The bane of her existence was about to meet his end. Marianne watched as a punk in a dirty sweatshirt lifted a baseball bat and aimed it for the fallen man’s head. Another thug aimed a hard kick to their victim’s ribs, laughing when the nearly-unconscious man groaned and curled tighter in on himself.
She should walk away. She should turn around and go up to her apartment. Jason Kimball had chased her for the last five years with the sole intention of driving a two-by-four through her heart. She owed him nothing. If he died, she would be free.
But he’d done nothing to deserve this brutality. Skulking around, looking for her, he’d been attacked by thieves, street goons out for a little drug money and some cruel entertainment. She looked up to the sky as if the full moon would provide her with guidance. It was no use. She’d been raised a good girl, even after all this time, she could hear her mother’s gentle admonitions. He was helpless and she was not. He could not fend for himself and she could save him. Her mother’s voice urged her to action, reminding her of the good Christian path to take. A lot of good it did her mother or the rest of the family. They were helpless lambs slaughtered by a beast, a beast like what she had become.
But she was not the same monster as the one who’d turned her. And so she ran down the alley, her steps a blur as she jumped into the fray, hurling the attackers across the damp concrete.
“What the hell?” one of them cried. Another got to his feet, his arms at his sides with his fists balled, ready to meet the new opponent. Marianne smiled, hiding her fangs.
“Well, well,” he said, his eyes moving down her body, the lewd gleam visible under the pale light from back night lamps lining the doors of the small space. “Want to play?”
She shrugged. “Sure.”
He sauntered over to her, his lids heavy, a lascivious grin on his lips. He reached out with a bloody finger to caress her cheek. With a careless swipe of her hand, she sent him sailing through the air. His two companions stared in wonder before fleeing the scene, ignoring their injured comrade. She looked down at Kimball. Blood covered his face and his nose had a definite crook. Bending down, she lifted him in her arms; his large frame no match for her strength. He moaned at the movement although his eyes remained closed. She looked around. Pedestrian traffic was light on either exit, but it was still more than she wanted to deal with. She would have to climb. Looking down at her clothes, she frowned. Her costume would never survive. But what else could she do?
“Sorry,” she murmured, “this is going to hurt.” She hefted him over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes, cringing when he cried out.
“I’ll make it better, I promise,” she soothed, wrapping an arm around him. Kicking off her shoes, she leapt onto the side of the building, using one hand and her feet to grip the narrow bricks. She climbed quickly; it was the one skill she seemed to excel at compared to many of the other bloodsuckers. In no time she was at her floor, forcing her way through the fire exit. No one used the stairs if they could help it and she stood alone in the empty landing. Voices echoed beyond the door, laughing and chatting as they headed towards their Halloween activities. A sense of resignation pressed down on her. Instead of a night of fun and frolic, she was going to nurse a man who would be happy to see her dead.
She must be crazy.
The voices faded, the chime of the elevator signaling their departure. She slipped through the door and hurried to her apartment, closing her eyes in concentration to open the lock. She relaxed when she felt the soft pop of the deadbolt drawing back. Pushing the door open with a shoulder, she carried her burden to the overstuffed couch in her small living room. Kimball’s face twisted in pain as she stretched him out, a fresh stream of blood leaking from his nose onto the pale cream fabric of the couch.
Grimacing at the stain, she knelt beside him, studying him for a moment. Despite the blood and the swelling, she could tell he was handsome. Rugged jaw, deep set eyes, full lips and hair that massed about his head in thick waves, the color an amazing chestnut color she doubted could be copied from a bottle. He coughed the sound thick and she frowned. His injuries were worse than she thought. Lifting him, she sat down, cradling his head in her lap. With her teeth, she bit into her wrist, wincing at the sharp pain. A rich ribbon of blood wound around her arm before she placed the wound to his lips. He tried to turn away until the scent reached his nostrils. His body recognized the healing promise of her blood and he latched on. He sucked greedily, his body heating beneath her as the damage inside knitted with the power of her blood. Looking down the considerable length of his body, she blushed to realize more of his body was heating than she anticipated. The evidence of his arousal pressed against the tight fabric of his jeans. Corresponding warmth filled her and she closed her eyes.
How long ago had been since she’d had a lover? She couldn’t remember. Unlike so many of her kind who could bed a person and move on, she needed more. When she was alive, a woman did not sleep with a man until she was married. While she knew that path was closed to her, she couldn’t make love unless there was mutual emotion involved. The intimacies between a man and woman were special to her, moments to be shared when celebrating love.
Visions of centuries past blurred through her mind. She’d been in love before, or at least she thought she had. But she had to admit to a certain naïveté when it came to romance. She so wanted to be loved and love another, she’d left herself open to heartbreak and in some instances, danger. As a result, she’d shut herself off, maintaining light friendships with humans and nothing more.
Over the last few years, she hadn’t had the chance for even the most casual of friendships. The man in her lap had seen to that.
He shifted, his body relaxing as the blood finished its work. She pried her wrist from his mouth and moved his head back to the couch. He would wake soon. She flipped on the table lamp, keeping the bulb dim although the light was unnecessary for her. But he would need it. She closed her eyes. And then what would she do?
He felt good, better than he had for a long time. His eyes opened slowly, the pleasant glow from an unknown lamp a soft, comforting light. Turning his head, he realized he wasn’t alone. A woman knelt near him, dressed in gauzy blue fabric like a harem girl. Thick sable hair curled around her delicate face and her sweet lips were curved in a frown.
It hit him who she was. He sat up, grabbing for his cross. She jumped to her feet and backed up, tripping on the low glass coffee table behind her. The top shattered as she fell, the sound ripping through the room with a brittle crash. She cried out, lying amongst the shards, blood oozing from a multitude of cuts. Without thought, he hurried toward her.
She bit her lip, fear in her eyes as he crouched beside her. She was terrified of him?
“Can you get up?” he asked, reaching for her.
She blinked before nodding. Careful to avoid the glass, he helped her to her feet. She winced, pain twisting her pretty features.
“My bathroom’s through there,” she said softly, pointing down a hall, her voice rough with pain yet still lovely. Holding onto her arm, he helped her where she indicated. He flipped on the light, scowling when the lights didn’t come on.
“Oh, sorry,” she said, “the lights blew out and I haven’t bothered to replace them. I don’t really need the light.”
His jaw tightened. Yes, of course, the undead didn’t need the light. They preferred to scurry in darkness like vermin, polluting the world with their evil. But the woman next to him didn’t seem evil. She looked like a young woman who’d injured herself and needed his help.
She moved to the cabinet over the toilet and pulled out a towel, wetting it in the sink before slowly brushing the glass from her skin. The tinkle of glass as it fell into the sink drew his attention and he wondered why he was still alive.
“What are your plans for me?” he growled.
“Excuse me?” her tone was distracted.
“If you think you are going to feed on me, you will have a fight on your hands.”
She chuckled. “I’m afraid I wasn’t the one who did the feeding.”
His eyes narrowed. The tang on his tongue, sweet and rich, came from her. She’d given him her blood. With a muttered oath, he backed down the hallway, racing for the door. The demon had tried to poison him. He ran from her apartment, staggering down the hallway with the knowledge he’d fed from a vampire. It was more than he could take. He stumbled into the elevator, slumping in the corner. The doors started to close before a laughing group of ghouls pushed it open, smiling and laughing. His eyes widened and he fumbled for some kind of weapon in his jacket.
“Wow, great costume,” one of them said to him. “The blood looks real.”
Of course, it was Halloween. How odd, he hadn’t given a thought to holidays and the like in years. For the last ten years he had devoted himself to the eradication of vampires. Ever since he’d found his parents murdered, their throats torn out and their bodies drained, he’d spent his time hunting and killing the monsters. Wherever they spent their time, he was able to find them, staking them during the day. He’d scanned the Internet, looking for news about unusual deaths. They were easy to track after awhile. The beasts moved in patterns, killing in one area before moving on. He’d found them, killed them, and moved onto the next.
But Marianne Greene had been different. He’d found her by accident. One of the creatures he stalked looked for shelter from her. At first he thought she was human, a potential victim and he’d been prepared to step in and rescue her. But it didn’t take long to find out differently. The vampire seeking aid said or did something to anger her and the two fought, her strength and savagery stamping her as one the bloodsuckers. She’d killed the other vampire, but that wouldn’t save her from his stake. He’d waited until daylight and returned to kill her, but she’d woken before he could proceed and fled, knocking him unconscious in the escape.
But he’d tracked her, following her as she tried to evade him. He wasn’t sure why she didn’t try to kill him. Neither could he explain how he never quite managed to catch her. The end was near, however. He was tired, his thirst for vengeance waning. Tomorrow he would return, kill the vampire or die trying.
Marianne dragged out her vacuum and sucked up the broken glass. She wanted to cry and she wasn’t quite sure why. The loneliness she lived with bore down on her with the weight of a bank safe. Her body had healed from the cuts, the wounds gone and her skin back to its smooth perfection.
She moved to the small spot on the couch where Jason Kimball bled. With a bit of spot remover, she scrubbed at the spot until it was nothing more than a dark blotch against the soft cream. He would come back, she knew, stake in tow, ready to send her to mortality. Daylight pressed in the distance, reminding her it was time to retire. Out of routine, she checked the locks on her door, but changed her mind, leaving only the deadbolt. She took off her Halloween costume and slipped into the shower, washing away her make up and the bloodstains. Pulling on her soft flannel nightgown, she got into bed, not bothering to close the door.
After centuries of walking the earth, she was tired. Her spirit couldn’t come up with a single reason for living. Seeing the horror Kimball’s eyes reminded her she was an unnatural part of the world, a monster that lived on the blood of the living. Not that she’d ever killed a human. Draining a person was not necessary for life, but still, she was a creature of the night, a monster, and she was done. Perhaps they would both have peace when she was gone.
Only a single deadbolt secured her door. She was usually more careful. Maybe she had fled. He cursed himself. So close and now thwarted. He slipped into the apartment, the bright sunlight exposing the cheerful interior. No gothic blacks and dramatic reds, but cheerful pale green paint and blonde wood furnishings. The couch he laid on last night was a pale shade with pretty flowered pillows. Art posters of French landscapes covered the walls and a small bookshelf was filled with a variety of books, none of which spoke evil or satanic rituals. It was the room of a young, single woman.
He moved through the darkened hallway in search for her nest. The bedroom door stood wide open although black curtains kept all light from the room. But no coffin was in appearance, just a normal bed covered with an antique quilt. Marianne lay under it, as if she were asleep. It would be a simple matter of merely opening the curtains. She would burn. Stepping past her laundry hamper, he moved to a window and pushed open the heavy black fabric. Light filled the room, not quite reaching the bed. The same pale green from the main room covered these walls as well. More pretty posters covered the walls. On her dresser sat a vase full of flowers along with her brush and make up. A cordless phone rested on her nightstand. He jumped when it rang. Her cheerful voice answered. A woman asked where she’d been, mentioning the wonderful party she missed. Considering the time, it had to be a human, maybe Marianne’s breakfast when she woke up? But he didn’t think so. The tone of the woman’s voice and her casual demeanor indicated she was more than a passing acquaintance.
He sat down in an armchair near the window to watch the sun do its work. The hour passed and the rays moved closer to the bed. She remained still, her pale skin perfect, the dark curls of her hair streaming across the pillow. Odd, but she looked asleep, not dead. Her face maintained an expression of calm, her lips relaxed into a slight smile. His fingers tightened into fists as the image of her burned into his mind. Her death gave him no comfort. Another hour and the sun moved onto the bed, illuminating the old fashioned pattern on the quilt.
He couldn’t do it. Death by the sun for a vampire was a cruel, brutal death, painful and long. With panicked jerks, he drew the curtains, his breath coming in gasps. Grabbing his worn-out backpack, he pulled out a stake and mallet, determined to make her death quick. He pulled back the quilt, ready to jam the wood into her chest but froze. In her arms she grasped a doll, a worn out thing, ancient and bedraggled but obviously loved. The creature lying so peacefully in a faded gown seemed as far from evil as he could think. Marianne confused him. She was a monster, but here she lay, cradling a doll.
Tossing the mallet and stake aside, he fell into the chair, hiding his face in his hands, his confusion tearing at the solid beliefs he held.
Marianne opened her eyes, almost surprised that she could. Kimball’s breathing, shallow and ragged, made her aware of his presence.
“Mr. Kimball?” she called softly.
He looked up at her, his eyes red-rimmed in the darkness. She got up and moved towards him, her movements slow and cautious, as if he were a wild animal. When he didn’t run, she knelt beside him. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see the discarded mallet and wood.
“I couldn’t do it,” he muttered.
“Oh,” she replied, not sure how else to answer. His shoulders fell, his face remaining downcast. Grasping the arms of the chair, he stood, still not looking at her.
“I’m sorry,” he said, scooping up the battered backpack, “I won’t bother you again.”
“Mr. Kimball, would you like something to eat?” She didn’t know why she made the offer. Something in his face tore at her, a loneliness she often saw in her own eyes. He stared at her a moment before nodding slowly. She smiled and got to her feet, leading the way to the kitchen.
He remained quiet, watching her from the small table set in the middle of her kitchen while she made him pasta with a rich, tomato sauce. She smiled at his expression as she inhaled the strong aroma of the garlic.
“I don’t know where this garlic rumor came from,” she said with a chuckle, “I love the smell.”
While he ate, she opened a packet of blood and warmed it in the microwave. Sitting across from him she began to chatter, small talk meant to put him at ease. He ate, remaining quiet. After he’d finished, she poured him a glass of wine.
“Why don’t we go back to the living room and we can talk there.”
She sat next to him on the couch, curling her leg underneath her. He sat, cradling his glass.
“What happened last night?” he asked.
“You were attacked out in the alley. I chased off the bad guys.”
He looked up, his deep brown eyes piercing her with a sharp look. “And gave me your blood.”
She shrugged. “You were injured. I knew it would heal you.”
“Why didn’t you let me die?”
Her eyes slid away, focusing on nothing. “I’ve never killed a human in my life. To let you die when I could prevent it seemed very close to murder.”
“You owe me nothing. My death would have lifted a burden from you.”
Her lips twisted into a self-depreciating smile. “Don’t think I didn’t realize it. But as I said, it seemed wrong.”
They lapsed into silence. She sipped at her blood, her eyes studying the faded pattern of flowers on her gown. Despite the fact the man sitting next to her tried to put a stake through her heart, she felt an odd sense of comfort being around him. With Jason Kimball, she did not need to pretend. He knew what she was and although he’d just as soon see her dead, it was relaxing in its way.
He took a deep breath. “My parents were murdered by a vampire.”
Marianne nodded. “So were mine. And I was left like this.”
His brows met over his eyes. “What did you do?”
“Hunted the beast that did it and killed him.”
“And then what?”
She got to her feet, the lonely centuries of her existence stretching out before her. Why had she gone on? She didn’t know, she thought perhaps there was a purpose to her life, but so far nothing had emerged. Maybe it was time to go, maybe it was time to let Jason rest his demons and end her life. Leaning against the window pane, she watched the light traffic of night, the streetlights reflecting off the damp pavement from an earlier rain storm. She’d seen so much, the marvels of the world, the brilliance and brutality of the men and women who inhabited it. None of it really mattered to her. She was tired; tired of the endless nights alone, tired of searching for some unknown meaning to her life.
Jason watched her, saw the play of emotions on her face. He recognized the desolation in her eyes, he’d seen it in the mirror everyday for the last <> years. Moving to stand beside her, he followed her eyes to the scene below. How normal it all seemed, so far removed from his own life. Watching the people below as they hurried to their destinations, he realized how empty his life had become. He’d had his vengeance, but his continued mission had consumed him, taking over his soul and twisting it. His gaze moved to Marianne and in her he saw salvation. It struck him not with the power of lightening, instead, it enveloped him like a soft, warm breeze. The sweetness he sensed in her could heal him. What could he offer her? He wasn’t sure.
Raising his hand, he caressed her face. Startled, she looked at him, questions in her eyes. Her skin felt like silk, soft and warm. He had the sudden urge to press her to him, just to feel its perfection against him. A slight blush stained her cheeks and her lips parted, her small tongue darting out to lick her lips. He held her chin still and pressed his lips to hers. She didn’t respond at first then a low moan broke from deep inside her and she returned the pressure. He parted her lips and let his tongue mingle with hers, desire and pleasure flowing through him. Ending the kiss, he took her hand and led her to the couch.
Marianne looked with dazed wonder at the vampire hunter. Was it another trick? No, she didn’t think so. Something in his kiss felt so right, so destined. They collapsed onto the cushions, falling into each other’s arms. They kissed and talked, allowing the moments to pass slowly. Soon, the press of dawn weighed on them and she knew she would need to retire. She didn’t want the evening to end. But she had no choice. With a last kiss, she got to her feet.
“I’m sorry, my time is up,” she said, her voice rough with tears. He nodded. She walked past him into the bedroom, realizing he followed her. As she slid under the covers, she grabbed her doll, clutching it tight to her. Suddenly, she felt the bed dip and watched as Jason, dressed only in his underwear, got in beside her. Taking the doll from her hands, he set it aside and pulled her into his arms, resting her head on his solid shoulder. She didn’t say a word, hope and joy blooming inside her like the light outside her bedroom. Content to know she would be alone when she woke, she let the sun have its way and slipped into the oblivion.