M.A.Z.E. Three

M.A.Z.E. Three

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M.A.Z.E

Chapter Three

I Was Eating That

It’s the feeling of something wet and warm in my mouth that I am first aware of. The thick, smooth fluid ran down my throat like a velvety elixir, leaving a trail of warmth from my tongue to my tummy. As the warmth spreads I regain a little more awareness. I get the sense that I am in motion, but can’t really tell if it’s me in motion, or something I’m riding. It’s a bit wobbly and unsteady, like the back of a horse-drawn wagon. If I regain consciousness and some Nordic man in chains says “hey you, you’re finally awake” I am going to be… happy, actually, that would be cool.

My brain feels like it’s swimming in my skull, sloshing about with each wobble. I can’t see or hear anything, which is rather disconcerting. I can’t really feel anything around my head that would stop me from seeing, and now that I think of it I really can’t feel anything. My legs, my arms, my whole body feels numb and oddly distant. All I have is a sense of taste; something wet, warm, and now a little chewy. I just bit something.

I’m not consciously chewing but I am aware that I am, like my body is just going through the motions and I’m just a passenger witnessing it. 

As the velvety elixir of juices hit my stomach and spread its warmth my senses fade a little into existence. Blurry shapes and shadows begin to form around me and the dead silence turns into an obnoxious ringing. A dull ache fills my head for a moment and fades as I swallow the little bit of WhateverI’mEating. Just as my mouth finds vacancy, something firm and pliable, presses to my lips.

I bite into it.

My body just does it, like an instinctive reflex to feed itself. They often say the body knows what it needs, and I guess what it needs is oddly chewy and wet chunks of something.

As I chew and swallow my vision becomes clearer and I can begin to make sense of where I am. I’m not in a horse-drawn wagon, drat. I’m standing in the middle of the road, a few blocks away from Bella Vista’s.

The area seems pretty empty for what seems like the middle of the day, judging by the placement of the sun. There are a few people wandering around but not nearly as many as I would expect. There are cars but they’re not moving; just abandoned on the road like a bad apocalypse movie. I think one of the cars up the road might be on fire? It kind of looks like it but I can’t quite make it out.

I get the idea to take another bite of what appears to be a giant turkey leg that I’m holding, hoping it might fix my vision further. Where the hell did I get a giant turkey leg? Did I go on a bender at the Ren Faire or something? How very American Princess of me. I take another bite and sure enough my vision clears up. The hazy fog lifts and I can see pretty well. Getting a better look I can tell that the car is, indeed, on fire.

“Huh…” I take a bite.

The streets are pretty messed up. There are cars, newspapers, baseball bats, random shoes and jackets, abandoned bicycles and… bodies?

“Holy shit, I see dead people.”

There are corpses everywhere!

And, by everywhere I mean, like, 5 or so. But, 5 is significantly more bodies than the usual zero that I’m used to seeing. The only dead bodies I’ve ever seen get up and hit the buffet when the director yells CUT!

The other folks wandering around don’t seem too distressed by the dead people, so I guess I won’t worry about them right now either. There must be a reason for all this and I’m sure I’ll figure it out eventually. Besides, it seems a bit too late to help these people now, I mean, that guy’s head is under a rolled car, I don’t think a magic healing turkey leg will fix that.

Speaking of; I take another bite.

God, this thing is delicious!

I wipe some turkey leg juice from my chin and pause when I notice my hand is smeared with red. Like, fresh blood red. Still wet. I check my face, feeling at it with my fingers, searching for notable scars, seeping wounds, or gaping holes. While I don’t feel anything out of place, my fingers all come back more and more blood covered every time I touch my face. I go to the nearest car and lean down, checking myself in the side mirror.

“Holy fuck nuggets!” Most of my face is covered in blood and little chunks of gore. I have a little strip of what looks like chicken skin stuck to my cheek and I peel it off, tossing it away. My brain scrambles as panic sets in. I quickly bring my arm up, aiming to wipe my face with my sleeve, but somewhere between seeing myself in the mirror and now I forgot I was holding a magic turkey leg and I slap myself across the temple with it.

“Ah, Fraggles!” I glare at the turkey leg with evil intent, briefly considering the best way to make it pay for its assault when it suddenly dawns on me that the turkey leg is just a bit too fleshy, a bit too peachy, a bit too slender, and a bit too wearing a golden wrist watch above its five-fingered hand. Turkey legs don’t have five fingers… and they don’t usually wear wristwatches. I’m sure there’s someone in Dubai who puts watches on all their chickens but I doubt any of them have shown up here.

I drop the human arm and stare at it in horror.

I was just fucking eating that. Why the fuck was I eating that?

I step back, putting a little distance between myself and my meal, and bump into someone creeping up behind me. I wince, half expecting to just immediately get clobbered in the back of the head by some teenage squad of monster hunters, but instead, I get a quiet moan right in my ear.

I turn and step away, back toward the dead arm which is less likely to try and get frisky. The dude is in his early twenties and dressed like a college bro, but that’s not the scary part; half of his face appears to be missing. The left side of his head is completely lacking flesh, exposing the muscles of his cheeks, most of his eyeball, and his disgustingly red tongue between his disgustingly white teeth.

“Uh, did I do that? I didn’t bump you that hard?” I raise my hands between us, showing him I’m unarmed and not looking for a fight.

“Greeehhhhgl!” he… um, says? I don’t know what verb best describes when he just did. Throat yodels, maybe? 

“Yeah, uh, I’m really sorry about-” I cut myself off and turn my head slightly, shifting my gaze to something off over his left shoulder. My eyes go wide and my mouth falls open as I raise a hand and point. “Oh shit! A distraction!”

He stares at me, straight in the eyes with his glazed-over, dead expression, for a whole three seconds before slowly turning his head, then his whole body, to look back where I was pointing.

Oh shit, that worked!

I turn to run and immediately trip over the arm I left lying in the middle of my escape route. I go down hard, crashing into the side of the car I had just used as a mirror and loudly banging my shoulder into the door. The noise seems to draw some attention as I hear a cacophony of throat yodeling from the area around me. Two shambling figures come around the car ahead of me, and a third comes up behind college bro.

“Oh, fuck me- wait, no, don’t do that, that’s a figure of speech, just in case you folks are of a literal sort!” Dodged a bullet there. I jump to my feet and search my pockets for a weapon. I don’t find one, which makes sense since all I had to begin with was my lighter, which is very likely still laying on the ground behind Bella Vista’s.

Bella Vista’s!

My mind suddenly floods with recent memories; I was kicking the asses of a few vampires until I realized I had bad information. It was two elders and a fledgling, not two fledglings and a human. I lost the upper hand and then I…

And then I died?

Well… I guess I got better. Or did I turn? Am I a vampire now?

“Am I a vampire now?” Is something I just said at the start of a fight. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem as though the four people stumbling around in my area heard me because they don’t offer me an answer.

I can unpack that major life-altering news later because right now I have, and I’m going to say this because I can’t think of a better noun for them – I have zombies coming at me.

Awesome!

I crouch, grab my turkey leg, and rise, holding it over head by the wrist like a baseball bat. The zombies are slow. I take that back, the zombies are slow as fuck and don’t seem to be in any rush to get to me. I’m fairly certain that if I wanted to I could climb over this car and be gone before any of them realized I was even moving. The college bro is looking straight at me again but isn’t making any move. One of the newcomers brushes against my arm; I scream at them, leap away and bring my armbat down upon their head. It makes a solid connection and the zombie goes down hard, bouncing their head off the pavement with an audible thunk. It lays there for a moment before struggling back to its feet, rising like a grandma turtle on ice. I raise the armbat again to give it another talking to, but when it returns to its feet it turns and slowly shambles away.

“Huh,” I mutter quietly, then turn and swing at another zombie… for science. Like the first, the second one collapses, stands, and wanders off.

“Well, you guys are significantly less aggressive than the movies tend to portray you,” I explain, resting the armbat on my shoulder as I do so.

“I had so many hopes and expectations for a zombie apocalypse and all I get is,” I use my armbat to motion toward the surrounding zombies, “you lot. Look, I’m not, like, mad or anything, I’m just… disappointed.”

I can tell that last point hits hard because the college bro zombie finally turns away from me and starts to wander. I noticed a tear in his eye just as he was turning; I mean, it could have been splattered drool from that gaping hole in his face, but I like to believe he took my words to heart.

Oh well, I guess I can start asking the other questions I was putting aside; like, why the fuck was I eating an arm?

I realize I’m still holding the arm and quickly drop it… then I have a second thought, pick the arm up, remove the watch, and drop the arm again.

End Chapter Three

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M.A.Z.E.

ONE

"Football Players"

Two jocks, a cheerleader, and a priest walk into Bella Vista’s Italian Bistro and Bar like it’s some kind of joke. The priest isn’t a part of this, they just happen to be there, holding the door as the other three enter. As soon as they pass, he follows them in then immediately breaks away, heading to a group in the opposite direction. The other three… are vampires, and they’re heading my way.

I was really hoping they would come straight my way, straight to the bar, because my entire plan was reliant upon them coming to the bar. Unfortunately, my plan was reliant upon them going to some other section of the bar and not coming to the empty seat directly beside me. The taller of the two jocks, Brady Cooper, I recognize him from school, leans over the empty seat and rests one elbow on the bar. He raises his other arm to wave at the bartender as he offers me a bright, charming smile.

“Hey,” he says to me and I immediately turn away from him, slip off my stool, and move around to the far end of the bar; still within sight but not within talking distance. I find another empty seat and wave to the bartender to get her attention. She acknowledges me with a lift of her chin, raises one finger to ask me to hold on a minute, then turns and starts mixing a few drinks for Brady and his group.

Damn, I mutter. My plan is also rather reliant upon them not already having drinks. With a heavy sigh I resolve to follow through anyway; it’s a good plan, a classic plan, and is always a cool way of introducing a mysterious stranger in the movies.

After a few minutes the bartender is heading my way. I straighten up and lean over the bar so I can speak to her without raising my voice too much.

“What can I get for ya, hun?” She tosses a towel over her shoulder like any cliché bartender should, and rests her hands on the bar top.

“See those jocks over there?” I lift my chin in Brady’s direction. Brady is laughing at something the other jock just said. The bartender turns, looking back over her shoulder, and nods at me.

“Yeah, what about them?” She turns back to face me and cocks a brow.

“I want to order them a few drinks, and give them a message.”

She turns again, turning her whole body away to look at them for a solid seven seconds, sizing them up, before turning back to look at me. She looks me up and down then shakes her head.

“Yeah, I don’t think you’re their type, hun.”

“I want to se- uh, what?” Her comment zips over my head at first but it eventually circles around and crashes into my ear. My brain freezes and I stare at her for several seconds, trying to reboot.

“No, no, I’mn’t, that, no’n’t. They’re-” I stop talking, if what I was doing could be called that, and take a deep breath to center myself. “I’m not interested in them like that.”

“I’m just fucking with you, kid.” She chuckles and rests herself back on her elbows on the bar. “What do you want?”

I lean up in my seat and lower my voice to just above a whisper.

“I want to order them each a Bloody Mary. When you serve it to them, point to me, and tell them – they know what you are.”

“Three Blood Marys, point, know who they are.” She pushes off the bar and grabs a few glasses.

“No, no. I know what they are,” I correct her.

“Know what they are,” she repeats. She pauses, sets the glasses down and stares at me. “What are they? Celebrities or something?”

“No, they’re v-,” yeah, go for it, tell her they’re vampires dipshit. “-they’re. Well, it’s complicated.”

“Is this some back country drama where they killed your sister in the styx then fled the county, then you tracked them here and are plotting some murderous revenge plan where you fuck with them for a little bit then slaughter them in the back alley behind the bar?”

My mouth is slack as I listen to her. The imagery she just painted in my head puts the vampires in a pile of gory body parts at the bottom of a dumpster, and I can’t say I hate it. It’s also much too close to what my plans are. I shake my head, waving my hands in front of me to clear the images.

“No, no, nothing like that. It’s just, well, look, I’m just trying to do a thing here, ya know. It’s kind of an inside joke sort of thing.” I fish a ten dollar bill from my pocket, pin it to the bar under my pointer finger, and slide it toward her. “Just the three Bloody Marys and the message. Please. And keep the change.”

I sit back in my seat and turn. The seat spins a little too far and I have to turn myself in the opposite direction to center myself so I am facing Brady, Jock 2, and their cheerleader friend, Cory. Brady is from my old high-school, and I’m guessing he’s one of the more recent victims of the new vampire in town. Jock 2 is Brady’s right hand guy but I never got his name. The cheerleader is a new student, which makes her easy prey for the big jock vampire to seduce and manipulate. Her name is Cordelia, but everyone calls her Cory because they’re young and hip. They’re going to turn her soon and I’m hoping I can intervene befo-

The bartender clears her throat and draws my attention back to her. She’s still standing there, the bill I gave her pinned to the bar under her hand, with no Bloody Marys made.

“Um,” I glance from her to Brady, then back, really unsure of what social que I may have missed. “Y- yes?”

“Bloody Marys are nine dollars each, hun.”

“Oh,” I say, letting it trail on for a few seconds. I spin in my seat, turning sideways, and lift my heavy combat boot to rest on the stool next to me. The man sitting there pulls his drink away from his face and turns at his waist to glower down at my boot. Then he notices my legs and his eyes travel up the length of my body until they eventually reach my face. He’s silent for a moment as he tries to process what he’s seeing and trying to decide if he should hit on me or just hit me. I shake my head at him and mouth the word ‘no.’ He scowls, shakes his head dismissively, and turns back to his beer.

My fingers dig deep into my boot and retrieve several crinkled bills which I smooth on the edge of the bar and place before the bartender.

“That’s six. Hold on, I’ve got some change somewhere, maybe I can get two.” I stand and begin searching my pockets but I stop when I notice her shaking her head.

“Don’t worry about it, hun.” She scrapes up the sixteen dollars and drops it all in the tip jar before turning, grabbing two glasses, and heading off in Brady and Crew’s direction. I return to my seat and try to find a good, natural position that gives off an air of mystery; something dark and intimidating without looking like I’m mourning the recently deceased.

I should have ordered a drink, I mutter as I recall that every ‘mysterious stranger in a bar’ scene in any movie ever always had the unknown figure hovering over a mug of something while they glare at the hero and sip. Then I remember the cost of a beverage and shrug. Could have gotten a water, at least.

The bartender has finished mixing the drinks and begins to head toward Brady and his friends. I begin to panic as I haven’t yet found the right position. I tried leaning on one elbow on the bar, but I’m not exactly tall enough to make that look cool, so I have to climb onto my knees to get the height, but now I’m bent over the bar with my ass sticking out; not intimidating.

I try to get down off the stool too quickly and my boot kicks one of the legs, launching the whole stool out from under me and putting me at the full mercy of gravity. I yelp loudly as I drop and hit the ground with a solid thump. I’m back on my feet before the disappointed daddy figure in the seat beside me has a chance to offer me a hand and quickly lean against the bar with one arm, acting like nothing just happened.

Everyone is staring at me… and I mean everyone. The man beside me shakes his head again and returns to his beer. The priest and his friends look like they’re contemplating running to my aid. Brady, Cordelia, and Jock number 2 can’t seem to decide if they want to laugh at me or be concerned for my well being.

“They know who you are,” the bartender says, loudly breaking the awkward silence as she sets the glasses down in front of Brady. She turns, gives me a big thumbs up with an even bigger grin, then slides off down the bar to the next person waving cash.

My breath lets out in a heavy sigh and I actually palm my face as she delivers the line. Not only did she say it wrong, but that could not have been a worse moment for it. I notice Brady staring at me through my fingers and quickly moving my hand away from my face – and into the air beside me. Unsure of how to proceed from there, I turn my awkward hand gesture into a wave, then drop my hand behind the bar so it can not embarrass me any further.

Brady just frowns at me before looking at the glasses set before him. His brow creases and he looks back at me with a confused shrug. I respond with a frown of my own, nod toward the drinks, pause, then stare him straight in the eyes and give him a serious, slow, knowing nod.

Come on. Bloody Mary, cryptic message, it’s so obvious! My mind is screaming at him. Hopefully, I develop psychic powers in the next second or so and blast him with some basic logic.

When his gaze comes back to me I tilt my head in the direction of the back door and his eyes follow. When he looks back to me I nod again, tilting my head back to suggest he follows, then I turn and walk toward the back exit.

As soon as I pass through the door I rush to the other side of the alleyway before they have time to follow me out. I quickly put myself with my back to the wall, one heavy boot braced on the wall behind me, with an unlit cigarette hanging from my lips. I wait for them to arrive before I light it.

I wait.

Oh! I’m fortunate they’re taking their time because I forgot the lighter. I fish it from my pocket and thumb the cap so it’s ready to flip and light just as they arrive.

I wait.

I hear motion by the door and flip the lid, igniting the lighter. I start to move it toward the cigarette but stop when I notice it’s not them; just the wind swinging the door open. I lower my hand and wait.

When they don’t show up after a full minute… I wait some more.

I’m beginning to feel foolish.

Several minutes pass before I set my foot down and watch as the breeze picks up and slowly closes the door. The latch catches with a definitive and deafening click that makes the alleyway feel unusually empty and lonely.

I stare at the door for a while before taking the cigarette out of my mouth and slipping it back into the pack. I cross the alleyway, grab the handle of the door and give it a good tug.

It doesn’t budge.

I pull harder, then put my boot against the wall and pull with all my strength.

It doesn’t budge.

Great, my head bumps the door as I slump forward against it and just wallow in disbelief and mentally berate myself. Just locked yourself out.

After a few minutes of self pity I turn around and head for the street, circling around the building to the front door. The Bloody Marys are still at the bar, but the vampires have moved. I find them quickly, over by the billiard table, and march over to stand at the end of the table as Brady circles it, searching for a shot.

“You didn’t follow,” I rest my hands on the table and lean against it. “Why didn’t you follow?”

“Why would I follow you?” Brady leans over the table, ready to take a corner shot.

“Because… I sent you the suggestive drink, and the message?” My tone has a serious dose of ‘DUH’ in it.

“Yeah,” Brady stands straight, pulling his attention away from the game and directing it all at me. “I was wondering about that, it was kind of weird. I really don’t get the tomato juice, and everyone knows who we are are; we’re on the football team.”

“No, she messed up the message. Not who you are but what you are!” I’m about ready to bang my head on the table when Brady’s eyes narrow on me and I can tell he’s beginning to understa-

“Football players?”

He doesn’t understand.

“Those were Bloody Marys. As in…” I raise a balled fist and hold it up in front of my face. Opening my mouth wide, I bare my teeth, hiss, then bite my wrist. “You know, bloody.

Two and two finally click in Brady’s head and he drops the pool cue on the table as he moves around and approaches me, moving straight into my personal space bubble.

“What exactly do you think we are?” He looms over me. Brady is a full foot taller than me and built like a quarter back… because he is one.

“I didn’t want to have this talk in front of-” I raise my hands and motion to the room around us where all the people are. I lower my voice and speak quietly, conspiratorially, as I say, “the Normies.”

Brady looks back toward Cordelia and Jock 2.

“Yeah,” Jock 2 nods. “Maybe we should talk outside.”

“Exactly, follo-” Brady shoves me toward the back door before I can finish. I stumble a few steps before I get my footing and start walking. The others follow this time; I can hear their footsteps behind me.

I reach the door first and try to get back into position, but the others are right on my heels. I’m barely a few steps out the door when Brady grabs the shoulder of my coat and spins me around to face him.

“What exactly do you think you know about us?”

“Oh, I know a lot about you.” I grin showing him my practiced cocky smile. “I know about your kind, your predatory nature to-“

“Those charges were dropped!” Brady barks. “I never had to register!”

This stops me in my tracks. My smile vanishes and my nose crinkles as I try to process his words.

“What?” I shake my head as I can’t make the connection. “What charges, what are you talking about?” I trail off, unsure if I even want to know.

Brady realizes he’s jumped to the wrong conclusion and stands awkwardly, staring at me.

“Uh, nothing. That was something else, what are you talking about?”

“You’re a vampire,” Jock 2 cuts in with a heavy sigh. “They’re saying they know you’re a vampire.”

“How?” Brady turns his back to me, looking toward Jock 2 and Cordelia. “How could they know? You said no one knows of our existence?”

“I said not many people know of our existence. Those who do are usually hunters.” Jock 2’s eyes narrow as he looks me over. I feel oddly vulnerable as his gaze travels slowly up and down my body and I subconsciously shift my arms to cover my private bits.

Who are you, Jock 2? You know a lot for a fledgling. My research suggested there was an older vampire in the area feeding on students. The number of missing teens just screamed high-school vamp. I thought it would be a teacher, and these two were just dip-shit fledglings looking for a hot bite; but, maybe Jock 2 isn’t as young as he looks. He’s been at the school for a few years but some vampires will hang around for five or so years before moving on. If I just stumbled upon the big daddy vampire on my first night of the hunt then that would be perfect, considering the small time frame I have to work with.

“A hunter?” Brady turns back to eye me up and down as well. “Is that why you”re dressed like you just stepped off the set of some ‘straight to TV’ 80’s vampire hunter movie?”

“Ouch,” I clutch my heart in feigned pain, then shrug. “Got something against leather?”

“It’s not real,” Brady states with a heavy sniff. Leather and faux leather certainly don’t smell the same, especially to the senses of a vampire. “Don’t I know you from school?”

Brady might be a vampire, but he’s one of the newer ones. We’ve been going to the same schools since Kindergarten, though we never talked to each other. He was a jock and I was- well, I wasn’t a jock. I’m torn on whether I should be happy or not that he recognizes me. On one hand, most people who recognize me don’t do so for anything positive; not like I’ve been winning baking tournaments or anything. 

On the other hand; Oh Em Gee! The captain of the high-school football team recognizes me!

Do I twirl my hair and smile, or run like he’s paparazzi?

Brady raises a hand and jabs my shoulder with his index finger. 

“Yeah, you were arrested last year for murder, right? They sent you to a padded room when you kept telling everyone you were killing vampires.” He laughs for a second, but trails off quickly as he looks at his hands. “Shit, I guess you were telling the truth, I always thought you were nuts back then.”

“Do you like jokes?” I fish my lighter from my pocket and start flicking the lid open and closed at my side. “Why did the chicken cross the road?”

No one replies. Brady seems really thrown off by the question and stands there like a big, dumb, Sasquatch… no offense to Sasquatchai… Sasquatchi? Sasquatches? Whatever. Jock 2, meanwhile, pinches the bridge of his nose, probably wondering how he got into this situation.

“To go roast vampires!” I laugh. I don’t laugh so hard that I seem bat-shit crazy, but I definitely laugh harder than that joke deserves. The vampires are unmoved by my humor, which is perfectly understandable; it wasn’t a great joke. But that’s because they don’t know that it wasn’t the real punchline.

“Okay,” I let my laughter trail off into awkward silence. “That one didn’t land. Let me try a different one? Knock knock?”

Jock 2 rolls his eyes and throws his hands up.

“Do you think we’re stup-” he begins to say but Brady interrupts him with; “who’s there?”

I smile at Jock 2, cock a brow at Brady, and I deliver the killing blow.

“The chicken,” I raise the lighter to my face and suck in a deep breath. “Gishban!” When I exhale, the little flame of the lighter explodes into a roaring jet of flames that catch Brady off guard. Jock 2 throws Cordelia to the side, then blurs forward to yank Brady to the ground. I run out of breath and the fire dies out. Jock 2 is batting the flames off of Brady’s clothes. I grin and give him a wink, then my feet leave the ground and my back hits the wall. My hands quickly lock around Brady’s wrist as he holds me off the ground by my neck and I try to pull myself up to relieve the pressure from my windpipe.

I click my heel against the wall behind me and a small knife springs from the toe of my boot. I twist my leg and dig the blade into Brady’s side, just below his rib cage. He’s caught off guard and drops me as he stumbles back a few steps.

“Yeah, you like that?” I croak, my throat is not quite yet aware that it is once again free. I clear my throat, cough, then lean down and motion to my boots. “I made these myself. You can buy them off my Etsy shop. For you, I’ll toss on a 10% discount, just use the code ‘VAMPIRESUCK,’ all caps, at checkout.”

I have to stop for a moment and rest my hands on my knees as I catch my breath. 

My throat hurts where he was holding me; I’m sure I’m going to have some deep bruising there.

“Do you know,” I wheeze at Jock 2 as I take a few breaths to get my lungs working again. “Do you know how damn creepy it is that some old vampire is hiding at a high-school, hanging out and seducing a bunch of teens?” I check my pockets for my lighter, but it’s gone; knocked from my hand when Brady grabbed me.

“You could be exploring the world, curing cancer, or doing a million other things, but instead you float from school to school flirting with kids.” The lighter is near a dumpster to my right. I could go for it but I know there is no way I could get there before Brady got to me first. Not like I could just stroll over there, pick it up, and try again. Fortunately, it doesn’t seem like any of them have noticed it has left my posession, so I keep my eyes locked on Jock 2 so they won’t notice me noticing it.

“Why isn’t it healing?” Brady stumbles away from me and over to Jock 2’s side. “It’s still bleeding, why does it burn?”

“Silver,” Jock 2 and I say at the same time. I grin and shoot him a few finger guns.

“Not just for werewolves. Noble metals, like silver, impede supernatural healing factors.” It’s nice being able to share my wordly knowledge with a new vampire like Brady

Jock 2 disappears right in front of my eyes and I’m hit from behind by what I am certain is a bulldozer, sending me sprawling to the ground. Jock 2 stands where I had just been and I realize that bulldozer of force was just his raw strength slamming into me. He dives at me before I can get coordinated and grabs me by the leg. I struggle to free my foot but he has a death grip on me as he tries to rip my boot off. I roll over as best I can and smack my other heel to the ground, unloading the blade in the other boot. Just as I’m bringing my foot up to meet Jock 2’s face I’m grappled by the shoulders and yanked away.

Brady has me now. I roll into his momentum and bring my boot up over my head and down on Brady’s head. I miss and gouge into his shoulder instead. In exchange, he grabs me by the leg and swings me, throwing me across the alley.

I didn’t realize Jock 2 was an elder vampire. I thought I was going to be facing off with two fledglings, which would be a tough fight, but manageable. If I had my full kit I could probably stand a chance but unfortunately a lot of my gear was locked in a police storage facility last year; after the incident.

If I was smart, I would probably flee the scene and live to fight another day, but I didn’t break out of the Positive Pathways Cognitive Behavioral Health Institute so I could find vampires and run away from them. 

I came to eat pizza and kill vampires… and I haven’t had time to put in my pizza order.

By the time we’re done, Bella Vista’s will probably have their kitchen closed for dinner.

Fucking vampires, I missed my chance to get pizza! Now I’m really mad.

Vampires don’t have any supernatural weakness to wooden stakes to the heart, that’s just an urban legend. Sort of. I mean, anything stabbed in the heart with a wooden stake is going to die, but vampires don’t stay dead from it, they just fall into a comatose-like state and wake again when the stake is removed. The benefit of wood is that the tip can break off in the heart, making it difficult to remove, which is why old-timey vampire hunters would carve their stakes with breakaway tips.

In a street scrap when one did not think to bring wooden stakes, and does not have immediate access to silvered weapons, the broken leg of a discarded bar-stool will do. A quick kick dislodges the leg from the rest of the stool and I square off with Brady and Jock 2.

Wielding my new weapon I strike first, leaping forward and closing the gap between myself and the two other combatants. Cordelia seems to have run off, which is smart; she’s just discovered that her friends are blood thirsty monsters and is probably running, screaming, through the streets right now.

I swing my club for Brady’s head and he ducks under the blow, bringing himself straight down into my rising boot knife. He catches the blade in the same shoulder I hit earlier and falls to the side, howling; not used to being the one hit. Jock 2  blurs as he makes a move, but I was expecting that; not like I was expecting him to just stand still and wait his turn while I beat up his buddy. This isn’t a martial arts movie. I use the momentum of my initial attack and dive over Brady, narrowly avoiding a wide swing from Jock 2. I roll as I hit the ground and end my turn with a standard superhero landing, putting Brady between Jock 2 and myself.

I should really get Jock 2’s name, it feels weird calling him Jock 2.

“Hey, what’s your name?” I ask as I rise and spin to face him. His eyes are so intensely locked on mine that he doesn’t notice me lift the lid off the trash can behind me. Jock 2 follows my lead; he leaps over Brady and I bring the lid up to meet him. The makeshift shield contorts to his face as it makes contact, but doesn’t stop his momentum. I spin, dodging him like a matador dodges a bull, and he crashes into the trash can behind me. Brady turns to face me, just in time to get a flying can lid to his face. He ‘oofs’ and goes face down on the pavement.

With my opponents down, I quickly retrieve my lighter and move to position both vampires directly in front of me. I flick the cap, igniting the flame, and pause briefly to think of a good one-liner.

“If you can’t handle the heat, you should have stayed in your coffins,” I try to give them my best Clint Eastwood, but I come off as more Seth MacFarlane. I slump my shoulders and shake my head, disappointed with myself and my delivery. “Damn, that was dumb. Uh. You’re gunna be the hottest vamps since Twilight? Fudge, um. Can you guy’s hold on while I think of som- no? Fine.”

Jock 2 is almost back on his feet and Brady is making good progress to his knees. I raise the lighter in front of my face and take in a deep breath like I’m about to blow bubbles. 

Of all the different types of magic, Veritas magic is both the easiest and the most dangerous. It’s easy because all you need to do is memorize the true name of the elements, which is actually hard because you can’t actually write their names down. Anything that contains a true name tends to spontaneously combust. It’s weird; like the elements don’t want anyone knowing how to control them. My uncle was clever and hid the true name of the first fire in his journals, which is the only reason I know any elemental Veritas magic.

Fortunately, it’s also the most useful against vampires.

“Gishban!” I exhale hard upon the fire, like I’m trying to extinguish the flames on my birthday cake, and the small flame of my lighter bursts into a cone of napalm that spreads across the alley in front of me. Brady is engulfed as the fire whirls around him and flings himself to the ground screaming and rolling; guess he actually learned something from school. As I pan the flame toward Jock 2 he vanishes again, using his ridiculous speed to get behind me. His hand falls upon my shoulder. I release the flamethrower and spin around. I bring the broken bar stool up and bury it straight into the center of his ches-

It’s the bartender.

She doesn’t react; her eyes are fogged over and staring through me at something on the horizon. Jock 2 stands a few feet behind her with a giant grin on his face; he’s tricked me. Cordelia steps up beside him, her eyes so focused on the Bartender that I’m amazed she’s not burning holes in the back of her head. As she turns her attention away from the bartender, the girl I just shafted gasps. Her eyes clear and dart about in confusion. She looks me straight in the eye as she regains her focus, then seems to register that she can’t quite breath. Her gaze drops to the makeshift stake sticking out of her chest, with my hand still wrapped around the handle, then back up at me.

I’ve seen that look before; disbelief, disgust, fear of the monster that stands before them. She opens her mouth, I don’t know if she’s trying to say something or just scream, but all she emits is a gurgle as blood bubbles up in her throat.

“Oh, fuck,” I pull the stake from her chest and immediately regret it as a spurt of blood spatters my face. Her shirt quickly turns red as blood begins to pour from the gaping wound. I drop the weapon and step closer, reaching toward her to put pressure on the wound, but her eyes go wide and she tries to push me away. In her current state, her actions shove her backwards and she loses balance. I try to catch her but my arms swipe only air and she falls backwards, collapsing… straight into Cordelia’s waiting arms.

Cordelia smiles at me over the bartender’s shoulder, a big, toothy smile that tells me she’s extremely pleased with herself.

“Oh my god,” Cordelia says, her face shifting from giddy demon to concerned citizen in a blink as she helps lay the victim- my victim- gently upon the ground. “Oh god, Sarah, What happened?”

Fuck… Sarah? I just murdered this woman and didn’t even know her name.

“So much blood, oh God, Sara, I don’t know if I can stop it!” Cordelia really plays up her concern as she presses a balled section of Sara’s shirt into the wound. Sara is crying now, her eyes red and puffy. Her mouth is open, still trying to speak as she clutches tightly at Cordelia’s sleeve.

“You’re not going to make it,” Cordelia should get an Oscar for her performance. “You need help.”

I see where this is going now.

“No, do-” is all I get out as I take a step forward, then Brady’s charred arms are wrapped around me from behind, clasping his hands over my chest in a tight bear hug and pinning my arms to my sides. I try to break his grasp but he has vampiric strength on his side and doesn’t budge an inch. When I stab him in the calf with the boot blade, Jock 2 grabs my legs and takes the boot, stripping me of my last weapon. When I try to kick him he grabs my ankle, then takes hold of my other leg, and I’m left completely immobilized. It’s futile, but I try to get free anyway; kicking, flexing, twisting.

“I love it when they struggle,” Brady coos in my ear. “Makes me so fucking hard.”

He’s been a vampire only a few weeks and he’s already a sadistic fucking bastard. I really don’t want to indulge him, but I can’t stand idly by while this plays out in front of me.

“I can help you, I can save you,” Cordelia brushes Sara’s hair out of her face and gently cups her cheek in her palm. If vampires could shed tears Cordelia looks like they’d be pouring from her like a fountain; like she actually gives a fuck. “I just need your permission.”

Of course Sara nods, and mouths the word ‘please’.

Cordelia places a hand over Sara’s eyes, blocking her view as her fangs extend. She locks eyes with me as she props the bartender in her lap, brushes her hair to the side, and gently bites into her shoulder. I’m helpless to do anything but watch as she drains her, and Sara is too weak to resist by the time she realizes what’s happening.

Once she’s done, when Cordelia has drained all but the most minuscule amounts of blood required to keep a person on the verge of death, she bites her own wrist and holds it to Sara’s mouth. The bartender is too weak to pull away, even though her eyes are filled with disgust at the thought… at first. Once the first few droplets get past her lips and hit her tongue she finds a new strength to wrap around Cordelia’s arm and hold it close while sucking at the open wound.

Cordelia only gives her a few seconds before ripping her arm away. I’ve read about turnings before, and they usually require a lot more time than that, a lot more blood. But; Cordelia wants this one hungry.

“You probably don’t recognize me,” Cordelia stands, dropping Sara to the ground; she doesn’t have to pretend to care anymore. Sara lays where she is dropped, not moving so much as to even stop her face from hitting concrete. Her body thinks it’s dead… but, it will wake again soon.

“I can’t expect you to, I guess, since I wasn’t there at the time,” Cordelia approaches me, stopping just a foot from my face. “I don’t know how long you observed my old hidey hole, but that was my clan you killed last year. You killed two of my oldest friends that night and I vowed I would get you eventually.”

“Oh great, a villain monologue,” I roll my eyes. “Please, spare me the details of your revenge plot and just kill me.”

Cordelia looks past me to Brady and gives him a little nod.

“Do you mind?” She says. “I’m getting real tired of the sarcasm.”

Brady shifts his grip to hold me with one arm while his now free hand rises and covers my mouth. I jerk my head away but to no avail. He gets his hand over my mouth and I cringe at the scent of burnt flesh. Fortunately I don’t have to suffer the smell for long, as he decides to have some fun and pinches my nose under his thumb and finger, cutting off my access to air.

Behind Cordelia the body of the bartender begins to twitch, then goes into full spasms as if she were having a seizure. In a way, she kind of is; the vampiric blood is rewriting her body, forcing evolutionary changes at a rapid pace, in the same way acid forces rapid evolution of an arm to have less skin. Violent reconstruction of the internal workings of the body to adapt to a new life as a predator.

My lungs are burning. I hadn’t expected to be suffocated. I didn’t prepare a big breath to sustain myself for more than a few seconds, so I’m already struggling to breath. My body rebels against me, spasming and trying to break free as my brain screams at me from the inside to just do whatever I need to in order to breath.

I’m fucked. I fucked up. I never stood a chance against three vampires, and now I’m going to die for my stupidity, and I’m taking this innocent bartender down with me. I knew I could die, but I thought it would be quick; have my head ripped off or something. I didn’t expect suffocation and a show.

Cordelia’s sweet smile turns dark.

“There it is,” she moves closer, inches from my face, staring deep into my wide, watering eyes. “There’s the fear. I love this look people get; the one where they’re still looking for a way out, trying to find a way to escape their fate. This can’t be real, this can’t be happening, this only happens in movies, not to people like me. Reality is setting in and it ain’t pretty. You’re fucked, and you know it.”

My head is growing heavy, I’m going limp in Brady’s arms. The world is fading to darkness at the corners. 

Cordelia gives a little nod and Brady pulls his hand away. I gasp, sucking in a deep br- he puts his hand back before I can fill my lungs. Just enough to remind me what breathing is like and what I’m missing out on. Cordelia chuckles and backs away from me until Sara is between us.

Sara is moving now; she’s on her hands and knees when Cordelia grabs her arm and helps her to her feet. She takes the bartender by the chin and turns her to face me.

“You’ve just died,” Cordelia whispers into her ear. “You have the benefit of meeting your killer; the person who murdered you in cold blood and left you to rise again as an undead. Take your revenge, and feed.”

Sara doesn’t need to be told twice.

I make one final effort to escape Brady’s grasp but he still has me tight and I can do nothing to defend myself as Sara pounces. Her fingers claw at my shirt, ripping the thin defensive layer into shreds so she can dig into my flesh. Brady releases my mouth briefly, letting me expel what little air I have in a pained scream, then clasps his hand over my face again while my lungs are empty. The sound is terrible, I can hear flesh being torn more than I can feel it. I can hear the wet sloshing, feel her fingers inside me. Something hard is jabbing into my back.

This fucker really is getting hard off on this.

Cordelia grabs my hair and pulls, forcing my face downward so I can watch what’s being done to me and that just makes it worse. My body wants to vomit, but I’m not sure those parts are even connected anymore. 

“Not everyday someone gets to watch their own insides get poured out onto the streets,” Cordelia rests her hand on Sara’s Shoulder and pulls. The bartender’s face is covered  in my blood and when she pulls away a section of my intestine goes with her. Cordelia smacks Sara’s hand so she drops my guts.

“Hold on, dear,” Cordelia guides Sara a few steps away and helps her sit against the wall. “We don’t want this one dead yet.”

Brady finally releases me; not just letting me breath, but he pulls away completely and steps back. I don’t have the strength to stand and I topple forward like a sack of potatoes. My face bounces off the pavement; my arms are too weak to even brace the impact in the slightest. Jock 2 steps up and kicks me, rolling me onto my back, then starts stuffing my guts back inside the cavity of my torso.

“You get to live,” Cordelia returns to my side and crouches beside me. She bites her wrist again and reopens the fresh wound. “Forever. In a the dark hole of an unmarked grave, driven mad by the sounds of life walking over your head, craving their blood but too deep and weak to get it.”

She holds her wrist a foot over my face and lets her blood drip. I muster all my strength and turn my head away so the blood hits my cheek. Jock 2 slaps me, twisting my head back toward Cordelia. She straddles my chest as Jock 2 grips my head with both hands, one hand under my jaw so he can pry my mouth open. I don’t offer much of a resistance.

Fuck you, I think. I think it really, really hard, over and over again because I know I’m done, and there is nothing I can do to stop this. This is what I get for trying to rid my home of vampires; I get to live in a hole for the rest of existence.

“And there’s my second favorite look; acceptance of fate. You’ve lost, you’re broken. Just about ready to start training like a good little pet.” My lips part under Jock 2’s prying and the first few droplets run off my lips and onto my tongue. I hate how much I like it. “Maybe I’ll come back for you in a few decades and you can be one of my new puppies.”

I want her blood. My stomach is cramping, which is odd because I don’t think I have muscles there anymore. My body is fighting with me to spring up and take her arm. It wants me to bury my face in her open wound and engorge myself with her blood. Every nerve in my body is telling me they will scream in agony until I do it.

“Do it,” Cordelia whispers. Her voice echoes in my head, growing louder and louder with each second I refuse her command. I clench my eyes shut, I fight with everything I have. My brain is burning, my limbs are all pins and needles – I can’t! I lunge forward and snap at her arm like a rabid dog but she yanks away and stands, laughing. I try to stand and follow her arm but she kicks me in the face, putting me back down and rests her boot on my chest.

“Let’s go dig a hol-” Bella Vista’s Italian Bistro and Bar explodes beside us and the world goes pitch black.

End Chapter One