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A Song For the Dead by bat

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As soon as Ruby was packed and David had locked up the house tightly, they headed off on David’s bike. Up the street, back onto the main drag, down the on-ramp that would take them to Highway 101. Ruby watched the speeding blurs of the cars as they passed by and realized they were heading north, not south.

Soon the traffic grew sparse as they journeyed up the old coastal highway. The ocean on their left, the massive forests on their right. Ruby gripped David tighter as he passed a log truck, gunning the bike past the massive load of freshly felled trees. Shortly after, a small storm hit them, soaking the two vampires as they rode on.

The air was cleaner, older yet far more fresh then that of Santa Cruz. The farther north they rode, the more alive Ruby felt. She could hear the deer in the thick stands of trees as they roared past, around hairpin turns and curves of the 101. Giant Redwoods grew right up against the blacktop, threatening to spread their mass into the pavement and destroy it. They had been there first; they could take back what man had taken away. Ruby reached out and let her hand graze the rough bark as they passed by one massive tree that must have been at least 150 years old.

Around midnight the stopped at first turnout they came to. David dismounted after Ruby, stretching his arms high above his head, his black trench coat billowing out behind him in the gust of wind as yet another log truck passed them. Ruby stood on the edge of the gravel turnout, looking down at the sheer cliff below that was lined with ferns, grasses and smaller scrub trees.

“Another two hours and we’ll be over the border.” David tapped a cigarette from the pack and lit it.

“Oregon?” Ruby turned sharply and looked at him.

“Yup.” David grinned at her, joining her to look over the drop.

Ruby studied him now and not the forest. “Why?” She asked, after a long pause.

David was silent before replying. “How long has it been since you’ve seen your parents? Been home?”

Ruby thought. She’d moved to Los Angeles in… 1983. She hadn’t set foot back home since. She did send letters, made the occasional phone call, gave dozens of excuses (most made up) on why she couldn’t come home for holidays. “Nearly five years.”

“I thought it was time.” David exhaled smoke that mingled with the persistent mist that mingled in among the trees. “Trust me, it’s a luxury to be able to go home, see your past.”

“How long…” Ruby ventured.

“Decades. The last I saw of them, they were six feet under. Not that I really had much to say to them at that point. I’d been gone so long, it was almost as if that part of my life never really happened.” The twinge of sadness slipped through their bond and tugged at Ruby’s heart.

“I’m sorry, David.”

The blonde shrugged. “Look, my parents were good people. It wasn’t like I was the only son; they had my brother, and I had two… no wait.” He paused and counted on his fingers. “Margaret, Catherine, and Beatrice … three sisters. Joseph carried on the family name with his family and their descendants, and my sisters probably popped out a bunch of kids. It’s not like me being gone ruined it.”

“Still…”

“I was the disgrace, just the spare son anyway. My father and I didn’t get along all that well until he was senile and had no idea who I was the last time I saw him before he died. That was actually the most pleasant conversation I’d ever had with the man!” He pulled a long drag from the cigarette, continuing with the smoke streaming from his nose and lips. “I come from a different time, Ruby. When boys were supposed to grow up and be the man their father was before them, and his father before him, and so on.”

Ruby was silent; this was one of the few times David had ever talked extensively about his past. She still had no idea how old he was, exactly. She knew it was more then one hundred years since he had been alive, but it was only a minimum number of how long he’d existed. The desire to learn more about him, who he’d been, always gnawed in her mind; to push him would have guaranteed his continuing silence.

With a wry snort, he squashed his finished cigarette with his boot. “I was almost 21 when I ran south to the Texas territory. I wanted to be a soldier, but the regular army of the country and I didn’t see eye to eye. So I went down to the land of the outlaws and roughriders. I fought in the battle Concepcion, watched San Antonio stormed, and watched the Mexicans storm the Alamo. They say every man was slaughtered.” He sneered. “Of course they were! I was unleashed upon them!”

Ruby’s eyes widened. “You were a vampire then?” David’s eyes flashed.

“Word came that there was dragoons running war treasure up on pack animals. Jim Bowie got ordered to take one hundred of us and investigate. Well, with that much silver, no man wanted to be left out. Luckily they followed, because the guard was outnumbered and the Mexicans were closing in. During the firefight, I went down with a bullet in my leg, and another in my shoulder. I got left for dead while everyone ran back to camp with what they thought was treasure. The joke was on them; the animals bore only feed.”

David crouched down, plucking bits of gravel from the turnout and tossing them over the hillside. “I thought I was as good as dead. I lay there for two days, and on the second night I heard something approaching. I figured it was a coyote come to finish me off. At least I’d stop suffering and be done with it. It was a beast, but not like any I’d ever seen. Horribly red eyes glowing in the pitch black of the grassland, hands like talons, coal black hair down his body, skin as red-brown as the earth. Whatever had been human in it was gone; it lived only for blood. He must have scented me on the wind; of course with all the blood loss it wouldn’t take much for him to pick me up.”

Ruby watched David lapse back into a time in his memory that was still as fresh as if it had just happened. She didn’t venture any words, she was too afraid of jarring him. Some cars roared past them on the wet pavement, kicking up spray and bits of gravel that pelted the back of David’s trench coat as he crouched in the mud.

“He knew I wasn’t dead when he got to me. He sniffed me over, his hands against my chest and the bullet in my shoulder. I screamed in the pain, amazed it could feel so fresh still. His fangs were as white as the moon. I think I begged. I was half out of my mind anyway, whatever I said… I can’t remember now. I felt his nails digging into my shoulder, pulling the bullet out. He did the same to my leg. I heard shouts coming up over the grass I’d fallen into. Someone was with him, calling him, trying to locate him.”

David sucked in a hard, angry breath. “Then he bit me. It was the worst pain I’d ever felt, like being set on fire on the inside. I was already weak from the bullets, but still I screamed, and screamed, and felt him drain away what was left. I thought the shouting was distant, but really it was right over me; he’d sent me right to the edge of death. I remember the shouting, him being pulled off me, and then hands hauling me up. The next things are really only flashes of images; someone was holding my head while someone else poured hot liquid into my mouth and forcing me to swallow. I fought with what I had left but the taste of it… it was all I wanted. I drank and drank until they tied me up and left me… left me screaming for more until I lapsed into sleep because the sun rose.”

Suddenly David rose, pulling in a deep lungful of air and roaring it back out so loudly it echoed through the dense trees. Flocks of birds scattered into the air, squawking angrily. A single crow landed on the back of David’s bike and cawed at Ruby. She put a finger to her lips to silence it. It hopped off the back of the bike and over to Ruby, pecking her boot, then flew off. David stood on the edge of the drop, staring out into the woods, shoulders heaving under the weight of his anger.

Ruby reached out through their bond, trying to gently ease him down through his pain. He resisted at first, fighting against her calming influence, then let his shoulders drop one final time. Keeping his back to her, he spoke in a low voice only she could hear. “The tribe was the Kickapoo, parts of which were down in Coahuila and had fought in the battles against the Texians. They kept me penned during the day in one of their wickiups. Sometimes the night as well. They unleashed me, literally, on the Alamo. That was my first true kill… and then some.”

Slowly, David turned to look back at Ruby over his shoulder. His eyes were firery, pained. “They had only the one vampire, my sire, who they revered as a god and a demon at the same time. They kept him literally on a leash, sending chosen honorees out with him while he would hunt the grasslands to feed. They couldn’t quite explain why he’d turned me; I was pretty much the same as you see me now, and maybe that was why. I was so different from everything else down there. He was half crazed, too beast, to make any sense. I didn’t really have the luxury of learning from him. His… people taught me. One of his gifts to me was the knowledge of Algonquian, their native tongue. That made it easier.” He snorted softly. “Born American, died American. Reborn of the Kickapoo, if you will.”

Ruby’s throat was dry from not speaking for so long. “What…what happened to him?”

David shrugged. “Probably dead. Maybe still alive, somewhere. I have no interest in knowing. They thought they were blessed with a second vampire at their command; as soon as I knew enough, learned enough, I killed the guard they’d sent with me one night for hunting and took off. I made my way north…” David trailed off, lapsed into silence. “We need to get moving.”

Startled, Ruby blinked as David brushed off his gloves and remounted his bike. She realized, as she climbed back up behind him, she wouldn’t hear anymore about his past for a long, long time.
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