direction it was coming from.
Timing is everything. I waited for the attack, standing perfectly still and giving nothing away with my body language. I did not want the ghost to know what I was thinking. Roughly humanoid in shape and size, its wispy, spectral claws were extended wide; its mouth open revealing a forest of teeth. The creature was surrounded in a silvery halo that resembled lightless fire, offering neither heat nor illumination. At the last possible moment, I quickly leapt off the path.
I have experienced a great deal of sensations in both my life and my career as vampire hunter, but perhaps the most frightening and disorienting one so far was falling an unknown height in total darkness. Freefalling through the air is terrifying, you have no control and there is literally nothing you can do until you hit something or something hits you. With luck, I would begin to crash through treetops and have the opportunity to flail about in the blackness, grab hold of something that would support my weight, and break my fall.
Hitting the ground hard, the force of the impact was mostly absorbed by my left shoulder blade’s scapular and trapezius muscles. The momentum of the drop caused my body to flip, but just the once, and I ended up laying spread eagle on my belly clinging to the side of a rather steep hill. The sudden shock of impact, more than the force of the blow, knocked the breath from me in a great oof. Fighting the natural instinct to cover my head, I made my arms reach out, pushing past the pain to get as much of my body spread out over the surface as possible. Fingers pierced into the ground and dug in deep, trying to get a firm hold before I could tumble out of control down the mountain side.
I had to remember to breathe and took in as much dirt and debris as air, but I dealt with it. My legs were already working to find solid enough ground to push against. I had to stand and be ready to fight again in the next few moments or become the newest victim of the vampire ghost. I couldn’t rely on Kyd finding me in time to lend a hand even though he was up here, somewhere, hopefully. I let myself be cautiously optimistic that he hadn’t stumbled off the trail, snapped his neck like I nearly did, and was now coyote bait, but I had to prepare myself to do this alone.
The sudden mad wailing of the ghost grabbed my attention again. My head snapped up and I sensed that the vampire was about forty feet above me on the trail from which I had just fallen. I bent my knees and shifted my center of gravity, letting the loose earth move me further away from the jumbie on a poorly controlled landslide. By the time I had surfed to a solid trail, my head had cleared and my focus was perfectly attuned back on the vampire. The pain in my shoulder was something like a distant memory. In the heat of battle I would be more than capable of working through any damage that I might have suffered.
The only bit of luck I was having in this whole misadventure was that jumbies can only fly over cleared and solid ground. If the vampire wanted to finish me off, and I’d say it did, it would have to turn and charge down the right trail to me. The fall bought me some time: not much, but maybe all I would need.
Calling out to Kyd, I pulled a flashlight off my belt and let its intense blue-white light cut through the darkness. I wedged it into the fork of a low hanging tree branch so that it would shine up like a kind of beacon, and hoped Kyd would be able to make it to me in time. The only way to kill this species of vampire was with a specially prepared magical trap: a blue glass bottle filled with some human blood, cloves of garlic, and a set of rosary beads. When near enough to the jumbie, the lid opens and somehow the magic that Kyd embeds in the thing just vacuums the vampire into it. Cap it off with a bit of red wax and you have bottled a vampire, my friend. Then it’s just a matter of making a roaring fire and throwing the trap into it hard enough to break the glass; the flames will instantly destroy the vamp trapped within. Easy-peasy when you have the right tools at your disposal. Assuming of course Kyd’s alive or I find his body and the damn bottle is not broken. I should really learn to plan ahead. Maybe in the future we would prepare two bottles, one for each of us.
I thought I heard Kyd call out, but there wasn’t time to respond.
The jumbie dropped into view, at first hovering and then clawing violently through the air towards me, slicing into the night itself. I crouched down, embracing my dhampiric nature, turning my hips and shoulders to meet the attack; I could hear the sound of my second heart began to come alive, beating, pounding in driving rhythm with the first. Fatigue washed away from me in that charged moment where prey becomes predator. The volume of the jumbie’s otherworldly screaming was drowned out by my own, internal primal howl.
Twice in rapid succession the vampire lashed out at me with its clawed hands, and each time I was able to step back and avoid being slashed. Again and again it came at me, and each time I had to weave and dodge clear of its assault until I was finally able to get it between myself and a tree. Fast as a spring-loaded blade, my fist shot out and struck the ghost, making solid contact with its vaporous form; being a dhampire–being preternatural–means I can do damage where most mortals can’t, including assaulting a vampire, no matter what form they come in. Semi-embedded into the jumbie, my fist, driven by the force of the blow, made contact with a fir tree. My knuckles split wide open and I had a vague idea that the warm sensation I was experiencing was my own blood pooling in runnels between my fingers. I didn’t care, it didn’t matter. I had the ghost and all I had to do now was keep it there, pinned against solid wood until Kyd showed up and bottled the damned thing. Easy-peasy my ass. True enough I had it at bay, the length of my arm keeping the jumbie’s maw of jagged teeth from ripping into my flesh. The real trick to this would be in keeping my adrenalin pumping, my strength up, and the pressure on. If I let up for a second the vampire would be free and on my throat before I could react or defend.
I screamed in rage at the thought and with my free hand punched the vampire again; it made contact, passing arduously through the spectral form, grounding my knuckles into the bark of the tree. I didn’t feel it then, but somewhere back in my rational mind I knew I hurt myself and would feel it later. The vampire howled in an ear-piercing screech reminiscent of nails on a chalkboard; it twisted its ghostly form and flailed its arms about wildly trying to worm its way free of my grasp. I hit the jumbie a third time, shutting it up momentarily, skinning my hand once again in the process. This went on for a while.
Eventually I became vaguely aware that Kyd was standing next to me, speaking words I didn’t
quite understand, waving something in my face. When the killing rage takes me, when the sanguinolency kicks in, I have a hard time comprehending anything not in my killing field. Slowly my head turned and I locked eyes with his. He backed up, hands held in front of him as if he was being mugged; in one of those hands he had a death grip on a bottle that vibrated of its own accord as it gave off a sickly pale blue light.
Slowly the world began to melt back into place all around me. I looked over at my fist, still pressed hard against the tree, covered in blood. The vampire was no longer in my grasp; it was magically sealed in the bottle, halfway to being destroyed. I closed my eyes and took several deep breaths, filling my lungs with cold mountain air newly tinged with the scent of copper. I searched myself for the pain I knew I was experiencing but I had blocked off, and found it right where I thought it would be, in my shoulder and fists. I let some of it come through, knowing that the pain would help lure me back to reality, calm me down, and let me pass for a normal person once again.
“Marko,” he snapped, “let me see your eyes, boy.” Kyd’s voice was harsh and raw-sounding, evidence of his years of smoking, drinking, and hard living. I slowly opened my eyes and rolled my head back over in his direction. Kyd was bruised and dirtied up a bit himself, had numerous little cuts over his face and forearms, no doubt received from running madcap through the trees. He shone his Maglite directly in my face, making me squint. An approving grunt from behind the flashlight informed me that Kyd was confident that the primal scream within me had subsided, evidenced by the return of my eyes from glowing red to their natural blue; an indication that my second heart had gone dormant once again.
“Let’s get a fire built so we can kill this damned thing and get the hell back to Georgia.” I mumbled.
“Go to my car, get the gas can and the fire extinguisher.” Kyd tossed me his GPS tracker so that I could find my way there and back again. He began to build up kindling and wood over a stretch of flat rock but he paused; without looking at me he added “It’s over now, boy. Get your head right.” Kyd knew that I needed to do something to try burning off the last of my blood-lust. It was a bit of a hike back to the parking lot, but the long walk in the dark didn’t do it. I still felt detached, aloof, and far from human.
Before I headed back with the accelerant, I ambled over to my motorcycle, took a seat and checked my phone for messages, hoping there’d be reception up here, needing something to ground myself back in reality. Bingo! There was a text from Violet, the love of my life and the woman I would marry if I were not born half-vampire, half-human. She wanted me to know that she was going out with her gal pals after her shift ended at the hospital, and she’d see me later. Sweet. At least I wouldn’t have to make up some arbitrary lie about where I was, what I was doing, and why I couldn’t see her tonight. I’d just need to make up some cock-and-bull little white lie about how I got myself banged up this time. I’d tell her I hurt myself with the motorcycle, something believable but nothing so serious that she’d worry.
I made it back over to Kyd, passed him the gas can and set the extinguisher down. He poured most of the fuel on the pile of wood and stones he had assembled and set the can aside. He took out a book of matches and used one to set the rest of the booklet on fire. When he dropped it onto the kindling they instantly ignited into bright orange and red flames, flashing light and heat in a wide radius. He picked the bottle trap up off the ground and passed it over to me, but I shook my head. My arm was hurt bad, my hands were swollen and throbbed in pain; I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to throw the bottle hard enough into the fire to break the glass and kill the vampire. I did not have the strength in me to do this all again right now. In a few days, sure, but currently, I was toast.
Kyd shrugged and, with a sudden burst of energy that reminded me that he was not nearly as old as he looked, threw the blue glass bottle into the fire where it struck rock and exploded in a blast of cold wind, white light, and the rising sound of a tormented wail. After a moment the fire resumed its normal heat and light; the flames danced, mesmerizing in orange, red, and yellow.
Content that the vampire was destroyed, Kyd picked up the fire extinguisher at his booted feet, pulled the pin, and sprayed foamy white chemicals all over. With a nod, he tucked the now-empty canister under his arm, patted me on my back and said “See ya back home in a few days. We’ll talk then, when you’re feeling more like a person and less like yourself.”
I nodded and mumbled something non-committal to him. Digging through my leather jacket’s inside pocket, my fingers made their usual path around the secreted velvet box that contained an engagement ring, eventually clasping around a small bottle containing an array of pain pills.
Chewing up the drugs that would let me soldier through the pain, I drove my motorcycle to the nearest motel, giving Kyd’s parting words only passing consideration. At the motel I could sleep and rest up. Around lunchtime I’d wake up and even if I didn’t feel great I’d be well enough to make the six-and-a-half hour ride home from Wayah Bald, North Carolina to Savannah, Georgia.
Three days after Kyd and I tangled with that jumbie my shoulder still hurt a lot, but my knuckles were scabbed over nicely. I didn’t have a clue as to when it happened in the fight, but I had also split my lip wide open. Of all my injuries, that one hurt the most. Not because it was deep or especially painful, but because it prohibited me from kissing Violet the way I wanted to.
Parking my bike in a handicapped spot, I got to the hospital just in the nick of time to hear Violet’s laugh as she and her pod of giggling gal pals came out of the hospital together. My senses instinctively came alive, reaching out in every direction, sampling the space around me the way a snake’s forked tongue tastes the air. I watched her till we locked eyes. It sent an electric impulse through my soul. I felt small, like a mouse in the eyes of a hawk. I was powerless before her. If she only knew how powerless. Those green eyes, they did that to me to every time.
Violet was a short little thing, maybe four foot ten inches tall in her stocking feet, full of bounce and energy. Her winter-dark blond hair was kept in loose ringlets, and like pistons they coiled and recoiled as she Tiggered her way over to me. A slow and crooked smile crept across my face, reflecting a head full of bad ideas. As soon as she reached me I wrapped my arms around her, pulled her against my body, and kissed her, mindless of my split lip. Violet was my anchor to a normal world, she kept me grounded not just with her love and understanding, but also a kind of unspoken forgiveness of my shortcomings and curiosities. She would probably even accept the truth about me, after I explained to her what a dhampire was.
Like everyone else on the planet, Violet was blissfully unaware that things like magic and vampires were real. How could I explain? How could I even start? Do I tell her that my real father is a vampire and my adulteress mother his long-time lover who tricked some poor guy into raising something else’s kid? How do I explain that as a half-vampire I was born with all their natural hunting abilities, but being half-human I am compelled to hunt the blood suckers down? How do I make all that sound sane?
Before I could say or do anything further my mobile rang. Grimacing, I looked at the number. It was Kyd. I did not want to take that call. I had plans, big plans, life-altering plans that could make this Wednesday perhaps the greatest day of the week. I was about to shove the phone back in my pocket but Violet peeked at the display.
“Oh, it’s the elusive, mysterious Mr. Kyd. Go ahead and take it. I’ll wait.” I was already shaking my head no but when I looked at her all I saw I was her big green eyes, bright and filled with love. I melted and did as she said without even thinking.
I snapped the phone open, “Make it quick.” Violet made a frownie face of disapproval and slapped my arm. She mouthed “Your mother raised you better than that.” Smiling, I mussed up her hair and pulled her close to me, but as soon as she was unable to see my face, my mouth became a tight line. Violet didn’t know the whole truth about my mother; I let her believe nice things whenever I could.
If I insulted Kyd’s delicate nature, he made no mention of it.“I’m going to be downtown this evening. Around eight o’clock I’ll be on the deck of that bar that sells yard glasses of beer, you know the one. You need to be there. It’s important.”
I shook my head, as though he could see me and said “Can’t. Got plans with Violet, sorry.”
Kyd grunted. “Bring her along. This is important. See you at eight.” He hung up without further room for discussion.
I snapped the phone shut, sighing heavily and rubbing my right eye as if it could ward off the headache that was about to ensue. It would be awkward to have Violet so close to an event that I would doubtlessly lie about later, but Kyd had said “important,” and he never minced words. Still . . . I deserved an evening with Violet. I could make this fly.
Purring, Violet asked “So, what are we doing tonight?” Her tone was silky smooth and darkly tempting as her little hands made their way under my old leather racing jacket and felt their way around my chest. I could live in these moments forever.
I rested my forehead against hers and had to think for a minute, letting the blood circulate back to where it needed to be for me to answer the question. “Um, Kyd. He wants us to hang out tonight.” I took her hands in mine, intertwining our fingers together; I didn’t want her to accidentally come across the little velvet box I kept hidden away in the jacket’s pocket.
She took a step back to look up at me; emerald eyes wide with surprise as she smiled. Cocking her head to the right just a bit she exclaimed “Kyd? From work? I finally get to meet him? Wow, big step for you.”
It was a small lie when I let her believe that Kyd was my partner in my web design business. Ever since the day we met in the emergency room three years ago, I’ve kept her shielded from the dark parts of my life. Sometimes the truth can hurt–but sometime it can kill. So yes, I lie to her. A lot. “Yea, I told him no, but, hey, that’s Kyd. He insisted we be there.”
She smirked, I could tell my answer amused her. She leaned back fearlessly in my arms, knowing I wouldn’t let her fall.
The weight of her leaning back caused my shoulder to suddenly explode in lightning bolts of pain–not the electricity her eyes sent through me, no–pain. “Shoulder.” I managed to grunt out through gritted teeth. There’s a time and a place for pain and this wasn’t it. Instinct alone let me keep my grip, preventing her from falling.
“Next time,” she chided, righting herself, “let the bike fall instead of trying to catch it one-handed. Or drop the pizza.” She was using her “nurse reprimanding a patient” voice at me. “You really hurt yourself. I wish you had come to the hospital and let the doctors have a look at it.”
I shook my head to one side. “You’re right, you’re so right.” There was no way in hell I was going to check into a hospital and let doctors examine me. “If we leave now, I’ll have us there only ten minutes late.” Deflecting and changing the subject are only two of the low character things I happen to be good at.
She squinted her pretty green eyes at me and pursed out her bottom lip. “You’ll drive like a normal person, no speeding?”
“I always drive safely, you know that.”
“I’m still in my scrubs,” there was a tone in her voice, one I knew all too well. “Can’t you swing by my place first so I can change?”
I grimaced at the idea and rubbed my hand over my chin, letting the stubble scratch loudly. This was a trick. She couldn’t just run in and swap out clothes and run right back out. She’d want to shower and try on a bunch of different outfits. If I gave in I could forget about getting there at ten after eight, we were now looking at nine thirty. “How ’bout instead you hit one of those little shops you like so much and ditch the scrubs while I get the business talk out of the way with Kyd?”
I could tell she liked the idea but was still on the fence about it; I had to close the deal. I gave her little kisses along her cheek and jaw line, letting the stubble of my unshaven chin scrape along her neck. As soon as she giggled, I pulled her against my body and with an intimate whisper in her ear promised to make it up to her later.
When she looked up into my eyes, smiling, I knew I had won. Stretching up on her tippy-toes she threw her arms around my neck and gave me a big hug, giggling in delight against my chest.
Carefully kissing the top of her head, I helped her get her helmet on. It was bubblegum pink with a clear, glossy, glittery top coat; “Violet + Marko, Forever” was painted on it in fire engine red, the names encased in twin hearts. It was maybe one of the most uncool things I have ever seen in my life and every time she wore it, I fell deeper in love with her.
I liked having her ride with me, and not just because of how she held onto my waist or how her goofy pink helmeted head felt pressed just below my shoulder blades. It was more than that, it was how she completely relaxed back there and trusted her life to me as we flashed through traffic like something out of Akira.
I parked the motorcycle near one of those shops that cater to tourists. Lucky me, it was within line of sight of where Kyd said he would be sitting, on the outside deck of a bar facing the river. She was all aglow as I watched her skip over to the shop and up to a sales person for assistance. As soon as her attention was diverted, I made my way over to Kyd.
Kyd sat alone, the wait staff obviously avoiding him, unsure about this rough and rugged man perched on the edge of his seat like a hungry hawk. He had a fast and hard thousand-yard stare going on into the milling mass of tourists and partying locals; he didn’t catch me coming up in his peripherals. I couldn’t resist, I slugged him a good one in his upper arm before dropping down in the chair opposite him. Kyd was up on his feet with his wirily muscular frame already tensed up, one arm drawn back in a tight fist ready to be loosed while the other snatched up the beer bottle he was drinking from and made ready to smash it against who or whatever.
“You are entirely too high strung, my friend.” I laughed at him as I leaned back in the chair and waved over to the waitress to get her attention.
Had we not been in the middle of a crowded outdoor bar he would have said some disparaging and accurate remarks regarding my parentage. He motioned to the barkeep that things were cool between us while I held up two fingers for the waitress to double beer us.
“Why do you have to fool around like that,” his voice was gruff and deep but without any resentment or anger. “I said this was business.”
The good humor I momentarily had drained away. My eyes shot over to where Violet was shopping, an open-front store easily seen from the deck of the bar where I sat. Perfect. I had to be sure she was safe before this conversation continued. Content there was no immediate threat to her, I took a moment to plot a direct path from where I was sitting to where she stood, just in case things suddenly turned ugly. “No, you said this was important, you didn’t say it was business.”
“Same thing. But something came up. First things first.” He settled back down in his chair and went back to scanning the people as they passed by. Absentmindedly, his fingers picked at the label of his beer bottle, making a neat little mess on the table. Next to it was a small vial, the kind that you keep insulin in. It was unlabeled and empty. I let a long sigh escape me. He was juiced up on some home-brewed potion, and by the look of it one that opened his third eye or ripped his head chakra wide open. I stole a glance over at Violet: she had two dresses under scrutiny, one in each hand, examining them carefully.
Kyd cleared his throat at me. “I need your particular talent. I need you to canvas the crowd and do that profiling thing you do.”
My head shot back over in his direction, and a small rush of adrenalin tinged with something like hope flared up in me, running wild and unfettered through my veins. “Is this about the monster that killed your sons?”
Never taking his eyes off the crowd, Kyd slowly shook his head. “Nope.”
Too bad, that. I sank down into my seat, and cast a quick glance through the first few layers of people, looking for something to catch my interest. When nothing turned up I redirected my attention back to Violet. Bouncing up and down on her toes, she looked over in my direction and held up a bright, flimsy dress. I smiled, nodded, and gave her a thumbs up. Happy I was happy, she draped it over her shoulder and moved over to a different rack where she began ferreting through it for something else. I let my smile drop and resumed my search, senses and nerves alive with anticipation.
Shifting in the chair I hazarded a moment to study Kyd. Releasing a heavy sigh, I tapped into my dhampire senses and began visually sifting through the individuals as they went to and fro. Kyd was here hunting, and his intent was deadly serious. Not a lot of things would have him openly quaffing potions. But something wasn’t sitting right with me. He had said important, not business. I know the difference. Whatever this was, happed just before my arrival. I had to know, so I had to ask, ever paranoid and sensitive about such things. I didn’t look at him as I spoke. “Is this about me?”
He didn’t answer as quickly as I would have liked; maybe his mind was too far away to hear what I said right off or maybe he didn’t know what to say. Finally he answered with “Not everything is about you, Marko.”
We sat there in silence, studying the people as they milled about. Kyd was too deep in the zone to pay the waitress any mind when she came over with our beers. I tipped her generously and returned to business.
People watching slowly wrenches something primal from within me. There’s a satisfaction I get from it marking the beginning of a hunt, the first tone of a crescendo promising an eventual explosion of activity. Like all dhampire, when I apply myself to the task, I can feel if a vampire is in the area. The discovery is always a bittersweet victory, reminding me that I am not human. I’m sure Kyd did his best to have the mark fingered before I arrived, ergo the potion he quaffed, but since he’d failed, I had to pick up his slack. What’s new? I’d find our prey; that was something I was good at, one of the many crappy gifts I was born with.
With a long and frustrated sigh, I refocused my senses on the environment and went to work.
I set my subconscious on autopilot regarding Violet. Keeping her in view, whenever she waved something my way I gave a random thumbs-up or down with a corresponding goofy smile, buying me and Kyd time. More time. More lies. I was on a hunt now and this was like protecting her, keeping her safe.
I should quit hunting, but I can’t, not for her and not for me; this is something in my life that’s more powerful than me. Kyd can choose to walk away from this any time he sanes-up, he’s human, but for me, it’s literately in my freaking DNA.
Kyd suddenly blinked in rapid succession and shook his head vigorously as the potion wore off. He took a pull of his beer to clear his head and returned to his people watching, but rather than setting his sights on the tourists, he focused his attention on yours truly. Apparently it was about me. Leaning in my direction, he said “You’re distracted tonight. Even for you.”
I felt my mouth twitch a little, stinging my busted lip. I despised canvassing crowds, but he didn’t know that. He didn’t know that I truly hated looking at all these snap-shots of other peoples’ lives; they get to live the life that I lost. No, not lost, that was taken from me. I have not lived in a perfect world since the day that my step-father, the only dad I knew, was murdered by my mother and her vampire lover. Although born a dhampire, I never knew it. I was raised like everyone else and lived a normal life right up until that God-awful Wednesday night five years back. All these people out here have no fringing idea how lucky they are. I looked down at the ring I wore on the middle finger of my right hand. It was my dad’s wedding band, all I had left of my old life. The coroner was nice enough to let me take it off his hand before they carted his body away.
Kyd considered my silence, letting it settle with him for a moment. He turned his attention back to the masses and sighed out “It was dangerous to bring her along on a hunt.”
My eyes narrowed as my head slowly turned to face him. “You never said the word hunt when we spoke.” My voice was edged with the heat of anger.
“I said important.” I think he was trying for slightly apologetic, but it came off as snide.
“I thought important meant safe.” I could feel my temper flare as I suddenly realized that there was something definitely wrong with me. Kyd and I are not pals, we’re not drinking buddies; I was an idiot to forget that one simple rule of survival. I had no business taking Violet anywhere near Kyd. Hell, I had no business being with Violet–period. And with this self analysis, my anger fueled my senses, flaring them to life and sharpening them to a degree unknowable by humans.
Kyd knew–he always took pride in how easy it was for him to get me riled. When I was in “an agitated state,” as he called it, I was better at finding prey. “Safe for you and me maybe, we’re trained professionals. But that ripe little tomato of yours? Sweet gal, I’m sure, but I bet–”
“There.” My word cut him off. I could feel a kind of passion and murderous desire begin to stir in me. “It’s over by the alley, wearing a long white dress and big straw hat. That’s it all right. La diablesse. Its kinda . . . it’s like a . . .” I was at a loss for further words but not because Kyd had pissed me off. With the discovery of my prey, everything else fell back in importance and dissolved around me. All emotions felt dulled. Verbal communication was no longer important. The hunt was taking me.
“. . . words, damn it Marko, give me some words I can work with here before . . .”
I knew Kyd was tugging on my jacket sleeve as he yammered on, but it didn’t matter. My nerves were on fire and I was concerned only with the diablesse. I calculated the distance between it and me. Two hundred feet of ground to cover, two benches, a trash bin, three street lights, four potted scrub plants, fifty-four individuals, and the poor bastard it has slated as its next victim. That was all that stood between us. Something was about to run, and I had to chase it.
The vacuuming rush of being pulled back to reality was intensified by the searing pain that was shooting through my shoulder. When I came to, I had already settled into a crouch, Kyd’s wrist in a vice-like grip, ready to twist and break and twist it again, causing severe if not permanent damage. I had no memory of standing up and grappling with him.
“I had to bring you out of it, son.” His voice was calm and steady considering the predicament he was in. “Your eyes were glowing red, I know what that means. I figured that shoulder was still pretty sore, so I frogged you there good.” He kept his eyes locked on mine while he spoke; the color changing back to their normal blue would be the only gauge he’d have if things were calming back down inside of me.
I nodded and gave him a half-smile, taking a moment to collect my thoughts. “Um, yeah, a diablesse.” I let his wrist go and ran my fingers through my hair, I had to clear the cobwebs and make my brain work faster. “It’s a species of vampire usually found in Trinidad, Tobago, and port towns like Savannah. They hunt for prey at local celebrations, mixing in, passing themselves off as beautiful women.”
Kyd nodded in agreement, “It is a pretty thing at that.”
I shook my head, “No way. You’re human, you get to see the manifestation of your fantasy girl. I’m a dhampire, I’m looking at its true face, and it’s freaking ugly. That pretty package is all illusion.”
Kyd spoke, his voice not able to hide a concern he was suddenly faced with. “Do these diablesse move in packs?”
Again I shook my head, “No, they hunt alone. Check out the area all around it.” I gave him a moment to see if he picked up on it while I recouped, but he shook his head no. “There are no other women anywhere near. Not for like twenty feet in any given direction. They repel them.” I had to struggle to stay focused on maintaining my conversation with Kyd. Talking about the diablesse and knowing that soon we were going to jump it was burning me up with anticipation.
Kyd was still getting ready to move in on it, though. “Any more intel on this one?”
I shrugged, “They can’t run fast because one of their legs ends in a cloven hoof.” Most people think that vampires are all suave and speak with a thick European or Slavic accent. They think that vampires are just like them except that they drink a little bit of blood every once in a while. Bullshit. Vampires are monsters, each one freakier than the next.
“What? Cloven how? Pig, deer, cow, goat? Like that?” Maybe he was heading somewhere with that question, but I didn’t know the answer and shrugged at him.
“Really, just the one leg?” he was more than a little shocked with the idea. Again I nodded.
“I hate them all” he said aloud to himself before adding “but I really hate the weird ones.” He paused, frowning and then asked “Anything else?”
I thought for a moment before adding “It’ll leave that poor fool dead, naked, and hanging from a tree top. Or discarded over some headstone in a graveyard. That’s pretty common for these creatures.”
Kyd snorted. Savannah had plenty of graveyards, and thousands of ancient live oaks and palm trees. He began rummaging through his pockets, no doubt making sure that he had the bare minimum with him–vials of potions, ash wood stake, holy water, nine mm Glock: the usual. He was definitely unprepared. All of his top gear and really cool stuff was probably still in a duffel under the back seat of his car. “So how do we kill it?”
I shrugged. “I got nothing.”
“Nothing?” His tone was incredulous as he froze mid pat-down, his muddy brown eyes locking and searching mine, looking for something to indicate that I was joking again.
“Sorry,” I said, insincerely. Kyd released a long stream of swear words as he exhaled, snarling at me with anger and frustration. “Look,” I said to him, poking him in the forehead with my finger. “Get this through your thick skull–knowledge has to be earned and studied; it’s not encoded in my genes.”
Annoyed, he waved my hand away. “We need to consult the Book.” His voice was grim, the last time we did, things almost went bad. And by “bad” I mean that it looked like I was going to have to scrape Kyd’s coagulating pieces and parts up from the floor. Kyd and the Book were a dangerous cocktail, like a moth and a flame, and I had trouble telling which one was which.
Crap. For a moment there, I forgot all about the damned vampire. Dumb
I spun my attention back to the diablesse. Things were already happening.
“Too late, Captain. It’s on the move.” I saw the diablesse present its arm to the man it had been charming, who reflexively drew the fiend in tight, guiding it away from the crowd. There was a thin smile on the diablesse’s face. Dinnertime. The idiot guy was no doubt thinking to himself “Dear Penthouse Forum, you’re never going to believe what happened to me the other night. Bet on it!” The diablesse, meanwhile, would only be looking to take its meal just far enough away to kill him. It doesn’t have the brains, let alone the willpower, to go far. It would just need a place that was good enough. Here on the waterfront, that meant a secluded alley.
As Kyd and I stalked after it, I let my senses open up full throttle and tendril out in every direction. I would need every advantage I could get fighting this thing. I was unarmed, and wounded still from that scrap I had with that damned jumbie a few days back. Add to this that we had no idea how to kill the diablesse and would inevitably have to try several different methods, including decapitation and removing its heart. This would be nothing like killing that jumbie in the mountain tops of North Carolina. Taking out the diablesse had to be accomplished in the historic, tourist-filled area of a city where police patrolled on foot, looking for trouble.
In a perfect world this would be accomplished in a snap, allowing Kyd and I to get back to the table unscathed and keeping Violet none the wiser.
Besides, there was no time to think about that right now, she was perfectly safe. Diablesses not only hunt men exclusively, but they actually repel females. Even if the vampire did move in her direction, Violet would be naturally compelled to move away from it.
We had taken but half a dozen steps when our path was blocked by the very real, the very dangerous, Lazarus Book. To look at him was to see an individual wholly unremarkable in appearance. He was tall, but not so much that it was extraordinary. He had a pale complexion and a clean-shaven but weathered face. His age was hard to accurately guess, but he had to be somewhere between the wrong side of forty and collecting Social Security. A full head of thick white-blond hair covered his head, but it was shorn down just short enough that in a physical confrontation an opponent would waste precious time trying to grab a fist full of it, something I knew from personal experience. His eyes were a soft grey, green or blue, really hard to tell. The only thing visible under the dull black suit jacket he habitually wore was a collarless, dull, black dress shirt buttoned all the way up to the top button. Book was the guy, the premier dhampire; he trained the masters of our craft. Everyone, even me, respected him. Pissing him off could result in my career and life ending tragically short.
When he smiled at me it held no joy. His usual monotone was forced through clenched teeth. “Why hello Marko, funny running into you here and now. A happy accident, wouldn’t you say?” He cast an inhumanly quick glace over at Kyd, almost too fast for me to notice, and then back over to me. When he spoke again, he maintained eye contact with me, the way you do to block a third party out of the conversation.“I see you and little Tommy are still fast friends. Good evening, Tommy.”
My head was throbbing and my senses buzzed, making it hard to pay attention to what Book was saying, but my instincts screamed I had best damn try. The first rule of basic survival dictated that one predator never knowingly gives his back to another.
“Um, yeah,” was all I could get out. Thinking was hard. It was unnatural to not focus on my senses; they were locked on the vampire meandering off with its meal. I couldn’t see it anymore, the crowd blocked my view, but I could sense about where it was, approximate how far away. In time, if I lived long enough, I’d be able to pinpoint it with deadly accuracy. Today, I was pretty sure it was somewhere up ahead and to the leftish. “Um . . . a vampire . . .” I trailed off again, lost in the lust of wanting to kill.
“We’re on a hunt, Book.” Kyd chimed in, covering for me. “That’s the whole thing.”
“Oh yes, I can see that.” He was keeping his voice soft and low, almost hypnotic, like a cobra. Cold and unsympathetic, he continued, “I have some of the brothers from the Network here with me. We were hoping to run into Mr. Jaks. I’m sure one of them is watching the vampire.” He paused and added with a slight edge of sarcasm to his voice, “We know that our Mr. Jaks has a tendency to let vampires go.”
Instantly I was back in the conversation, my anger flared. “This is not that.” I defended in a rasped voice. “One time that happened.”
“Twice,” he corrected, still in that damned monotone.
Kyd studied us, taking note of our demeanor and body language. “Let the boy get his kill in.” He was looking right at the master assassin as he spoke, respectfully nervous in front of Book. “You can’t talk to him now, look at him. It’s a waste of your time. He’s all jazzed up and needs the violence to get back down.”
Book did something he seldom did, he looked directly at Kyd. Normally he had only a pittance of respect for any human vampire slayer, seeing them as watered down, pretender dhampire, but Book could see the truth in Kyd’s statement. He pressed his lips into a thin line and gave a quick nod of his head. Approval granted, the meeting was dismissed.
We started to leave, Kyd and my gut pulling me toward a target I couldn’t see, but I stopped and turned back to the Book. “Hey, how do you kill a diablesse?”
Book tsked his tongue and shook his head at me. “Pathetic,” he said, his voice full of disappointment and general disgust, “Marko Jaks, you are the most unprepared and pathetic dhampire I have ever met.”
“So far,” I corrected.
He let a moment pass, he was either suppressing a smile or a disgusted curl of the lip. I may be pathetic, but in spite of himself, he liked me. “The diablesse is not supernatural, but rather a living vampiric creature, like a mosquito or a leech. Its body is bound to physics and nature just like ours.” He paused, eyed us each up and down, and with a casual glance took in the lay of the land. “Considering your surroundings, I suggest strangulation. Do swing by the Network lodge this evening, Marko. We have much to discuss. Your plus one is neither required nor desired, and neither is your girlfriend.” Without further ado and completely without fear, Lazarus Book turned his back to us and leisurely walked away.
“I think you were the plus one he was talking about,” I said to Kyd as we headed off to the leftish
“I realize that, Marko. I’m not an idiot.” Kyd paused, momentarily annoyed and then caught up to me.
Following the diablesse was easy; it was just a matter of letting my instincts take over just enough to blaze a trail. It was an odd sensation. I can’t describe it except to say that it felt like freedom, like layers of rules and restrictions were lifted and I was free to be dhampire–a natural born vampire slayer.
We didn’t have to worry about moving in silence, we were in a city and noise happens all the time, enough to cover the clicking of its cloven hoof on cobblestone. We could come right up on top of the vamp. Diablesse pass for human, it would ruin their camouflage if they were twitchy and jumped every time someone got too near.
Nearly all the alleyways in this part of downtown were open on both sides, leading up steep hills from River Street to Bay. I figured out which one they were heading towards and Kyd pulled two small vials out of one of his many pockets. Handing me a vial, he said, “Run around the block. When I see you I’m going to step into the alley and break this behind me. You do the same at your end. It’ll mask loud noises and sort of make people not care what they see happening. That’ll buy us some time, no more than two minutes.”
You got to love Kyd’s crazy vampire killing science; then again, humans like him have to compensate somehow.
I nodded and took the bottle as we went through a stakeout routine. He lit up a cigarette and we loudly joked, letting the diablesse see and dismiss us as part of the natural scenery. A vampire would think nothing of people standing around smoking except to find a more secluded spot to consume its dinner.
As the cigarette burned, Kyd stuffed some levy-root into his mouth and began to chew. It would let him see the vampire as I did, in its true form and all its hideous glory–for a while at least. The herb was rare, expensive, and built up toxins in the system. Continued use would kill him, but Kyd hunted vampires most nights of the week, how long was he really going to last anyway?
Just as I was getting ready to head up, he slid a long, sharp machete out from an inside sheath under his coat. As bad as I was itching to start the action, I put my hand on his wrist and made him lower the weapon. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
He looked at me like I had just grown a second head. “It’s fine, the potions will mask the sound of it screaming.”
I smacked him in the back of his head “You’re going to whack it with its date right there?”
“As soon as that guy leaves the alley, he won’t care anymore.” He snorted at me, shaking his head. “Relax, the potion has it covered. Geez Marko, not my first rodeo here. Think back to moments ago. The bottles . . . I explained this.”
I rolled my eyes at him and grabbed him by the coat sleeve as he turned to walk down the alley. “Book said strangulation.”
Kyd abruptly shoved the machete back in its sheath with all of the curtness of a slamming door. He then pulled a two-gallon sized Ziploc bag out from an inside pocket of his coat. “I keep them on me for after I decapitate a head. We can use it to suffocate it.”
I grimaced and shook my head no, declining his offer. I figured on grabbing it by the neck and squeezing the life from its body with my own two hands.
“Let’s make this quick; Violet can’t shop forever and she thinks we came downtown tonight to meet and hang out with you.”
Kyd’s jaw literally dropped open. “You’re kidding. You think you’re still here on a date?”
Maybe this wasn’t a social event for him, but it was for me. All this was his fault. He said important, not business. I smiled, splitting my lip, nodded, and started off around the corner.
Dhampire are faster and stronger than humans because we have twin hearts. The first is just a regular heart; the second one only comes online when it’s needed, like NOS in a racecar. With two of those fist-sized muscles pumping, we don’t need much oxygen. Our muscles don’t tire as easily, and our strength is proportionally greater than our frame would suggest. And, as a kid I always won the contest of who could stay underwater the longest in the pool. That’s me all right, king of the goddamn hill.
I got around the block fast, moving with predatory intent, striding quickly, muscles tense. With each step I took, slowly accelerating towards my target, my human fears and concerns for personal safety fell away. I didn’t care about the potential damage I could take in the fight if the vampire got the upper hand on us. Kyd’s life didn’t matter; my life didn’t matter; and I am ashamed to say that I had only a vague awareness that Violet was safely out of harm’s way.
Kyd appeared at the other end of the alleyway and smashed the vial down. I could sense the discharge of magic in the air, taste it, and it sorta reminded me of chewable vitamins, sweet and chalky. I flung my vial at the ground behind me, smashing it asunder and sending a second wave of the same magic into the air.
Heading right at the vampire, both my hearts were beating hard in perfect synchronicity, but it had nothing to do with the suspense of the hunt. That time had passed, now it was all about the excitement of the moment as it climaxed; the thrill of two monsters, mortal enemies, finding each other at last.
For a dhampire, this was natural, wanting to kill a vampire. But nothing is simple with me. Hunting has always been profoundly personal. Practice for my next family reunion.
Before the diablesse knew it was in any danger, I was at a dead run, eating up ground and barreling straight for it. As soon as the vampire realized what was about to happen, it let loose with a high-pitched wail, grinding its cloven hoof into the ground to meet the attack. I lowered my head, shifted my right shoulder forward while keeping my wounded left shoulder pulled safely back, and plowed into the fiend’s chest, knocking the breath out of it. Airborne, together we flew several yards further down the alleyway, closer to Kyd. When we slammed against the ground, I heard some of its bones crack. Its remaining breath was wheezed out with the force of the sudden impact, but it fought, kicking frantically with its powerful hoof, even as it skidded to a halt against the unforgiving cobblestones and bits of shale. A disgusting smell rose from its wounds: the sickly mix of the blood of its past victims clinging to it like the stench of a McDonald’s hamburger on a cook’s apron.
The man I had just saved from having been eaten alive repaid the kindness. Clasping his hands together and making a double fist, he smashed them down as fast and hard as he could into the largest target my body presented–my bad left shoulder.
I didn’t scream. The jolt charged me, like a drug, filled my body with a vital energy that I needed, that I craved to release. I used the pain as an accelerant for my hunt, my rage. My own natural chemistry was better than Kyd’s hocus pocus. In short, I got busy.
I ignored the man–not smart to do in a fight, but somewhere in the remnants of my human mind, I knew that Kyd had my back. One of my hands made its way to the vampire’s throat and found purchase there, the thumb pushing down into that small hollow place above the top of the breastbone. With my other hand, I made a tight fist, cracking the scabs wide open. It came slamming down into the creature’s pug nose, right where it met with its cleft lip. Jagged, flesh-tearing teeth exploded backward into its mouth and I heard it trying to gargle as it chocked on them.
Kyd appeared in my peripheral vision, and smashed a vial on the ground releasing additional magic. Its taste was strong, musky, and slick as motor oil. Then, pointing at the stranger we were rescuing, he bellowed “You!” The compulsion magic made the guy stop his assault on me and pay attention to Kyd. “You there,” he commanded the vampire’s prey, “go quick, get help!” and jerked his head sharply back down the alley from which he’d just come.
Without hesitation, the guy ran, calling for the police as he ran all the way to the end of the alley. Moments later his cries abruptly ceased as he crossed the magical, man-made threshold, stepped onto the sidewalk and lost interest in what he had been doing. He was free of the killing field.
The creature’s neck firmly gripped with both hands, I redoubled my efforts and applied torque, pouring my own pain and hatred into the violence. I twisted hard, hearing the bones crack while its muscles tore and snapped. It would have shrieked had it breath to do so. I wondered what sounds its victim would have made. I wonder how many men had died to sate its hunger.
I have a vague memory of Kyd watching from a safe distance as the death unfolded. Brief as the battle was, the victory felt glorious and that feeling was addictively good. As always, though, the pointlessness of what I had done twisted through my mind as I looked down at the dead vampire. It was too little too late. Too late to save my stepdad and, frankly, it was always too late for my black-hearted mother.
I was mantling over the fallen vamp like a great hunting cat. Now that its life was gone I was left to struggle with my remaining humanity, with my monstrosity, to find equilibrium between the two. As I stepped away from the carcass, Kyd moved in and flatly itemized the damage, hurriedly probing the corpse with his thumb and knuckles. “The windpipe is completely crushed, breast bone shattered, and several of the vertebra from its neck are severed from the spinal column, decapitating it internally.” He then stood up and backed away from the husk of the beast, picking something up from the ground beside it. “A lot of wasted energy though. You’ll do better next time.”
As I watched Kyd, the first pangs of shame hit me. Shame because I went completely feral right there in front of him. Back in the mountains fighting the jumbie I was at least somewhat in control. Here, he saw a glimpse of what, not who I am. That narrow window of recognition was the worst pain. I winced internally, shrugged outwardly, and accepted that there was nothing to be done about it now. All I could do was move the body and go pretend like nothing happened while having a few beers with the love of my life.
“You done?” Kyd asked, keeping his voice low. “Spell’s burnt out.”
I nodded at him, wanting to say something, but didn’t.
“Let me see your eyes.” I looked up at him. He had his hand deep inside his jacket, no doubt resting on the Glock. He nodded; content with the shade of blue they must have reverted to. He mumbled something about getting the car, for me to just to hang tight.
There wasn’t much else I could do. I moved the carcass over to one side of the alley so it wasn’t in plain view with me looking like Jack the Ripper next to it. There was a little blood on my hands and a bit of splatter on my left jacket sleeve, but the long white skirt the creature had worn in life was good enough to clean up with. A few moments later my hands were clean enough to eat fries with.
Kyd pulled his car around to the alley, its trunk already open. The diablesse, like all solid form vampires I ever came across, did not have the decency to poof into dust and dissipate in a wind that happened to be breezing by.
In truth, vampires do decompose amazingly fast; once the process begins nothing can prevent it from completing the cycle, not even extreme deep freezing. It’s like the natural world’s way of saying, “hey, it’s the least I can do.” A human-sized vampire will be completely gone within in three days, not even leaving trace elements behind; they’re a CSI’s worst nightmare. Hell, I guess a vampire is everyone’s worse nightmare.
I didn’t need the help, but Kyd gave me a hand lifting the remains and dumping it in the trunk. More than anything I suspected he wanted to get a good look at the thing, since I hogged the fight and left him only time for a cursory once-over in the alley. He examined the head thoroughly, letting his fingers slide over the surface, able to feel the thick, dry, leathery texture of its shriveled and twisted-up face. It bore no semblance to anything of the natural world. Kyd looked down at the deer-like cloven hoof. Without ceremony, he pushed aside the skirt to see how high up the deformity went. There was nothing salacious in his doing this, the diablesse had more in common with an animal, and you wouldn’t be shy about how you handled road kill. Answer is, it went up almost to the knee.
Apart from being the partner who had the car, Kyd owned a crematorium. He made a habit of taking kills there for final and complete destruction just to be sure. The ashes, he once grimly joked, are the fertilizer that made Vidalia onions taste so sweet.
“So,” I began, it was the first time either of us had said a word since he left to get the car “before we go play nice with Violet, you want to tell me why you really had me come out tonight?”
His shoulders sagged. Obviously he had a plan. Step one: get me to the bar. Step two: pour beer down my throat. And finally, step three: let me in on it, whatever it may be. Flatly he spat it out. “I don’t know where she is exactly, so don’t ask. I wanted to tell you before the Book did. The Network–they found your mother.”
I stood stony-faced in response, careful not to give what I was feeling away. That’s why he said to bring Violet along. Kyd was manipulating the situation, manipulating me through her. He knew the calming power she has over me, that she is the anchor at the end of my chain. Violet keeps my boogeyman away. I would only ever get so angry with her around. Where my mother is concerned, Kyd knows that I would need that. In his own way, he was trying to do me a favor.
Before I could order my thoughts into words and form a phrase that didn’t start with an eff-bomb, he fished something out of his pocket. Kyd held out his hand revealing to me a crushed ring box. “I think you dropped this during the fight.” He paused and asked “Do you want it?” The question had weight.
I stood looking for a moment just looking at it. He said nothing further. Vampires took his family from him, his children, his life. I could feel his unspoken words . . . something about pain and pity. The weighted question hung in the air unanswered, “Do you want it?”
I looked at the ring box, took it, and quietly returned it to the inside pocket of my old racing jacket. “You said important, not business,” I murmured. I couldn’t make further comment . . . not on any of it.
I introduced Vi to Kyd. The ring box remained tucked away in my pocket. What the hell was I doing thinking marriage? I’m not human. I’m a monster, not so different than the one that killed my stepdad. Mom traded a prince for a parasite. Violet can do better than me.
Kyd sat with us for about an hour before he abruptly and unapologetically announced that he had business in Vidalia that couldn’t wait.
Once he was gone, Violet focused her full attention on me. I must have seemed distant. She was aware that there was something gnawing at my insides, something I hadn’t or wouldn’t share. I was lost in thought as she spoke, I could barely concentrate on the words, not hers nor mine. I took her home.
Earlier in the day I had promised to spend a passionate night with her, but that didn’t happen. I lie to Violet–a lot. But now the lies had to stop before I got her killed, before my demons found her and dragged her down with me. The “truth” was not the answer either. She might choose to follow me, my resolve would melt away, and I would let her. No. I ended it. There on her front porch. I said whatever it took for her to hate me. She deserved to move on. I deserved to be hated.
I kicked my motorcycle into life, and with it and me screaming, I tore down the street and in the general direction of the Network Lodge, the ring box still tucked securely in my pocket.
© T. Glenn and Theresa Bane