A Fate

The first two chapters of the first draft are posted below.

Chapter 1

He rolled over with a groan when his rooster crowed for the first time. The rooster crowed again five minutes later and he cursed. Five more minutes passed and and this time there was no going back to sleep. He rolled over and sat up, rubbing his eyes. He looked at the clock.

“Five AM. Good ol’ Snooze Button,” he said and got up, going to his closet to get some clothes pull on. Jeans, flannel shirt. Grab the boots and yank those on. He passed the mirror and looked in.

“Lookin’ good as always, Amos,” he said to it gruffly. Of course, his appearance hadn’t changed in a very, very long time, so it didn’t take much work – no work – to stay looking crisp and clean. His raven locks flopped over part of his forehead, and the rest of it swept back to the middle of the back of his neck. Hadn’t needed a hair cut in all of forever it seemed like. His emerald eyes smoldered, but shone brightly when the light caught them. Of course he hadn’t needed to shave in forever, so he didn’t have to worry about that every day like most men did.

Amos went downstairs and pulled out a bag and poured himself a glass of fresh ‘juice.’ He stretched and looked outside. No sunrise still — fantastic. He went outside walked down to the barn to start his daily chores.

He was greeted by a series of loud, excited, and happy neighs.

“G’morning boys and girls,” he said to his kids. The horses’ heads poked out from their stalls and looked at him eagerly, nostrils flaring. He imagined them all saying good morning in return, and then demanding their food.

He went into the grain room and poured them each the proper scoops of grain, then went and delivered it to their stalls. He pulled a few bales of hay down from the hay loft and carried them to each other.

“Good morning Lilac, good morning Pete, good morning Samson, good morning Loxi…” He specifically said good morning to each horse as he walked by. It was always good to keep their individual bonds strong. The horses were already busy eating their grain, of course.

Amos heard a meow behind him, and he looked around.

“Well good morning to you too, Bella,” he said to the little black barn cat that sat there, waiting expectantly for her food. “You know you should be able to hunt for your own food. I know for a fact their are mice around here — I’ve seen them.”

The cat continued to stare him down, clearly not interested in what he thought about how she should obtain her food.

“Fine, I will give you your food, as you request,” he replied to her stare, and he went and filled her bowl with Meow Mix, then set it down just inside the tack room. She ran inside to eat her breakfast.

“Everyone fed? Good,” he said mostly to himself as he got the hose and went to water the horses. It was a long process, especially for him to do himself. But that was how he liked to spend his time anyway, so ultimately it didn’t matter. Plus, he had the rest of time to do things with his life – why rush?

He groomed each of the horses and saddled up the first few. There were a lot of horses and they all needed to be exercised and worked. Though Amos had all the time in the world, his beloved beasts did not. He bridled Pete and took him out. The stallion’s nostrils flared as he breathed in the cool October air, and puffs of carbon dioxide floated away from his velvety muzzle.

“Easy,” Amos quieted the easily excitable horse. They arrived at the outdoor ring and he began to adjust the girth and lower the stirrups. He got on and settled into the saddle. Of course, the second he got on, his phone rang. He cursed quietly and pulled his phone from his vest pocket. Pete was unsteady beneath him, and Amos relaxed his body, sending calming vibes to the horse, who quieted almost immediately.

“Amos Thames,” he said gruffly into the phone. He hated when his work was interrupted — which happened a lot, actually.

“Amos! Cheer up, it’s a beautiful morning!”

“Dylan,” Amos said and rolled his eyes. Dylan Berg, his boss, of sorts — always calling at the worst times. Better cheer up a little bit at least.

“Of course, don’t you check your caller ID?” The voice scolded him.

“I was trying to answer before you spooked the horse I’m sitting on,” Amos replied, irritated.

“That’s right, you and your horses. Anyway! I’ve got a job for you. Nothing difficult,” he said as Amos groaned audibly. “He’s a newbie named Markus. How long will it take you?”

“What’s the body count?”

“Seven so far. I expect at least two more in the next two or three days. How long?” The voice demanded.

“Two or three days I expect. I’ll try to get him before he adds to his total.”

“Good! Get on it then. Please see me when you’ve completed the job, yes?”

“Will do, Dylan. Good bye,” Amos grunted and hung up. He pocked his phone, took up his reins, and nudged the stallion on wit his calves. The beast snorted, clearly having zoned out while Amos was on the phone. Sure he wanted a calm horse, but not a sleeping horse.

Pete was one of his best five-gaited horses. Amos worked him in each gait, one by one: a lively walk and trot, a smooth and steady canter, and the slow gait and rack looking their finest. Even in the cool air, by the time Amos was done Pete had a light sheen of sweat on his neck, belly, and between his legs.

“Alright, let’s get you put away,” Amos said as he dismounted and led the horse back to the barn. He untacked the horse and put a cooler on him so the horse would slowly and safely return to normal temperature while Amos went to ride Loxi, the next horse in the line-up.

Amos specialized in Saddleseat and Dressage horses. He competed himself sometimes, but often trained and resold horses. Of the nine horses that he had in his barn, five were horses that he owned and competed with, and four were horses that he was training to sell again. Though for the most part he could still focus on his equine work for the day, the work of the uglier world penetrated his mind and wouldn’t leave him alone. He finished his riding and put the horses away, then finished his barn chores with cleaning up and mucking out stalls.

Amos would have to get started on researching Markus right away, if he was to get the bastard before any more bodies turned up. He went in to his kitchen and got more ‘juice’ from the refrigerator, and he poured himself a tall glass. He would need the extra sustenance to put all of his energy behind the task.

He sat down at the table and opened his laptop. He opened some of his favorite news sources for the local area, and he entered a search for recent deaths that had been mysterious and inexplicable. Sure enough, several articles came up recounting the murders. All of the victims appeared in alleyways, and the cause of death was exsanguination — bleeding out. But there was never any evidence of this occurring except for a few drops of blood left by the body. The police had no suspects, and Amos guessed that they had very little evidence or clues to go off of at all.

Amos sighed and rubbed his forehead as he got out a notepad and pen and started taking down notes. The suspect in question was named Markus. The last name was pretty much irrelevant. Markus was bloodthirsty for sure, and unable to control his urges. That much was painfully apparent. He had no idea of how to dispose of bodies, and was leaving a mess behind him. Amos grunted. What a impudent little runt. Markus seemed to hover around dark alleyways. There were plenty of those, but Amos guessed he knew where the most likely spot was. In fact, it had already appeared in the newspaper clippings. The alleyway in question was a block down from the most popular club for guys like himself, Markus, and Dylan: The Prowler Nightclub. Knowing how fresh ones were, Amos guessed that Markus would not realize the stupidity of killing again at a previous kill site. It was also a popular place to go with a willing guy or gal, so it made sense that Markus might go there in a desire to fit in and show his prowess.

Well at least Amos knew where Markus would likely appear. The key was getting the timing right. Amos needed to find what day Markus would appear in that particular alleyway. In addition to that, he would need to find out what time Markus would be there, so that he could prevent any further deaths. Of course, the only sure way to make sure that he succeeded would be to stake out the place each night. He could go there all day, but it would be much too obvious for one (both to Markus and to the average citizen), and it would be a waste of time: no one used the alleyway during the day, only at night. This didn’t mean that Markus wouldn’t kill someone else in the meantime, but the fact of the matter was that, though he was skilled at this other job, he wasn’t psychic nor was he trained as an investigator. It was possible that there would be another victim before Amos could get to Markus.

Amos sighed and looked at his watch, then out the window. It was the early to middle afternoon. He had plenty of time before he would need to go to The Prowler and start keeping a look out for the troublemaker.

But the time flew by much faster than he thought it would. He didn’t have much else required of him that day, so Amos took out one of his favorite horses, Doc (show name ‘The Doctor Did It’), for a trail ride through the expansive forest that lay partly on Amos’s land. It took longer than he thought it would, because the sun had just finished setting when horse and rider returned to the barn. Amos rubbed down the chestnut gelding, and he gave the horses all a couple flakes of hay plus their grain rations. He refilled their water buckets, checked on Bella, Snooze Button, and the rest of the chickens, then went back up to the house.

Amos went through the house to his bedroom, and stripped off his clothes. He went to the bathroom and took a long hot shower. Though he loved his horses, it always felt good to wash away a long day at the barn. He dried off and wrapped a towel around his waist, then went to the closet in his bedroom. Amos shuffled through his clothes and tried to find the appropriate attire for the evening. Black slacks, some nice black Italian shoes. For a shirt he picked out his favorite black satin shirt. For cuff links, ivory buttons. He thought about wearing a tie, but decided against it. He just wasn’t really in the mood for it tonight. Amos picked out a nicer watch than his daytime barn-enduring watch. His hair looked fine as always, no need to worry about it. With that, he was ready to go out.

The drive to the club in the heart of the city was a short one in his silver Aston Martin. He parked it in a discreet location, away from suspicious eyes as well as away from the hands of kleptomaniacs. He crossed the street and went around to the back entrance where the “cool” people, or so you could call them, went in. The bouncer nodded at him, and Amos nodded back as he stepped in, waved in without a second glance by the bouncer. He went in and looked around, taking in the scent of all the people in room, including the scents that naturally occurred in such a place: sweat, sex, tears, blood. All of them were enticing to his heightened senses. The darkness posed a threat to mere mortals, but not to him. Amos lived for the darkness. He lived for discovering the mysteries it held.

Tonight, though, was less of a night of adventure and mystery, and more of a night for a preset mission. He enjoyed the nights that he got to do whatever he pleased, but this certainly helped pay the pills and kept peace in his life and others’ lives. Amos scanned the club, looking for one particular person. He spotted the person he wanted to see and approached. Appearing suddenly behind the man, Amos bent low over the man’s shoulder and whispered in his ear.

“Well, hello there Dylan,” Amos was excellent at not letting the smirk show in his voice.

“Ah! You surprised me Amos. Welcome, have a seat!” Dylan said after seeming to recover from the surprise. Of course Amos knew he wasn’t really surprised, but the pretense was welcome anyway. Dylan waved away the ladies that were sitting with him so Amos could sit down with his boss.

“How’s it going?” Dylan asked him in a more serious voice.

“Nothing yet. Have you seen him around yet tonight?” Amos asked in an equally business-like voice.

“He’s supposed to come here? Well that’s not wise of him…”

“I think he’ll make a move in the alleyway either tonight or tomorrow night. I can’t be sure,” Amos replied. “And no, you’re right, it isn’t wise. But then, since when has a newbie ever been that smart?”

“You were,” Dylan looked down at his half-full manhattan, then up at Amos.

“I know, I’m just that special,” Amos said in an unimpressed, nonchalant tone. Of course, he was rather proud of his ability to absorb and adapt to the new life, but this wasn’t necessarily a common trait. He was a quick learner, and had good instincts and a fair bit of common sense.

“Alright, be like that. But be like that somewhere else. I want my ladies back, and you need to keep a look out. I’ll let you know if I see him,” Dylan responded and nodded his dismissal of Amos. Amos stood and backed away from the table, half-bowing as he let a few ladies slide in.

“Ladies, Mr. Berg,” he said, and excused himself to the back of the club.

Markus would come into the club first, of course, to pick out his next victim. His modus operandi (or M.O.) seemed to be blondes women in their mid-twenties. Good-looking women, typically, the type that aren’t really aware of their inner beauty, and are nervous about putting themselves out there. Of course, The Prowler was the absolute worst place to do it, unless you knew what the club was like or really knew what you were about. It was a shame that women were taken advantage of here in such a way.

Amos got himself a gin and tonic and stood by the bar, watching the various people go by. For an hour so there was nothing. But of course this wasn’t very surprising. It was still very early in the night. He looked at his watch. Indeed, it was only ten P.M. or so. Though he would keep a look out, and though he was surprised time had passed so quickly, he didn’t expect Markus to show up for at least another hour or two. For one of his kind though, a couple hours was really not all that long in the grand scheme of things.

As he predicted, time continued to pass quickly. Before long it was midnight, and Amos still hadn’t seen Markus. Of course, as soon as the thought about the man he was looking for, it was a ‘speak of the devil’ moment. Markus entered the club the back way as well, flanked by two bulky, tough looking men. Amos snorted. Did he really think that two big dimwits would be enough protection for him? It was a ridiculous proposition, and that was being kind. As he leaned against the bar, Amos took a closer look at Markus.

Markus Whatever-his-last-name-was was a tall, somewhat gangly youth. Youth he was — he seemed to only be in his mid-twenties, similar to his victims. Despite his lankiness, he seemed to clean up nicely, though that was not enough to attract one of their kind. Of course, for the average woman, Markus was equipped already. It was another unfortunate truth for his victims. His blonde locks flopped to the side and slightly over one eye. His eyes were a steel blue. He didn’t seem like a big threat to Amos, but then maybe he had some hidden strength that had allowed him to get away with these murders for so long. It wouldn’t be a difficult job for Amos, though.

He caught Dylan’s eye from across the room. His ‘boss’ looked at him and then motioned with his head toward Markus. Amos nodded, showing Dylan that he knew about Markus. Amos was bidding his time, and his boss should not be stupid enough to question that. He always got the job done — don’t question how it is done. Everyone should know that, in this world.

Markus hung out in the club for at least an hour, dancing carelessly with whom he would. His bodyguards never indulged themselves, always standing gruffly off to the side, keeping an eye on their employer and responsibility, looking as tough as they could. It was pretty humorous actually. Finally, Markus seemed to be getting down to business, and Amos saw him talking up a blonde in the middle of the dance floor. They were both dancing, together, but seemed to be doing so halfheartedly. Markus led the woman to a wall on one side of the club and pressed her up against the hard surface, whispering in her ear. She laughed and giggled — he could tell it was obnoxious even from where he stood. He rolled his eyes. Obnoxious as she might be, she was an innocent person that was being preyed upon by she didn’t know what. The key, though, was waiting for them to go out to the alleyway where Amos could take care of the bastard properly.

Sure enough, a few minutes later Markus led the woman out a back door and over to the main sidewalk. The two bodyguards followed, and tried to stay a safe distance away. Of course, Amos guessed that these two dummies probably didn’t even know what they were about to witness. Amos followed them out and walked a safe distance behind the bodyguards. He saw Markus and the woman turn into the alley, and then the bodyguards. He sped up, not wanting to be too late.

Amos knew he would have to deal with the bodyguards as well as Markus, but he didn’t expect them to be hiding around the corner waiting for him. Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dum pounced him, and Amos went down. Of course this was a ridiculous, rookie mistake. He should have seen this coming. It was no matter though. With ease he broke Twiddle Dum’s arm, hit his windpipe, then broke the man’s neck. Twiddle Dee tried to pin him to the ground, but Amos flipped him and smashed the man’s face into the ground. Standing over him, Amos bent down and broke that man’s neck as well. Humans were painfully easy to kill.

There was a high-pitched scream in the air for all of three seconds before it was abruptly cut off. Amos looked up and saw Markus bent over an increasingly limp body.

“Drop her, Markus,” Amos growled. The youth obeyed and dropped the lifeless body to the ground unceremoniously. He turned toward Amos and smirked, opened his hands up to the sides in a display of innocence.

“What — did you want her for yourself?” Markus mocked him and exposed his fangs. “You should have made your move sooner!”

Before the two could launch at each other, another person appeared in the alleyway.

“Sarah!” The newly arrived woman gasped in horror and ran to her friend’s body. She didn’t see Amos and Markus, because they had both faded into the shadows of the alleyway. She knelt down by Sarah’s corpse and started to cry softly.

Markus stepped from the shadows and glanced toward Amos, challenging him with a devious grin. He crept toward the kneeling woman silently.

“Watch out!” Amos shouted and jumped toward the two of them, but Markus had already grabbed the woman and now held her against him as he faced Amos.

“Look at you, the hero! Let me guess, Dylan sent you to kill me, huh?” Markus snarled. Amos smirked in return, and he nodded. “Well you two won’t be as successful as you think! That old fool can’t stop me.”

“Let her go Markus,” Amos said calmly and walked toward them slowly and menacingly.

“I think not,” Markus growled and bit into the woman’s neck. She gasped, then did something neither Amos nor Markus expected. She performed the “SING” operation from the Hollywood blockbuster “Miss Congeniality”: solar plexus, in-step, nose, groin. Markus shouted in surprised and at least temporary pain. Of course he sustained no real injury (besides a hurt pride), but this move allowed the woman to escape his grasp.

Amos took the opportunity to leap toward the wounded, bent-double Markus. The enemy recovered soon enough to see Amos coming, and took him in stride. The two immortals snarled and their fangs were exposed as they ripped at each other. As soon as one got a hold, the other would break free, and they’d go at it again. The woman stood to the side and watched in horror as these men grappled with each other. What the hell was going on? Who — what — were these men, and what did they want with her and her now deceased friend Sarah?

The woman knelt by her friend and examined the body. Yes, she was devoid of blood, just like the other women in the murders she had read about in the papers. Her eyes were closed — she had passed out during the attack. The woman glanced over the body and found two puncture marks at the junction between her neck and her collar bone. Two small, clean puncture marks. She looked up at the two men. Really? Could it be what she thought it was?

Amos finally got his enemy pinned to the ground and pulled a wooden stake out of nowhere — which was actually from his back pocket. Markus gasped and struggled harder, but Amos had him pinned down solidly and without question. Markus emitted a shrill screech as Amos drove the stake through his heart, and his eyes rolled back in his head, his fingers curling in pain. Amos kept the stake deep in his heart and kept him down until finally Markus lay beneath him, lifeless. Amos glanced a couple yards away from him.

“You might want to look away,” he said to her. She nodded and looked away, and he grunted as he tore Markus’s head from his body. He grabbed a trash can that lay abandoned in the alleyway, and dumped the body and head in the can, then lit it on fire. It went up in flames with ease, the skin being predisposed to burning. Amos picked up the can and dumped the ashes into the dumpster. He set the can down and turned to look at the woman, now cowering against the wall.

“Do not fear me,” his voice commanded. Of course this was probably not the best approach. Here he had just killed a man, ripped his head, and burned him. This woman had seen her friend killed, had been attacked herself, and now this monster was approaching her, not reassuringly, but demanding that she should not be afraid. In hindsight Amos would realize that this was not a well thought-out plan.

“Stay away from me,” she hissed at him, but her voice quivered. Amos kept approaching her slowly, holding his hands out to show he meant no harm.

“I can help you,” he said to her. “I know what happened, and I won’t doubt your claims like other people will. Let me help you.”

The woman calmed down a little and stayed quiet as Amos finally reached her. She put her hands to her neck, trying to protect herself. It was then that she really understand what had happened. In the adrenaline rush, the woman hadn’t realized that the dead man had bitten her. She felt the wounds on her neck. She was bleeding, but not profusely. She certainly wouldn’t die from blood loss, but it was a good idea to stop the bleeding before she lost anymore blood, that she knew. She wasn’t sure what other adverse effects there might be from such a wound. It was that thought that persuaded her to drop her hands, slowly and cautiously, and let the victor inspect and assist her.

“Okay,” the woman whispered to Amos, though he could tell she wasn’t so sure. It was well she shouldn’t be. If were just about any other man, he wouldn’t trust himself either. He swooped her up in his arms and rushed her to his car as quickly and silently as he could. She began to protest, clearly not feeling like this was the way of being helped, but he hushed her.

“Quiet now,” Amos hushed her again. It was a bit unceremonious, and he knew that as he placed her in his car. But at least it would get the job done. Wounds left open and not closed off by their maker could leave nasty scars, and he didn’t need her traumatized anymore, nor did he need anyone asking questions about them. No way, not if he could help it.

Amos took her to a nice hotel and checked her into a room. He helped her up into the elevator, though he got a few awkward, concerned stares in the meantime. He silenced anyone that dared approach with a severe look that told them to stay away if they knew what was best for them. Clearly they did, because no one actually bothered them. Amos laid the woman down on the bed in the hotel room and tucked her in. He got a washcloth for her face, and some antibiotic for her neck. It would not heal the puncture wounds completely, but Neosporin always did a fair amount of good on almost any skin lesion. Amos dimmed the lights in the room and left her a note, then left the room and went down to the lobby to pay the bill for the next two nights. He didn’t expect that she would need two full nights, but if she did, she would be all taken care of.

The note, written on just a simple hotel notepad with a simple hotel pen, read as follows:

Do not ponder this evening any more than is necessary for you to move on with your life. It will be in your best interest for you to not investigate this matter any further.

It was very straight forward, and left no room for confusion. Amos hoped she would understand the message and take it to heart. He hoped, but he had a sneaking suspicion that he would see more of this woman in the future.

He was right.

Chapter 2

Marie stretched as she woke up and sat up in bed. Though she enjoyed life pretty much every day, she never enjoyed waking up in the morning. Logically, as a non-morning person, she should just sleep in and try to skip the mornings, but her job and general lifestyle didn’t really afford her that luxury. She groaned and pulled herself out of bed, yanked on her clothes, and headed downstairs for a bowl of cereal. She gobbled that up and headed out to the barn. Her friend Anna would meet her there and help her get her horse ready to ride. She was doing a balance lesson today, and needed someone to lunge her horse as she rode. If she was lucky, Anna might be getting the horse ready. Not that she didn’t enjoy getting Reggie ready, but sometimes it was nice to have a day off, since she spent her days around large animals — being a large animal vet and all.

Reggie wasn’t ready, as she suspected. Anna wasn’t quite there yet, but that was fine. Marie needed to have time to groom her horse and muck out his stall. She was in the midst of saddling Reggie when Anna arrived.

“Morning, Early Bird!” Anna called to Marie as she walked into the aisle. She grabbed Reggie’s bridle from the bridle rack and brought it Reggie’s stall, handing it to Marie as she waited for her friend to finish getting the big grey gelding ready. “Almost ready?”

“Hey, Anna, yeah I’m close,” Marie said and took the bridle, bridling the gelding without much effort. She led him out and asked Anna to grab the lunge line as she headed out to the outdoor arena. She tightened his girth and dropped her stirrups, then mounted using the rail of the ring.

Anna came up and looped the lunge line through Reggie’s bridle, then started him off along the rail, clicking to him a little to make sure he was ready to go. Marie stretched on him and got comfortable, then nudged him on with her calves and heels, driving him into a truck. She sat a few beats, then began posting her trot, making sure she was on the correct diagonal.

Marie continued around in the circle, focusing on her own balance while Anna lunged the horse she was on. She clucked to him, encouraging him to keep trotting. He was being lazy today and she absolutely didn’t appreciate it.

“Grrr-up!” She growled at him and nudged him on with her calves, then her heels. He tossed his head lightly in protest but continued forward at a little faster pace. She sat for a few beats before posting up on the correct diagonal. She was good enough that she didn’t have to look down at his outside shoulder to see where his leg was, and she could feel the beats on her own. It was a balance lesson — yes, even for large animal vets it was good to keep doing lessons: one can never stop learning — and that was almost the only thing she was focused on.

Marie had her hands on her hips as she accustomed herself to her horse’s beat, then moved them out into ‘airplane’ mode, with her arms stretched out to both sides, then she began to rotate. She faced forward for two strides, then turned inward for two strides, back forward for two strides, and finally to the outside for two strides. She kept this up as she went around the circle once, twice, and a third time. Then she stretched her hands up above her as she continued posting. She stretched her abs and obliques, then returned to ‘airplane’ mode, then to the ‘chicken’, where she placed her hands behind her back like a chicken.

Marie slowed her horse with her seat and a quiet “woah.” He slowed to a walk and Anna helped her reverse directions. She did some of her point exercises, touching her right hand to her left toe, then her right toe, toward the horse’s ears, and toward the horse’s rear. She repeated the process with her left hand: left toe, right toe, toward the horse’s ears, and toward the horse’s rear. Marie clucked to him and began trotting, first at a sitting trot, then began posting, of course on the correct diagonal. She began again to go through her different positions.

As Marie raised her arms to the airplane, Anna flicked her whip at the horse, trying to get him to keep at a full circle rather than cutting in. She did it again and tapped his shoulder with the whip. He clearly hadn’t been paying attention, and he flipped out, jumping and side-stepping, throwing Marie completely off balance. Perhaps if she had been holding her reins she might have been able to stay on, but with her arms at shoulder height and not anticipating her horse to side-step, she didn’t have much going for her in this situation.

Marie flew off the horse and landed in the sand directly on her hip. She gasped for air but all oxygen had left her lungs. Pain shot through her left side as she lay there in the sand, groaning. Her horse backed away from her, clearly spooked by both the whip and the falling woman from his back. Anna held the horse at a distance on the lunge line, but hurried to Marie’s side.

“Are you OK?” She asked anxiously.

“Yeah, yeah I’m okay,” Marie replied as soon as she got her breath back. She wiggled her toes, her ankles, her knees, her fingers, checking to make sure she had feeling in them. Sure enough she did. She lay on her back and kept breathing, trying to come to terms with the ache in her entire left side. Marie bit her lip, trying not to curse. She succeeded, with God’s grace. Finally she sat up, and realized her flexibility was going to be totally compromised for a few days. Marie got back on her horse to continue, as all riders should know to do, but she was sore as hell.

“Alright, let’s get on with this,” she said to Anna as she urged her horse back into a trot and continued the lesson. She’d have to soak in a nice hot bath later with Epsom salt and a lot of relaxing.

Finally Marie had finished, and she dismounted with a groan, her entire body aching. Anna took the lunge line from Reggie’s bridle and wrapped it up, while Marie slid the reins from the gelding’s head and led him in to the barn and his stall, then began to untack him and rub him down. Reggie wasn’t too hot, which was nice, and so Marie didn’t have to do much to put him away. She put his blanket on and put him away, thanked Anna, who went on to work on her own horse, stabled there as well, then went up to the house. She was definitely looking forward to that bath, and she had just enough time before her “hours” started.

Of course, she didn’t really have office hours in the general sense. She mostly worked from her home, traveling out to farms to help owners with their large animals. When she did go into any sort of office, it was to work at a veterinary clinic run by a colleague. Marie preferred to share the space rather than run her own clinic when she wouldn’t necessarily be present all the time. It was a waste of her money to maintain the place all the time.

Marie soaked in her bath and took a deep sigh.

“Ugh, I’m going to be so sore for the next couple days,” she muttered to herself and tried to not think about how it might affect her work. After awhile she pulled herself out, dried off, and got dressed again and went into her study where she could review her clients and look at any reports that she needed to do.

The day was relatively uneventful. She had a few check-up runs to do to make sure the farms were doing alright, but besides that it was quiet. She spent most of the day reading and looking at her monthly plans. In the early afternoon, she got a phone call from one her friends.

“Marie?” The voice said over the phone.

“Yes, this is she,” Marie replied, not immediately recognizing the voice.

“Hey! It’s Sarah.”

“Oh, hey Sarah! How are you?” She should have recognized the voice, but better late than never, right?

“Good, good. Hey — do you have any plans for tonight?” Straight to the point, just like Sarah.

“Um, no, not really. I mean, nightly chores at the barn but that’s it,” Marie replied. “Why, did you have something in mind?”

“Yeah, actually. I thought maybe we could go out tonight? We haven’t gone out in awhile and I know you don’t go out often enough. So – I thought maybe we could go out to The Prowler! We’ve never been there and it’s gotten good ratings and what not.”

Well it sure sounded interesting, this “Prowler” place. Though it sounded a little shady as well. But then, Sarah and Marie could take care of themselves well enough, so they should probably be alright. Marie nodded as she replied.

“Sure, why not,” she replied with a smile.

“Alright, I’ll pick you up around ten, is that okay?”

“Yeah, that’s fine. I’ll see you then! Later, Sarah,” Marie said, waited for Sarah’s confirmation and goodbye, then hung up the phone.

Going out meant Marie would have to find something to wear. It was true she hadn’t been out for awhile, and she’d sort of forgotten what it was like, but that was no matter. She still had clothes that fit her, and she still had clothes that were appropriate for clubbing. It was also true that getting out with a girlfriend would be good for her. She needed to do something to liven up her night time. What was better than going out to a shady club?

That evening she got ready about forty-five minutes before she was set to be picked up by her friend Sarah. She put on one of her favorite little black dresses and pulled on some of her favorite black leather boots. Though slutty probably would have worked in a club named “The Prowler,” she decided to err on the classy side. She straightened her warm brunette hair and put on some make-up that accentuated her eyes. By the time Sarah was knocking on her door, Marie was all ready to go, looking like a bombshell — classy, but definitely a bombshell.

Marie hurried to her door and opened it to find Sarah in a slutty, not classy, red dress looking dolled up like crazy.

“Wow,” Marie said and tried to not let her jaw drop open. She laughed and added, “Guess I know which one of us is going to be getting all the looks tonight.”

“Oh please,” Sarah said and waved her hand. “You look gorgeous Marie. Are you ready to go?”

Marie nodded and grabbed her clutch from the stand by the door.

“Yep, all ready! Let’s go, girlie,” she said and they both skipped to the car.

When they arrived at The Prowler, it was clear the club was already hopping. Marie liked it that way. Then were was no, or rather less, awkward standing and waiting for something to happen. This way they could walk in and the energy in the club would pump them up quickly. Plus knocking down a few drinks would always help. Marie and Sarah went in the main entrance and got their ID’s checked, then went in and headed straight to the bar.

“Two vodka shots, please,” Sarah said and pointed to herself. It wasn’t that she was being stingy and not offering Marie a shot, it was just that she knew Marie tended to like mixed drinks, and Sarah was trying to get drunk faster rather than slower. Marie liked descending into a drunken stupor now and then, but she felt like taking her time this particular night.

“Fuzzy Navel, please,” Marie said to the bartender and he nodded, quickly delivering two vodka shots and a Fuzzy Navel. Sarah gulped hers down like a pro, while Marie sipped on her drink, enjoying each fruity sip.

“Oh c’mon, let’s go dance!” Sarah said and tried to drag Marie onto the dance floor. Marie shook her head.

“Let me finish this, then I’ll join you, okay?” She waved Sarah off and onward. Sarah shrugged and mouthed “your loss!” before heading out to dance with random strangers. Marie wished that Sarah did need alcohol and clubbing to justify meeting people, and to give her that classic ‘liquid courage,’ but Marie knew that her friend lacked some of the courage that she needed to really feel confident out of her element — which was being a elementary schoolteacher, surprisingly enough.

Marie couldn’t figure out why the gorgeous blonde woman wasn’t confident wherever she went. She was a beautiful, intelligent woman. Of course her drunken self was a little bit embarrassing, but while Marie would always try to look after her friend, she would never let Sarah know this. A woman lacking confidence didn’t need her partying companion to bring her down. Marie watched as Sarah started dancing with a rather gangly looking youth. How unfortunate — Sarah could definitely snag someone better looking than that dork. But hey, if that was who she was interested in, Marie wouldn’t get in her way. She finished her drink, but instead of going out to dance, she thought she’d have another one and keep watching Sarah and her catch.

“Another, miss?” The bartender came up and asked her, nodding to her empty bottle.

“Yes, please,” Marie nodded and smiled at him. He pushed another one across the counter-top toward her, and she took it in her hand.

Marie turned back toward the dance floor and looked to find her friend. The tall blonde was no longer in the center of the dance floor with the gangly man. Her brow furrowed as she searched the room, trying to locate Sarah. It took a few moments, but finally Marie found her friend against a wall along the side of the club. The two were pressed together against the unrelenting wall, and it seemed that they were ‘glued at the hip’, their bodies molding together. It was an overused phrase but Marie thought it seemed appropriate in this situation. She could barely tell where one ended and the other began. Then the man backed up and took the giggling and tipsy blonde toward a back exit. Marie frowned and set her empty bottle down on the counter. She pulled some cash from her clutch and placed it on the bar, nodding at the bartender as she headed after her friend and the strange man. Marie would have much preferred that they stayed in the club and ate each other’s faces. Walking out the back of a bar was never a good sign. Never.

Marie saw two brutes walk out after the couple. They looked like Neo-Nazi Skinheads: probably the man’s bodyguards. Great, there were these monsters following her friend around. This was just not going to end well. They were probably going to try to cart her off somewhere – that was the worst case scenario in Marie’s mind. Shortly after the two crazy goons walked out, another tall, dark, and (maybe?) handsome fellow left through the same exit. There were definitely too many men following Sarah. Four to one? There would be no trouble if Marie could help it. Of course, she wasn’t really sure how she would prevent any of this trouble from happening, but she would do her best. She hurried after the group and pushed through the door to find herself in a back alley. She thought this would be a perfect spot to do something sinful, but no one was there. She caught sight of the last man’s shoe turning the corner out by the street. She hurried that way, trying to not make too much sound as she followed them. Four men against two women still wasn’t a very good set of odds. It seemed she wasn’t doing too bad of a job, because no one had turned around and come after her yet.

She was starting to catch up on the last man when he turned another corner, presumably into another alleyway. Before she got to the corner though, she heard a commotion. A shout here and there, and what sounded like bodies being slammed around on the concrete. She winced as she heard what she thought were bones breaking and cracking left and right. For some reason, she was hoping it was the goons that were getting their asses kicked in this whole shindig. She definitely didn’t want Sarah to get hurt. As for the other two men, she preferred them over the skinheads. Who wouldn’t?

When she thought the commotion had ended, she crept closer to the corner, getting ready to peer around and see what was going on, to see if she could see Sarah and maybe even, hopefully, rescue her friend from trouble. It occurred to her in this whole sneaking process that it might have been a good idea to call the cops, or at least security, quite awhile ago. But her adrenaline was pumping and it seemed a little too late for that. It seemed more like if there was action to be taken, it was going to be done by her directly in the situation. Before she had a chance to look around the corner, however, she heard a blood-curdling scream, quickly cut off to leave a heavy silence in the air. Marie gasped and jumped around the corner in time to see the gangly, nerdy-looking youth holding her friend against him, his head against her neck. Sarah fell limp and the man dropped the body to the ground. The handsomer man seemed like he was ready to tackle the youth to the ground. Marie was all for this, but only as an afterthought to trying to rescue her friend.

“Sarah!” She half-gasped, half-screeched as she dashed out, quite foolishly, in front of the two men, stepping over the bodies of the two goons, and landed on her knees next to her friend. She knelt there and tried to check her friend’s vitals, but she realized as she went about, fumbling, in shock, that her friend was already dead. There was almost no point — especially with these two dangerous men in the alley with her.

Of course, this was all just a dim cloud of thoughts for her. It only really became ‘real’ when the youth grabbed her and held her body to his as well. Fantastic, now she was his captive. Clearly, her brain had not registered the “Watch out!” shouted to her by the dark and handsome one. She struggled against her captor, but found herself unable to make any difference. She could barely breathe, her fear was so strong and palpable. There was some more discourse between the two men, most of it went over her head, though. She heard something about threatening death, and she just hoped that whatever it was would result in her living and walking away from all this in one piece.

But then she felt a piercing pain in her neck. Her captor’s lips were pressed against her skin, but instead of a soft and gentle feeling, she just felt these needles driving into the pulsing vein in her neck. What she did next came to her like a vision, except she didn’t take long enough to think about it. It was a gut reaction. Marie used her elbow to dig into his abs, pinpointing a softer point in his body. He began to bend, and she knew that her moves would work — at least a little bit. His reaction was not as great as she would have hoped, but she continued anyway. She stomped down as hard as she could on his foot — of course this was much easier for her because she had those boots with nice heels on. He groaned with pain and she slammed her clenched fist back into his nose, and though she did not hear it break, she could tell her attacker was in pain. Finally, she swung her arm back to hit him in the balls. He grunted again and as he fell back, she dashed away to the wall and fell against it, barely able to stand.

She watched in horror as the dark-haired man flew at her assailant, and they seemed to engage in something more than just mortal combat. They moved so fast she could barely follow their movements. It was horrifying and amazing at the same time. As they fought, Marie dropped to Sarah’s lifeless body again. Subconsciously she looked at her friend’s neck, directed by the pain she was feeling herself, and realized that their wounds matched. There were two small holes, a little bloody, and Sarah’s body was completely pale. She looked up at the fighting blob (she could no longer tell the two men apart), and wondered if what she was thinking was even possible.

Were these men — vampires?

It was a horrible thought and Marie thought she might have, some time in the last five minutes or so, completely lost her mind. It was definitely the shock, and she would need to see a doctor, if not a therapist for this kind of trauma.

Of course, that was when she refocused her vision and saw a stake being driven into her assailant.

“You might want to look away,” the dark-haired victor said to her. Marie nodded and looked around, and heard a horrible ripping sound. She winced and tried not to imagine what was going on. She looked back to something behind dumped into a trash can in the alley. She assumed it was the dead man’s body. Her ‘saviour’ lit a match that seemed to come out of nowhere and dropped it in the trash can. The whole thing went up in flames, and Marie was shocked at how fast the remains burned, and how soon the man was dumping the ashes into the nearby dumpster.

Now Marie was sure that she would be killed or at least severely wounded, and she would definitely be mentally and emotionally unstable for the rest of her life. She tried to hold on to the rest of her wits as the dark-haired man approached her. At least the gangly murdering youth seemed to be out of the picture — that was a relief, right?

“Do not fear me,” he said to her. Ha! Marie had just witnessed him in combat with this brutal murderer, and watched him kill this other man in a terrible, cruel, and grotesque way, then burn him up in a trash can. And here she was supposed to not be scared out of her wits and desperately want to escape him? He was out of his mind more than she was!

“Stay away from me,” she hissed at the man approaching her. Of course, her fear was audible. When she tried to ward him off, her voice wavered. The man held his hands out, trying to show that he meant her no harm. Yeah, right. Marie was sure he was just trying to give her a false sense of security. She looked around her and wondered if there was a means of escape from this guy. Probably not.

“I can help you,” he said to her. “I know what happened, and I won’t doubt your claims like other people will. Let me help you.”

Marie went quiet as she began to think. She hadn’t really thought about that. Sure she could go to a hospital and a therapist, but who would really believe her? They would probably think she’d just been on the receiving end of some really bad prank. Or perhaps that she was one of those crazed “Twilight” fans and had self-inflicted the wound. Or they might even think that she was the one that killed her friend Sarah. Yeah, yeah that would go over great. As much as she didn’t want to admit it, this man had a point. And he was offering to help her. Perhaps she should listen to this crazy SOB?

The man reached her and she put her hands to her neck. She got he feeling he was the same breed as the crazy dead guy, and she wasn’t ready for him to suck her blood like the other one. She knew she had been bitten, but hadn’t really thought about the wound bleeding. She felt the blood against her fingers, and realized this man probably knew more about how to help her than she knew how to help herself, despite being a vet. She dealt with, you know, the earthly infirmities, not the paranormal. Marie dropped her hands slowly and let the man inspect her and the wound.

“Okay,” she whispered to him somewhat hesitantly, and definitely begrudgingly. She hated giving in to his assistance, this murdering stranger saviour person. Then the dark-haired ‘man’ swooped her up in his arms — ‘Seriously?’ she thought to herself — and rushed her to his car. Marie would not stand for this, of course, and started to protest, trying to shift in his arms and voice her concerns.

“Quiet now,” he hushed her. If this were a totally different situation she would have protested stubbornly and vehemently. It was condescending and she wouldn’t have stood for it. However, she felt she was in less and less of a position to be protesting. Luckily for him, she got distracted by his fancy car — was this James Bonds’s car? — and didn’t pester him as he drove her only God knew where.

They arrived at a nice, fancy hotel, and the man checked Marie into a room. Again she had to rely on him, and she felt so embarrassed as they got strange stares from the hotel guests. She wondered what the look was on the man’s face — she didn’t dare look herself — because the guests would stare, then their faces would contort as they looked at him, and they’d hurry away as fast as they could. Well if she needed rescuing, it was clear that no one would be brave enough to confront him. That was just great. Marie let him tuck her into the bed in the hotel room, and let him baby her. Of course, ‘let’ was probably not the correct for the situation. She would probably not have stood a chance against him if she had tried to resist, which is partly why she didn’t resist at all. Also because her wound left her feeling rather weak, and since this man/beast/thing was willing enough to help her, it was probably best that she let him do just that.

The man got a cold, wet washcloth for her forehead, and he folded it and laid it across her forehead. She closed her eyes and let it help her relax. She felt something cool on her neck, and realized he had gotten another washcloth and was wiping the blood from her neck. He patted it dry, and put something else cool on it. She opened her eyes and saw in his hand a small tube that said “Neosporin” on it. Ah – well wasn’t that nice of him. Not that she couldn’t put a little cream on her neck herself.

Marie watched him walk to the door, and she thought he was going to leave. Instead, he dimmed the lights and retreated to a chair in the corner of the room. She immediately wanted to start asking him questions, but before she could compose one and even mutter it, she found herself drifting into a heavy sleep. Marie was sure she hadn’t been drugged, but that was what it felt like as she lost consciousness.

In the morning when she woke up, rather later than she would have preferred, the man was no longer in her room. The first thing Marie felt was disappointment. She wanted to know more about him, and she felt like she had totally blown her chance at learning more about, well, everything. The second thing she felt was pain. Her neck stung – not a lot, but enough for her to notice. She’d have to put more Neosporin on the wound. The third and last thing she felt was relief. Thank God the mysterious saviour hadn’t stuck around, or she would have to face not only the answers to her questions, but the worry of wondering what would happen next. As it was, she could get out of bed at her own pace, not worry about him watching her, and maybe, possibly, return to the safety of her own home and a ‘normal’ life. Though she doubted her life would ever be slightly normal again.

Marie looked down at the bedside table and saw a small note left there, written on the paper of the hotel notepad. It was from the man who had brought her to the hotel the night before, and it told her to move on with her life and not think about the previous night’s events. Basically, “Forget about it and move on.”

“That’s fine and dandy for him,” Marie said to herself as she got out of bed, “but this totally rocked my world. This is not over for me.”

And she meant it too. She would not leave this matter be until she had answers. Answers about the man that killed Sarah. Answers about what both men were. Answers about her wound, and what on earth was going on that got her and her friend in the middle of some type of vampire war. No, not it was not over for her at all.

 

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