SOME NIGHTS AGO
Lovers of stories know the tale of Dracula, king of the night walkers. Once the world thought him vanquished in the latter part of the nineteenth century. Such presumption of his demise brought comfort to humankind, and who was the Count to rob them of that? Better thought a myth than an ever-present danger.
The ocean air blew with the taste of salt. A mortal man might have thought it refreshing. Though for the night king it was more awareness than sensation. The same went for the humidity of this South American villa. His flesh, more numb than cold, did not stick and did not perspire. He was neither comfortable nor uncomfortable in this environment.
All that sated him was life blood pouring direct from a host. But even that, after a time, became the property of the mundane.
With hunger muted by experience Count Dracula idled in a wicker chair. Staring at the waves he wondered what mortal eyes saw. Color, shade? Would the gentle hiss soothe them instead of sharpening their awareness? What irony that he should find enviable the existence of short-lived cattle.
His ears pricked at the approach of a familiar. The sound of a heartbeat echoed throughout the halls. Dracula remained still as the human pet scaled the stairs. It all but burst through the arched double doors.
“Please pardon my intrusion, señor, but word has come of Demond.”
The Count’s eyes drooped with the weight of the world hanging from them. “One can assume he’s engaged in his particular brand of misbehavior.”
The familiar bowed. “Si, señor.”
When he lifted himself it was with the same stiffness as his kindred dead. Yet one such as Dracula did not share their privilege of rest. Straightening his crimson robe he drifted in the direction of his chamber.
“Prepare my coffin and jet,” he commanded. “If the boy continues to scoff at my words then it falls to me to drive the point home.”
* * * *
Milestone was not a haunted city, least of all from the spires overlooking Midtown. So what was a vampire doing far from the crypt, chasing me over the skyline?
Demond clutched his chest with all the feeling in his unbeating heart. His shirt hung open like that of a pale lothario. His hair – what a romantic would call ‘raven locks’ – blew in the cold wind. It flew back to reveal the grin of a lovestruck fool complete with the pointed tips belonging to his kind.
I flew the height of the building, and as I did the vampire kept pace. It took scaling to the peak of the tower to move above him. Demond lavished the attention, and swung around a lightning rod with unfettered glee.
“I don’t know who you are or what you’re supposed to be, but there’s a prison cell with your name on it.”
The swarthy vampire straddled his perch. “Generally I save roleplay for the bedroom,” he said.
How was I going to explain this to Captain Ortega? Did I even have the right to bring him in? Vampire or not he was dangerous; fast, agile, more. How did he snatch me away to the city? It happened in a blink.
His playful grin mocked from his perch. Was it something other girls found endearing? His attempts at flirtation were as balanced as his hold on the rod, which was to say it wasn’t. Demond swung back and forth, teetering without a care in the world.
“For you I’ll make an exception,” he said. “For the purpose of our game regard me as one of your criminal foes. For the thrill of the chase!”
Without any hint of fear he threw his body into gravity’s hold, arms wide, with only the wind at his side. For a moment I expected him to float – vampires float, right? But after the briefest pause he began his descent. His expression turned toward the street below, welcoming the drop.
My heart froze and my body soared. The thought never occurred that someone like Demond could survive. When bodies fell bad things happened. My instinct sharpened on that truth. A photon burst exploded from my heels toward the human shape. Then, as I had him in my grasp he vanished like smoke into shadow.
I stopped short of the sidewalk and peered to the rooftops. Adrenaline cooled into rage. How stupid could I be? I’d fallen right into his game.
Demond whistled from atop a street light, unharmed. He wore the same cocky grin upon first meeting.
“Catch me if you can,” he sang.
No sooner had I pointed a blast than he was on the move, skipping from point to point at impossible speed. I could have let him go, and yet…
I flew after him, catching dark blips like bread crumbs. Game or not I would catch him, and wipe that smile from his face.
* * * *
The first thing Tanya noticed, next to the ringing in her ears, was the taste of hair and sweat in her mouth. At least she hoped it was sweat. She spat it out and writhed, but was helpless in the grip of a much stronger creature. When consciousness took hold she recognized the tan leather jacket.
She kicked to no avail. Bare feet collided with an abdomen like stone. The beast needn’t have adjusted her grip to keep Tanya over her shoulder. Tufts of hair came loose as she pulled it, but it remained thick as ever. Tanya screamed.
“Keep still,” the monster said, “or I’ll tear out your throat.”
Tanya struggled. “Why haven’t you already?”
She considered the question. “Live bait works best. Don’t make me change my mind.”
“Bait?” Tanya said. “Bait for what?”
Her stomach turned with the great force pressing beneath. With a single bound the beast launched into the air, dragging Tanya with her. She stared over her captor’s tail as the ground flew away behind them, and flew back when gravity took hold once more. In one move they crossed three urban blocks. She braced for a hard landing.
The monster snarled. “Remember, don’t scream!”
Tanya clasped her hands over her mouth. She all but chewed her fingers to keep from making a sound. They struck the earth with the hairy woman absorbing the brunt of the impact. Tanya shook with adrenaline.
“Whatever you want with Kaira…”
“Shut up,” the monster said.
“You’ve got the wrong idea!”
What she wouldn’t give for Glimmer Girl to swoop in and pull her free. What was the point of having a best friend turned superhero if it didn’t come with rescue perks? Though Kaira had vanished in the space of seconds she knew she was out there, somewhere. She had to be!
In three more leaps the pair had crossed half the city. It was on top of a rooftop corner that the furious creature gave pause. She watched the sky and sniffed the air. Her prey was elusive, but hers was the way of the hunter. Nature, or more likely the supernatural, sharpened her senses for this specific purpose.
Tanya pulled against her grip in an attempt to climb down her back. She could never outrun her captor, but neither would she stop fighting for freedom. Being difficult was almost a point of pride, and with a little effort she could be impossible.
The monster grunted. “You don’t know when to quit.”
“And you smell like the back end of a petting zoo!” They may have been her last words, but words were all the power she had.
The monster released her hold. Tanya dropped to the ground like a heavy sack. She stared up into glistening black eyes and dared to wonder how far she could run before becoming lunch. This creature, whatever she was, could end her in a swipe.
“Run,” she growled.
Tanya stilled herself. Nobody would make a game of her life. But when the creature sharpened its hind claws on the sidewalk she thought twice. What if it this was her only chance to escape?
She pulled her aching body from the ground and flew into a sprint. Less than half a block and she was already short of breath. Too much running, too much surviving. All the while inhuman eyes stared daggers through her back. Where was Kaira?
* * * *
Whether he was an actual vampire or an adept with a gimmick didn’t change that Demond could move. He jumped from ledge to window to the tops of buildings in a split. Demond was always a step ahead, and always teasing.
We’d crossed to the residential district when he paused atop a water tower. Squatting on the tips of his toes he took the time to lean his head on his hand. He smirked and waited for me to land.
I was beat. Holding my holographic form was like tensing a muscle. Too long and it hurt.
“Oh, how the tables have turned,” he mused. “Remember a short time ago when it was I chasing you?” Demond chuckled. “Thank you, my love. I don’t get to play this game often.”
It didn’t matter how tired I was, I still had enough wind to knock him down. With careful aim I threw an energy bolt and swelled with pride when it landed. Demond toppled from the water tower and collapsed to the gravel coated roof.
Score one for Glimmer Girl.
His eyes were wild with disbelief. Smoke wafted from under his short. The rest of him appeared otherwise unharmed.
“You… you hit me!”
“Treat you like one of my villains,” I said. “Your words, not mine.”
Demond climbed from the ground and brushed his suit. “Yes, but with a hot, fiery blast as bright as day-”
I grinned. “Last I recall your kind don’t like the daylight.”
He rolled his eyes and frowned. “Yes, well the reality is a little different to that, but you weren’t to know! You tried to kill me!”
“It was a warning shot,” I said. Demond almost cowered as I sauntered nearer. My golden aura burned hot, prompting him to step back. “This is what happens when you stalk girls who don’t consent to your advances.” Gods, his fear was delicious.
I watched him shift between a grimace and a pout, dancing to keep the distance between us. “Pardon me for being a nice guy,” he said. “A pretty thing you might be, but you should learn to take a compliment!”
For a presumed immortal he had a childish sensibility. Then again so did many adults.
My attention snapped with a cry from below. Demond took second place to the other dangers of the city. I flew toward the cars and street lights. From there followed them to a short haired woman in her pajamas, running for her life. I couldn’t believe who it was.
She all but snatched me from the air as she stopped to catch her breath. Her face flushed with sweat boiling off her brow.
“What happened to you?”
“That girl… with the red hair,” she panted. “I don’t know what you did to piss her off, but she is out for blood!”
So much had happened that I forgot about the girl with the red hair. It was the same girl who’d thrown a rock through our window after first meeting Demond. “What’s she got to do with anything?”
The answer appeared in the form of a tall, lanky creature with fur the same deep red. Her clothes stretched around her monstrous form. The flesh of her stomach was twice the length of her shirt and jacket. Elongated limbs stuck out with inhuman reach. On the tips of her hairy fingers appeared razor talons sharp as her dog-like teeth.
I stood my ground. “And you are?”
“Where is he?” the monster snarled.
I could only imagine who she was talking about. “You mean Demond?”
Her bellow was all the answer I needed.
“He’s all yours,” I said, hoping that would be the last of it.
She lunged. Tanya winced. “No,” she growled. “It is you he wants! You stole him from me!” Her snarls resonated in the bottom of my chest. It was enough to shake most, but my adrenaline was still running high.
“‘Stole’ implies I wanted anything to do with him,” I said.
The beast turned. She let loose something between laughter and a whimper. “A vampire’s desire is a precious gift,” she said, “and I will take it back… by force!”
No sooner did she raise her talons than a voice reined her in.
“That’s enough, Gwendolyn.”
Demond appeared under the wash of a nearby lamp. This time he appeared more statuesque than before. His expression nursed an authority that had been absent. Any sense of playfulness vanished from him.
The monster, Gwendolyn, fell to her knees in reverence. “My love! How could you have forsaken me for… for… this?”
I blinked, and so did Tanya. Somehow, somewhere, we’d stepped out of the real world and into a paranormal romance. Worse, one that wasn’t written well.
“End this chase, if for no other reason than to keep your dignity,” Demond told her.
Tanya frowned and whispered in my ear. “Who’s that guy?”
I frowned back. “My admirer.”
Gwendolyn crawled on her knees to his perch and beat her chest. “I pledged my immortal heart to you, Demond! And this is how you treat me! Abandoned! Betrayed! All for some… some human!”
Demond landed his gaze upon me, and his smile returned. “A most remarkable human, I should think.”
“Then I will eviscerate her,” the beast roared, “and I’ll be yours again!”
Like I said, badly written.
I took Tanya under my arm and started for the sky. This was no longer our business. Then a force wrenched my chest. It swirled through my body and guided my limbs like I was a puppet. Tanya and I drifted back to the ground. I turned to Demond who stared like the abyss.
“You wish to fight for my love, Gwendolyn, then far be it from me to deny you.”
My feet weighed down like cinder blocks. No matter how hard I fought I couldn’t lift them from the ground. I peered back to Demond and to the wave of darkness spiraling from his eyes. Next I knew abyss swallowed me whole and dissipated to oblivion.
* * * *
My eyes opened to a desolate stretch of rooftop. I was in costume as Glimmer Girl. There were no lights, save for the moon. Tanya was there, shoulders stiff, pulled up to her jaw. I was about to ask what was wrong when I saw them, Demond and Gwendolyn, and realized this was more than a nightmare.
“How do you do that?” I demanded. Jumping from point A to B with no transition was starting to frazzle my nerves.
Demond stood behind Tanya with a hand upon her back. Contrary to the situation he displayed no hostility. If anything he appeared bored and clicked his tongue.
Meanwhile Gwendolyn was firing on all cylinders. She’d discarded much of her clothing, giving her animal form freedom of movement. Her coarse, red hairs stood on end from head to toe. Whether she was smiling or snarling was impossible to tell. But there was no mistaking the murderous intent in the glistening of her teeth.
“The rules are simple,” Demond said. “One lives, one dies. No interference. The prize, of course, is my humble self.” He waggled his brow at me, as though it were some form of incentive.
“What if I refuse?”
Gwendolyn spat and cursed me as a coward under her breath.
Demond continued. “One further stipulation: the winner determines the fate of… what’s your name, dear? It doesn’t matter. Whether she’s meat or small fish you want to throw back, the choice is yours.”
“I know what I’m going to pick,” Gwendolyn said.
Tanya stood as stiff as any person could manage. A cocktail of emotion welled in her eyes. Hate, terror, bravado twitched in parts all over. All these feelings and more she projected through her gaze. It did not beg, but ordered me to not give them the satisfaction they wanted. I gave her my silent promise and nodded.
“No,” I said.
Demond smirked. “You will fight…”
“My love is very much worth fighting for,” he said.
“I don’t want it!”
“I can be very persuasive…”
“He can,” Gwendolyn agreed.
“It’s not love if there’s no choice involved!”
All was quiet as the warm breeze whistled across the clearing. A crack appeared in the vampire’s otherwise enthusiastic visage. The wild glint deflated to a lonely grimace that seemed far more at home than any other expression. He knew the truth as well as I did, even if he didn’t care.
“Regardless,” he said, “you will do battle this night.”
It wasn’t by my own will that I took from the ground. A force unseen commanded from my furthest most thoughts to move, and I did. With one push I was hurtling across the clearing, fists blazing. My target was the fleshy mid-section of Gwendolyn’s body, and the pilot wasn’t holding back.
The bestial woman dished out as well as she took. No amount of singed fur seemed to slow her down. She wasn’t as fast as I was, but she hit hard. One swat sent my body tumbling to the dirt. I rolled with it, a passenger in my own fight.
Pain opened a window to wrest control, small as it was. Through the haze I caught Demond, staring, with veins near bursting off his brow. Strange as it sounds his look had the same voice as the one in my head. It was he who was driving me against Gwendolyn, no matter my say in the matter.
I threw myself back into the conflict and flew circles around the werewolf. Gwendolyn slashed at blurs. Strafing blasts seared her skin, enough to piss her off.
“Die!” she screamed.
It was hard to hate her. She was a slave to desire. “You deserve better than someone who doesn’t love you!”
Gwendolyne ripped shreds from the roof panels. “That’s why I’ll earn his love – by killing you!”
She was feral, beyond reason. Even while fighting for survival I felt sorry for her.
The voice behind my thoughts said the opposite. She was a monster, and that Tanya was only the latest in a long line of people that she’d hurt. If I didn’t stop her now she would hurt others. Worst of all, I knew the voice was right.
I knew it was Demond’s influence driving me harder into the fight, and yet it wasn’t. The rage and disgust at everything Gwendolyn was my own. All Demond had done was bring that pit of darkness that dwells in all people to the surface. Righteousness burned through me, and I didn’t want him to stop.
Lashes from laser swipes put the werewolf on her back. Photons tore through her clothes and flesh. She fought to right herself, but the torrent of blasts kept her down. They crushed her, choked the life from her. I was about to end it when a second voice reached into my thoughts and drew me back.
“That’s quite enough,” he said. His rich, smooth tone resonated with bass so deep that it echoed in my chest.
I turned to an imposing handsome figure with deep eyes and a sharp nose. His long hair flowed down the shoulders of the silk black cape around him. He wore a tailored suit with a rich, scarlet shirt. In one hand he carried a cane in a way that appeared fashionable over practical. When he spoke his words were clear and articulate, but carried an accent I couldn’t place.
Gwendolyn rolled to her stomach and hunched on all fours, head lowered. I glanced to Tanya, who shrugged. Who was this guy?
“Allow me to introduce myself,” he said. “I am he who is Vlad the Third, Dracula of Wallachia, also known as Vlad Tepes. They are but some of the names by which I am known. No doubt my reputation precedes me.”
His smile, while curt, was generous and warm, and ran from the depths from an aura ten times his size. It wasn’t hard to imagine how one could fall for his charms. Most people would dismiss it at face value. They would never suspect the supernatural edge to his presence.
My eyes widened. How was it possible that I was standing opposite a legendary monster? His visage lent itself to old movies and cereal boxes. That was enough to pluck the teeth of his existence. And yet there was no room for doubt.
“Dracula,” I gasped.
Demond frowned, but did not lift his head. “Father…”
“You should know by now to keep it in your pants, Christopher,” he said.
Tanya’s jaw fell open. “Christopher?”
The Count hummed. “My relationship with… certain parties is as complicated as exaggerated. It was necessity more than anything that I fell from his grace.”
That knowledge alone would change the world’s perception of him, but it wasn’t the time to dwell. He approached me and laid a hand on my shoulder; a light hand with the weight of a hundred lifetimes. A shiver ran through my chest.
“I must apologize for my son,” he said. “He tends to fixate upon a… let’s say a very particular kind of woman.”
My eyes winced at the intensity of his gaze. “You mean… supernatural women?”
Gwendolyn growled. “It’s because we’re both trans, you idiot!”
The realization landed like a brick. Gwendolyn was trans? Not that I could tell, or should even be looking. Her bestial form made discerning her gender far less obvious than it might have been. I turned to Demond as he turned away.
“You’re a chaser!”
“He loves me for who I am,” she said, “and loves you for the body part we share…”
A well of disgust churned in my stomach. For him to stalk me was one thing, but the reduction to a body part I felt no particular attachment to was another. It was one of the many reasons that I steered clear of sex. That and the lack of worthwhile partners.
I pulled from the Count and braced for a fight. “You know I can’t let you walk away.” It was Dracula, the baddest of the bad guys, next to the guy downstairs! Wasn’t there a hero code about situations like this?
He smirked. “Of course. You are the typical hero, and fate has cast me the eternal villain. Do as you will.”
It was the battle of a lifetime, biggest of my career, the one least expected – Glimmer Girl versus Dracula. I braced myself and took to the air…
* * * *
My eyes opened, again, to another environment. I was laying in bed under the covers in my pajamas. My bedside lamp has switched on, and someone replaced the window with a fresh pane. My adrenaline cooled, but my heart still beat out of control. I sat up and found Tanya stirring, also alarmed.
“Tell me that wasn’t a dream,” I said.
She clutched a pillow and frowned at her feet. That was all the answer I needed. Next thing I was sat on the side of her bed, throwing my arms around her. Tanya froze in place. It was like cuddling a rock.
“Are you okay?”
She shook her head. “I haven’t been okay since this whole hero thing started.”
I pulled away. Should I have felt so guilty? It wasn’t my fault that guys like Dr. Vortex and the Red Wraith existed. That didn’t change the fact that she always got caught up, and hurt because of it.
Tanya shook her head. “I don’t think sorry’s going to change anything.”
I sat and did nothing when she crawled off the bed. Tanya slipped into a jacket and fished a suitcase from the closet. She poured her clothes inside, her psych books, her laptop, a few other bits and pieces. Through it all she wore the same stone expression of a woman who’d had enough.
She finished packing. She turned to me and pressed her brow against mine. “I need to be somewhere else for a while,” she said, “so I’m going to my parent’s place.”
“Okay,” I said. There was nothing else to say.
It was close to five in the morning when Tanya left the dorm. The tiny room became massive without her to fill it. I pulled a blanket tight and stared at the ceiling. Of course she had to leave, and for a while I’d have to get by alone.