He skimmed the San Francisco Chronicle, looking for interesting things to read. It was the end of the day Friday, and he was busy nursing his third pint of Guinness..
In his favorite booth.. In his favorite pub in Berkeley, California.
He was careful to avoid anything dealing with unusual circumstances. For the past 2 years, he’d spent his time trying to keep away from his former line of work. For almost a decade, he was a part of the supernatural policing force known as The Order of Apotheosis.
For as long as humans had kept records, there had been things in the world that were beyond the reach of normal police and military forces.
Vampires, werewolves, zombies, etc.
The supernatural had existed in the shadows of humankind, just out of the consciousness of society. In the late 1100’s, during the 3rd Crusades, various members of the Jews, Muslims and Franks were forced to set their animosity aside and fight what would be known as the first recorded vampire plague across Europe. 40 men and women waged war across the great continent for almost a decade. Through the years, many of these warriors, known loosely as Apostates (officially The Order of Apotheosis) were killed and others joined. When the apparent last vampire was killed in 1195 AD, the seven surviving members realized they had experienced too much to return to their previous lives. They disbanded and went their separate ways, all along telling their stories and gathering like-minded individuals to help them fight other supernatural threats along their travels.
At the dawn of the Modern Age, global technology allowed these pockets of Apotheoun organizations to reconnect and unite. In 1995, the 22 separate international organizations that survived and grown since The Crusades, finally reformed under the original Apotheosis name to pool information and resources and once again become a united organization. The complex network and finances, technology and personnel were organized to give everyone access to the same resources.
Nick received his calling in September of 1996. Receiving ‘The Calling’ was what the group referred to joining the organization– even though his inclusion wasn’t so dramatic.
He answered an ad from his dorm bulletin board. ‘Apprentice Needed! Squeamish Need Not Apply!’
Two months later, he was carrying a gun and wooden stakes and prowling the streets like a foot-cop.
And he loved it.
There was something exhilarating about what they did. Knowing you were above the law, protecting the streets, all the while being loosely funded by the government to keep the otherworldies from being exposed to the populace. There was an unwritten rule, acknowledged by Federal Agencies and Local Law Enforcement. The strange and the unexplained were Apostate domain. The word came straight from the top– give them lots a room and help keep the damage to a minimum.
When he was assigned to a case, all the resources of law enforcement where at his beck and call.
Nick had indeed found his calling.
And then it all went to hell.
On March 4th 2002, a viral outbreak hit the small town of Predator, Montana. At 10:17am, the first reports of citizens turning on each other in violent cannibalistic rages came through. A tactical team of Apostates were deployed by the afternoon. Due to apparent tactical mistakes in the field, the team was lost and the virus spread to the neighboring town of Kilter.
Two more Apostate teams were sent in to contain the situation, while military action was being approved by the Government. A total of 62,000 lives were lost and infected before military aircrafts were dispatched and high yield bombs were dropped on both cities and the area in between.
It took several months to politically spin the incident away from the supernatural. TV, newspapers and blogs reported that an experimental military base went nuclear, infecting 50 square miles around two towns. This irradiated area wouldn’t be accessible for almost 150 years, giving the Powers That Be time to search the wreckage for any explanation of what happened.
In the end, the The Order was ruled not responsible for what happened. But the damage was done. Their rogue actions were brought to light, and too many people started asking questions. The United Nations lobbied for more international oversight with the program. The consensus seemed to be The Order of Apotheosis required a governing body to assess threats and minimize loss of life in the field.
And that’s when The Church stepped in.
The Vatican had been keeping track of the The Order in all it’s forms since that first group of heroes disbanded and went their own ways. They always considered The Church as the birthplace of these freedom fighters and waited for the right moment to step in and bring them home. Unfortunately, the loss of life was exactly what they needed.
June 9th 2003, after 5 months of deliberation, the authority of The Order of Apotheosis agreed that they would continue their mission under the auspices of The Catholic Church. Controlling money, power and technology was given to The Vatican and The Order’s teams of mercenaries were replaced with specially-trained Clerics.
Gabriel Eams was one of the first to resign from the Bay Area installation. Nick tried to work within the system, but almost drowned under the weight of red tape and political minutia. There was too much protocol involved to contain incidents. He was on and off of probation for an entire year, until he walked away and never looked back.
Nick had put all that behind him. It took him a while, but in the present, he enjoyed filling his life with the mundaneness of an average day. Even now at that moment, he checked his watch, waiting for the appropriate time to head home from his average job.
It had taken a while for him to get accustomed to being normal. He devised a routine of nothingness to keep his self on the straight and narrow– away from his former life.
Every weekday, he had the same routine.
He would wake up at 6 in the morning to coffee, a bagel and a random episode of Battlestar Galactica (the reboot, of course). At 6:55, he’d shower, shave and get dressed.
Out the door at 7:45, he’d have just enough time to walk to the BART station and catch the 8:20 train into downtown Berkeley. By 8:50, he’d grabbed a breakfast burrito and venti Latte from his favorite food truck, Alejandro’s, which then gave him just enough time to be in the office and at his cube by 9:00 am.
The venti Latte would give him a nice burst of creative energy, allowing him to crank out 8 hours of writing marketing copy for whatever mundane product his company had as a client.
At 5 on the dot, Nick would be out of his seat and headed 3 and a half blocks down the street to his favorite pub, ‘The Last Round’.
And now, he sat in his favorite booth– situated at the far end of the room– away from the noisy mix of corporate hipsters and college students.
He remembered when The Last Round was a dive bar, with only a sprinkling of regulars who bought just enough to the keep the place open.
But the new owner changed all that.
Samuel, Nick’s friend and the original pub owner had died of heart complications two years before, leaving the place to his nephew, Miguel.
Now there was a billiards table, and a dart board, and a flat panel TV with ESPN and Telemundo Sports. There were attractive waitresses in tight shorts and string tank tops serving stout, garlic fries and chicken wings.
It all had changed. And Nick disliked change.
Lucky for him, Samuel had spoken of Nick to Miguel on many occasions. So when he renovated the pub, he made sure to keep that special booth in the far end of the pub just the way it was. Miguel honored his uncle’s wishes. He assured Nick that he would still have his spot when the new pub was reopened. And when the doors did reopen, Nick continued to come in every weekday and continue his routine of 3 Guinnesses and a newspaper.
Checking his watch, he saw he had a few minutes before he had to settle up and head for the train station and catch the 7:32pm train home.
He polished off the last pint of Guinness, and headed for the door.
He needed to time his exit when Miguel, wasn’t at the bar.
Nick saw his chance.
He pulled three $10 bills out of his coat pocket, placed it on the bar and put his empty beer glass on top of it.
He tried to walk briskly toward the door.
“Hell no!” Nick heard from behind.
‘Fuck’ he thought to himself.
He’d never been in any other place where he had to fight to pay his bar tab.
He turned to find Miguel back behind the bar. The tall heavy-set owner was an intimidating sight, on first glance. But Nick knew him for being a timid father and husband, who loved his bar and his regular patrons.
“I told you before–” Miguel said, sliding the $30 back across the bar. “–you’re money’s no good here.”
“Dude.” Nick said. “In this economy, you need to let people pay what they owe.”
Miguel frowned. “NO.. GOOD..”
Nick was about to argue further, until he saw the picture of the family hanging behind the bar. Miguel’s daughter’s name was Rita. She was 8 years old back then. Nick could tell the photo was taken a little over a year ago. Miguel had taken his family on a vacation to Hawaii after the attack. He could see in the picture, Rita still had the bandage on her neck from the bite.
The little girl was lucky Nick had forgotten his backpack at the pub after he left for home that day. He came back, just as the vampire was attacking. The place had been closing, so no one was in the pub, except for the owner and his daughter, who had been visiting her father because the babysitter had an emergency.
Nick entered the pub, expecting Miguel and Rita to have their coats on and turning out the lights. What he found was an unconscious Miguel on the floor at the far end of the pub, and little Rita squirming on-top of the pool table, with a long-haired female vampire on top of her. The thing had her pinned against the billiards table trying to bleed her dry.
Nick was extra brutal with that kill.
When he reached the girl, he saw that her eyes were already rolling inside the back of her head. All he could see was the whites of her eyes, and her little trembling fingers. It was a horrible sight, but nowhere near the fear and nausea he felt hearing the sounds. It was only a few seconds, but they still gave him nightmares.
The blood rushing into the vampire’s mouth— the soft, fragile whimper from Rita— the almost-sexual moans from that vampire piece of shit.
He felt such a rage inside of himself, he barely remembers reaching down over the vamp’s head and sinking his two middle fingers into the monster’s nostrils and his fore and pinky fingers into its eye sockets. He felt the fingers slide into the thing’s skull, it’s eyeballs popping and oozing over his digits like runny egg yokes.
The vamp’s mouth craned open, releasing it’s death-hold on Rita, as it cried out. That sexy moan was replace with a high-pitched, inhuman scream and as the child’s body slowly rolled over on the billiards table clutching her neck.
Nick forcefully pulled up on the vamp’s skull until her body was upright and chest was exposed.
It thrashed violently. He could feel it trembling in pain.
For a split second, he almost felt sympathy. He almost asked. What am I doing?
But then he looked across the billiards table and saw little innocent Rita in the fetal position— trembling— clutching her neck.
The rage overtook him again. He wrenched his grip even harder, causing the vampire’s flailing to increase. He looked up to see Miguel was awaken and staring in horror at what was happening. He wanted to run to his daughter on the pool table, but his mind was busy trying to rationalize what he was seeing.
Miguel would tell Nick afterwards that beforehand, he had heard the rumors. He had heard of the secret monster hunters, The Apostates. Like everyone else, he’d heard stories of unnatural things happening in the city, and the mysterious men and women who would arrive to fight them, and then leave without a word.
At that moment, seeing Nick there with his hand gripping the apparent vampire’s skull like a bowling ball– seeing the female’s 3-inch fangs elongated and dripping with Rita’s blood– seeing her off her feet and her flailing arms and legs– Miguel figured out who Nick was— Or rather what he was.
Miguel also said that Nick seemed intoxicated by what was happening. He was smiling. It was a sinister smile of anticipation. It almost looked like what he was seeing was just foreplay. This was the hors d’ oeuvre platter before he got to play.
Nick reached down to the billiards table and slowly grabbed a pool stick. He slammed it against the table until it shattered, leaving a thick shard in his hand.
“No!! No!! No!!” the She-Thing cried. It begged Nick. But he wasn’t listening. His eyes for still transfixed on Rita’s trembling body.
Nick turned and sent his gaze to Miguel.
“Fuck it.” He said, raising the pool stick shard over his head. He brought the wooden piece slamming into her chest, puncturing her through the heart. He felt the impact push through her back and against his chest.
Her violent screaming ceased. In seconds, her body seemed to burn from the inside. He could feel the intense heat washing over him as her body disintegrated into ash and cinders. As the red hot carbon flakes and body parts floated to his feet, the intense stare on his face softened. It was as if Nick came out of a trance.
He gained his composure just as Miguel was racing to his daughter.
He glanced over at his friend, who was clutching his daughter and on the phone with Emergency services.
Miguel’s looked up and met Nick’s gazed.
“That was a vampire?” he asked.
“Yes.” Nick answered softly.
“A real vampire? A Dracula vampire?”
“He.. he bit my Rita. Will she…?”
“No.” Nick knelt beside them. “No. There’s a whole big blood exchange thing that needs to happen. She’s just lost a lot of blood.” Nick heard sirens in the background. “She’ll be just fine once a doctor sees her.”
Flashing red lights from the approaching ambulance filled the room. Nick looked back, trying to figure out what his next move was. It was an illegal kill. He wasn’t sanction for kills anymore. He could’ve been in serious trouble if the Church found out.
“I know what you are.” he heard Miguel say.
“That’s not me.” he quietly replied. “Not anymore.”
“I heard about you guys from my uncle. You saved my Rita. You saved her life.”
Nick didn’t know what to say. He hated to talk about his old job.
“The back door leads to a closed alley.” Miguel stood to face Nick, Rita resting in his arms like a child. “Hop the green gate and head down the alley. You’ll see the train station sign at the end of the block.”
“Thanks.” Nick said as he quickly made his way into the pub’s backroom. He heard Miguel say something else while he was leaving, but he couldn’t make it out.
The pub was closed for two weeks after that. When it re-opened, Nick was in his booth at the regular time. There was an unspoken bond between he and Miguel after that day. They never spoke of that night ever again. Rita never visited the pub again.
And to that day, Nick was never allowed to pay for any drinks or food.. no matter how hard he tried.
Miguel noticed him staring at the family picture.
“She still talks about you.” he said with a short smile. “Not about what happened specifically. Just how safe she feels knowing uncle Nick is out there.”
“Uncle Nick?” he looked surprised.
“You really make an impression.”
Nick smiled, waved goodbye and started to leave.
Nick stopped in his tracks.
Miguel slid the bills even further. “You forgetting something?”
‘Fuck.’ he said under his breath.
The train was unusually crowded for that time of the evening. Normally, the heavy commute would end around 6:30pm. That’s why Nick would spend so much time in the pub. He liked having his space at all times. He liked having a direct line-of-sight with everyone in his vicinity. It was another habit he acquired as a hunter.
But this day, every seat, including the one next to him, was filled. People were standing shoulder-to-shoulder in the aisles. His train ride was roughly twenty minutes each way, so he figured the train would filter out by the time his stop was close. He looked up occasionally from his book to see most of the people standing with one arm on the railing, and the other tapping away on mobile phones. It looked like the population was under the control of these little technology boxes they were forced to hold in their hands.
That’s when Nick smiled. None of them knew how close that came to happening a few years ago.
‘The Nanite Invasion from Middle Earth’ is what his boss labeled the docket in the records file.
It was a lot more frightening that it sounded.
As the BART train entered the tunnel that passed underneath the San Francisco Bay, the lights slightly flickered. His fingers tightened around his book. His senses seemed to heighten, as he became aware of everyone sitting around him.
Through the mass of pedestrians sitting and standing all around, he could sense them.
He could feel the eyes of the others staring at him.
He sensed their fear.
A lot of otherworldly beings knew an Apostate on site. They carried themselves differently than most people. And even though Nick had given up the faith, he still carried himself to the high standards of a hunter.
The train doors opened at the stop before his, and people poured out of the train like they were connected at the hips. By the time the train started again, there was no one standing and about a third of the seats were empty.
From the back seat where Nick sat, sitting about 6 seats in front of him, a small girl stared back at him. She was facing backwards in her seat, her face hidden by the back of the seat- just her eyes poking up over the horizon. He could feel her eyes on him. He tried to ignore her stare, but couldn’t resist the urge to look up.
He locked eyes with her. She flinched, startled by his acknowledgment. Her eyes grew slightly wider, just enough to see their unusual color. They were a bright blue and traces of red specks.
Vampire. he thought.
The poor kid had been turned so young. It meant she would never grow up. She’d be this old soul locked in this pre-developed body for eternity. Who knows, she probably was already a millennia old. You could never tell from a distance.
The woman sitting next to her finally noticed the girl’s gaze. She also turned to see what she was looking at. Another pair of bright blew eyes stared back at him. The look of surprise widened in her eyes also.
This time, Nick waved back at both of them with a fiendish grin- the look of a creepy old man written across his face. They both quickly sat forward in their seats.
He hated vampires.
And even though he was no longer sanctioned to hunt them, he didn’t mind putting the fear of God into them when he could. It kind of made him feel sick that they could move so freely throughout the population. This Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell legislation brought down by the Religious Reich seemed unthinkable ten years ago.
Now, deaths by Otherworldlies required investigation and due-process. Before legislation got into the picture, it was like the Wild Wild West. Apostates had no authority. It was a holy war for the modern age. Vampires, zombies, ghosts, werewolves, and any other supernatural creation- they were all fair game. They preyed on humans and his kind preyed on them. Apostates were the monsters that monsters feared.
But for the ones who could reason and had a strong survival instinct, it was beneficial to reach a cease-fire. The Apostates and Vampire Collective came to an unofficial agreement. Population Control, 1st-response Self-policing, Feeding without killing. The Vampire Hierarchy and The Apostate Clerics, under the auspices of the Catholic Church organized a temporary aggressive cease-fire, until a more permanent agreement could be brokered.
That was ten years ago.
That’s when Nick became disenchanted with the faith.
They’d become marginalized. Their mission and authority had been stripped from them. From that point on, they were transformed from warriors to caretakers of the new law. Instead of hunting monsters, they were regulated to chronicling crime-scenes and filing reports for bureaucrats.
Nick tried to play his role. For two years he begrudgingly followed the new world order. He pushed the boundaries of law more times than he could count, and in return got cited, fined and demoted. Until after 18 months under the new rule, he decided to walk away. He’d lost his faith. The mission had been tainted by bureaucracy. His mission in life had been to beat the monsters back into the darkness. Now they roamed freely in the streets. Mixing with the humans. Doing things in the dark, while the humans in charge looked the other way in order to keep the peace.
He lost respect for the job. He lost respect for The Order. And most of all, he lost respect for his-self.
The BART pulled into his station, and he promptly packed his book into the backpack and proceeded to head for the now opened exit. But as he reached the door, he stopped and made one last slow glance toward the two vampires.
They didn’t turn around.