Light leaking into the darkened bedroom from around heavy damask drapes lifted him out of slumber. Another day. Sighing slightly, he shifted sheets in eggshell silk off himself and swung his feet to the cool marble floor, being careful to avoid stepping in a splash of urine that remained from the night before. He pressed the button on his nightstand and, in only seconds, his bedroom doors opened. A squat man with a swarthy complexion and jet-black hair going gray at the temples, stepped three feet into the space.
Goddammed Mexicans. He spoke three languages flawlessly and not one of these ignorant bastards could pronounce a Y or a V. Still, for the right price, they were loyal and would do anything he asked. Sometimes he asked a lot.
“Good morning, Nestor,” he said, his voice flat and emotionless.
“Good morning, Sir. What can I do for joo?”
“While I am in the bath, Nestor, you can clear away the trash, change the bedding, and air out this room,” he replied, rising to his feet and stepping delicately over the ripped and broken body of a young woman that lay in a pool of congealed and drying blood at the foot of his bed. “That stinks,” he continued, glancing at the corpse on the floor.
“Bery good, Sir.”
Nude, he crossed the room in ten strides and paused in the door of the bath.
“Check on breakfast, will you?”
The tub was full and humming quietly as he knew it would be, the temperature between ninety-eight and ninety-nine degrees as always. He peered in the mirror. Seven years, and he hadn’t aged a day. Almost fifty, he still looked forty-two. Clear eyes, no additional gray hair, no new lines, no fresh crow’s feet. Nothing to indicate the passage of time. He picked up his toothbrush and began to cleanse his mouth.
In the seven years since Colin had brought about his death in Unruh’s Austrian Keep, he had not had so much as a cold. In the seven years since he’d awakened, wrapped in plastic, in the kitchen’s walk-in cooler, he’d never had a headache. In the seven years since his re-birth, even an upset stomach had not troubled him. He was beyond such things.
He eased into the deep bath and the scent of jasmine filled the air as he looked out the window beside his tub. In the far distance the morning horizon was smudged by the filth of Mexico City. Rarely, and only when compelled by the urge to hunt, he went there, but it was not to his taste. He despised the crush of humanity, the cacophony of millions, the foul air, the stench of the streets, the sweat of the herd. The place filled his needs to be sure, but he kept his distance. Nestor, Carlos, and the rest willingly went to the city for him. They did not possess his sensibilities.
After scrubbing diligently in the tub, he showered as it drained, then re-filled it for a soak. Unlike others of his kind, he valued cleanliness highly. He kept himself carefully groomed, scrupulously clean, and impeccably dressed. He would never, could never allow himself to descend to the depths of squalor that his fellows seemed to not even notice. It was disgusting. They were disgusting. Still, there was a kinship that could not be denied. Something small and feral within him itched for association with others of his ilk, but he kept it carefully contained. The boredom was another matter.
In moments of quiet, as in the bath, the boredom troubled him most. The sameness of days, the suspension of the battle with time, the lack of confrontation. All his life, until he had been re-born, he had lived in perpetual challenge. Always there had been an opponent, a situation, a circumstance to be battled or controlled or vanquished. Always there had been a struggle to push him, to drive him, to make him excel. Within him lurked the passion to win. In addition to that, and possibly even more important, was the need to defeat.
While he had overcome disease, discomfort, discovery and, to a large extent, even death, as time went on it did not seem to be enough. When compared to the number of years that could possibly stretch before him, it was almost a curse. When it all began, he reveled in his leisure. His needs and wants were satisfied as if merely whims. He lived like a pharaoh, towering above morality and decency, a compassionless colossus accountable only to himself. He had not only won, he won again every day. And yet, before his re-birth, he had been beaten. In the quiet moments that beating gnawed at him in the light, whispered to him in the dark, and it was getting worse. He knew he would eventually act upon it. Even though it was in his best interest to let sleeping dogs lie, he knew he would not. It lay behind him like an adder in the dust and he could not leave his back to it.
He was nearly dozing when the knock came.
Slowly opening the bathroom door, Nestor stepped one pace inside.
“About breakfast, Sir.”
“We have two. A young girl of about eight, and a boy about ten.”
Voorhees scratched the scar on his chin and allowed himself a rare smile.
“Bring the girl to me here in the bath,” he said. “We’ll save the boy for a nice late lunch.”
Hope in flux
Casey hit the bypass around the north side of Denver about half an hour after rush, congratulating himself on his impeccable timing. Friday evening could be a real madhouse. He didn’t get into the area nearly as often as he had during the time they used Denver as a mail drop, back when he and Cat made the occasional foray to steal equipment or blood. Those days were gone now that the lab was legitimate and they had Unruh’s immense financial backing. The thought of Unruh brought a smile to his lips. From devil to angel literally overnight, because of the touch of a child. Jesus. Even after all these years life still amazed him.
By all normal standards, his current mission was amazing enough. Driving to the Walton Conservatory for Young Women in Boulder, Casey was on the way to pick up a child. A child he had ripped from her mother’s womb as that woman died of a gunshot after walking the earth for over a thousand years. A child who, while a bit less than seven years old, appeared to be in her early teens, who carried much of her mother’s life and memories, who had six strands of active DNA with six more waiting in the wings. A girl who was on the cusp of becoming a woman, who would soon need to ingest human blood on a daily basis, who would possess incredible senses, blinding speed, and immense strength. A young woman he loved as much as if she were of his own flesh, who called him Uncle, and who was attending her first formal dance that very night.
His own children, Beth and Sean, had never been to organized school. He and Moira had felt it was just too risky. As six-stranders they were formidable enough. As twins who could combine their abilities and act as one entity, it was simply too dangerous to allow them to run around loose. A routine schoolyard disagreement could have had disastrous consequences. They received their schooling at home. Now nearly ten years old, Beth and Sean appeared to be in their late teens or early twenties, had twelve strands of active DNA, and had stopped aging. Perpetually youthful, still they appeared to be older than their half-sister, Cat, who was nearly four hundred years their senior.
Raising Hope as if she were their own, Moira and Casey took a different tack than they had with the twins, deliberately setting about to socialize the girl. She could not be put in a public school program for a variety of reasons, not the least of which was the fact that she matured at twice the rate of a normal child. Also, although the need grew less urgent as she aged and would disappear entirely with puberty, she, as did Beth and Sean when they were children, needed physical contact with her own kind to remain healthy and thrive. Over the years, they placed her in pre-school and private institutions for brief periods, using false documentation to lie about her age, allowing the child exposure to other children and situations outside her usual, and somewhat cloistered, existence. Hope understood and viewed her visitations among normal people almost as vacations. The world was a nice place to visit, but she didn’t really want to live there.
Tonight was different. She’d come to the Walton Conservatory in the fall, just six years old, but appearing to be twice that. She’d made friends, watched how the other girls dealt with each other, and learned more of how to get along on the outside. Now getting ready for the spring end-of-term dance, she was excited to be where she was. When she was home for a visit just two weeks before, she and Cat had picked out a dress for the occasion. It was a pink satin sheath with a scooped back that made her rather gawky five feet eight inches an advantage instead of a curse. Plus, there were the shoes. Also in pink satin, they had heels. Two and a half inches that she wobbled around on again and again until she could move with confidence.
Hope was disappointed that Casey had not been home to see her new outfit, but he would see it tonight when he arrived to pick her up. School was out tomorrow and she would return to Glenwood Springs for the summer. Excited at the prospect of the dance, the arrival of the boys from Columbia Military Academy, the long summer stretching before her, and the major male figure in her life waiting for her at the end of the evening, Hope struggled into unfamiliar panty hose, put on a less than absolutely necessary bra, and sat to carefully apply make-up as Cat had taught her. While Casey, also excited about the events of the evening, turned north on highway 36, Hope finished fluffing her long chestnut hair, picked up her pink satin bag and, in the company of her two newest best friends, began the walk from her dorm to the school gymnasium. In the distance she could see the busses from the military academy arriving in the circle drive. Remembering Aunt Cat’s advice, she pulled in her elbows, shortened her stride, squared her shoulders, extended her neck and, smiling, propelled her five feet ten and a half inches with as much grace as she could muster. It was considerable when she concentrated.
When Hope and her friends arrived at the gym the boys were already inside, clustered in tight little groups, their dress white uniforms making them look very much alike beneath the clutter of crepe paper streamers and bad lighting. A gaggle of girls had gathered at the entrance, giggling and posturing for one another. As one, they flocked into the room, an assortment of shapes and colors flitting apart then rejoining in the safety of the covey. Hope watched her two friends join the swirling throng and thought their behavior somewhat foolish. It was as if they had suddenly become different people than those with whom she shared her days and nights. She waited until the doorway had cleared completely, extended herself to her full height, and strode into the room alone. As many eyes turned toward her, she smiled her tiny Cat-coached smile and waited for the evening to come to her. After all, these people were only human.Not that she was a stranger to the human condition. She’d been reared by a human. Aunt Moira was a two-strander, and Hope loved her as no other. Cat’s husband, Uncle Melvin, was human too, and he had been there all her life, playing with her one moment and taking her into his laboratory the next. Melvin had helped with her schooling, challenging her mind, teasing her into thinking and loving her into cooperation. And then there was Unruh, who was old and came and went, staying in the small house next to where she and her family lived. Sometimes she called him Grandpa and often spent the night with him, sleeping in a room that he built just for her. He would let her eat all the popcorn she wanted and they’d stay up way past her bedtime, watching movies with Abbot and Costello, or The Three Stooges, or even Laurel and Hardy, as they laughed and talked. He spent time with her, asking about her life and how she felt about things, listening when she answered. While he seldom touched her, he smiled at her a lot. A smile from him was as good as a hug from almost anybody else.
Casey stopped the van at the entrance to the conservatory grounds and presented ID and a pass given him by the school to gain entry to the small campus. Smiling, the guard waived him through. He left the van in the parking lot between the underclass women’s dormitories, walked slowly to the entrance of Betsy Ross Hall, opened the door, and stepped inside. The lounge was spacious and very neat, sprinkled with armchairs and cocktail tables, cozy in spite of its size because of indirect lighting and plush accessories. He presented his ID and pass to a matronly woman in a royal blue dress at a desk just inside the entrance.
“Mister Mitchell,” she smiled. “You’re here to pick up Hope?”
“Yes,” Casey replied, returning her smile. “My niece.”
“Just a lovely girl, Sir. Really. Bright, poised, confident. She seems very mature for her years. She’s…”
“Ah. Well then, this is her first dance with us here at Walton.”
“This is her first dance with anyone anyplace,” Casey said.
“Oh! This is a very big night for her then. You may take a seat anywhere, Mister Mitchell. It will be a least an hour before the festivities finish. Due to her age, of course, Hope will be compelled to return to the hall almost immediately after the party.”
Casey took a seat and picked up a magazine he had no intention of reading. As always, when surrounded by the scent of so much humanity, he was a little unsettled. He wouldn’t have missed the trip, though. As much as Hope wanted him to see her in her first grownup dress, he needed to. Nothing like this had happened with Cat, or even Beth for that matter. In some ways feeling more like a dad than he’d ever felt with either of his daughters, Casey fidgeted in his chair and waited for the time to pass.
Hope spent the first two hours of the dance slowly circling the room watching the people. Many of the older girls had real dates for the evening with boys from the military school they’d come to know over the years. Her classmates, this being the first party of its type they’d been allowed to attend, did not. Twice she’d been asked to dance by a young man named Danny Kobel, one of the few underclassmen who was actually taller than she. As they stumbled about the floor, he’d talked about any number of things she had little interest in, but at least he had the courage to approach her and tried to keep up a conversation, even if it was mostly a monologue.
Late in the evening, Hope succumbed to the stuffiness of the gym and went outside to cool off and get some air. She knew from what Cat and the others had said that soon temperature and such would make little difference to her, but, as yet, that was not the case. Stepping out into the brisk night she carefully blotted a bead of sweat from her upper lip and looked up into the wooded hills that bounded the north side of the campus. They reminded her so much of home. She walked them in the evenings sometimes, missing her family and the slopes around Glenwood Springs. Tomorrow she would be there. Tonight, Uncle Casey was here, probably already at Betsy Ross waiting for her. As she stood, contemplating the possibility of leaving the dance and returning to her dorm, a dull ache rippled in her low belly and she winced as it passed through and disappeared.
Danny Kobel stood beside her, extending a glass of punch.
“Thank you,” Hope replied, taking the glass and attempting to pull back from her thoughts of leaving and the pain that had come and gone.
“Let’s sit,” he said, indicating a concrete bench several steps out on the lawn.
They walked to it across the grass, Hope keeping her weight on her toes as Cat had suggested, so her heels wouldn’t sink into the soft soil. As she rounded the front of the bench her escort stumbled and grasped at the rough cement to stop his fall. Hope sat and he joined her, peering at the heel of his hand.
“I’m wounded,” he said.
“I’m wounded,” Danny repeated, “and it’s your fault.”
“It sure is,” he said. “If you weren’t so nice, I wouldn’t have asked you to sit down with me. And if you weren’t so pretty, I would have been watching where I was going instead of looking at you, and I wouldn’t have tripped and torn this huge gaping hole in my hand. See?”
He held up his palm so she could view a small scrape at the base of his thumb.
“Look,” he continued. “It’s even bleeding. I’m wounded by love.”
Hope teased him with a grin. “Aw, a boo-boo,” she said. “Poor baby. Want me to go call an ambulance?”
“Too late for that,” Danny said, enjoying himself. “They’ll never make it in time.”
Hope’s eyes twinkled. “Maybe I should kiss it and make it all better?”
“Maybe you should,” he replied eagerly, again presenting his hand.
With exaggerated tenderness she slowly drew his palm to her face and bent to kiss the scrape. The scent of his blood roared through her nostrils, white-hot with need and thirst. Acting independently from the rest of her, Hope’s teeth flashed forward, a growl rippling out of her nose and mouth as she struck at him, her tongue awash in saliva. Her hands saved him, flinging his wrist away with such force that Danny was nearly propelled from the bench.
Frightened, he turned to gape at her as she crouched on the grass in front of him, her lips pulled back from dripping teeth as she hissed. Her eyes were slits and she tensed for the spring, a snarl bubbling up from impossible depths, soaring into a shriek as she leapt. Unable to move or react, the boy watched her sail completely over both him and the bench and tear away across the lawn at alarming speed, long stockinged legs flashing below a lifted skirt, a keening howl wafting in her wake.
Shaken to the bone, he sat for a moment, panting. At length, Danny collected himself and looked at the palm of his hand. The scrape was gone.
From nearly a half-mile away, Casey’s acute hearing registered the howl. Remembering to move slowly, he walked to the desk.
“The dance,” he said. “Where is it?”
“On the other side of campus,” the lady smiled. “In the gymnasium.”
“I thought I might walk over that way and surprise Hope when she comes out. We haven’t seen each other in some time. Would that be alright?”
“Certainly, Mister Mitchell. Just turn right on the wide sidewalk and follow it through the undergraduate housing, across the quadrangle, between the classroom buildings and past the senior parking areas and the soccer field. It stops at Margaret Thatcher drive across the street from the gymnasium. Just have your pass on hand for any security people and don’t attempt to enter any of the buildings.”
“Thank you. You’ve been very kind.”
“Not at all. Enjoy your reunion with Hope.”
Outside, Casey stopped by the van for a moment, then made his way across the campus, forcing himself to stay at a brisk walk. As usual, he’d consumed a half-pint of blood before coming in close contact with humans, but that was not enough to allow him the speed necessary to move unseen, and he cared not to drink any more with so many children about.
On his walk he caught the occasional scent of Hope mixed with hundreds of other young women. The closer he got to the gym, the more erratic and primal the scents became as the girls adrenals and pituitaries kicked in with the excitement of the coming encounter with the opposite gender. In spite of his concern about the howl, his reptile brain responded and he grinned at all the shifting female hormones. If the young men only knew.
The dance was breaking up when he arrived at the gym, young imitation soldiers filing onto busses, pre-pubescent to alarmingly well-developed young women gathered about in tight knots. Couples walking out of the building crowded the sidewalk and part of the street. A few yards from the entrance a concrete bench rested on the lawn. He moved toward it to wait. He sat, and was on his feet in an instant.
She’d been there. Casey smelled both Hope and a young male. Not surprising, she was a very pretty girl and quite physically striking due to her height and…blood! Fresh, his, not much. Oh, shit. Their scents, his blood. He’d stayed on the bench and she’d left, excited, adrenal residuals all over the place, running out across the lawn to the north toward the trees, needing to feed! Christ!
He and Cat had talked to her about this moment at some length, having personal knowledge of what the bloodlust felt like and having gone through the transition with both Beth and Sean. The twins had been at home, in familiar surroundings with people who loved them. Hope was on her own, alone. Plus, no one could ever really be prepared for that level of need.
Casey set out on her trail, knowing she’d head for the woods, almost able to see her in his mind’s eye, depending very little on her scent. Her scent? The smell had shifted. There was an unusual pungency, a heaviness to which he was unaccustomed. God, not that, too! Aw, the poor kid. Something else Moira had tried to prepare her for that simply could not be prepared for. She’d really be in a state.
He picked up his pace when he entered the tree line, flushing a deer and passing it as it fled from him. Unaffected by the darkness, he soared up the slope with the confidence of a predator and the concern of an uncle.
Hope could never remember running so fast, especially in the dark. Only it wasn’t really dark, at least it didn’t look dark anymore. It was after ten o’clock so it had to be dark, but to her it was a dusky twilight. Had her mind been clear, she would have realized how her sight had shifted, she would have noticed she made leaps higher than her head as she ran up the hill and into the woods, she would have grasped that her stamina had tripled, but she didn’t. All she knew was that she had wanted to bite that boy. She had wanted to tear into him with her teeth, to feel his warm flesh in her mouth and his hot blood in her throat.
It was awful! The smell of blood nearly turned her inside out and she ran from it as fast as she could. She had to escape the scent, but she couldn’t. No matter where she ran, no matter how far she went, there was still the blood smell. Panting, she stopped beside a tree and clung to it for support. Quickly her respiration and heartbeat slowed and she began to think, sinking to her haunches in the leaf litter. God! It was her! She started running from his blood, but she continued running from her own. What she had felt as pain before she sat on the bench, now rippled through her belly only as fluttering contractions. Her attention was pulled down there and she felt the seepage between her legs. It had started. She had started.
Hope flopped to her bottom and moaned. Her new underwear would be ruined. Her pantyhose were already trashed, her new pink satin dress was filthy, the long skirt torn at the seam from her flight up the hill. Oh, no. This was awful! Tears in her eyes, she sat quietly feeling lost, alone, and sorry for herself. She was pulled from pity by the rustling.
Looking to her left, Hope saw a raccoon shuffling on the forest floor as it stopped to grub under the leaf littler. A cute little raccoon just puttering around. The face of a bandit on the fuzzy body of a Teddy bear, all cuddly and warm, full of muscle and bone and meat and juice. She smelled its musk, scented its force, felt the flutter of the creature’s heart as it pumped, squirting hot blood through veins and arteries, rich and full of spurting life.
Slowly and silently, relying on the DNA of the predator, Hope gathered herself for the rush, collected herself for the charge, readied herself for the kill. Smiling with anticipation, as focused as a leopard, she eased her lithe body up over her legs and sprang.
The raccoon shrieked as her teeth severed its spinal cord.
Casey heard the animal’s scream and found Hope less than five minutes later. She had cast the body away and was sitting on the ground leaning against a tree. Her quiet sobs seemed to come from everywhere. His heart ached for her, and he walked to within ten feet before she noticed him and looked up. Her face was covered with tear-streaked blood, her hands stained red, her new dress smeared with dirt and raccoon.
“Hi, Sweetheart,” he said. “Rough night?”
When Hope saw Casey, it was as if her savior had materialized out of the night. Almost without thought, she launched from her position on the earth and onto him, clinging as a small child would, a frightened tangle of grasping arms and legs. Crying and hiccoughing, squirming and clutching as if to crawl inside him, she hung from the most important male in her life. Casey held her, smiling over her shoulder, and let it happen. Soon, as he knew she would, Hope began to tremble and sag. Running up the hill and through the trees, she had used a tremendous amount of energy. Because of her shift, he could not replace it for her as he had done so often in the past. Those days were over. Now, she needed more than he could give her, and certainly more than she could get from a mere raccoon. She loosened her grip and began to tremble, her eyelids fluttering as she fought to stay conscious. Casey lowered her to the earth and sat beside her where she lay, stroking her bare arm until she stabilized and looked up at him.
“Whatdaya know, Hopeful?” he asked, smiling down at her.
“Don’t see me, Uncle Casey. I look awful,” Hope replied, sniffing and wiping her nose with the back of her hand.
“Sorry. Beautiful it is.”
Hope levered herself into a sitting position and stared at the ground for a moment.
“I tried to bite that boy,” she whispered.
“He could do worse.”
“It’s not funny,” Hope complained, snapping an accusing glare at him from the side of her eye.
“Reckon he’ll ever want to see you again?”
“No,” she pouted.
“Reckon he’ll ever forget you?”
“No,” she said, a small smile teasing her lips.
“Memorable first impressions are very important.”
“Some guys only get a goodnight kiss.”
“He’ll probably send you a love letter. ‘Dear Fang…’”
“Uncle Casey!” she protested, “I tried to bite him!”
“Yeah, but you didn’t, did you?”
“There ya go, Darlin’. No blood, no foul.”
“Easy for you to say,” Hope muttered.
“You started tonight, huh?”
“Your first period. The beginning step into womanhood. The curse.”
Hope blushed. “Yes,” she said.
“Yes.” The blush continued.
“Cheer up. You won’t have any more.”
“That’s your big adult advice? Cheer up?”
Hope looked at him as if Casey were a fire hydrant.
“What are you, new?”
Casey laughed. “Not very,” he said.
“Look. This perfectly nice boy brought me some punch tonight, and I tried to bite him. I wanted to taste his blood! And then I ran away and started bleeding and came up here and lost a shoe and ruined my dress and my new underwear and then there was this poor little raccoon that wasn’t bothering anybody–”
“Raccoons are not an endangered species,” Casey said.
“Oh, God!” Hope wailed, turning away from him and vomiting on the ground.
Casey held her hair out of the way until she finished and collapsed on her back in the dirt.
“Thank you,” Hope grimaced.
“Probably gonna have to get that dress cleaned before you wear it again,” Casey said.
“It looks like shit.”
“Your panty hose may have to be replaced entirely.”
Hope raised up on her elbows and glared at him.
“You think all this is funny, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I kinda do, Sweetie,” Casey said. “But I’ve got a different perspective on it than you. Right now, you’re horrified at what you’ve done and nearly done this evening, and you have every right to feel that way. But in the context of your whole life, as important and necessary as all this is, it really doesn’t mean a lot.”
“It does to me.”
“It won’t much longer.”
“Yeah,” Casey replied, leaning over and kissing her cheek. “All we have to do is change your perspective.”
“Change my perspective.”
“Uh-huh. You cold?”
Hope looked a little startled. “Ah, no.”
“Good,” Casey said. “Why don’t you just stretch out and take a nap. You need it. I’ll wake you up in a little while.”
“And change my perspective.”
“Like you can’t imagine, Hopeful.”
Casey let the girl sleep for nearly an hour until most of the foot traffic on campus died out. She was exhausted and it took some effort to wake her. As she focused, he sat beside her and smoked a cigarette.
“Filthy habit,” Hope muttered, grinching her way up to sit crosslegged, her ruined skirt bunching around her thighs.
“Awful,” Casey said. “Here’s the plan. We get out of here and go to a motel. You clean up and get some rest. In the morning I’ll go out and get you something to wear, we’ll drop by your dorm and pick up your stuff, and we’re on the way home. Okay?”
“I can’t walk through campus like this!” Hope protested. “Look at me. I’m all covered in mud and blood, my dress is torn up, and I only have one shoe!”
“Disgusting,” Casey said.
“What if somebody sees me walking across campus?”
“That’s why you took the nap. Look down there. Hardly anybody out this late. Plus, you’ll be moving pretty fast.”
“That’s why you took–”
“No, not that. What do you mean about fast?”
“Once we leave the woods we’ll be at the truck in less than a minute.”
“Casey,” she said, as if talking to a small child, “it’s a mile walk from the edge of the woods to my parking lot, Honey.”
“That’s okay. We’ll run.”
“We’ll run,” she snorted.
“Like the wind,” Casey replied, bumping his eyebrows.
“You’re having too much fun,” Hope muttered.
“You’re right. I’m sorry. I’m just glad I’m here for this.”
“Your awakening, your coming of age, your emergence, your flowering, your–”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“What happened tonight, wanting to bite the boy, running away, munching Rocky the Raccoon, none of that means anything when compared to why it all happened.”
“Okay. Why did all that happen?”
“You’re not a girl anymore, Hope. You’ve made the transition.”
“You mean my period?”
“That’s a symptom, yeah.”
“So now I’m what, a woman?”
“Well, you’ve still got puberty to deal with and all that, but it will be different and much faster than with other young women. What I’m talking about is a lot more profound. From now on, you will not need to be close to me or Cat or the twins to get your batteries recharged. That part of your life is through. This is what we’ve told you about. As of tonight you’ll be stronger and faster than you can imagine. You’ll hear and see better, you’ll be more aware and, in a couple of years, you’ll stop aging.”
Hope stared at him for a moment. “This is that?”
“This doesn’t feel like that.”
“Part of your run into the woods tonight was up a nearly sheer bluff. Can you usually make seven foot vertical leaps?”
“It’s full dark. Can you always see this well?”
“Is there a rational explanation for how you were able to run down and kill a raccoon, or why you would want to?”
“It’s about fifty degrees out here and you’re in a ripped and sleeveless dress. Can you explain why you don’t need a coat?”
“Can any of your girlfriends do this stuff?”
“No,” Hope said. “And yesterday I couldn’t, either.”
“There ya go,” Casey said.
“Wow, my ass, Hopeless. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”
“I ain’t…I haven’t?”
“Nope. We gotta go to the van now. You’ll need to take off your dress and get rid of your shoe. Don’t want anything getting in your way.”
“Take off my dress?”
“Yep. It isn’t built for speed.”
“You expect me to run across campus naked?”
Casey laughed. “You certainly wouldn’t be the first,” he said. “No, you can leave on your skimpies and flimseys for modesty’s sake. We’ll be going fast enough that nobody’ll get a good look at you anyway.”
“I don’t think so,” Hope replied primly. “The dress stays on.”
“Suit yourself. As ripped and fragile as it is, it’ll probably blow off anyway. Wait right here. I’ll be back in a minute.”
He stepped into the woods several yards out of the girl’s line of sight. Once concealed, Casey took a pint bag of blood from his left jacket pocket and drank it down. He went with the rush, urinated on a log, and returned to find Hope standing where he’d left her sitting. He removed a half-pint blood bag from his right jacket pocket and handed it to her.
“Drink that,” he said. “Pull the cap off the little tube and use it like a straw.”
“What is it?”
“Ick!” she shouted, holding the bag between two fingers at arm’s length. “I don’t want this! I don’t want to drink somebody’s blood!”
“Okay,” said Casey. “I’m not gonna try to make you do anything you object to. But, I am going to ask you to, at least, slip off the cap and smell it.”
“C’mon. You can do that much. Just pop the cap and take a sniff.”
“Oh, yuk!” Hope replied, taking the small bag in both hands and worrying at the stem. “This is so gross!”
“One little whiff,” Casey said. “That’s all.”
“Alright, alright,” she grumbled, popping the cap and moving the bag slowly toward her face. “Could this be more wretched?”
Casey watched as she took a sniff, then another, then another, and dropped to her knees, squeezing the bag between her hands, its contents squirting into her open mouth.
“Better than some fifteen-year-old toy soldier,” he said.
Lost in the blood, Hope didn’t hear him.
From the back of her reptile brain to her clitoris, from her cerebral cortex to the tips of her toes, the rich red rush soared through her, igniting cellular fires every millimeter of the way. It slurped, it sucked, it sang, it slapped, it infused her every corner with need and her every nook with satisfaction. All of her life had been spent just waiting for this to happen. It shook her like a rat and caressed her like a puppy, gnashing her into submission and licking her into joy. Her muscles panted, her joints jumped, her sinew celebrated, and when the rush left, Hope found herself snorting on the ground, curled into the fetal position on the forest floor. She looked up to see Casey smiling down at her. The woods was as bright as day.
“Holy shit,” she said.
“That about sums it up,” Casey said, helping her to her feet. “Just take it easy for a minute.”
“I can see everything,” she said, peering about. “I can see…Oh!”
Casey watched her dart behind a tree, lifting her skirt as she ran. In a moment she stepped back out where he could see her. She blushed.
“Sorry,” Hope said. “I had to go.”
“Yeah,” Casey said. “My fault. I forgot to warn you. That always happens.”
“I’m not sure. A Nosferati will drink a quart, sometimes a quart-and-a-half at a time. I think the body just tries to make as much room as it can and be as efficient as possible. Vampire bats do the same thing.”
“How much did I drink?”
“God! How could anybody stand a quart?”
“The rush isn’t influenced too much by the volume. Physical abilities after the rush are. What you just went through is probably as good as it will ever get. The first time is a helluva hit.”
“I can smell you,” she said.
“You had some blood too, huh?”
“And a Snickers while you were driving to get me.”
“Wow! This is awesome!”
“Take a little time and enjoy it. Move around, get the feel of your body. I’ll be down at the edge of the tree line.”
Casey had been waiting at the periphery of the woods for about ten minutes when he heard Hope coming. Looking up the slope he could see her bounding down the hill in twenty to thirty foot leaps. She landed beside him grinning from ear to ear and wearing only her panties and bra.
“Am I bad and nationwide, or what?” she gushed.
“Where’s your dress?”
“It was totally fucked. I left it in the woods.”
Casey smiled. “It was what?” he said.
“Totally fu…ah, messed up,” Hope replied sheepishly.
“Fucked is fine,” Casey said. “Just go easy around home for a while.”
“Okay. Should I leave my underwear behind too? My panties are shot anyway.”
“I don’t think nude is really the way to go.”
“It’s okay,” Hope said, slipping a bra strap. “I don’t mind.”
“At this moment, I’m sure you don’t,” Casey said, lifting the strap back onto her shoulder. “But tomorrow you’ll be really embarrassed.”
“Whatever,” Hope replied, sounding slightly disappointed. “What are we going to do now?”
“We’re going to the van. Get there as quickly as you can. Try not to be seen.”
“Where you gonna be?”
“I’ll be behind the wheel with the engine running when you arrive,” Casey chuckled. “Follow my scent and hurry along, Hopeful.”
He flickered and was gone.
“Fuck!” Hope muttered.
She dug in her toes and began to run.
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