Thursday, November 14, 2013

Chapter Fourteen: Moriko at School

Moriko found a seat in the front row of her biology class. The seat at the lab station next to her remained empty. The teacher, Mr. Sanders, introduced himself and made everyone in the class do so, as well. When Moriko’s turn came, she stood and faced the teacher, ignoring the other students. A boy across the room made a face with bulging eyes and his mouth pinched in an ‘O’ like a suffocating fish. It was the boy she’d hit with the soccer ball.

“I am Moriko Hatsunaka,” she said her name quickly. Petulantly, she wanted them to struggle with it. “I was born in Tokyo, Japan. My papa is the new teacher of Japanese here…” A titter of laughter lit the room when she said the work ‘papa.’ Moriko blushed. “I like to play soccer,” she finished lamely and sat down, thinking, And I like to fight. I like to hunt monsters and kill them. I hate all of you.

RIght then, she did. Moriko had taken out one of six spiral notebooks from her bag, and a pen. Being a student was actually a simple matter of focus and note-taking. Moriko was an unenthusiastic expert at succeeding in school. But so much of what Mr. Sanders was covering was old news to Moriko. She kept an ear on the class, but doodled on the second page of the notebook. She remembered a boy from last year named Timmy. He’d been a really good artist and a great kisser. She still had his art book at home, one of her treasures.

Moriko drew a girl with a long, pointed tail sitting down and looking back over her shoulder. Moriko was not a great artist. The lines were simple, but the eyes of the demon-girl were sad.

* * *

Second period was better for seeing Diana, but worse for being under the eye of her father. It wasn’t so bad. Yet.

He spoke with her in English, where everyone could hear about her first class and whether or not there was homework.

“Just some reading, papa.” She replied. There were no snickers from her peers this time.

“Very good. See that you do it after soccer practice right away.” He ordered. Moriko nodded.

The bell rang and Mr. Hatsunaka began his class. He took roll. Moriko sat at his desk and started another spiral notebook for this class, outlining her father’s lecture almost subconsciously.

“This is first year Japanese,” he continued. “So I will assume you know nothing. This is not going to be one of your easier classes, I must be up front with you, but learning Japanese will open up a new world for you, one I think you will find rewarding. It’s structure is elegant and very different. In addition to providing many job opportunities and preparing you for an international career, it will challenge you to think differently and approach life with a different point of view.”

Her father’s English was immaculate. People had a hard time placing his accent, but Moriko knew he’d spend many years in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. A Seattle accent.

“And you can understand anime!” chimed a girl with chemically-induced orange hair and big black-rimmed glasses. The class laughed nervously and Mr. Hatsunaka smiled.

“Indeed, he said. And the films of Kurosawa and the novels of Soseki. Japan has a rich culture. Understanding it’s language is the key to unlocking that culture. But first, I must make sure you know how to learn. My job is to teach you, not to fail you. I will make you work, but first give you good tools.”

“Your books are on your desks. Tomorrow, please bring a spiral notebook, like the one Moriko has there,” he nodded toward her and Moriko held the notebook up in front of her face. She saw Diana smiling at her in the instant before she raised the book. “And a pen,” her father went on, “Some materials will be available for the forgetful and the underfunded. Moriko and I will show you how to succeed at this class and any other. Then, we can begin properly studying Japanese.”

“For today, let’s talk about what you know of Japanese. Language, culture, anything?”

Moriko tried to pay attention as her father chatted and took questions about everything from Pearl Harbor to samurai. He drew japanese words on the white board and provided some paper and pens for the students to follow along. He wrote some Hiragana out as well, to introduce them to the phonetics of the language. Moriko watched Diana’s reactions and it seemed like she was interested in what he was saying.

After class, Diana showed her where the next one was. Calculus. Moriko was cool with that. At least one class she’d only have to do the homework in one language. Again she sat in the front of the class and made a great first impression on the teacher, but her thoughts were mainly on soccer and what a bad idea it was to make a new friend.

When lunch time rolled around, Moriko waited by the lockers with her shades down. She saw Diana talking with a tall boy. He was pretty handsome, in Moriko’s estimation and she predicted sullenly that Diana would cancel their lunch to hang out with this hunk. Is that what Moriko would have done if the situation were reversed. She like to think not.

To her surprise, Diana’s conversation did eventually end with an exchange of cell numbers and a hug. The taller girl came to her locker, smiling. “Hi, Moriko. Ready to get out of here for a little while?”

“Yes.” Said Moriko.

Diana put some books into the locker and stood up. Moriko noticed Diana dressed in long sleeves and long skirts. She wore patent leather shoes. To Moriko she looked more like a college student—older and more mature—than a school girl. There was a pain in those puppy-dog eyes that Moriko found compelling. She smiled up at Diana. “Let’s blow this taco stand.”

Moriko’s delivery was deadpan. But Diana laughed. “You’re silly. I like that.”

They headed for the parking lot, chatting about their classes.

Chapter Thirteen: Moriko & Diana Meet

“I did not need you to rescue me,” Moriko said. She had felt no menace from the stupid girls. Just anger. But she would get back at some of them at least. She really looked forward to Soccer practice at the end of the day.

“That’s okay,” Diana said, “I know what it’s like to be the kid with the smelly lunch. Ya know?”

Moriko laughed. She liked the cleverness she saw in Diana’s brown eyes. She had a bit of a puppy dog look, with her long brown hair and large eyes. But she was quite tall, a hand’s breadth higher than Moriko at least.

“Yes,” Moriko said, “it’s not the first time, though. Poppa insists on some things.” She shouldn’t offer too much information. Changing the subject, she finally put her passion for soccer over her insecurity. “You are Diana Roman, right?”

Diana looked skeptically at Moriko, “How do you know that?”

“I play soccer,” Moriko brightened. “I saw your picture in the display case by the principal’s office.” She couldn’t keep the note of disdain from her voice when she mentioned the principal.

“Oh,” Diana replied. She looked to Moriko as if she were remembering something a long time ago. She looked sad. Not knowing what else to do, Moriko carried on. “It is very awesome that you came in 3rd in the region. You must be excited.”

Diana looked relieved. “Oh, that,” she said. “It seems like a long time ago. Hey, class is starting soon. Why don’t you come have lunch with me today, my treat?”

Moriko was surprised and wary of this invitation, but she did need a new lunch. “Yes,” she said hesitantly. “Thank you.” She noticed the hinting edges of a horrible scar on Diana’s shoulder. She would ask about it later. Hadn’t the principal been enough? You are sick, she thought to herself. You see monsters everywhere. But it was how she’d been raised. She could not remember a time when her toys had not been made of steel. 

The first bell rang, signaling five minutes to get to class. Diana knelt to get into her own locker, but Moriko noted, all Diana did was put the soccer ball inside.

“I have math first period,” Diana said. “Do you know where you need to go?”

Moriko finished putting her wet lunch containers, wrapped in paper towels, into her locker. Seeing Moriko’s empty locker, Diana remembered that she’d forgotten to bring any decorations for her locker. She usually personalized it as quickly as possible, mostly with movie posters. She also put her art tube in the locker. She was still armed, and thankfully this school did not have metal detectors. But she hated to leave her new blade behind. But she must be wise. She closed her locker.

“I think so,” said Moriko with hesitation. But she pulled out a half sheet with her school schedule on it. She showed it to Diana.

Diana brushed her hair back over her right ear. The hall had emptied around them, Katrina Vandenberg leaving with a glare that neither Moriko nor Diana paid attention to. 

“You have biology class. That’s right next door to where I’m going. Come on. I’ll show you.”

Moriko nodded, smiling slightly, and fell into step beside Diana. “Did you grow up here?” Moriko asked. 

“Yeah,” Diana replied, “but I went to Catholic school up to 8th grade. When I came here as a freshman, they all knew each other already.” Moriko knew Diana meant the girls who’d been teasing her. She even recognized some of them from the soccer team photo.

“I am always the new girl,” Moriko complained. “We move around a lot.”

“You’re the teacher’s assistant second period for Japanese? Is your dad the new teacher? Mr. Hatsunaka?”

“Yes, he is.” Moriko maintained a neutral tone regarding her father. 

“I have that. I hope he’s nice. I’m afraid I’ll be terrible at it. It will be my first foreign language. I mean, I know some Italian, but that doesn’t seem foreign to me.” Diana thought she was rambling. It had been so long since she’d talked to anyone her own age about anything.

“My papa is not… nice. But he will teach you well. I will help.” Moriko offered. 

“Thanks! There’s your class.” Diana indicated an orange door with the number T4 above it in brass. “Hey, are you any good?” Diana  inquired. 

Moriko, caught off guard, said, “What do you mean? I am much better at Japanese than English, though I am working on it.”

Diana grinned, and Moriko saw the gawky little girl Diana felt like. Moriko smiled despite herself. “No, silly. I mean at soccer.”

“Oh,” said Moriko, “thank you for showing me the class.” She backed away toward her first class. The bell would ring any second. “As far as soccer…” She smiled. “You’ll see.” She left Diana, and walked into biology class.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Chapter Twelve: Diana Gets Dominant

Diana drove the Volkswagen to school in silence, absorbed in her fears and speculations.

She couldn’t bring herself to care about Vitto’s death, other than being still shocked (at least a bit) that her dreams had somehow come true. She knew what his death looked like. She’d killed him. Then she’d set his dogs free; to help blur the truth? She was confused about her motives in the other form. She looked at herself in the rearview mirror after parking in one of the last free spots in the lot. 

“I am not your bitch,” she declared to herself, though she immediately felt unsure about the response to that. 

When she parked, she grabbed her bag, which always had a few books in it, even during summer, and her soccer ball. It was a totem. She just kept it in her locker for luck, since the practices and games used equipment of the home team for the most part. She walked through the school with her head up for the first time, maybe ever. She could not summon the servitude to cower here. 

Inside the senior’s locker hall, Diana smelled fish. She passed other kids holding their noses as they walked out, complaining. A group of kids, mostly girls, were standing around, gawking at someone on the ground. Diana pushed her way to the front, something she never would have done last year. But now, making contact with others seemed to give her confidence. No surprise, many of the girls Diana dreaded seeing most were there. All of them in fact. Worst of all was Katrina Vandenberg, beauty queen. She was the head cheerleader and her mom was the coach. They practically were the cheerleading squad. Diana couldn’t have cared less, though. 

The girl in the center carefully replaced some pieces of fish from the floor, and mopping up rice and what looked like apple sauce, with a small pile of paper napkins from the restroom. No one could be bothered to help her, though someone had obviously helped her spill her lunch. This explained the smell of fish and apples. 

“Sorry teachers  don’t make enough to buy their kids clothes,” Katrina mocked. Diana didn’t understand at first, but she watched the girl with the spilled lunch. She had long, black hair in two pigtails at the back of her neck down to her shoulder blades. When she looked up, she had Asian features, with a flattish nose and bright black eyes that gazed cooly at Katrina. Her clothes were department store specials a few years out of date and a size too small for her. When she stood, her skirt came to her knees. Diana noticed her shoes were very good running shoes. New ones. But still, Katrina was making fun of her clothes. Really? Diana felt her cheeks flushing and her hands balling into fists. She squeezed the soccer ball. It felt like putty to her, but she was gentle. 

“Man, that’s gross. How could anyone eat that?” a boy complained loudly.

Diana could sense… dominance, an aura of power  coming from Katrina. But she smelled humiliation and anger from the girl with the glittering eyes, though she showed neither. The girl was trying to think of something to say. Finally she blurted out a string of Japanese (Diana thought she recognized it; she did want to take Japanese this year) and angrily resumed cleaning up the mess. This was met with tails of laughter from the girls standing around. Diana knew what it felt like to be this girl, teased and kept outside. She wasn’t pretty like Del’; too big and too bookish… ‘Diana Horseface’ they’d called her freshman year. These girls had already decided they didn’t want this new girl on their team and the first day of school hadn’t even started yet. She repressed a growl.

Diana tossed her ball. It took the boy (Trevor Young, she thought his name was) by surprise and bounced perfectly off his head and back into Diana’s arms. She caught it without looking and addressed the girls. “Nice,” she said. “So much for esprit decor, hospitality, or basic human decency. Good job team.” She’d realized most of these girls were her teammates on the soccer team. She had a picture somewhere of last years (almost) winning team. Katrina had tossed her a ball at the last second. The photographer, for whatever reason let it stand. Only Diana’s family had protested, but when he’d offered the opportunity to photograph the entire family for Del’s graduation for free, her dad had to accept. Right?

She saw surprise, recognition, and attitude light across their faces like christmas decorations blinking different colors. Katrina was a pro at the social game. She practically tackled Diana. “Di!” she squealed. “Goal-darn winner! How ya been, sistah?” Katrina had shining blonde locks and a perky personality that reminded Diana very uncomfortably of her sister Del.

“We need to talk,” Diana said. She smiled up at the rest of the team and onlookers, including the girl in the middle. Then Di swung Katrina up and pushed her back into the lockers with some force. 

“What the fuck?” Kat objected, trailing off at the end, rather than make a big scene about being tossed around by someone as uncool as Di.

“Why don’t you and the rest of the jackals help with the mess and treat our new friend with some respect?” Diana leaned on the locker looming over the smaller girl and pinning her in place without actually touching her. But she didn’t quite get it.

“Or what?” Katrina asked, then whispered, “Are you going to beat me up? You can’t even ask a guy to dance or…”

Diana leaned in conspiratorially, “I want to rip out the soft flesh of your belly and eat it. It’s going to be so fucking yummy.”

Katrina looked shocked. “You’re fucking sick, Di. Get off—“

Diana grabbed the other girl’s chin, still driven by anger. “Do it. Or I will rip you to fucking pieces. Mmkay?” She patted Kat on the cheek.

The girl looked stricken, as if she’d seen something awful in Diana’s eyes. Diana smiled a thin, cruel smile and let her go.

Katrina surged forward, “Come on, ladies, let’s get this taken care of. Di’s right. What a bunch of bitches.” There were some laughs, but the girls mostly helped or at least got out of the way.

Diana, afraid to stop moving forward because she might question every damn thing she’d just done, turned and fixed on the Japanese girl standing up and letting the other girls finish cleaning up. She stepped forward as the crowd dispersed. The first bell would ring any minute.

“Hi,” she said, “I’m Diana.” 

The girl looked up at her sullenly. “My name,” she said in quiet, well-formed English, “is Moriko.”

Chapter Eleven: Diana and her Mom

Diana dismissed the events of the night. It was the first day of school and she was not looking forward to it, but… she was. In spite of her fear of everyone’s pity over AJ and her horror at the thought of showering with some of those girls for another year, part of her was excited. She felt alive for the first time in months. That was good. Right?

She smelled her mom’s cooking from downstairs, but she paused at the top. This would be the first time that AJ wouldn’t be sitting in the kitchen on the first day of school. Some of her earliest memories were of AJ in his high chair making faces at her in response to the ones she made at him. More recently, as a teenager, he could be a real asshole sometimes, but still she loved him. She thought of her mom and headed downstairs to keep her company.

There were just two plates set at the table. So that’s how it would be from now on? Diana thought. Daddy never eats breakfast in the morning anymore; always working late. Delores is off at college majoring in cheerleading or communications or something. AJ was dead. Murdered. Now, it was just her and her mom.

Diana rounded the corner. Her mom kept very fit by working out at a local fitness club regularly. Her gorgeous, sandy blonde hair was up in a simple bun. She still wore her bathrobe. Diana smiled. But she noticed her mom had a grip on the counter at the sink. Her knuckles were white and her hands shook.

“Mom?” Diana said. It was as if the damn had broken and her mom choked back a sob, opening her arms. Diana rushed forward and hugged her mom. She cried, too. “I miss him so much, mommy.”

Her mom just nodded and held her daughter tight.

After a time, her mom let her go and dealt with her tears. She handed Diana a napkin. 

“There’s something else, Di.” Her mom said. 

“What?” Diana drank her orange juice but the food didn’t actually seem appealing. 

“Cousin Vitto,” her mom choked on the name, tears building in her eyes again. “He’s been murdered. Honey, I hate to be the one to tell you all this. Oh my god, Di, something happened and his dogs ate him. His guards found him. It’s so horrible.” Di shrank away from her mother, as if that could protect her from the truth of her dreams. She recalled the song of the moon and the fear and horror diminished. Regaining control of herself, Diana hugged her mom again. They’d been friends since before Delores was borne. The holidays wouldn’t be the same without him.

Vitto. Mm mm good.

Diana looked toward the dining area table, out of some reflex picked up by her mother. Or maybe the thought of sitting at the holiday dinner. 

AJ sat at his usual seat, right beside hers, on the window side of the table. He glared at her with baleful, black pits where his eyes should have been. “Diana, please,” he said, “I can’t hold out forever. Please, Di.”

Diana choked back something in her throat. Had she been about to growl at her brother? At the memory of Vitto? She put her hand over her mouth and backed away. “I gotta go mom,” she said. And fled out the door to the garage. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Chapter Ten: That Old Black Magic

When Anna submitted herself to Vance’s power to transform into mist, she inadvertently gave him an opportunity to turn their positions around.

For Anna, it was like floating on a cloud with no feeling, no sensation, just the barest form of consciousness. Her thoughts were so scattered she felt a sense of vertigo. But there was no body to feel nauseous, nor even any sense of up or down. She felt helpless and this brought despair.

“Don’t worry,” Vance’s voice reverberated around her. “You’re just too damn delicious for me to hurt you. I just want to know what the hell is going on, and you’ve conveniently made yourself an open book to me.” She wanted to tell him that none of the stories mentioned this, that she needed his help. She felt like she was going to die. But she was diffuse, hardly a being at all.

“I’ve got you, love.” He sounded more caring than snide now. “We’re almost there. Third floor, just like you said. But first, oh, that’s interesting.”

Anna saw through her own eyes again, but felt no sense of control. She was visiting Vance’s crypt. It was daylight and she’d had the key from the groundsman. It had cost her fifty bucks, but it was worth it for the first trip. She realized this was the first one, the first of three.

“I thought so,” said Vance. “I heard your heartbeat, you know? I thought it was just once before the night you came to wake me, but you’d been there twice.” He nodded, putting it together.

Anna thought she’d do anything for him to release her. She never meant to hurt him at all. She loved him. 

“I know, sweet thing,” he said and gave a chuckle. “And I love you, too.”

She felt relief. Her vertigo subsided. 

“But if you mean that,” he continued, “you’ll allow me to do the same to you. That’s how it usually works, at least between partners.” The last word was delivered with reproof rather than anger. 

Anna tried to convey assent, avid assent. In her terrified, disembodied state, it was not difficult to subdue her triumph. Drinking his blood from him willingly was always a part of her plan. 

“I do not trust people who do not fear me, Anna. Those who do not are either fools or threats. Which one are you, Anna?”

‘I’m a fool for you, Vance,’ she thought. ‘You are my midnights. My fire, my stars, my moonlight. In darkness, you are sight.’

The cold emptiness turned to warmth and life and she was again in Vance’s arms, though she lay on the floor, and he sat cradling her affectionately. 

“You are a hellion, do you know that?”

“One hundred percent!” she  whispered, still finding her voice after the terror of their misty journey into the library.

“I cannot compel you to do as you have agreed to, but I assure you—“

“No, no.” She protested. “I will do as you have asked. I want to.”

Vance bit his lip and gazed upon her. His teeth drew blood and he said, “It just takes a little bit. You’ll feel better.” Then he kissed her and she tasted the salty, coppery tang of blood on his lips and she kissed him a harder. Then she held him tight and rested her head on his shoulder for a moment.

He helped her up. She found the pack of flashlights and other small utilities that she had stashed earlier in the day. She did feel better.

“So, you’ve literally given me some of your life force, making me more… mortal, and therefore able to survive the sun. Is that it?”

“More or less, yes.”

“But that’s different,” his brogue was coming through. Anna thought that meant he was feeling something very intensely. “That’s different from the ritual we’re searching for.”

“Completely. I can stave off decay or entropy, or I can speed it up. What we need is a way to break the curse.”

They reached the special collection and Anna picked the lock. “And I have reason to believe, it’s somewhere in…” she looked along the shelves.  

“Here,” said Vance, drawing a book from the shelf behind her. It was bound in black leather with gold fillagree and trimming. 

“That’s the Libro Noctegenus?” she asked. 

“Nope. Les Cultes des Ghoules. Very useful.” 

Anna nodded. “I don’t see it. Damn, where else would have it?”

“Not sure, but we’ll find it.”

“What makes you so sure?”

He held up the book. “This. This is awesome. And don’t worry. We have time. All the time in the world.”

“What’s in there?” She peered at the book, very eager to read anything that made Vance so excited.

“An army,” he said cryptically.

Anna put the book into her satchel and returned to Vance’s arms. This time the trip was not so bad.

Chapter Nine: Moriko v. The Librarian

Principal Patterson did his best to be helpful. Moriko and her father, who ultimately made the call, were not without mercy. As monsters went, the breed of ghoul Patterson exemplified were not threatening to the living, and if they managed their addition/predeliction carefully (as Principal Patterson did) there would never be any need to murder a living person for the meat.

He made a strong case for being a productive member of society. He’d been convinced by his own research that eating human flesh would give him immortality or at least a long life. Along this path he’d acquired a taste for it. But he’d also finished his masters degree and moved up in the school administration. He was an asset, so he was spared.

In exchange for his life, he shared what he knew about the shadow side of  Wayne, New Jersey and its surrounding area. He didn’t know much. He’d chosen this place because it seemed to be so normal. This was where people came to escape from the horrors of the big cities, so even the shadow creatures tended to keep the peace. Most of them anyway. He mentioned drugs and organized crime, but those were affairs for the police, not for a Hunter of Shadows. Moriko felt sure he knew a bit more than he was telling about the town, but the library seemed like enough for now.

Principal Patterson also told them about the thing in the library. It had been there a few years. Years. It gave Moriko chills to think of it. Patterson hadn’t known how to get rid of it. He’d tried to talk to it one day during summer, when he’d been in the library alone. He said he tried to convince it no one would return. It had been very hungry, though, and tried to attack him. Since it was not the sort of creature that needed to actually leap at you to attack, he actually wasn’t sure if it hadn’t eaten something. Moriko said a word to her father in Japanese. It meant, Dream Spider.

They parted from Principal Patterson at the front of the school, as if it had been a perfectly normal tour for a new teacher and his new-student daughter. They even shook hands. Moriko hoped her smile had not been too threatening. It was important to make a good impression on a new principal.

* * *

Principal Patterson had also given her the pass codes for the school security system. This would be an important test of his trust to see if he’d provided the correct codes and not duds designed to get her incarcerated or worse. She’d come up to the school on foot, flitting from shadow to shadow the entire way. She knew her father would fret until she returned, but this part was her duty alone to do. There was a security guard on campus, but his rounds and timing were not tight. Moriko slipped in behind him and reached the door to the library just as he finished passing the building. She’d have an hour, maybe more to complete her task. 

Moriko waited a few more heartbeats and then climbed the outer wall of the library, up a drain pipe, like a monkey. She scampered lightly to the bay of windows she’d noticed near the library ceiling earlier. First she secured a line to an AC unit on the roof and to herself. Then, taking a tool from her belt, she jimmied a window open. She jumped in. The feeder on her belt playing out just fast enough to let her land on her feet after the seven meter drop. She had a minute left to get the security code or the motion sensors would trigger the silent alarm and call the police. In her mind, Moriko overlaid the dark landscape before her with her memory of the place from earlier in the day. Quickly and carefully she made her way back to the front door and the keypad on the wall just to the right. She entered the number and ended with the pound sign, as instructed.

The readout said “System Inactive.”  She nodded. Then the dream spider hissed behind her. 

At home with her father earlier, Moriko had gone over what was known about the dream spiders. They were not actually spiders, but arachnid-like beings from another dimension. Exceedingly rare, little was known about how they come to our universe, they are strictly a creature of shadow. Feeding on potential, dream spiders literally eat the hopes and aspirations of other beings. The library must have been a buffet during school, enough to make up for the lean summer months, but even then there would only be a few weeks where absolutely no one was around. How many bright futures had this one eaten in it’s years here? 

When it was dark and time to dress for the hunt, she’d also opened the Book of Steel flowers to see what wisdom it held. It was a notebook bound in leather and steel. Embossed on the front was a flower made of blades running red with blood. Hers was very old, dating back to the very first hunter of shadows. Moriko fished for the pages she sought, finally stopping at one mostly covered in ink. In the top corner, she could faintly make out a shape like the one she’d seen in the library today. In the bottom, in tiny characters, Moriko’s ancestor had written. “All hope is gone. I cannot defeat the creature. I see now. There is nothing.” Moriko’s dried her eyes and closed the book.

“I will avenge you, ancestor,” she prayed. But thus she’d been prepared. Though she would love to make the creature taste her blade, the fallen hunter’s warning might save Moriko from the same fate. 

When the creature hissed behind her, Moriko rolled away to he left. She came up kneeling at her bag. Reaching in she brought out a stick of incense and a lighter. It lit easily and Moriko could see the dozen shiny round eyes of the creature just across the pool of light from her. She reminded herself it could not hurt her physically at all. The hard part about this was keeping her mind to herself. If she’d been prey, the dream spider would have been more patient, waiting for dreams and hopeful energy to billow up into it’s web in the rafters and ductwork of the building. They’d be trapped there until the spider ate them, eliminating them entirely from the minds of their dreamers.

She began the chant in Japanese and rose to her feet. She walked to the door with the dream spider hissing in her face. She pressed on and it withdrew with jerky movements. From the door she turned right and began walking a perimeter of the building, keeping up her chant. The creature had seen her father and it used that against her. He appeared beside her, leaning in aggressively. “Moriko!” her phantom father yelled. “You are weak. You will never succeed at this. Your will is too weak.” Moriko had no trouble discerning this fake dad from her real one. The creature had not heard enough of her father’s speech to accurately mimic him, but the next line threw her off. “Your mind is always on boys, never on your work.”

He had said something like that once, when she’d first gone out with Alex, back in California. And that was all it took.

Moriko’s body kept walking slowly forward, incense in hand. Her lips and voice pronounced the words of the spell. But for a moment her mind was in a future where Alex, a burly boy with blonde hair and a shy smile, could be with Moriko. Where no one would want him for his visions and she was not bound by honor to hunt monsters. They would be together, maybe have a family. He was so nice. It was a vision that could never come to pass, she knew. At least she could dream that one last time.

The dream spider gobbled up Moriko’s hopes and retreated to the farthest corner of the stacks, satiated. As Moriko finished the ritual, finally focusing on the present and only vaguely aware that something had been taken from her, she saw a sphincter of shadow open up above her. The dream spider scrambled through in a flurry of motions, squeezing through before the opening closed and her ritual complete. It would keep the creature away for a few days at least. At least I’m good for something, Moriko thought.

She punched in the code to arm the library security system and dashed back to the line dangling from the open window. As she grabbed it, she triggered the remote on her belt and it reeled her up, even as she climbed. In a moment, everything was as it had been in the Matheson Senior High library.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Chapter Eight: Eating Vitto

The wolf was very angry. The moon’s song was vibrant, filling the wolf with passion and playful fury. She got his scent from outside the house, where her prey and her father had sat smoking cigars so many times. It was out front, too, but it ended at his car. Frustrated, the wolf     whined. But what had brother said? “Use that big brain of yours.” And some part of Diana was still there, an angry, careless part of her. That part remembered where “Cousin” Vitto lived. Because hadn’t she been to his house almost as often? 

It wasn’t far to run. Not for a wolf. 

He had dogs. And a fence. But Diana was a clever wolf and she got over the fence by hopping back to a tree before leaping back again to land inside the fence. The same trick would not get her out, but she was not thinking about escape. Not just yet. 

The dogs were another matter, a pair of Doberman Pincers with their ears pegged and spiked collars. They looked mean, but not well cared for. When they barked, Vitto yelled at them. They were quiet for a time. They did not attack her. Even dogs have some common sense apparently. But they barked again when she approached the house. Vitto opened the door.

“Shut the fuck up, you fucking mutts!” he yelled at the dogs.

Diana leapt for his throat. He must have seen her in the corner of his eye, because he gave a startled, little “Aaa-ah” noise, just before she barreled into him. Her claws pierced his shoulders and she felt his collar bones snap as her muzzle snapped forward. She just knew exactly when to bite down to take use of her forward momentum. Her claws shredded his shoulders and her fangs clamped down on his entire neck, chomping down with a crack and splash of blood. It was the finest thing she’d ever tasted.

On the entertainment system, a football player in yellow and blue pranced across the finish line and the building thundered with the sound of the crowd’s approval.  

Vitto, as prey, was not a fat fucking douchebag who beat people up and charged outrageous interest for a living. He was not a slug, doused in cologne and binaca to hide the smell of alcohol; unshaven and sweaty. He was a steak. A god damn prime rib dinner. Mm mm good. He was her first human meal, Vitto, and Diana—much to her despair—would never forget him. It seemed as if the crowd on TV was cheering for her as she chowed down on the mobster. She’d stopped thinking of him as her cousin, with whom she’d shared so many memories. It wasn’t a choice to be heartless. In fact it was her heart that told her the truth. He is the enemy. He is prey. He is food. Mm mm good.

Diana ate greedily. Young wolves need their strength…

The dogs barked a chorus outside.

Vitto hadn’t been alone. Guys like him didn’t make their guards stand around outside like servants, at least not all of them. Finally, someone responded. “What the fuck? Hey, Albert, what’s with the light? Vitto, you okay?”

Diana could hear his heavy footsteps quickening toward her. The hall lamp and the phone had been knocked from their table when she’d tackled Vitto. She turned, licking her chops, and darted forward toward the amber light of the entertainment room. The thug’s shadow loomed. As she leaped, she saw a guy in an Aerosmith t-shirt with big muscles and a shoulder holster. His gun was in his hand, but her spring put her inside his reach before he realized she was there. Then he died beneath her, his throat a mess of flesh in her jaws, before he fired a shot.

“OH, holy fuck!” Cried Albert, the other guard shot out of his seat, fumbling for his gun with surprise still dulling him. Diana leapt over the couch and on to his back, shoving him into the entertainment center. He made a brief scream, but it was cut off and drowned by another cheer from the sound system. The giant TV finally toppled forward and crashed to the ground as Diana ate his organs, too. Each meal seemed to give her power.

Mm mm good.

When she’d had her fill of Vitto, Diana loped outside and confronted the dobermans. They backed away from her, whimpering. She stalked slowly forward, growling low in her throat. 

* * *

Later, after she’d run a long time for the thrill of it, drank deeply of the freshest water she could find, and licked her chops, Diana felt the influence of the moon begin to wane. She was more conscious of what she’d done, but still had only the wolf’s feelings about it. Satisfaction. She drifted through the darkness before the dawn toward her home, her family. Her pack.

Diana dreamed of being a wolf creature, of killing a man and eating him, of running and living as a wolf. Then she’d dreamed of climbing in her bedroom window, naked and laying on the bed. AJ had figured out how to defeat the house’s security system a couple of years ago. Diana didn’t think she’d ever use the trick, but she was glad she’d paid attention. She missed him. Patrick had to pay. Diana hazily recalled her hunt as she drifted up from sleep. Revenge. It made her smile. It was possible.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Chapter Seven: Vance and Anna, Mischief

“So, you’ve been searching for how many years? And all you know about the Libram is that it’s in this crappy town somewhere?” Vance had started this conversation a few times, it never went anywhere, but he enjoyed the flush in Anna’s cheeks. 

“How many years did you search, grandpa?” She grinned. The top was down as they drove through town. The wind blew her bobbed hair around, the locks made luminescent by the moon.

“Ouch! You’ve never used that one before. I feel so wounded.” He said sarcastically. “Seriously, how are we going to find it?”

“Well, I could have just taken care of it during the day, but I was busy preparing boring spell stuff. We are taking a trip to the library.”

“Ah, it’s going to have some security, no?”

“Totally. But I’ve got a plan.”

“You always do.” He gave her a sly gaze. Neither the laptop or phone were in his hands and he turned in the seat with his knee up to face her as she drove. 

“I’m glad you think that.”

“I do. You are the mastermind of which I’ve always dreamed.”

“Shut up!” She swatted at him with her shifting hand. She’d insisted on a car with standard transmission, which was fine with Vance. 

“I mean it. Everyone always thinks so small. You’re the first person ever to come to me with a wild plan for ultimate power. I love it.”

“We have a saying nowadays,” she had a slight drawl. “Go big or go home.”

Vance laughed. Indeed. He was risking everything on this young woman and loving every moment of it.

“We’re here,” she said, pulling into a parking lot behind a shopping center.

“This isn’t the library. I may be 30 years behind, but I can tell that much.”

“Of course it isn’t, silly. We have to lay the groundwork for that, create sufficient confusion and distraction.” 

“Very well, o mistress of mystery. Show me what you’ve got.”

Anna got out of the car and got a gym bag out of the trunk. Vance got out, too, and lit a smoke. He puffed and smirked and watched Anna prepare for a ritual. She laid out a tarp of some kind in between two rows of parking space markers in the lot. It had gaps in it and when she pulled out a can of silver spray paint from her bag, he saw that the tarp was in fact a stencil. In a few moments a perfectly circular pentagram of silver spray paint dominated the empty lot. It was perhaps 4 meters across.

“You need a hand with anything?” Vance asked.

She glanced up and winked at him. “Later,” she whispered. Then she blushed as if she’d surprised herself and went back to her work. 

 Also, isn’t this something that should be done in private?” He was trying to be helpful. Really.

“You said you liked that I think big, Vance.”

“No, I said I love that you think big. I just don’t get how that applies here.”

“Of course you don’t,” she said, lighting candles at each point of the pentagram. “I haven’t shown you this trick yet.”

“Oh, I think I’m going to like this.” He puffed on his smoke.

“I think so, too. Just stay over there, okay?” He noted real concern in her voice.

“No problemo.”

Anna stepped into the circle. He saw she held a hand rolled cigarette in one hand and a cauldron by it’s hanging wire in her other. She put the joint to her lips and fished a lighter out of her pocket. Once it was lit, she put the lighter away and stepped into the center of the circle. She took three big hits, and then spread he hands out to her sides, as if preparing to hug the world. Instead, she spoke, her voice raspy as the smoke slowly left her mouth. 

“Smoke and wind, iron and rain. I come to bring the dark again.” Vance noticed she was focused on an electrical tower, rather than the buildings of the shopping center.

She put the smoke to her lips again and pursed them as she knelt and laid the cauldron in front of her. She picked up a knife that she’d placed earlier. She looked at Vance, but he could not take his eyes from the knife. 

“Stay where you are,” she reminded him. Then she laid the knife against the fleshy part of her left hand and cut. Blood dribbled down in the the cauldron and she repeated the words of her spell.

Vance gritted his teeth but held his position, he’d gained a lot of control over the centuries. He would have Anna’s blood later. He could wait. Just as he thought to light another smoke to pass the time, she finished the ritual.   

The Electrical transformer across the parking lot sparked and an arc of electricity streaked toward Anna. In a flash, Vance felt the charge in the air. But the arc stopped at the edge of her circle of power. At first it splashed there. Then it arced back toward the transformer. Another shower of sparks flew from the tower and then the entire section of town went dark.

Anna spoke another phrase and the pentagram lit up like a glow in the dark poster. It provided enough light for her to put out the candles and pack up. By the time she walked back toward him, the pattern was growing dimmer by the second. 

“Let me guess,” Vance said, “a spell that uses up the paint?”

“And provides decent light!” she chirped, dropping her bag to the ground at his feet and throwing her arms around him. “Step one, accomplished.” She kissed him and he responded, wrapping her in his arms. She brought her left hand up to caress his face, and Vance felt sure he was being played, and the smell of blood overwhelmed him. He grabbed her wrist and pulled it toward his face, inhaling deeply. Anna put her face close to his, her other arm around his shoulder. Her body was very tight next to him and he felt distracted by that in a way that rarely happened for him, especially when the lust for blood rang so strongly through him. 

“Shh, shh, shh.” She soothed. “Later, baby. Later. Later, you can have anything you want, okay?” She looked him in the eye. She should be more afraid of that, Vance felt. It made him afraid of what he might find out if he tried to bite her. Instead he let go of her hand and cradled her head, kissing her passionately.

Anna pushed away gently after a few moments. Already sirens and shouts broke the silent darkness of the blacked out town. “Later.” 

Vance grinned.

* * *

Outside the library, nestled in the abundant shadows, Anna wrapped herself in Vance’s arms again. 

“So, you can do the turning to mist trick, right?” All the stories say you can.

“You believe in superstition and folk tales?”

“I believe in you,” she spoke with such earnestness that Vance had to tell her.

“Yes,” he said, “but only I can go. You want me to go take a look around?”

“Nope,” she said immediately. “We can both go. Really. Just try.”

“What have you done to me?” His tone was serious, but he also squeezed her and looked at her with affection.

“Just a little magic.”

“You’ve bewitched me, you vixen.” They giggled together.

“Maybe. I just…I don’t do many things without assurances, that’s all. I don’t mean you any harm.” She’d seen his features harden at her words, but he smiled again. 

“Don’t you witches believe in the rule of three or something like that? Whatever harm one does is returned threefold?”

“I’m not a witch,” she chided. “I’m an entropomancer. There’s a difference.”

“Very well, entropomancer,” he spoke the word with a haughty tone, “let’s see if your spell is as keen as you believe it to be.” He pulled her tight to him, her cheek pressed against his chest, his hand buried in her hair. Vance felt his legs go numb. At one time, he’d been able to do this in an instant. Then it happened.

And there was only darkness and a deep mist near the library.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Chapter Six: Moriko Meets the Principle

Moriko stood with her father—she was almost as tall as him, now—and waited for the principal of Matheson Senior High. She did not like the looks the secretary kept throwing her way, and when the lady asked her father, “So, have you been in America long?” with her thick New Jersey accent, Moriko wandered away. 

She found a glass display case, like many she’d seen in high schools. It was just outside the administration office. There were tall statues there for wrestling and football and baseball and basketball. Finally she found a single trophy for girls’ sports, a 3rd place in the regionals for soccer. Her heart leapt, though she expected to see a year long past. She was wrong. The girls’ soccer team had won this last year. 

There was a little plaque nearby with a newspaper clipping and a photo. The winning goal had been scored by a girl named Diana Roman, but it had been a close game. Moriko glanced at the picture, two rows of girls and a teacher. She noted each of them by their names beneath the photograph. The coach was Mrs. Bay, a slight, blonde woman in her 20s. Moriko found Diana Roman. Surprisingly, the game winning player stood beside the coach, rather than at the center. But she was looking down in the photo at a soccer ball in her hands, as if she’d just caught it before the photographer snapped the shot. She had pale, freckled skin and a long brown ponytail with many loose strands straying across her face in the breeze. 

Moriko had an instinctive distrust of anything she could not (or was not allowed to) look in the eye. But she resolved to reserve judgement of the girl until she  could see her in person. She remembered the vision, of being saved, and wondered  if it had anything to do with one of her future teammates. Moriko needed to be on the team. She’d have to play it cool.

The office door opened and her father leaned out. “Moriko. Now.” 

She hurried back and found her father speaking with a tall man with close cropped red hair. They turned to her. 

“This is my daughter, Moriko. She is an excellent student, I assure you.”

She blushed a little at her father’s praise. She knew he was very proud of her, but he rarely said so.

Moriko gave a little bow, but also offered her hand.

“Hi, Moriko,” said the red-haired man in the suit, “I’m Principal Patterson. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” 

He shook her hand. It was cool to the touch, but it was not warm in the office. He required further study.

“Let’s take a look around the school, shall we?” Patterson put on a wide smile. 

Moriko glanced at her father as they followed the principal out of the administration building, but he betrayed no sign that he saw anything unusual in the school’s chief administrator. Of course he wouldn’t. Even now he was testing her. She subtly checked the catch on her tubular drawing case, which hid her blade.

The school was built in the 1970s of wood and brick and metal sheets. It was squat and orange with many old and gnarly trees surrounding it like ogres around a large fire. But it had seen hard use. Moriko could sense something dark about this place; she felt she was already getting closer to finding out why she and her father had been sent to this shabby little suburb. 

There was a thing in the library, up in the rafters. It fed on dreams. The building was full of people so Moriko began planning her return her tonight. She noted the exits and windows as well as the visible ductwork. There was a clear path of entry from the roof. She’d just need a way up. 

The thing hissed at her and she glanced up at it. Principal Patterson caught that. Moriko’s father caught them both. For a moment they stood there, all perceiving that each was not precisely as they seemed.

Principal Patterson smiled and gestured for them to go with him, saying, “Well, let’s talk about athletics, shall we? Do you play any sports, Moriko?”

“Football,” she said. “Soccer.”

“Oh, great. That’s just great. Our girls came in third last year. You know I think they’re out there practicing already. We’ll be over there soon. But this here is your classroom, Hayato. We’ve got some really good textbooks. Japanese is really in demand.” He’d pronounced her father’s name like three distinct syllables. Whatever he was, he was an idiot, Moriko decided. 

Her father looked around the classroom and asked a few questions. Moriko walked to the chalkboard and corrected some calligraphy there. She noted that the door to the classroom had finally slid shut. Her hand rested at the latch to her sword.

“Look, I don’t want any trouble,” Principal Patterson said. “I don’t even eat living things, okay? I just eat perfectly legitimate cadavers. Well at least mostly legit.” Moriko’s father was still admiring the textbooks.  She walked slowly toward the principal. 

“I can help you. I know what you are, at least I think I do. You’re a hunter of shadows or something like that right? They tell stories about you and your people, Moriko. Seriously.”

“Where do they tell these stories, Mr. Patterson?” Moriko asked in the icy voice she got when she wanted to use her sword on someone. 

“Around.. You know?” He made vague gestures. “Sometimes we meet and it ain’t all about violence. We talk.” He had reverted to his native vernacular. Fear shredding his veneer of sophistication.

Moriko paused several feet away from the principal. “You smell of death,” she said. “I should destroy you.”

“No,” said Principal Patterson.

“If there were not more at stake here than one ghoul, I would say you are right, Moriko. But we need this man’s assistance.”

“Yes”, said Principal Patterson. “Yes, let me help.”  

Moriko nodded to her father, who seemed to have finished his inspection of the classroom. 

“How can I help?” asked the principal.

“Show me the soccer field,” answered Moriko.  

Chapter Five: Diana, Haunted

Diana clamped her hands over her mouth, stifling her scream. She turned slowly as her eyes filled with tears and horror.

“Di, sweetheart, you up there?” her dad bellowed from down stairs. He’d heard her, of course.

“Hi, sis,” said AJ. His chest had been laid open in five ragged wounds and his throat torn away by vicious fangs. Diana had seen those fangs up close. They would have eaten her if not for AJ.

She leaned back against the door and slid downward. It seemed as if just taking  a breath required supreme effort. She shook her head in answer to her father, though she knew he couldn’t see her. 

“Dad won’t be able to see me. Just you,” AJ continued. “I’m sorry I scare you. It’s not my fault.” Diana nodded at him through her tears. She missed him so much.

Anthony senior’s footsteps thudded on the stairs and up the landing all three bedrooms shared on the second floor. “Honey, you all right? You didn’t hear nothing, did you?”

AJ sat across from her on the floor, cross-legged. He stared at the door as if he could see their father standing out there. His face, even through the blood, held such an expression of love and admiration that she thought for a moment only of her dad and how much they both loved him. 

Diana inhaled and lied, “I’m fine, daddy,” she said, forcing herself to find some clarity, to spare her father this madness. “It’s just been a rough day, you know?” She remembered teaching her little brother about lying. She’d helped him blame some missing cookies on their dog, Buddy. He was dead now, too.

“Aw, sweetie, do you want to go out to Ianaccelli’s for some ice cream? Just you and me.”

“Maybe later, daddy.”

“Yeah, okay, maybe later.” She could sense his relief. They hadn’t been to Ianaccelli’s in years. Her tears made him uncomfortable. But she loved him for trying. Diana laid her cheek against the door, wishing for a second she’d said yes and left her room and the bloody ghost of her brother behind. 

“Look, I’m going out, but you call me on the cell if you need anything. You hear me? I love you, sweetheart.” The door practically hummed with the command in his ‘dad voice.’

“Yes, daddy. I love you, too.” Diana barely spoke, the notes of compliance and despair carrying more than the exact words. Words she’d spoken thousands of times to her father. She heard his footsteps drum away.

“Here,” AJ said, “this will be easier with the shades drawn. I think light shines through me.”

Diana turned and saw AJ closing the blinds over her desk. It left her room dark, except for little slices of light between them. She could see little dust motes twinkling in the evening light. The ragged figure of her little brother’s ghost made a dark outline against her wall. Her room was covered with movie posters and memorabilia. It was her thing. Seeing ET’s finger reaching out toward her brother almost made her laugh. Almost.

“What’s happening to me?” Diana whispered.

“You’re a werewolf, Di. Just like Patrick.”

“No!” She hid her face in her hands. The name brought up the horror of the summer, the cause of her family’s grief. A gorgeous face, kind blue eyes… she’d wanted to fall for him. And he’d tried to kill them. But hadn’t he wanted her, too. Wasn’t that what it was all really about? Her brother was dead because she trusted someone based on his appearance, really based on the fact that she wanted to make out with him, maybe more. Hell, even her dad had trusted the guy. He was persuasive. He was handsome. But he was also a monster.

“It’s a fact. Look, you got bit, you survived. Now you’re gonna be one. But it doesn’t have to be the end, sis. You don’t have to be like him.”

“No!” She repeated it again and again. But something inside her, the very calculating part, took note of his words.

When she had stilled, AJ said, “Look, Di, I don’t have much time. This place… it’s no picnic. In fact, it kinda sucks. There are things here that want to eat me, Di. LIke eat my spirit forever. I need you to set me free so I can go on.”

Diana looked up at him, his ravaged body more clear now despite the gloom. “How… what can I do, AJ?”

He moved to her stereo and put in a disk of Within Temptation, one of her favorite bands, that he begrudgingly had admitted was “pretty okay.” The song The Howling began and built in volume.

AJ turn back to her, “Di, I need you to avenge me. Only silver or the fangs of a wolf can kill Patrick. One way or another, Di, I need your help.”

“How am I going to kill someone, AJ, what are you talking about?” she couldn’t just accept this. She must be crazy, seeing her dead brother. It was her guilt, but she could shed that as easily as her flesh and bones.

In an instant he was there next to her, the wet edges of every wound clear. His glassy eyes fixed on her.

“With your teeth, sis. And your claws.” Then he whispered, “and that big brain of yours.”

Diana’s breath hitched and she closed her eyes against the truth.

When she opened them, AJ was gone. 

* * *

That night, Diana dreamed of the moon. She had never paid much attention to the moon before. It was just something beautiful and strange that one took for granted. The moon.

The words waxing and gibbous might have made some sense to her, but her mind she saw the moon vividly, pregnant and ominously crimson in the sky just over the eastern horizon. It was past half full, a promise of silver and purity to be fulfilled. In her dream, the song of the moon wound around it’s bloody light and she floated on that song. There were no barriers to the moon, and she floated out into the night to dance.

Chapter Four: Arrivals - Moriko; Vance

After many days and nights on the road, Moriko and her father arrived in a suburb in New Jersey. The GPS read 4.3 miles to their destination. Her new base. They never called it home. She watched the town drift by outside her window. Many houses sported For Sale signs on their front lawns. Moriko wondered what was making so many people leave. Was it her prey here or a mundane threat like interest rates?

The high school floated by, atop a slight hill, and shadowed gloomily by the lowering sun. It gave her the chills. She could just make out the name on a large sign in front. Matheson Senior High. Moriko never felt welcome at a new school, but this place seemed to promise particularly nasty experiences. She felt a pain in her neck and reached up to touch it. When she pulled her fingers away the tips were daubed with blood. For a moment she felt light headed and dizzy, but then she felt herself being held in strong arms. She smelled wet fur and had the strongest feeling that she might find someone who could understand her here, someone she wouldn’t have to lie to. And that she would have to kill that someone.

She saw the house as her dad pulled into the driveway, with her head against the window. It was a long, single-level house done up in white and brown in a vaguely alpine motif. The landscaping was intricate and immaculate (and therefore boring). That was something her father insisted upon. 

Some ultimately depressing Glass piano piece droned on the stereo. The house was also ultimately depressing. Nice enough, but Moriko was not willing to give it any credit, so as to avoid any feeling of attachment. Why bother forming positive opinions? The good and the bad, it all littered the road behind her.

“Moriko,” said her father, “take your head out of the clouds. We have arrived. There is much work to be done.” There was always more work to be done once the traveling part was over. “Come,” he continued, “let’s see who we are this time.” He might have even winked. He did that sometimes, and Moriko could hear the note in his voice that said he was trying to cajole her out of a good brood. The ride past the high school had really helped and she was in as bleak a mood as she’d ever managed. But, it might be interesting to learn more about the threat here…

“Besides,” he added once they were outside the car, “I think your new blade is here.”

Moriko brightened, but just a little. 

* * *

By the time they arrived in New Jersey, Ana had taught Vance just about everything he needed to know about being young in the 21st century. She’d prepared well. She had a Louisiana state identification card with the name Vance Alexander Rothchild, an iPhone, and a laptop computer with wireless data built in. 

Cheri’s lifeblood had done wonders for Vance, and he felt compelled by Ana’s confidence and planning. At each stop, someone met them and was willing to submit, especially if Vance made it a point to talk to them first. He also had a way of getting what he wanted. Ana drove and stole glances at Vance, while he studied the devices (and Ana) and asked questions. He’d gone to ground in the 1970s so he had some catching up to do. They listened to lots of music.

One of the things VAnce came to admire about Ana was her ability to admit when she didn’t know  something, which was quite common. Vance found himself very curious about foreign affairs and the wars the US and Great Britain were taking part in. Ana proved woefully ignorant of these matters, but brushed it off. 

“That’s what the internet’s for, Grandpa.” She scolded. He hated when she called him that. It made him feel very dirty. It’s hard to make a vampire, especially one as old and jaded as Vance, feel dirty.

“Ana, please. Do not call me that. And do you mean to tell me people now don’t bother to actually learn anything because it’s on this internet?”

She shrugged. “More or less, yeah.”

“That seems counterproductive. What happens when no one knows anything? I feel like the world has fallen into decline without me.”

“Don’t worry, Vance, there are still a few people with the brains, willfulness and wealth to do things like magic and finding unfindable things.” She grinned very slightly. He loved it when she did that and her meaning was not lost on him. She was something special. But he already knew that.

 On their very first night together, when he still reeked and looked a bit like something that crawled out of a grave, Ana had showered with Vance, groomed him—that was a pleasant surprise—and made him feel very welcome back to the realm of the living… and un-living.

But something was wrong. Vance was sure of it. He’d never let anyone earn his trust so quickly and easily. Sure, Ana was beautiful and very willing, but… yes, something was wrong. He would have to think about it.

“Think you can handle high school again?” She asked, pulling him away from his thoughts.

“Seriously? Why would we do that to ourselves?”

“It’s different now. Everyone’s much more sensitive and polite about all these issues. Besides, you know what a juicy source of information a high school is. 

“Here’s our new home,” Ana said, pulling in to a drive in front of a large brown house. It was only a single story, but it sprawled. It looked to border on a park or some undeveloped wilderness. 

Monday, November 04, 2013

Chapter Three: Diana Comes Home

Diana was surprised to see her dad’s car parked in front of the house. He was usually gone by now and out late. Maybe he was just getting up. It was possible. Her mom’s car was still gone, so Diana pulled her white Beetle into the second space. She couldn’t help but glance over at the third space, where Delores used to park her car before she went away to college, where AJ would never park a car. Because of her. She steeled herself and managed not to cry. 

Hold it in until you get to your room, she chided herself. Dad never let it rest if he saw her crying. “Aw, my sweetheart, it wasn’t your fault. When you gonna get that through that big brain of yours, huh?” He would ask, putting his arm around her. And the whole thing would just make her feel even more guilty. She almost locked her keys in her car, but scolded herself again as she reached back for them.

Even walking into the house was difficult. She couldn’t help but remember that she would never see AJ sitting at the counter gobbling up the leftovers (she’d never told their parents AJ had started smoking pot with his friends—a fact that had earned her a year free of dish duty, or… at least most of a year). She’d been dreaming about him, and in the dreams he was always smoking, the smoke drifting out of holes, jagged rends, that had no right to be in her little brother.

There was no sign of her dad and she almost bolted up to her room to cry and think, but she heard voices, raised voices coming from the basement. She walked toward the door that led from the washer room to the stairs that led down. Her dad had his little projects down there, a big table that always had some puzzle or another on it, and tools for making bullets. Sometimes when he had company, he took his buddies down there to talk. Diana had never managed to hear a word from the place before, but as she reached the door, it was as if they spoke just a few feet away from her. Things like this had been happening for weeks. She felt like her body was one big nerve, and the whole world was standing on it, talking loudly.

“I’m telling you, Tony, if you keep fighting me on this, it’s gonna go bad for you.” It was her cousin Vitto and he sounded pissed off.

Her dad was not exactly calm, “You choosin’ that fat fuck over me, Vitto? Is that what we’ve come to?”

Diana’s heart raced. She’d never heard raw fury in his voice like that. Their voices became even clearer. Everything became more distinct to her as she stood and listened.

“It’s embarrassing. Makes it look like I don’t have control of my crew. Makes me look weak. You never made Vincent look weak, Tony.”

“Oh, yeah, well he had the fucking balls to stand up for his people when they’re fucking wronged. You’re gonna come here and threaten me in my own house?”

“It’s not a threat, Tony. Come on, man. You know me. I’m just trying to talk to you.” Diana could tell Vitto was full of shit. It sounded like they were going to fight. Last year, Diana would have shrank away, maybe called the cops or her mom over this situation brewing in the basement. But she didn’t do either of those things. Instead, she put her ear to the door and inhaled deeply, subconsciously. Her eyes glittered with the faintest amber. She smelled their rage. No way she could have known what that was. Nope. But she did. It smelled sharp and… tangy, rage. She’d been living with her parents’ scents her whole life and even now they registered, but the clarity of them did not stand out to her. But Vitto smelled of lies and anger and of treachery.

But her dad was no fool. “You know what?” he said, “You should get the fuck out. Get out before one of us does something that won’t be so easy to make go away.”

“I get that you’re angry, Tony. I’ll give you some time to cool off, okay? Let’s talk this weekend.” Again, Vitto lied. His anger had already boiled over, he was just very good at keeping a lid on it.

Diana heard footsteps on the stairs. Vitto was climbing up toward her. Her dad was silent. There were no hugs, no pleasantries here. Diana had heard her dad and mom scream at each other in rage. This was somehow worse. She found herself several feet from the door, the urge to growl strong in her heart. But her fear won out for the moment and she bolted for the stairs. She reached the top of the staircase before Vitto did, even though it was on the other side of the house. Not a very fit guy, Vitto. He made his way across the first floor. Diana’s heart was still racing and she could hear her dad’s steps coming out of the cellar to follow Vitto out. She felt this had more to do with asserting dominance than any suspicion that Vitto would steal something or do harm to the house. From her barely opened door to her room, Diana watched Vitto reach the front door and let himself out, turning back briefly to glance at her dad with feigned remorse. 

She’d seen this man a thousand times in her life. He was one of her dad’s best friends. He’d been to every party, every holiday gathering she herself had ever been to. But this time was different. It was like a switch had been turned in her mind. He was an enemy. He was prey. Diana shut the door, more upon that thought than to keep anyone from seeing her as she spied.

She looked up into the mirror on her door. Her little brother stood behind her. Diana screamed.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Chapter Two: Anna Awakens Vance

In the darkness, the nothingness, Vance felt a pulse.

It was not his pulse. Of this he was sure. He neither knew nor cared how long it had been since he’d felt anything at all, but he knew he felt this pulse. So close, it was like the beat of a beautiful song, just out of ear shot. Never before had his awareness been so completely dominated by a thing.

Then it was gone and there was nothing.

It came again. Vance felt that some time had passed, but it had been all blessed numbness to him, and so, mattered not.

The pulse came closer. So close. Another life beat sounded, weak and timid, in harmony to the first. It was much less interesting. Then, for the first time in so long, he heard sounds. They were words murmured nearby, words of power he’d heard before. Perhaps someone was here to slay him. Hurray to them for finally figuring out where he’d gone to rest. He only cared because of the magic in that pulse. There was a metallic clank, the lock being pulled, and then the sound of crumbled bits hitting the ground; the door took several thumping hits, accentuating the heartbeats, now pounding faster as they came closer to their goal.

Finally, the door to the crypt opened, creaking like the scream of a dying pig.

That heartbeat was so close now. It almost felt like his own. Then he heard her voice.

“Well, at least the groundskeeper’s not around to hear that.” It was musical with a note of sarcasm Vance found instantly compelling.

Someone else spoke, and Vance knew this must be that other, weaker heartbeat he heard. “Jesus, did you have to kill him?”

“Of course I did, Cheri. We mustn’t be interrupted here.”

“You’re not even sure this is the right place! You just… just… stabbed him like it was nothing.” Vance did not like this one. She was whiny and shrill. Weak.

“Get the bag and shut the fuck up. Please.” The rough sound of a match striking stone and flaring to life. She continued, “The coffin is intact. He’s here. I knew it.”

Vance noted enthusiasm in her voice, but it did not sound like the bloodlust of a slayer. His interest grew. More lanterns were lit. He could feel the warmth of their bodies and their lights, but vaguely through the cold stone of his crypt. As something swept across the top of the crypt, he knew it was her arm, her body touching the stone and for a moment her heartbeat really did make his own thump in time, though it wheezed, as empty as the tomb had been of life just a few moments before.

“Here, give me a hand with this,” she said. Vance’s sense of anticipation built. The stone grated aside, slowly. A wave of sensations washed over him. It was true. Something about this woman was bringing him out of torpor. He smelled their scents, the two women, and the beasts and vermin who lived in and around his crypt; the freshly cut grass and the decaying flowers left for the dead. But he did not breath. It was more the dust of these things settling upon him. His senses were blunted, but he could sense the longing in one of his visitors and the fear in the other.

The stone thudded to the ground.

“Damn, you almost got my fingers!” Said the petulant voice.

“Just get a light, ok?” Said the delicious one. 

Vance could also feel the warmth of their fires much clearer now, it doubled as one of the lanterns was brought very near. He should be more afraid of the flame, but again, he did not sense these women were here to kill him.

“Oh my god, he’s hideous. That totally looks like a thirty year old corpse, Anna. There’s no way that thing is coming back to life.”

Anna. So that was her name.

“Of course he looks like a corpse, Cheri”—Anna said the name like a curse—“he’s hasn’t fed in thirty years. I think he’s beautiful.”

Without a sound of warning, blood dripped on Vance’s lips. It was like a sudden splash of color in the darkness. But still he could not move.

“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” shouted Cheri. Footsteps, running for the door.

“No!” Vance felt something, like a cloud of buzzing insects swirling past him. The door slammed, with a squeal and a boom of finality.

“Anna, please let me go.” Now the other woman really was begging.

“Vance Elias Fitzroy,” Anna spoke his name and continued in the rhythm of a practiced ritual, “I call your blood with my blood, which is also your blood. I bid you back to this mortal coil, for I have answers to your most vexatious questions. I call to you across time and the void of death.” Now vance could actually feel her breath on his dead cheek. “Stalk the night with me, dear Vance.”

At her last words, Vance’s heart did start. He inhaled the perfume of her. His eyes opened. He beheld a heart-shaped face of pale skin and red lips. Her eyes were pale blue, but reflected bits of green and gold in the lantern light. She had ash blonde hair in a bob. She looked as innocent as a lamb. She was beautiful.

“Anna.” Vance croaked. Her face broke in a gorgeous smile.

“I meant all those things I said, Vance. I haven’t awoken you for nothing.” He noted she had swiftly bandaged her arm, though the smell of blood was still thick in the air. Cheri pounded on the door, crying and screaming for help.

“Let me help you up.” Anna reached under Vance and sat him up in the crypt. “Look, I even brought you breakfast.”

The bit of blood and the spell seemed to be working. Vance felt the tiniest bit more himself.

“Cheri is for me?” he rasped and turned his eyes from Anna to the other woman. 

“That was the plan,” said Anna, drawing her knife.

Vance raised a hand. “Hold,” he said. Cheri’s cries drowned him out. Anna sheathed the blade, giving him an inquisitive eyebrow.

He cleared his throat. “Cheri, stop.” He said it clearly, cutting across her panic. She stopped.

“Come to me,” he said.

And she did.


Chapter One: Moriko - New Jersey Bound

Moriko’s new assignment arrived by secure email on Thursday night. By Friday morning, her and her father had packed up all their belongings, left behind the prepared letters and notifications to those they’d made commitments to, and were gone. 

Gone again, Moriko thought. Three to four times a year they moved. Never enough time to really make roots, to make friends. Accept once. Alex Monroe had been her friend and much more than that. The first boy she’d ever kissed the first to ever call her his girl. But he’d been left behind, too, in the wake of multiple mysterious homicides and crime scenes that made experienced policemen lose their lunches. So many unanswered questions, so many dead. But Moriko new the answers, and so did her father. And that’s why they had to leave. Again.

They’d been laying low in Mexico for the summer. She hunter cucuy and ghouls while her father taught Karate to the sons of wealthy families. Their own family was ancient and well connected. Moriko and her father had changed identities so many times, she sometimes forgot that not all families lived their lives on the run year after year. It was August in Mexico. North of the border, a new school year would be starting soon. That’s why they were heading north. Moriko knew the pattern now. She did not entirely care where they were going, but eventually, all the logistical and mundane conversations were long over and they waited in the front seat of the Winnabego.

“Where are we going?” she asked.

“New Jersey,” her father answered. His voice was gravelly and deep. It always seemed to make people take him more seriously,  though Moriko always took her father seriously.

It was very hot, though Moriko knew the vehicle had air conditioning, her father chose not to use it. He always told her she must never allow herself to become accustomed to such luxuries; she must be prepared to endure any pain or discomfort in dispatching her… duties. A long line of vehicles waited ahead of them for a turn to pass through the customs inspection and enter Texas, USA. Luckily there were no buses in the line their motorhome was in. Buses seemed to take a really long time to get through. A black bus in aisle five had just pulled up to the squad of men manning the station. 

A car so old and dusty it was impossible to tell more than it was a sedan rear ended an SUV. The collision was at such a low speed, Moriko could see no damage to the SUV, though it did push the vehicle. A little. A man in a pristine white t-shirt and an Oakland Raiders baseball cap got out of the SUV and strode back to the driver’s window of the dusty little car. He began a litany of what, Moriko could only guess, were profanities that left shiny spittle in his mustache. She could just hear his words as a mumble over the classical music her father preferred. When he wasn’t listening to Japanese folk music, it was classical, especially Philip Glass. Moriko hated it. She liked love songs.

The driver of the dirty vehicle must have done something inflammatory. White t-shirt guy ran back to his vehicle and came back with a tire iron in a flash. He must be from an area where it’s a good idea to keep a weapon handy. Moriko doubted most people could even tell you for sure if their vehicles had a tire iron. He started smashing in the driver’s window of the dirty little car. She could see the border security already mobilizing as the t-shirt guy reached in and began struggling with the driver. This is so stupid, she thought. Why must I devote my life to protecting these people? They don’t want my protection and they’d probably resent me if they knew.

T-shirt man had opened the driver’s side door now and was dragging the dirty car’s driver outside, beating him with the tire iron. The cops were not quite close enough to draw their weapons on him, but she could see them shouting as they ran. Moriko saw the driver wore black clothes over an emaciated figure. He was more than weak, he was near death… Something had been feeding on him, she felt sure.  He’s not even fighting back.

“Moriko-chan, have you memorized the appearance and license number of the vehicle you must pursue?” Her father spoke English with her as often as possible. He took great pride in his mastery of both languages and demanded equal dedication from his daughter. Her dreams now were a strange mix of English and Japanese, now with a smattering of spanish. 

Moriko peered more closely at the SUV. It’s plate was clear, but that driver and his vehicle would soon be under the power of the border patrol. The dirty little car was no threat, and it’s plate was unreadable. So what did her father mean? She looked around but could not give him an answer within a few seconds. She did not know.

“My daughter, you have fallen for the same distraction as the officers at station five.”

She looked there. Many men had responded to the sounds of violence, including several from station five. But two guards were there, waving through a bus full of people. No way that bus could be done with it’s inspection already. But it was through the gates and though she could see glimpses of the matte black, the license plate was blocked by the border structures and a sea of vehicles. The accident on the other side of the lines had been a distraction of some kind. But what? A bus full  of people… illegal, untraceable people? 

The boy who’d been pulled from the dirty little car was a bloody mess, but the responding officers seemed loath to approach him, even after t-shirt man had been forcibly restrained. He must have looked horrible up close and smelled even worse.

“Vampires.” Moriko guessed. “The bus was loaded with food for vampires.” But she’d not gotten the plate had she? They would have a head start of perhaps an hour. She’d failed. 

“Warlocks, I think.” Said her father. “Child, vampires can hunt anywhere. Their prey gives itself willingly. I pray you will not face one before your training is complete. They can turn your mind against you.”

Moriko was unhappy to be wrong. “No vampire will control my mind. I would die first. But, I will kill them all.”

Her father laughed at her, a deep tumbling chortle—he was really amused—that burned her cheeks. She reached down for her laptop while he finished laughing and waited for the information.

“Your confidence is wonderful, my girl. Perhaps your wild spirit is strong enough to resist the great leeches, but still, your training must be completed. It will give you the skill to go with that confidence. Fighting vampires and werewolves and mummies (among other things) is not the same as slaying ghouls.”

Moriko waited. She’d heard this lecture, or some variation of it, many times before. Their Winnebago moved a couple of spaces up in line. 

Finally, her father gave her the license number and she sent it, along with a description of the vehicle, in a coded message to her contact in the hunter net. The request ended with the phrase, “oracle requested.” Though Moriko often felt alone, there were many resources at her disposal, as long as she continued to hunt the monsters. She shut the machine. It would take them a while.

“I have never heard anyone say anything nice about New Jersey,” she said.

“You must go where you are most needed, Moriko-chan, not where it is nice. Must we have this discussion again?”

“No, papa,” she replied.

* * *

They received an answer not long after passing through the customs inspection.  The intel led them to a warehouse out in the south Texas desert where a coven of real-live satanists were holed up, celebrating the arrival of a batch of fresh sacrifices from south of the border. Most of them were still alive that night, when Moriko stole into the compound, slaughtered the warlocks, their guards, and their sycophants. After letting the sacrifices free, she disappeared in a cloud of smoke. All anyone had seen was a short figure in black and a flashing blade.

The rest of the journey to New Jersey was mostly uneventful. Mostly.