As I prepped my notes for work on Ties of Blood, I noticed that I have a lot of side characters who, for one reason or another, don’t get any “me” time. so, I’ve decided to remedy that in a collection of short stories called…
(You can’t really find Herrick anywhere. He existed as a character in an early draft of Legacy of Ghosts – originally he accompanied Kariss to Jorick’s house – but he got cut in a revision and is no more than a name in Legacy of Ghosts and Ties of Blood, which is a shame because he is an interesting guy. This story takes place during Shades of Gray. If you’ve read the book you may recognize the timing.)
Thunder rumbled in the distance. Herrick could smell the coming rain on the breeze, and so could Caroline. She held her hand out to check for stray drops before she pulled the door shut. The dog strained at the leash, anxious for its nightly walk. It didn’t care if there was rain or not.
“Okay, okay.” She took a few steps and the dog leapt ahead, his tail wagging and his tongue lolling to one side with enthusiasm.
Herrick stepped back deeper into the shadows, not that she could see him with her mortal eyes. She stopped at the quiet street corner and looked both ways, a habit she’d held onto from childhood, then she plunged forward again. He waited until she was halfway down the street before he followed. He didn’t want to get too close.
He crept silently from shadow to shadow as she shuffled along at an uneven pace, her eyes on the dog in front of her. He wondered what she was thinking about. Her friends? Her family? Her ex-boyfriend? Was she happy? Sad? Worried? He wished he could crawl inside her head and make himself comfortable, if only for a few minutes. But vampirism hadn’t given him those gifts.
It was a too familiar word, but it still held old terrors, ingrained from his childhood. He could hear his grandmother muttering prayers against the demons. He could see her terrified eyes, the way she made the sign of the cross with her withered hands. It was well that she hadn’t lived to see her grandson join them, so long ago.
The clouds drifted over the moon and the world was suddenly shrouded in shadows. Herrick didn’t mind. Sometimes, he thought he could see better without the light. Caroline couldn’t. Her eyes darted around as if, in the dark, she was suddenly conscious of his presence. He wondered if she could really feel him watching. Waiting. Wanting.
“Come on, boy.” Her voice was too loud. The dog didn’t notice, and turned back for the house with the same enthusiasm he’d left with. She picked up her pace, her shuffling, random steps suddenly a steady rhythm on the pavement as she hurried towards her perceived safety. The closer she got the faster she moved and for a moment she passed him, only a few feet away. It was a distance he could have closed without effort, but he didn’t.
A rain drop fell. And then another. And another. It pit-patted on the last of the tree leaves and the bugs in the branches sang to the beat. Thunder rolled across the sky, like tympani drums. The symphony of the storm only hurried her steps and by the time she reached the house she was in a run.
She fumbled with the door, her eyes on everything but it. Finally, it opened and she shoved the dog inside and followed quickly. The door slammed and the lock clicked. Herrick could hear it; the faint metallic sound that meant she was safe – or thought she was safe.
The thunder sounded, an echo of the door that shut him out. He walked silently until he stood under the tree across from her house. He leaned on it and watched. Light flickered in the window; the television. He could see her silhouette as she dropped onto the couch and pulled a blanket over her.
“Back here again?”
Herrick turned towards the voice. At first there was only the glowing cherry of a cigarette, and then a bald vampire came into view. He walked casually towards Herrick and stopped next to him. “You know it’s fucking raining out here, right?”
“As a matter of fact, Micah, I noticed.” Herrick turned back towards the house and fought the desire to sigh deeply.
Micah followed his gaze. “This is stupid. You drive forty-five minutes for this every night. Why don’t you just go knock on the door? What’s the worst that could happen? She probably remembers you.”
There was no mirth in Herrick’s laughter. “And how do I explain that I haven’t changed in the last twenty years? How do I explain my very presence here?”
Micah took a puff from his soggy cigarette, then dropped it to the ground and stomped it out. “You could just tell her the truth, man.”
“What? That I’m her great-great-great-what’s it and I’ve been keeping an eye on her all these years? That should go over well.”
“How many greats are there? You sure it’s distant enough for all this pining shit you do?”
Herrick ground his teeth together. “Yes. It’s distant enough. Don’t you have somewhere to be?”
“Yep. “ He clapped his hand on Herrick’s back. “I’m here, savin’ your ass from the miserable black hole you seem to wanna live in. Though, I guess I can kinda see it. You meddled when she was a kid, so it was like custom raising your future girlfriend. You shoulda got her some ‘vampires are your friends’ picture books or something. Woulda made things easier. ”
Herrick glared at him from under soggy blonde bangs. “You make it sound cheap, sick even.”
“Ah, I’m just kiddin’ ya. I don’t give a damn who ya wanna chase after. She’s got a nice ass.”
“Watch your mouth!”
“Sorry, man.” He held up an appeasing hand, then grinned. “She does, though.”
“Whether she does or not isn’t for you to notice.” Herrick gave the house a final look, then turned back to his friend. “Since you refuse to leave me in peace, might I suggest we go somewhere that’s a bit dryer?”
Micah’s grin grew. “Now you’re talkin’! I got some laundry to do, then what do you say we hit a bar or somethin’?”
Laundry. How lovely.
It was nearly nine P.M. when they walked into the all night Laundromat. Despite the time, a woman and three children sat in the far corner. She talked on her cellphone, and waved around her free hand to punctuate her words.
Herrick chose a plastic chair on the other side of the room and flipped absently through the stack of old magazines. Micah dumped his bundle of clothes into a nearby washer.
The washer started and he flopped into the chair next to Herrick, his eyes on the woman and her tiny denim shorts. “Take a look at that.”
“I see her,” Herrick answered stiffly. “Perhaps if she had more clothing on.”
“More?” Micah chortled. “I think you mean less.” He gave his friend a once over. “Never mind. I’m talking to a guy in a cape.”
“It isn’t a cape. It’s a cloak. And it’s comfortable. You should try one.”
“No thanks. Not really into the whole medieval look.” Micah snickered and then turned serious for a moment. “So you’re really gonna go join what’s his name’s war?”
“Oren? Perhaps.” Herrick stared into space and stroked his blonde beard thoughtfully. “Benjamin and Des are already helping them.”
Micah crossed his arms over his chest and slouched down in his seat, his legs kicked out in front of him. “You gotta ask yourself, is this really our problem? I mean, fuck, I don’t even know who the guy is they’re fuckin’ fighting.”
“His name is Claudius. I don’t know if you’ve met him. He looks all of sixteen with a chip on his shoulder and a ruffled shirt.”
“Not ringing a bell.”
Herrick waved it away as unimportant and they fell into silence. Micah’s attention stayed on the woman in the too-short shorts. Eventually, she looked up and caught his eyes. An unspoken communication seemed to pass between them, and she stood and stretched languidly. “Stay out of trouble. Mommy’s gonna go have a cigarette around back.” With one more meaningful glance at Micah, she strolled out the door, her hips swaying.
Micah was on his feet. He dumped a handful of quarters on the nearest table. “Toss ‘em in the dryer when they’re done.” Then he, too, disappeared.
“Of course, I don’t mind.”
No one was close enough to hear the comment, and no one cared, anyway. Herrick sighed and his thoughts turned to Caroline. She was probably still watching TV. It would be another hour before she crawled into bed, alone. Perhaps Micah was right. Perhaps he should knock on her door and confront her with the truth.
Then she can scream and reject me outright.
So much better.
He wasn’t sure when it had happened. One day she was a little girl and he was her neighbor. He’d never thought anything impure, or even romantic about her. She was just another in the long line of descendants that he kept an eye on. Sentimentality held over from his mortal days, perhaps. Or guilt. He hadn’t shared the gift of the vampire with his brother. Too late did he regret it, so now it was his duty to see that his line didn’t end. The closest he could give him to immortality.
Caroline left for college; a flush faced child with blonde curls. He couldn’t remain the unchanging neighbor forever, and so he’d disappeared, too, though returned now and again to make sure they were all right. It was four years before he saw Caroline again. Instead of a shy child she was a woman with stormy eyes and a temperament to match. He hadn’t even realized it was her at first, and by the time he did it was too late. Though she didn’t know it, she owned him.
The washer stopped. He jerked from his thoughts, gathered Micah’s wet clothes and stuffed them into the nearest dryer. The quarters clinked noisily, their echo giving more import to their existence than usual. Like the echo of the door.
“Are you a Jedi?”
Herrick looked down and found one of the children staring up at him. The boy’s eyes were large and his hair was thick and curly. In another life he’d have been painted as a cherub. “What?”
“Are you a Jedi?” the child repeated. “You look like one.”
Out of touch, Herrick had no idea what a Jedi was, or if he resembled one. The reverence in the child’s eyes made it clear it was something splendid so he went along. “Yes. Well spotted.”
“I knew it!” The child was suddenly animated. “Where’s your light saber? Can I see it?”
Herrick was spared having to answer when a dark skinned vampire with short cropped hair skidded through the doorway. He lifted his sunglasses and his eyes snapped to Herrick. “We got trouble at Benjamin’s!” Then he turned and ran out the door again.
The boy’s excitement seemed to grow. “Is he a Jedi, too?”
“Yeah, sure.” Herrick dumped the extra quarters in the child’s surprised hands. “When your mother returns, tell her crude, tattooed friend that I’ve gone to Benjamin’s.” He stopped himself from adding “if”. Micah wasn’t callous enough to drain the woman’s life when she had children so close by.
Benjamin’s motel was at the far end of town, not that it was much of a town. Herrick had come there following Caroline’s family; she was barely a baby then. He’d been more than a little surprised to find a local concentration of his own kind. Perhaps they unconsciously drew together, even while their conscious mind cried for solitude.
The shabby little town was perfect for vampires, though. The main attraction was Benjamin’s vampire friendly motel, with its bank of windowless rooms in the back and Benjamin himself. Herrick didn’t know how many vampires he’d helped over the years, many of them fledglings whose masters had left them to stand on their own. That and the food was easy. The town was small enough that wildlife was available on the fringes, while the highway brought in just enough visitors to keep the locals safe from those who preferred more human food and, should something go amiss, the cops were slow.
Or they were normally.
All three cars were already parked at the Rookway Inn, lights flashing red and blue against the night sky. Herrick found Des standing a block down under a dark tree. “What’s going on?”
Des’s face was hard and furious. “They killed Benjamin.”
Herrick choked on his response. Who? Why? How?
Though the questions remained unasked, Des answered anyway. “It was that fucker Claudius’ goons. It had to be! Jorick found Benjamin in the office mangled and drained. He barely got the body out of the way before the fucking cops showed up.”
Herrick put a hand to his head. “Who called them?”
“Someone else in the motel? I don’t know! Fuck!”
Herrick’s eyes turned to the motel and then back to his friend. He tried to think rationally. “Why would it be Claudius?”
“Because Arowenia and Jorick’s human are both missing. Who else would take them?”
“Jorick has a human?” That was almost as shocking as the other news.
“Apparently. I don’t know! Ask Oren about it! They’re trying and get ahold of Elsa and see if she knows where they’ve been taken.”
It was too much information, too fast. “I thought Elsa refused to help them anymore?”
“I don’t know!” Des shouted. “Fuck!”
Micah was suddenly there. He skidded to a stop, a cigarette in his hand. “What in the hell is going on?”
Herrick took the helm. “Benjamin’s been killed. Arowenia and Jorick’s human are missing.”
Micah’s eyes bulged. “What the fuck? Benjamin? No, not- but- “ He took a step backwards. “Who killed him? Was it that bastard Jorick? I know who he is, he’s that Executioner-”
“Was,” Herrick interrupted. “Long before you were born. And no, they think it was Claudius’ underlings.”
“Claudius. The dude with the chip and the ruffles?”
Des’s hands compressed to tight fists. “That’s him.”
“Then we fuckin’ kill Claudius!” Micah grabbed Herrick’s arm and started to pull him away. He stopped when the other vampire resisted. “What the fuck are you waiting for?”
Herrick cleared his throat loudly. “Claudius is much older than you and there are things to do here.”
Herrick turned to Des. “Where is the body?”
“My house. I didn’t know what else to do with it.”
Herrick gave a satisfied nod. “Good. Come, then. We’ll see to this first, then we can worry about what steps to take.”
Micah’s eyes bulged. “Are you serious? They just fucking killed Benjamin and you’re worried about – what? burying him? That can wait until tomorrow! Tonight we get blood!”
“Claudius’ blood will keep until tomorrow. Besides, no one knows where he is. He has several dens. Do you plan to visit them all? That would take days at best. If they’ve taken Jorick’s human, then Jorick will no doubt be on the hunt already. Let him do the legwork.”
Des nodded. “Yeah, though he’s wasting his time. His human is dead. The whole place reeks of blood, but there isn’t any to be seen. Obviously they drained her and took the body as a trophy for Claudius.”
Herrick turned suddenly thoughtful. “Jorick and Claudius would be an interesting match. They’re very close in age. I can only imagine Jorick’s fury if he cares at all for the human.”
Micah exploded, “I can’t believe we’re having this fucking conversation! Who gives a shit about the human? They killed Benjamin!”
“Yes, Micah, we know.” Herrick glanced towards the police cars. “I suggest we go before they notice us loitering. I don’t really want to be questioned.”
Herrick washed his hands. The water was red. It swirled around the sink and down the drain. He finished and stared in the mirror. His face looked young, frozen forever in his early twenties, but his eyes were old. Too old.
Des and Micah waited in the backyard, their hands in their pockets and their eyes on the frosty ground. It hadn’t rained here and the autumn leaves had been raked in crisp piles to create a bare patch of grass. They’d dig a trench, like a miniature moat. It was only a few inches deep but nearly eight inches wide. Instead of a castle, the miniature trench surrounded Benjamin, who looked as presentable as Herrick could manage. His face was torn and the side of his neck was ripped out, but the clotted gore had been neatly cleaned away and a scarf had gone a long way towards hiding his hurts.
“He looks…. Nice.” Des suggested without really looking.
“Yeah, whatever.” Micah scuffed his feet in the leaves. “So now what?”
“Now would be a good time to remember him.” Herrick looked to the east. The sun will rise soon. “Who would like to start?”
“I will.” Micah took a step forward. “Benjamin was an okay guy, though he was kinda gross with his whisky and shit, and those sons of bitches who killed him are gonna fucking pay.”
Herrick rolled his eyes impatiently. “That isn’t exactly what I had in mind. Des, do you have something more appropriate?”
“Um, yeah. Benjamin was a good guy. Been awhile since we had one of the old poker nights. I’ve been thinking we needed to do it again soon, but I guess we won’t get to now. I’ve been too busy with all this shit with Oren. I thought we had forever, you know?”
Before he could continue his cellphone rang; the dance rhythm seemed out of place with the solemn occasion. Des answered it quickly, nodded and then hung up. “That was Oren. Elsa won’t help them, so we’re trying alternate routes for information. I need to run if I’m going to meet up with them before sunrise. You guys can sleep here if you want after… you know.” He motioned to Benjamin’s prone form.
Micah looked suddenly hopeful. “You going to kill that bastard Claudius?”
“Not tonight, it’s just a meeting. Oren loves that crap.” Des checked his watch. “I have to go. Sorry.”
Herrick threw his hands up. “Of course, go. Micah and I will finish this.”
“Sorry,” Des repeated and then hurried towards the street and his car.
Herrick took a deep calming breath and looked towards the horizon again. Des was right, they had very little time. The sun would rise soon and cleanse the world.
“You gonna say something?”
Herrick looked at Micah in surprise. “Yes, I suppose I should.” He let his eyes settle on the dead body and tried to remember the old funeral rites, but they were lost to time. He barely remembered his birth language anymore.
He cleared his throat, as though it would make a speech easier. “Benjamin was an interesting man, to say the least. And though I didn’t expect to be here, I would not say it was because he lacked bravery. He was brave, but he was the kind of brave that stays behind and tends the house while the warriors go to battle. He was dependable and reliable and though his words were gruff, I believe his heart was soft. He will be greatly missed, not only for the help he has provided to many over the last twenty or thirty years, offering them shelter, help and acceptance, but also as a recognizable figure around town.” A strange smile made Herrick’s eyes crinkle. “Even the mortals were beginning to notice he hadn’t changed. He had become a fixture, and there will be a Benjamin shaped hole in the world now that he is gone.”
Micah lit a cigarette and puffed on it. It was several minutes before he spoke, and when he did, his voice was thick, “That was beautiful, man.”
“Thank you.” Herrick’s eyes skipped to the horizon again. A gold line appeared, like a crack between heaven and earth opening to take Benjamin home, “We had best go indoors, now.”
Micah nodded and grabbed the nearby shovel. He held it up, then dropped it again. “Fuck it, Des can get it.”
They watched through the window of the back bedroom as the sun crested the hill and the first rays spread across the cold grass. They backed away quickly, but not before Herrick saw the smallest of flames licking at Benjamin’s ugly Hawaiian shirt. He said a quick prayer, though he wasn’t sure to who, and asked that someone, somewhere take Benjamin into their everlasting care. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, reclaimed by the sun they had long ago abandoned.
They hurried through house and clunked down the stairs to the finished basement and Des’s bedroom. Without feeling, Herrick pointed to the bed. “You can have it. The floor is fine for me.”
“I’m not gonna argue.” Micah flashed him a fanged grin and peeled off his motorcycle boots.
Herrick found some extra pillows and made himself comfortable. When he closed his eyes he saw Benjamin’s lifeless body, the first rays of the sun gleaming golden on his pale skin. The image disappeared and suddenly he saw Caroline again. Tonight showed how fragile life was – even immortal life. He thought of Micah’s advice, “Why don’t you just go knock on the door? What’s the worst that could happen?”
Maybe he should. What was the worst that could happen?
In his mind he suddenly heard Des, his voice offhanded and matter of fact, “His human is dead.”
“What’s the worst that could happen?”
“His Human is dead.”
No, now was not the time to talk to Caroline. Maybe when the fight was behind him, but not now.