Winter had descended upon Santa Carla, bringing longer nights often laced with a cold, stiff sea breeze. The costal fog usually wasn’t as thick during the colder months since the warmer air interacting with the colder water didn’t work against each other to create it, like it did in the summer. But, in the summer, it hardly ever rained. The wet weather came in the winter.
It was mid December, and the boardwalk was decked out with seasonal décor. The twinkling lights that shone year round were twice as bright now with the addition of some holiday bulbs around the exteriors of many of the shops and the arcade. Even in inclement weather, the tourists flocked there to take in the sights and shop, even when the rides had to shut down.
Yet, the beaches were eerily silent, especially on weeknights or during stormy weather. This made hunting a chore for a hungry vampire.
Still, Dwayne wasn’t about to give up. Marko had made a remark the other night that had been a temporary, hopeful sign. He’d mentioned that the college kids were starting to pour into the Seafarer, where he tended bar on a part-time basis, in droves, which meant that it was holiday recess for the students.
“Feeding time…come and get it, boys,” he’d sung with a smirk.
So, where were these damn college kids now? Shouldn’t they be having some righteous bon fire parties, right down here on the beach Dwayne was hungrily prowling?
No, of course not. They were all seeking drier ground to indulge their alcoholic pastimes. The weather had been testy the last couple of nights, with intermittent rain showers and drizzle, followed by dry spells. Glancing at the sky, Dwayne saw nothing but a wide expanse of stars, a few scattered silhouettes of clouds, and the full moon beaming down on a placid sea.
Just as he was about to give up on the beach and go find a bum to roll beneath the bridge on Front Street, (always good for a desperate bite…if Paul, David and Marko hadn’t eaten the entire night’s menu of them by now), he smelled it.
Blood. Fresh Blood. Coppery, sweet, and unmistakable.
There was no time for Dwayne to slow down his reactions, or even think about it any. His features shifted; his eyes glowing like two feral, hot coals, and his fangs extended as he opened up his mouth to take in more of the scent. Where was it coming from?
The wind had carried the scent to him, so he turned in the opposite direction, gazing first at the boardwalk, and then down towards the pier. He caught the scent again. It was coming from the direction of the pier; more specifically, from below the pier.
Munched surfer, maybe? Shark attacks in these waters were rare, but not unheard of, and there were a few diehards that enjoyed night surfing, even in the winter time. Whatever, Dwayne didn’t care. He was on the same level with the scent, so taking to the air would be pointless. Besides, he was awfully close to civilization. At this hour, there were still employees closing up stores and restaurants, even though most businesses were closed.
If he had taken to the air, he might have seen the squad cars parked on the pier….
Not that he would have cared any. A dinner that didn’t fight wasn’t necessarily the best meal, but it was better than going hungry.
Dwayne searched with his sense of smell more than his vision. Merely by looking, he wouldn’t have seen a thing. Whatever was lying there was bleeding out someplace out of view behind piles of boulders and wooden pilings close to the shoreline. The sea lions that called this place home were oddly silent. In fact, they even seemed to be absent.
Then he saw it; a pale sliver of skin belonging to an outstretched hand. His eyes traveled upwards to see clotted, congealing blood all over the shoulder of a mangled hoodie sweatshirt. One of the victim’s sneakers had been lost in the attack, revealing a foot wearing a plain, white sock.
The victim was clearly out cold. Dirty sand and blood was mixed into her blond, matted ponytail. By now, Dwayne could care less. He was hungry, and the blood smell was driving him mad. He reached in and snatched the mortal from her hidey hole, and was instantly greeted with two, rather nasty surprises.
The first was the growl that came from somewhere nearby, and the smell that accompanied it. It was the extremely unpleasant smell of werewolf urine. Someone was marking his territory. This kill was his.…(or hers), and Dwayne was an intruder.
Dwayne couldn’t see the wolf. That bothered him. Where the fuck was it? He glanced down at the victim in his arms and was greeted with the second horror. She was merely a child, no older than Laddie had been when he’d been brought into the pack!
He didn’t eat kids. Plain and simple. He’d rather go hungry. Past and present meshed together into a solitary moment as he relived that hellish night that made him immortal but cost his little brother, Craig, his life. No, Dwayne didn’t eat little kids….and werewolves shouldn’t either.
“Why don’t you just go home, sucker…See this tooth I’ve got dangling from my ear? It comes from one of your kind that I killed…and I’ll kill you too, just as easily,” Dwayne threatened.
Of course, he was bluffing. When werewolves were killed, they reverted back to their human forms almost immediately. He only hoped his opponent hadn’t seen the death of one of his own kind and didn’t know that. He wasn’t bluffing about killing werewolves, though. In his time, he could honestly say he’d dusted about two of them. Not easily, though, and always with at least David at his side.
The growling stopped for the moment, but the air was still charged with static. Dwayne took a deep, unneeded breath, and proceeded to back out of the dank hiding space with the child securely in his arms. He only managed to pick his way over a few of the larger boulders obstructing his path to freedom before he heard a sharp ‘yip’…
And then he was pummeled from behind and forced face first into the sand. His back was ripped into with claws as sharp as daggers. Immortal blood seeped from his wounds as he gained his feet and staggered back, ramming his back hard against one of the wooden pilings supporting the pier. When this didn’t dislodge the werewolf, Dwayne desperately moved to one of the cement ones.
Finally, the beatings began to take their toll, and Dwayne was able to reach behind with his fully extended claw-nails and rip the attacking wolf from his back. He stared at the lycanthrope in horror. Its muzzle was a burnt, ruined thing. The fur had been singed away, and the skin beneath was blackened and blistered. Saliva dripped from its inflamed mouth. Dwayne could see the pain in his enemy’s eyes.
No wonder the fucker hadn’t bit him. He could almost pity the creature. Silently, they regarded each other. Dwayne was weakened from hunger and blood loss but obviously still standing and not going anywhere. The werewolf was still steadily standing his ground too. Even though he couldn’t bite (not without extreme pain, at least), he could still gash with his powerful claws. And, one earsplitting howl would send an alert to any of his pack mates in the area. For all Dwayne knew, there could be more of them nearby. Unlike vampires, werewolves often hunted in packs. Yet a wounded one would likely separate himself from his group, just like any other wild animal. This way, his pack mates wouldn’t try to steal his kill.
Still, a lone werewolf guarding his prey was one thing. A wounded, solo werewolf who feared an attack from an angry vampire might summon for help. Dwayne was not off the hook yet. He had to get out from under the pier before he could take to the air. Then, he would be home free.
The child had been dumped in the wet sand at Dwayne’s feet when the werewolf had launched at him. She started to stir; moaning in pain. Any noises she made were drowned out from people up on the pier above by the crashing of the ocean’s waves against the pilings, but both vampires and werewolves had very keen hearing. They continued to circle around the girl in their twisted game of Ring Around the Rosey; eyes like burning embers locked to silver bright eyes like the moonlight. Then a loud noise split the air: Two loud wails of a police car’s siren. Suddenly, the showdown was over. The werewolf, sensing another sort of danger at hand, turned tail and fled, leaving his victim to another morbid fate.
Dwayne regarded the little girl with an emotion that was as close to actual pity as a vampire could get. Maybe it would have been better off if the werewolf had finished what he’d started. Now the kid was going to have some serious, lifelong issues, and she wasn’t going to have to wait until puberty to start noticing some big changes. Maybe just a month…
Soon, the kid would have her whole family wolfing out. Or, they’d be dead, and she’d be an orphan. Not a good situation. Dwayne decided right then and there that the police couldn’t find this child. Her parents, whoever the poor bastards were, would be better off believing she was dead…
Because someone was going to have to take care of that. Maybe David could. Or those stupid comic shop owners. Dwayne only knew he couldn’t do it.
He didn’t kill little kids.
Silently, he scooped the semi-conscious child into his arms and made his way out from beneath the pier. Before he took to the air, he made certain that no cops were in the vicinity with their guns aimed at him or something. One never knew…(not that he was afraid of bullets really, but getting shot would hurt, and he was already in enough pain.) The distance to the hideout was a short one, and Dwayne was glad. The smell of the girl’s blood was driving him nearly insane, especially since he’d been injured in his spar with the werewolf. Those wounds were still healing. Injuries inflicted from another supernatural entity took longer to heal.
Dragging the mortal down into the tunnel that led to the sunken ballroom without causing her further injury was a struggle. No other mortals had been down here with the exceptions of Laddie and Alex..and they’d come down on their own hands and knees, not needing to be dragged.
“Dwayne, what the hell? Was there some beach party massacre you didn’t clue me in on?”
David’s voice rang out as soon as he saw Dwayne’s head pop in through the tunnel. He smelled blood. Though he’d fed already, the smell still excited his senses.
“I wish. No, actually, I did my own fucking version of Dances With Wolves under the pier tonight. All for this…”
He hauled the girl forth and stretched her out on the floor. David’s eyes scrutinized the child; from the dirty ponytail and the bloody hoodie, to her damp jeans and one missing shoe. Suddenly, he began to chuckle. It was an eerie, twisted noise, filled with mirth and darkness.
“My, my, my, look what the cat dragged in. Let me guess. She was werewolf chow,” he said.
“Yeah. I smelled blood on the beach, and I followed the scent until I found her under the pier. Then, wolfie jumped me. He’d been hiding nearby, guarding her,” Dwayne explained.
“You were jumped by a werewolf?”
“That’s just what I said.”
“Did it bite you?”
“No. That’s the strange thing. His mouth was all burnt up, like he’d bit into an electric wire or something. But he still had sharp motherfucking claws, though. Tore me up, right through my jacket!”
“Lets see,” David said, motioning for Dwayne to remove his jacket and the T-shirt he usually only wore in the colder months. Then, he moved behind his Childe and examined the gouges that were only starting to heal.
“He tore you up alright. The bottle will fix these pretty fast, though.”
A few minutes later, David had applied bottled blood to each of the gouges on Dwayne’s back, and then he passed the bottle to him so that he could drink from it and replace what had been lost. Dwayne was feeling much better, then. His head felt clearer, and he could concentrate on the situation at hand with more focus instead of fiending for blood so badly.
“What do we do, David? I couldn’t just leave the kid there for the cops to find. They’d take her to the hospital, call her folks, fix her up, send her home…but come the next full moon, we know what will happen.”
“We certainly do. What is it with you and finding the kiddies, Dwayne?”
The brunette shrugged and flopped down on a chair.
“It’s a latent talent, I guess,” he sighed, “Although I can’t really claim credit for Laddie. Star actually found him; or rather, he found her.”
“Maybe you’ve got a kid out there somewhere you have yet to discover,” David smirked.
“I always eat what I screw. I follow the rules,” Dwayne replied without blinking his eyes.
“Nothing better than the old fuck ‘n’ feed for birth control, eh?” he twitched another smile before he continued, “For the record, I think you did the right thing. The kid couldn’t go with the cops. By the time anyone figures out what’s going on, her folks and half her third grade class would be getting kind of shaggy at certain times of the month. The last thing Santa Carla needs is any more stinking werewolves. A kid wouldn’t know how to stop herself from making others, or from making random, impulsive kills. I’d just like to know what the stupid wolf that bit her was thinking…”
“Dinner,” Dwayne replied.
“Yeah, but what stopped him from finishing? You said his mouth was all burnt up.”
“It was. I imagine that’s what stopped him. He couldn’t even bite me, let alone polish off his meal….”
“Think about it, Dwayne. He was able to put the initial bite on her. She’s pretty well mauled up here,” David said, pointing to the child’s shoulder.
They both bent to examine the form of the girl, who was now fast asleep thanks to Dwayne’s ability to coax her back into a faded state. He had done so prior to hauling her down the passageway into the buried ballroom to lessen her chances of feeling any pain on the way down.
David carefully poked at the torn edges of her sweatshirt, pulling ragged pieces of cloth out of the livid wound. He lifted one blood soaked piece of material and saw a thin chain. His eyes traveled upwards. It was suspended around the girl’s neck, but had somehow been pulled off center. Instead of dangling below her throat, the chain was now pulled sideways, towards her shoulder. David traced the chain very lightly, and followed its progress. Whatever was on the end of it was lodged in the wound.
With a delicate yank, David pulled the chain free. Fresh blood welled up from the small hole where the charm had been buried. Fortunately, it hadn’t been bored in too deeply. By some miracle, both the small charm and the delicate little chain had survived the close encounter with a werewolf completely intact, if not a bit gore stained.
David was no rocket scientist, but he now knew why the werewolf had been unable to finish off his prey. This little necklace had saved the girl’s life; yet it had cursed her to the underworld at the same time. Wordlessly, he removed it from her. She wouldn’t be able to wear it much longer. Both the chain and the charm; a little monogram of the letter ‘L’, were made of sterling silver. Of course, touching it did him no harm. Unlike werewolves, vampires could touch silver. They could not be killed by it, either. Yet, silver backed mirrors and the silver based chemicals in photographic equipment were the worst offenders in a vampire’s inability to see their reflection.
“I found the culprit. The wolfman got a mouthful of this,” David said, holding up the little necklace.
“That’d do it,” Dwayne responded, eyeing the charm. He’d never quite seen what silver could do to a werewolf before. Now he knew. It was ugly; as bad as sunlight to a vampire. Then, he noticed that the changes were taking hold already. The girl’s shoulder was starting to heal. Now that David had removed the silver from the wound, her changing blood could go in and repair the damage.
David stared in silent wonder.
“You know, I’m thinking she’ll feel much better in the morning. I suppose we should set Thorn up to guard her so she doesn’t think about making a run for it…”
“Yeah. I’ll go have a little man to dog chat with him. Then, I’m going to see if I can’t break a vein or two down on Front Street.”
“Be careful out there. I’ll make up someplace nice and cozy for the little one to sleep,” David said, looking around. The girl would have to make do sleeping on some blankets on the beat up couch down here. That was the only thing that served as a bed. He watched his oldest Childe disappear to the upper portion of their hideout, where Thorn kept his watch. Once Dwayne was gone, he turned his attentions back to the youngster stretched out on the ground.
He didn’t have to hide his amusement, now.
“This is rich,” David muttered to himself, quickly assembling all that could be found. It didn’t amount to much. There were only two blankets in the entire room. Vampires didn’t sleep with them, but Alex kept a couple on hand to wrap herself in when she came to visit.
Once he’d made a comfortable nest for the child, he lifted her up and laid her on the couch, wrapping her up like a pint sized burrito. Then, he smiled at his handiwork. This was where any paternal instincts he had stopped.
“I can read Dwayne’s thoughts, and he wonders if I’m going to kill you for him, because he can’t do it himself,” David said aloud to the sleeping girl, “But, the answer is…no. Not yet. You have a purpose, young one, just like the sun and the moon and the stars. One day soon, Dwayne is going to figure out just what your purpose is.”
And then, he thought silently to himself, with a sly smile on his face;
‘Let the game begin.’