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 find Adam briefly in Legacy of Ghosts. I thought he was older than this, so I was quite surprised to find out he wasn’t. This story takes place in 1952, one year before the Korean War ended.)
Adam leaned back in the barber’s chair and closed his eyes. The buzzing clippers moved slowly over his scalp and sent a rain of brown curls falling around him.
“So you’ve joined up?” old man Winslow commented from his chair. “You gonna go over there and kick some Commie ass?”
The barber coughed loudly, and his eyes skipped to the girl who stood near the counter, wearing a too proud smile and a poodle skirt. “There’s a lady present.”
Mr. Winslow snorted, but amended the question. “So when you shippin’ out, boy?”
Adam opened his eyes and tried not to sound too excited. “I have to go through Boot Camp, first.”
“Ah, just don’t mess around and get there too late, eh? Wars only last so long.” The old man winked.
The buzzing stopped. The barber brushed away the loose hairs and spun the chair towards the mirror. The new hairdo was a shock, and Adam ran his hand over his nearly bald head. But, even in the wake of surprise, his chest puffed up with pride. He had a man’s haircut; like his brother Randy’s, and in a few months he’d get to join him over there in Korea. Yeah, a real man.
Adam stood and paid the bill while the pretty girl by the counter gushed and giggled. Susan Harley was his steady, and though he’d been afraid she’d be mad about him joining up, she’d taken the news well. He wondered if it was because it hadn’t really sunk in. That was part of why he’d been in a hurry to lose the “civilian cut”. Let her get a good look at the reality of it and see if it was still as appealing. But, the gleam in her eyes said it was.
He offered her his arm and they strolled out of the barber shop and headed towards his dad’s grocery store. He’d been working there as a clerk since his graduation three years ago, but he spent more time hauling boxes than running the register because he was “built for it”. Tall and broad shouldered with thick arms, he stood out in a crowd and more often than not found himself carrying heavy items, or reaching high places for other people.
“I think it’s so romantic!” Susan prattled, and he realized he hadn’t been listening to her. “And when you get back we can get married!” She grabbed his arm and nearly swung around it like a kid on the monkey bars. “We can get that little house on the edge of town, you know, the one with the big elm in the front yard?”
He made a non committal noise and she went on as though he’d agreed. Susan had their lives all mapped out. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to marry her. If he had to marry someone it might as well be her, but he just couldn’t settle his mind to it, yet. Maybe he’d feel more settled when he got back.
They reached the grocery store, and Susan peeled herself loose, all batting eyelids and suggestive giggles. “I’ll see you tonight. Meet me the beach at eight and-“ she broke off and drew closer, her voice dropping low. “-If you’re a good boy maybe we’ll go for a swim in the ocean.”
She hurried away, her hips swaying just because she knew he was watching. He briefly imagined her walking towards the water wearing nothing but the skin God gave her, then shook it off quickly. He had to get to work.
By late afternoon storm clouds rolled in, and a low, angry thunder rumbled across the sky. Adam tried to ignore the darkening disappointment in his gut, but by closing time his dreams of a late night swim were pretty much gone. Still, they could huddle in the shelter and neck. That would be better than nothing.
It was seven o’clock when his dad closed out the register for the night. “You about done stacking those cans, Adam?”
There were only about six left, but he needed a moment of quiet. “Yes, sir. Just a couple more rows.”
As predicted, his father called back, “All right. You go finish up, and I’ll head home. You know how your mother gets if dinner has to wait too long.” He chuckled and added, ”Someday you’ll have the pleasure of a nagging wife. That little Susan seems like the kind who’d expect you right on time.” Adam didn’t respond, so he gathered up his things and left with the final order, “Lock up on your way out.”
Adam sighed in relief. It wasn’t that he didn’t like his old man, but sometimes he just bugged him. Always wanting to know what his plans were. How could he have plans yet? He was only twenty-one. There were guys his age that were still in college. He bet no one hassled them about what they were going to do, or whether they were going to get married.
He finished the cans and deposited the empty box in the storeroom. He had an hour until he had to meet Susan, so he popped out the back door for a smoke. Though it was just after seven, the sky overhead was black. Lightning sizzled across it, and thunder growled back, as if defending its territory from the dazzling intruder. Adam leaned against the building and watched the smoke curling up and away. There was too much to think about, so he let his mind drift to images of Susan waiting on the beach. Then he imagined her waiting with her sister. Oh yeah-
He jerked from his thoughts and stared at nothing. He’d heard something, but he didn’t know what, only that it had been something; something that shouldn’t be there. The tiny hairs on the back of his neck stood up, and a sudden, unexplained chill danced down his spine. He suddenly wanted to run back into the store and bolt the door.
A fat raindrop splashed past him to die on the pavement. “What the hell is this?” he whispered to himself. He stabbed his cigarette out and straightened his shoulders. He was the biggest guy in town, or damn near. What did he have to be afraid of? The rain and some shadows?
He walked towards the end of the alley where he instinctively felt the noise had come from. A row of weather stained garbage cans were illuminated by a flickering light above them. The effect was eerie, but there was nothing there. And then the light went out.
In the darkness, strong arms wrapped around Adam and pulled him down. He fought back, but blind and surprised, his reaction was too slow. He was slammed to the ground, and his head bounced off the pavement. Dazed, he blinked against the fuzziness that filled his skull. The cold rain splashed on his face and pulled his back to the world. And then the light came on and he saw his attacker.
It was a man, if man it could be called. The features were once human, but were so inhumanly twisted as to look like a beast. A pair of shining fangs gleamed in his mouth, and dirt streaked his face. Fury and burning need blazed in his eyes. He slammed Adam’s head into the ground again, and set upon him, fangs slicing through his neck; shredding and rending.
Expletives rolled out of Adam’s mouth as he tried uselessly to pry the monster loose. The rain picked up, and the sound drowned out the slurping noises as the creature drained him. Adam kicked and tried to roll away, but the thing only growled and bit deeper, so that blood ran around the edges of his mouth and over Adam’s shoulder in a warm, wet trail.
Blood. The word vampire flitted through his mind, but was lost to the fight for self preservation. Adam thrashed and bucked, but it did no good. He could feel his limbs weakening, feel his thoughts slowing. The light seemed to dim, and the sound of the rain roared louder and louder in his ears. Just as he was ready to give up, he saw a broken piece of wooden pallet. He could just reach it with his fingertips and slowly, he worked the slippery object closer until he could grip it firmly in his hand.
Weapon in hand, he gave a final cry and slammed the board over the monster’s head. The thing shrieked and let go, more from surprise than injury, and Adam used that second of imbalance to fling it away from him. He tried to leap to his feet, but his legs were too weak, so he settled for a half lunge in the thing’s direction. He crashed on top of him, knocking him to the ground.
“How do you like it, now?” he shouted, as he beat the monster in the face with the broken board. “How the hell do you like it?” The creature howled, and slammed a fist into Adam’s face. He and the board flew backwards and landed apart on the wet pavement.
The monster was suddenly straddling him, his dirty, blood streaked face pressed close to Adam’s. In seeming slow motion, his lips pulled back, his mouth widened, his fangs seemed to grow larger…
Adam wanted to fight him, but he didn’t have the means. The board was too far away and he was too weak to do the thing any harm. But he couldn’t die. Not here, not now. He had to go to Korea. He had to show everyone he was a better man than his brother. He had to meet Susan at the ocean.
With a final, savage cry, he used the last weapon he had; his teeth. He bit into the creature’s shoulder with all the force he could muster. Something warm splashed on his tongue. The flavor was strong and gritty, like a dirty penny. Adam’s first instinct was to pull away, but there was something about it; something that made him want more. It was as if his weakened, dying body was screaming for it.
The thing shrieked and tried to recoil, but Adam hung on like a tiny dog to a mailman’s leg. He gulped the hot, thick liquid in mouthfuls. As it filled him, his strength seemed to return, while the monster grew weaker and weaker and soon sank to the ground, his arms flailing uselessly.
Adam let the thing go and leaned back to stare at it. Conquering pride swelled through him and intensified his righteous fury. He grabbed the broken board that lay nearby and held it aloft, ready to strike. Unbidden, that word vampire returned to his mind, and he heard himself laugh maniacally as he slammed the sharp end of the board through the thing’s chest again and again.
Suddenly, he fell back and half lay on the cold ground, soaked, bloody and exhausted. His heart pounded in his ears like an evil drum, louder and louder, and the world’s focus grew too sharp. For an instant he could see every rain drop suspended in midair, as though someone had stopped the world. He blinked at the horror of it, and then everything rushed into a too fast tumult that made him sick. He couldn’t focus; couldn’t concentrate, and inside, low in his belly, a burning started. It spread through him, gaining momentum as it raced down his limbs, into his fingers and toes, and slammed into his brain.
Adam clutched his skull and writhed on the ground. It felt as though a thousand, red hot knives were slicing through every inch of him, and the wounds ripped into his neck and chest were on fire. He clawed at the mess, and then rolled onto his stomach and desperately tried to splash rain water on it to quench the imaginary flames, but it didn’t help. The pain was nearly unbearable. Then, it stopped.
Shaking and exhausted, Adam rolled over and slowly climbed to his feet. His head swam and all he could think about was getting away from the dirty alley and the dead guy with the big teeth. He needed to go… go… where? He thought of Susan and the beach. He thought of the course sand on her soft skin, and the light in her eyes. He had to find her. Something was wrong with him, he was sick, and he had to find her.
His vision flickered off and on; sometimes bright and startling, sometimes black. He stumbled and weaved his way out of the alley, like a drunk. His feet dragged on the pavement, too heavy to lift. Even his arms seemed to be made of lead. And then, the pain returned and he fell to his knees.
He didn’t know how long it took him. His rational mind had deserted him and left him with only a strange, base instinct that pulled him towards the beach. More than once the searing pain overtook him, but then it would leave, and each time he felt a little stronger afterwards.
At last, he could hear the roar of the ocean waves. He stumbled through the thick sand, and found the shelter that he and Susan usually met in. Despite the rain, there she was sitting on the bench, her ankles crossed and her impatient hands in her lap. A folded umbrella leaned next to her, along with a soggy dime novel.
Lightning cut across the sky and she saw him. Her eyebrows shot up, but she hadn’t had time to take him in before the blackness blotted him out, again. “There you are!” She stood and marched towards him, hands on her hips. “Where have you been? I’ve been waiting and waiting. I thought maybe you’d changed your mind because of the storm,” she broke off and stopped a few steps away from him, her posture suddenly alert. “Adam? Is that you?”
He tried to speak, but his voice didn’t want to come, so he nodded mutely. She couldn’t see him, so he forced the dry words out. “Yes, it’s me.”
She drew back and looked towards his silhouette warily. “Adam, what’s wrong? You don’t sound right.”
“I- I don’t feel right,” he croaked, his voice gruff and somehow dark. “Susan.” He moved towards her, his hand outstretched. “Susan, something’s wrong.”
Instinctively, she moved just out of reach of his fingers. “Adam, maybe you should go home?”
“I can’t. Not like this?”
At his words, her body stiffened. “Like what?”
The lightning flashed again and revealed his disheveled state. He was soaked to the skin, and his clothes were torn and bloody. The wound in his neck gaped red and angry like something from a horror movie.
Adam grabbed her. He didn’t want to hurt her, only make her stop before someone heard her. He pinned her to him with one arm, and muffled her mouth with his free hand. “Susan,” he croaked. “Susan, listen, shhhh. Be quiet. Don’t scream, honey, just-“
And then she bit him. He swore loudly and released her. She staggered backwards, her terrified eyes wide. “What’s wrong with you?” she cried. “Just stay back, Adam. Go home. Go home- No!” He lunged towards her. “No! Adam! No!”
He tackled her to the ground, fury twisting his features. His brain slid and he didn’t recognize her anymore. She wasn’t a person, she was a thing. Something he needed to silence. Something he needed to bite. Something he needed to feed on. Bite. Drink. Feed. Bite. Drink. Feed. Bite-
He came to his senses. Cold rain pounded into his back as he lay over a prone female. The girl’s neck was torn and bleeding. Something inside him rejected the picture and he pulled back and closed his eyes. But he couldn’t hide from it, and slowly he opened them again and peered at the girl’s face. It was frozen in fear; a terrible, horrible kind of fear that made his guts twist. It was Susan’s face.
With a cry, he flung himself off of her and shook her violently. “Susan! Susan, honey! Susan! Oh, God damn it! Susan!” But she didn’t respond, only stared at nothing with those horrible, vacant eyes.
Adam fell back on his knees and held out his hands. The rain pounded the blood away, but it couldn’t wash them clean. It couldn’t fix this. It couldn’t fix him. What had he done? What had he become?
The pain came again, only less terrible this time. He crawled to the shelter – their shelter – and curled up under the bench. Sobs racked his body as he fought to claw the image of Susan’s face from his mind. He couldn’t have done that! He couldn’t have! He wouldn’t hurt her! He loved her! He loved her!
The storm raged. The night passed, and soon the sky over the ocean lightened. Slowly, the sun crept up. The light moved across the beach like syrup, reaching ever closer to Adam in his hiding place. He sensed the morning on some primeval level and moved towards the opening of the shelter, away from the protection of the bench above him.
The sunlight burned and he screamed and drew back into the cool shadows. He could smell something; like cooked bacon, and gingerly touched his face. And then He was there. The man was dressed in a long, hooded black cloak. Only with his back to the sun did he open the cloak to reveal a smooth, pale face and flashing, hypnotic eyes.
“Come, young one,” the man whispered softly. “You must get away from the sun.”
Adam stared openly. Despite all the questions burning through his brain he asked the most obvious, “Who are you?”
The man smiled, revealing a set of pointed fangs. “My name is Demetrious, child.”
He rejected what he was seeing. None of it could be real. “Susan,” he croaked. “Where is Susan?”
Demetrius sighed. “I can only assume you mean the young lady on the beach? She is of no consequence at the moment, young one. The earth belongs to the living, not to the dead. Now come quickly, before it is too late and you join them.”
Adam wanted to argue, but something in the other man’s voice made him obey. He shuffled quickly under the protection of the cloak, huddling against the stranger’s body. “I don’t understand,” he whispered to the darkness inside the cloak.
“Don’t worry,” Demetrius answered as he snatched up the abandoned umbrella and opened it, using it as a sun shade. “You will soon. “ And then, slowly, he drew them both away; away from the beach where Susan’s mangled, bloodless body laid spread eagle beneath a flock of hungry seagulls. Away from boot camp, and Korea, and marriage, and all the things that had made up Adam’s life before. Away from the orb of the burning of the sun and into the shadows.