David’s eyes wondered the parking lot from his bike just outside ‘VideoMax.’ Max had summoned him there for a brief meeting, which wasn’t unusual that his sire would call him to an unexpected lecture every now and then, but to meet here was just impractical. There were too many nosy human employees in the store for them to try and have a decent and private conversation. Not only that, but Max didn’t like the boys snooping around his area of business. So he wondered just what was so urgent that made this time different?
He pulled a lone cigarette out from behind his ear and lit it up. The overbearing head vampire had yet to arrive, and David was becoming further impatient by the second. He hadn’t had the chance to hunt yet that night and the hunger pangs were making his head, ache. Every mere mort that walked by looked like a tasty morsel. If his sire didn’t show soon, one of them would be his behind the video store.
David considered the thought all too soon as Max pulled up. He glared through his glasses at David with a slight curl to his lips and killed the engine of his car, after which he finally gave a slight smile to his childe and grabbed the few papers from the passenger side seat, hastily making his way towards the door of the video store. David hesitated before dismounting his bike, and threw his cigarette to the ground, stomping it out with the ball of his foot, slowly working it into the pavement. It was anything he could do to agitate his sire while he waited for him to follow.
“Come, come now David,” Max persisted, holding the door open for him. “Honestly, you make this more painful than it has to be,” He clucked, before bidding his fellow employees a good evening as they passed the checkout counters. David nodded as well, dully acknowledging their presence, and in return received a few dim glares.
“Step into my office, won’t you?” Max asked politely, as if there were any other option. “Did you know David, that the Unicorn was the very first animal named by Adam?” Max asked setting the small stack of papers he held down on the desk. The front page had a colored picture of a small code of arms printed on it, guarded by an elegant unicorn and rugged Griffon.
David looked at the papers then at Max hardhearted. “You know I don’t believe in that shit.”
“Now, now, watch your language. No need to get testy. I was simply asking.” He straightened the papers so that they sat in a perfect square bundle. “There’s going to be a change around her, David. We have company coming. A new girl in town.”
David’s eyes twitched in annoyance. Why would he care about some girl for anything other than a quick screw and blood meal? “We have a lot of new girls in town everyday, they’re called tourists.”
“Yes, well this one is different…” Max began, pausing as one of his employees interrupted by bounding through the door.
“We have an issue out here, Sir. Some guy demanding that he talk to the manager about a late fee,” The young girl said, with a slight worried look cut across her simple face for having cut in on such an important meeting.
“Ah, I know exactly who it is too.” Max replied, calmly getting out of his seat. “Excuse me for one second David, I won’t be long.” He left the office with the young girl tucked under his arm, leaving the door open a hair.
David gave the door a quick shove with his boot and it shut entirely. He leaned back in the chair resting one elbow on the table and rubbed his chin, frowning down at the articles. He guessed by the looks of these important documents that Max had some ludicrous task for him to carry out.
He fumbled through them with one finger spreading them across the table, noticing that the words infused into the paper noted something about the end of the world, and something about a girl designed to stop it. But then it went on to state that there were several other humans with this design, but from the looks of it, Max had been tracking one in particular. There were also a few notes from his new business, The New Life Corporation, about genetics and magic and raising the dead. Raising the dead?
David rolled his eyes and looked away as Max came striding back in, being sure to close the door all the way again. He put his fists down on the table beside David, looking down at him very critically. “If you wanted to read these papers all you had to do was ask.” He proceeded to straighten them again into a perfect pile. “This girl, you’re going to watch her for me, David, and make sure she doesn’t run into any trouble, understand? I need her to be in tiptop shape when the time comes.”
“The end of the world?” David asked in a mocking tone, giving Max a sideways glance with no flare.
Max looked down at him above the rims of his glasses and put his hands on his hips. “Don’t give me any trouble, David, really, I’m not in the mood. If I find out that you or any of the other boys have toyed with her in any way, there will be hell to pay.” He smiled and patted David on the shoulder. “Now, go find our girl,” he said jubilantly.
Serenity sat in the jockey’s room pulling her boots on over her pants. She wore the usual white turtle neck shirt under her black and purple racing silks and her jacket hung loosely over her shoulders, unbuttoned in the front, and her hair fell down her back in a long braid. She also had her headphones on listening to the oldies, trying very hard to get her mind off the chaotic current events life had thrown at her.
She put her hands on her knees and took a deep breath, blowing the air out so that her bottom lip stuck out a little further than the top one. Her silks just didn’t feel quite right today. They itched her skin and made her feel cocooned. So in frustration, she undid the buttons on both her sleeves and rolled them up her arms, finally realizing that the room was vacant of all the other jocks that had already left for the paddock. This would be the perfect time to experiment again, she thought. Except the only sharp objects in the room were a few safety pins sitting on top of the lockers, just in case one of the jockey’s numbers decided to fall off their silks.
Looking around the room, she pondered what she might find instead that was sharp enough to cut skin and then remembered that she had a pair of scissors in her grooming bucket just inside her locker, but that would hurt too much. ‘Oh, What the hell,’ she thought, reaching into the crowded locker, pushing through the horse brushes in the bucket to find the scissors. Instead she got lucky and found a bot fly knife, which would be more than efficient, and sat back down hard on the bench, hearing the old wood creak as she gazed down at the knife’s jagged edge. ‘It only pinches for a second if that,’ she told herself, glancing quickly around the room again just to make sure no one was watching.
One more breath and her left hand reluctantly found its way out over her knees so no blood would stain her off white pants, as she took the knife in her right hand, running it swift and hard over the inside of all four fingers with a feeble groan, leaving only her thumb unscathed. The blood dripped through her fingers to the floor for one second before she dropped the knife and grabbed hold of the wounded hand. She hadn’t realized a fellow jock had entered the room, and saw her sitting quiescent.
He twirled his whip in the air and casually walked over to her, tapping her with it on the shoulder. She jumped and turned her head towards him with a low growl as he noticed that she was holding her hands together and saw the droplets of blood on the floor. He took the initiative and removed her headphones, a look of awe on his face from the animalistic groan he had heard escape her mouth. “Serenity, are you bleeding? What happened? Let me see.”
She shied away from him, guarding her hands from his sight, slightly confused as to why she would growl at anyone. “No, I’m fine, really.”
He pulled her hand away anyway to examine it, even as she scowled at him for it. “Don’t be silly, you’re about to race. We can fix this real quick.” He noticed the knife on the floor. “Those dam things can be dangerous sometimes.” He continued, holding her hand up to look it over more thoroughly, yet finding not even a scratch. “That’s funny, there’s nothing here.”
Serenity slouched over in relief and took her hand back. “Phew, I thought I cut myself.”
The other jockey scratched his head in doubt. “Yeah, but there’s blood on the floor.” He reached down and touched it, rubbing it in-between his fingers. “It’s fresh too.”
Serenity just nodded. “Must have been from someone else.” She shrugged and smiled. The other jock huffed as he gave up and smiled back, bopping her on the head with his stick.
“Silly girl. What are you doing here anyway? They’re saddling your horse in the paddock. Wouldn’t want to miss your race would you? Have all the guys in here give you a hard time about being late?”
Her mouth dropped open for a sec as she looked at the clock. “Oh shit,” she cursed, throwing her headphones back in the locker and slamming it shut as she grabbed her helmet and saddle and ran out the door, yelling a thanks back at her friend while she tried to button up the front of her jacket.
The paddock air made the nauseous feeling in her stomach dissipate. It smelled of cheap cigarettes, dirt and horses. Three things that made her feel right at home. It seemed like almost everyone at the racetrack smoked, which at first she hadn’t cared for it clogging up her lungs, but now it gave her a sense of peace when the day wasn’t going just right.
She pushed through the heavy doors past the spectators, who watched as the horses were saddled, picking apart their confirmation in hopes of guessing who the winner would be, and rounded the small circle, entering the number five slot where The Black stood. He turned his head to see her and shifted his body to the wall, almost squishing the groom on the other side, who grumbled and pushed the horse back. Serenity couldn’t help but giggle as she passed him her feather light saddle. No doubt for them The Black was a handful.
Her part time trainer, Megan, stood at the front of The Black holding him by his bridle, and Serenity gave her a nod before reaching in to kiss the horse’s nose, glancing once at the crowd that had gathered just outside the fence to gawk at him. “They’re all here for you handsome. We won’t let them down will we?” The stallion flared his nostrils as if to say, no way, I’m the fastest thing here.
“Need help George,” She asked, glancing back to see him fling the thin saddle pad onto the horse’s withers, adjusting it so that it was even on both sides. It too was purple and had the number five printed on it in white.
“Sure thing,” Was his answer as he put a little square of soft foam on top of the pad and folded it back before putting the saddle over it. “Hand me that under girth, if you will.”
Serenity reached up and grabbed the rubber girth, handing it to George from underneath her horse as he impatiently sidestepped and pawed the ground. She gave him a rough pat on the shoulder. “Easy brat, we’re almost there.”
One last buckle and The Black was ready to. “Ok,” George said. “He’s all yours.”
The announcement came over the loud intercom, ‘Riders Up!’ Serenity pulled one stirrup down and George took care of the other as Megan reached down to give her a leg up. “Give’em a bite of your dust,” she winked. Serenity nodded down at her taking her seat and gathered up the reins, tying them in a double knot as George led them out of the paddock into the light of day.
‘No time to think about difficulties now,’ she thought, gazing up at the large crowd in the grandstands. This would be a short race, no big deal, and after that it would be three weeks off. A much needed break in her mind, and as far as The Black was concerned, he needed one too. One start before this one left him stumbling out of the gate. Never before had that happened. She chalked it up to too much status pressure; reporters and gamblers constantly trying to discourage another win from the great stallion. Not to mention the number five slot was not her favorite. She preferred to be on the outside where no bumping could or would occur.
Number four in front, a sleek chestnut stallion, calmly pranced down the inner rail, while the number six horse, Whimbly, behind her was trying to throw his rider. The Black pranced steadily between them, his head high in the air, looking forward to the starting gate just ahead of them. Number one had already gone in and number two refused for a second to enter the steel trap. Then the number three horse stepped into the gate causing a sigh to escape from Serenity. That was her lucky number. As soon as number four entered calmly, The Black followed anxiously into his own position.
Serenity adjusted her goggles and got a good grip on the reins along with a good wad of The Black’s mane. His norm was to launch right out of the gate like a jackrabbit on crack, so it was always better to be safe than sorry and left sitting in the dirt.
Altogether there were ten horses in this race and the one to beat was number seven a bulky dark bay stallion named, One For Money. As soon as he was settled into position, a short silence fell over the grandstands, with the exception of a couple jockeys’ who made some small indiscreet noises as their horses moved restlessly, eager to be free of the gate. For those few seconds before the bell rang, slamming the steel doors open, time stood still. After that, it was an all out war as the horses heaved forward, fighting to grab the lead spot. As suspected, four and six bumped The Black on both sides, but he didn’t stumble, he stayed fast as he regained his footing. Serenity was jumbled a bit as well but steadied her seat, leaning over the horses crest, looking out through his perked ears.
They ended up in the eighth position along the back rail. Moonlight, the number two horse, had taken the lead, One For Money close behind her. Number one and three just behind them, and ten had fallen to the back of the pack.
Serenity urged The Black on to pass four and nine, putting them in the sixth position, as they thundered down the backstretch already halfway through the race. Her horse pulled on the bit, fighting to go forward again and pass up the other horses. “No, no, not yet,” Serenity told him, pulling back on the reins. Number eight moved up along side them, challenging her horse, and closed in to cut them off, causing Serenity to have to pull her stallion off the rail further towards the center of the track so they wouldn’t get boxed in between the other horses.
As soon as the number eight began to pass them Serenity gave The Black his head and let him go forward passing up eight, nine and six. One For Money, had made his move past the number two and was now in the lead as they rounded the far turn. It was time to pour on the juice and The Black was ready. His nostrils flared taking in more oxygen and he stretched himself out over the dirt. The jockey’s took to their sticks, yelling and shouting over their horses, urging them on roughly in a last attempt to take on the leader.
‘And down the stretch they come!’ The announcer yelled over the speaker. The crowd stood, hollering and throwing their hands in the air, trying to influence their favorite horse to move faster and pass the finish line first. Serenity and The Black had moved to the outside and were passing the other horses as if they were standing still. The first to go was the three horse, its jockey glanced at Serenity from the side with a look on his face that just said, it figures, and next in line was number one and two, both of which were neck and neck, to busy fighting each other to notice The Black slip past them, which only meant that Serenity and her horse were now hot on the heels of One For Money.
“Let’s go handsome,” She called out, feeling her horse heave forward one more time, tail high in the air, putting him head to head with the other horse. The Black tipped his nose in playfully nipping at the other horse as if to say, ‘I’ll be passing you now.’ He let out a snort and surged to the lead just as the camera flashed and Serenity held her hand up in the air smiling at another glorious victory for the pair.
Later that night, Serenity blinked sleepily up at the dark ceiling of her hotel room. The moon was shining in through the curtains and lit the place up better then any nightlight, and the soft breeze from the open window slightly blew the supple fabric from side to side. It still felt like it was eighty degrees outside and it very well could have been. The record heat from the past few days’ had left it’s mark on the nights that were usually cool. It mattered little to Serenity, she always carried a mini fan with her and had it running on high, gently blowing the tiny loose hairs on her forehead wildly around.
‘It couldn’t get any better than this,’ She thought. Another win at the track, the sweet summer air, a surprisingly comfortable hotel bed, and all the little stars that were perfectly visible to her from it. Now if she could just bring herself to sleep. She was afraid of the dreams, the dreams that had been haunting her for months now. It was always her mom, how she died and the man that killed her. He was always after her in her dreams with those glowing orange eyes of his, the tall figure cloaked in black.
She thought maybe it was because she didn’t mourn her mom’s passing long enough. Someone in the hospital had told her to be strong and so she was. It was but two weeks later that she was back at the track training again, even after Megan had told her it was ok to scratch her very first race and take some time off. But no, Serenity had said her mom would have wanted her to move on and be happy.
She had also managed to find the time in between to study up on the myths and legends about vampires, certain the intruder that had broken into their house that night had been one. He had a certain smell to him that lingered for weeks after the attack. She never thought for one second that a vampire was a real thing, but now she questioned it. She even thought once that she had run into another one in a bar. He had smiled at her, showing her his long canines.
And it was only just after her mom had died that she discovered her own mysterious gifts, her healing ability and heightened sense of smell. Was it because she had been touched by evil? One way or another she was determined to find the answers. A few good weeks on the sandy warm beaches of California would clear her head. Maybe even get rid of the nightmares. She wiggled and giggled in bed, excited about her next journey. She had always wanted to see the Boardwalk. Her eyelids drooped heavily at the thought of it, finally putting her mind at ease, and she sank into a deep sleep.
Before Serenity knew it, she found herself driving down Front Street in Santa Cruz, California in search of a bite to eat. The nightlife had taken over in this exuberant spot of America, and she suddenly felt very lost in the city of tourists and locals who didn't seem to care much about what they wore around town. It looked like fast food would yet again have to be her choice of meals this time around, even though she was sick of it. But The Black was restless and tired of being in the trailer. He had started his normal routine of kicking the walls to let her know it was time to get out of the confinement.
He screamed and kicked even harder as Serenity put on the brakes when she spotted a Thai food restaurant, licking her lips even as her stomach growled at the thought of this spicy yet sweet and savory meal. No problem, she would just get it to go, and after she ate there would be plenty of time for a midnight ride on the beach that The Black would surely enjoy. She pulled a complicated u-turn and entered the parking lot of the restaurant, and since her truck and trailer took up about four parking spaces, the back corner of the lot under a few shade trees that shadowed the area, was decidedly the best spot.
The Black screamed when he heard Serenity shut and lock the truck door and poked his nose through the small window of the trailer, smelling the air, knowing full well that this was not the correct destination. Serenity hopped over to him and touched his nose with her fingers, taking a whiff of the air herself. It was a bit rancid, like dead fish or animals and Serenity crinkled her nose. “Hopefully that goes away,” she whispered. “I’ll be right back, I promise.”
She walked into The King and I, and inhaled the pleasant aroma of coconut milk curries, gingered spices and the many stir fries sautéing in peanut oil. Above the many booths dangled pleasantly lit green lights that set the atmosphere in subdued undertones, and above them hung several pictures of Thailand. But instead of playing the normal soft music one would think would be playing in that sort of place, they played a long list of eighties music, and it made Serenity smile. “That’s the style I like,” she whispered to herself.
A young man behind the counter offered her a menu. He was shorter than she, with dark hair and green eyes, American too, but she held up a hand in refusal. “No thanks. Actually, I know what I want.”
The guy took a pen and pad out of his left pocket and held them up, ready to take her order. “What can I get you?” He asked politely.
“The Pad Thai noodles with chicken, shrimp, and tofu, please. And can I get that to go?” She asked, turning around quickly to glance out the window only to see her trailer rocking. She swung back around, tossing her hair over her shoulder. “And can you hurry, please.” She continued, handing him a twenty and telling him to keep the change. The guy nodded with a smile and went to place the order.
Serenity noticed a group of guys in one of the far corners of the restaurant being rather loud and obnoxious. From the tops of their heads, she counted four of them. It sounded like they were clinking their glasses together and throwing food, but she wasn’t sure. “Crazy jack asses,” She hissed and turned back to watch the cooks tossing her food together.
As this went on, she heard someone flip a quarter into the jukebox and a second later, ‘Walk This Way’ by Aerosmith, played over the radio and Serenity found herself in beat to the music, swinging her shoulders left and right. One of the rowdy guys from the booth came up beside her, but she ignored him and continued to look straight forward, still going to the drum of the music. “You like Chinese?” He asked, placing what she could see were black, gloved hands on the counter. She pursed her lips and refused to look at him; just knowing he would probably have some smart assed comment to say. But his smell intrigued her, it was one she had smelled somewhere before, spicy and wild, like he had spent a thousand summers sleeping outside under the stars, and yet at the same time it was coppery like pennies. She had to keep from licking her lips as she thought of the metallic taste pennies had.
“This is not Chinese,” She huffed, cocking one eyebrow in the guy’s direction to see if he would respond. “Different spices, different flavors…I’d say you were in the wrong place.” She smiled slyly as the host returned.
“David! Come on man, we’re growing old here,” One of the other guys from the far booth yelled. Serenity shook her head and huffed again, trying her best to be patient in hopes that the unpleasant situation beside her would soon go away.
“No hard feelings huh?” The guy asked her, removing his hands from the counter to pull a wad of cash out from his over coat pocket. “You sure I can’t get a number, or maybe show you around town?”
The host sat her bag of food down in front of her and she winked at him. “Thank you,” She said, turning the opposite direction of the other guy standing in her path. “Not in this life time,” she whispered and headed out the door.
David smirked and walked back to his table. Finding this girl had been too easy. Now if he could just turn the table on Max, the bastard would be sorry he had ever searched the girl out. “Ok boys, let’s go,” He said quietly. “We’ve got some business to take care of.”