Nick didn’t make it home until well past midnight. He was so tired, that he decide to take a cab from the train station to his apartment. Even the walk up the annoying two flights of steps seemed like a daunting task.
When he reached his entrance to his apartment, he leaned forward until his head hit the Burgundy-stained wooden door. His forehead kept his body propped up while he fidgeted in his pocket for his keys. It took him 3 tries to unlock his door.
His dark apartment was inviting. He was ready to just shut the door an curl up onto the living room floor.
It wasn’t until he dropped his keys into the bowl on the bookshelf that he noticed the other presence in the room. He was taught not to make any sudden moves when sensing danger. Whoever or whatever was in the room needed to think it still had the upper hand.
He feigned a giant yawn and stretch his arms wide as he walked into his small breakfast nook and slid his coat off onto the floor. As the coat rolled off of his shoulders and down his back, he tightened the firm grip on his Glock .22 previously nestled in his inside pocket. As the coat floated downward, Nick turned and put the gunsights directly on the darkened corner between his front door and his living-room window.
He was trained to sense the presence of otherworldly beings. But overtime, he realized it was easier to just rely on the genetic actions of the creatures he was hunting. All creatures had different habits. Zombies couldn’t help but moan when they attacked human flesh. The intensity of Apparitions could be gauged by how low a temperature drops in the room. Witches couldn’t use their unnatural powers without showing their true face.. which more times than not was hideous. And Vampires tended to grind their teeth, and make clicking sounds when their jaws unhinged. This time, there was no tell. But instinct told him, he was not alone. Something else was in the room with him.
With his gun still centered on the empty space, he slowly eased down into his chair and used his other hand to reach for the light switch.
When the brightness filled the room, he expected his intruder to make his move. Maybe the luminance would reveal some type of apparition lurching toward him or some grotesque thingscurrying along the wall or ceiling.
Up came the fluorescent lights in the kitchen, breakfast nook and living room. Far in the distant corner of the living room, perched on-top of the back of his old wingback chair like a bird on a wire, was a vampire. She sat in a crouched position; her arms folded across her knees with her eyesight slightly peaking over them. Her silky black hair obstructed what was left of her face.
Nick kept a steady aim on her. For the first few moments, neither of them moved. Scenarios ran through his mind.
Had the Queen double-crossed him?
Was this the only vampire in the place?
Was this young one the distraction for the others to flank him?
Nick spoke. “I don’t know what you’re doing here, but this isn’t going to end well for you.” he cocked his gun’s hammer. “I have a full clip of .40 hollow-point rounds laced with silver and wood shavings– standard Apostate ammunition.”
When the young vampire stepped down, she seemed to float to the carpet. When her feet finally touched the floor, he saw that she must’ve been around 5 and half feet tall. She couldn’t have been more than 16 years of age when she was turned. She wore baggy Levi’s jeans and a black t-shirt with the words Real Vampires Don’t Sparkle written large in red letters across the chest.
He chuckled. He hated those movies too.
“What are you doing?” Were the first words she spoke. She now had an annoyed look on her face.
“What are you doing?” Nick replied.
“Uh.. I’m just standing here?” she grew aggravated.
“And I’m pointing this gun at your face!” Nick took a couple steps closer.
The vampire took two steps back and raised her hands in the air. It was less a gesture of concern, and more annoyance. “Why?! I haven’t done anything to you!”
“Uh.. You broke into my house?”
The Vampire was about to yell back but she paused for a second. “Ok, yeah.. you have a point.” She smiled uneasy. “Let’s start over. Hi. My name is Lana.”
“Hello, Lana. Now leave.” Nick grew closer, his aim still fixed on her forehead.
“I was sent directly by Queen Vassiliadis.”
“To be her liaison during your investigation.”
Nick lowered his gun and put it on the table. “For Christ sake. I don’t need a Liaison.”
Lana loosened up. “That’s not what I heard.”
“What did you hear?”
“Representatives from all parties concerned would aid you in this investigation..”
“What all concerned parties are you..”
Before he could finish, there was a knock at the door. Outside the window, Nick could once again, see the flashing red and blue lights of the patrol car parked on the street.
Nick sighed. “Make yourself at home.” he said to Lana as he shuffled past her toward the door. The young vampire walked back and flopped down into the dusty wing-chair– her iPhone already in her hands and texting.
Nick opened the door to find Apostate Alec once again gracing his entrance.
“Hi, Mr. Poole. It’s me..”
“Yeah, yeah. I know who you are.”
Nick gestured for Alec to come in. The gangly Apostate signaled to the cops outside to leave and then came in, closing the door behind him. He was startled when he noticed Lana sitting in the chair to his left.
“Vampire!” Alec jumped.
Lana didn’t even glance up from her phone.
“Hey.” she mumbled, lazily throwing up a two finger peace sign.
“Why is there a vampire in your living room?” Alec called out.
Nick was in the kitchen messing with the coffee machine. “She’s the vampire you. You’re my Liaison from the church, right?”
“Yes.” Alec made his way toward the kitchen, keeping a close eye on Lana, who was still more interested in Facebook than with him.
The Apostate draped his long coat across the back to the nearest chair, and ventured into the kitchen to find Nick filling his coffeemaker with water.
He looked at Alec and noticed he was wearing jeans and a white t-shirt. “Where’s you’re collar, Father?”
The Apostate smirked. “I’m off duty. And blasphemy is not funny, Sir.”
“Sorry” he apologized. “Those things just look so.. stupid.”
Alec approached Nick with a look of concern on his face. “Can we get back to the vampire in your living room?”
“What about me?” came Lana’s voice from behind him.
When Alec turned around, he was shocked to see Lana was standing only a few inches away from him. Even though her short frame was tall enough to reach his chest, he knew she was dangerous. As she looked up at him, he could barely see her reddish-tinged eyes behind the blanket of jet black hair.
“I’m trained in four forms of deadly combat.” Alec’s voice cracked.
Lana giggled. “I’m trained to eat you.”
Alex flinched seeing her fangs slowly lower in-front of her smile.
“That’s enough, Children.” Nick interrupted. “None of that Eternal Holy War bullshit in my house.” He looked over and saw them still staring each other down. “I mean it! I left The Faith so I wouldn’t have to deal with this shit.”
Lana was the first to break. She shook her head. “You’re not worth it.” She leaned sideways until she could see around Alec super slim frame and had Nick in her sights. “So.. we’re all cool with this, right? We’re doing this?”
“Is there any chance I can refuse?” Nick asked pouring himself a coffee.
“I think not.” Alec replied, looking down at Lana’s smiling fangs.
“Well, I guess we’re doing this.” He approached them, carrying two white semi-clean mugs in each hand. “Coffee?”
Everett James tried not to notice all the looks he got from his fellow officers as he left the police station. After being discharged from the hospital, he was subjected to a day’s worth of intensive questioning concerning the incident on Highway 84. The crime scene was a disaster area, and involved the gruesome death of a gas station manager and what is believed to be what was left of a white female.
He had given his account of what happened a half dozen times to the investigators. He couldn’t blame them. Every time he recounted his story, he couldn’t believe it has just happened to him less than a day before.
His story was articulate and thorough. He answered every question with complete honesty and there were no loose ends the investigators could find. But the tale was so over the top, that no officer in his right mind could take his story as the truth.
In the end, Everett was instructed to surrender his gun and badge. He was told he would be taken off duty, until a complete investigation could be performed, along with mandatory sessions with the department psychologist. Everett couldn’t argue with the investigators. He lived the incident and still had trouble comprehending the sequence of events. He could still hear the woman’s screams for help. And he could still feel that thing’s cry for JUDGEMENT.
He reached his car, popped open the trunk and tossed in his backpack and a large bankers box with some of his personal items inside. When he closed the trunk, a figure was revealed to be standing next to his passenger side door. He was a tall scruffy man in a tan trench coat. He had an uneasy smile on his face. The first thing Everett thought was he must be another Internal Affairs Agent coming to ask more questions.
“Officer James?” the man asked.
“Who wants to know?” He replied heading for the drivers-side door.
“My name is Nick Poole. I’d like to ask you some questions, if possible.”
“You know, what? I’ve been answering questions all day, Mr. Poole. Right now, I’m just gonna go home and get drunk. You have anymore questions, speak to my Union Rep.”
Nick made his way around the car. “I’m not from the Department. We’re independent investigators, working on a case that might be tied to what you experience last night.”
“We?” Everett asked.
Nick motioned to the tall, lanky man and the small pale girl standing just behind him.
‘The Odd Squad’. Everett snickered to himself. “Listen, I don’t care who you are. My Rep says to keep my mouth shut until..”
“You’re Rep isn’t trying to stop a killer.” Nick interrupted. “We are.”
“What the fuck do you want to know?!?” Everett exploded. “You want to know what I saw?!? You want to know about the giant 8 foot tall rock monster with the fucking big hammer trashed me and my squad car and then killing a woman in the middle of the highway?!?”
“That would put its death toll at eleven.”
Everett stopped in his tracks. “What?”
“It’s not the first time.” Nick walked to Everett and then shut his car’s door. “Let me guess.. It shouted the work ‘JUDGEMENT’ and then pretty much turned the entire area into a disaster zone? It’s been here for over a month.”
“What’s been here for a month? What the hell is it?”
“We don’t know. That’s why we need you. The another piece of the puzzle.”
Everett shook his head. “I wish I could help you. But I’ve been suspended. The Department doesn’t believe a word I’m saying.”
“We don’t need the Department.” Nick replied. “They couldn’t do anything about it, if they tried. We need you.”
Everett stood in the middle of his tiny living room, pacing back and forth as he recounted the events of the night before– one more time for the benefit of this strange team. Nick and Alec sat on opposite ends of a brown leather couch, while Lana stood, leaning against the wall, browsing Some social website on her phone. Officer James waited for the looks of disbelief that he’d seen at the department when he was interrogated. But there was none. Both Alec and Nick listened intently, yet showed no signs of amazement from his tale.
“So.. that’s it.” he finished. “Investigators on the scene found no trace of Grey Hammer Guy. No tracks to say where it was.. no evidence to say it was actually there.” Everett took a swig from his glass of scotch. “Chances are I’m going to lose my job. And I can’t blame ’em. I don’t even believe this bullshit myself.”
“A Golem..” Lana’s voice came from the back of the room. “Gotta be a Golem.” she finished, still with her phone stuck to her face.
“It’s not a Golem.” Alec replied. “They’re made of dirt and don’t use weapons. Plus, they’re tied to a specific person’s need for vengeance. This doesn’t feel like that.”
“A what?” Everett tried to ask, but the others ignored him.
“Erinyes?” Alec suggested?
“Erin what?” Everett was lost.
“Hell Furies.” Nick responded. “Vengeance Deities. And no. They crave the acknowledgement. They wouldn’t do anything this secretive.”
“What the fuck are you people talking about!?!” Everett finally lost it. “What the fuck did I see out on that road?!?”
Nick and Alec looked at each other. They both acknowledged that Everett was too far down the rabbit-hole to be turned away. Both men had spent the better part of their career convincing normal people that the supernatural didn’t exist. Civilians were easy to program. They could be convinced there were perfect explanations for strange things. Tricks of light, drug-induced crazies, unusual weather patterns— these were all things people could adapt to, and later forget. But Everett James didn’t just witness a supernatural occurrence. He became a part of one. Whatever that thing was, it showed it’s true nature to the officer and nearly killed him in pursuit of it’s prey.
“Tell me.” Everett yelled.
Nick sighed, turning to Alec. “What do you think? Should I rip the band-aid off quickly, or give him the full speech?”
“Band-aid, please. I choose the Band-aid.” Everett said impatient.
Nick stood and went to pour himself another scotch. He hated these reveal moments. You could never tell how the person was going to take it.
He took a swig from his glass.
“Okay. Here it goes.” He took a deep breath. “Monsters.. are real.”
Everett stared back at him with a blank look on his face. “Pardon?”
“Monsters are real. Vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghosts, Smurfs.. they’re all real. Don’t tell anyone.”
“Smurfs?” Everett asked.
“Yep. Smurfs.” Alec shook his head.
“Little evil motherfuckers.” Lana added, still engrossed with her phone.
There was a long, silent pause in the room.
Nick could almost see the gears turning inside of Everett’s head. This was the danger of ripping the band-aid off. Depending on the person, this could lead to hysterical disbelief, or some type of religious awakening that would make everything even worse.
“Oh God..” Everett snapped, burning his face in his hands. “Oh God, what the hell am I doing? The Shrink was right. I’m slowly going crazy talking about how a Grey Hulk with Thor’s hammer smashed up my patrol car and killed a woman. And now I’ve invited 3 crazy-ass street people into my house to talk about it.”
“You’re not nuts.” Nick responded. “I know it’s hard to take in but…”
“Fuck you!! You’re standing in my living room– slash den– slash breakfast nook trying to convince me.. that vampires are real! Get the fuck out of here!”
“No! Seriously! Get the fuck out of my house before I shoot you! I’m still a cop for a few more hours so the shooting would be justified and legal!”
Nick sighed. “Shit. Ok, I didn’t want to have to do this. It was my last resort.”
Everett snarked. “What are you gonna do? Call the Chupacabra to come and eat me?”
Alec laughed. “Don’t be stupid. The Chupacabra isn’t real.”
“Shut the fuck up!!” Everett lashed out. “SHUT THE FUCK UP!!! I WAN’T EVERYONE OUT NOW!!”
Nick glanced over at the far end of the room. “Lana?”
The young girl’s eyes annoyingly glanced up from her phone.
“Show him.” Nick said.
She rolled her eyes. “Seriously, dude?” Lana whined.
Nick directed Everett to focus his attention to the tiny teenager on the other side of the room. Her eyes darted back and forth between Nick and Alec.
“Fucking fuck, dude…” she mumbled under her breath, putting her phone in her pocket.
The Apostate just shrugged and sat back waiting for the show.
“Hey..” Lana called out to Everett and waited for his sunken eyes to lock onto hers. When she was convinced she had his full attention, she preceded to slowly peel the layers of her self-control back. She allowed the bloodlust, thinly simmering underneath her control to slowly boil over.
At first, Everett just stared at her angrily.
But then he saw something.. unusual. The young girls eyes, which he’d seen up close earlier, he could’ve sworn were a bright shade of blue. But the pupils he was locked into at the moment seem to be a bright shade of red. Wait.. not the pupils. Her entire eye-sockets seem to be bloody.
Lana’s vision seemed to blur. She could feel the hunger forcing the glands just under her lower jawbone to swell. The tangy taste of venom mixed with her saliva. She was at the tipping point. She was hungry. And their were three ‘happy meals’ waiting for her on the other-side of the living room / den / breakfast nook.
Everett was still in disbelief of Lana’s red eyes when her lower jaw unhinged. Her mouth elongated and her lower jaw spread outward like a snake. Her blackened gums seemed to recede, revealing more pristinely white teeth. No.. her gums weren’t receding. Her teeth seem to grow.
His heart stopped.
There was almost a hint of sorry and embarrassment in Lana’s red eyes. Her blood-curdling scream was loud– almost painful.
But Everett’s fear scream drowned hers out.
He was immediately backpedalling until he slammed into his cabinet, knocking over the bottle of Scotch.
Watching the bottle’s contents spill onto the floor was even more frightening to Nick.
“What the fuck.. what the fuck..what the fuck..” Everett screamed.
Seeing the Officer’s crazed look staring back at her, Lana quickly pulled the bloodlust back. Her face returned to normal within seconds, but the look of shame and embarrassment remained..
“Shit, guys.” she mumbled under her breath and quickly shuffled out of the room.
Nick tried to tend to Everett, who was now on the floor trying to get his mind right.
“Breathe.” he said to the fallen Officer, who was in the grips of a near psychotic break. His mouth was moving but nothing was coming out. “Breathe. It’s ok.”
“Her mouth..” he tried to comprehend. “What the fuckity fuck happened?”
Nick smiled and took a seat next to him. He patted Everett on the shoulder and handed him his drink.
Lana stood at the back of the kitchen, staring out the dirty screen door at the commotion going on across the alleyway. She could see into the neighbor’s backyard. It was a couple arguing about a broken lawn mower. The woman was angry that the man didn’t get it fixed when she told him. The man didn’t recall that conversation.
But she wasn’t focused on the argument. Even from 67 yards away, she could still see and smell the small, deep cuts he had on his hands and arms. It still amazed her how much detail she could take in from such a far distance. His arms flailing around in the heat of the argument, only seem to push the sweet smell of blood toward her.
She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. No one warned her about that before she was turned. No one warned her that the craving for blood would be so overpowering for her.. more so than cigarettes when she was human. They didn’t warn her about a lot of things.
Alec was the only one to notice Lana leave the room. After a few moments, he decided to follow her. He couldn’t tell you why. He’d only met the vampire a few hours before. But she looked so young and innocent. His need to ‘protect’ is what made him an Apostate.
Even though Lana was focused on the neighbor’s commotion, she still noticed Alec when he appeared at the kitchen door behind her. She could hear his heart pounding. She could feel its vibrations on her back. A vampire’s heightened senses could be maddening at times.
“I was turned four months ago.” Lana spoke without acknowledging Alec. “I met this guy.. Marco. He had the whole mysterious stranger thing happening.”
She turned to see Alec leaning against the wall and intently listening. “I told him I was eighteen.” she smiled. “Which I would’ve been in three more years.”
“Uh oh..” Alec said, immediately regretting it.
“Yeah..” she continued. “When he found out I was only fifteen, he pretty much tossed me aside– Left me in this hostel in Richmond. I never saw him again.”
“What’d you do?”
“Couldn’t bring myself to eat people, so I focused on animals. A lot of folks lost their cats and dogs that week.”
Alec walked forward to stand next to Lana.
“I dreamed of becoming a vampire the moment I found out they were real. And now.. shit..” She looked up at him. “Be careful what you wish for.”
“Didn’t realize you guys.. feel.” Alec said.
“Yeah we do. Feelings, taste, smell.. everything’s on overload. Kinda sucks at first.”
“Sorry for being an asshole.” He apologized.
She smiled behind her mess of black hair. She stretched out her fist, anticipating the appropriate ‘fist bump’ of acceptance.
Alec responded appropriately.
He continued. “I can’t understand what you’re going through. But I do understand how things are never what they may seem. I was trained to be this Righteous Warrior in the fight between good and evil. Seek out the monsters. Fight the monsters. Kill the monsters…“
Lana chuckled. “And now? What have you found out?”
“That there are no real monsters. Well, there are… just not most of them. Just people who are a little more different than usual.. if that makes any sense.”
Lana smiled. “There is no Santa Claus.”
Alec smile. “Exactly. Just a fat guy in a red velvet suit with fuzzy trim.”
They both laughed to cover up the uncomfortable silence. They both just stood and watched the couple across the way continue to fight. They both agreed that that man wasn’t fairing so well.
Eventually, Lana looked up at Alec. “So.. this make us friends now, right?”
“Afraid so.” He replied. “We can’t be fighting crime while trying to kill each other.”
They both laughed again.
When Lana and Alec made it back the the living room / den / breakfast nook, Everett and Nick had relocated to the couch. Both men were silently sipping on full glasses of scotch by this time. Everett and Lana locked eyes, and there was a short awkward moment of silence..
“So.. are we cool?” Lana was the first to speak.
“Yeah.” Everett replied. “I think we’re good.” He stood and walked over to face Lana more pronounced. “Sorry for flipping out. You’re my first vampire.”
She nodded with a grin and then ventured back into her corner, once again staring at her phone.
“Alright!” Nick started rubbing his hands together. “Great team-building session.”
He grabbed the bottle of scotch and topped off his already full glass.
“Here’s what we know. We have a supernatural being of unknown origin who seems to be killing indiscriminately in the San Francisco area. He’s big, grey and carries what seems to be a giant death hammer.”
“Death Hammer?” Alec interrupted. “Is that what it is?”
“I don’t know.” Nick answered. “I’m branding this as we go..”
“I don’t think it’s killing indiscriminately.” Everett timidly chimed in. “The woman who was murdered near the gas station. she was a junky. Also, there was evidence suggesting she actually murdered a store clerk at the station.”
The officer grabbed one of the boxes he’d packed from the police station and pulled out a case folder. He sifted through the loose pages until he found the filed crime scene notes.
“A week ago, the body of a middle-aged man, Gregory Pinter was found in the alleyway behind his house. His wife said he went to take out the trash, and never came back. The police searched the alley the next day and found what looked like a pile of bloody crap two yards away from his fence. The cement alley had been dug up.. similar to Highway 80, only on a smaller scale. The lab is currently testing for DNA, but you put my crime scene photos next to the Pinter murder, and you can see they’re connected.”
Everett dived back in to his box of evidence. “I dug a little further and found Pinter was attached to a series of murders in Rocky Hill, Connecticut almost a decade before. The cops couldn’t make anything stick. There’s a few other unsolved cases that seem to fit his modus operandi.”
Nick was intrigued. “So.. there’s a chance this Thing is targeting murderers? Maybe we got something like a Soul Collector?”
Alec shook his head. “Nope. The Mystics have been on high alert this whole time. No special Collection Contracts have been issued in the last couple years.”
Nick thought for a moment. “Everett, do you have a city map handy?”
The Sheriff nodded and then dug deep into his box of evidence. He pulled out a very worn map and carefully spread it out across his coffee table, careful not to rip the areas with holes any larger. The others gathered around… including Lana, to see what was happening.
Nick grabbed a marker from Everett’s box and marked the area’s of Gregory Pinter and the Sheriff’s unknown murder victim.
“Okay, here’s the murder locations we know…”
He then started to add more locations taken from the Apostate investigation. The pin marks seemed to be scattered across the Bay Area with no discernible pattern. They all stared downward in silence.
As Nick left the circle to pour himself another scotch, he heard Everett speak up.
“Hmm..” The Officer tilted his head curiously.
“What’s the time table for the the other murders?”
Nick handed him his phone with the murder spreadsheet. Everett quickly sorted the document cells to list by ascending dates. His gazed darted back and forth between the phone and the map.
“You got something?” Nick said, more as a statement than a question.
“I.. don’t know.” Everett grabbed the marker from Nick. “But I think there’s a pattern.”
“No, there isn’t.” Alec said. “We ran all the data through a host of computer algorithms. There weren’t any patterns found.”
“Yeah well…” Everett took the marker and started to connect the dots. “…I’m no computer. I’m just a cop with a set of eyes and a pretty good sense of intuition.”
After all the lines were drawn, they all gazed on a set of erratic zig zag lines that seemed to dart around the city.
“I don’t see it.” Lana said.
Everett smiled. “You don’t see it because it’s not really there.” He then started to draw more lines on the map– this time drawing a single line through the erratic zig zags. “It isn’t a pattern. It’s a primitive search grid.”
He grabbed a roll of tape from his box and preceded to tape-up the map on the wall.
“It wasn’t following a known pattern. It was hitting targets and then readjusting it’s direction after each murder. You can see as time went on, the distance between the murders got smaller and seemed to be circling around toward San Francisco proper.”
Everett took a swig of scotch.
“I think this is some type of primitive grid pattern search. Don’t quote me, but my gut tells me whatever It is, it’s looking for someone, someplace, or something.”
Nick smiled. “Shit. Welcome to the team, Sheriff.” He turned to the group. “Unless anyone else has a better idea of what’s happening, we just roll with Everett’s theory.”
“So what do we do now?” Lana asked.
“Now?” Alex grabbed his iPhone and texted the word ‘9 1 1’ to a contact labeled ‘In The Cloud’. “Now we go cash in some chips.” A few seconds later, the contact responded ‘SATSUMA MANDARIN SALAD’.
“I don’t have any chips.” Lana responded.
“You don’t..” Nick smiled, grabbing his coat. “..but Alec’s bosses and your Queen do.”