Arowenia: Available on Smashwords

Now on Smashwords, the third short story in the Vampire Morsel’s Collection.

Arowenia, Claudius’s child bride for eternity, lives in a gilded cage. She moves through a world of opulence and excess, shielded from Claudius’s political enemies, until a waring coven’s scheme engulfs her.

You can also find Arowenia in Shades of Gray, the first in the Amaranthine series.

Vampire Morsels: Claudius

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…

Claudius

(You can find Claudius in Shades of Gray. This particular story takes place in France in the early 1500’s.)

The blood pounded through his head like white hot noise and he screamed. He fell to his knees, though he didn’t feel it. He was numb to everything but the pain that seared through his veins. Cold hands grabbed him. They held him down to stop him from thrashing. He kicked and fought, but the hands were too strong.

Then darkness came.

The black swirled around him but gave no comfort. It was like the dark inside a furnace; too hot and too dry. There was no escape.  He choked on the air, or was it his own throat? Something flashed behind his eyelids. It was an image and, though he recognized the face, the colors were too bright. He tried to call to her, but no sound came. There was only the dry, hot rasping of the damned.

How long it lasted, he couldn’t tell. As the agony sliced through him he forgot everything; his hopes, his dreams, his past, even his own name. There was only one thing that he could remember and that was the too bright face with eyes that shied away from him.

Then, it was over.

He blinked and tried to focus on the face bent over him. It wasn’t her, but it was a woman just the same. Francoise had dark hair and creamy skin, full lips colored in blood and long, pointed teeth. He gurgled; an attempt at speech, and she smiled at his efforts.

“So you have survived, le petit Claude.”

With that greeting his memories suddenly slammed into his skull in a heated rush. He could see her; dark and coquettish. She batted her eyes like a virgin, but took him in the stables like a common whore.

He didn’t love her, and she knew it, but she didn’t care. He was a game for her, a new toy to play with. That suited him fine.  Her offerings were sweet enough. Then, they got sweeter. She showed him her immortality and let him taste it. It was a prize like no other, one that would give him everything he deserved.  He craved it like he craved the girl in his pain smeared visions and now that he had the one he would soon have the other.

Francoise watched him with keen interest. When she’d met him she had called him young.  He told her he was sixteen and she laughed and said he was just a babe, but she could see the revenge that burned in his heart and it intrigued her. She said that she could taste his hate; hate for the one who had sired him, but turned him away. Other noblemen claimed their bastards, and without an heir there was no reason for him not to.  So desperate for a child was he that he laid claim to his only niece, but refused to foster the one who shared his blood. Or so he said. Claude suspected it was not a daughter, rather a future bride he raised in those stone halls, and that was something he would not allow. The Écuyer would never touch her.

He sat up slowly and the world tilted. He caught himself on a rough hewn stall. The smell of horses filled his nose, suddenly too strong and too organic. His stomach lurched and his tongue burned. He needed a drink.

With great effort he climbed to his feet and propped himself up. “I thirst.”

Her smile grew. “Yes, you must feed, but first you must be able to walk.” She took his arm and helped him take an uncertain step. “Yes. Yes. Come, now.”

They stopped at the opened door and he stared at the world beyond with new eyes. People bustled about their business in the late evening hours, some to bed, some to the taverns, and others to appointments of a more carnal nature. His legs felt stronger and he started forward, but Francoise held him back and shook her head. “I shall find you one, mon enfant.”

He scowled and pulled his arm free. “I am no child of yours. I will do it alone.”

She laughed but let him go. He could feel her eyes on him as he stumbled into the street, and her scrutiny straightened his spine.  The strength returned to his legs only to leech out again in an instant. He grabbed the wall of a nearby building to keep from falling in the mud. He heard her silvery laughter but he refused to succumb.

The ally was dark but a man stood at the end of it, no doubt a thief waiting for some unlucky prey. Claude stalked towards him, his every sense alive as if for the first time, but the man only offered a too friendly greeting. He did not know it was his death that approached.

It was over quickly. The man’s knife flashed and then his scream shook the night. The blade clattered to the ground, and Claude tore through his throat. Blood sprayed his face and shirt and filled his mouth. He gulped down mouthfuls of crimson. The burning agony in his throat eased, and the thirst was silenced. But there wasn’t enough.

The blood stopped coming and he stared down at the limp body in his arms with a mixture of disappointment and confusion.  Francoise was suddenly next to him. She took the corpse and cast it aside. “Come,” she said softly.  “We must quit this place before an alarm is given.” She tugged the dark cloak from around her shoulders and used it to mop his face. He flinched away at first, but settled and let her clean him. “You are hardly in a fit state to be seen and not accused of murder.”

Murder. The word rang through his mind and he looked at the corpse on the ground. He’d never killed a man before but, if he wanted his due he would have to kill many more. None would he enjoy so much as him.

Oblivious to his thoughts, Francoise threw her ruined garment aside and pulled his cloak closed over his shirt. “We are stronger than they are, but we are vulnerable to the sunlight. Never forget that. Besides, tonight you are weak, mon enfant. Your full strength will not find you until tomorrow’s sun sets.”

He sneered at the new endearment, but let it go. There would be time to deal with it later.

As dawn approached, Francoise finished the letter with a flourish. “I am coming,” she read back. “I will take what is mine and neither you, nor all the demons in hell, can stop me.” Claude nodded and she held the quill towards him, but he pushed it aside roughly. There had been no time in his previous life for things such as writing. He could do no more than make his mark, and more was needed here. His cheeks flamed in anger and shame and he determined that he would learn. He had all the time in the world now, and he would learn everything. He would put them to shame.

Without comment she dipped the quill into the pot of blood again and signed his name to the end.  “Are you sure that you wish to give him warning? Would it not be better to sneak upon him on the ‘morrow?”

“No,” he rasped. His throat was tight and hot again. “He will have the rest of this night and all the day to panic and then to posture and boast to himself. He will not run, but hide away like a rat in his hole.  When we come upon him tomorrow I want to watch the confidence in his eyes melt into terror. I want to feel his fear.” He broke into a wide, sharp smile.

Francoise’s eyes gleamed as she surveyed him. “And that is why I so enjoy you, mon enfant.” She glanced to the darkness and shouted, “Henri! Send a messenger to the castle!”

Claude woke the next night, the weakness and trembling gone from his limbs. Francoise was right; his full strength had only now come to him. He marveled at the things he could see in the shadows and at how the darkness, which he knew to be complete, seemed only to be early evening gloom to his new eyes.

He rose and found the others in the next room. He counted the pale faces. There were five, including himself and Francoise. The other three were her friends, if friends they could be called. They were more like a wild pack of dogs that hunted together for safety.

Francoise laid out the night’s plans. Claude listened in silence. He had spoken more than once to her of this after he’d discovered her secret and he knew it by heart. They would storm the castle on the hill. They would kill the soldiers and he, he would murder the Eucyer with his own hands and then take the pale beauty for his bride.

Francoise finished and asked them, “Do you understand?”

Henri, the vampire nearest to her, snickered. “We bring the girl alive and kill everyone else. What could be simpler?”

His too casual attitude infuriated Claude. This was the epoch of his entire life, not some moment of amusement. “No!!” he shouted and swiveled towards Henri with burning eyes. “You will kill only who you’re told – and you will not touch the Écuyer. He is mine.”

The others drew back at his fury, but rather than acknowledge their discomfort they looked to Francoise as if to ask, “Why should we follow him?” A dark smile curved her lips and she nodded, leaving them to grumble their assent.

With that settled, she met Claude’s eyes and smiled. “Do not fear, you will have your wish tonight as I promised, mon enfant.”

The night wrapped around them like a cloak, and they moved through it swiftly. Claude smiled to himself as the air rushed past his face and through his long, blonde hair.  He could smell the men on the wind. Though, to his inexperienced nose they were just blood, Francoise could read much more.

“There are at least six of them,” she whispered to her companions. “But they will be no trouble.”

They weren’t.

The two at the gatehouse fell to Francoise companions, and another ran for the keep. Francoise, Claude and Henri chased him. It was the latter who snapped his neck and ripped into his veins. Claude pushed past, Francoise on his heels, and took the steps of the keep two at a time. It was a small château-fort, and the keep was little more than a tower with a winding stair. How could He think it would protect them?

Two more guards stood on the stairs. Claude grabbed one by his shoulder and ripped through his neck with his fangs. His blood was hot, and for a moment he could have been lost to it. The memory of his quest pulled him back and he flung the gurgling man down the stairs. Francoise barely dodged out of the way. Though her eyes flamed, her voice was calm, “Remember, you are not alone. Do not be careless or your allies may turn on you.”

He dismissed the lesson and left the other guard for her. He heard the man scream, but he didn’t look back to see what happened. He was too close.

Two final guards stood before the wooden door at the top of the stairs. They brandished swords and one of them shouted to the occupant of the locked room, “A demon is here, my lord! All blood and fangs! God save us!”

Claude laughed at the description and wordlessly grabbed the first of the guards. He fought back, and his sword cut into Claude’s side. He roared at the surprise pain, and then grabbed the man by the arm and flung him down the stairs. His armor clanged and his bones crunched as he rolled out of sight to where Francoise waited.

The other dropped his weapon and cowered against the door, making the sign of the cross and jibbering. “Please, do not kill me. God, protect me! Please!”

“There is no God,” Claude sneered. Then he grabbed the discarded sword and slammed the blade into the man’s face. The guard screamed and raised his hands to his ruined head, as though trying to hold the blood in. It poured between his fingers, regardless, and he gurgled on it.

Claude left him on the floor in his agony and stepped over him. The wooden door was bolted from within. He raised his foot to kick through it, but stopped. No, he wanted to savor the fear. Gently he rapped on it and purred, “I’ve come. Did you get my message?”

The Écuyer swore loudly and shouted to his guards, “How can he be here? Kill him!”

“I must apologize,” Claude answered and carefully combed back the loose hair from his face with a bloody hand. “I’m afraid they cannot answer you.”

The Écuyer cried something unintelligible, then dropped his voice so that Claude had to strain to hear, “Go. Hide in the back.”

He was talking to her. He was telling her to hide. It would do no good.

Claude broke the door in with a single kick. He marveled at his new strength, but knew there was no time to be amazed. That would come later. After he had killed Him.

And there he was. He stood in the center of the room, his sword raised. He was dressed in all his glory, as if his finery would make him more intimidating, but his shaking hands and terrified eyes ruined the illusion.

“What do you want?” he demanded, though his voice trembled. “Be gone or-”

“Or what?” Claude strolled into the room, the dying guard’s sword still in his hand. “You’ll set the dogs on me, perhaps? Or have your men run me off in another shower of stones?”  His smiled grew. “Or perhaps you’ll kill me this time, is that your plan? Be done with me once and for all?”

“I should have done so,” he snapped back, his voice gruff even as he retreated a step. “The sisters at the abbey should have strangled the breath from you when you were born.”

“You should have done it yourself,” Claude answered. The amusement in his eyes flickered and died. “It would have been the only contribution you made, beyond bedding my mother.”

The man opened his mouth to reply, but stopped. Claude willed him to speak; willed him to say something, anything, but no words came. Where was his superiority now? It had fled with the lives of his soldiers, and that knowledge only swelled Claude’s fury.

He lunged at him, slashing the sword wildly. In his untrained hands it was nothing more than a sharp club that was easily deflected. It bounced across the room, but the metallic clangs did not give the Écuyer any comfort. There was no light of victory in his eyes; only fear. Claude had wanted that fear. He’d wanted to taste it, savor it, breathe it in. But he’d wanted to watch as the old man’s eyes shifted from gloating certainty into terror. He wanted to break him – but he was already broken.

Claude roared a wordless oath and threw himself at the man. The noble man dodged, but his mortal reflexes were too slow and the pair crashed to the floor noisily. Over the clang and crash Claude could hear a sharp sob from the room beyond.  His attention flew to the door that he knew she was listening at. The Écuyer saw the shift and took advantage of it to break loose and roll away. He jerked to his knees and summoned that last ounce of courage Claude had been waiting for.

“You won’t have her!”

Claude snatched up the man’s discarded sword and walked towards him. “Yes,” he said with certainty. “I will. I will have this castle, I will have the land and I will have her. I will have everything that should have been mine. Everything I was entitled to. Everything you denied me!” He pointed the sword like an accusing finger. “You left me to be raised an orphan.  You claim her as a daughter and deny the one who shares your blood! A better man than I would hate her, but,” A strange smile flickered over his lips. “I do not hate her. I will take her, and your life will be her dowry!”

The Ecuyer rose clumsily to his feet. His mouth worked with fury, though words seemed hard for him to locate. Claude didn’t wait. He lunged at him with the sword, but then cast it aside at the last moment and grabbed him by fistfuls of his hair; the fine blonde locks so like his own.  The nobleman cried out in surprise and tried to pry his hands loose, but Claude wrenched him to one side too quickly, and the Eucyer lost his footing. He’d have fallen to the floor, but Claude caught him. He held the struggling man in his arms and stared down at the face, the pitiless face of the man he despised. His hatred and fury rose like black bile in the back of his throat and, with a savage howl, he lost himself to his anger. Like a mad creature he set upon the nobleman with flashing, rending fangs; ripping and tearing at his neck, his face, even the hands he tried to shield himself with. His blood was hot; hot and bitter and it burned, but Claude wanted more. He latched his mouth around the man’s bleeding neck and drank the life from him, gulp after gulp.

And then, it was over.

Claude was seated on the floor and the torn, bloody Eucyer lay across his lap. Claude stared at the ruined face and the glassy, blue eyes and suddenly he didn’t recognize him anymore. This wasn’t his father, the lofty lord in his mighty castle, it was just a slab of dead meat that smelled of blood and piss and wine. The odors were overpowering. They choked him and, in disgust, he flung the body aside and backed away until his back met the stone wall.

The reality of the universe slotted itself into place inside his mind. His eyes drifted to the motionless body. What was it now but a corpse, like so many others? And before, what was it then? A man? A weak creature who cowered in his crumbling castle, on his tiny hill in his little county, counting his coins and jealously guarding his niece as though she were his wife.  And to what end were all those struggles? What had it gained him but a shabby, dreary little world veneered with the false delights of court and riddled with the worms of fear and weakness. Fear was all he’d known, the only thing any of them knew. They knew the deaths their futures held, and they feared it.

Their futures.

Claude was no longer one of them. Francoise’s blood had lifted him above their petty existence and away from their mad scramble for one more breath. He would have all the breaths that he could desire, all the life he could ever crave, and it would be at their expense. And why shouldn’t it? They were now the weak and he was the strong. He was the lord in the castle, only, unlike the feeble, fleshy thing that came before, he was a true lord. Better in every way than they were.

Francoise was suddenly in the room. She looked approvingly at the body, and her dark eyes shifted to her pupil. “And does your revenge taste sweet, mon petit Claude?”

He jerked to his feet and straightened his clothing. “Don’t ever call me that name again!” His cold, gray eyes landed on her and with his new clarity he saw her for what she was, as well. An immortal, yes, but not deserving of it. She was a simple whore, like so many others, and she would feast on humanity until she grew too swollen and slow and then, in the shadows, her death would find her.

“From this moment on I am Claudius.” His eyes flamed and a smile flickered over his lips. Yes, a fitting name. The name of long ago emperors. As they were above the masses, so now was he. And like they, he would rule.

Francoise laughed softly. “If it pleases you, then so be it. But where is your prize?”

He didn’t deign to answer her, only strode to that final, locked door. He kicked it in, no longer childishly amazed by his own strength, and stepped inside.  Against the far wall, before the narrow window, stood a young girl of fourteen or fifteen. Her large blue eyes were wide with terror and her long blonde hair, pale like the moonlight that wrapped around her, fell loose past her shoulders. Her thin frame trembled in the night breeze, covered only by a thin white shift.

“Father?” she whispered, though she already knew the answer.

“He was no father of yours,” Claudius answered. Though his words were harsh his tone was soft, as though he spoke to a fairy that might flee if he was too loud. Something subtle shifted in his eyes and he stepped towards her, but stopped just out of reach.  “Arowenia.” He held out his bloody hand to her. “Come with me.  I can give you youth eternal, and life everlasting. You need never fade or whither, but always be beautiful. You will want for nothing. Come.”

She swallowed hard and her luminescent eyes skipped from him to the window and the drop beyond.  She looked back and forth more than once, as if to decide which death was the crueler. Tears dripped down her pale cheeks and, as her shoulders sagged in defeat, she looked back to him.

Without a word she had surrendered and Claudius scooped her up in his arms and, equally silent, carried her through the bloody rooms and down the steep, spiraling stare into the darkness beyond. At last, he had lain claim to what was rightfully his, but it was only the beginning.

**********

Thanks God. now I can edit Arowenia to upload to Smashwords and get on with life.

Next up is Elsa (who, if you’ve read the first book, is the one who turned Patrick’s brother, Michael)

Six Sentence Sunday

it’s time again for Six Sentence Sunday, the awesome blog event where writer’s share six sentences from something they’ve written.

This week I am taking a break from Ties of Blood to share a snippet from Adam, a short story available for Free on smashwords

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 walked towards the end of the alley where he instinctively felt the noise had come from. A row of weather stained garbage cans shone dully under a flickering light. The effect was eerie, but there was nothing there.

And then the light went out.

Thanks for stopping by, and be sure to check out the other great participants!  Also of note, if you missed the announcement, sign ups will now start Tuesday instead of Wednesday because of the number of participants! That means lots of good reading!

Vampire Morsels- Bethina

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…

Bethina

(You can find Bethina in shades of Gray. This story takes place in 1947.)

Bethina snapped the suitcase closed and gave the familiar bedroom a last look. Though her mother was silent, she could feel her standing in the doorframe behind her. She could imagine the frown on her face and the unshed tears in her eyes.

“Are you sure about this?”

Bethina sighed and turned around to face her. “Yes. Mom, I’m sure. What else am I going to do?” Her mother started to answer, but Bethina hurried on before she could. “It isn’t like I’m moving to the ends of the earth. It’s just a few miles out of town. I can come home and visit you.”

That wasn’t enough to silence her mother’s objections. “And what happens when you get too sick to be a nanny anymore?”

“Would you rather they send me to die in a TB San? Would that be better?” Her mother flinched as if she’d slapped her, and Bethina instantly regretted the words. Regardless, there was truth in them.  How much longer could they pretend she wasn’t sick? Eventually there’d be no choice and they’d have to send her away. Blue Ridge was one of the better sanatoriums, but it was over 100 miles away. That might as well be 1,000. This option was better – so very, very much better. If only she could tell her mother all of it, then maybe she’d understand. But, she couldn’t.

“I’m sorry, mother, but I’ve made up my mind. They know about my condition and they still want me to come stay full time. And Alexander is so sweet. You can’t look at him without melting. I don’t want to leave him behind. I want to do something with the time I have left.”

“If you feel that way, then don’t you have a responsibility to that little boy? You’re exposing him to the disease by being there.”

“And I’m exposing you by being here. And I expose everyone in church on Sundays! They know about my condition,” she repeated. “And they have still asked me to stay full time.”

“But those people!” Her mother caught her hands and held them. “Bethy, they’re… they’re not right.  They stay isolated in that old plantation and no one ever sees them.  They’re-”

“Different,” Bethina finished for her. “There’s nothing wrong with them, mother.” At least nothing I can tell you about.

A horn sounded outside and Bethina thanked whatever saint was the patron of interruptions. “That’s Ernie. He’s taking me up there.” She extracted her hands and hurriedly grabbed her luggage. “I’ll be back in a couple of weeks for a visit.” She brushed a quick kiss across her mom’s cheek and then slid neatly past her. “I love you! See you then!”

“Bethy!”

Bethina didn’t stop to let her mother finish, and she didn’t look back.  Her mind was made up. There was no safer place in the world for her to go than the big brick plantation house with its shadowy corridors, silent rooms, and undead occupants. Occupants that couldn’t catch her disease.

Eddie was a few years older than her. Though they got along well enough, they had nothing to talk about, so the trip was a silent one. She could feel his disapproval, but they weren’t close enough for him to comment. But, when he parked the car just inside the large, iron gates, he met her eyes and cleared his throat noisily. The sign something unpleasant would follow.

She tried to circumvent it. “Thanks, Eddie. I’ll see you later.”

“Will you?” His question forced her to drop the door handle and meet his gaze. “I know it’s not my business, but are you sure you know what you’re doing? Everyone thought you were crazy enough working part time up here, but to move in? They’re creepy, and this place is about as cheerful as a funeral parlor. You sure you want to live here?”

Her eyes narrowed at his too blunt assessment.  “You’re right, it’s not your business.” She opened the door and climbed out with a crisp, “thank you for the ride.” She slammed the door with a satisfying sound, and then marched to the house.

The large front door opened before she knocked, and Sandra, one of the maids, moved aside to admit her. The entrance hall was a huge room paneled in wood and hung with old, heavy portraits. Light shone through windows around the front door, but it couldn’t chase away the shadows. Technically, Eddie was right. The house wasn’t very cheerful. The interior had been redecorated, but otherwise it was the same as it had been when it had been built over a hundred years ago. That meant no plumbing, and no electricity.

“You’re staying?” Sandra asked and took a step back. Like the rest of the staff she could still get sick and, though she was never unfriendly, she was distant.

Bethina only nodded and Sandra motioned to the curving staircase. “You might as well go on up. They’re not awake yet.”

Bethina nodded again and climbed the stairs slowly.  She made her way down the corridor to what was her new bedroom. Late September sunlight splashed through the windows and brought a cheer to the room that the somber hallways lacked.

She unpacked a little, rested briefly, then walked downstairs to the kitchen where the women were cleaning and preparing what would be their breakfast.  Yes, things here were different, including what time their day started.

Both women glanced up at her, but only Sandra acknowledged her. “Have you eaten?”

“Yes, but thank you.” She pulled up a chair at the kitchen table and watched Jane add wood to the old cast iron stove. Finished, the woman straightened and mopped her forehead, then rolled up her sleeves. Her arms were wrapped at random intervals with white gauze bandages. A hazard of working at the plantation house.

As if she felt the scrutiny, Jane turned around and met Bethina’s blue eyes. “I hear you’re going to be here full time?” Bethina nodded and Jane looked mildly surprised. “I can’t imagine your family is happy about that.”

Bethina shifted uncomfortably in her chair. “No. My mother’s pretty upset about it.”

“I would be, too, if I were her.” Jane turned back to a bowl of batter, leaving Bethina wide eyed with surprise.

“But why? You work here.”

Jane stiffened, but didn’t turn back around. “Just because I’m here doesn’t mean I’d want my daughter to be here.  I know what they are, after all. I wouldn’t want my child committed to this enslavement.”

“Enslavement?” Bethina echoed.  The word seemed absurd and out of place. Something antiquated and distasteful.  “How can you call it that?”

“And what would you call it?” Something dark hid under the edges of Jane’s tone. Something angry and challenging. It instantly irritated Bethina.

“How about employment?”

Jane laughed, but it wasn’t a happy sound. “You’re young still, and naïve. Employment is something you can leave if you choose. Do you think we have that luxury?” She turned around, her eyes dark fire and a wooden spoon gripped dangerously in her hand like a weapon. “Do you think we can leave if we choose?”

“Well-“

“Of course not! We know what they are. They can’t just let us walk out. Do you know what happened to the last girl who wanted to leave? She disappeared!”

“Maybe that’s because she left?” Bethina suggested impatiently.

“Without packing?” Jane snorted contemptuously. “They got rid of her because that’s what they do. When you get too old, or you want to leave they just dispose of you and hire another young girl who has no prospects for the future.  And in the meantime they work you to death scrubbing and dusting while they drink your blood!”

Sandra cleared her throat loudly; a warning that the conversation was headed for dangerous places, but Jane ignored her and went on.

“Maybe you don’t mind being food for those children because you’re staring down your own death, but the rest of us aren’t.  I could have done something. I could have gotten married. I could have had children of my own. Normal children that eat and drink and grow up!”

“Jane,” Sandra said softly. “Enough.”

“No, it isn’t! How can you face it, day in and day out and still say it’s enough? How can you stand to stare into that baby’s eyes and say it’s enough?”  She shivered. “It’s like they see right through you, to your very soul, but he never says a word. He never even cries! Just lays there like cold, dead weight and stares right through you!”

Bethina watched with wide eyed confusion as Jane’s shudders turned into tears, Sandra seemed to understand, though, and she quickly moved to embrace her. “Shhh. It’s all right, Jane. It’s all right.”

“How can it be all right? My sister’s dead! My own sister! And where was I? Here! I was here and would they let me go to her when she was sick? Would that bitch Jesslynn let me leave?”

Bethina stared uncomfortably at her hands while Jane wailed. She didn’t know how to feel about the woman’s words.  Her misery was real, but Bethina couldn’t reconcile it to what she knew of them. Yes, Jesslynn was austere, haughty even, but surely she’d let Jane go to her sick sister? She’d told Bethina that she could go visit her mother when she wanted, so long as she didn’t say the wrong thing. She’d been working there after school for two years now and had never betrayed their secret, so they knew they could trust her. Maybe that was the difference. Maybe she was trustworthy and Jane wasn’t.

Still, she felt she should say something. “I’m sorry to hear about your sister.”

Jane pulled back and glared at her through puffy red eyes. “No, you’re not! You couldn’t care less, just like they couldn’t care less. You’re a pet to them, not a slave like we are. But, just wait until you’re dying and they look the other way and pretend they couldn’t share some of that immortality with you. Then you’ll see how much they think of you. You’re just livestock to them, like the rest of us.  We’re good enough to clean their house and give our blood to their children, but we’re not good enough to join them! They let us die while they keep the secret to themselves!”

Bethina stood up too fast and grabbed the edge of the table to keep from falling. Jane had passed annoying and gone straight to making her angry. “It’s too bad your sister died, but you shouldn’t take it out on everyone else by being so nasty.”

Sandra cleared her throat again and glanced at Bethina. “I think maybe you’d better…” she trailed off, but they all knew what she meant.

Bethina nodded crisply and marched out the door. As she left, Sandra’s voice floated to her. “Jane, honey, you have to watch what you say. If she tells the mister and missus who know what will happen to you?”

“Who knows what will happen?” Bethina muttered darkly. “You’ll get fired, that’s for sure! See how you like it, then!”

She intended to go to her room and finish unpacking, but she got tired by the time she reached the entrance hall and had to stop and sit on a carved bench.  She coughed into her ever present handkerchief and tried to fight the instinctual alarm when she saw the crimson dots on it. Jane was so worried about the meager amount that Alexander or the baby took from her. Maybe she should try watching her handkerchiefs fill with it for no reason! Then she could talk to her about death!

“Bethina!”

She looked up at the sound of a delighted voice and saw Alexander. He stood with his back pressed to the far wall, clinging to the shadows.  “What are you doing up? It’s not dark yet.”

He squirmed. “I know, but I wanted to see if you were here yet. Father said he didn’t think your mother would really let you come, but Mother said of course you would. I knew she’d be right.” His face broke into a wide, pointy toothed grin.

She pulled herself to her feet and walked to him, stopping in front of him with her hands on her hips. “All right, now you’ve seen. You better get back to bed, mister, before you get caught.”

“Aw.” He turned his large, pleading eyes up at her, but she refused to back down. “Fine.” He relented. “But only if you promise to tell me a story later.”

“I’ll tell you a story, all right.” She tousled his dark hair. “One about little boys who don’t mind their parents and sneak around the house while they’re supposed to be sleeping. Can you guess the end?”

He gave a small, but exasperated sigh. “I’m going. I’m going.” He turned for the cellar, but stopped and looked back. “I’m glad Mother was right. I’d miss you too much if you never came back!” And then he skipped away to return to his coffin.

Alone, Bethina wandered to a side door and out onto the wide wraparound porch. The sky to the west flamed red and gold, and stray autumn leaves danced and swirled in the early evening breeze. She dropped to the porch and drew her knees up to her chest. Jane’s words flitted through her mind, “Just wait until you’re dying and they look the other way and pretend they couldn’t share some of that immortality with you.” Would they really do that? And even if they didn’t, would she really want them to share? Did she want to live forever, knowing that she’d never change?

“What’s that old adage? The journey is in the reward? No, the journey is the reward?” She couldn’t find the exact words, but it didn’t matter. The essence was there.  It was the road that mattered, not the destination because they were all headed to the same place, just some sooner than others.

Maybe Jane was right about one thing. Maybe she could look at things differently because she was staring down death. She knew she’d never get married and have children of her own, so what was the harm in letting her dote on Alexander while she could? Wasn’t it better to be here, near someone she cared about, than locked away in some sanatorium, sleeping in outdoor pavilions that were supposed to cure her? IN the end, whether they looked away, or even killed her themselves rather than letting her last days linger, surely it was better here than being there?  “Yes”, she told herself firmly. “It has to be better.  No matter what happens.”

Now on Smashwords….

The final version of the short story Adam, the first of the Vampire Morsels, is now available as a freebie on Smashwords. Check it out!

Vampire Morsels – Benjamin

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…

Benjamin

(You can find Benjamin in Shades of Gray. This particular story takes place in 1972)

The Roockwood Inn was a roadside motel. The town around it had once been vibrant, but was looking forward to its demise. Somehow, the occupants hadn’t caught on yet, and still thought they had a corner on the tourist market. Even Benjamin seemed to think so.

The motel office was newly retiled, but no one had bothered to repaint. Behind the counter stood a doorway, closed off by a tatty blanket that served as a curtain. The smell of whisky and stale cigar smoke oozed out around the edges and left the office ceiling stained a permanent brown.

Through that door was a room as disheveled as its occupant. Though Benjamin called it his “living space” it was really a jumbled, windowless room with a dusty bathroom off to one side. There actually were windows, but they were hidden behind layers of cardboard, newspaper and masking tape. He was planning to renovate as soon as he got the money saved up, and when he did, the windows were going. Mei, the Chinese girl who looked after the place in the daytime and served as a part time housekeeping, couldn’t understand why he wanted rid of them. She argued more than once to save them, but he only shook his head and said the sun was bad for his complexion.

Benjamin sat in his usual spot. The ratty arm chair smelled like it should have been left on the curb, and looked like maybe it had been. The TV was as close to his lap as he could get it without having to hold it, so that he had one foot propped up on the table on either side of it. He watched the screen with an absorption born of years of television viewing and didn’t even seem to hear the first knock.

“Goodnight, John Boy. Goodnight, Grandpa. Goodnight-“

Benjamin clicked the knob and the television went off with a hiss and fizz of static. He cocked his head to one side and listened. The knocking was repeated.

“Who the hell is that?” he demanded, but the stale air didn’t answer him. There was only one way to find out. Using obscenities like booster fuel, he heaved his bulk from the chair and shuffled towards the side door. He had to stop and kick boxes of empty whisky bottles out of the way. No one used this door anymore, or at least no one was supposed to.

They knocked again and he grumbled a loud, “yeah, yeah,” as he unbolted the locks and jerked the door open.  The outside light was burnt out, but he could still see the two figures, their expressions carefully neutral.  The one in the front had short, cropped hair and dark skin, while his companion was a slender, willowy male with a reddish auburn mane. Benjamin surveyed them both and then demanded, “Eh? What do you want? Can’t you read that sign?”

“What sign?” asked the dark one.

“The one that says ‘use office door’!” Benjamin barked.  “You want a room, you go around!”

“We’re not here for a room,” the visitor purred. Then, he smiled, flashing a pair of silvery fangs. Benjamin drew back a step, and the visitor took advantage of it and was quickly inside, his companion on his heels. “You know what we came for.”

Benjamin met the dark vampire’s eyes. They stared at one another; a contest of wills, and then Benjamin declared, “Look here, poker night’s Thursdays, Des.”

There was a moments silence and then Des rolled his eyes. “It is Thursday, old man. Check your calendar.”

They stepped smoothly around their baffled host and headed for the couch.  Des tossed a week’s worth of mail out of the way and took its place. Benjamin trailed after them, ticking off the days of the week in his head. Thursday? It’s not Thursday – wait. The Waltons was on. Damn. The son of a bitch is right.

The bell over the office door tinkled, and with a few healthy curses Benjamin diverted himself in that direction. It wasn’t customers though, just Herrick and a bald guy that Benjamin didn’t recognize. Two strangers in one night. Ah well, their money spends the same.

He led them through the blanketed door and pointed in the general direction of the couch and some folding chairs. They seated themselves while he set up the card table and gathered up the cards, an overflowing ashtray, half a bottle of whisky and a beat up metal bucket that smelled like alcohol. Finally, he tugged his tatty chair into place and dropped into it.  “We ready to play, or is there anyone else comin’ I should know about?”

“Nah, this is it.” Des shuffled the cards with a little too much expertise. “By the way, this is Marcellus. I said last week that I was bringing him.”

Herrick nodded, but Benjamin just shrugged. “Eh. If you say so.” His eyes landed on Herrick’s companion; a bald vampire who had a tattoo down one side of his face. “And who’s this?”

“Micah,” Herrick explained, as if the name meant something. “He’s what you’d call a new recruit.”

Benjamin lit a cigar and blew put a cloud of thick smoke. “That’s just what we need.”

“You’re not so far past new recruit yourself there, old man.” Des commented.

Benjamin snorted an answer and took a healthy swig of whisky. He swooshed the amber liquid around his mouth thoughtfully. He’d been one of them for damn near two years, now. That was enough time to lose the new recruit status as far as he was concerned.

Des dealt the cards and Benjamin spat the whisky noisily into the bucket.  Marcellus cringed visibly, and Des shrugged. “I warned you he has some pretty bad habits.”

“Just because I can’t drink don’t mean I can’t still taste it,” Benjamin grumbled. “You got a problem with it…” he left the sentence unfinished, but the meaning was clear and it went something like “get the hell out, then.”

Micah fanned his cards casually. “I wondered how you planned on drinkin’ that. I learned the hard way that doesn’t work out.”

“Got sick, did you?” That was a mistake they said most newbie vampires made. Hell, he’d made it himself. You could get the stuff down, but you couldn’t keep it down. It was the same as when a kid swallowed something out of the cleaning cabinet.  Your body knew it wasn’t good for you and sent it back where it came from.

“Fuck, yeah.” Micah offered a toothy grin. “That was one helluva night, though. A couple of ladies, a bottle of scotch and a jar of honey.”

Herrick surveyed his cards, his brow wrinkled. “Honey? What was the honey for?”

Micah’s grin widened. “If I gotta tell ya’, then it takes the fun out of it.”

“For the girls,” Benjamin explained. “But sounds full a shit to me. This loser couldn’t get two chicks if he waved money in front of their faces.”

Micah cocked an eyebrow. “How would you know? Bet the last time you even saw a chick was in 1965.”

Benjamin ignored him and went on. “I get losers like him in here all the time. They show up on the make with a couple of stoned out girls and act all macho. Nine times outta ten they pass out in a puddle of their own puke in the john.”

Micah opened his mouth to argue, but Marcellus held up his hand. “Is an evening of negativity necessary? Let’s just play cards.”

“Negativity?” Micah snorted. “You sound like one of those dali-lama-guru Buddha heads. We here to play poker or talk about the meaning of the universe?”

“We could do both,” Herrick suggested. “As long as someone else deals.” He glared at Des who only snickered. Knowing him, he’d dealt the cards on that way on purpose.

But, Benjamin’s hand wasn’t half bad. He traded in two cards and quipped, “There’s no meaning to the universe. It just is.”

“I disagree.” Marcellus fished a wad of money out of his pocket and counted out the opening bet. Benjamin tried to mentally calculate how much he had on him, but he wasn’t fast enough before the money was stuffed back into his pocket. “There must be meaning, or else there wouldn’t be organization.”

“You see any organization around here?” Micah waved his arm to indicate the room. “It’s just like us. There’s no order, or reason, it’s just chaos and you pretend there’s a plan behind it to keep yourself sane.”

“Us?” Des asked, as he counted out his own money under the edge of the table.

“Yeah, us. You know, vampires.” Micah rolled his eyes. “If nothing else, we’re proof that it’s all just random shit.”

“I disagree,” Marcellus said again. “Our very existence proves that there is order beyond the seeming insanity of the cosmos. You can’t imagine that we, as a species, just appeared by accident? We were crafted for a particular purpose.”

Micah folded his cards, the game momentarily forgotten. “What, like the next evolutionary step? You don’t buy into all that monkey crap?”

Des glanced up from his cash. “How can you argue against both evolution and intelligent design?”

“Because I ain’t from no ape. You can be if you want to-”

Marcellus cut him off. “No, we’re not the next evolutionary step. Vampires have been in existence since the dawn of creation. As old as man, if not older. And that is the proof of the design, and the proof against the chaotic evolution theory. If it was all an accident that hurtled forth from chimpanzees to modern man, then why has the vampire not changed, too?”

“Maybe they have?” Herrick suggested. “It isn’t like there’s anyone from that time left.”

“And how do we know that? Because you haven’t seen one?” Marcellus eyes shone with some kind of victory and he folded his cards as though settling in for a long discussion. “When was the last time you saw the sun? But you still know it exists.”

Benjamin didn’t bother to comment or interrupt. He just took an impatient swig of whisky, swished it around his mouth, and spit it loudly into the bucket. It failed to get their attention.

“That’s different. I’ve seen the sun,” Herrick argued.

“When? How do you know you really saw it and don’t just think that you did?”

“And how do you know that any of us are real?” Des added, amused. “Maybe we’re all just figments of a hamster’s imagination.  Enough existential stuff, huh? Whose bet is it?”

“I bet I can prove who’s real,” Micah said with a broad grin. “Gimme your arm and we’ll see if you feel this.” He snapped his teeth together in imitation of a savage bite.

Marcellus smiled tolerantly, but made no move to return to the game. “Pain is only an illusion and proves nothing.”

“It can prove that your god damn foot’s been cut off!”

“No. First there is the pain and then you look and see that your foot is cut off, so the pain proves nothing, only draws your attention.  However, there’s no evidence that what you see is real beyond your own experience, or that your reality and mine are the same experience at all.”

“Memories are like that,” Herrick agreed slowly, drawn in despite himself. “One person may remember that it rained, while another says ‘no, no, the sun shone’.”

“Exactly.” Marcellus tapped his cards on the table.  “Each has a separate reality that is just as true to them as the opposite is to the other.  If reality is not to be trusted to the eyes or the senses, then that leaves us with only the emotion.”

“Ah, but emotion is nothing but an illusion, too,” Herrick argued, getting into the swing of things. “It is true that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.  However, your actions don’t necessarily correspond to their feelings. If I pick up this bucket.” He seized the bucket and Benjamin made a low, warning noise in his throat. “-and I toss it out the door, you may feel relieved to be get a break from the alcohol regurgitation, however, Benjamin will be mad enough to break my nose. To him, my actions are evil, but to you they were merciful. Meanwhile, the reality is that I neither planned to make him angry, or spare you, I simply acted.”

Benjamin jerked the bucket away and snarled. “Yeah, yeah. And there’s no ‘I’ in team. Can we get on with this, or should I kick the whole bunch of you out?”

“Your friend doesn’t like a thought provoking discussion?” Marcellus asked Des, half joking.

“No,” Benjamin answered for him. “I don’t.  I like to watch TV, which is what I was doing before I got interrupted by a bunch of idiots who wanted to play poker. Only, we haven’t done much playing yet! So either get with it or I’m gonna go watch Ironside.”

The conversation died down after that.  The cards were dealt, the bets were placed and by two am they were all sick of each other’s company. Micah and Herrick made their excuses first, followed shortly by Marcellus. Alone, they counted their money, and then Benjamin moved the furniture back while Des lounged on the couch.

“I assume you didn’t like Marcellus?”

Benjamin kicked an argumentative folding chair and shrugged. “Eh. I don’t care either way. He loses pretty good. So long as he shuts up and plays his cards.”

Des nodded and they lapsed into a thoughtful silence. Finally, he broke it. “You don’t suppose there really is some intelligent design behind everything? That there’s some kind of fate that made us all what we are?”

Benjamin rolled his eyes and plopped into his armchair, now restored to its rightful home in front of the television. “How should I know? It was a trucker woman with eyes like coal and nails as red as blood that made me what I am.” He glanced to the darker skinned vampire. “And I can’t say what made you the way you are, now, but I doubt it was God.”

“No,” Des agreed. “It was my mother.” He fell silent again, and Benjamin turned the television on. The stations were off for the night, so there was nothing but static. They sat there, lit eerily by the light from the television, both lost in their own worlds until Des snapped himself back to the present. “It’s been fun. See you next Thursday, old man.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Benjamin waved him off, and the dark vampire disappeared out the door. Benjamin stared at the television screen and watched the static bounce around, like ant races, some said. It never looked like ants to him. More like a blizzard. It was the same kinda blizzard that had brought that trucker gal into the motel. With her red nails and her black eyes. She’d been wearing skin tight jeans and been so full of pent up energy that she looked like she’d burst right out of ‘em. That had been one helluva night.

“And I didn’t even need any honey,” Benjamin commented aloud. He took a swig of whisky and spat it into the bucket. “Amateur.”

Help me choose a Pen Name

If you’ve ever visited my Smashwords author page, you might have noticed a book called The Do-Nothing Day that is about snuggly teddy bears and written for a target audience of four year olds. It was written and illustrated in roughly 2001, along with ten others, and they have since darkened my hard drive. Though, I originally uploaded it so people with questions could see what Smashwords books with images looked like, the book has gotten enough downloads that I’ve decided to upload the other ten as well. However, I’m not so sure that mixing children’s books and adult books is wise.

My vampire books aren’t erotica, but there’s enough of a difference that I wouldn’t want someone to judge either set of books based on the other. I already have enough of a fight convincing people that my vampires are not YA (thanks again, Twilight), and mixing kiddie books into my account isn’t going to help. But, I don’t see why someone shouldn’t be enjoying them. They are pretty cute, after all.

So, now comes the fun, interactive part of the blog where you get to cast your votes on what my pen name should be! Leave your vote in the comments or, if you have a better suggestion, then leave it, too. I’ll probably cross post this all over, but in the end I’ll compile them all together and whatever wins is the name I will use.

  • J. Harris-Naylor
  • J.R. Harris
  • Roey Harris
  • Sintiel Quen
  • Nic Constantinescu
  • Alex Marshall

All the names come from various things I’ve done over the years.  I could give you lengthy explanations, but I’ll refrain. I will say one of them is elvish.

Look forward to seeing what everyone thinks!

Charli by Elizabeth Reyes

Elizabeth Reyes is a Indie romance writer. Her debut YA romance Novel Forever Mine The first in the Moreno Brothers series is available now on Amazon US Amazon UK & B&N The Nook. The second in the series “Always Been Mine” will be available very soon.
Today she is sharing an excerpt of current WIP a Paranormal Romance Charli(Working Title).Premise of the story:

Seventeen-year old Charlotte (Charli) has been sent to live with her estranged, but wealthy bachelor uncle in Los Angles after her father is sent to a mental institution. This is her first morning in her new room at her uncles and she recalls the dream she had the night before, triggering a eerie memory from her childhood. Enjoy and don’t forget to comment. =)

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I must’ve been more tired than I thought because I didn’t even remember falling asleep and even when I woke the next morning I was still so tired. It was unusual for me to remember my dreams but last nights dream was so vivid. It was almost as if I’d been awake but I couldn’t have been.In my dream I was sound asleep when I heard the annoying barking of a dog. I tried to ignore it but when I heard other dogs joining in and the barking getting really panicky it reminded me of something. A memory so vivid I remember everything down to the finest detail.

When I was a little girl about six years old, my grandparents dropped me off at a friend’s house, a couple they’d known for years. I was told my father was ill and they were taking him to the doctors. I spent the entire day there. It was a bit unusual because if my dad needed a sitter there was always a closer friend that could help out but that day none of them were available.

After a long day of playing with their twin daughters, I must’ve knocked out because the next thing I remember was waking up in my grandpa’s arms as he carried me out to the car. My head rested on his shoulder and I heard hushed voices as he walked. It was late and someone had thrown a blanket over me. The barking is what woke me. The same as in my dream, first one dog then others joined. I heard my grandpa’s friend try to hush his own dog by the side of the house.

I was finally in my grandpa’s truck. He buckled me in and put the blanket over me. He was parked on the street and he walked around the back of the truck to his side. That’s when I saw her. A very tall woman wearing what looked like a long dark raincoat coat with a hood. She stood in the middle of the street, absolutely still. The hood somewhat shrouded her face. But I could see the red lips and few strands of long dark hair that straggled out from under her hood.

The fact that she was standing perfectly still in the middle of street at night time wasn’t the oddest thing about the scene. It was the dogs. I’ll never forget the dogs. There were six of them. And they all sat just as still as she was in front her, in perfect lines of two. The image of Santa’s reindeer had come to my mind. I didn’t know much about dogs but they were huge. What struck me most was that as much as the neighborhood dogs were going crazy barking, her dogs sat there calmly, looking straight ahead, completely unaffected by the noise the other dogs made.

My Grandpa got in the truck and tried starting it up. Even though she was standing just a few yards away he hadn’t noticed her. The old truck hacked as he turned the key in the ignition. I was used to it taking a few tries. The whole time I couldn’t’ take my eyes off the woman and her dogs. Then she moved. It was so slight if my eyes hadn’t been fixated on her I would’ve missed it. Her head moved up a bit but just enough to unveil a pair of big dark beautiful eyes. They were penetrating but in a such good way. She was …magnificent. Instantly I felt my breath taken away. And then just as suddenly I was locked in her gaze. Her eyes somehow got bigger, darker. I couldn’t look away, move, or even speak. I’m not sure if I even breathed for those few moments.

Everything went absolute silent. And then I heard her voice. I don’t know how. Her lips didn’t move, she was still yards away and the doors and windows of the truck were closed but I heard it as clear as if she were sitting right there next to me.

It is almost time, little one.” Her voice matched her face. It was like silk, it was music, it was… intoxicating. It felt so good in my ear, I smiled.

The next thing I remember I woke up in my bed in my grandparent’s house. In the small room I shared with my dad. Only that morning I was alone. When I asked my grandpa about the woman with the dogs he had no idea what I was talking about.

I found out years later, the day I’d spent at there friends was first of several interventions my family had, had for my drug addicted father. Of course at the time I didn’t even realize my dad had a problem. All I knew is he was…different. He did things and said things sometimes that didn’t make any sense. But he’d been that way as long as I could remember so it didn’t seem odd to a six-year-old.

As the years passed he got worse.

I shook my head refusing to dwell on those memories. Instead my thoughts went back last nights dream. In the dream the barking woke me and so I sat up in my bed. I waited to see if the barking would stop but it only got louder. I stood and walked to the window and there she was in the middle of the long driveway. My memories had kept her exactly as when I’d seen here so many years ago. The dark coat, the dogs, the red lips. I could see now the dogs were Great Danes. No wonder they’d seemed so big to me as a child. I waited almost holding my breath for her to move to look at me like she had that one night.

Then she did. Again her movement was so slight, and her eyes came into view. They were just as enchanting as they’d been the first time only this time there was something different. I didn’t know what it was but it worried me. Somehow I could sense that she was anxious, frightened. I felt her fear run through me and I shivered.

Our eyes locked and I was paralyzed were I stood. But it didn’t scare me. I welcomed it. Everything went silent and her voice flowed in my ears like a beautiful song.

It is time.”That’s when I woke up. In my bed under my blankets just as I had lied down the night before and I knew I’d been dreaming. But I was so tired.

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Thanks for reading!
For more on Elizabeth and her writing and to read sample chapters of her novel Forever Mine visit her blog The Beginnings .

Vampire Morsels: Ashton

*warning – violence, bad language*

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…

Ashton

(You can’t actually find Ashton anywhere, except as a mention in Legacy of Ghosts, but I wanted to see what he and Loren were like before, so he got a story. This takes place in the mid 1990’s.)

“Hey, dickhead, get up!”

Ashton jerked awake to find his younger brother Loren glaring at him from the doorway. “Huh?”

“I said get up, dude. It’s after six. We need to get some shit from the store-”

Loren went on, but Ashton ignored him and swung into a sitting position on the edge of the bed, his head in his hands. God, I’m tired. I’m so fuckin’ tired! I thought I was supposed to feel like fucking superman now?

“Are you listening?”

He wanted to Loren to go to hell, but he held back and muttered, “Yeah, sure. Look, go to the store and get whatever we need, a’ight? I got some shit to do.” With too much effort he climbed to his feet and rifled through the rubble of his bedroom for something to wear, his back carefully placed to his brother.

“You’ve always got shit to do!” Loren snapped. “How about look for a fucking job? We’re almost out of money and-”

“And you’re still in school, blah, blah, blah.”  Guilt washed over him the moment the words left his mouth, and he forced his voice calm. “Look, I’m sorry, a’right? I know this shit’s hard on you, it’s hard on me, too. If we run out before I get a job we’ll just pawn some of Mom and Dad’s stuff.” He turned and met his brother’s dark eyes for a moment, then turned away again. “A’ight?”

Loren seemed to shrink from the idea. “I don’t wanna pawn their stuff.”

“I know, but they don’t need it anymore, and you need to eat.” He shrugged and went back to dressing. “I’m gonna go up and see Jessie and the guys for awhile.”

There was a moment of silence and then Loren said quietly, “You’ve been off with them every night for like a month. You’re different since they showed up. I never see you anymore. It’s like you’re avoiding me.”

“You’re seein’ me now.” Ashton tried to sound casual. “Don’t turn all girly on me.”

“I’m not turning all girly! I was just saying, you know…” he trailed off.  When Ashton didn’t fill in the silence he sighed with resignation. “All right. I’ll go get the stuff. But, I’m taking your bike.”

Ashton cringed, but didn’t argue.  When Loren sensed his victory, he disappeared, but Ashton didn’t relax until he heard the door shut, and the motorcycle roar to life.

“Fuck,” he muttered to thin air, as if he thought it might answer him. “What am I gonna do?”

It was a good question, and one he’d been working on for three weeks. Loren was right, he was avoiding him, but how could he face him – really face him – now? How was he supposed to explain that he really was different?  Fuck, how did he tell his kid brother that he was a vampire?

Vampire. Yeah, that’s a word that makes a lot of sense.

“Fuck.”

The moon hung heavy in the sky, and a chilly wind blew across the beach. Ashton took notice of neither as he tugged open the torn screen door and slumped inside the dilapidated house. The rooms were cluttered with broken furniture and old junk. The floors crunched under foot with a mixture of garbage, bits of plaster, mouse droppings and the occasional hardy roach.

He paused in the doorway of what had once been the living room. A single hurricane lamp splashed wavery light over a stained mattress and two ratty chairs, and threw twisted shadows across the walls. Despite the gloom, Jessie sprawled in one of the chairs, as though he were the king of a grand castle, and warbled a terrible attempt at a song.

“Well if you feel the wanderlust, just grab a car or hop a bus. In every town there’s excitement to be found, so much is happening-”

Ashton flopped into the other chair sand snickered. “What the fuck are you singing?”

Jessie’s head snapped around instantly. “Spring Fever.” When Ashton only blinked, he nearly exploded, “Elvis Presley, man! The King! What’s wrong  wi’ you, huh? You never heard a’ it?”

Ashton’s hands went up and he drew back involuntarily. “Sorry, dude. Sorry.”

“Yeah, sorry. You always sorry. You come in here, interruptin’ my vibe, man, wit’ your dumb ass questions. Don’t you know nothin’? And call me Master, fucktard. Remember your place, huh?”

Ashton rolled his eyes, but let it go. Jessie was in one of moods again. Great.

Jessie went back to his song, and the other guys started to trickle in. They were all smarter than to comment on the music, even as Spring fever gave way to Teddy Bear. But Wesley, Jessie’s “right hand man”, didn’t have a problem kicking Ashton’s chair and snapping, “Hey, get outta my chair, loser.”

“Fuck you.” The words were brave, but all it took was one fanged snarl from Wesley and he stood up. “It’s fuckin’ uncomfortable, anyway. And it smells like cat piss.”

“That’s you, man.” Wesley laughed and smacked him in the back of the head, then dropped in his newly claimed chair.  “Yo, Jess, cut the concert and let’s do something, huh?”

Ashton moved away to slouch in a shadowy corner and glare. This was why he didn’t want to tell Loren about what he was. The first time Wesley smacked his little brother in the back of the head like that, he’d have to break his wrist, and then he’d be in the shit.

The singing stopped and Jessie slowly rolled his head over to face the newcomer. “And what we gonna do, huh? You got any ideas?”

Wesley smirked as if he’d been waiting for this. “Yeah, I do.” He raised his voice and shouted to unseen vampires, “Yo, bring her in!”

The screen door banged open and closed, and feet shuffled through the house.  Ashton peered around the others curiously as someone whimpered; a soft, high sound, and then two of the guys appeared through the doorway, lugging a fourteen year old girl between them. Her hair was strawberry red and hung around her face like it had just fallen out of a ponytail. Her clothes were rumpled and dirt stained, and she had only one shoe. Tears and dirt streaked her face, and traces of blood were smeared under her nose. It would have been bad enough if Ashton hadn’t known who she was, but knowing made it worse.

The guys dumped her on the floor in a heap in front of Jessie. He gave Wesley a look of surprised approval, and caught the girl’s head under her chin, forcing her to look at him. “Well, look at this.”

The girl’s eyes darted fearfully around the room and Ashton hid in the shadows. Don’t see me, Jenny. Don’t see me.

It seemed to work.

“Please,” she whispered, her voice tiny, even as she begged the whole room. “Please, just let me go home. I won’t tell. I promise. I won’t. Please.”

“You won’t tell, huh?” Jessie mused. “I tell you what, honey. You be a good girl and maybe you can go home in a little bit. How’s that sound, huh?” His lips curved into a smile and his fangs glittered in the light.  At the sight, Jenny’s eyes grew wide, and then she screamed and tried to get away. Wesley grabbed her and hauled her up into the air, her legs kicking furiously as she shrieked.

Ashton shuddered and tried to disappear into the wall. If he just closed his eyes this would all go away. Go away. Go away. Oh God, make it go away!

But, when he opened his eyes, he was still there. Wesley had Jenny pinned to the floor and Jessie and a couple of other guys were hovering over her, their lips drawn back from their fangs as she flailed and pleaded.  Goddammit  He had to do something.

“What the fuck?”

At his words the room went silent, and everyone turned in unison to look at him. He suddenly wished he’d stayed quiet, but it was too late, so he pressed on. “What the fuck are you guys doing?”

Jessie straightened up and eyed him with semi-amusement. “What’s it look like to you?”

Ashton forced back the fear and took a step forward. “Christ, man, she’s like fourteen. That’s just sick.”

“You think so?” Jessie asked in what seemed like a reasonable tone, though something in his eyes was off kilter. “Anyone else think that’s sick? Huh?”

No one moved.

“Looks like it’s just you, loser.” Wesley snickered, but Jessie silenced him with a gesture.

“Maybe he’s right.”

No one knew what to say, Ashton included.

“Maybe he’s right,” Jessie repeated. “Let her go.”

Wesley started to argue, but then he held up his hands and backed away, smirking. Jenny jerked to her feet quickly, swaying in place as she stared uncertainly from one face to another. Her gaze brushed over Ashton and he saw recognition in her eyes; recognition and fear.

Jessie laid a hand on her head, ignoring her whimper. “I say you’re right, man. She’s just a kid. A fucking little kid!” He snapped her around and put her in head lock. Her eyes went wide with terror as he shouted. “Just some fucking little kid you’re soft on. You too soft to watch, huh? You too soft to join in and have some fun? You know what? You piss me off. You always comin’ around here, ruinin’ the vibe, man! The vibe! You’re such a buzz kill, and I’m fuckin’ sick of it. We’re all fuckin’ sick of it, man!”

He paused for them to agree, but everyone was speechless, so he bellowed, “You don’t want us to have some fun wi’ her, then we gonna have some fun wi’ you, you get that, shit face? You get that?”  There was a loud crack as he snapped the girl’s neck, then he flung her aside. “You got a five minute head start, then we comin’ after you. We gonna hunt you down like a dog, and if we don’t find you, then we gonna hunt down your brother instead. You read me, man? You better get runnin’. Run, bitch! Run!”

It took Ashton a moment to digest the words, but once the meaning slammed home, he did just what Jessie said: he ran.  He pounded out of the house, and across the beach as fast as his legs could carry him. But, no matter how fast he ran, he couldn’t get the picture out of his head of Jenny standing there, her eyes wide with accusing terror.

He got to the house just as Loren was pulling in. He climbed off the motorcycle and unstrapped the bag from the back. “Hey, I thought you-” but Ashton grabbed him.

“We gotta go. We gotta go now.”

Like the ever annoying sidekick in an action movie, Loren blinked stupidly and asked, “What?”  But, unlike the movie, Ashton didn’t have time to explain.

“Just get on the fucking bike!”  And before Loren could argue he was in the saddle and pulling his brother on behind him.  He turned the key, flipped the kill switch, and kicked the bike into gear while Loren grabbed onto him.

They pealed out of the driveway, Loren clinging to him and screaming, “What’s going on!” but Ashton still didn’t have time to answer – or was it that he didn’t have the words?

The road sped away beneath them, and the dark trees were a blur in their peripheral vision. Loren soon traded questions for screaming at him to slow down, but he ignored that, too. As he drove, one thing became apparent to him: he was going to have to tell Loren. No, not only tell him, he was going to have to change him, too. It was his only chance. There was no way he could fight them like he was. The change would take a full twenty-four hours to finish, but after that he’d be better. He’d be stronger. Faster.  They just had to get through those twenty-four hours.

Ashton pulled off the road into an abandoned lot and parked the bike behind a dilapidated shed. The skeleton of a burned house squatted nearby, but it offered no protection.

He swung off the bike and Loren did the same.  His brother stared at him, eyes wild and his curly mop of hair a windblown mess. “Can you tell me now what the hell’s going on?”

Ashton glanced over his shoulder, paranoid, but there was no one there. “Look, I gotta do this the fast way. Jessie and the others… they’re not what you think.”

“You mean they’re not a bunch of asshole tweakers?” Loren asked sarcastically.

“Okay, they’re a bunch of assholes, but they’re not tweakers. They’re not… they’re not even human.” Loren started to interrupt, but Ashton went on quickly. “Look, Loren, I’m sorry about this, a’ight?  I never meant to get you involved. You know I’ve done my best since Mom and Dad got killed, but I fucked up. I fucked up bad.” He shifted from one foot to the other, and sought for words. “Jessie and the others, they’re-”

“Holy shit! What’s with your teeth?”

Ashton froze, his eyes wide. His first reaction was to hide it, but he knew he couldn’t. Not this time. “It’s part of what I’m trying to tell you. Jessie and the others – and me – we’re vampires.” The word sounded much sillier than it felt. It failed to pack the punch of cold terror that was twisting in Ashton’s gut when he thought about them.

“Vampires?” Loren echoed cautiously. “Dude, what are you on?”

“I’m not on anything!” Ashton insisted. “You have to listen. You know Jenny Willinger from down the road? They got her, dude. They got her tonight and they fucking killed her. I told them not to. Jessie was already pissed at me, and now he wants to kill me, and he wants to kill you, too.”

Loren didn’t believe him. “Seriously? Look, let’s just go home and you can sleep this off.”  He reached for his brother, but Ashton didn’t have time to convince him. No time, No time. No time!

With a roar that was half anger and half impatience, he grabbed Loren and spun him around, so his back was against him, then he forced his head to one side, exposing his neck. His brother shouted something, but he didn’t listen. He couldn’t. He had to act.

Loren screamed when he bit him. He struggled, at first, but slowly he grew still and his body sagged back against Ashton. His blood was hot and coppery, and Ashton gulped it as though his life depended on it. He was doing it fast, maybe too fast, but he didn’t know, and he didn’t have the time to find out.

No time. No time. No time.

He lowered Loren’s slack body to the ground and quickly searched his pocket for a knife. Fuck! He didn’t have one! And then he thought of his teeth. It took him a moment to work up the courage, but then he tore into his own arm.

“Fuck!”

It hurt more than he thought it would, but there was nothing else to do. He tried to duplicate what Jessie had done to him; what he’d seen Jessie do some of the other guys, but Loren was too out of it to take his arm willingly, so he crammed it in his mouth.

“Fuck,” he muttered. “Come on Loren, drink. Fuck, drink! Drink!”

Like he’d done before to the family cat when he’d given it pills, he pressed down on Loren’s adam’s apple, forcing him to swallow. Forcing the blood down his throat.

Loren’s eyes popped open, like someone on the cusp of a seizure. He gasped around the arm in his mouth and choked on the mouthful of blood. Something shifted in his eyes, something that made Ashton think of Jessie, and suddenly he clutched his brother’s arm and sealed his lips around the wound.

Like the bite, it hurt more than he thought it would, but he endured, until he started to feel light headed. He had to wrestle his arm away from his brother, but it had been the same with everyone else when they were turned. After that first taste you never wanted to stop.

Loren fell back to the grass and lay, gasping. His eyes slowly cleared and then he murmured, “Oh shit.”

Ashton dropped into a sitting position next to him. “You alright?”

Loren wiped his face, and stared at the blood on his hand. “I don’t know. What – what just happened?” he swung his gaze to his brother.  “What was that?”

“You’re one of us now,” Ashton said with a sick sort of finality. He pulled off his flannel shirt and used it as a makeshift bandage for his wounded arm and stood. “Just rest for awhile. They’re a lot slower than the bike, so they’re probably not even halfway here. We’ll wait awhile, then we’ll head back the long way, grab our stuff, and then we get the hell outta Dodge.”

Loren nodded and rolled over onto his side, too tired to argue. Time was short, but they couldn’t move now. He had to wait.

Fuck.

They pulled into the driveway two hours later.  The house was dark and the bag of groceries still lay on the pavement, the contents scattered. Ashton shut off the bike and motioned to Loren to stay put. He approached the house cautiously, but didn’t hear anything.  It’s okay, he told himself. They’re not here.

The front door was locked and he’d left the keys in the bike, so he went for the attached garage. He threw up the door and took two steps inside.

He never saw what hit him.

Ashton opened his eyes slowly. The light was bright and made his head hurt. He tried to raise a hand to block it, but he couldn’t. His hands were tied uncomfortably behind his back. Tied?

“Hey, shit face is waking up.”

The voice belonged to Wesley, and so did the face that leered over him. The rest of the room came into focus, and Ashton realized he was in his own garage. Jessie was there, as were some of the other guys and Loren, who was covered in blood. Ashton didn’t know if it was fresh, or if it was left over from the turning. Regardless, his brother stood on shaky legs, held upright by two others.

Shit.

Jessie stood over him, something large and bulky in his hands. “Good evenin’ sunshine. Nice job wit’ your brother.”

Ashton spit blood out of his mouth, and tried to sound brave. “Just leave him out of this.”

“Maybe, maybe not.” Jessie nodded to someone and the thing in his hands sprung to life, whirling and roaring.  It was an electric drill. “Now it’s your turn to entertain us.”

Ashton screamed and bucked as the drill chewed into his leg. Shreds of his jeans wrapped around the bit and burned. He thought he heard Loren screaming, but he couldn’t be sure. There was too much noise in his head. Too much noise. Too much pain.

Then it stopped.

Jessie stood back, a frown between his eyebrows. “Nah.” He threw the drill aside and it landed on the floor with a clatter. “What else you got?”

Wesley answered him from further back in the garage, probably at the work bench. Dad’s work bench. “We got a sander?”

Jessie snorted. “Nah. Fuck that. Fuck this pussy shit. We want something heavy duty, man.”

“Chainsaw?” Before Jessie could answer Wesley suggested, “Lawn mower?”

Jessie’s face lit up. “Oh yeah, man. That’s the fucking ticket. That’s just what we want. But not in here.” He motioned to the others. “Bring ‘em outside. We gots to do this right. Time to mow the yard!”

Someone grabbed Ashton under the shoulders and dragged him outside, leaving behind a trail of blood from his damaged leg. He struggled, but he was too weak to really fight them. If he hadn’t changed Loren he might have been strong enough but, if he hadn’t changed him, Loren would be dead already.

They threw him to the ground, and he caught a glimpse of his brother. They’d dropped him in a heap on the ground. Too weak to stand, he wasn’t a threat to them, or they didn’t think he was. Maybe he could get away and get help.

The others were busy trying to get the old lawn mower to start, so he took the opportunity to catch his brother’s attention. Loren started to crawl towards him, but he shook his head no. Run, he mouthed. Run. Loren shook his head, but Ashton just repeated it and added, find help. Though where he could find it was the million dollar question.

Reluctantly, Loren started to crawl backwards towards the beach.  Yes. Yes. Go. Get the fuck outta here! Go! If he could just save his brother then it wouldn’t all be a waste, would it? If only he’d been more like Loren after their parents died and put himself into something productive instead of running away and hiding out in drugs and alcohol.  Jessie and his crowd seemed so extreme. They were the ultimate high: blood, danger, death.  Like the death that was waiting for him. Fuck. If something didn’t happen soon he was gonna get the biggest high ever. That one that ended in a bright light.

The mower choked and he felt hopeful, but then it roared to life, amid cries of surprise and rough laughter. Wesley ran it over the grass a couple of times and then he and Jessie exchanged a meaningful look.  It only took one of them to lift it up. Ashton squinted up at the undercarriage, but there was no high. He was just numb. Odd bits of grass stuck to the inside and the blades spun so fast that they were a blur. They whipped up a miniature hurricane that blew his hair and threw old clippings in his face. No high, just grass in his mouth and in his eyes. Just the taste of dirt and fear. Just the sight of Loren slowly backing away on his hands, his eyes wide and terrified.

And then they lowered the mower.

No! God, No!

Ashton screamed.

Help! God, help! Help!

And then everything went black.

There was no light.


Six Sentence Sunday

It’s time for Six Sentence Sunday, the blog group where participants share six sentences of something they’ve written, whether it’s a work in progress, something that’s published, or something that will never see the light of day.

I used the ultimate in random, again, and this week’s sentences come form Legacy of Ghosts:

Setup: Katelina and Jorick are discussing vampires and sex, and she says the wrong thing….

“Slurp?” Jorick cried, offended. “Now who’s disgusting?”

She rolled her eyes. “Sorry, do you have a better word for it?”

“Yes, I do, actually,” he retorted. “’Sharing blood’ is much nicer, or even ‘exchanging blood’. Of course there’s always ‘coupling’ or the far more picturesque ‘making love’, which I happen to prefer.” He sniffed. “Slurp, indeed!”

Be sure to go read the other participants! Six sentence Sunday is a great way to find and meet new writers.

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    Joleene Naylor

    An independent author, freelance artist, and photographer for fun who loves anime, music, and writing. Check out my vampire series Amaranthine at http://JoleeneNaylor.com or drop me a line at Joleene@JoleeneNaylor.com

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