Thursday, June 30, 2011

Without You - Chapter 5: Muddle

He tells me
He loves me
That I look
Just as I did
Before the flash
That took the skin
From his hands and face
Dare I tell him
He looks worse off
Than me?

He offers a mug of dirty water
And scraps of moldy bread
But I do not touch them
Nor anything
In this disheveled lair
Carved into the hill

He asks how I am
What I’ve done
Who I’ve been with
I am not your dog
You creep
But the words come out wrong
The only word
His pea brain discerns
Is the one
That has eluded me
For so many nights

You wanna sleep with me?
He grins
I was hoping
You would say that
He unbuckles his belt

Leave me alone
I back away
His blood boils
Ekes from every pour
Sparking him in ways

You cannot afford
To get me on you
Though I doubt
It will mar
That ugly face of yours
I am unsure
What he heard
Perhaps something
About a whore?

He strips off his pants
With glee
Chases me around the room
Speed is not to my advantage
In spite of our shortcomings
Zombies do one thing well
And one thing only
Even if they break every tooth
In that thick cranium of theirs

They feed

As he inserts his deformed member in me
I take a chunk of his neck
And spit it back in his face
He clutches his throat
Staggers back
As I take another from him
Rich though salty
I could not stop there
Nor did I bother
Not until I tore his head
Clean from his shoulders

I could allow myself
To indulge any further
The only soul I had known
Since The Departure
My only hope
However perverse
Just a pile of meat before me

He must be buried
With haste
Lest attract the scourge
Of the mites
Tidy tools
To sterilize this hovel
All forgotten
Once I stumbled upon
That part of me
But now found

Without You - Chapter 4: Sight

So little time
For sleep or dreams
Even when I wish
They do not come

Is the world out of dreams?

I tread along
Careful to keep
My eye on the green glimmer
As it fades into the void
I struggle to keep up
You are not lost from me
My dear
And never
Are you far

The clouds above dissipate
If only an instant
And for the first time
In a long while
The stars shine through
Hope unheeded
Stares back at me
Perhaps we can extract
The poison from this land
And begin anew
But it will take more
Than The Chosen
Hiding in their towers
It will take all mankind
Pure and tainted
To get out from under
This dark cloud

I gaze ahead
But he is gone
Devoured by the night
His scent is fresh
Not entirely lost on me
I follow my nose
Across the plains
Braving the thorny brush
Tangles opening new wounds
But I feel so little
It matters even less
I try to catch up
Still I cannot catch your glow
Not even the slightest glint
That final spark
Fading from me
Your scent
Snared by the wind

In its place
A red eye probes me
The crimson eye of death
Seeking to impose its mark
On all it touches
It trails past
Then veers back
Its tiny sight
Races up my leg
And locks on
My chest explodes
And I fall
Toppled by its wrath
Less by its sting

A shadow looms over me
Tracing red death
Over my brow
I manage
He is taken aback
Nearly drops his gun
He says
Oh no
I choke
Not another

Without You - Chapter 3: Firefly

Night falls
And thoughts of you
Race through my head
Your icy breath
Licks my skin
You are close now
Even in this impaired state
The smell of your cologne
Draws me out
From shadows
Deep within

The days following The Decree
The land scorched over
Evenings frosted
To such extremes
Nothing could live
In between
Except the undead
And Redeemed

Though I know
It is not possible
No way
You could have survived
I am certain
You are with me
Your memory
Cannot be washed away
So easily

Before I ask
For a sign
I see you
Before me
A firefly
The deepest shades of night

I take you
Into my trembling hand
Gazing through
Your emerald shine
The stain of the holocaust
Or beauty untainted
No longer meant
For this primitive shell

You spring from my hand
Painting the sky
In glowing strands
For a moment
I catch my name
Could it really be?
For I am she

It etches the word
Across my heart
And then scurries off

A few short breaths
Is all I need
To follow you
Wherever it may lead

Without You - Chapter 2: Awake

Unwashed hordes
Amble along
Tattered rags
From weary bones
Ravenous cries
Fill my ears
Mindless scavengers
For a scrap of flesh

But not me
Never me
My mind
Is not so far gone
That I cannot reel in
These dark desires

I struggle
To string together
A few simple words
Jumbled nonsense
At times
I sound no different
Than their groans

I’ve tried communicating
With them before
Wide blood red eyes
Blackened tongues dangling
They simply do not

None are like me
Nor seek a remedy
For this plague
They stagger along
Submissive to their pangs
Hunger the only notion
Crossing their feeble brains

Like insects they scatter
Into the distance
Till they can crawl
No more
While I cower
And pray

Without You - Chapter 1: If

Warm tears
Are my only comfort
I weep for a small eternity
Losing track of where I am
This body
Barely recognizable
What have I become?

This skin
Once soft and radiant
Now the color of the grave
My blond locks wane
A pale shade
Runs through it
I am nothing more
Than a corpse

I am here without you
My love
And without you
I’ve lost my way
Thinking about you
All day long
Wondering where I've been
And why God gave me
Another day
To fill with my despair

If only
I had you near

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Vampire Hunters: Prelude - Chapter 6


Pages fluttered like leaves, splashing into the murky water. “Quite the romantic you are, yearning for the one that slipped away,” Delilah snickered, tearing another page from the black book, and tossing it down. “Spare are your sentiments. Why did you not invest a single word in me?” She closed the book, and held it over the edge.

“Like all romances, I quickly tire of the endless banter.” Her eyes wandered, making sure Darrien was not near. “Imagine your life if you had accepted Endolyn for what she was. Hypnotized by her love song, savoring the conquest of her flesh, as well as others, every day dreaming on your feet. All for the pittance of a little blood.” She rested her head on her arms.

“Enslaved are you by your morals. ‘Tis your cage, not mine. Your cry is nothing more than a whimper in the wind, tears that will soon run dry. I have read scores of these, whimper after whimper, all the same. A shame you did not know me first; perhaps your heart would ache for me?” Delilah rose. “So I leave you with this gift. Close your eyes, and make a wish.” She tossed the diary down.

The book splashed in the water next to me. “No!” I moaned, but could not move.

Delilah giggled, and then disappeared from view.

Gray hollows loomed over me as the creature drank. A dozen forelegs sprouted from its prickly core, holding me into place. Its outer shell consisted of a series of thick plates, cobbled one over the other, the pink underside shielded by a thin membrane. Multi-jointed forelegs ended in sharp points. Once the pill bug had its fill, it retracted its fangs, dumping me on the ground.

Yellow puss oozed from my chest, sealing my wounds, and quelling any further hemorrhaging. I wiped the corner of my mouth, again coming away with the flaxen surplus. Though I took in air with a tortured rasp, the creature had done an admirable job patching me up.

I scoured the crimson water for my journal as the smaller isopod continued drawing from my leg. As I retracted my hand, I came away with something of equal value—my spectacles. I slipped them back on; surprised I could see a whit without my sharper pair of eyes. Abruptly my head throbbed. I stripped them off, realizing that my vision had improved little with their use. I tucked my bifocals in my coat pocket, reluctant to admit that the creatures had somehow healed me.

With more my heart than hands, I combed the murky waters, desperate to reclaim the lost part of me. She did not escape me long before I stumbled upon her. I scooped her up and held her high, like a hunter ripping the heart from his fallen prey.

I cracked the book open, black ink bleeding over cloth pulp. Words collapsed and streaked, as if the book were beginning to tear. Disgusted, I snapped it shut, acknowledging that my private thoughts had been obscured further.

As the second creature released my leg, it made the gravest of errors. The tool I had no sooner forgotten glimmered in the dim light. With a newfound vigor, I grabbed the knife, and stabbed the abomination’s bulbous eye. It shrieked as I withdrew the blade and punctured the other. Unable to see, the burrower panicked, and slipped back into the mud.

Risking everything, I charged forward and swung, shearing off the other’s antennae. Weighed down with the surplus of blood, the creature could not react fast enough. It curled into a ball, continuing to taste my blade as I stabbed between its plates. Helpless to shield itself from my attack, the isopod scattered under the wall, preferring to protect its prize than stay and fight.

Footsteps above retraced themselves. I dove into the hole, sloshing after the pill bug in complete darkness.

“Lawson?” Delilah called down. She waited a few moments, and then exhaled. “Such temperamental creatures they are.”

I waited for a while, holding the diary over my head, careful not to sodden it further. Water dripped down, splashing into the shallow well. When I was certain she had gone, I took a breath and pressed deeper into the abyss.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Vampire Hunters: Prelude - Chapter 5


8 November.

The worst part in all of this was loving and losing you, Endolyn. Without you I am an empty glass falling to the rocks below. How much longer must I continue? “Just a bit further,” I tell myself.

Just a bit further.

10 November.

She is close, I am certain of it. I can hear her whisper in the wind. Far too long I have endured this path without the promise of better days. Then today, another sighting; the second in three days. I have tracked her to a farming community just outside Mayenne, though I am still a few days out. No telling if she has moved on.

The locals have warned me against going there. Several merchants have not returned, and tales of monsters and plague are told from trembling lips. Engagements have been missed. Inquiries remain unanswered. They are not hopeful.

Perhaps they are just trying to frighten me. Several have given me letters to take with me, but I sense many have already buried their loved ones in their hearts.

I will go there and find them, for better or worse. Hopefully one of us will find relief.

11 November.

I have crossed River Sarth, now a distance from the sea. Approach is limited. Few roads go into Avarié, most of them impassible. I have little choice but to brave the main thoroughfare. They will be waiting.

I hate being so exposed, but there is little choice. Elena is near; I will have to risk it. There is no time to survey the countryside, but perhaps this can work to my advantage.

In my encounters, I have used my father’s name Xavier, also my middle name. Those that know me wisely keep my name from their lips, lest bring ruin upon themselves. Upon my arrival in Mayenne, a message was waiting. The nobles of Avarié have already been contacted, and are sending an escort the day following. They refer to me as X. Hopefully that is all they know of me.

12 November.

Again the dream visited me. Dare I say an omen?

The wooden door stared back at me. Nicked and cracked, it did not have a handle nor hint of the treasures within. As I ran my hand over the splintery surface, the door began to bleed. First a trickle, and then buckets, spurting out the frame. My heart hammered inside my chest as I pondered whose blood was painting the entry. Abruptly the door shattered, falling away like leaves.

Light poured out, blinding me for several moments. All I could feel was the warm breath escaping me. A young girl turned, no more than 16. Her blue eyes and sable hair gave her away immediately. A mirror image of you, my love.

“Leave at once,” she said.

“Elena, do you not remember?” I asked.

She gawked at me like an unwashed vagabond wandering the streets.

“Elena, please. It is I, your father.” Grating breath taxed my ears. Something wicked lurked in the shadows nearby. I raised my crossbow, careful not to point it in her direction. “Quickly, we must leave.” I grabbed her arm.

“Get your hands off me.” She ripped her arm away. “Surely I would know my own father if I saw him.”

“Would you?” I looked deep into her eyes. “A young girl gave this to me once in case our paths split.” I took out a golden chain and crucifix from beneath my collar. “The cross I bear is yours.”

Elena gasped, understanding well the wound over my heart. “Father?” Light poured from her in waves. I was beholden to her gaze, powerless to look aside.

I embraced her, kissing her forehead. “Far too long you have been the only candle in the night. Come.” I cocked my bow and stepped into the abyss.

“No, I cannot.” She cowered.

“I am not leaving you,”

“Things have changed…I have changed…” She revealed her fangs. “Your arrow is meant for me. Use it quickly.” Tears streamed down her cheeks.

“Regardless of what you are, I did not travel all this way to end you,” I replied.

“Then you must ask yourself what salvation truly is.” She lowered her eyes.

Suddenly the door pieced itself back together. I reached for her as the final patch fell into place, casting me back into the darkness, the moans of the dying closing in around me.

13 November.

Too much time has passed. Am I a fool to think her still human? I refuse to give into the fear, but if she is no longer mortal, what then?

Sadly I must leave. My guide has arrived; he is gaunt, excitable. I only hope that the same cloud does not loom over him.

Help me find her, Endolyn; through her your memory lives. If I lose Elena, there is little left. Everything good in my life can be traced back to you. You are inscribed on my soul, the inspiration behind these words. I cannot give you up just yet.

As my letter is my virtue,


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Vampire Hunters: Prelude - Chapter 4


“No!” Darrien cried, burying his spurs in his steed, and racing downhill.

I squinted my eyes as the farms blazed, fiery tendrils stroking the ebony sky. Charred bodies punctuated the dirt streets and fields. As the wind surged, the vampire propped me up, ensuring that I could not evade the acrid stench of burnt flesh. I coughed again and again, my eyes stinging from the relentless barrage of smoke and ash.

“Did you miss me, Lawson, as I’ve missed you? I must confess, I’ve lusted for this moment.” Delilah embraced me. “Perhaps you thought me wicked for my hand in the destruction of the Canterbury Coven? Secretly I was hoping you would pay me a visit. Why didn’t you?” When no response came, the shadowling sighed, and rested her head on my shoulder.

A watchtower in the distance collapsed, igniting the field around it.

“You would have done well not to arouse him. Disclosing your intentions would have spared you his wrath. But this…” Her voice trailed off. “He will torture you gladly, cut off pieces if I wish, just like the unfortunate souls before you.” She pulled me closer. “Darrien cannot afford to appear incompetent in the eyes of the Holy Crescent. Cross us, and what is left of your family will fertilize our crops.”

The horse galloped downhill, breaking into a sprint, and cutting through smoldering fields on either side.

“What’s wrong, Lawson? Never conversed with an enlightened before? Or is it some inane code you hold dear?”

I mumbled, struggling to shape sound into words.

“Fragile creature.” She stroked the back of my head with her long, dark nails. “Be thankful my husband didn’t kill you before I convinced him otherwise.”

Two corpses lined the side of the road, hands interlocking.

“A pity your daughter Elena recently met her end. I understand she died in a fire much like this.”

“You lie,” I managed.

“And you speak,” Delilah snickered.

We emerged from the field, navigating a maze of blackened limbs and bodies. A few had fangs, but not all of them. Hopefully someone in this village was worth my tears.

Two-dozen residences bracketed an array of narrow buildings, representing Avarié’s humble urban core. Golden fields surrounded the village with a few bare trees sprinkled in. A dirt road cut through its heart, continuing to a large manor farther uphill.

Structures crumbled around us, horses and livestock squealing in their stables. Sensing the discord in the land, they struggled to free themselves from their refuge as the flames drew near.

I sagged in my saddle, unable to process all of it, sensing opportunity in the moment of despair, but unable to capitalize.

Darrien charged forward, and cracked his whip. He snared my neck with the leather cord, ripping me from Delilah’s glacial embrace. I fell forward, landing on my head. As I shook off the cobwebs, the priest jumped off his horse, and struck me with his bare fists, cutting me with the edge of his ring. I could feel little of the onslaught, but in truth, I hadn’t felt anything since my wife and daughter were taken from me. Finding her was the only way to thaw this icy core, and until then, I was little different than the corpses I pursued.

“Need I remind you?” Delilah got off her horse. “Steady yourself, for my sake. You nearly took an eye.”

Darrien ignored the remark, and rolled me onto my stomach. As he tied my wrists behind my back with the whip, my extremities began to tingle.

“Your sins against Avarié shall not be forgotten.” Darrien dragged me by the hair, and tossed me down a well. I clipped the side with my shoulder, and slammed into a shallow mix of mud and water below. The wind knocked out of me, I spit out the fetid water, and slowly fished myself from the muck.

“Do not bleed him just yet,” Delilah’s voice echoed.

“What now, dear?” said Darrien.

“‘Tis not wise to put him so close to the stores.”

“They will tend to him while we seek his accomplice,” he replied. “Swallow your discomfort, dear. I’ve been farming blood for some time now. The burrowers only take what the host provides, and not a drop more. It will not be the end of him.”

Suddenly the earth shifted below me. I shot up; surprised I could move at all. I backed away, shaking the murky water from my glasses. The shallow pool bubbled over, and then all was quiet.

Delilah peered over the ledge. “It always amuses me to see them wriggle.” She flashed her fangs.

My knees shook as I backed against the wall, and worked my way up. As my thigh brushed against the jagged edge, I could not help but grin. Though the vampire and her underling had commandeered my projectiles, they failed to secure the hunting knife concealed beneath my pants.

I sawed the leather cord with the edge of the pit, but to no avail. Quickly I dispensed of the idea, focusing on the knot instead. Fortunately Darrien was a preacher not a sailor; too much slack occupied my restraints. As I toiled, a large shape burst out of the water. It pinned me against the wall with its multitude of forelegs, and sunk its fangs into my chest. I squirmed as it knifed deeper, struggling to use the wall to scrape it from me. Finally my hands slipped free, and ripped the parasite from me.

Blood poured from my chest as a second isopod sprang out of the mud and snatched my leg. As I grabbed the knife, my arm wilted. They’d struck an artery; I was losing too much blood too fast. I gaped at the river flowing from me as the insects piled on top, and reinserted their fangs. My heart steadied as they drank from me, my glasses splashing into the crimson water. I slumped against the wall, Delilah’s laughter swirling around the chamber as consciousness gave way to dreams.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Something Wicked

I never would have purchased this house if I'd known that a goblin lived in it. The agent promised that the plush pad on the outskirts of Westchester was devoid of crime and vermin. In a sense he was right, but nothing could have prepared me for the creature that skulked these hollow walls.

One morning while I showered, the water turned piping hot. Hopelessly I fumbled with the knobs as the deluge scalded me. Abruptly the downpour turned ice cold, and then dwindled to a trickle. With a head full of suds I proceeded to the cellar, cursing all the way. At first I thought the broken pipe was a byproduct of the ancient plumbing, but when the second and third replacements also snapped in two, I realized I was up against something else entirely.

Shortly thereafter everything went downhill. The pantry was frequently ransacked and droppings left on its bare shelves. Half eaten carcasses littered the carpets and walls were frequently chewed open and stripped of insulation. At night while I listened to the creaking of the house, I could hear the miscreant hiss. Even my dreams were not an equitable refuge.

So I decided to introduce my guest to a friend I made at the local pound. Although I am a smallish man, I do not feel the need for a smallish dog, so I enlisted a beast of military might, an Irish wolfhound that no creature dare cross. As soon as I introduced him to the house, the beast bounded down the stairs, and uncovered the creature's lair hidden cleverly among a pair of broken shelves. After sniffing the fowl opening, my companion bared his teeth, and bravely held his ground. Hour after hour he presided over the passage, refusing to budge. I could barely contain my excitement. There would be no more volcanic showers or road kill rugs. That night I slept like a baby, but once dawn broke my new pal was nowhere to be found. Sadly I would not see him again.

Angered by the turn of events, I grabbed a shovel and crawled into the hole, following the stench until the passage opened to a large dim room. I could feel the parasite's eyes on me as I eased inside. Something snickered nearby. With my shovel I smashed everything within an arm's reach. The racket stirred considerable interest from above and a moment later the light snapped on. When a voice shouted down and a shotgun blast followed, I realized where I was--my neighbor's cellar.
"Don't shoot! It's me, Benjamin Buddle," I cried. I tried to explain everything--that I'd lost my dog and a creature was harassing our domiciles--but the geezer only saw one pest, and unloaded his shotgun once more. I dove behind a stack of boxes and remained there until the police arrived.

Even in my lonely cell, the creature's presence lingered. No doubt it would uncover my ornate Faberge eggs and African beetle collection--how they loved a tasty treat. News of my incarceration spread quickly to my employer, and when I collected my things, a message was waiting on my cell phone. I stepped out of the station, without dignity or a job.

When I finally hoofed it home, there was little to come back to. The door was ajar, dangling on one hinge. My clothes were a pile of torn rags, the furniture broken and gutted. As I turned the corner, I caught a glimpse of the withered menace fumbling with my IPod. Unsure what to make of it, he swallowed it whole. My black heart boiling over, I sprinted down the hall and jumped. Glass exploded all around as I bounced off the frame and onto the floor. Somehow I had not seen the full-length mirror in my path. Then I began to take notice of them, in every corner of every room. All this time I had been living in a house of mirrors.

Then something wicked came over me. I doused the walls with gasoline until the sweet aroma consumed the entire house. I dug a new hole for myself and cobbled together a makeshift throne. "Home sweet home," I marveled.

The creature whispered in my ear, but I paid no heed. There was still plenty of fun to be had. I lit a cigarette and dialed the agent who sold me the bill of goods. "Actually, I'm enjoying the house quite a bit," I cackled. "But it’s a little more than I bargained for. Hopefully it can be fixed. Perhaps you could swing by so that I could show you? Seven o’clock? Perfect. I’m sure you’ll provide the spark I need."

Sweet Sacrifice: First Thing

Do yourself a favor when you wake up in the morning: start your day off with writing. By scribbling down a few thoughts early in the day, you put your mind into writing mode, an easy mental mindset that can be revisited later. If you wake up without this conviction, you may find yourself unfocused and wandering. Perhaps you’ll do some writing, but the more distance you put between yourself and the task, the less likely you are to succeed.

A sure way to prevent this is by committing to it every single day. Tell yourself that when you wake up, no matter which day of the week it is, you’ll write for 30 minutes. Adjust this number accordingly; the most important aspect is that you actually do it. Don't get swept away by the flow of events in your day; it's too easy to surrender to life's mishaps. Schedule time for yourself, and make it your personal crusade each and every day.

Aside from carving out the time, I'd also recommend setting an explicit word goal; this will prevent you from staring at the same sentence for the length of your writing session. The length should be a moderate, perhaps 500 words, depending on the time allotted. You can also be aggressive—whatever works for you—just don't set an impossible goal. Remember, the word count must be achievable and repeatable. Set a reasonable goal, and if you think it's still too low, add 10%.

It would be great if all of us could write 1,000 words before the day unfolded, but for many this isn't possible. Most of us have jobs and families that keep us up to the wee hours of the night. But consider for a moment what you could achieve if you found a way to make it work: if one were to write 1,000 words a day, in a year's time they'd amass over 365,000 words (the equivalent of 5-6 short novels). I’ve heard of writers waking up two hours early just to squeeze in writing time. Are you one of these people? If necessary, could you adapt?

One of the greatest challenges isn't scheduling the time or finding a quiet, uninhabited space--it’s getting to bed at a decent hour. Let's face it, by depriving yourself of sleep, you instantly deflate your brainpower; and trust me, you'll need every brain cell when writing. In setting your schedule, don't forget to select the appropriate bedtime. This small consideration will go a long way towards ensuring your success.

Don’t forget to arm yourself with an interesting topic to write about. Writing in your journal is only so effective. Over time, you'll find yourself rehashing the same ideas over and over again; or worse yet, writing about writing. Use those precious moments to work on an actual project.

For me, I found that breaking a novel into smaller chapters (a la James Patterson) is quite effective. In this format, each chapter consists of 500 – 1000 words. As I labored over the first draft of my novel, it was easier to keep the momentum going since all I needed to produce was a few pages; in no way did I feel overworked or overwhelmed. In a couple months, I had an entire manuscript in hand. Not too shabby. And it was an amazing experience, especially after I proved to myself that I could be productive when I dedicated myself to it.

Choosing to write early and often is a small tax on your day.

In closing, productivity stems from a starting point; so by all means, set your anchor and extend the lines. You don't need to be a great author with exceptional time management skills--just a consistent one. The rest will come with practice.

Never be afraid of sticking your toe in the water. Dive right in!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Vampire Hunters: Prelude - Chapter 3


Far stronger than his lanky body suggested, the ecclesiastic hauled me up, and dumped me beside the grave. He searched my belt and pockets, seizing a second pistol, throwing knives, and explosive munitions. Though Darrien concealed himself well, I did not question his aversion to the forest. Something lurked nearby, giving vampires and their familiars pause.

The crimson door creaked open, a slender shadow slipping from it. “Again the dream beckons, casting forth the night. I tread shadows, but cannot discern the song from my hunger,” she murmured. She stepped into the moonlight, blond tresses falling past her shoulders. “Her verse fades, and a sadness fills me. A world away that song of innocence, nothing more than a dream.” Her golden dress trailed behind her in a glittery blur.

She bent over, and put her face in mine. “Hello, Lawson.” Her eyes were more yellow than brown, pulsing with an inhuman energy. I strained, unable to bring her name to my lips. Delilah traced an icy finger across my brow and frowned. “Careful not to kill him, dear. Like you, he is fragile. Forget not your own mortality till you’ve traversed the divine path.”

The vampire stood, and then approached Darrien. “Besides, he is useful to us,” she whispered, running her fingers through his curly, brown hair. “What is this?” Delilah shook bits of flesh and bone from her fingers.

“My escort, or what’s left of him.” Darrien offered his handkerchief.

“More and more these days, I find myself wiping away the blood of others that are not my kill. It sours my cheer, taking my delicate form with it. Look at me—I cannot afford to lose a whit more. Just one shade shy of a ghost.” She stained the virgin cloth with her hands.

“You are perfect, my love. Divine.” Darrien reached around and kissed her hand.

“Only if it were so.” Delilah took the lobe of his ear in her mouth. “Tell me, what became of him?”

“Yves? He attacked the marksman head-on, and met his end at the point of an arrow. Poor fool. He never should have called the old man’s bluff.”

Delilah spotted the repeating crossbow dangling from my horse and grinned. Abruptly she discarded the soiled cloth, and slipped away from her adherent. The horse bristled as the vampire neared. Captivated by the silver bolt resting in its groove, Delilah groped the bow’s maple stock and exhaled.

“Careful, Delilah. ‘Tis not a toy.” Darrien wrapped his arms around her. “It has enough contempt for us both.”

I wallowed in the upturned earth, unable to carry through with my escape.

“We must uncover the hansard in his employ. Perhaps he can craft something wicked for us both,” she replied.

“It is my understanding that he forges his own weapons.”

“Intriguing.” Delilah turned. “Then we shall put him to good use before sending him off.”

“No, we must kill him now. He is too dangerous to be kept alive.”

“His bounty is special indeed, one that you must collect.” She licked her dry lips.

“Do you still think me fond of such heirs?” Darrien pulled away. “I gave you Avarié as a wedding gift, and in addition, myself. Gold coins mean nothing to me.” His ring sparkled in the moonlight.

“Ironic that you would take your father’s ring in addition to his head,” she sneered.

“He sought to destroy you, and I would have none of it.”

“‘Twas your father’s affection, as misguided as it may seem.” Delilah brushed against him.

“At one time the house of Laroche stood for something: opulence, refinement, and above all, honor. The ring passed from father to son, one black heart to the next. But when father fled his debts, and traded Hanover for Avarié, I knew he was no longer capable of carrying our good name. What designs he had faded into the countryside. So I reclaimed it from him, vowing to be the visionary he never was. Though gold conquers many hearts, religion knows no bounds.”

Darrien turned, and kissed Delilah deeply. “I owe myself to you, my love. In my despair you filled me, giving birth to new perspective.” He brushed her golden locks aside. “Take my offering of Lawson’s head, and be done with it.”

Delilah pressed her lips gently against his, and pulled back. “The black pope desires Lawson for himself.”

“Pope Ruminus of Abber Sur?”

“The one,” she replied. “Lawson Parker will fetch you an audience, but only if he is alive.” She glanced at me. “There you will showcase your findings, and how you intend to improve life for my kin. Thus, The Order will embrace you, and bestow its highest honor: the mark of the papacy. ‘Tis the only reason I haven’t turned you myself.”

“Anointed by the pontiff himself?” Darrien pondered. “One step closer to divinity.”

“My gift to you, my love.” She kissed him like fire over dry brush. “But until that day, we must keep you healthy and unscathed. Pope Ruminus will not accept you if he cannot to turn you himself, and shape you into the instrument of his choosing. And when he realizes you have located his wayward daughter, and guided her back to the path, he will offer whatever you wish.”

“I love you, Delilah,” said Darrien.

“As do I, my love.” Delilah pulled him into her, burying his face in her chest. Unable to restrain himself any longer, Darrien took her there in the graveyard. The vampire peered over her shoulder, exposing her fangs as he unleashed his passion in her.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Vampire Hunters: Prelude - Chapter 2


The silver arrow whirred through the air, burying itself in the shadow as it jumped down. The vampire exploded, scorching the trees around us, and tossing Darrien from his horse. Bits of bone and brain rained down, painting the forest a sickly shade.

A decapitated head bounced off the ground, and rolled in Darrien’s lap. He scooped it up like a hot coal, and dumped it next to him. I fished a severed jaw from my collar, noting its fangs. “Definitely vampire problems.” I tossed it aside.

Darrien combed his moist curls with his fingers, and came away with a tangle of intestines. “Get it off, get it off!” he shrieked, swatting the gore from him.

“Be still.” I brushed it off best I could. “Another is lurking above.”

“Then what are you waiting for? Shoot him!” He scraped gray matter from his scalp.

I traced my bow over the trees, following the clatter of branches into the distance. “He is a threat no longer, but I fear the same cannot be said of you.” I turned my bow on him. “Is chance truly what brought us together this eve?”

“Are you suggesting that I had something to do with this?” Darrien squawked. “Why would I do such a thing?” A dismembered toe slid off the side of his head.

“Give me a reason why I should trust you.” I held firm.

Fear faded from Darrien’s eyes, replaced with the fire of contempt. “I know what this is about.” He stood. “You are no better than the thieves wandering these woods. If you intend to rob me, you will be disappointed, for this is all I have.” He pulled open his shirt and beckoned my arrow. “Be done with it already.”

I looked deep into his eyes. “Are you sure you don’t have anything to do with this?”

“No,” he replied.

His eyes were fierce, but did not betray him. “Of course not.” I lowered my bow. “We’d best be on our way.”

Darrien glared, and then mounted his steed. As he turned away, he stopped and circled around. “I appreciate the risk you are taking by coming here. You are the only one to answer our call, and for that, I am grateful. Please accept my apologies.”

“No need to apologize.” I put the bow aside.

“I fear Avarié will not know what to do with itself once you have left.”

“It is unwise to ponder a vampire hunter’s departure when he’s just arrived. Take me to the cemetery. We’ll inform our Mr. Thompson of our actions later.”

“Very well.” Darrien nodded graciously. “Tis not far. We’ll pass it on the way.” He urged his steed forward, careful not to roam too far.

“A graveyard in the woods? What an odd choice. Why not bury them in a churchyard? You do have a church, don’t you?”

“Of course,” Darrien chuckled. “It was the centerpiece of Avarié before tragedy struck, and many went wayward.” He recounted the town’s legend as we stalked the sinuous path through the woods.

A decade previous, Avarié had been wiped out by the plague. Free land lulled a bevy of eager souls until a second outbreak occurred. It was not until they uprooted the valley, and rebuilt Avarié farther downstream, that the townspeople found solace.

Despite its troubles, living in Avarié made good business sense. It was a tax haven, and the land was still arable. There hadn’t been an outbreak in years, and most of the offending structures had been torn down. The church that had been used to care for the sick was neatly tucked in the woods, and the infected had been burned, their ashes scattered over the forest.

“Most likely they are staging attacks from the chapel, and counting on the town’s reluctance to burn it down. But you must. They are using your faith against you.” I snapped off a branch and ignited it. “I assure you that it has lost its luster over the years. Take down the cross, burn the remnants to the ground, and mount it atop the structure of your choosing.”

Darrien shook his head. “Never would I do such a thing. I helped erect the first pillar; she is where I lived and worshiped.”

We got off our horses, and tied our reigns to the trees.

“I came here to become a priest, and I was for a time…before…I fell.” His eyes trailed off. “I met a woman. Oh, how she filled me! We tried to hide the affair, but with such a small town, it was only a matter of time before the others found out. I married the two of us here, in this chapel, on the very day that I renounced my vows.” He rubbed his hands together, the winter air finally piercing him.

“Ever disappointed my father was, even more so when I told him that I wanted to take up the life of the cross. I’d already slipped from his favor, and now I couldn’t even keep my word with God. What a failure I’d become.

“From his graciousness, a neighbor bestowed a small plot of land so that Larissa and I could begin anew. Father granted nothing, not even a grain of wheat. As I worked the land, I noticed odd things sprouting from it. Such a fool I was; I should have known that the plague would eventually find us, and take her from me.” He shook his head. “Here I cared for her, till her last breath, never earning a chance to redeem myself when the plague took my father shortly thereafter.”

Darrien turned. “So the church stays, as a testament to her, and until I can erect a new pillar in my life.”

“I am sorry, father. We all have a cross to bear.” I patted him on the shoulder, and extinguished the torch. “We’re men only once. How do you know it wasn’t God’s will that you love another?”

“Not with the things I’ve seen…and done…” He wiped the tears from his eyes.

“The final chapter of your life is not yet written. There’s much good you can do, lives you can save.” I handed him a shovel.

Darrien nodded and took it in his hands. “You expect me to dig?” He cracked a smile.

“We both shall.” I grabbed a second shovel.

“This is consecrated ground. Their souls are already with God.”

“I do not intend to disturb them, just assess their accommodations. If the disease reveals itself, then I may be able to offer a cure. Trust me, I shall not be long.”

“Very well.” Darrien genuflected once more. He walked to a gravestone, and brushed the leaves aside. “This is Mary Thompson’s grave. Her friend Edna is buried over there.” He gestured.

“Felled by the bite alone?” I asked.

“So they claim.” He pierced the ground with his shovel.

“How were they buried?”

“With their heads at their feet, as is custom. I assure you, Mr. Thompson had reservations about this. Sharp reservations. But it was the only way to be sure.” He tossed a shovelful of dirt over his shoulder.

“We can only hope that he followed his head, not his heart.” I stabbed the ground with my spade. We labored for a half hour, excavating rocks and moldering roots until our shovels bumped against the wooden planks. “A shallow grave.” I set the shovel down, and brushed off the lid as the church creaked in the distance.

“Do you always carry two shovels?” Darrien climbed out of the hole.

“Only when I do not wish to dig the graves myself.” I slid a three-barreled Flintlock from its holster. “Trust me, there have been many.”

I clenched my teeth, and tore the lid free. “Would you mind grabbing my lantern?”

Darrien fetched the lamp from my horse, and handed it down. I lit the fuse, and ran it over the empty void. “Looks like she didn’t get a proper burial after all, unless she fell through.” I poked a smaller hole with my pistol. “The infestation has already claimed one family, let’s pray there are not more.” I wiped my forehead with my sleeve.

“Thank you, Mr. Parker. You have uncovered the real plague that threatens Avarié,” Darrien whispered.

“That’s funny, I do not recall giving you my name.” I turned.

Darrien swung the shovel, striking me in the back of the head. He tossed it aside, and stood over me. “Consider it a revelation.”

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