Previous Installment: There Goes the Neighborhood
You know it’s gonna be a bad night when you wake up to two hunters over your coffin.
Heather has that nervous “I can explain” look on her face. But it’s not Heather I focus my attention on. It’s the man behind her.
Craig and I had a slight disagreement a few months back. He thought I was a bad influence on his trainee and that I should be destroyed. I didn’t agree. Heather interfered before things got too out of hand.
Now here he is waiting for me to wake up with his hands in his pockets and looking down at the ground. I reach for the Colt Anaconda I keep in my coffin.
“Alex, I know you’re just waking up, but we don’t have much time,” says Heather.
“Why is he this close to my coffin?”
“Craig said he wouldn’t try to kill you tonight…”
“And what about tomorrow?” I keep my eyes on Craig.
“Heather said you use to be a cop,” says Craig, still not looking up.
“Homicide. Chicago,” I reply.
“And you use to be Sabbat.”
“Back in Philly.”
“I…I…damnit, no!” He turns violently and heads for the stairs. “I can’t do this.”
“Craig, she can help!” says Heather following after him.
“I’m not asking a leech for help. I’ll do it myself.”
“And you’ll both die.”
“Both?” I ask as I get out of the coffin.
“They took his daughter.”
“Some of their ghouls grabbed her from the playground this afternoon,” he says with his back to me. “I took out one of their members or something last week. They said if I want her back I have to replace their pack member.”
“You have a name or something I can work with?”
“I’m suppose to give my answer to some guy named Draco tonight.”
I sit down on the ground next to my coffin and lean against it. “Dragon Knights. Good job, Craig. You picked one hell of a pack to piss off.”
“You know them?” he asked, still facing the stairs.
“I’ve heard of them.” Actually, Draco and I were rivals in Philly. He thought I was trying to replace him as the Bishop’s Paladin. The fact that I wanted nothing to do with any Sabbat positions of power was quite irrelevant. I’m Lasombra, he’s Ventrue gone bad. We’re enemies by default. He just needed a justification in his mind to try to kill me. His was the first pack to track me to New York after my failed assassination attempt on my sire. But I’m not about to tell that to Craig.
“This scum expects me to turn over some helpless human in exchange for my daughter.”
“Of course not,” I say as I stand up. I walk over to him. “Look at me, Craig.”
He turns around, but won’t meet my eyes.
He looks up finally. His eyes are red, swollen and wet.
“What he expects you to do is agree to be embraced. He’ll drain you dry and feed you just enough of his blood so you can wake up. Then they’ll throw you in a six-foot hole and you’ll have to dig your frenzied ass out from under the blood-soaked dirt. And just as you break the surface he’ll give your daughter to you. And the starving beast inside you won’t care that it’s your little girl. She’ll be nothing more than a meal.”
“Why would you help me?”
“Because I’ve been there and done that. And I’ll be damned if I let them get away with it again.”
He nods and slowly goes up the stairs. I tell Heather to get Ralph. I’m going to go talk to Jason. Two hours later, we have a plan.
Draco had told Craig to meet him at an abandoned warehouse. From the street, it sounds like a big party is going on inside. From the amount of noise there are probably three or four packs involved. From the smell of blood in the air, it’s more than a party, it was a blood feast. This is going to be ugly.
“Why did I agree to this again?” asked Jason.
“Because you’re such a good neighbor.”
“And why did you agree to this?”
“Because I’m insane.”
“O.K. Catch you on the inside.” Jason’s body breaks down into hundreds of fist size spiders and scurries into dozens of directions.
I follow Craig up to the door. He’s shivering, and I’m not sure if it’s from the cool pre-spring breeze, the proximity of my shadows, or just a father’s fear for his daughter. Or maybe it’s all three.
“He tells the guy at the door he’s here to see Draco. The idiot at the door apparently has no clue I’m there. He opens the door and lets us in.
On the drive over I drilled into Craig’s brain what he should expect to see, but the way his eyes widen tells me it wasn’t enough. He almost slips in a pool of blood just beneath where two bodies on meat hooks are hanging from the rafters. I slip away and move quietly through crates and barrels pushed against the walls to make room for the party. I see a piece of Jason climbing up the walls. I look up to see a spider infestation forming on the ceiling.
Craig’s daughter is suspended from a small cage above a bonfire in the middle of the warehouse. I’m praying the heralds or whatever it is that talk to him can help him stay focused.
Draco approaches Craig with a wine bottle in his hand. I can’t hear over the noise what is going on. I look up again to see a spider the size of a small car. Across the warehouse behind some of the revelers I see a glimpse of blue light. I start to count down from 5.
On one, two beams of light streak down from a balcony and hit Draco in the back. Craig pulls a wooden stake from his jacket and rams it into Draco’s chest just as it glows blue. Heather decapitates two vampires near her with two well-placed karate chops to the neck with her flaming blue hands. A sheet of webbing falls from the ceiling and traps a dozen vampires, who immediately go into frenzy as they struggle to get out.
I unleash a cloud of shadow around four unsuspecting vampires and begin firing into it. They fall quickly, and I whirl around just in time to dodge the frenzied fiend lunging at me. Its lower jaw is way too big for its head, and it has a razor imbedded in its snakelike tongue. As I drop to the ground to dodge, I kick out with my left leg to trip it. We both get to our feet at the same time, however, but I call forth an inky tentacle from the shadows to grab it. As it struggles to break free, another beam of light comes from the balcony and strikes the fiend in the back of the head, causing it to crumble into a pile of ash. I look up to see Ralph waving at me. I point at him and mouth “I’ll deal with you later” as I realize he’s wearing that damn Jango Fett Halloween costume after I told him not too.
Then I find myself wrapped in someone else’s shadow.
I drop to one knee and gag as the shadow tries to force itself down my throat. In the blackness, I feel two arms wrap around me and feel fangs brush against my neck seeking out a vein. I summon up all my strength and force myself backwards. I hear my opponent’s head hit the concrete and crack, but I can’t break the grip. The beast starts raging to come out and play as I twist my arm just enough to free it and then bring my elbow down repeatedly into my assailant.
The grip finally slacks enough for me to break free, but not before the fangs bite down into my shoulder. I pull away, losing enough skin to expose muscle and bone in the process. I push my left hand out and it gets grabbed. As my opponent pulls me toward him, I use my right hand to push my gun into his chest and start firing.
As the alien shadow drops, I see the remains of Georgio Calderone, my sire’s right-hand vamp.
“Look out!” I hear Heather’s voice over the commotion. In my peripheral vision, I see a strand of web hit the cage and pull it up just as a barrel gets thrown into the bonfire and explodes.
The force of the explosion breaks the web, and the cage crashes against the far wall. Another frenzied vampire picks up another barrel, rips off the top and dumps the oil toward the expanding fire before it makes a run for it. I rush over to the cage, when Craig’s daughter is unconscious. I break off the lock and pick her up out of the cage. I look up for Jason, hoping my webslinger pal can give us a lift out. But there is a wall of flames in front of us and the ceiling has begun to catch fire as well. Next thing I know the girl is gagging from the cloud of shadow I instinctively threw up to protect myself from the fire.
I force myself to drop the shadow less she choke to death in it. I look up again and realize the beams are not going to hold for long.
“It’s just like an oversized fire dance,” I tell myself. “I can do this.”
I close my eyes and jump.
I can feel the flames licking my feet as the Beast screams for release. It is terrified. So am I. I fall to the ground on the other side of the wall and roll just as I hear a beam fall where we were seconds before. My jeans are on fire. I drop the kid and howl.
The next thing I remember is being dragged by Jason out of the building. There’s burnt remnants of web around my legs. There isn’t much left of my jeans, either. My skin is still bubbling from the burns. Jason picks me up and puts me in the back seat of his car.
“Where’s Heather?” I cry.
“Heather’s fine,” he says as he hands me a handkerchief to wipe away the blood from my eyes. “And Ralph is fine and the little girl is fine and Craig is fine.”
“It hurts.” Yeah, I admit it. I’m crying like a little baby. But nothing hurts like being burned alive, especially if you’re dead.
“We’ll get you home and I’ll bring over a nice fresh drug dealer for you so you can start healing up.”
“Get me an addict, maybe it will help kill the pain.”
“Oh no you don’t. Suck it up. Besides, last thing we need is a junkie vampire.”
“I’m gonna have to get my tattoos redone. I don’t think they’ll heal.”
“Quit your crying. You’re gonna use up what blood you have left.”
“I frenzied, didn’t I?”
“…yeah,” he replies after a long pause. “But I don’t think anyone else noticed in all the commotion. I just webbed you to suffocate the fire and drag you out before you hurt yourself. Then you activated your shadow stuff again so nobody saw anything anyway.”
I touch one of the blisters on my calf and it pops, squirting blood onto my torn t-shirt. I let out a yelp as the pain races up my leg.
“Stop poking at them, dumbass”
“I’m not whining,” I whine.
“Let me set you on fire and we’ll see how tough you are.”
“Spare me. Try getting half you body mass mashed under a steamroller and spending the next month trying to consume enough spiders to reform your body.”
“Ouch. O.K., you win,” I whimper.
“Ralph would be disappointed if he saw you whining like this. He thinks your Wonder-Vamp or something.”
“”How would you know that?”
“Well, when he’s not asking me to shoot web out of my ass or turn my hand into spiders for him to experiment on, he’s going on and on about you and Heather.”
“Sorry the brat’s been pestering you.”
“He doesn’t bother me. He just adores the two of you. He goes on about how tough you are and how you could beat up anybody. He’d be crushed to see you acting like a toddler.”
“Hey, even Superman has his kryptonite.”
“Yeah, but Superman doesn’t bawl his eyes out when he’s attacked with it.”
“Shut up before I hurt you.”
“Shut up before I light a match.”
Jason pulls into the driveway and helps me out of the car. As we enter the house, Ralph begins rambling on about how cool Jason is and can he take a sample of my burnt skin and he really needs to figure out how to bottle my shadow stuff and maybe we could combine the web with the shadow and wouldn’t that be COOL and on and on and on.
Jason helps me into my coffin. Heather comes downstairs to check on me. Ralph continues to go on about how Jason is the real Spiderman and would kick Spiderman’s ass. Heather tells him to go upstairs and get cleaned up.
“You want me to bring something back for you tonight?” asks Jason.
“Nah, I’ll be O.K. until tomorrow. I just wanna sleep.”
As I close the lid, I hear Ralph exclaim something about us all needing superhero names to protect our identities from the city’s evildoers. I lock my coffin from the inside, because if I wake up in a Wonder Woman costume, I’ll have to kill him.