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Selene by Maggie Berkley

                                      Terror Twin Powers Activate!

 

   Frumping on a chair in front of my father’s desk I looked up at my sister as she flopped down in the empty chair next to me and growled. Not fair. What did I do to deserve this? With my arms crossed under my breasts I turned my attention back to my dad and glared at him with all my might, wishing beyond hope his head would blow up at that moment.

    With an equally dark look our father moved his eyes between my twin and I, studying us with that irritating intensity he uses on us when he’s either trying to discover which of us did the crime or what kind of punishment he was putting out this time. Making up his mind his eyes his gaze settled on me as he sat back behind his rosewood desk and rapped his fingers tips several times on the surface in a slow rhythm that usually caused me to dread what was going to happen.

    “Aurora, your excused.”

    My sister looked at our dad in surprised at being removed as a suspect so quickly, her jaw slightly slack before closing her mouth with a sharp click. I could feel her eyes shift to me but ignored her, keeping my glare fully on the man before me. Quickly she stood then left the room, shutting the door softly behind her and left me to fend on my own.

    “Hand me your cards.”

    That was blunt. My frown deepened as I narrowed my eyes even more hoping to intimidate him but my father watched me in silence, his face void of any emotion yet filling the area between us with parental irritation. I know I’m a disappointment to him, but you know what? I don’t give a flipping frog’s fart if he approves of me or not. Instead I held my ground and my stubborn anger and continued my silent campaign to cause him some physical destruction by the sheer power of my mental will alone. No surprise it didn’t work, it never does but I figure one day it might come into fruition.

    Truth be told my father is just as stubborn as I am and more devious too. I used to think I ruled deviousness in our household until the day I was getting ready for a hot date only to discover all my dresses were burned and the only thing left was a pair of sweats and some granny pants. In retaliation I slashed the tires on my dad’s Jag. Of course he returned the favor by removing the engine from my Porsche.

   This war has been playing between us for the past five years since my mom died when I was thirteen. I’d do something and he’d up the ante so of course I’d do something more drastic only to have him toss a bomb at me. But for some reason he never kicked me out for the things I’ve done nor have I ever tried to leave. Hell, who would? My father is rich. You’ve heard of Donald Trump? He’s got nothing compared to what my dad owns. But my father didn’t become rich through being nice. He’s a shark, if he senses a weakness he circles around you until he strikes out of the blue, biting off your head with one quick snap until your left with nothing. Thing is he enjoys it, loves rubbing his enemies faces into the proverbial mud. Dad used to work for a mercenary group dealing weapons until he decided to go legit and start a business. That business expanded into two then three then he invested into other things. Seems dad had a real knack with making money and with making people disappear.

   “Your cards, Selene. Hand them over.”

    My lips tightened in a straight line then muttering under my breath I reached into my back pocket and pulled out my wallet. Slipping out several cards I slid them across the desk at him, waiting. But he just drew in a deep breath before slowly letting it back out again, seeming to fill the room more then he already does. Dad is a big mo fo. He’s not fat, no way no how. He’s just tall and built like a brick wall. Even though he’s in his forty’s, dad looks good for being so old. He’s got tons of bimbos that hang around the mansion, ho’s strolling along in order to get vacations and money out of him. He, of course, uses them till he’s bored then tosses them to the curb. Aurora and I created a Wall of Shame lined with the pictures of every bitch that’s been in dad’s bed, making sure we let every dumb ass know who thinks hell ‘change for them’. Amazing how many girls think that.

   “All of them.”

   Making a face, I pulled out the last card and gave it to my dad. Great, what was I going to do now? Guess it back to slipping money out of dad’s safe again. The sound of him tapping the edges of my credit cards against the desk brought my attention back from my thoughts. What now?

    “The bank card too.”

    I stared at him for a second, unsure I heard correctly. My bank card? Was he completely cutting off my money? What was I supposed to do now?

   “No way,” I retorted, refusing to give up my last bit of freedom. I give up my bank card then I can’t get gas for my car or go shopping or go to clubs. Never mind that most of my drinks were compted.

   He held out a large hand, palm up, fingers out and waited, his eyes boring into mine until I buckled and handed over my last life line. Damn, so unfair. I pouted more, crossed my arms again and leaned back in the chair with a slump.

   “Don’t get too comfortable, you still need to go back to the school apologize to your principle. Plus you need to figure out how to get him off the list of top porn stars of year. I don’t think he appreciates your video nomination of him at the AVN awards in Vegas.”

   I shrugged. Not my fault the guy was a moron. Deserved him right. And imagine my amazement the video I put on YouTube and sent AVN turned out to be a big hit. Comedy and porn, imagine that. “Hey, he should thank me. He might actually get an award.”

   Dad just stared at me again with those flat eyes of his until I finally looked away. “I don’t care how you do it but take care of the problem. I don’t want to hear about it again. And forget about a social life, you’re grounded for two months.”

   “What?!” My jaw dropped open. First he took my money, now he’s taking my life! Steam poured out of my nose as I ignored the rest of his list of demands and began the planning of revenge. This time it must be something spectacular, something that would give him pause when thought about punishing me for something so stupid as secretly video tapping my stupid principle getting it on with the lunch lady in the dry storage room.

    Realizing my father had stopped talking and was just watching me made me sit up slightly in the chair.

   “You done?”

    His eyes narrowed as he studied my face. He knew I was planning something but I just returned his look with a sweet smile. His frown deepened.

   “You’re excused.” He stated bluntly as he opened a drawer in his desk and placed my cards within before closing it. With a turn of a key, he locked the drawer then purposefully placed said key in the small pocket on his thousand dollar Dolce silk dress shirt. Bastard. He was taunting me.

    Setting my jaw in a stubborn angle I gripped the arms of the chair I sat on and pushed myself out to stand before his desk. Slowly I stalked from his office as I made a check list of the things I needed…mainly lighter fluid and matches.

 

                                                  Viva le Selene!

 

   Putting my finishing touches on my little bit of revenge, I stuck the match head against the side of the small box and tossed it behind me before I stepped out of my father’s den, listening the loud ‘whoosh’ as the lighter fluid I decorated the desk and carpet with lit up in flames. Closing the door behind me, I leaned briefly back against it, closing my eyes and smiled. It shouldn’t take very long until the alarms went off and people start running around like chickens with their heads cut off. With a chuckle I opened my eyes and headed outside to join my sister for a bit of sun and fun by the pool. Dad won’t be back until later that evening because of a business trip that extended an extra night in Vegas. Both Aurora and I are sure he met a new bit of fluff for some entertainment and wanted to get the bang for the bucks he spent on her.

    As I walked outside and settled my body onto the lawn chair, my sister looked toward me and tilted her head down to eyeball me over the rim of her sunglasses. I smiled sweetly, showing even white teeth and winked before sliding my own sunglasses on then reached over for the bottle of Hawaiian Tropic coconut oil to swath my body with for a nice even browning under the sun. From inside an alarm went off, sharp ‘beep beep beeps’ filling the air as house guards called out orders and servants filled out the doors in random chaos. Idiots. Each room of the house was created specifically that in case of fire it would be contained in the room of origin so not to spread and infect the rest of the mansion in its fiery disease of destruction.

    Aurora knew what was up and with a secretive grin hidden behind the magazine she was reading, turned the page to Style Watch, looking at the so called new trends the hip and young of Hollywood were wearing. As if anyone really cared in the first place. Most of those morons were white trash who couldn’t figure out true fashion if it hit them on the head with a 2 by 4.

   I yawned and laid back, closing my eyes as I enjoyed the feeling of the sun’s overhead rays sinking into my skin and listened to the sounds emitted from inside our happy home. Dad was sure to be pissed at this and I couldn’t wait to see how he retaliated back from this insult, but damn, I wanted my money and my freedom back. It was boring having to hang around the mansion all day, no friends allowed over (as if I had many in the first place) and not even being able to order a freaking pizza without begging money off the servants was just ridicules.

   One week had already passed and seven more weeks of this hell to go. I won’t be able to survive! Already I can feel myself go stir crazy.  Every DVD in our vast collection I’d already seen at the very least twice and those in my dad’s private collection were kept under an electronic lock even I couldn’t pick. I was bored of video games and the go cart course was under construction and wouldn’t be ready for a few more days.

   Couldn’t sneak out cause every car in the place had its spark plugs missing except for the limo which Jones guarded like a lion. And speaking of Jones, he stared at me from under his Ray Bans, sitting across the pool far enough away to give my sister and me privacy but close enough to remind us we were under lock down. Not that Aurora couldn’t just get up, snap her fingers and go to the mall or beach of she wanted too. But we were thick as thieves. If I was home bound then so was she, she declared.

    Shaking his head, Jones chuckled deep in his chest, a baritone sound that made him sound as dangerous as he looked. Big and black, he could put any so called ‘gangsta rapper’ to shame. Jones was as real as it got. A onetime street hoodlum my parents had hired as their personal driver and body guard, Jones stood a good six foot six with shoulders like a bull, skin as black as night and fists like a cement mixer. The only thing about him that was not dark was his smile that cut through his face like a gleaming white half moon. But if truth be told, Jones was my best friend. He helped raise us when mom died, keeping us out of trouble when he could and trying to steer us in the right direction (which usually didn’t work, damn my sense of trouble making…not).

   Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen Jones beat a man down with just his fists who dared to look at mom the wrong way. Beat him so hard the man wound up in the hospital and eating through a tube. If you’re going to do something then do it all the way, Jones always said. I try to follow the best I can but for some reason I always seem to get into trouble for it, hence reason I’m on restriction today.

   “Girl, yo daddy’s gonna beat that little white ass of yours all shades unless yous knock off the payback.”

    I shrugged at Jones and adjusted the strap on my bikini top to give myself maximum exposure to the sun. The heat felt so good today. I the distance the sound of sirens whirled, getting closer and closer as servants opened windows to air the house out and quickly removed as much of the artifacts my dad collected to keep them from getting broken as the firemen invaded our home.

   “What ya do this time?” He asked, turning his attention back toward the full length glass doors that separated the living area from the outdoors. Dark smoke started pouring from my dad’s office as the windows in his room remotely opened. I kept my mouth shut knowing that to acknowledge even the smallest piece admittance would give clear proof to my destruction. As it stood now everything was speculated that I had caused the fire. Until the security cameras were reviewed I was still innocent. I hope I didn’t go over board by blowing a kiss to the camera in my dad’s room. If I did, oh well.

    The fire truck pulled up outside in front of the mansion, men piling out and issuing orders as the sounds of heavily shod feet echoed from inside. Shouting and the sound of pressurized water suddenly being released filled the air. I turned on the outdoor stereo, letting the funky sounds of Nelly and Akon drown out the noise of the fire being doused. Jones nodded in approval, chuckled at me and leaned back on his chair, every once in a while drinking his cervasa. 

   “Girl, yous gonna get beat good this time.” Jones scratched his belly while keeping a watching gaze on the scene within the glass doors.

 

                                              Who You Calling Coward? 

 

   “I love that dog.” Aurora finished braiding her hair as I glanced up at the TV, spying Courage the Cowardly Dog yet once again saving Mural and Eustace from certain death. I shrugged and looked back down at my toe nails, lifted the little brush of polish away and admired my handiwork. Deep purplish black, purty.

   “Stupid dog, broke this worse than before,” Eustace complained as a windmill stopped working and the skeletal ghosts of undead Vikings rampaged the farm. I rolled my eyes, not seeing the appeal. If I was that dog I would have let those old farts die long ago. Ok, maybe not the old woman, but the guy goes.

    “Selene! Get your ass down here!” My dad barked over the intercom. Without missing a beat I continued applying the next layer of polish on my other set of nails. My sister shifted on the couch next to me, squirming from the tone of my father’s voice. I grinned to myself, keeping my head bowed so no one would witness my smile and report it back to the warden. Not that it really mattered; I was up shit creek as it was. What worse could he do to me? Give me my cards back maybe? Hmmmm? That would be a novel concept and I’d be out of the house to pursue my own interests that have nothing to do with father/daughter bonding.

    Wasting time, I twisted the lid back on my polish bottle then leaned over my feet and blew, trying to dry the wet lacquer when Jones walked in. Aurora grew quiet and I could feel her slowly slid to the other side of the couch until she reached the arm and put a pillow between us, as if that would some way shield her from any actions I might do. I glared at her from the side of my eyes then looked up, tossing my hair over my shoulders and smiled at my favorite black giant.

   “Jones!” My voice went higher then I wanted, knowing I was over doing it but well, I wasn’t going down to my father without a fight. “Hey you chocolate hunk o’ man. What’s up?”

    Did I ever mention Jones can be scary looking when he wants? He used to belong to some street gang or something like that. Crips or Bloods thing. Shrug. I don’t know. That all happened long before I was born. Anyway, Jones just stood in the doorway to the family room, blocking out any light from the hall and motioned with his hand for me to follow. I gave him one of my best, ‘What?’ faces but he wasn’t buying it so with a sigh, I set the polish bottle down and carefully unwound my legs and stood up, not wanting to smudge the polish on my toe nails. Waddling because of the tissue between my toes I moved to stand before him and looked up (way up) into his face and smiled brightly.

   “Lead the way, oh great and mighty one. But remember, my death is on your head.”

    He chuckled at that, the deep baritone rumbled out from his chest as he scruffled my hair and turned, taking one step back to allow me to pass. Slowly I made my way down the carpeted hall, wondering if I ducked into one of the bathrooms I could escape out a window. Nah, that’s a cowards way out and I was no coward. Instead I waddled forward to my doom, wondering what dear old dad had planned and what I would do in return. One of us would win out and if it was up to me, damn… I would win!

    We bypassed the burnt out office, instead heading into the living room and I moved to the couch across from the one my dad sat on. He was still in the dove gray business suit had worn when he came back from his trip except for the fact his tie was missing and the first two buttons on his shirt was open, revealing golden tanned skin underneath. Dark gold hair pulled back from his handsome face into a top knot, the rest brushed his broad shoulders as he raised his arms to rest them along the back of the couch. Legs stretched out, feet resting on the coffee table, dad looked relaxed and calm, but anyone intimately knowing him knew a deep anger brewed under that handsome exterior.

   I paused briefly as he smiled at me, the welcoming warmth not rising to meet his eyes. Instead in their depths lurked the cold predator I knew existed but had never been on the receiving end of. Gathering every bit of courage and stubbornness I wrapped myself in it and flopped down on the couch, placing my bare feet on the table across from his and wiggled my toes.

   “Hey, pops, how was the trip? Anything interesting happen?” I flashed him one of my best smiles (I know it was because I practice in the mirrors. A good scam can’t work unless your face matches what you’re trying to portray).

    Smiling tightly, dad ran his tongue over his teeth then leaned back to rest on the couch. I watched him take several deep breaths as he gathered his thoughts (and perhaps his temper) before he raised his head again to look at me.

   “Selene.” He shook his head, opened his mouth to say something then closed it again.

    I could feel Jones presence behind me, reassuring and strong as my father’s calm face watched me. I could feel myself squirm slightly, caught myself and stopped. Dad just kept his silent battle of wills going with me. Stupid me, I broke eye contact first and glanced down at my toes before leaning forward to pull the tissue out from between then before wadding it up to drop on the floor.

   Dad cleared his throat. Next thing I knew Jones was holding a small waste paper basket out beside me, looking at me with one dark eyebrow raised. With an exaggerated sigh I bent down, gathered them up and tossed them into the can before sitting back once more.

   I scratched the side of my neck, moving my jaw as if to pop it while my stomach does flip flops. I hate it when dad stares. Several minutes passed until the silence was broken by the sound of paper hitting the coffee table beside dad’s Prada clad feet. I looked down to see several brochures and frowned, my eyebrows scrunching together as I tried to figure out what they were for.

    “You’re going to Camp Winea. You leave in the morning so pack your bags tonight.”

    My jaw dropped at that declaration and I blinked twice before I caught myself and snapped my mouth shut with a loud click. What? Dad was sending me away? That wasn’t supposed to happen. I was supposed to get my cards back. Dad was supposed to be weary and do whatever to keep me from burning down the rest of the house. At the very worst he would retaliate by destroying my room. But send me away?

    “Your excused, Selene.” Dismissing me, dad picked up the Business Weekly magazine and began pursing it. I gaped at him, not ready to give up the ghost.

   “Camp what? Dad? Why are you sending me away?”

    He ignored me, turning a page as one of the servants handed him a round stemless wine glass of chardonnay. He took it then raised the pale liquid to his lips and took a shallow swallow.

    “I’m not going. You can’t make me.” I crossed my arms under my breasts and was determined to win. Jones shifted behind me and I felt him lay a heavy hand on my shoulder. I tried to shrug it up but he just squeezed to let me know it was time to leave. “Dad.”

    He turned another page, his eyes scanning the article. “Leave now, Selene or I’ll send you there naked.”

   Knowing my dad, that was no hollow threat. With a disgruntled grunt I stood up and turned away, tossing my hair over my shoulder in a show of defiance then stormed out of the room. When Jones moved to follow I pointed at him and shouted, “Go suck up to Mr. Moneybags. I hate you. And I hate you too, dad! I wish you would die!”

    Jones shook his head, running a hand over his bald scalp as he turned back into the room my father…no, my sperm donor, he was no longer my father!...sat in and closed the door behind him. I knew he would try to plead my case, to get me a reprieve from being sent to whatever stupid camp my fath…sperm donor was sending me. It better work, because if I am sent away then I’m out of here. That man can kiss my ass as I leave his house forever. Though first I needed my cards back. And in case you’re wondering, yes I checked the desk before I set it on fire but the cards were no longer there. Apparently HE moved them before he left.

   Reaching my room I slammed the door hard behind me, even though I knew noise didn’t travel well in our house. HE made sure everything was sound proof, something about screaming and not attracting unwanted attention. Throwing myself on my bed I rolled over, grabbed my remote off the bed stand and turned on stereo to blare Bullet for My Valentine.  All the Thing I Hate filled the room as I swore to whatever greater power there was that I was not leaving without a fight.

 

                            Out of the Frying Pan, Into Hell 

 

     Stepping out of the limo I settled my Dolce & Gabana sunglasses on the bridge of my nose and glanced around. What kind of Hell was this place? Everything was dusty and…brown. Well, more like tans but close enough.

    I frowned and turned around to re-enter the limo but the driver had already closed the door and was getting my bag out of the trunk, setting it on the hard baked ground with a light thud. He ignored my look and steadily made his way back to the driver’s side of the long car, got in then left. I stood there in shock. It happened. It really happened. I was abandoned, kicked out and left on my own, well, left to the mercy of strangers. Angry, scowling military strangers by the look of it.

    One of them was heading my way, a square buzz cut on the top of his head, lantern jawed, hard eyes. He wore tan and brown desert fatigues and tanned boots, the sleeves folded up over huge rocks of biceps. Reaching me he stopped, looked me over with a critical eye until he reached my face. Apparently he didn’t like what he saw because his face set in a huge scowl as his eyes narrowed.

   “Well little girl, it seems you’ve caused your father a bit of trouble. I’m here to see that you learn to appreciate what your father has given you. By the time you leave here you will kiss the ground he walks on.” His gravelly voice barked out.

   Slowly I lowered my sunglasses an inch down my nose to look at him. Yep, still dusty. I returned the once over, rolled my eyes then slid the glasses back to their proper place and let out a loud yawn.

    “Whatever.”

   His eyes narrowed more at my response but I ignored him, looking around at my surroundings.

    “I take it I’m sleeping in one of those things?” I asked, snapping the tutti fruity gum in my mouth and took in the squat grey brick bunkers that dotted the immediate area. Damn, it was broiling here and there was no pool in site, not even a freaking water sprinkler. I kicked at a small rock, watching the dust stir around my feet and frowned. Did this place even have a Coke machine around?

    A young woman suddenly appeared by Mr. Grumpy’s side, wearing the same drab uniform with a little black beret tilted at an angle on her tight bunned blonde head. She looked at me as if I was spot of mud on her pristine uniform then stood at attention, giving a quick salute to the man in charge which he quickly returned with a sharp snap.

    “This is Spc. Willeford. She will be your guide and squad leader while you are visiting our camp. If you have any questions you direct them to her. If she tells you to do something you will do it immediately and without complaint.” Seeing the look on my face he continued, his voice growing deeper with a promise of punishment that I was sure he relished inflicting on those of us that don’t find pushups a fun way to use the time. “If you do not comply with these orders you will be restricted to the brig. That I guarantee will not be a trip to the spa.” 

   Great, I’m stuck with a bunch of gung ho military wanna be’s.

    As the Great White Master left, Ms. Thing turned to me with a sneer. “Gather your bag, recruit.”

   We stared at each other for several moments, neither of us budging until she turned on her heel and headed toward one of the grey bunkers. “This way. There are showers once a day and meals are several at six am, twelve pm and six pm. If you are not there at those times you do not eat.”

   Swearing under my breath I grabbed my bag and slowly started following. She continued on her way as if not expecting anything less than complete obedience while she kept rambling on. Blah, blah, blah.

    “Bugle goes off at four thirty each morning, formation at five thirty and shut eyes at ten thirty sharp. There is no alcohol, drugs, sex or profanity allowed on these grounds.”

    I would never have fucking guessed, I growled to myself, wondering if she was a dyke or if her and the Captain or whatever he was, was doing the beast with two backs. Probably the later. The guy looked like he probably enjoyed bossing teenage girls around. The perve.

    “If you disobey any direct orders, do not follow any of the rules or are caught doing those things listed as forbidden you are sent to the brig. There is no second chances. You do not get sent home. Parents spend a lot of money sending trouble making kids like you here and we have a one hundred percent success rate. Captain Ross has never had one drop out and he’s proud of the account.”

    Opening the barracks door, she motioned inside and entered after I stepped through. On each side of the room were lines of five beds with foot trunks and tall lockers between each one. At the end of the row were double doors that led to what I could only assume to be the bathroom. The Hilton this was not.

    “The third bed on the right is yours. You have the rest of the day off to get established and meet your bunk mates but tomorrow you will be expected to follow the schedule set for that day. Do you understand?”

    She waited silently as I looked around, feeling a great blanket of dread fall over me. Just great, this is going to take more than I thought to get out of. But I’m not a quitter, I will prevail!

    “Yeah, sure.” I mumbled as I set my bag on the bed and sat down next to it.

    With a sharp nod, she turned and left, leaving me to sit brooding in the brick oven of my temporary new home.

 

                                         Hell’s Sauna 

 

    Sitting in a huge sandbox I felt little dots of perspiration line my upper lip as a bead slowly wound itself down the side on my face, from my hair down to my chin to drop down on my bare thigh. With frustration I kicked out, sending the tiny grains to scatter around and of course, with my luck, the freaking wind decided at that very moment to appear, blowing the sand right back at me. Argh!!!!!

    Spitting sand out of my mouth I looked around, searching for someone to flay with my tongue for the miserable hell I was currently in. But there was no one in sight, of course. I hate my life. Sweaty from the heat, itchy from the sand sticking from my skin and thirsty beyond belief, I picked up the spoon Mr. Dickweed game me and started digging again, searching for the pack of cigarettes he swore was in this trap.

   Geez, all I had wanted was a flipping smoke. Can’t even fill my lungs up with nasty gunk without even getting busted. I swear they must have the whole camp wired. Before I had even taken a breath, bam there they were, surrounding me with their bug eyed stares. If they thought it was intimidating they were sorely wrong. I mean, obviously they never seen my dad in action.

    This whole thing was stupid. There’s no pack of cigarettes here. Even if there were, I wouldn’t be able to smoke them. I need matches too and there is no way in hell I’m digging in another sand box. Making a face, I tossed the spoon away from me, listening with satisfaction as it thumped against the side of one of those grey brick barracks and stood up, brushing the sand off my ass before pulling my shorts out of my crack. I glanced around real quick to make sure no one saw (thank God I was alone) then stepped out of the sand box. Placing my hands on my hips I leaned forward then back, stretching my sore back before heading off in a jog toward the desert. I need to get away from here for a while, blow this joint, escape.

   After an hour of jogging (I’m in great shape, dad had Aurora and I doing routines since we could walk) I stopped beside a cactus, picked up a rock and knocked a small arm off then bit out a chunk of the glistening inner meat to chew on for some water. Ok, surprised you with that one didn’t I? Well first off, I’m not stupid, only rebellious. Second, when I said dad put Aurora and I into routines I meant it. Exercise, survival, weapons, dad wanted us to survive in all situations. Being rich and well, an ex weapons dealer, dad had many enemies and wanted to make sure we’d be safe no matter what.

    Shading my eyes with a hand, I looked up into the pale blue sky, noting where the sun was then looked down at the cactus again. Three something. I’m sure they notice I’m missing now and are searching first the camp before organizing a search. Oh well, by the time they figure out I’m not hiding around bunker sweet bunker I should be closer to the hills in the distance. There I will find some place to bunk down, giving myself a break from the heat before continuing on toward civilization.

    Spitting out the hunk of cactus meat I was sucking on, I took another bite, sucked on it then cut off a few more arms of the plant before chucking the rock. Tearing off the bottom of my tee shirt, I wet if with the juice from one of the cactus arms then wrapped the material around my forehead. With a deep sigh, I once more spit out the chewed cactus meat and groaned. Damn, I was jonzing for a smoke.

   Shading my eyes from the sun I looked into the distance then glanced behind me at the bland, dusty desert, licking at the sweat that beaded my upper lip. I needed a break from the heat of the day, at least a bit until the sun settled down in the horizon enough to cool the air off and keep my skin from frying under its death rays. Stretching my jaws I looked once more in front of me and squinted.

   There, to the left of the hills was a small outcropping of rocks. With a new goal in mind I squared my shoulders and headed determinedly to my new destination, knowing sooner or later that search party will come out. I wanted to be no where they could find. About that time was when I realized…oh, stupid me. My footsteps in the dirt were an easy way for them to track me if they wished. Giving my head a mental smack I turned around and glared at the ground. Stupid ass dirt.

   With a quick look around I found a dead bush. With a yank, I pulled it easily from the dry soil then brushed it back and forth where I had walked, obscuring any sign I had passed that way. From all appearances I had vanished from the face of the Earth.

   Satisfied now that I couldn’t be followed I made my way toward the hills, hurrying my step. I wanted out of the heat ASAP. Hopefully in all that rockiness there had to be a cave or something I could rest up in. After walking another hour or so (of course making sure I didn’t leave a trail, aka with help from the bush) I made it to the base of the hills and looked around. It took me a while to find it, the alcove, a low deep dark area shrouded by dry bushes and rocks. To tell the truth, if I hadn’t been looking for it I probably would have never found it.

   I stared at it for a few moments then got on my hands and knees, ignoring the sharp rocks digging into my skin and lowered my head to peer in. It was hard to figure out the depth seeing that it was pretty shadowy inside but I figured with a bit of contortions I could fit myself within.

   With a grunt I stretched my arms and torso as I leaned in, feeling inside the darkness but finding nothing (luckily no animals living there) but dirt, small rocks and bits and pieces of the odd twig or dried brush. Cupping my hand I tried brushing out the inside, anything for a nice nap and pulled out an interesting surprise; bone, yellow, brittle and as thick as my thumb. It was broken so I wasn’t sure what bone it was but it was definitely from an animal larger then a dog.

   I searched some more but couldn’t find anything else so I shrugged and slid the bone fragment into my shorts pocket before climbing inside the small alcove. After curling my legs up to fit inside I reached out and grabbed the dry brush I had been using to hide my footprints and shook it in front to scatter my cleaning then set it in place in front of the opening. There, all nice and hidden, snug as a bug in a rug.

   I grinned before settling in, feeling the day’s work suddenly weighing down on me. With a yawn, I shifted in the shadows, resting my head on my arms then closed my eyes to sleep.

 

                                           You Can Always Run…

 

   “Mom.”

   Heading down the hall toward the gun range, I snapped my gum, wishing I had another piece since the flavor had all but left the one I chewed. Dad was away on business (as usual) and ....Aurora.... was out at the mall with Jones shopping for school clothes which left me with mom. Come get me when you’re done cleaning your room, mom said. I’ll be in the gun range.

   Mom was taking me out horseback riding. I loved going riding with her. She knew everything you’d ever want to know about horses and then some. In fact dad met her while on assignment, looking for a guy that was hiding out at the ranch she worked at.

    “Mom!” I yelled out. She must have her earplugs on. She hadn’t answered when I buzzed her earlier but that’s happened before. When mom’s in the zone no one seems to be able to distract her. My footsteps echoed in the tiled corridor as I hurried down the hall. I was anxious to get out in the pen and go riding. Mom promised me a trip to the lake and we always go swimming when we go there. I reached the door, pushing it open and let out another of my ‘Mom’s then stopped, not seeing her standing behind the guard rail separating the floor from the target. Though the room was lit dimly there was still enough light to see by, barely. Maybe she went into the storage closet for more ammo, but why? Michael’s always had the case filled with bullets for any of the guns my parents practice with. I turned the corner, laying my hand on the hard smooth surface of the ammo counter and frowned when I saw the stain. Oooh, mom’s not going to like that. Everything has to be clean, no messes.

   “Mom?”

   Still no answer. Trailing my finger’s over the counter I continued farther into the room, slowly making my way toward the closet I knew to be on the other side then slipped. Stumbling to my knees, I barely caught myself in time to keep from hitting the floor and looked down to see what I slipped on. The stain or what I thought was a stain. I reached down to touch it, dipping my fingers into the mess. Wet, sticky, cooling. I looked up sharply. What was going on? Where was mom?

   Feeling my heart beat faster I stood back up and hurried around the corner to…stop. Mom was lying on the white tiled floor, her black hair fanned out around her head, face turned to the side, eyes open, looking down ward.

   “Momma?” My voice sounded even tiny to me. I hesitantly moved to her but she didn’t blink, didn’t twitch, didn’t look up at me and yell, ‘Ha, I scared you.’

   Kneeling down beside her I reached out, feeling my hand tremble and touched her shoulder to shake her gently. Nothing. Nothing at all. But she was still warm or at least I thought she was.

    “Momma,” I said more urgently, shaking her harder. I wanted to cry, could fill hot tears filling my eyes but refused to let them come. No, she couldn’t be, not my mom. I closed my eyes tight, hoping beyond hope that, maybe, just maybe this was a bad dream. Counting backwards from ten I opened my eyes and looked again. No, she was still lying there, eyes void of any signs of life, a small hole marring her otherwise perfect face. She looked peaceful, except for little drizzle of blood that streaked from the wound, but where was the rest of the blood from? Why was it pooled all around her, glomming to my booted feet?

    I reached out to touch her cheek, to brush thin strands of raven’s black hair off her face, to hope, that maybe this was all a dream.

    Opening my eyes with a start I looked around, quickly orienting myself as to where I was and what I had been doing. Oh, yeah, right, hiding from the dickweeds and trying to make my way across the desert with only a few arms of cactus and my stubborn will power. What woke me from my sleep? I listened for a bit then I heard it…the tumbling of rocks and footsteps. Hmm, wondered how long I was out and what time it was.

    My stomach grumbled. Obviously it was well past meal time. Past six o’clock. Man I was hungry, but even if I gave up and went back with them I wouldn’t get anything to eat. Dinner is at six…period! Stifling a yawn, I relaxed in my cubby hole, confident they wouldn’t pick up my foot prints. After all, the desert brush I used to wipe away the prints also shielded the entrance to the small enclosure I had found earlier.

   Though still hot, it was cooler then it was under the direct sun and as long as I had water I was good to go for several days. From what I remembered from my trip to the camp it was a good four hours away from the nearest town but I should be able to cover that in fairly good time at night. No worry for rattlers, they would be sleeping and coyotes, they shy away from humans. Wolves and cougars weren’t known to be in the area so all safe there too.

    Sure enough after fifteen minutes I heard someone call out that they couldn’t find me and that it was getting close to night. One said they’d report it to the local authorities and to head back to camp. After I heard their footsteps fading I still waited another ten minutes then slowly creeped out of my hidey hole and looked around.

    Sure enough, I was alone. In the distance I could see a dust trail from a jeep that must have been parked a little bit away. Would sure love to have that right now. The car, not the people in it. Oh well, Wishing gets you shit. Glancing to the west I watched the sun set, seeing the beautiful colors as night quickly took over the sky. On the horizon, yellows, oranges, pinks and pale blues gave way to deeper blues and purples that up with this side lighter then midnight sapphire. Damn, now that was pretty but I didn’t have time to sit around and ‘oh and ah’.

    Making my way down the opposite side of the hill, I could barely make out the soft glow of lights in the distance and smiled. Great, my luck was finally looking up. With a hearty heave ho I made my way across the land to hopefully my salvation. Hello room service, hello TV, hello masseuse! 

    Unfortunately things don’t always go my way. That town was a lot farther away than I thought and it seems dark comes early out here in the desert.

 

                                           I Wanna Be A Cowboy! 

 

   I trudged across the desert, careful not to step on rocks or into prairie dog holes. Last thing I needed was a twisted ankle and to have to hobble who knows how many miles to the town. The night was cooler but not by much. I didn't have the sun beating down on me. My biggest worry was getting a gnat down my throat. But at least I wasn't alone in my trek.

   "Howdy, ma'am. Ya know ya really oughtn’t be out here alone fer this time of night."

   I glanced over to my right to find some guy keeping pace with me. He was dressed in worn brown pants, the hems slightly frayed and covering a pair of old scuffed cowboy boots with those old fashioned spurs. A loose linen shirt draped from his broad shoulders and a dark brown leather vest with tool marked designs covered it, open in the front to reveal a steady climb of wooden buttons up the front of his shirt that was opened from the top three buttons. A sprinkling of dark hair matted his chest which was deeply tanned from having spent one too many days under the harsh desert sun.

   A black suede cowboy hat, intermittently lined with silver coins decorating the base of it, sat low on his head to shade his eyes with dark shaggy hair that peeked out from under his hat to brush at his shoulders. A couple of days worth of stubble darkened his chin and upper lip. All in all, he was kinda cute and looked like one of those cowboys you'd see in a western movie with Russell Crowe or some other gorgeous actor.

   We walked silently for several minutes as I really didn't feel like explaining myself at the time nor wanting to answer any questions to my why and how. I glanced sideways at him from the corner of my eye but this time his attention was straight forward, leaving me with his profile, which let me tell you, could put Orlando Bloom to shame. He stood a good foot taller than me, was lean not bulky but I could tell by his easy swagger that he was good at taking care of any trouble that came his way. Too bad those clothes hung so loosely on him for I would love to see what he looked like under them. Opps! Did I just say think that? Oh well, guess I did. Must not be as innocent as some people think. Age has nothing to do with lust.

   He cleared his throat then swallowed before slipping his tongue between his lips to wet them. Oh yeah, could think of something that could be good for.

   "Ya headed fer town?" He asked in a deep Western accent, his voice slightly rough as if he had too many shots of whiskey and reached up to scratch at the stubble on his chin.

    I nodded. "Yeah."

    He turned to his face toward me. Though it was dark out the moon over head was full and bright, giving plenty of light to walk by. I could see the lower half of it; his nose, nostrils slightly flared, a strong jaw and lips that were full and sensual but his eyes were shaded by the brim of his hat as if he were walking under the full sun. It was kinda eerie but his demeanor wasn’t threatening. If anything it was more curious.

   I could feel his eyes wander over me, a flare of amusement turning up the corner of his mouth to reveal a slight dimple. Damn, dimples on men were soooo sexy. I looked away, barely managing to avoid stepping in a prairie dog hole and embarrassing myself. Swearing silently at myself for my stupidity of being distracted by a cute cowboy (yep, pretty sure that was what he was) I tried ignoring his perusal of me. When it didn’t let off I glared at him.

   “What?”

   He kept his eyes on me though he seemed to try to be polite about it. Tightening his lips, he seemed to be debating about what to say.

   Letting out an irritated sigh I rolled my eyes. “Oh, come on. Just grow some balls and spit it out.” I growled.

   That seemed to startle him out of his politeness. His mouth turned down into a frown.

   “Ok, why do ya have that ring in yer lip and why are ya walkin’ around half naked? Even the trollops in town wear more clothes then ya are.”

   His eyes traveled down to my legs then back up to settle briefly on my bared stomach before flickering over my breasts then they stopped back on my face.

   “Yer awful purty. Why would ya wanna to look like this?”

   I’m sure my face froze as my eyes narrowed to slits. “Look, if you don’t like them then leave. No one’s forcing you here. You can just mosey along your way and leave me the fuck alone.” I quickened my pace, pulling away from him intent on getting to town. Oh, how this just reduced his appeal in my eyes.

   Closing the distance between us, the cowboy caught up, walking abreast of me.

   “I’m sorry, ma’am.”

   Taking his hat off, he held it before his chest and stopped. I paused, turning to glare at him and placed my hands on my hips to show I was serious. Wasn’t taking crap from no stranger, no matter how hot he looked. He lowered his head slightly; just enough to his dark hair fell forward over his forehead, effectively hiding his eyes.

   “I humbly apologize fer my impertinence and ask yer forgiveness.”

   I just stared at him, opened mouth, stunned then closed it before a bug flew in to gag me. Was he serious or was he just bull shitting me? Feeling his eyes move back to my face he waited wordlessly for my response. I mean, I’ve never been apologized before. What should I say? Feeling my temper drain away I shrugged.

   “Ok.”

   Turning away from him abruptly I headed back in the directions of the lights. I needed to hurry. Who knew how long it took to set up a missing person’s hunt in this poe dunk piece of hell? If the drill sergeant Captain Ass kept quiet about my escape and called the police only, something could be set up within a few hours. If he called my dad I’d be home free. Dad wouldn’t send out a search party, knowing after a while I’d get bored of hiding out and make my way back home, no matter how much time passed.

   Taking my okay as an acceptance, the cowboy trotted after me until he caught up then walked beside me again.

   “Ya really oughtn’t be out here alone.”

   “Oh?” I raised an eyebrow at him. “Why is that?”

   “There’s some bad men out here. Ya don’t wanna be caught alone by them.” Apparently he had slid his hat back on his head because when I looked at him there it was, pulled low in the front to shade his eyes.

   “So, if these bad men show up then what? You going to insult them too?” I asked, ignoring the look he shot at me. Anyway, why was he all concerned about me. After all, we just met…here in the desert, at night, in the middle of nowhere. “Soooo, do you have a name or should I call you Studly?”

   “It’s David, ma’am,” he offered, moving his right hand slowly over his waist to rest on…

   I blinked. He wore a gun on his hip. I couldn’t make out the pommel because the palm of his hand rested on it but it looked like a six shooter, the kind a cowboy would wear. Mentally I smacked my head. Duh, he is a cowboy.

   “I’m Selene.”

   He nodded at that though I couldn’t tell if he approved of the name or not because his attention seemed solidly fixed somewhere off in the distance. His jaw tensed slightly then he swore under his breath.

   “So, where’s your horse.”

   “Huh?”

   He glanced over at me for a second, a slight smile crossing his lips then looked back to whatever it was he had been studying over yonder. He veered toward me, forcing me to change my direction or to bump into him and I didn’t know him well enough yet to want to get that up close and personal with him, especially not without a hot shower first. I was sweaty, dusty and ripe from a long day of digging in a freaking sandbox, remember?

   “There’s a gully up ahead, so we’ll need ta take a small detour.” He nodded toward the west where he was steering me.

   With a shrug I silently obeyed, suddenly finding myself feeling tired and achy from this long day.

 

                                     Things That Go Bump In the Night 

 

    How many miles we walked across the moon lit desert I have no idea and after our brief chat David grew quiet, keeping his attention to whatever drew it in the distance. I wished I was home, in my big bed, snuggled deeply in the down comforter listening to my dog Kurrupt snore. Trudging across the hard packed ground gave me time to get a deeper perspective as to what I needed to do now.

    I guess Sgt. Dumbass actually called my dad for there was no sight of a search party. No car lights in the distance, no helicopters in the overhead darkness with their flood lights scraping the ground, no hounds a baying or people calling out my name. Man, I feel loved.

    Glancing over at the silent cowboy I could see an intensity in his eyes I hadn’t noticed before. Like I said he was young but studying his face I realized it wasn’t from appearance that gave me the impression of his age, his was his body movement. He was fluid, unhampered by the stiffness that comes with age. His stride, while confident had a bit of a spring in it (can’t believe I just said that…spring. Geez, you old whipper snapper) and even though there were light crow’s feet by the corners of his eyes I figured out it was from squinting, not from age.

    “Selene?”

   I blinked, realizing I was staring and quickly looked away, hoping he didn’t notice.

   “What?”

    “Ya need ta be careful. The bad men are comin’.”

    I stumbled, tripping over a rock at his statement and stopped to look at him.

    “Bad men? Who? How do you know they’re coming?” I asked, rubbing my palms along my denim shorts nervously.

   Catching my movement, he looked grimly at me, his eyes still shadowed by the cowboy hat he wore. His lips parted slightly as he drew in a deep breath then tightened in a straight line. Abruptly he looked back up, his eyes narrowing as he stared out in the distance and his fingers flexed around the handle of his six shooter.

    “You planning on helping me?” I asked, watching his movements warily. He grew tenser, not answering and began to walk again. With a dramatic sigh, I follow, hurrying to catch up and grumbled under my breath about cryptic gunmen.

   Once again we walked with not a word between us, striding on with a clomp-clomp-clomp, hearing the soft whooo of a burrow owl and skittering of tiny feet as field mice scattered underbrush to escape the predator they knew was coming.

    Finally a road came into view, a chewed up old dust trail locals probably used to get to the highway. I stopped and looked right then left, debating which way we should go then figure right since the lights I had seen earlier seemed to have come from that direction. Shoving my hands in my back pockets I shrugged, grinned at David and headed down the way. This time David followed, looking perplexed as he glanced around as if …something were off.

   “What’s up?” I asked but he shook his head. Rolling my eyes at the ol’ ‘nothing’ answer I received I continued on, feeling a little better at knowing I would soon be back in civilization or whatever counted for it out here in Timbuktu.

    From out of the night two pin pricks of light appeared, slowing getting bigger and brighter until soon I heard the roaring of a big block engine. Rumbling into sight came on old Ford Pickup, light in color with plenty of dings and dents along its body. Beside me David began getting agitated, his hand tightening on his gun as his jaw flexed. I swear I could almost hear him ground his teeth as we watched the truck getting closer and closer. Why was he getting pisser and pisser? Was this the bad men?

    As it got nearer the truck slowed down until it rumbled to a stop. I had to squint my eyes against the glare and turn my head slightly to keep from getting blinded by the bright head lights. David moved closer to me, his mouth set in a harsh line and glared.

   “Selene.”

    I shook my head at him and took a step closer. The truck was going in the wrong direction but perhaps would at least get me to a gas station or some other place where I could call a cab and find my way out of this hell hole. Why walk when I could ride.

    Taking a step closer to the truck I peered in, making out two shadowy forms in the cab and smiled, brushing my hair back, hoping I didn’t look too bad.

   “Hey. You guys from around here?” I asked, flashing one of my ‘oh, isn’t she cute’ smiles at them.

    “Yeah.” An elbow shifted out of the window as he rested his arm on the sill. “You need a ride?”

    “Yeah, I’d appreciate it. My boyfriend and I got in a fight and …” She shrugged, “well, here I am.”

     The shadow turned as his conferring with his companion the nodded at me. “Sure, go around the side and climb on in. Jake will make room.”

     I let out a soft yep and hurried around the front of the truck as the side door opened then paused as the interior light came on revealing my ‘saviors’. Jake stepped out, giving me access to the bench seat and I had to go passed him to enter the cab. It’s not that they looked particularly scary. Hell, the people my dad hung with were scary. These guys were mild compare to them, but still I got an odd feeling as I looked into Jake’s face.

     Dark eyes watched me under thick brows. His eyes were deep sunken and his nose looked as if it had been broke a few times in a fight or something. His hair was cut in a crew though the front was a bit longer than any military cut I had ever seen before but the clothes he wore were pure hick. Blue jeans with holes in the knees and a plaid lumberjack shirt rolled over beefy forearms.

    The driver had long blonde hair just past his shoulders and a thick beard. Now he looked like a lumberjack or some displaced biker. He smiled crookedly at me, his eyes traveling over my body before settling back on my face with approval in his eyes. If he think he’s getting some kind of welcome gift from me for a ride he can forget it. If I have sex it’s with someone I’m at least mildly attracted to. Past him I could barely see David in the dark, shaking his head no. Should I or shouldn’t I, I wondered. Walk or ride. They stared at me expectantly and I had the sudden feeling if I didn’t willingly climb into the cab of that truck I would then be entering it forcibly.

    Stilling myself, I smiled and passed Jake. He stepped aside, keeping his hand on the frame of the door as I slid across the seat. Jake climbed in after me, the seat shifting as his weight settled in and smiled down at me as he closed the door, suddenly drowning the interior of the cab in darkness. In the rear view mirror I spied David jumping into the bed of the trunk and settled in for the ride. He nodded to me grimly, touching the brim of his hat as his eyes met mine.

    I’m not leaving you, they said.

 

                                            Going down the Magic Bowl

 

   “So, what’s yer name, darlin’?” The blonde who I discovered was called Carter asked me as we drove down the dirt road. The aroma of cigarettes permeated the interior of the truck cab and I breathed in deeply, kinda jonzing for a smoke but not willing to ask for anything more. After all, being trapped between two bear men and little ol’ me trying to avoid being ‘accidentally’ bumped by them was not my brightest idea.

   Never accept rides from strangers. Mom used to say that of course, what parent doesn’t? You never know who would be perves or serial killers. I sighed and stared forward, trying to think about my next move toward escape but being trapped between the two, kinda hard to do? Have to crawl over one or the other and who knows when they last had a bath? Eeeew.

    Carter drove silently for a bit, the truck bouncing slightly as it rolled over small rocks on the road or managed to hit another pot hole. Wonder if he’s purposefully doing that? Jake wore a smile on his face, teeth straight and white in his mouth. Why he was smiling I wasn’t quite sure but it wasn’t a pleasant smile by half.

   “Sara.” I finally answered and Carter nodded his head as he ran his tongue between his thick lips, wetting them. Jake grunted at the name, same stupid smile in place as his eyes shifted down to my bare legs. I’ve never been a person particularly modest but I suddenly became overcome with the urge to cover up. I shifted slightly, feeling the leather of the bench seat stick to the back of my thighs and pull at my skin as I moved. Wincing, I tried to ignore the slight stinging pain and locked my fingers together to rest on my knees.

    “So, there a town up here any time soon?” I asked, my attention going to the rear view mirror to watch the back of David’s head. He glanced over his shoulder at me, clearing displeased by the way the events were unfolding. I raised my eyebrows, giving him a facial shrug and tried to smile but my eyes kept shifting back between the two men beside me.

    “Sara, that’s a purty name.” Jake ran his tongue across his teeth, turning a smile on me as his shifted his torso in my direction. Carter chuckled as a chill wrapped around me like a wet sheet.

   I felt fingers brush the back of my neck and shivered as my hair was brushed over to my shoulder to reveal the skin that was hidden there. That’s when I realized the truck had stopped moving though its rusty old engine still rumbled in life under its hood. I felt more then heard Carter turn toward me, felt the chill of his smile and the steel hardness of his fingers dig into my shoulder as he tilted me back toward him.

   “Darlin’, don’t you know how dangerous it is out here?” He whispered to the back of my head. From the corner of my eyes I could see David tense, his jaw flex as he looked from the man behind me to the one in front.

   I suddenly felt languid, almost drunk and compliant as Jake’s hands wandered over the bare skin of my thighs. I spread my legs wider, giving him better access but his fingers lingered along the hems of my shorts as he leaded his head toward mine. Oh my God, was I about to get into a three-way? With these two? I thought I was gonna puke but surprisingly I didn’t. Instead I watched drunkenly (how did I get so intoxicated without even a hint of alcohol?) as Jake reached out to lift my shirt, baring my belly and bra.

   A weird kinda moan escaped from me as I watched as if not in my body, as if I were some uninterested stranger watching from a few feet away. Carter’s lips brushed at my neck as I stretched it back and to the side as Jake ran a tongue over the top curve of my breast, dipping it between the soft valley between them before trailing over to the other. I sighed again, my eyes shifting to meet David’s. This time I actually saw something in the dark shadow that usually hid them from my sight. But instead of eyes that you would normally expect were glowing embers, some kinda of fiery furnace that stared at me from beyond.

   A sudden sharp pain broke the eye contact. I gasped, looking down as I saw Jake’s dark head moving slowly with purpose over my breast. Was he biting me? It felt like a sharp hot poker raked across my skin and the pulling of his lips as he fastened them on to me. Something rolled along the curve of my breast, pooling between my breasts only have his tongue lick between them.

   Carter stiffened behind me as a deep sigh escaped from his lips, brushing over my ear and flittering the hair framing my face. His hand left my shoulder to move toward the bowed one of his friend. Fingers outstretched, he reached for Jake’s head until grabbing a handful of dark hair and jerked him away from me.

   I cried out, feeling Jake’s teeth rip out of my skin, tearing my flesh. Blood poured from the wound, staining my bra a deep crimson color and I blinked, staring wide mouth in disbelief. He bit me! He fucking bit my tit!

    “Git off her.” Carter growled as Jake glared up at us. I gasped as I saw the other man’s eyes. Where before they had been a dark brown now they positively glowed an eerie golden yellow, the rims of the iris blood shot and hate filled. His mouth stood wide open, my freaking blood dripping from it as two wickedly curved fangs practically jumped out at me to say ‘BOO!’. Oh, shit, I’ve seen these guys before. In movies! They were freaking vampires! I was too in shock to do anything but stare until Jake hissed and tired to once again bit me, but Carter’s fingers held tight to the other man’s hair and held him immobile.

   “I said get off her!”

    I turned my head to look for David (I’ve got to be stupid, what could he do against two vampires) but he was nowhere in sight. Instead Carter pushed me down on to the floorboard and lunged forward, his other hand wrapping around Jake’s throat, knocking him backward into the truck door. The door burst open with loud grating sound of twisted metal as the two men flew out of the cab of the truck, Jake backward with Carter on top of him. They hit the ground with a loud thud only to break apart. Both men jumped up in amazing speed, unhampered and unfazed by the sudden outburst and circled each other.

   Jake seemed slightly confused. Why was his buddy fighting him? After all, they were out cruising for a little snack and they found the perfect victim in me. Was Carter suddenly greedy, wanting me all to himself? I highly doubt that. After all, we never even had a proper first date.

   “Selene,” Carter snarled out. “Drive. Get out of here. I’ll hold them back while I can!”

   Jake’s eyes shifted to me, betraying his intent. I stared at him in, I don’t know, freaking scared the shit out of me and scrambled into the driver’s seat as I shifted the gear out of park back into first. I hate stick shifts and prayed I didn’t stall the truck. Pressing down on the gas, I held on to the steering wheel and speed down the dirt road as I spotted Carter tackle Jake before the dark haired man leapt toward the open door of the truck. Last I could see as the light from the tail lights faded was the two vampires fighting in the dust.

 

                                             Ha, Ha! Tag, You’re It! 

 

   Oh damn, oh damn, oh damn!

    That mantra kept repeating in my head as the memory of the two vampire red necks fighting. I glanced quickly at the rear view mirror, grateful not to see either of them ramroding it up the road behind me. In my mind’s eye I could see them reaching the truck even though I was driving going well over eighty miles per hour. Just in case I pressed the petal down hard, hearing the engine roaring.

    Clutching the steering wheel tightly I couldn’t quit shaking. Already I was feeling dizzy and light headed even though the surge of adrenaline coursed through my body. Oh my God, oh my God. They were trying to kill me. I could feel the seat under me grow slick and my shirt clung to my chest as with each pump of my frantically beating heart more blood pumped out.

   I dared to look down between watching the road and glancing into the mirror to watch for sprinting vampires and lifted my T-shirt. Swallowing hard at the numbing pain, I looked at the wound and winced. Fuck, this is going to leave a nasty scar. The wound itself was jagged, two long deep rips in my tanned flesh, still pouring out blood even as I watched. It streamed down my belly, soaking the front of my shorts to pool between my thighs. I blinked, not feeling too cleared headed and wanted to close my eyes.

   “Watch the road.”

   Startled, I drop my shirt and look up before flicking my eyes to the passenger side. David sat there, relaxed back on the seat with his cowboy hat cocked forward over his brow to shade his eyes. I swallowed again, gripping the steering wheel once with both hands before reaching down to shift the truck into second gear and tried speeding up more. In the distance dawn broke through the dark, highlighting the horizon in pale blues, lavenders and pinks before a bright streak of light broke through as the sun peaked above the ground. Surprise!

    “Ya need ta take care of that wound. It won’t kill ya but ya’ll still be weak from blood loss. Go find a doc and git some stitches fer it.” David shook his head, peering sideways at me.

    “Nah, can’t.” I breathed, shaking my head. There was no way in hell I was stopping, no way I was going to let those mother fuckers get me again. Dumb ass, dumb ass. I couldn’t believe how stupid I was, how close I came to dying, getting raped or both. Do vampires have sex? I had no idea and I figured it was not something I particularly wished to find out first hand.

   “Yer gonna pass out if ya don’t git that looked at soon, Selene. Yer pale and shaky.”

    “No duh.”

    Shaking his head, David looked back at the sunrise. “Ya’ll be safe soon enough. They can’t walk in the daylight. If they don’t find shelter soon the sun will git them.”

    I grunted my response, not wanting to argue on the subject and felt my eyes lids droop. From the corner of my eyes I could see David’s form flicker as he watched me. Ignoring him, I tried concentrating on driving then the next I knew the lights went out.

    When I woke up the truck was off the dirt road, parked near some dried sage brush and bleached out tan boulders. Even with the widows rolled down the heat inside the cab was stifling. I swallowed, trying to wet my parched throat and winced as I tried to sit up. It took several minutes before I managed to accomplish that small feat. Grabbing hold of the dash board and the back of the bench seat I used the leverage to pull myself up, grunting in pain as I did.

   Blinking against the glare of the blazing sun, I glanced around. David was nowhere in sight. Here I was, all alone in the middle of the desert with no freaking idea where here was exactly. My shirt was no longer on me, instead it was ripped up in strips and patches used to bind the wound on my chest, one piece folded into a pad, several pieces tied together to wrap around my torso to hold the pad in place. It was no longer bleeding though my shorts were stiff from the blood from earlier. A pale crimson smear across my chest and abdomen showed where someone tried to wipe away the blood that flowed from the wound. It was a good try but instead now I looked like an escapee from a horror movie.

    And where before the scent of cigarettes was enticing to me, now it seemed overwhelming and cloying. All the smells, all the blood…I was going to be sick. I needed to get out of the truck…now!

   Working the handle, I managed to get the door open and weakly climbed out, feeling my knees give out as I fell to the hard sun baked ground below me. Breathing hard I struggled to stand, pulling myself back up to my feet by holding on to the door. Once secure that I wouldn’t fall again, I closed my eyes for a second, gathering my thoughts and ran my tongue between my lips to wet them. God, I was so thirsty.

    Letting out a deep breath, I cracked my eyes open and slowly made my way over to a low boulder to sit, ignoring the heat in the stone, only wishing to be out in the sunlight before looking around at my surroundings. Back in the distance behind the truck was the dirt road. I could barely make it out in all the brown and tans that filled the area. Every once in a while a low prickly brown bush dotted the landscape, no cactuses in sight, no source of water. Just flipping great!

      I really wanted to peek at the wound but didn’t, knowing to do so would just cause it to start bleeding again. It burned terribly, as if acid were coursing through it. From what I could see the flesh around the padding was inflamed, a red blotch stretching out from under the bandage. I could tell I was feverish, my body shaky, giving small involuntary jerks every once in a while as I sat there. I just wanted to be home. Hell, even that dumb ass camp was looking good at this moment. Dad was definitely getting an ear full when I get home, that was for sure.

    Where the hell was David? Did my stupid stunt make him reconsider keeping my company? I actually missed him even though we had only met the night before. That was my luck. Actually start to like someone then get abandoned. That was the story of my life. Can’t trust anyone, can't care about anyone cause they’ll leave you, they always do.

    Warily I stood back up, headed over to a clear spot to lower my shorts, squat and quickly relieved myself then stood back up fastening my shorts again and moved back to the truck. Damn this thing was a clunker. More beat up then it had appeared in the dark plus now it was missing the passenger side door. Shaking my head I climbed in behind the wheel, slammed the door shut behind me and started the engine. Running my hands over my face I drew in a deep breath before leaning across the seat to reach for the glove department. Opening it, I rifled through some papers shoved in there and found two things. A bottle of aspirin and a Colt 45. I stared. Ok, ah…nice to know it’s there.

    I grabbed the bottle of aspirin, shook out two then replaced it in the glove department before closing it. Popping the aspirin in my mouth I forced myself to swallow, knowing it would do me good and winced at the nasty bitter taste it brought in my mouth. Argh! Nasty ass stuff. Sitting back up, I set the gear into reverse, looked behind me and pushed down on the gas pedal, backing out of the area the truck was parked at and slowly made my bumpy way back to the road. Taking the right, I headed toward the direction I hoped the highway was. There was no way I was going back in the other direction, no way back where those vampires were left.

    My breast hurt, burning. God, it hurt. I needed to find a hospital, something, anything, soon.

 

                          Another Day, Another Headache 

 

   After driving for several hours in a non air conditioned truck with one door missing and blood all over the front seat I managed to come across a small po dunk gas station slash hotel slash restaurant. I pulled in to the opening, leaving a cloud of dirt in my wake and parked on the side of the gas station.

   I looked at the little dial on the dash board letting me know how much gas was left in the tank. The arrow hovered at the E, giving me no choice but to abandon the truck. Don’t go ‘but what about the gas station’. You forget, I just escaped from a camp for delinquents and didn’t have a credit card on me. I’m not so desperate to trade a BJ for some gas and from the way Bubba over there looked I won’t be that desperate for a long time.

   But I was definitely hungry and thirsty. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast two days ago and with the blood loss from those vampires I was feeling woozy, sick and grumpy. Not to mention tired, dirty and sore. Turning off the motor, I opened the driver side door and slid out of the truck, ignoring the sweat that coated the back of my legs then hurried to the restroom which luckily was on this side of the building and empty.

    Closing the door behind me, I slid the lock in place as I flicked on the light and instantly regretted it. A few cockroaches scattered to their various hiding places. A lone grimy grey toilet with God knows what smeared on the seat stood on the opposite wall from me. To my left was a sink with a smudged mirror above it and a soap dispenser and paper towel machine next to it. Graffiti covered the dingy once white walls and a garbage can over flowed with paper towels, cookie and condom wrappers and who knows what else.

    I tried breathing through my mouth to cut out on the smell then turned to the sink and the mirror above it. Damn, I looked bad. My black and pink hair was limp and stringy from sweat and dirt and blood smears stained my neck, chest, belly and thighs. The bandage was dark with crusted blood and I knew it would hurt like a mo fo when I take it off, but I knew I needed to check the wound and clean it. Wish I had some peroxide but soap and water will have to do.

    Letting out a deep breath I turned on the water and leaned toward the mirror. My pupils were pin pricks and my face sun burned. I knew it should hurt, but hell, after the bite nothing really hurt much anymore.

    “Ya need some holy water.”

   I raised my eyes to look over my reflection and spied David standing near the door. He watched me, his lips drawn tight into a thin line. He didn’t seem happy.

    I shrugged and filled my hand with pink liquid soap, began rubbing both my hands together before leaning back over to wash my face and neck. Closing my eyes I sighed softly. This felt soooo good. Splashing water over my face I almost cried at how good it felt. Quickly I wet me hair then straightened back up, tossing it over my shoulder to drip down my back and eyed David as he watched me silently.

    Judging, judging, he always seemed to be judging me and I always seemed to fail. I looked away, down at my chest and the make shift bandage. Oh, I was going to regret this. The red streaks I saw before radiating from under the cloth seemed to have expanded, moving up my neck, down my ribs and around to my side. Grimacing, I reached up and touched the blood stained patch. No way was this thing coming off dry.

    Instead I leaned over the sink again and splashed water on the cloth until it was thoroughly soaked then slowly I peeled it off, taking bits of the scab with it. Gritting my teeth to the pain I managed to free the cloth from my sink with minimum damage. I stared at the wound, at the nasty rips on the fleshy part of my upper breast and the deep ruby liquid leaking from it. For several moments I could only stand there, not sure what I should do before I gingerly reached up and touched the redness around it. My skin was hot to the touch and sore.

    “Ya need holy water ta git the sickness out of ya.” David’s drawl pulled my eyes up to his face.

    “Yeah, ok, so where do I get that stuff? I don’t expect the restaurant has it on their menu.” I sent him a dirty look, knowing the snideness in my voice was something he deserved. After all, it was David that saved me, David that bandaged me when I was hurt. He didn’t seem to react but I could tell my attitude affected him.

   “Sorry,” I mumbled under my breath as I reached for a couple paper towels, wet them then poured some soap on them before I started working on cleaning up the wound.

   He grunted and looked away.

    The silence in the air thickened as I washed. Scrubbing carefully, I got rid of any dirt and (ewww, is that pus?) that was in build up under the scabs. Hissing in pain, I quickly grabbed a few more paper towels and dabbed at the blood once more pouring freely. This was ridiculous. Maybe the gas station had a first aid kit.

    Straightening back up, I bit my bottom lip, tugging worriedly at it till I could taste blood.

   “There’s a monastery not ta far from here. Left ove’ from the Spanish Catholics.” David’s head turned toward me again and I raised my eyes to meet his, well, at least the ones I was sure was there under the shadows of his hat. “There’s some priests that still live there.”

    I nodded. “Ok. Show me the way.”

 

      Don’t You Just Love the Smell of Napalm in the Morning?

 

   Sitting outside the restroom door was a small brown paper bag. I looked around to see if anyone might have accidentally left it, thinking someone else was in the restroom but the coast was clear. Not even Bubba was out where I last saw him by the gas pumps. I hastily snatched it up and peeked inside to find a couple of bottles of cold water, a saran wrapped ham sandwich, a bag of trail mix and a small roll of gauze bandages with pads.

   My stomach growled quite loudly at the sight of the food and I suddenly felt a little weak kneed again but I stuffed back my need to feed in order to bandage myself. Grabbing a few more paper towels I quickly dabbed at the bloody wound then tore open the wrapping to the pad and placed it over the tears. A crimson stain rapidly spread through it but I shrugged, added another then wrapped the gauze around my chest to hold it in place.

   Oh yes, I looked quite the sight.

   David waited patiently by the door until I shooed him out then taking that moment I looked once again at the toilet, shuddered and climbed onto the sink to pee. When I finished I slid back down, pulled back up my crusty, stiff shorts and zipped them into place before turning on the water to rinse the sink out. Why…hell. This place was gross anyway.

   I snagged the bag off the top of the paper towel dispenser, opened the door and stepped out into the bright, hot desert sun. I looked around, spying David heading back into the desert. Where on Earth was he going? The road was in the opposite direction. I frowned, feeling a pout coming on and let out a deep ‘put upon’ sigh. Damn cowboy. 

   Hurrying to catch up with him, I grumbled under my breath then slowed down my pace when only a few feet were between us. I opened up the paper bag, hooked a water bottle under my arm, ignoring the chill radiating off it, numbing my skin then reached in and took out the ham sandwich. Unwrapping it I took a big bite, closing my eyes slightly as I savored the flavor. Don’t get me wrong, it was a crappy sandwich, dry bread, wilted lettuce and melted cheese over very thin slices of ham. I’d eaten in some of the best restaurants in the world but at this moment, after not eating for two days this was almost as good as fillet mingon. 

    Scrabbling down the sandwich, I chased it with the water then slipped the half full bottle back into the bag for later. For an hour we walked in silence, me looking down at my feet and the dust I kicked around, him striding along as if he hadn’t a care in the world. The heat was becoming unbearable but luckily I had the water which I was careful not to just gulp down but only taking sips to keep me from getting parched. 

   Overhead the sun beat down at us, baking my skin and the ground underneath me and even though I cleaned up what I could I felt sweaty, sticky and yucky all in one. David just kept his stride casual, one long legged cowboy boot in front of the other. Never sweaty or stinky, man, it must be nice to be him. As if reading my thoughts he flashed me a crooked grin then faced forward again, thumbs hooked in his front pockets, shirt slightly unbuttoned and hat tilted to shield his eyes. I looked up as the cry from a hawk caught my attention and paused, cupping my eyes to stare up at it as it circled over head before disappearing into the distance.

    Finding myself thirsty, I pulled out a bottle, drained what was left and grimaced. One bottle left. Shoving it back in the crumbled bag, I glanced around, spying what looked to be a dirt road to my left and an old, worn out stone building up ahead. David kept his stride even; heading toward it so…of course that must be our destination. I’ve never been to a monastery before so I wasn’t sure what to expect but I kept my silence and followed behind.

   Once we reached the front of the building I looked up, spying a large metal bell in a cut out several feet above the door. The walls themselves were somewhat smooth and white washed, made of clay bricks and several small benched lined the outside wall. A small metal plaque hung next to the door written in Spanish but underneath was a date…1804. Wow, pretty old.

    I looked at David and he slowly nodded so I raised my hand and grabbed hold of a huge metal knocker and rapped several times hard on the dark wooden door. Boom, boom, boom. Then stepped back to wait. After more than a few moments passed I started fidgeting, shifting from one foot to the other then glanced at David again.

    “Are you sure any one is home?” I asked, feeling more than a little put out. If I had stayed at the gas station maybe at least I could have called my dad and seen if he could have sent Jones to pick me up. Either way, even if he didn’t at least I would have been standing here in the blasted heat.

   “He’s comin’,” David assured me, leaning back against the wall as he gazed out over the desert, as if searching for something. What was it kept looking for?

   A small wooden slide in the door opened to reveal onyx eyes. I squinted from the glare of the sun and grimaced a little grin at him, trying to look nonchalant about my business there. Without a word, the peephole was slid shut then the door was opened slowly, creaking loudly on old iron hinges to reveal a man about five foot eight or nine with a deeply tanned leathery face and dark black hair peppered with gray. He wore a long brown tunic monk style (duh) and sandals with a big grinned plastered on his face.

    “A visitor! Welcome, welcome! Come on in,” He stood back, allowing David and I entrance.

    I stepped through the open door way then stumbled to a stop, wide eyed, mouth ajar at the sight that greeted me.

 

                                      House Made of Cards

 

    I barely heard the heavy wooden door close behind me but jumped as a hand settled on my shoulder. I let out a startled gasp as the monk peered at me, narrowing his eyes as if he just noticed my disheveled appearance. I side stepped out of his way, avoiding stepping on the dismembered hand and moved to the only patch of dirt in the courtyard that I could find that wasn’t blood drenched. I’d seen horror movies before; some rating in the X’s but this…this was a slaughter.

    Bodies, male, female and child lay spurn around the ground, limbs missing, eyes wide and vacant. The stench was over whelming, making my stomach roll. I gagged, turning to look at David in bewilderment. Why did he bring me here to this slaughter fest? Feeling my heart race, my breathing growing faster I watched as he walked casually across the courtyard, stopping midway next to a man whose guts lay strewn across his abdomen and the bloody ground beneath him to turn his head to look at me.

    “They can’t hurt ya, Selene.” He stated.

   I shivered, feeling a cold bead of fear roll down my spine despite the heat from the overhead sun. Avoiding the empty stare of one of the corpses, his mouth open in a silent scream, hand outstretched as if seeking my help, I looked into the face of the monk and swore lightly under my breath, backing away out of his reach.

   He watched me, obvious confusion etched on his weathered face and wrung his hands together. “Miss, are you ok? Were you in a car accident? You’ve been hurt.”

    I swallowed hard, looking around for David and spotted him in the shade of a doorway on the opposite end of the dirt yard watching me grimly. He looked down, reaching up to tilt his cowboy hat farther over his forehead and pursed his lips in thought. Fingers brushed against my arm, drawing my attention back to the man before me.

   “Miss, let’s get you out of the heat. If you follow me I’ll take you to a room and go get a med kit.” He took a step backward, trying to coax me to follow. I watched as he stepped on, no, through one of the bodies and continued backward as if nothing hampered his movement. Swallowing down a sudden urge to throw up, I slowly moved after him, remembering David’s words. They can’t hurt you.

    Avoiding looking down, I kept my eyes on the monk’s face so I didn’t have to see what or who I stepped through. He smiled at me encouragingly and headed toward the building David waited patiently at. As we passed by him, he followed in step. I could see his profile as he walked beside me down the white washed hall. For some reason only my feet made noise, the smacking of my tennis shoes on stone floor.

  Amazingly it was much cooler inside then I thought it would be. I sighed, grateful for the relief from the heat and passed several plaques on the wall as well as a couple of closed wooden doors. Pausing at one plaque, I turned and read it. This time it was in English.

                                    1859. Bautista Mission

                              Friar Luis Obispo and forty three

                            other occupants from the surrounding

                             area gathered in the courtyard of the

                         Bautista Mission, seeking refuge and safety

                          from the massacre of 1859 led by General

                         Ortega Cortez. On July 29th in the year 1859

                        they were killed in an attempt by the General

                        Cortez to demolish any resistance in his bid to

                       remove Spanish influence in the area. Those who

                       died here died as martyrs of that war and will be

                               remembered for their intimate sacrifice.

    I stared at the plaque, thinking about all the bodies I witnessed in the courtyard. There had been no survivors. They all had died horribly. I closed my eyes, trying to block out the vision but it had been seared in my brain. I could hear their cries of horror and agony. Screams of the women and children, sounds of horses and men tramping through the monastery filled the air around me. I squeezed my eyes tighter, gritting my teeth, trying to block all the sounds, scents and sights from me but nothing worked.

    “Selene?” David’s calm voice spoke next to me, wrapping me into some form of order as I could sense the monk moving closer until he set a warm hand on my shoulder.

   “Miss? Are you ok? You’re looking pale. Let me get you to a room so you can lie down.”

    I swallowed and nodded, opening my eyes once more and turned back to the monk. He gave me a tight smile, his dark eyes worried and motioned for me to continue along the hall. After walking just a few more minutes he stopped in front of a door, reached into his robes to pull out a ring of keys and slid one into a keyhole under the bracket used as a door handle. Seemed they pretty much stayed old fashion in their decor.

   He opened the door, revealing a cool dark room and motioned me in as he reached inside to the left and flicked a switch. Lights suddenly came on, showing me the interior. Talk about sparse. A single bed stood in the far corner with starched white sheets and a grey woolen blanket tucked tightly around it. A small wooden table with a single chair sat to the right, a small tallow candle in the middle of its smooth surface along with a box of matches. Other than a large wooden cross on the wall and an opening in the wall near the ceiling as well as a small fireplace with a box filled with cords of wood, the room was extremely plain. Damn…

    “Sorry this is not what you’re used to, but we value simplicity.” The monk shrugged. “If you’d like to rest here I’ll go get you something to eat and drink and bring a medical kit. I’ve been trained in first aid so I can help you.” Pulling off a key from the key ring he held, he placed it on the table and moved toward the open door. “The bathroom is across the way. It’s all modern plumbing so you should be fine there.”

    He glanced out the doorway for a second, mouth tightening again before continuing. “I’m afraid we don’t have a phone but the others will be returning later tonight. They went to town for supplies. When they return one of us will be able to take you to the nearest hospital. Is there anything else you’ll need that I can get you?”

    “Holy water.” David stated.

    I nodded, wiping a hand over my mouth as I looked up at the monk. “Yeah, some holy water. I…I need it.”

   The monk raised an eyebrow. “Holy water? Okay, I’ll see what I can do.” He smiled, the look reminding me of one my father would do to placate me when he thought I was being childish.

    “I’m serious,” I moved over to sit on the bed, finding it extremely firm and mentally shrugged at having to lay on it. “I need holy water. It’s important.”

    Entwining his fingers together, the monk nodded. “Very well. I will return shortly. It will be several hours before the others return so feel free to explore. If a door is locked, please do not enter.”

   “Ok,” I yawned, suddenly feeling tired again. The weight of everything that had happen to me in such a short a time fell over my shoulders, feeling heavy and overwhelming. As I moved to lie down, the monk left, leaving the door open. David settled himself in the chair, stretching out his long legs and watched over me as I felt my eyelids suddenly grow heavy, heavy until they closed, leaving me in cool darkness. Peace…

   The sounds of crying reached my ears.

 

     Peace Be With You, My Child…Not!

 

    She kept staring, never blinking as a dark spot in the white of her left eye grew. I watched, bewildered, trying to figure out why it was there and was it supposed to do that. Quickly it spread until, as if using some hidden passage it filled the other eye then leaked from corners to run down the sides of her face, down the slight curve of her nose and dripped on my legs which were curled under her. Cold, so icily cold.

   Drip, drip, drip.

   I reached down and touched the inky black liquid, rubbing the substance between my finger tips, thinking to myself that it reminded me of the slickness of oil. Why was oil leaking out of her eyes? Why was it not stopping? I shifted my legs, trying to move them out from under her but found myself stuck as something sticky held me in place on the ground. And still she stared at me, unblinking.

   The oil started to spread, climbing my legs, moving from fingers where I had touched her face, pulling itself up one seeking tendril at a time as if searching for an opening in my body for it to bury itself into. Panicked I struggled to wipe the substance of me, tried to move away from the source but I couldn’t move my lower body. I sucked in a harsh breath as my heart began beating franticly in my chest, pounding harder and harder as if a massive drum lie in that cage of bone and meat. And still she stared at me, though this time I could swear a slight smile lifted the corners of her mouth.

    My body burned where ever the black oil touched me, searingly cold as to make my muscles tremble and my teeth clack. I looked around for help, for anything but found myself in a sterile room, all white tile floors, walls and ceiling. Only a paper target used in a gun range hanging on one wall stopped the tediousness of the stark color.

   The oil touched my abdomen now, pushing upward, causing my skin to crawl as it slid over me. I stared in horror at it progress when I noticed another color, this time of a deep crimson spreading out from under us. I stared at it as I felt her staring at me. Instinctually I knew that was what held me bound in place and knew it came from her, knew because of the massive wound on the side of her head, the side where the bullet had existed.

    “Selene.”

    Startled, my eyes dropped back down at her face, so beautiful in its stillness. No change in appearance, no life in those eyes. I touched her cheek, ignoring the inky liquid that tried to hide her identity. I could feel that same icy stuff seeking the wound on my breast, the flesh gouged and torn by hungry teeth and screamed as entered me. So painfully cold, so dizzily, painfully cold. My mouth and throat felt parched, lacking something to sooth it, to relive the stress of the aching cry.

    Why was I suddenly so thirsty?

    “Selene.”

   Hands shook me as David’s voice tugged at some part of my mind, bringing me back to reality, saving me from the blood and oil. I cracked my eyes open to find the monk sitting on the side of my bed, a worried look on his face as he shook my shoulder urgently. David stood behind him, the lower part of his face solemn to my view as before his eyes were still shaded from my sight by that damn hat. I was really beginning to hate that thing.

   “Miss, wake up.” The monk held something up before my face, catching my attention. I blinked a few times, trying to clear the smogginess from my sight and stared uncomprehendingly. What was that? “You need to drink this, miss. It will help lower your fever. You’re burning up.”

   Oh, it was a glass. I smiled slightly, feeling a bit foolish at not realizing that before. Dur. I struggled to sit up, feeling him shift to slid an arm around my back to help me up and felt the coolness of smooth glass touch my lips then a sudden rush of warmth as a honeyed laced liquid filled my mouth before sliding down my aching throat. I swallowed the drink, hearing him tssk to himself as he lowered me back down to the bed and sat the glass down on the small table beside it. David frown, turning his head slightly to watch the monk’s movements.

    “Ya need holy water, Selene. Tell the friar ya need holy water.”

   I grunted and glanced back at the monk. “Did you bring holy water?” I whispered harshly. Why did my throat hurt? It felt as if I had been at a rock concert screaming for hours.

   He nodded, motioning with his hand at the small table. I looked, noticing a small clay bowl as well as a plate filled with bread, cheese and fruit. “I thought you might be hungry too.” He straightened his posture, looking down at me with concerned dark eyes as his lips tightened in a straight line. “I brought the medical kit. If you let me look at the wound I’ll try to fix it up as best as I can, but I think you really need to get to a hospital. You’re running a temperature of a hundred and five. I think the medicine I gave you should help that but,” he shook his head, glancing down at my bra covered chest and the bandage over my left breast. “You’ve got some kind of infection going on here. Its spreading fast and is hot to the touch.”

   I shifted my eyes over his shoulder to David, felt him watching me intently then noticed someone walk past him to stop beside the bed and look down at me. Sad brown eyes met mine, the man’s hands held tightly together over his chest in worry, a dark stain spread over the fabric of worn brown robes of a monk. As he raised his hands toward his chin, a rosary entwined in his fingers I noticed a hole in his robe, several of them in fact, right over where his heart would be. I shuddered and looked away as he began a silent prayer.

   “Miss?”

   I glanced back up at the monk and nodded. “Sorry. Yeah, sure but I need you to use the holy water on it. It has to be cleaned with the holy water.”

   “I can do that.” He said and began preparing the items he needed from the kit, setting them out on the small table. “My name is Father Tomas, by the way.”

    “Selene.”

    He acknowledged that with a smile then reached over with one hand to the bandage, the other of his hands holding a clean gauze pad ready. “This might hurt some.” He said, trying to comfort me.

   “Oh, I know.” I drew in a deep breath then let it slowly out as he pulled off the blood crusted pad I had on the wound. I winced slightly, gritting my teeth as it was removed, feeling a tugging as bits of blood and flesh came off with it.

   “Oh, my.” He muttered under his breath, dabbing at the wound with the clean gauze as a deep crimson liquid bubbled up through jaggedly torn skin, the edges which were pale and angry looking. A greenish yellow pus oozed from it as well as blood that had some weird tiny pockets of black particles dotting it. Father Tomas frowned, his eyes narrowing as a silent prayer formed on his lips. “That doesn’t look good.” He muttered, reaching for some peroxide soaked pads and began gently cleaning the wound.

   He’d press on the sides of the cuts as pus and more of that weird black red blood would appear, wiping the mess and dead flesh away as he went until all signs of the infection were gone but the red streak over my chest and the polka dotted blood. “As soon as the others return we’ll take you to a hospital. Your blood shouldn’t have this in it.”

   He held the gauze up for me to see and I blinked in surprise, feeling my heart begin to race faster in my chest. The oil, it was the freaking oil from my dream. I began to shake, afraid, not knowing what was happening to me. I guess the friar took it as a sign of fatigue and illness because he began to bandage the wound again.

   “Selene, the holy water.” David’s warm Texas drawl reminded me of what needed to be done, why we came here in the first place.

   “Father Tomas, you gotta use the holy water first.”

   He looked up at me in surprise as if remember it himself then nodded and reached for the clay bowl on the table. Lifting the pad up to let the blood flow free he began to pray as he tilted the bowl down slightly to let the water pour from the rim directly into the wound. As soon as the cool liquid hit my skin it began to steam, smoke rising from the jagged flesh and the glistening meat underneath. I began to scream, having never felt something so breathtakingly agonizing before in my life. It felt as if thousands of red hot pokers were pushed into my skin, as salt and lemon juice were poured into the gash at the same time. My stomach rolled and twisted as my breath left me, nothing else could come. My eyes rolled back in their sockets while the muscles on my bones contracted, pulling my knees to my chest in an attempt to protect my body from this pain.

   The monk jerked away, his face a mass of horror and repulsion from the smell of burning flesh and the sight of bubbling skin. I cried out for him to continue, wanting to get this over with as David moved closer to the bed, reaching out as if to touch me, willing me his strength. The silently praying monk rubbed the amber beads of rosary as he raised his face upwards, as if silently beseeching on my behalf while Father Tomas nodded, not understanding what was going on here, why holy water was effecting me so but understanding in some subliminal way that his continuing was important. I last remember the look of pity in his eyes as he once more tilted the bowl and the water hit my abused flesh.

   I screamed until there was nothing but sweet darkness coming to save me from this insanity.

 

And the Dead Awakes

 

    “Selene.”

    Somewhere in my mind I heard my named called but for some reason it seemed too far away and insignificant. Like words spoken under water…water, all nice and wet with sand and coconut oil and hot men in short shorts to serve me pina coladas and sex on the beach.

   “Selene.”

   “Leave me alone, I’m sleeping.” I mumbled, pulling the pillow over my head and buried myself deeper under the blankets.

   “Miss, miss,” another voice broke in, urgent in its tone and a hand shook me lightly.

   I growled at having my sleep disrupted, grouchy any normal day (for I’m not a morning person) and turned over, trying to ignore his low whispers of ‘miss, miss’. But the first voice wouldn’t let up, growing louder and slightly irritated.

   “Selene, get up. They’re comin’.”

   For some reason I couldn’t comprehend at the time my eyes snapped open and I sat up (much to my regret, due to the overall body ache and awesome headache that threatened to split my skull). The pillow slid to the floor unnoticed as I turned to stare at David. He was no longer leaning against the wall, instead he stood by the bed I sat on, so close to me I could see a flicker of iridescent green flame glow in the shadows where his eyes would be. The intensity of that stare was enough to set warning bells off in my mind. Great, can’t I have any time to just rest and not worry about anything?

   Father Tomas watched me questionably, I guess trying to figure out why I looked to the right of him rather than at him and I just shrugged an eyebrow, stifling a yawn and scratched the side of my head. The monk’s eyes flickered toward the closed door and I noticed worry lines tighten at the side of his eyes. Why was he worried, I wondered then snapped my head back toward David. He tilted his head and I could see his lips tighten in a straight line. Great, he was worried too. Not a good sign.

   “What is it, Tomas?” I could hear a hesitant sound in my voice as if I was on the verge of creeping into a dark room and calling out to someone I ‘hoped’ was still alive. Not a good sign. Glancing down at my hand I noticed it began shaking slightly and the fine airs on my arm stood on end. From the corner of my eyes I noticed David shift closer to the bed, as if his presence could offer comfort. “What’s wrong?”

   The monk turned back to me, worry etched clearly across his face. “Miss,” he whispered, leaning toward me, “something is wrong. The others, my brothers, they are back.” He paused, frowning as if that was not quite right. He shook his absently. “Well, the car is back but…” the frown deepened, “no one…”

   I scooted to the side of the bed I sat on, setting my feet firmly on the cold cement ground and let the feeling race through me, waking me up. I drew in a breath, closing my eyes for a moment before standing. “What time is it?”

   Father Tomas didn’t seem to hear me as he stood up, his attention back on the closed door. “Normally they would have come to let me know they arrived back but nothing. It’s quiet and…”

   “Too quiet,” David added, drawing the rim of his cowboy hat low on his brow.

   “It’s not right. And there are strangers in the infirmary.”

   My head snapped up, eyes wide, startled. Strangers? And then I hear it, or lack of it. The outside was eerily silent, no cricket chirps, no wind, nothing, just silence. Like a tomb.

   “Sarrr-aahhh.”

   The voice reached me, calling and my chest flared, the wound where I had been bit and I actually thought my heart would leap up my throat, trying to escape my body in a hurry.

   “Selene, we need ta leave.” David’s comforting drawl wrapped around me and I looked back to find him close enough to me that I noticed the stubble on his chin actually had three different colors in it. He motioned to the door with his head before moving his mouth close to my ear. “They’re lookin’ fer ya. We have ta go.”

   I didn’t need to guess who he was talking about for if it had been my dad he would have been bellowing my name and if it had been Sergeant Dumbass and Corporal Bite Me all hell would have blown to smithereens as well as fog horns and over head lights to fill the darkness outside. Nope, I knew who came calling and it wasn’t Avon. It was those vampires. Somehow they found me.

   Unconsciously I reached up and rubbed the bandage over my left breast, feeling the sting of where teeth tore into skin and sucked in air between my lips.

 

                                         Things That Go Bump In The Night

 

   One thing I’ve noticed about the desert, even in the summer, is it gets pretty freaking cold at night. You would think in a place where there’s nothing but miles of hard, compacted dirt, boulders and every once in a while patch of something trying to pretend to be bushes (not to mention a cactus or two) that it would be hot (or at least warm) all night as well as day but it ain’t so. I know for my skin is all goose bumpy from the chill.

   After we had made our escape from my room unnoticed (with David doing the scouting) I crouched behind a low wall that surrounded a shrine of some chick with Father Tomas squatted down behind me. He kept making the sign of the cross over his chest and muttering prayers under his breath, which after a while got pretty annoying (especially when it’s done in Latin, a language I failed in school. Talk about bad flash backs, made me want to smack him).

   At this point several things popped into my head, the first being that was I going to be eaten before the night was over, the second was that if they didn’t eat me but turned me into one of them instead would they seriously think I’d hook up with one or both? Hope not because, well…ewww. Hick. The third was I couldn’t help but wonder, what was Aurora doing. Right now, at this very instant. Did she even think about me, miss my company or did my twin do what any normal teenager would do which was forget the other existed until they came back. You know, out of sight, out of mind. Right now I really missed my sis.

   “Saaar-ahhh”

   The redneck vampires kept calling out for me. I closed my eyes for a moment, realizing I was starring in a bad B movie and held my breath. This was not looking good. Twiddle Dee and Twiddle Dum were getting closer to where I was hiding and I could swear Jose behind me was shaking like a leaf in the wind. When I finally opened my eyes I almost let out a loud yelp myself when I came face to face with a little boy with big brown eyes filled with mischief. It took me a moment to figure out he was hiding too, crouched down like the Padre and I behind the wall, but rather than hiding from the vamps he was playing a game.

   He held a finger to his lips, motioning me to keep my silence and peered quickly over the rim of the wall before ducking back down to giggle. It would have been cute except for the fact there was a bullet hole and blood on the front of his shirt and the left side of his skull was caved in but who am I to complain. If he wanted to play hide and seek, more power to him.

   “Saar-ahh.”

   David walked up to us, standing as boldly as normal and from the angle of his head I figured he was watching where the vamps were. Then, at one point he looked down at me and motioned for us to follow. I did, tip toeing quickly after him as Father Tomas stayed on my heels. The little boy didn’t move, instead watching us leave with a little wave and continued his game of hide and go seek with someone I didn’t see.

   As we rounded a corner David pulled up short, stopping sudden enough that I almost plowed into his back if I hadn’t been keeping a good eye on him. Seeming to sense that, he shot a brief glance over his shoulder at me, a tight lipped smile as if to say, ‘eh, I wouldn’t mind’ before proceeding carefully around the side. I felt cool fingers wrap around my upper arm, pulling me back as Father Tomas’s voice filled my ear in urgent whispers.

   “Where are we going?” He asked softly, his face pale in the moonlight. “Those men, they are looking for you, right?”

   I gave him a brief nod, hoping he wouldn’t ask more questions that he might not believe the answers to.

   “And those men, they are the ones that hurt you?”

   Again I nodded.

   “They aren’t normal.” That was more of a statement than a question. I guess my new friend figured that out for himself. Not bad, next Jeopardy clue.

   David was trying to lead us back to the front gate without being scene. Hard to do when there was nothing between you and the bad guys except a few open door buildings and a couple of sparsely leafed trees.  I could see through the drawn shade of one room shadows of the vampires as they searched, having themselves a grand o’ time while thrashing things. Something heavy was tossed aside and glass broke as they laughed, which was good in the fact that it gave us time to get to our next hiding spot before they existed the building. Not good for me cause I landed smack dab in the middle of a man with his guts spilled over the ground…and it was not ghostly guts.

 

Three, Two, One...EWWWWW!!!!!!

 

   Ok, here’s the deal, guts…not something you really want wrapped around your knees and calves. First off they are really slick, like giant wriggly worms that nestle themselves around your skin, trying to trap you in their disgusting coils of bloody slime. They are not pretty, kinda with a greenish tinge and smell really bad. Of course the fact that they were still attached to the man who originally wore them on the inside didn’t help much.  My stomach lurched and I tasted vomit in my mouth but instead of letting it all come out (no pun intended) I swallowed it back down and tried to hold my breath. After all it wouldn’t do good to announce my presence to the killer vamps looking for me. Unfortunately the monk behind me didn’t get that message.

   The sound of ‘ughka, ughka’ reached my ears at the same time the stench of newly barfed chunks of whatever filled the air. Once again I had to swallow hard to keep from joining Father Tomas and slapped a hand over my mouth and nose just to keep the odor away but apparently I wasn’t the only one who smelled it.

   David swore lightly under his breath just as this strange air-leaking hiss froze me in place. My eyes widen as I noticed David’s jaw tightened and could tell under the shadowed brim of his cowboy hat that he was not happy. Carefully I peered over the rim of the well to find the two blood suckers standing on the porch of one building, slowly scanning the courtyard. They had their heads tilted slightly up and I had the distinct impression they were sniffing the air as they were blood hounds searching for a certain scent. One of them stepped down, shuffling his feet in the dirt as he moved around, bending low in some strange movement that sent a cold chill down my spine.

   Now I’m no coward. I’ve been in a fight or two and my dad seemed to have made it his mission in life to make sure my sister and I could take care of ourselves (hence the survival skills in hostile environments, natch) but this was nothing he taught me to deal with. Last thing I knew about vampires was some old guy wrote a book that became a movie about undead guy who wore opera clothes, seduced dumb girls and drank blood. And of course the generic teen sex movies where some hot undead fell in love with his long lost ‘true love’ reborn in a modern woman’s body, but this was no romantic much less a black and white talky. This was no Spike or even Angel, this was two guys who wore a feral look on their face and from the dismembered appearance of the monk I kneeled on meant business and had nothing to do with ‘love’ except for the love of blood and, I’m only guessing here, screaming.

   I could feel myself shake. First my teeth, clattering together which caused me to clench them so tightly I swore one cracked under the pressure. Next came hands and arms then my whole body shuddered, but David moved closer to me and strangely enough it seemed to calm me, at least slightly so that I could hear him. He knelt next to me, drawing my attention to him as he caught my eyes.

   “Don’t worry, Selene. I’m here. I’m not gonna let ‘em git ya.”

   I bobbed my head up and down, hearing my brain rattle in my skull, to 1. Let him know I heard him and 2. Give me something useful to do. It seemed to satisfy him cause he smiled grimly and stood back up. I had almost forgotten about Father Tomas when he shuffled away from the safety of the hiding place behind the well and crawled on hands and knees away from me and the friar whose guts I knelt in.

   Just like a cat waiting patiently for the mouse he knew was around, the vampires attacked, the speed from which they came at him made it seem as if they were by the porch one minute, then tearing an arm off the poor screaming monk held between them like a misused toy in the next. I close my eyes at the scene, hearing the sound that erupted from Father Tomas turn into something almost bestial, reminding me of high pitched squeal a howler monkey let off when it was being eaten by a crocodile I once saw on some wild life special. Thankfully it was cut short after a loud crunch and a wet sounding pop that filled the air.

   I cracked my eyes open just in time to watch the sides of Tomas’s head cave in as the Billy Ray Cyrus wanna-be crushed it between his hands. Blood splattered his face as he laughed and liked his lips before dropping the poor monk. As the other one was making a meatsicle out from the severed arm the first began sucking on his fingers before dipping them back into the bloody cavity and pulling out pinkish gray chunks  of…I gagged again, slapping my hand over my face as I turned away from the scene.

   Motioning for me to remain crouched, David ushered me toward to the entrance and, after spending a minute to disentangle myself from the coils of intestines that somehow seemed to have wrapped themselves around my legs like ribbon, kept low and followed him around various structures, only to pause every once in a while when I heard gaps in the feeding frenzy.

   Of course, just my luck, the door was locked and barred. There was no way I was getting that thing open without some noise. I looked at David but he was too busy scanning the courtyard again then he held a hand up to stay put and moved back into dirt yard and the ghostly (and not so ghostly) bodies. A low rumbling reached my ears though the vamps didn’t seem to notice, whether because they didn’t hear it or were just too busy eating to care. All the shadowy bodies in various stages of demolition perked up, eyes snapping open and focused on my cowboy companion. David’s head turned toward the two intruders and the others followed suit, suddenly fixated on the men hunkered over the padre’s poor corpse. The rumbling deepened, enough that I could feel it under my feet and unconsciously I rubbed at the drying bloody goo that covered my knees.

   I’m not sure if the vamps felt the vibrations or if the feeling of being watched sunk in but they lifted their bloody faces from whatever various body parts they chewed on at that moment and squatted there still as statues. It was eerie watching them so quiet, no sigh of life except for a hair catching in the breeze that appeared the air and floated the strand around their faces. I noticed the ghosts lying on the ground suddenly sit up, their eyes still fixated on the men as they slowly they began to stand until all faced the blood suckers. The breeze picked up speed, gathering dirt and dust and fallen leaves from the few trees that littered the yard. Branches bent and twisted while those leaves still on them clattered together like playing cards trapped in bike spokes, rattling louder and louder. I tucked a strand of my hair behind an ear after getting whipped by it in the face and watched the maelstrom that was starting to begin.

   From all around the dust rose, gather strength and speed until clap boards clacked against walls and tore loose, catching in the wind and flying free. When one board smacked the vamp called Carter on the shoulder they stood in unison , clearly wary with eyes bright and alert. But it wasn’t until the windows shattered, bursting out to scatter like tiny daggers flying dangerously through the air that all hell broke loose.

 

                                                            Black Betty

 

   The shards all hit at once, impaling the vampires bodies with deadly accuracy, if they had been living. As it was, the effect was phenomenal, rat-a-tatting them like machine gun fire. They jerked around in a strange, stiff dance before dropping to the ground, swirling clouds of dirt and leaves flying around their bodies.

   “Now,” David yelled and I bound up, so tense I felt I could actually jump over the wall but instead I ran to the barred door and lifted the hunk of wood with a strength I didn’t know I had. Tossing it aside I grabbed the iron ring and pulled. Surprisingly the door opened with ease and I slipped out, my last glimpse a sheet of glass, dirt and leaves and various bullet ridden apparitions standing around, their attention focused toward the middle of the storm.

   I ran out into the night, no idea where I was going and not caring. Now I’m in good shape (despite the cigarettes and eating mass amounts of Jelly Bellys) and have great night vision so I trucked out of there, keeping enough calm that I didn’t freak out screaming, and ran as fast and as far as I could. Behind me I could hear howls, eerie sounds I knew came from no animal’s throat. The small hairs on the back of my neck stood on end and my stomach rolled as panic made my adrenaline rise, giving me that extra boost of speed that drove me on.

   Though I tried to keep my breathing even my lungs burned as I sucked in the cold desert air, feeling panic fill me. Under my feet I could feel the sharp edges of stones, the swells in the uneven ground and dry brush scratch my legs as I moved past them. The wound on my breast throbbed, stinging as my tee shirt rubbed over the tender flesh. Even though the actual bite mark was covered by a bandage the tape holding it in place tightened and pulled, threatening to come off and take skin with it. I gritted my teeth to the pain and drove on, leaving the small adobe monastery far behind me.

   How long I ran I’m not sure but the sun was rising in the distance, a glorious bouquet of yellows, oranges and pinks. Finally I let exhaustion take me and whether because my legs rebelled or I just couldn't keep up the run I fell to my knees, uncaring of the pain caused by the sun baked earth and the small rocks embedded in it. Breathing heavily I hunkered over, panting like a dog and coughed when I sucked in a lung full of dust as well as oxygen.  From the corner of my eyes I could see worn cowboy boots, the metallic spurs catching a glint of light from the rising sun to flash at me. I followed the long line of his denim covered legs, came face to crotch for a second then bent my neck to look up at David’s face, or what I could see if it under his ever present hat.

   “Hey.” I gave him a half hearted smile as I glanced back over my shoulder, expecting to see the hick twins gaining on me. But nothing was there but the dimness of a lost night.

   David held a hand down to me and then, as if thinking better of it, closed his fist and pulled it back to his side. His jaw clenched for a moment before relaxing and in turn he bent his knees, squatting down next to me, resting his forearms on his thighs and looked around.

   “Ya need a place ta rest, some shelter cause the sun will git purty hot today.”

   “What happened to them?” I asked, managing to spit out the dust in my mouth and watching as the ground quickly sucked up the moisture. A slender brown lizard scurried from under a rock, glanced at me then continued on to whatever mission he was sent for.

   David shrugged, not looking at me and I could see his form waver as bright streaks of sunlight moved through him. Then his form solidified and he stood back up, flexing his broad shoulders as he untied the bandana around his neck to wipe at his face. Why, I have no idea why since he didn’t sweat. Maybe out of habit or something. Anyway, his gaze continued searching the distance and I could tell he found something cause his face tightened for a moment. He licked his lips in thought then looked down at me, tucking the cloth in his back pocket.

   “They’re probably hidin’ now, the sun an’ all.”

   I nodded and forced myself stand, legs all wobbly, and looked in the direction that had caught David’s attention.

   “Did you find something?”

   He nodded and pointed toward some hills in the distance. I squinted my eyes, trying to see and cupped a hand over the top of them as the glare from the morning sunrise tried blinding me but found nothing. Damn, he must have good eyes or else he was just bluffing that he found something. After a minute he let out an irritated sigh and moved closer to me, close enough that it he had substance I’d be able to feel the heat off his body. As it was the position was slightly…um, interesting and I got a much closer look at my cowboy, could see the various shade of color the unshaved whiskers on his chin and cheeks took, all goldens, browns and even a smidgen of black.

   He was much taller than me, towering over me by a good foot or more and my eyes came to his chest, right where the fourth wooden button in his shirt should have been if it hadn’t been missing. A light sprinkling of chest chair curled up from under the opening of his shirt and I could see his chest, broad and muscled under all that linen, move as he breathed. I dragged my gaze from it and all the very nicely tanned skin to his face and swallowed, feeling his eyes bore into me. Damn, but I was feeling all girly and squirmy but this was a dead guy, long gone and a cross dimensional romance between us would never work. I mean, I’d want sex and he wouldn’t be able to touch me. Sucks…

   Shaking myself out of my reverie I blinked and found an amused look on his face, the corners of his mouth lifted up in some private joke and his eyes blazing a bright green in the shadow of the brim of his hat. I couldn’t help but wonder what color they were in life.

    “That way.” His voice was low and slightly husky and I could see his throat constrict slightly as he swallowed too. A slight shift in his stance and motion to the side. I turned my head to follow to length of his arm as he pointed toward the hills and narrowed my eyes as I searched for what he saw. And as his face lowered closer to mine I finally saw it. There, tiny, sitting in the shadow of the hills, a small shack. “That used ta be the summer shack we used ta…” He let off, his lips drawing tightly together. “Doesn’t matter anymore. Come on, let’s git.”

   I slowly looked back at him then nodded my head in agreement as he back away. Awkward…Well, apparently even ghosts could get chubbies cause he moved quickly, lowering his hand down as if to adjust himself and headed off in the direction he had pointed out. Whoa, I thought and followed behind at a slower pace, feeling a little better at the knowledge that I was safe from becoming the main item on the vampires’ dinner menu. Shoving my hands in the pockets of my shorts as I walked I let my mind wander.

   I was a long way from California and from my mansion (ok, my dad’s mansion but who cares) and everything I cared for. I wasn’t even really mad at my dad anymore and the argument seemed so long ago. Did they even think about me, the black sheep, the rebel? Did they know I ran away and missing and did they even care? I could become vamp chow and would it even put a dent in their busy lives? When mom died dad drew into his work, nothing else matter and the women…OMG, they were crawling (more like oozing) out of the woodwork, scattering about like cockroaches disturbed by the light. I guess we all mourn in different ways, Aurora by becoming a nerd, dad by being a man slut and ass and me by burning down things that irked me. To each their own.

   I watched David’s back as he moved in front of me, muscles under his shirt move, shoulders back and forth, the swagger in his walk. I had the strongest urge to reach out and swipe the hat from his head and toss it to the wind but l knew it would do no good. First off it seemed to be glued to his head, second my hand would probably go right through it. That would be a strange way to end an early morning’s flirtation. My arm in his head, he looking at me with a ‘what the hell’ and…I don’t know.

   I kicked at a couple of stones, watching them tumble away from me to hide under sage brush and bigger rocks and frowned. David…David the cowboy, David the ghost, David my savior. I was curious about how he died but thought it might be rude to actually ask then wondered what he used to do for a living when he was living. Cowboy was my first guess because of the spurs and the side gun but the way he clammed up about the shack made me certain that his way of living was a little bit more, shall we say, on the wild side.

   There was something in my pockets, small, slender and hard and I pulled it out to glance at a small piece of aged bone. Where…? Oh yeah, the outcrop I spent my first night in the desert in. I rubbed the pad of my thumb over it before shoving the thing back into my pocket. David glanced over his shoulder at me, his face unreadable, before turning forward again and continuing his walk. I made a face and looked down. This bites!

   “Hey David?”

   “Hmm?”

   “Were you a bandit?”

   “Why do ya ask?”

   “Curious.” I bit my lower bit and watched his back again. “So were you? Did you like rob stage coaches and banks and stuff?”

   He walked silently on as if he didn’t hear the question and as time passed I grew irked. Trying to do a little conversation here.

   "David?”

   “Ah did what ah needed ta live.”

   Well, I thought, not a happy memory for him. You’d think being a bandit, especially a Wild West bandit would be exciting enough you’d want to gloat over it, tell a little tall tales or something but David was tight lipped, as usual. I sighed and rubbed the bone in my pocket in comfort as I trudged behind him toward our shelter.

 

                                         Blast from the Past

 

   When we finally reached the shack the sun was blazing overhead and I was sweating buckets. You know the cartoons where some guy is crawling on his hands and knees panting and calling out ‘water, water’, well, that was me. Little Miss Ugh Shuffle, Shuffle. I popped a little flat pebble in my mouth to suck on to keep the saliva going since there was no cactus around to munch on and surprise, didn’t think about bringing bottles of water with us. And since I hadn’t had much sleep to begin with I was dragging my feet the last mile or so.

   It’s pretty funny if you think about it. The situation I mean. Just last week I was sunning myself in California, stretched out in my tiny bikini slathered in coconut oil and listening to Black Eyed Peas thinking of the next way to torment my dad and now I’m hiking across a desert in nothing but my shorts and bra (remember my shirt was removed to bandage the bite) with a big white, or off white now, bandage on my boob crying water, water as I follow a ghost to who knows where. Behind me is a monastery I’m sure is nothing but a dead end now and to make matters worse on at the top of the list of what vampires want to eat most in Montana.

   David paused to watch as I trudged past him to the worn crooked shack. I stopped not far from it to look at the door, then scanned the area with my hand shading my eyes from the blaring sun overhead before turning back to my guide.

   “You seriously think this will be a good place to hide out?” I asked, narrowing my eyes at the bright light that seemed to reflect off of any surface it could find to spot light my face. He shrugged, not really paying attention as he stuck his thumbs in his gun belt as he faded from my sight. I sighed, spit out the rock then turned, pulling over the wooden door and stepped into the gloomy one room cabin, wincing as it slammed back against the post with a loud thud.

   With a scowl I looked over the room, taking in the rat’s nest of crap left from weather, time and various animals that sought refuge here. A small wooden table was pretty much the only furniture in the room cause you couldn’t count the chair that look like it would break if you sneezed on it and what was left of the bed (I assume it was a bed) was the frame that looked to be made of tree limbs and a mass of…ugh, who knows what, that could have been a mattress at one time. A small cast iron wood burning heater stood disgruntling in the far right corner and on it was a lone kettle. Above it was a shelf that barely hung aloft with a closed lid tin with unreadable words and a metal cup that was covered in dust. Spider webs clung to everything and from the skittering sounds from somewhere behind me a lizard or something ran to one of the various holes in the thin planked walls to escape.

   Blowing air through my lips I moved to the bed and pulled off what was left of a blanket, one of those thick itchy ones that you normally see on horses in those old cowboy movies. Making a face I shook it out only to get caught in the mini storm of dust and spiders before running outside in a fit of coughing. Tramping around I swatted at my arms and back, shaking my head as I tried to make sure nothing living (or unloving) was trying to make a home on me. I shook, stomping and turning, stifling the urge to scream in frustration exhaustion. Yes, I was tired and when I’m tired I get cranky. Plus it never helps when your sole companion gets moody and gives you the silent treatment.

   Speaking of David I could see him anywhere. Either he couldn’t stay around in full sunlight or he was so torked at me for my questions about his personal life (when he had one) that he was taking a break from me. I didn’t get all freaked out cause, well, David didn’t seem the type to abandon a girl in the middle of nowhere no matter what so I just assumed he was on time out. Didn’t blame him, most people had to after spending a certain amount of time with me.

   Well, I finished shaking out the blanket, discovered it wasn’t as badly damaged as you would think for something over a hundred or so years old (my mom would have paid good money for something that actually lasted) only to discover a ratted tag on one corner of it. After taking a few minutes to decipher the script I realized it was a SEARS blanket. Oh well, so much for romantic notions. My guess is someone from this century stayed here once and left it behind. Their loss my…ugh. It’s still nasty but my only cover.

   I walked back in and found a corner of the room that was fairly clean of refuge. Spreading out the blanket I laid down on it, curling up for a nap and closed my eyes, noticing that hey…it was actually cooler in here. A wave of exhaustion swept over me and I yawned loudly, uncaring if it was rude or unladylike. Hell, I was tied. I yawned again.

   My stomach growled, twisting tight but I ignored it. It had been a while since I last ate but since there wasn’t room service nor a Mickey D’s around I decided I could wait until later. After all, who couldn’t afford to lose a few pounds.

   A feeling of being watched washed over me and I cracked an eye open to find David sitting in the rackety old chair, legs stretched out before him, hands clasps lightly over his abdomen and hat low over his forehead. The corners of his lips curled up for a second before he glanced away, his attention pulled toward the closed door and I closed my eyes again, secure in the knowledge my guardian angel was still around.

   “Sleep now, Selene. We’ll talk after ya wake. There’s a few things we need to discuss.”

   Yeah, whatever…later. I yawned again and left myself drift asleep, caught up in my body’s need to rejuvenate itself.

 

                              Two's Company, Three's A Crowd  

 

   I was playing checkers with my mastiff, with me winning 3 to 2 when my dad jumped past me with a heavy thud. Distracted, Krrupt managed to beat me at this hand and I frowned before turning to daddy dearest with a reprimand on my lips when I noticed he was in his Armani tux and Louis Vuitton dress shoes. Who plays hop scotch in dress shoes? You need tennis shoes, everyone knows that.

   He smiled and waved at me excitedly but it wasn’t until Jones whooshed by on a skateboard in black lycra shorts and a tee that had ‘I’m with stupid’ plastered over the front of it when I realized something was wrong. Where was my sister? Aurora was nowhere in sight.

   Tucking a strand of hair back behind an ear I sheltered my eyes from the bright sun above and my frown deepened as I looked around. Where was she? Aurora was never far when I was around. We were like thick as thieves, two peas in a pod and all that crap. Glancing back at my dog I shrugged before standing up.

   “Be back in a sec,” I told him as I stood, dusting the butt of my shorts off before snapping the gum I’d been chewing. “And no cheating while I’m gone.”

   With a small jump I skipped passed my dad, grinning as he toppled over, missing the square he was supposed to jump into next and knowing he’d have to start over at the beginning. Ok, I’m kinda sadistic when it comes to petty things like that but hey, everyone has to have a hobby. But instead of making fun of him as he sat up, bottom lip stuck out in a pout, I quickly continued by, searching for my twin.

   I looked everywhere, our favorite play room, her bedroom, the kitchen in hopes Mrs. Cathaway was making cookies (she was and I snagged a few before skipping off) then the play ground back outside. Nope nothing. That’s when the thought hit me. I was always the leader of our duo, she the follower but every once in a while Aurora managed to pull a stunt that even made me proud and I believed today was one of those days.

   With a smile on my lips and a quick glance around to make sure no one was watching I made my way to the small building at the end of the back walk. The building was usually locked up tight but I knew the code to open it, being the sneaky little girl I am, and punched in the numbers on the small pad by the door, waiting until the tiny red light at the top turned green and pushed open the door.

   It was dark inside but the overhead lights slowly lit up as I entered, one after another as I made my way deeper into the building. I grinned, knowing this was gonna be fun and that I’d be pulling one over on dad, well Aurora originally but well, I include myself cause I taught her all my tricks. I’m sure my sister was in here, waiting for a game of hide and seek and I followed the sterile white hallway until it came to a closed door. Behind it was the gun range and the armory. And Aurora, hiding someplace, laughing at my slowness.

   Carefully I cracked open the door, trying not to make noise to alert her to my presence, and snickered to myself. Yep, she was here, the lights were on. I ducked low, keeping a hand on the side of the counter wall and made my way around it. To the left of me, behind the counter was a glass case filled with various hand guns, locked (snickers).  On the right the actual gun range, with cubicles, a waist high shelf between the thin walls and those do hickeys that reduce sound that you put over your ears. Past the counter was a door that lead into the main gun vault, where dad’s ‘big guns’ were stored. After all, what’s the use of being a retired weapons smuggler and who knew what else, without having a few toys of his own.

   She had to be hiding behind the counter. I paused, listening, trying to discover where exactly behind the counter she was. Was that her breathing, quickening with excitement? Did she shift, her feet making a slight noise, as she slowly backed away? This was going to be fun.

   I counted backward from five then made a quick dash forward, circling around the counter only to stop dead in my tracks. There, on the floor, eyes open to stare at the ceiling, lay my sister. Around her head was a puddle of blood, surrounding her like some weird diabolical halo. A noise from behind the counter caused me to jerk my eyes from my twin. Behind the wooden bar stood the hillbilly vamps, smiling gleefully at me as they raised a glass in unison, each one filled with some sort of red liquid, the same liquid that leaked from my sister’s head.

   It was at that point I heard the voices, arguing quickly, about all things…me.

 

   “Why’s ya bring her here?”

   “Keep yer voice down, Hank. You’ll wake her and she needs ta sleep.”

   I cracked my eyes open, closed them again at the glare of sunlight coming through a crack in the wooden slack wall straight into my eyes. After a few moments I opened them to slits and let my eyes slowly focus on the men sitting in the room, one on the chair, the other on the corner of the bed.

   “Dave boy, this here is a secret hideout, not one of them fancy hotels like they have there in town. If she needs ta sleep let her go there. We can’t afford ta be shelterin’ no women, no matter how fetchin’ she might be. The law is a lookin’ fer us.”

   David glanced my way and I could tell he noticed I was awake though he made no move to notify the other about my sudden rise from sleep. And since David was keeping quiet about it I decided to take this opportunity to check out the newcomer, especially since he seemed to know my ghostly cowboy.

   Hank, as David called him, was a tall, whip thin man who wore the same kind of home spun clothing that my friend did. His pants were a dark brown, the hems frayed and the fabric on the knees worn. Thick soled cowboy boots covered large feet and shiny little spurs edged the back heel. His shirt was a dirty faded red and a deep blue handkerchief was tied around his neck carelessly.

   On his head was a dusty, dark colored cowboy hat and though it wasn’t tilted as rakishly as David’s was, I still couldn’t see his eyes. But I could see his nose (which looked like it had been broken a few times) and his mouth (a tight slash across flesh with a thin cigarette dangling between his lips) along with a strong, jutting chin that was covered with scruff. From beneath his hat, along his neck I could see dark hair and every once in a while he would reach back to scratch at the nape of his neck.

    David was still reclined in his chair, long legs stretched out and he didn’t seem to have moved an inch from when I was last awake. I could tell when his gaze moved from me to his ‘friend’ and quickly closed my eyes when Hank glanced my way.

   “So what are ya plannin’ fer her?” he asked and I mentally rolled my eyes. As if. And I thought living people were dense.

   “Girl has some head on her shoulders and I’m helpin’ her out.” David spoke softly. The sound of his voice caused me to look at him again. Why did he sound almost sad? Did he know something I didn’t?

   “Oh, what can that little girl have done that was so bad?” Hank’s hand reached back to scratch his neck (I was beginning to wonder if he had a rash or something).“Though some of the things she decorates herself with are kinda different. Is she a runaway?”

   “The Others are back.”

   No other words, nothing else said. Hank stiffened, his fingers pausing in mid itch and his head slowly swiveled toward me. This time I didn’t try to hide that I was awake. Instead I met his gaze (or hoped I did under his shadowed brim) and blinked. David sat up, drawing his legs back and raised a hand to tip his hat forward even lower toward his nose.

   “Hank, this here is Selene.”

   “The Others?” Hank moved his attention back to the man across from him. “Why are they back?”

   From the tone of his voice I took it Hank didn’t like the vampires either. Yes, I knew that was what they were talking about. Who else would be the Others? Chipmunks? I stretched a little then quickly sat up, running my fingers through my hair to try and comb out some of the tangles I was sure matted my hair and gave them a tight little smile.

   “Hey. How long did I sleep?”

   David glanced toward the window then back at me. “Just a few hours.” His voice grew serious and he leaned forward slightly, resting his forearms on his knees. “We need ta talk, Selene. It can’t wait any longer.”

   Great, I hated talks. Nothing good EVER came from talks except a new course of revenge. After all, most talks had to do with something I ‘did’ and the punishment for it and me plotting how to get even for the so unwarranted amount of punishment. After all, it always seemed that I got the short end of every stick while everyone else gets away with murder.

   I just raised my eyebrows and gave David a blank look. Maybe if I play dumb this will go away and he’ll figure out talking doesn’t work with me. It didn’t work. He just shifted in his seat and cleared his throat.

  “Selene, ya have ta kill the vampires.”

 

                                              One, Two, Three...WACK! 

 

     It started in my stomach muscles, a slight huff then worked its way up into my chest and throat until it escaped my mouth. I laughed, laughed so hard I thought I would pee myself and wiped tears from my eyes before gathering my breath to look back at David. He didn’t seem amused by my outburst, his jaw set and lips in a tight thin line. I rolled my eyes at his attitude then shifted my gaze to his ghostly friend only to find him focused on my chest.

   Ugh.

   “Dude,” I waved my hand until I was sure I caught Hank’s attention. “Eyes up here.” I pointed to my face and let out an exasperated sigh. Men, alive or dead, they all had one thing on the mind. “Now,” I turned to David. “You’re not serious, are you? I mean, me…kill a vampire? Point out some dumbass and I’d have no problem pounding on him, but beating the crap out of somebody and killing a monster who’d like nothing more than to rip my throat out…really? There’s no comparison. Dave, are you trying to kill me? I thought you were like my guardian angel or something?”

   As if choreographed, we all sat back at the same time. I felt David watching me but I turned to stare out the crooked window at the pale blue sky that was almost white in the heat of the day and the tans, browns and yellows of the rocky plains. My thoughts wandered to the old West, to cowboys and Indians and the life they must of lived out here and the fact there was no indoor plumbing and suddenly realizing that I really did have to pee. I moved uncomfortable, shifting my weight to ease the pressure on my bladder. I’ll have to go before long but not before I was sure pervo ghost wouldn’t spy on me.

   Then it hit me, the question.

   A soft breeze swept through the open window and cooled my skin, catching a few strands of my hair to sweep into my eyes. Brushing them out of the way I tucked my rebellious hair behind and ear and frowned. Still I refused to look at David, unsure if it was because I was afraid he’d demand I grab a spike and march to the vampires hideout and whack them all right now or because I knew if I didn’t I’d never be free of them from hunting me. And because of me innocent people died. Dad would never approve of me not taking responsibility for my problems, probably take away my cards until I fixed things or who knows. Dad can be a bit unpredictable at times.

   Girl, yous need ta do what is right. I can almost hear Jones in my ear, my big chocolaty conscious. He was the one to always convince me to do what was right. Oh course it might take a few days of nagging to get me to do it, but…eh, I usually did it in the end, though a bit grudgingly.

   Aurora would just say to do it and get it over with, you’ll be home soon.  And then I saw my mom. No words, just a look, one filled with sadness and I felt my heart twist. Damn, I hated that. A guilt trip. Grrr.

   With a deep sigh I finally managed to drag my eyes to David’s face, taking in the handsome features and the deep angle of his cowboy hat. As always he patiently watched me, never seeming to judge or demand. It was my decision, good or bad and just knowing he wouldn’t order me to my doom kinda sealed my fate.

   “They killed you, didn’t they?”

   David nodded, Hank’s head echoing the move and I looked down again at my hands clasped together in my lap. Mentally I could laugh, envisioning what he saw (not Hank, cause I was sure that skanky guy was picturing me naked), a tired and hungry girl who hasn’t had a decent bath in days. I knew I looked bad. Hell, my shorts were stained with my blood and dirt, torn at one side. The white ankle socks I wore under my tennis shoes are permanently dusty tan and my bra…useless. I know what Victoria’s Secret is…underwear not meant to be used as anything more than a seduction tool.

   I scratched at the bandage on my left breast, wishing I had something more than these meager and nasty clothes to confront the vampires with.

   “Okay. Give me a moment to go take care of something and we’ll talk about what we need to do to get rid of them forever.”

   I slowly stood up, unwinding the kinks from my body and headed to the door, pausing only to cast a warning glance at Hank.

   “Stay.”

   Without further word I opened the door and slid out, squinting my eyes at the bright over head sun and moved around to the back of the hut.

 

                                    It’s Always Sunny When the Sun Is Up 

   For a moment I thought about running, running as far as I could but look at what happened the last time I ran. I wound up traveling with a ghost, hunted by vampires and lost out in the middle of the desert without a cigarette, a cell phone or a decent restroom.

   I finished my business as quick as possible (not wanting to chance that Hank would get bored and escape David to spy on me. After all that pervo ghost has to get his thrills somehow and I wouldn’t put it past him to watch someone tinkle). I stared up into the sky, taking in the vast whiteness with that faint touch of blue and squinted against the glare.

   A loud screech caught my attention and I peered into the distance until I found what I was searching for. There it was, a black dot, gliding on the wind and circling closer and closer until finally grew into detail. By the curve at the tip of its dark wings I knew it was a hawk and it screeched again as if answering ‘D’oh!’. I get no respect, even from the birds.

   Realizing I was spending too much time out here I made my way back inside, taking my own sweet time and wishing I had a cherry popsicle to suck on right now. Damn but I was thirsty. One last time I looked around, hoping that maybe I missed a 7-Eleven in the distance then, still not finding one, opened the crickedy door and once more entered the shadow of the small shack.

   “Alright, David, I…”

   The door smacked me in the ass as I stopped, bumping me hard enough that I took an involuntary step forward and looked around. Where were they? Neither David or Hank waited inside. Instead the room was empty, dust motes floating in the air from my disturbance, sometimes catching the light from the sunbeams sneaking through the cracked wooden slates in the wall. Well, pisser. They left.

   Disgruntled I sat down in the chair abandoned, for a second wobbling on the thin legs, afraid it would splinter under my weight then breathed a sigh of relief as it held. Where did they go? I was only gone for a moment. Frustrated, I slumped back, blew air out from between my lips and looked around. Crap. At that moment my stomach decided to add its own two cents. Grrrrooowwlll. Then it made a weird gurgling sound, ending like someone was strangling it. I glanced down at it, poking my abs and raised in eyebrow in question.

   “Yes, I know. Stop complaining.”

   It tried to argue with me but in the end I won. Pushing myself out of the chair I began pacing, never high on patience and grumbled my complaints under my breath. I should have grabbed some food from the mission before I ran screaming into the dark. Bored I decided to take a walk about.

   Once back outside I glanced around, holding a hand up to shade my eyes. Is it me or did the sun get brighter? The hawk was nowhere in sight, having probably found whatever it was he was looking for. Sweat beads began forming on my skin, little tears of it rolling down the sides of my face, neck to gather in my cleavage. My hair grew damp, sticking against the sides of my neck and over my shoulders. Running my tongue over the top of my lip I tasted salt, the water from the sweat quickly evaporating. Well, back toward the monastery or up the hill? I could do with a bit of exercise and the house of the dead was too far away so I chose the climb. It was easy enough, the side not too steep and other than a few misplaced handholds and scraped knees and broken finger nails I made it to the top.

   Wow. It was beautiful up here. Open air, spacious view, lots of land with no big skyscrapers or highways cutting the scenery in half. I actually felt like smiling, the first time since I’ve been here and turned slowly to catch every sight I could. To the south and slightly east was the mission. I could see a dark spot in the distance, no signs of moment, everyone dead. I frowned, putting my hands on my hips and looked down. If I had a pedometer on me I bet I’d track some pretty serious mileage.

   Below me was the shack, leaning sideways though it struggled to keep from falling over like a drunken sailor. It gave it its best effort, three cheers for it, but if it lasted another few years I’d be surprised. So that was where David and his gang hung out, hiding from the law after they robbed stage coaches and stuff like that. I tried to picture him in life, wind in his hair, eyes narrowed as he squinted against the harsh sun, laughing as he rode his horse to his getaway. Did he have a wife waiting for him or was he a saloon girl type guy? How did he die? Usually with ghosts they showed signed of their death, a bullet to the head, limbs missing, bloated face or sunken cheeks. It all depended on the method chosen, but David showed nothing. Hank neither. They knew of the vamps and I seriously wondered if they met their end that way, drained of blood and left to rot on the rocky ground.

   I looked away, turning instead behind me. Just a few feet and I’d be at the edge. Up here the wind was strong, whipping my hair around my face so I gathered it in my hands and spit out the few strands that made it into my mouth. That is before I almost choked on the site that met my eyes.


                                                           Wonderland   

   Holy shit.

   I stared down into the valley. Normally the word valley would bring to mind visions of lush fields, a lazy winding stream and lots of flowers but this was anything but. The only world that popped into my head was death. Even the rocks looked dead. Bleak, stark, the land was muted shades of tans and grey, any plant that once could have supported life was dried up and withered into a twisted skeleton. No signs of animals, no birds or even insects, it was just…dead.

   My mouth grew parched, the grit of dust rubbing against my teeth and I breathed out harshly.

   “They sleep in there.” David’s voice was soft.

   I knew he stood behind me without even looking and if I closed my eyes I could almost imagine feeling his breath on the back of my neck. I didn’t nor could I, instead I shifted on my feet and peered at a dark hollow in the hill across from us. A cut out framed by thick wooden timbers with a stretch of lumber and thin metal bars coming from the mouth of the cave. A tunnel? Maybe an old coal chute or gold mine? Whatever it was didn’t look very safe.

   “Well, they can stay there.” I muttered, tucking a stand of hair behind my ear and frowned as the others fluttered around for freedom as the wind picked up. Taking a chance I looked over at David and caught a grim look on his handsome face (or what I could see of it, since his hat was brought low over the bridge of his nose). I took a quick glance around and found us alone.

   “Where’s Hank?” I asked. Not really curious but well, it seemed the polite thing to do. David nodded back toward the rickety cabin before turning his attention back to the mine.

   “He can’t leave it.”

   “Oh?” That kinda caught my attention and I frowned, turning to face my ghostly guardian. “Why not?”

   For several long minutes my cowboy studied the opening of the mine, the line of his mouth growing tight then he spit though no moisture reached the ground. That was kind of interesting. Ghostly spit. I wondered watch else they could do? Karaoke?

   Finally he deemed to answer. “He died there and is bound ta the place.”

   Ok, that was interesting but it brought some new questions to mind. “Kinda like how the ghosts in the mission just hung around moaning and bleeding on the ground but how come he could talk to me but not the others?”

   He looked thoughtful for a moment. “The ones in tha court yard, they were stuck but not. If ya talked ta them they probably would have answered but that would have been it. Hank, he was bored and want ta talk.”

   I pursed my lips at his confusing answer. “Yeah. Well, okay, now what about you?”

   This time David smiled, his lips splitting to reveal even, white teeth. “Ah travel with ya cause ya have something of me with ya.”

   My brain scrambled to figure that one out and as if he read my mind his smile grew bigger.

   “The bone in yer pocket. It’s my trigger finger.”

   I jumped at that. Not what I was expecting. Reaching into my pocket I pulled the smooth piece of bone out and held it cupped in the palm of my hand as if expecting it to bite me. “Sorry, didn’t know.”

He shook his head, amused. “Nah, its good. Otherwise I would not be here with ya.”

   I looked down at the bone, running the pad of my thumb over its worn surface. It was warm, whether from my body heat or from the hot temperature but I noticed out of the corner of my eyes that David seemed to draw in a deep breath as I caressed the piece of bone. Hmmm.

   “How come I didn’t see any more bones in my little hidey hole?”

   “Cause I didn’t die there.” His head turned, facing once more the valley and the mine within it. “I died in there.”

 

                             Whatcha Talkin’ ‘bout, Willis?    

   Silence. I mean what can you say at that. Ah, yeah cool, well, I’m still here. I might be an ass at times but I’m not that assy. Instead I remained silent, just staring at the finger bone in my hand and when the strangest feeling over came me.

   I heard David sigh, the sound reminding me of a breeze trailing through autumn leaves. Whether he was irritated with me or just expelling air from his lungs I wasn’t sure since I was kinda wrapped up in my own thoughts. Vampires lived down in that cave, they hunted people, they hunted me and they were old enough to have killed David.

   David.

   The smoothness of the bone was warm, giving the illusion of life and comfort. I would have liked to have met him while he was living. Kinda think he would have been an interesting guy but in truth things, and people, were never what you would think they would be. Would he have been like he is now, drawing me to him with his quiet protectiveness? I had no idea. After all, he was a bandit. The whole talking to ghost thing was new to me and who knew if their normal personality came through or was one that was developed over years of imposed banishment from the great beyond.

   I chanced a glance up to find David looking down at me, his lips softened from their normal grim line and an almost sad smile brought up the edges. He swallowed, the slight Adam’s apple in his throat following the movement and a strange tension surrounded us. Hard to explain, not bad but it was as if…

   “Ah’m sorry, Selene. Ah know it’s much ta ask.”

   I shrugged. So much for tension. I looked back over the valley of the dead (catchy nick name, eh?) and wondered how I was supposed to kill the vampires. How many of them were there? Were they all there? Could I do it during the day (because, after a quick glance up I noticed the sunlight was quickly slipping away and well, night…not interested in getting chased when I can’t see anything)? And what are my weapon options? A glance around and there’s nothing of use. I don’t even have matches to…oh shit, matches.

   I shoved my hands in my short’s pockets and searched. YES! I still had my matches but no freaking cigarettes. Then it dawned on me I had gone for with a smoke in, ah…almost a week. I guess vampires and running for your life was good for something. Imagine a ‘quit smoking commercial’ for this. Ok, had matches so maybe I could make a fire and burn them out.

   David watched me, a quirky smile on his lips and shook his head. But then I opened the cover. Only three matches were in it. Well, waste not, want not. Three will have to do. Be creative.

   “Selene, ah need ta ask a favor of ya.”

   I looked back up at him. This time he looked serious and the tight grimness was back on his face. “I need ya ta help me.”

   “Help you?”

   “Ah need ya ta release me.”

   The words made no sense and the strange feeling came over me again. This time I recognized it. Sorrow and apprehension. Release me. Free me. Save me. As much as I’d like to crack jokes to make myself feel better I knew this was serious, not just to keep me alive but to release David’s soul.

   “What do you need me to do, David?”

   “Bury my bones so I can be freed.”

   Survive the night, kill the vampires and bury David.

   At that moment an arid windswept up from the valley below, bringing with it the dust, decay and death and filled it. Overhead a shriek echoed in the sky. The hawk reappeared, circling like a bad omen.

   I turned and slowly headed back down the hill, back toward the shack. If I was gonna do this I needed a plan.


                                                When Morning Comes   

   The wind had picked up by the time I reached the bottom of the hill, its direction heading west which, all in all was a good thing. That meant my scent would not reach the vamps who were hunting me unless…ta da, they were coming from the west. I highly doubted it since the valley was to the north and the mission was toward the south east.

   I pulled open the door and dragged myself inside. This was going to be my last night before the ‘Great Hunt’ and I was kinda anxious and queasy at the same time. Hank was back inside, hunched over a long in disrepair wood stove, pretending to cook up some grub. I figured, hey, no skin off my nose. If the illusion made him feel better who was I to deny him of it? And from the expression on David’s lower face I guess he felt the same. I settled into my place on the floor, ignored by Hank (who kept stirring away at the invisible pot) and leaned my head back against the rickety wooden wall, waiting for David to come up with a great plan. After a few moments of nothing but silence I glanced over to the chair he had last sat in but it was empty.

   Instead David was sitting next to me, long legs stretched out before him, boots dusty and spurs dull. I noticed the hems of his pants were frayed and there had been a rip near the knee that at one time during his life had been mended by someone who probably knew what they were doing.

   His head was bent down ward, the cowboy hat tilted over the length of his nose to shade his mouth and the stubble that covered his upper lip and jaw looked as if I could touch it, it would be bristly. His chest moved, in a rhythm of breathing even though I knew no air was entering his lungs and every once in a while he would swallow or stretch his jaw. As before by staring at him I could almost believe he was here in the flesh and not some ghostly figure from a time past. Actually, I really wished it right now. I even wished my dad could be here, if anything but to have him next to me, for a hug, reassurance, anything. But he was hundreds of miles away and David was a tad bit incorporeal.

   He glanced over me and as if he knew my feelings he shifted closer to me, still not touching but as close as he could get without merging his ‘body’ with mine. The bone in my hand grew warmer, and seemed to throb and expand, almost as if it were alive but a quick glance down revealed still the tiny splint. That’s when I realized it seemed to match the rise and fall of his chest. I curled my fingers around it, holding it tight and closed my eyes.

   “So, what do you think my chances are?”

   Nothing.

   I cracked my eyes open and glanced over at him. David shrugged.

   “Yer resourceful and a fighter. Selene, ah think ya have a chance as long as ya keep yer head.”

   Yeah. Sound advice from someone who’s probably been dead over a hundred years.

   “Look, I’ll be with ya the whole time. Ya won’t be alone, ‘kay? I won’t leave ya.”

   That was reassuring. Well, thinking about it, it actually was.

   “I’ll guide ya, be yer eyes but ya need ta be the hands.”

   “Kinda need a weapon, Dave. All I’ve got is a few matches and my charming smile. Think I could win them over with my sunny personality and convince them to leave me alone?”

   He stared at me straight faced before finally a grin broke that grim exterior. “Ya could try but not sure how well that would work.” He reached up toward my check, as if to brush away a hair I could feel stuck to my skin then let it hover for a moment before slowly lowering it with a sigh. Leaning forward, he hunched his shoulders as he pulled his legs up and rested an arm on his knees, turning his face away he seemed to become engrossed with watching ol’ Hank cook. Wish there really was food in that invisible pot cause my stomach was getting all twisty with hunger. I ignored the rumble it emitted and frumped back, slouching.

   Swiping at my cheek I brushed the hair away, tucking it behind an ear and made a face. “Ok, personality notwithstanding, you got any ideas? Got any guns or crossbows stashed away somewhere?”

   I must admit, I do know how to use a gun. Dad taught us when we were little and I can disassemble and reassemble a pistol under a count of twenty. But anything he might have had buried out here would be no good by now, rusty and corroded beyond use.

   “Stake?”

   David frowned, glancing back at me under the brim of his hat. “What good would a steak do? Maybe lure the blood sucker out of the mine but ya’d need a whole cow to keep them all busy.”

   I laughed. “No, duffus. A stake.” I held up my hand as if gripping something and shoved it toward my chest. “As in ugh, he stabbed me…stake. Take it you never saw Buffy.”

   I sat back and looked at my feet. Great. I had a whole in my right tennis shoe. These things cost about six hundred dollars. Not that it really matter. My shirt was bloody and long gone, the bra I wore (Agent Provocateur, natch) was pretty much ruined and needed to be burned as well as the panties that went with it and these poor shorts. Don’t even get me started. Hell, get me cleaned up a little and I might look like I was staring in a porno version of Buffy. Muffy, the vampire layer! Argh, it was just too bad. Even I thought the pun sucked.

   I guess I must have laughed or something cause Dave was staring at me. Okay, back to business.

   “Seriously, I need a weapon or something in order to kill these things, right?”

   He continued to stare at me, long enough to wonder if I had a bugger waving around in my nose or something. I looked over at Hank (still stirring away, imagine being stuck cooking for all eternity) and use the move to pretend to wipe sweat from my face (phew, no bugger but I did have grit from dust on my skin) then turned back to my cowboy.

   “What?”

   “Never mind. I don’t want ya doin’ it?”

   Exsqueeze me?

   “Doing what?”

   “Tomorrow ah want ya ta run, run as far away from here as ya can. I’ll git ya back ta that store and git ya a ride away from here. Maybe ya can git far enough away the vamps can’t hunt ya, can’t find ya.”

   I blinked. Was David changing the tune on me? But I already accepted my fate on getting rid of those things and freeing his soul to go to heaven.

   “Na ah, Dave. We already talked about this. Tomorrow I’m going to that mine first thing in the morning and you’re gonna guide me. Remember? Right now we need to plan.”

   Abruptly David stood up and walked toward the door. He disappeared through the worn boards, leaving me alone with Hank, the obsessed stirrer and I was flabbergasted. What was up with him?

   I scrambled to my feet and followed him out, opening the door of course since I didn’t have the ability to incorporate myself. He was not there. I looked around, circling the shack and taking note of the sun setting in the horizon. Where the hell did he go? Did he flack out on me? Get scared? Did ghosts have the ability to get scared?

   “David.”

   I turned in place, looking for him. Nothing.

   “David!” I said a little louder.

   “No, Selene.” David’s voice was soft in my ear, behind me. I turned to find him suddenly standing close, looking down at me. I could almost imagine feeling his body heat and smelling the scent of leather, dust, horses and male. The feeling was almost over whelming, and I took a step back to steady myself. Whoa, that was weird.

   He stepped forward, reaching out to keep me from stumbling and his hand moved through my arm, sliding in toward my chest before he pulled it out, a look of irritation crossing his face, his lips pulled back in an angry (or frustrated?) grimace. On my half I felt a weird tingling shock, almost electric but cold instead of hot. Kinda like jumping naked into a deep freeze at the same moment touch the tip of a battery with your tongue.

  I stopped, frozen in movement and stared as David once more pulled his lips tight over his teeth. This time I could tell he looked angry. The wind around up picked up, lifting dust and dead brush, rattling the wooden planks that made up the shack and pulled at my hair.

   “Ah changed mah mind. Yer not goin’.”

   Oooo. Well, this was interesting, but two can play at this game.

   Setting my hands on my hips I cocked a leg and looked up at him, chin jutted at a stubborn angle.

   “Really?” I smiled sweetly, the same smile I give my dad when he demands something from me. “Well, hot stuff, guess what, if I don’t listen to my dad do you serious think I’ll listen to you? I already made up my mind and I’m going.”

   “No.”

   The wind grew, swirling around us in a little storm and I nearly got smacked by a wayward tumbleweed.

   “Yes.”

   “No.”

   I straightened my stance and squared my shoulders, feeling my inner Selene coming running forward like a bull in a china shop.

   “Yes.”

   “No, it’s decided. Yer not goin’.”

   I snorted. As if.

   “Yes I am and there’s nothing you can do to stop me. The vampires aren’t going to leave me alone and even if they do decide I’m not worth a midnight snack who’s to say someone else won’t be? Plus I promised to free you, remember? When I promise something I do it!”

   “No Selene. If something happened ta ya I’d…” David turned around, putting his back to me and the storm around us suddenly died. I spit out the dust collected in my mouth and wiped my face before daring to move closer.

   “David, I’ll be fine but I’m going whether you like it or night. And if you’re worried about my safety, well, if you’re that concerned you’ll come to keep me safe.”

   David lowered his head, still keeping his back toward me. We stood there like that for several minutes until he lifted his head again. “Fine, but ya need ta listen ta me. I mean every thin’, understand?”

   “Sure.” I grinned and glanced down to find a broken piece of wood by my feet. I bent and scooped it up. “Hey look, a stake. Coolers.”

   “Go back inside and git some sleep, Selene. I’ll keep watch.”

   I decided not to argue about command and headed back to the shack, pausing to grab a rock that was broke and had a sharp end. Setting the edge to the wood I began trying the sharpen the stick into a point before reaching the door. Opening it I chanced a glance back to find David where I left him, facing me. Dark was underway, hiding his expression from me but for to pinpricks of light that glowed out from under the brim of his hat. Those lights watched me and I had the distinct impression David was angry.

    Pfft.

   Men.

   And they say women are moody. It was his idea I go kill a bunch of vampires in the first place and now he changes his mind after all the ‘release me’ stuff. So not going to happen. I’m going in there and I’ll rescue David’s bones, stake a bunch of vamps and maybe dance a jig or two. After all, how hard could it be? They kill vampires in movies all the time.

 

                                                 And Dawn Comes Again

    In the beginning there was darkness and suddenly there came light. I cracked my eyes open in time to watch the soft glowing rays of the sun as it entered the skyline, pushing back the indigo darkness to burst into glorious yellows and oranges. In my mind I could hear a trumpet playing the rise and shine tune I hear so often in Bugs Bunny cartoons, envisioning little tweety birds circling around as flowing pink ribbons framed the rising sun.

   Irritated at the lack of sleep I raised a hand to shield my eyes from the sun’s glare and winced. Man, I felt I had a hangover. I head throbbed and my tongue felt swollen and cotton like. Uck. Glancing around for something to drink I grumbled, thinking ‘oh great, on my run away from the vamps I forgot to pack the water’. Instead my eyes lit upon the make shift wooden stake (stake, not steak) lying on the floor next to me. Yep, today is the day. V Day. Vampire slaying day. Yep.

   With a sigh I looked around for some sign of David, scratching my neck and shoulder as a wicked itch decided to take root. After ripping the hell out of myself (I feel like an extra in a Freddy Krueger movie) I stretched then stood up, picking up Mr. Pointy (my homage to Buffy) and headed outside, pushing the rickety door open and hearing it slamming back into the shack as I stepped out to greet the dawn. I yawned and stretched again, figuring David must still be mad at me and pouting in some ethereal place ghosts go to pout and turned to climb the hill to figure out an easy way down into the valley of death.

My stomach grumbled again, reminding me it still had needs and I silently vowed once this crap was taken care of I’d get it the best steak dinner money could buy. After a small bout of protesting it shut up, retreating into the world of gut twisting to hurry me along. Reaching the summit I stared down into vamp alley and had the sinking feeling I had gotten myself into something I had no way of getting out.

I’ll admit it, I’m scared. These vampires were no way the onces from romance novels or movies. There was no glittering skin, no ‘I’m misunderstood’ or ‘ I just want to be loved’. These were ‘I’m going to rip your head off, poke my fingers through your eyeballs and use it as a bowling ball’ bad vampires and I voluntered to kill them. Suddenly I felt my heart beat faster, my breathing grow harsh, as it tried to escape my chest. I trembled, closing my eyes as I worked to steel myself for the outcome. No use chickening out now (But David said I could runaway, my yellow streak whinned). Argh, not. I promised (But what good are promises if you die just stepping foot inside the cave). I’m not leaving David (He’s already dead. Not like you can date him or anything).

I had a point there but not everything is about me (big shock, yes I know). I had to admit it. Though I’ve known him less than a week and he was dead, I was kinda falling for my ghostly guardian. Is it possible to love a ghost? Am I becoming something my father hadn’t thought possible? Responsible and selfless? Yes, I know, I know, its strange but the bone fragment in my pocket seemed almost to warm in agreement, as if David was reminding me he was right there and would stand by my decision no matter what. Could I let him down and still hold my head high? Did I want to? Man, this responsibility and caring stuff sucks.

Opening my eyes to glare at the tunnel entrance across the valley, I headed down other side of the hill. One way or other, this will be finished. Dad didn’t raise a coward or a quitter. I was Selene Michaels, ultimate revenger giver and don’t take no crap from anyone spoiled brat wth an extra side of bitch added on.

Shoving aside any fear I headed across the dusty bowl, avoiding in my march any ground squirrel holes or graspng dead roots and made my way to the entrance of fate.

 

                                                       Damn You and Your Little Dog Too

The sunlight made its way into the mouth of the tunnel a good five feet then stopped…abruptly. As if it knew something I didn’t. Don’t continue, it seemed to warn me. You’ll be in there, alone, in the dark with…who knew what. And despite the heat from the desert sun beating at my back I felt cold. Unnaturally, bone chillingly cold.

“I’m here.” David whispered in my ear, startling me. I almost jumped but instead, catching myself, I glanced over my shoulder finding him at my back. Sunlight streamed through him, leaving his legs almost invisible though his chest and head, shrouded in shadows, was clear as, well, day. My heart was beating faster again, whether because I’m heading toward my death or because David was near I wasn’t certain. Just know I was glad he was here.

Feeling much better I gave him a tight smile before turning around to face the darkness. Next thing I knew a tingling chill came over me, feeling as if the North wind whip up the back of my skirt and I shivered then a warm voice entered my head.

Don’t worry. It’s just ta help ya.

The darkness faded from my eyes, growing lighter until I could see the outlines of rotten wooden tracks on the tunnel floor, the rough hued walls and old glass lanterns long empty of kerosene. I could suddenly see in the dark and though David’s spirit inside me was cold the small bone in my pocket warmed up as if trying to make up for the fact goose bumps littered my skin.

Are ya ready?

I nodded then felt as if arms wrapped around me. A hug. I got a hug from David. The coldness faded, leaving me basking in the warmth of him and my spine straightened knowing that nothing in heaven and earth would cause him to leave me. Not now, not for this. Gripping my stake tighter I headed into the gloom, feeling David’s presence and strength.

Okay, things you never see in vampire slaying movies, or horror movies in general. It takes forever to find the bad guys. It’s not cut and dry like you’d think. I’d been walking through passageway for what seemed like hours. If I don’t find them soon night will come and I’ll be Selene bits. I passed turns and openings that lead to empty caverns. Broken wooden wheelbarrows, rusty pick axes (ah ha, a new weapons and I quickly snagged that bad boy for back up) and tons of empty crates that looked to have been destroyed during a cave in. Rocks everywhere, big ones and small, and with a glance up I noticed the wood timbers that were used to make the ceiling sturdy. Not much confidence in that, for several were cracked and the poles used as support were missing at different intervals.

Just when I was about to ask David if the vampires really slept here I saw the first coffin. Okay, maybe coffin was too generous a word, more like totally long crate that was not broke. There was no lid on it and from where I was standing you couldn’t see anything but from David’s silent insistence that I move closer (and me doing so…very, very slowly) I could barely make out a form inside. A quick look around, making sure there were no other crates nearby nor bodies lying wherever, I tip toed to the side of the box and looked in.

There he was, sleeping as if he didn’t have a care in the world, in a box filled with dark soil. From his size, why would he? He could easily put a hurt on someone with just his pinky. Carter the red neck vampire slept the sleep of the undead. Same greasy blonde hair, same dark beard. Only now there was no illusion that he was alive. The Lynard Skynard T-shirt he wore was frayed at the collar and stained with dried blood on the chest as if he dribbled his drink during dinner. Very messy eater for his chin and neck were stained in crimson, his large hands and forearms, crossed over his chest looking as if they had been dipped in the stuff. I couldn’t help but think of those poor monks he slaughtered.

Easy now, Selene. Just take the spike and put it through his chest.

Easy my ass.

Letting out a deep breath I steadied myself, leaned the pick against the side of the box and raised the stake up over his chest with both hands. I have to tell you, it’s not as easy as you would think. Even knowing this asshole needed to be dusted, to actually do it was tough. Could you drive a sharpened piece of wood through someone’s chest? Feel it tear through skin, and muscle then grate across bone until it breaks through to impale the organs beneath. Squish, crunch, ugh. Blood squirting everywhere.

My arms trembled slightly as I held the stake then with a swift downward stroke I struck. David’s unnatural strength added to mine, driving the wood deep into Carter’s chest, ripping into meat and snapping bone as if it were twigs before impaling into the soil underneath him. Air escaped him, his eyes opening with shock before locking into mine and blood spurted from around the thick piece of wood as he reached up to grasp it as if to pull it out.

I jumped back, trying not to squeal like a little girl and heard David urge me to finish it. Grabbing the only thing I could think of, I jerked the pick axe up over my shoulder, feeling the awkward weight of it in my hands and swung down with every bit of strength I had. In with the swing was all the anger, sacredness and fear I had. I hadn’t started this, I wasn’t the one who bit them, I didn’t chase them down and killed the people who tried to help them out! It was their fault, it was Captain Idiot’s fault, it was my dad’s fault.

The point of the pick landed squarely in Carter’s throat, cutting off any sound he might have been making. I wrenched it back out, ignoring the sucking sound it made and raised it as the vampire tried sitting up and swung down again. This time it hit him in his forehead with a sickening crunch sound and he quit moving. Panic set in and for some reason I couldn’t stop. Over and over I hit him, lifting the pick to slam it back into his body, ignoring the cold, sticky blood that splattered my face and chest, ignoring the way he became nothing but a pile of mushy hamburger. All I saw was what this thing had done to those who didn’t deserve it, what he had done to me!

Selene! Selene, darlin’, stop now. He can’t hurt you.

The warm of David wrapped around me as his strength quickly fled, leaving me weak and trembling. I dropped the axe and sat down, wiping at my face to find my face stained with blood and tears. When did I start crying?

“Shh, darlin’, shh. It’ll be fine. Ya don’t have ta do this. We can go now.”

Confused I stared at the side of the wooden crate, watching rivulets of dark blood stream from between the cracks to race into a puddle on the dirt floor and blinked, breathing deeply to gain control. Was I in shock or was this the beginning of something different?

I felt a soft cool breeze stir the hair at my temple and looked over to find my ghostly cowboy, squatting beside me, his eyes pinpricks of light in the shadow of his hat and his lips turned down in worry. He reached out to touch me, to brush at my hair and once more I felt the breeze.

“Selene.”

“No. There’s still more.” Standing, I grabbed the pick axe, hefted it over a shoulder and turned toward the tunnel, determined to go on. I was nowhere near done.

 

                                                Waste the Day Then Waste the Night

 I stumbled through the darkness, bumping my knee on an old beam before David finally slid back into my body, giving me his night sight once again. As soon as I could see clearly things were much better though no less scary but with the trusty pick axe in hand and having destroyed my first vampire my confidence streaked through the roof. Buffy had nothing on me except for blonde hair and the ability to bench press three fifty. Still, I had only a certain amount of time to find David’s bones, kill the others and get out of here before the sun set. I guess time flies when you’re having fun.

Don’t get to cocky, David warned me.

I ignored his advice and worked my way through the maze of tunnels, feeling an exhilarating thrill rush through my veins. On one hand I was scared witless, knowing the deeper I went the closer I got to having my throat ripped out, yet on the other hand…damn. The energy my ghostly cowboy shot through my body was breath taking. There was no way I’d fall asleep on the job.

In case you’ve never been invaded by another soul, let me tell you, this is an experience you have to try. Cold and heat at the same time, high tension, every sense heightened, my awareness expanded to the point that I could hear the scurrying of little claws as rats ran for their hidey holes, as if afraid to be caught in the upcoming fight. Somewhere in the tunnels water droplets hit the dirt floor as loud as a thunderous bomb, their round bellies exploding in their fragility. Boom, boom, boom. I wondered if everything was like this to David. So close to life, experiencing it to the extreme but never able to participate. Look but don’t touch. Listen but no speaking.

David didn’t seem to want to answer my question but I wasn’t too disappointed. After all, I was getting closer to my goal and needed to keep alert.

Something crunched under my feet and I stopped, glancing down. When I said I was getting closer I wasn’t kidding. Under my sneakers were bones; thousands of them littered the floor as far as I could see. Various shapes and sizes, human and animal. The air took a mustier scent, growing dank and slightly sweet. Glowing beady eyes not even a foot off the ground stared up at me as if daring me to go any further.

I glared at it, but ignored its insult for something else caught my attention, something drawing me further down the hall. My heart thudded in my chest, my breathing quickened, but not out of fear but out of…what? Expectation? Nervousness? As if by instinct I turned at a bend, heading left as if my feet were in charge of me and I had no control. Oh wait, David…oops, my bad.

As we continued down the tunnel and I began seeing others; people milling about the long corridor, flickering souls bound to nowhere. A few glanced my way, curious as to why I was here but most of them ignored me. It was at the minute I walked into a wall of putrid air. Gagging, I waved my hand before my face and tried to quell the need to vomit.

Watch yer step, Selene.

I glanced down to find my foot paused over the remains of a decomposing corpse, the first body found that was not all bone. I skirted around it, keeping a wary eye on the remains in case it decided to rise and seek out an afternoon snack. I didn’t need to worry though for half its head was missing and most of the flesh on its body was quickly getting devoured by rats and bugs. He couldn't have been here for more than a few days and I wondered if he were one of the monks I left behind. Holding my breath I hurried past, still drawn by whatever David wanted me to see and it wasn’t too long before I found out what it was.

As if lit by a golden light I found him, or rather what was left of him. There, crumbled in a corner, with a rusting old six shooter by his side, lay what was left of David. I stopped in my tracks, no longer pulled forward and stared dumbfounded. Ragged clothes hung over aging bones, the skeleton slumped forward, head bowed and I couldn't help but wondered if he was praying when the vampires finally took his life. It was then I suddenly realized I was no longer seeing through my cowboy’s eyes but rather by a pale glow he was radiating. Standing a foot to the right of me, my ghostly protector stared down at what was left of his body, and I could see his throat work as he swallowed back his feelings.

Now I could see the wounds he had been hiding, the destruction blatant for anyone to see. Although the cowboy hat was tilted forward to shadow his eyes the lower half of his face was visible. His jaw hung awkwardly as if having been ripped from its natural position, a spiderweb of cracks splintering the pale bone. Below that his throat and shoulder had been torn apart, leaving skin covered with thick, dark blood that oozed down his chest.

A darkness stained the front of his linen shirt and the glistening of thin, white bones poked through the leather of his vest but it wasn’t until he turned toward me that my heart squeezed so tight I had to choked back a cry. David’s right arm came into view, hanging uselessly by his side, bits of splintered bone sticking through flesh and muscle. Below his shattered wrist the hand was mangled, several fingers missing to leave bloody stumps glistening in the pale light. My left hip suddenly heated up and I slid my hand into the pocket of my shorts, feeling the smooth bone I carried there under the tips of my fingers.

I knew he was a ghost but now reality really slipped in. My cowboy was dead, killed in one of the most painful ways. He had been alone with no one to mourn him, no one to find and bury him. For over a hundred years he had waited in this limbo, lost until I came along and chanced to find a way to connect.

I knelt beside his body, not caring about the scattered and broken bones digging until my knees and reached out to touch David’s skull. He had died with no one to care and I couldn’t resist bushing my fingers across the brow that he always kept hidden by the brim of his hat. As soon as I made contact with the hard bone David groaned, a sound filled with sorrow and longing.  Tears filled my eyes as I moved my hand toward the jaw, to the bone shattered and partly missing. I was determined to find a way to put together his pieces, to gather his skeleton so I could carry it to a safe place to bury when a creak from behind me filled the air. I didn’t have to turn around to know something was wrong, seriously wrong, for David stilled, his ghost whole once more. An air of hostility swirled around him and he stepped forward as if to shield me from danger.

“Duck, Selene.”

 

                                                             And It Begins

I pushed forward, falling over David's skeleton as I scrambled out of the way. The air above me split in two as the second vampire reached for me, clawed fingers spread wide and the gleaming red look he threw me answered any lingering questions I might have had to my fate if I failed to kill him first.  Pick axe, where was the pick ax?

My fingers brushed across the smooth old wood of the handle and on instinct they curled around it as I turned, gathering the weapon close before swinging it around. The edge of the metal sunk in deep into the thigh of the vampire's leg with a meaty 'thunk' and he screamed in pain and frustration. The look he shot me was of icy death and I could feel the blood in my veins freeze but that didn't stop me from moving out of his reach. I hurried away from him, trapped between a wounded pissed off blood sucker and the rough hued walls of a man-made tunnel.

Without taking his eyes off of me, vampire Jake jerked the axe from his leg, bits of flesh and coagulated blood pattering around me, and tossed it behind him. I heard it clang as the metal edge hit stone and his lips pulled back to reveal sharp white teeth in a menacing smile. I shivered at the sight but maybe I was too stupid to listen to my survival instinct. Instead of cowering in a quivering ball of jelly I jumped up and ran at him, intent in knocking this hillbilly fang tooth down and getting that pick axe back.

Around me dust, dirt and small rocks rose and swirled in a cyclone, spinning around and around and picking up more speed each second that passed. David's bones stirred and the corpses in the corridor behind the vampire shifted and trembled. High pitched squeaks filled the air as hundreds of rats ran, sensing trouble ahead and wishing to stay out of it. All around I could see the ghosts of the dead gathering, their eyes locked on to their killer, their hate plainly etched over the gaunt plains of their incorporeal faces.

I have no idea if vampires can see the ghosts of their victims or not, but if Bubba here could he didn't pay them any attention. Instead he laughed at me, the sound deep and throaty and ringed with his deadly intent. I ignored the threat (apparently he never met my father or he'd realize no one could be more threatening than my old man) and slammed into his abdomen with what I felt was the force of a line backer.

Well, everyone has their delusions and I'm not immune. My football dreams notwithstanding, I hit vampire Jake as hard as I could only to be captured in the rock hard grip of his arms. He chuckled in triumph, lifted me up bodily and raised his head back to strike. Dead was close...I could feel it and his breath stank. But I was not without a few tricks of my own.

A girl's first instinct when grabbed by a guy is to scream and kick. I neglected the first and proceeded to do the second. I kicked his shin, my tennis shoes connecting with his knees but nothing loosened the iron grip he had on. I twisted and struggled, my legs and feet going wild and even tried to head butt him (memo to selves, head butting a vampire: not a good idea). Nothing seemed to work. The harder I fought, the tighter his hold. His fingers dug into the flesh of my arms, skin ripping as his fingernails cut thin moon-shaped holes into me. I gritted my teeth and fought harder. All around us the ghostly horde thickened, their mumblings growing louder and the swirling debris filled air and pelted us from all sides.

I have a little secret I'm going to tell you. Don't repeat it, mind you, but it might come in helpful if you're about to be munched on by a vampire some time. I imagine most people wouldn't think of this handy trick but when your desperate and you see razor sharp teeth heading toward your neck try giving your attacker the good ol' one two. Remember I told you I was thrashing around, kicking my legs back and forth. I continued that, not really doing much damage when I finally bent my knee and struck up, connecting to something soft and kinda squishy.

Jake stopped moving and this queer look crossed his face before he set out with a wailing howl, dropped me on my ass and bent over, grabbing between his legs. He fell to his knees, his eyes going out of focus as he ignored me to protect himself and I didn't waste time. I scrambled to me feet and shot around him like a bat out of hell, tearing through ghosts like puffs of smoke to snare my pick axe. Once in my hand I swung with all my strength, the tip of the blade striking as the vampire turned his head to glare at me.

The sharp point of the pick sunk into his face, squarely between the eyes and his expression would have been comical if I wasn't fighting for my life. He lifted a hand as if to pull the axe out but I moved faster, jerked my weapon free and swung it around to smash it back into his head with as much force as I could muster. The edge sunk into bone and brain, one eye popping from his socket to hang down his cheek by a fleshy string. It bounced against the side of his face as he fell back and I moved to stand over him, gearing up for another swing at him. Over and over I struck until nothing was left of his face but a bloody caved in mess.

The vampire no longer moved, the rest of his body still as death throes ended. I buried the axe in his head, feeling the tip strike stone and to spent to lift the heavy once more back away until my back rested against the wall. My arms left limp, my legs weak and I bent over as I gasped to catch my breath. Blood and brains covered my hands, an ooze spreading in a halo around what was once the vampire's head and I watched as the tunnel's creepy citizen's quickly made their way over to make a feast of it. I closed my eyes to the sight and tried not to breath in the stink. I could hear the skittering of tiny little feet as centipedes and cockroaches scurried across the stone floor to the meal I had just laid out to them. Over that the rats claws and squeaks as they grew a back bone and came back to see who won.

The muttering of the dead died down (no pun intended) and I opened my eyes to find myself alone. Where was David? I didn't sense him anywhere and the light that radiated from his skeleton was quickly dying out. Was that it? Was he free? Were all the vampires dead? Did I kill them all and win the game?

I didn't have time to lose for the light was fading fast and unless I wanted to be stuck in the dark and creeping around with dead bodies I needed to get out of here ASAP. After a short search I found several bags, cloth and leather, and filled them with David's bones. I grabbed whatever moth eaten clothes of his I could fit in and grabbed his six shooters before turning and carefully heading back down the tunnel.

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The character Selene Michaels and her story are trademark TM and copyright protected © by the author. Neither the character nor the story may be used without written permission from the author.