Posts Tagged ‘fiction

14
Sep
20

Distressed – Fiction Snippet

Keith’s hand closed over the keys, something akin to an electric shock running through his palm, up his arm and directly into his brain. His. in all but name, anyway, and that would follow soon enough.

“Wow. That fast?”

George spread his hands, taking a step back.

“Guess the seller’s motivated. Can’t blame ‘em; money’s on the table for a distressed property, best grab it while you can. Place has been empty for years, like I told you, and no one else seems interested. Works in your favor.”

Keith cocked his head.

“Distressed property?”

George’s look turned serious.

“Yeah; that’s realtor lingo for ‘place where bad things happened.’ Also, according to law in California, what we have to call it when a place is haunted.” He laughed. “Not that I believe in that sort of thing, of course. House is just a house. Bad history, but still just a house, right?”

Keith found himself nodding, though he wasn’t sure he quite agreed. After all, he was counting on using the house’s history to drive up sales when all was said and done, wasn’t he? Though the idea of ghosts was pretty silly, he supposed.

“Yeah, just a house, right.”

George’s billion-watt realtor smile faded, and he reached out, putting his palm against Keith’s shoulder.

‘ “You alright? Looking a little ill there, buddy.”

Keith shook his head.

“Yeah. Fine. Just not well, you know. It’s why I’ve got time and money for this sort of thing.” He forced a laugh that turned into a hacking cough, and felt George’s hand tighten, steadying him. When the fit passed, he took a breath and leaned back against his truck, clutching his chest and taking a few gasping breaths.

“You sure?” George asked. “Do I need to call 9-1-1 or anything?”

Keith shook his head again.

“Nah. It’ll pass. Just give me a minute.”

Keith kept rubbing at his chest, willing the knot there to loosen up and let him take a full breath. When it finally started to do so, he stood up straight again.

“There. All better.” The cough in most of the syllables said otherwise, but Keith saw George take a step back anyway.

“If you’re sure. Don’t push yourself too hard, you know?”

“Oh, I know all too well. S’why I’m gonna get some of Art’s boys to do the heavy lifting. Just brain-work for this lad, George. Just brain-work.”

George nodded, but his expression said he still had a few doubts. Apparently he’d gone to the caveat emptor school of sales, though, as he backed another step towards his own car.

“Well, all right, then. Listen, I gotta get back, file some papers. Should have the final by the end of the week, I’ll let you know. You sure you’re all right?”

“Peachy keen. Just gonna rest a bit, then do some pokin’ and measurin’. Probably gonna be out in an hour or so. I think my bed is calling me.”

“Sounds good. Rest up, buddy. You’re not lookin’ so hot, you know?”

George slipped behind the wheel of his car, flipped a wave out the window, and was gone. Keith remained by his truck for a moment, watching the realtor go. For some reason he didn’t want the other man watching him as he entered the house. It seemed… blasphemous.

Once he was sure George was out of sight, he lurched up towards the porch – taking note of the third step and how it bowed under his weight, something to add to the list of fixes – and slid the key into the door.

He took a deep, shuddering breath, and turned the knob.

11
Sep
20

Distressed – Fiction Snippet

George – the realtor – was waiting by the curb, leaning against an obnoxiously yellow sedan and bouncing a keyring in his palm as Keith pulled up. He waved, heading towards Keith’s much more subdued blue truck as Keith slid out from behind the wheel.

“Keith, welcome back. Can’t get enough of the place, can ya?” He laughed, but Keith thought he heard a tone of nervousness in it, as though George wasn’t quite joking.

Keith knew the place had sunk its claws into his mind, and knew it was probably not healthy. Since seeing the place while driving around town yesterday, he’d thought of almost nothing else. He hadn’t even bothered to check with Helen before throwing most of his settlement money at the place, and while she seemed to be at least somewhat understanding, that was out of character for him. The word “obsessed” had come to mind once or twice already, but he kept shoving it back into the basement of his mind. He wasn’t obsessed. He just had finally found something he could do, something he could focus on, and after so long without it he was more… enthusiastic than normal. That was all.

Or so he told himself. The look on George’s face, the tone Helen had given him this morning, the questions Fred had presented him with when he first told the accountant what he wanted the money for, those all said different.

He realized he’d been lost in his own mind for several seconds, staring at the house and leaving George’s question unanswered. Keith shook his head, turning his gaze back to the realtor.

“You could say that, yeah.”

George laughed again, that same nervous laugh – What’s he got to be nervous about, Keith wondered – but extended the hand holding the keys out to him.

“Good news, too; was driving over when I got the call. Your bid’s accepted. Of course, it’s still gotta run through escrow and everything, but given the circumstances… place is practically yours already. Figure might as well let you have the keys, as long as you don’t do anything too drastic. No knocking down any walls or ripping up water mains ‘til it’s final, but otherwise do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law, so they say.”

Keith lifted his hand to meet George’s, not entirely sure he’d processed what the other man had said.

“Wait, what?”

George dropped the keys into Keith’s palm, pulling back as though he’d touched something hot.

“Place is yours, buddy. The rest is just paperwork.”

10
Sep
20

Left Behind

My family is packing. They’re going through the house, grabbing little things and big things and soft things and hard things and putting them in trash bags and suitcases and backpacks.

I followed Ashley from room to room, chuffing and barking at her, needing reassurance, but she didn’t even look at me. Then I tried following Bobby, even nipped at his heels a little, but he didn’t pay me any mind either. Then I chased after Sprinkles the Cat, who was very soft but very sharp and usually at least noticed when I wanted attention, but even Sprinkles ignored me.

I don’t know what’s happening. I know it smells bad, like the time Sprinkles knocked over a candle and no one noticed for a little while, or when Mom left the oven on for too long. There’s stuff dancing in the air and when it lands it leaves black smudges. Mom and Dad are covered in it, because they keep going outside with bags and boxes. Bobby has less, and Ashley less than that, because they haven’t gone out hardly at all. Mom and Dad seem to want to keep them inside.

I try to help, to herd them away from the doors, but they ignore me. Sprinkles barely blinks when I growl at them. It’s like they can’t even see me.

Finally they finish. They’ve loaded everything into the big truck, except the people. Sprinkles is in his special box and in the backseat. I bark again, because they’re forgetting someone. If they’re leaving, they can’t leave me behind, can they?

Mom and Dad pile into the truck, Ashley and Bobby going after them with wet t-shirts over their faces. I follow them outside, and it’s all bright red and black at the same time. The air is even worse outside than it was inside, and even more of that smudgy stuff is swirling around. I see other families getting into their cars and driving away, too, and one of the men with the blue clothes and strange hat and bright lights on his car is waving at them, trying to herd them I think.

Dad starts the truck, and I whine, then howl. They don’t notice. My family leaves me, driving away without even acknowledging me.

I turn away from the driveway, not sure what to do, and finally see what’s coming, why they left. There’s a wall of fire creeping up on the house, and not enough of the men in the red coats and yellow hats to stop it. Everything is going to burn down.

Including me, I guess.

I go to the little cross in the corner of the yard, the one that says “Harry, he was a good boy,” and lay my snout down on my paws. I hope my family puts my cross back up when they come back. The fire is going to ruin it.

I go to sleep. Again.

08
Sep
20

Distressed – Fiction Snippet

The house was empty, but not still. It had the feeling of a held breath, the storing of something waiting for the right catalyst for an explosive outpouring of that withheld energy. It had waited, biding its time, sitting nonchalantly on the corner of River and Third, unremarkable and uninteresting.

Then, two years ago, it had taken a turn. The Deleons moved in. Nice family. Four children, ranging from 14 to 22. Single mother. Not wealthy, not poor, doing alright. The house approved; they were just what it had been waiting for, just what it needed.

It was hungry. Always hungry. It sang to them of its hunger, though they remained ignorant. All but the eldest child. Alonzo. He listened, he heard, because he was hungry too.

The things he hungered for were different, of course; what would a house want with women, money, fame? Very little, obviously. But he hungered, and he heard, and he did as he was asked.

Six gunshots and a rope, and it was done. He shot little Larissa in the back of the head while she was sleeping, and the house sang louder. Her blood seeped into the floorboards, and Alonzo didn’t notice or care how quickly it faded from sight. When his other sisters, Melissa and Dana, came to check, they were gunned down as well. Two shots for Dana, once in the hip, the other through the chest. His aim was better for Melissa, and she hit the floor with half her face torn off. The house sang.

Alonzo had waited downstairs, not worried that the neighbors might have heard, not concerned that someone else might come knocking before his mother came home. The house had made sure things were quiet, and would make sure only the right person walked through that door. When she opened the door, dropped her keys on the counter and made her way into the kitchen, Maritza didn’t see Alonzo lurking beside the fridge. One bullet, straight to the heart, and she was done. She was done, but the house wasn’t.

It sang, and Alonzo obeyed. He climbed into the attic, and threw a rope over one of the heavy beams. Humming to himself, he tied a knot and put his neck into it. Smiling, still humming, he stood on a stepstool, tightened up the slack in the rope, and kicked the stool out.

The house was pleased. Six years it had waited for fresh food, ever since the original inhabitant had died in his sleep, and then only six months to turn the whole family into a feast.

Then that unremarkable nature was cast aside. Everyone eyed the house, whispering grim rumors and turning the truth into an urban legend worthy of a bad movie. The house was satisfied; it slept, but did not dream.

But now it was awake again, and hungry. It had sung the siren’s song, hoping to catch the attention of the right person. The house had discovered that the notoriety it had gained from its last meal had not yet faded, however, and people were still wary. It knew they called it the murder house, and while the idea pleased it, it made luring in fresh prey much more difficult.

But then the new one had come. He hadn’t cared about the history; if anything, it seemed to excite him. The house whispered to him, and he responded. It asked him if it could come inside, visit in his mind the way others would come to visit the house, and in the depths of his subconscious, he agreed.

The house was pleased. But now it had to wait. The meat had to be seasoned, the table settings placed, and it would take time.

But the house knew that it would feed, and soon. Likely a far better spread than Alonzo had been able to provide.

07
Sep
20

Distressed – Fiction Snippet

Keith made it to almost noon before the need to get out and do something overtook him. He made the calls, he paced around the bedroom, he made some more calls. Everything was ready, all the ducks in a row, and there was literally nothing else he could do except wait for the deal to go through… but he wanted to get out, to do something.

He snatched the phone up from the nightstand for what felt like the hundredth time that morning and pressed the speed-dial for the realtor. His other hand was thumping a rapid rhythm on his thigh, and a cold sweat had broken out on his brow. He noticed neither of those things. All that mattered right now was going back to the house. He couldn’t say why, or what he intended to do – it wasn’t his, yet, and he couldn’t exactly start moving stuff in or rearranging anything in any significant way – but part of him knew he just had to go back.

“Keith! Forget something?”

The realtor’s voice was full of the mock cheer that people in his profession were known for, but Keith didn’t hold it against him. Given the number of calls Keith had already placed to the number, he was honestly surprised the man wasn’t more hostile, answering the phone with “What now, idiot?” or something similar.

“Not really, but was hoping I could ask for one more favor.”

“Sure thing, man. Whaddaya need?”

Keith swallowed, the sound probably quite audible over the line. A loud click came from somewhere in the back of his throat, as though he was dying of thirst. A part of him was thirsty, but not for water.

“Was hoping maybe I could take another look inside. Get some measurements, take some more photos. You know, for the wife. She’s a little antsy about things.”

The realtor laughed, and it didn’t sound forced at all. “I understand, I understand. Say no more. I can meet you there in… twenty minutes?”

Keith nodded, then realized the other man couldn’t see him. “Yes. Perfect. I’ll be there”

“Alright. Sounds good, then. See you in a few!”

The realtor disconnected, and Keith set the phone back down. He wasn’t drumming on his thigh anymore, and the sweat had faded from his brow. He felt at ease. He’d be back in the house in just a few minutes.

Somehow that idea made everything seem alright, and all other concerns seem unimportant in his mind.

04
Sep
20

Distressed – Fiction Snippet

Helen sat calmly at the kitchen table, an oversized but distressingly empty coffee cup close to her left hand. Her right hand was drumming slowly against the table, the only sign that she was not as calm as she might have looked. Her eyes were locked on her husband of the last six years – and boyfriend for four before that – and her lips were pursed into a tight little smile that looked as though she’d recently sucked on a lemon.

“You already put in a bid,” she said. Her voice was low, each syllable perfectly enunciated.

Apparently unaware of what fragile ice he was stepping on, Keith’s smile beamed out, a thousand watt bulb to counter his wife’s sour citrus purse. His head bobbed up and down as if a mad puppeteer was yanking his strings.

“Yep! And the agent says it’s almost unopposed, so it’s pretty much a sure bet!”

Again running opposite to his wife’s slow and measured tones, Keith’s voice was bubbling over with enthusiasm. She hated it, and hated herself for hating it. She’d been telling herself for months that he needed a project, needed something to occupy his spare time. Now here it had come.

Still, he hadn’t even consulted her about it. Hadn’t even told her what he’d been doing. He’d just… done it. Gambled away almost a hundred thousand dollars. For what?

“You just said to yourself, ‘Hey, let’s buy a haunted house,’ and that was that? Called up Fred, said, ‘Hey, pal, how’s the credit score doing? Will it handle ninety-eight grand?’ Didn’t bother to call me?”

His smile dimmed slightly – dropping from a thousand watts to maybe eight hundred – as her icy tone finally got through to him. But apparently the idea of this house was so exciting to him that his enthusiasm couldn’t be curbed, and the brilliant gleam in his ice-blue eyes was hard for her to resist.

“Well. Yeah. I mean, we were talking about picking up a fixer upper anyway, and…”

“A fixer upper, yes. A bloody murder house, no. What are you even going to do with it? Try to flip it? Who else is going to buy the damned thing?”

He laughed, the sweet, innocent laughter of a child who’s found a new toy.

“That’s the best part! We don’t have to flip it!”

Her fingers stopped drumming and her empty mug commanded her attention. Determining that this was going to only go further down his midlife crisis rabbit hole, Helen stood up and marched over to the Keurig to refill her cup.

“Then what? Live in it? No thanks.”

“Nope, better. Guess what rolled up it’s doors and won’t be open this year?”

She blinked, picking up her cup and taking a sip. She felt like she’d missed some hairpin turn on a racetrack. A minute ago it was murder houses, now it’s closed businesses?

“I don’t know,” she said. “A lot of things have been closing this year. Hasn’t exactly been great for anybody.”

“Yeah, but this will be good for us, trust me. Besides, you know they’re saying things’ll open up by September. Just in time.”

“In time for what?” Her exasperation with him was reaching a boiling point, and the question came out more harshly than she’d intended. She took another sip of coffee and settled back into her seat. “Sorry. But enough with the games, just tell me already. Show me why it has to be this house, and what the plan is so I can stop being mad and remember you’re occasionally adorably excited.”

He laughed, probably because he thought he’d already won the point. She was less certain, but the idea that he actually had some sort of plan in mind had gone some distance to easing the worry about the hundred grand.

He settled into the chair opposite her, laying his left hand over her right. She almost pulled away out of reflex – his hand was icy cold – but she managed to quash the urge, not wanting to hurt his feelings.

“Art’s House. They’re not open this year. And he’s willing to sell pretty much everything except the house itself.”

Art’s House. Of course. Art was a local fixture, a foul-tempered and foul-mouthed yet somehow still lovable old cuss who lived at the edge of town. He always had his finger in some pie or another, usually raising funds for the Jaycees or the Boys and Girls Club, and his biggest pie had always been the Halloween season. Every year he turned his own house into a spookhouse, filling it with volunteer staff trained to scare the bejesus out of everyone they could. The old mansion had been the site of her and Keith’s first date, and had been the subject of many late-night conversations.

Keith had claimed that one day he’d convince the old man to step aside and sell the house. Apparently the house was out of the question… but the props and sets weren’t.

“So you want to… what? Uproot all the stuff from Art’s, transplant it there, then bank on the fact that an actual murder occurred to drive up the scares while you carry on the tradition?”

He shrugged, falling back in his chair with a petulant look that told her he thought she was mocking him. In truth, she was coming around. It was sort of sweet… in a morbid sort of way.

“Well. Something like that, yeah. I told you I wanted to buy Art’s. He’s just not selling the house. But if I can snatch up a distressed home on the cheap…” He spread his palms. “A couple days, a couple trucks, some personal tweaks and we’re good to go.”

02
Sep
20

The Conspiracy Alphabet

A is for Aliens, streaking through the sky.

B is for Bilderberg, dividing the pie.

C is for Chemtrails, poisoning us all.

D is for Digitization, Mark of the Beast at the mall.

E is for Evolution, the lie of our birth.

F is for Flat, just like the Earth.

G is for Genetics, science twisting our brains.

H is for HAARP, bringing acid rain.

I is for Illuminati, pulling the strings.

J is for JFK, lacking his brains.

K is for Kidnapping, the government to blame.

L is for Lindbergh, an exile in shame.

M is for Majestic, twelve liars in kind.

N is for the New World Order, reading your mind.

O is for OJ, racial tensions created.

P is for Patriarchy, the man falsely inflated.

Q is for Questions, our innocence deflowered.

R is for Reptillians, ruling from towers.

S is for Surveillance, Big Brother in action.

T is for Terrorists, still gaining traction.

U is for UFOs, not weather balloons.

V is for Vaccinations, sealing our doom.

W is for the Warren Commission, spreading the lie.

X is for Xenu, coming down from on high.

Y is for Yog-Sothoth, the Great Old Ones arrive.

Z is for Zombies, when the dead come alive.

25
Aug
20

Untitled Snippet

“Hey, Benny.”

The voice was a deep rumble, the sound of a diesel on idle that had somehow spoken actual words. Benny’s bladder let go at the sound of it, the crotch of his department-issued khakis going from a dry tan to a sopping brown.

“Look at me, Benny.”

Benny didn’t want to. He knew what he’d see looming over him if he turned around. He knew it was probably the same thing the others had seen, the last thing the others had seen. It would be him, that giant with the rocky face, the one they’d thought they were done with but somehow kept coming back to haunt them.

“You can look at me, or you can look down and see what your guts look like coming out the front. It’ll be easier if you turn around.”

Benny, trembling, tried to do as he was asked. His legs didn’t seem to think it was a great idea and opted to stop supporting him, turning a simple turn into a sideways sprawl on the dirty concrete of the alley he’d been scanning for vags a moment before.

A hand that felt made out of concrete caught him by the shoulder, biting deep and grinding against the socket. Benny screamed, but if that bothered the giant there was no sign.

The thing holding him up, apparently effortlessly, was nearly eight feet tall. The face was the one Benny had expected, but he hadn’t thought the man would be so big. He hadn’t seemed that tall the other day, lying in the gutter with eight rounds in his back. Nor as wide. He’d been big, sure, but not this big.

The giant grinned, the thick muscles of his jaw tightening and exposing teeth that were brilliantly white in his dark face. The eyes weren’t smiling, however. They were like brown marbles, glassy and dead, that just happened to reside in eyesockets.

“Justified shooting,” the giant said.

Benny shrieked again as the giant dug his thumb into Benny’s shoulder and shook him, as if for emphasis.

“Justified,” it growled.

Benny was shaken again, this time slammed against the back wall of the electronics store that always had a piece of questionable inventory or two displayed in the window. The same building where all this had started two weeks ago, Benny realized.

26
Mar
20

Vampire 2.0 – News Ticker

(Want to know how it started? Click here!)

News Ticker

Franks was seated in a large recliner, a television remote clenched in a hand that was a far cry from the slender, talented appendage he’d had for his entire life. Now it was swollen, tinged blue, and equipped with a set of fingers the size of sausages. It was the worst of the changes that had been occurring in him since leaving Tepes’ sanctuary; things that should have been easy – like operating the remote – were now frustrating affairs that took far longer than they should have.
Franks wasn’t concerned. With his knowledge and skills he was certain he could remedy the situation; a transplant or two was certainly within his grasp, even if he had to have the minions do the fine work. They could be overridden by his commands, turned into puppets, and all his old skill would work through them. In the meantime, he had been keeping a journal of the changes, looking for a pattern that eluded him.
All of that was a secondary concern, however. First in his mind was the state of the world and how much longer it would be before the children of the night brought him Tepes, or at least the vampire’s heart on a platter. So far, they seemed more than willing to oblige. One had even gotten close, the mental static claimed, but had failed. Probably because that one had been new, made only moments before his psychic command had gone out. A fledgeling had poor odds at disposing of their king. But her death had provided valuable information. Vlad was in Vegas, Franks now new, and through him, all the children knew. Even now they were converging, building their strength and combing the back alleys of the neon paradise.
Even better, Vlad apparently had a weak point. A human woman. Her image had come clear from the dead fledgeling, along with all sorts of useful information on her name, usual hangouts and habits. That had been distributed through the network as well. Find the woman, find Tepes had become a mantra in the mental link.
In front of him were dozens of televisions, each of them tuned to a different news station. Even if he’d been in the mood for something other than current events, regular programming had been disrupted on all but the seediest of cable networks, being overruled by the more pressing concerns of the moment. They were all different stations, from all over the world, but they all carried the same message.
Monsters are real, and they’ve gone mad.
Franks’ lips split in a grim smile as his eyes fluttered from screen to screen, drinking of the burning buildings and scattered bodies that the networks were no longer seeing fit to censor. Some of the newscasters were trying to remain as calm and presentable as possible, though he could see beads of sweat forming underneath their pancake makeup and greased hair, while others had apparently left the area, leaving interns or less camera savvy staff to take up the slack. More than one had a young person in shredded jeans and an offensive t-shirt clinging to the microphone like a life preserver, staring wide eyed into the camera as they attempted to make sense of what was happening around them.
Several of the channels were showing static, or a sideways, cracked view of the street. More than one newshound had been attacked or devoured, becoming the news instead of relating it. Some of those were even now speaking their first, disoriented thoughts into the hive-mind the children of the night shared, not understanding what had happened or what they were yet.
Franks supposed that ushering them in calmly was something their previous lord would have done, or instructed the creatures that turned them to have done; he was not interested. Let them sink or swim as best they could. They would be tempered in the fires of the chaos he had unleashed, and only the worthy would remain to greet the new day when Tepes’ head rested on Franks’ desk.
As he surveyed the news, watching Paris burn, New York riot and Detroit turn into a DMZ, Franks occasionally reinforced his single command, sending a pulse over the mental network that connected them all, reminding the stalwarts and informing the fresh fledgelings that their goal was simple: destroy Tepes. He attributed the crawling sensation across his skin, the odd cracks and creaks from within, as being nothing more than mental static; attributing it to any kind of change in himself was intolerable, and linking it to the swelling in his fingers or the way the recliner was slowly sinking further into the ground under his weight was a leap his mind was not yet ready to make. Why should he, when on monitor #3 he could watch a hairy seven-foot tall beast – he wasn’t sure what it was, perhaps a wendigo? – leap towards a newscaster, tear the head from the body, and then begin its own impromptu newscast while using the severed head as a meat puppet? Far more entertaining.
Something nagged at him, though. Perhaps he was lord of the night, master of all the creatures of darkness, but he was no closer to his true calling now than he had been before following Vlad’s backtrail to the source of his power. Perhaps even further away, as the upgrades he had installed in the vampire were the closest he’d ever been to creating life.
Perhaps he should devote less time to the news, and more to his experiments. With the power he now held, bringing back Tepes would seem like child’s play. Who knew what sorts of things he might create now?
So thinking, he pushed himself from the chair, ignoring the flap of rancid flesh that peeled from his back and glued itself to the brown leather, or the small rain of maggots that drifted down to the floor. They tried desperately to squirm away, but his heavy tread reduced them to paste as he plodded out of the room.

23
Mar
20

Vampire 2.0 – Cleaning Up Files

(Want to see it where it started? Click here…)

Cleaning Up Files

Brand did a double take as he slotted the Hummer into the space in front of the apartment building. The GPS, which he had never entirely trusted, had given him the right place, at least.
What wasn’t right was the way the Boss looked. His shirt was rumpled, there was a runner of blood coming from his nose, and he looked pissed. Beyond pissed. Furious, even. Far angrier than Brand could ever remember seeing him before.
The broad with him didn’t look so hot, either; she was shuffling along in those stretch pants like some kind of Lane Bryant zombie, a glazed look in her eyes and a twitching at the corners of her mouth that Brand recognized. The Boss had laid a whammy on her, was making her come along. Brand had seen the look before. Probably against her will. That didn’t look good.
Brand yanked the e-brake, hopping out of the seat to shamble towards Vlad and his lady friend.
“What the hell, Boss? Looks like ya been in a fight, you know? Tyson vs. Paquio or somethin’. Hate to see the other guy.; And what’s with the dame? We got trouble, and you’re playin’ Romancing the Stone or somethin’…”
Vlad’s hand shot out and seized the sensitive nerve between Brand’s neck and wing joint. The grip was agonizing; Brand could feel every inch of foot pressure Franks had designed that steel appendage to be able to deliver, could hear the bones creaking, as though ready to break.
“I’ve no time. I must move the lady to a safer location, and you have cleanup to do. You’ll find the remains in Apartment 302. Take care of it, then come to me. You know the location.”
“Wha… er… yeah, sure, Boss. The hotel or the safehouse?”
Vlad bowed his head. Brand wasn’t sure if he was just thinking it over, or consulting the machine Franks had put in his skull, and didn’t think wasting time with either was really a good idea at the moment. His fright over the look on Vlad’s face kept him silent, however.
Finally looking back up, Vlad shook his head.
“Neither,” he muttered. “Neither is safe, now. Call me when you’re done.”
“Uh, Boss…” Brand hesitated, not sure how to bring up the matter at hand. Safetyy was more of a concern than Vlad realized, Brand thought.
“If you’re going to inform me that the children of the night have gone berserk and turned on me, that’s readily apparent form the news reports this abominable device is providing me. And the silence that answers my demands for an explanation are evidence enough that a coup is ongoing. Tend the matter at hand. The rest will keep.”
Brand’s jaw was hanging. Several seconds had passed before he thought to close it.
Guess he’s getting up to speed with the upgrades, he thought.
Or maybe the upgrades are getting up to speed with him, an unhelpful inner voice chimed in. Brand shook his head, dismissing it.
“Uh. Right. You’re the Boss.”
“Indeed. See to it.”
Vlad released his grip on Brand’s wing and stalked towards the car. The woman followed after him, a little tugboat chained to Tepes’ ocean liner. He opened the passenger door, ushering her in, then circled the vehicle to enter himself. As the pair drove off – making sure to use the turn signals and accelerating normally, Brand noted; the Boss was always careful to keep up appearances – Brand sighed.
He hated cleanup; he just hoped there wasn’t too much of a mess. Vlad was known for spray painting walls red if someone really irked him, and Brand didn’t feel much like donning the rubber gloves and breaking out the sponges.
He turned and walked towards the building, thankful that it wasn’t the kind where you had to be buzzed in. He could have gotten in regardless, but skipping the charade and having to pull out one of his numerous fake IDs was a bonus.
He wound his way through the labyrinthine entrance hall, sighing as he caught sight of the elevator and its bad news: a decrepit and dusty sign proclaiming it out of order was hung from it with a stripe of yellowed masking tape. Taking the stairs instead, Brand clumped his way towards the third floor, panting a little and trying to ignore the dull throb in his shoulder. He was not a fan of stairwells, especially not the kind that doubled back on themselves, pressing in on him from all sides. His mother had told him he’d always been claustrophobic; he blamed the marathon sessions locked in the closet whenever she’d caught him with a girlie mag.;
When he finally reached the third floor and opened the door, he breathed a sigh of relief at his escape from the tomb-like stairwell. His comfort was challenged the second he stepped into the hallway, though. The door opened on a tiny hall not much wider than the staircase with discrete plaques mounted next to a small handful of doors.
“Ya gotta be shittin’ me,” he muttered, shaking his head.
He toddled to his right, checking the nearest tag: 304. Wrong way. Of course. He sighed, turning around and plodding the other way.
He passed 303 and cocked his head the other direction, waiting for the door of 302 to cross his vision. Instead he found a crater in the wall that had a vaguely human shape. A low chuckle slid out of his beak, images from old cartoons flipping through his mind as stepped over a pile of splintered wood that he supposed had been the door not too long ago.
Taking in the scene, he gave a long whistle. Either the dead chick on the floor had been really rabid, or the Boss had blown his top, bigtime. Either way, the place was a mess. Blood all over the floor, furniture shoved to all corners of the room, the shredded head of a broom scattering straw across the whole mess. Brand saw a caved-in point of impact on the far wall, next to the television stand, and winced. Whoever’s head had made that one, they were lucky to still be up and about.
Of course, maybe they weren’t still up and about. He glanced down at the body, feeling a moment of remorse. She was just his type; curves in all the right places, looked like she had a bit of Latin in her from the hair and eyebrows. If she hadn’t done just about the stupidest thing in the world by pissing off the Boss, he might have pulled the makeshift stake out of her and taken her for a late dinner before helping himself to some dessert.
Of course, the blood that had poured out of her, the three feet of broomhandle sticking out between her boobs and the torn flesh around her lips where her fangs had popped might have been a bit of a deal breaker, but he was used to compromise.
Brand coughed into a fist, then glanced around the room, taking inventory. Cleanup wasn’t going to be easy; the lack of a door was just the start of the problems. The boss had left too big of a mess to just roll the undead chica into a carpet and cart it off to drop off the Hoover later. He grinned to himself when he saw the old-school microwave sitting on the kitchen counter, right next to an obnoxiously yellow plastic strainer overflowing with silverware.
“Oh, yeah, baby. I gotta try this one…”
Curbing his enthusiasm for a moment, Brand took a deep breath and tiptoed back to the hallway. He crept across the hell to 303’s door, putting the side of his head against it for a moment and straining. He didn’t hear anything from within, not even the hum of electronics that were plugged in but not on. Just to be safe, he rapped his knuckles against the door in as polite a knock as he could muster.
The Boss wouldn’t like it if he, in the process of removing the evidence, also blew up a family of four. Vlad liked to stay out of the papers.
No one answered his knock. Satisfied, Brand went back to 302. Anyone else on the floor would be clear of the blast, and would have time to evac from any fire, he figured. He was humming The Doors under his breath as he seized double fistfuls of silverware and tossed them into the microwave. Pausing to consider for a moment, he opted to add another couple of handfuls. Nodding to himself, he closed the door – taking a moment to run his rough and scaly tongue against a particularly tempting blot of spaghetti sauce that had splattered against it – before drumming his talons against the timer dial.
“Jeez, they oughta make instruction manuals for these kind of things…”
Shrugging, he turned the dial as far as it would go. Thirty minutes should do it. If it worked at all. Sure, he’d been warned about it hundreds of times, but he still wasn’t entirely certain if it actually worked that way or not. If not, he’d have to lurch down to the gas station and do it the old fashioned way. Probably just should have done that in the first place. But his impish curiosity was awake no, and he’d come this far…
Minutes later, standing at street level and staring up at Monica’s apartment window with the rapt gaze of a cat studying a juicy and possibly eviscerated rat, Brand screeched with delight as a blue arc of lightning flickered across the window. A moment later, the glass blew out, belching a jet of fire several feet long. Raining down into the street below came several knickknacks, a paperback or two, and a single fork, the tines now bent outwards and the silver blackened.
Satisfied, Brand began walking away, dialing 911 as he went. They’d come, put out the fire, determine nobody had been home – best thing about vamps, in Brand’s opinion, was the way they just went poof when they died – and start looking for Monica to have her call the insurance folks. He didn’t have fingerprints to leave behind – one of the many advantages of having talons over actual fingers, as he kept trying to tell the Boss – and any blood from the Boss, his dame, or the dead lady would be flash-fried and buried under the soot. No fuss, no muss, no bother. Plus, rescue staff would get anybody else out before something bad happened.
It wasn’t like he wanted anyone to actually die, after all. He wasn’t a monster




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