Warning! This is a horror/dark fiction story so may be disturbing to some. There is strong language and sexual situations.
She moved out of the shelter of the den just as the sun was setting behind a stand of trees atop the next hill. Moving swiftly, she darted from bush to tree, a fleet shadow against the green hillside. Secreting herself in a clump of shrubbery beside a path she had observed throughout the day, she settled down to wait for a passing human. The hunger was in her now, and the other too; the hot, wanting feeling in her nether parts.
The maiden shifted uncomfortably, closing her eyes and relying upon her other senses to alert her to the approach of prey. The strangely unsettling feelings of desire she was experiencing had convinced her that she would soon discover her mate, even though she could not be absolutely certain that she had detected the aroma of his pheromones the previous night. Still, something was responsible for her unaccustomed uneasiness and she prodded her memory for bits of remembered lore from the long past time before the purges that had scattered her tribe to the far ends of the earth.
Her mam, tall and regal with a magnificent mane of silvery hair that reached down nearly to her knees, and a smooth pale skin that glowed in the wintry moonlight, had filled her head with stories of the tall young hunter who would come to claim her for his own when she reached her maturity, recounting grand tales of the northern forest domain where he ruled a dozen of the wild family tribes whose wanderings struck terror into the hearts of the prey. His was a dark and dangerous race of predators, known throughout the forest Kingdoms for the sleek beauty of their raven black hair and their prowess in the hunt. He had come down from his distant fatherland seeking a mate, desirous of adding the stamina and passion of her fair-haired tribe to his own regal lineage…
They had met just once, at the camp of the Oracle, a magical and terrifying place of leaping flame and shadow among the circled Gypsy caravans whose colorful and cunningly wrought adornments portrayed every shade of magic and legend to the myriad creatures of the hidden world, but which could not be seen for what they were by human eyes.
The maiden had been no more than a frightened youngling then, her killing teeth as unbudded as her tiny breasts. She had hidden behind the veil of her mam’s tresses as the proud young prince had thundered into the camp on the back of a snorting steed with skin as white and mane as black as his own, to treat with her sire.
She had shrunk back in terror as his fiery eyes settled upon her and he had grinned, showing the tips of his fighting teeth and extending a pale hand to feel of her silky hair, to test the cold, marble texture of her fine unblemished skin.
After no more than a moment, her mam had hurried her away to a makeshift den beneath a shadowed overhang of black stone. The great prince had settled fearlessly before the blaze of logs to bargain through the night with her sire. She had watched for many hours as the light of the fire played about his fine features, casting red highlights into his shining hair; had listened until the sounds of droning voices and the snapping of the blackened logs at last made her drowsy and, cuddling against her mam’s soft breast, she had fallen into a deep, restful slumber.
And then there had been a rough hand upon her shoulder, shaking her awake and she had looked up into the kind eyes of her sire. The fire was blazing high in the camp and the thin, high keening of strings were singing a mad Gypsy tune as the Oracle’s brightly clad retainers appeared from the secret depths of their caravans to join the dancing and drink their fill of strong, heady liquor.
The bargain had been struck.
Her mam had beamed proudly upon her as the other females and younglings crept from their dens to twine flowers and bits of greenery into her hair. Then she had been carried into the clearing to stand before the Oracle of the Seven Kingdoms….
The sensors below her lip tingled and she came suddenly alert, fighting teeth thrust forward, leaping muscles tensing, as a large human male appeared farther down the path, running directly toward her hiding place. She remained frozen where she was as he ran past, panting. There were not nearly as many humans along the evening paths as there had been earlier in the day, and she knew she must wait quietly until the right one appeared. She required a lone, smallish female whose garments she might acquire after she had fed and concealed the body.
The Oracle had been huge and, though to all appearances a human, terrifying to her. The stringed Gypsy instruments had fallen silent as he waddled toward the gathering before the fire, the swirl of brightly striped fabric swaddling his enormous bulk rustling like the wind in the trees, the golden ornaments in his teeth and his ears flashing brilliantly. The golden medallion at his neck flaring like a miniature sun in the garish light of the flames.
She had shrunk from the oily warmth of his great body as he had taken her tiny hand in his enormous one, pressing it briefly to that of the tall young prince and speaking the ancient words. And then, before she had known what was happening, it was done. Showers of orange sparks shot into the sky and the Gypsy strings screamed as the laughing dancers tumbled back into the clearing. She had seen her sire clasping his strong arms about her mam, the excited elders cheering their congratulations, heard the thunder of hooves as her prince and his escort of wild young hunters leapt to their chargers, wheeling about on the stony ground, disappearing once more into the forest….
He was to have returned when she reached her full maturity some seasons hence… Seasons that had brought the purge; the near destruction of her and all her kind….
Her facial sensors tingled again and she snapped her head around toward the path. Another human creature was approaching, a slight figure running lightly through the deepening gloom of twilight.
She settled into a four-point crouch, preparing to spring.
It was incredible!
Straight Razor Dan lay on the ebony bed in his empty penthouse, staring at the dimming colors of the darkening skylights. Crumpled sheets of newsprint lay drifted about like dirty snow.
The gabbling females in the trendy Sunset Boulevard cafe had been right.
Immediately upon overhearing their strange conversation he had taken the unprecedented step of purchasing a newspaper. He had returned to the penthouse with the unwieldy bundle, shredding dozens of the flimsy pages in his eagerness to find the report the fat woman had mentioned.
And it had been there, a tiny article buried among the columns of shootings and stabbings and carjackings that comprised the overnight events of an average Los Angeles day. He had devoured the brief report, deciphering the groups of symbols into words and then sentences, quickly at first, then slowly, then quickly again.
POPULAR SKI AREA SHAKEN BY BIZARRE DOUBLE MURDER
CONDOR LAKE, CALIF.
Residents of this mountain resort community seventy miles east of Los Angeles were shocked by the violent double murder of two vacationing college students by an unknown assailant or assailants. A spokesperson for the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Office confirmed that the students were found in their beds yesterday morning by two companions who were sharing the cabin with them. The spokesperson denied rumors that the bodies appeared to have been savaged by a large animal, although it was conceded that the throats of both victims had been “badly mangled.”
Names of the students were being withheld pending notification of relatives. Although some local residents of Condor Lake were reported to be arming themselves and forming neighborhood patrols, the Sheriff’s department issued assurances that the killer was believed to have left the area. According to California Highway Patrol records, a stolen vehicle belonging to a neighbor of the deceased students was involved in a major fatality accident on the Santa Monica freeway near the intersection of the Hollywood freeway yesterday. The body of a possible third murder victim was subsequently discovered in the abandoned vehicle, leading police to conclude that the killer may now be in the Los Angeles area…
“The killer may now be in the Los Angeles area!”
He read the words over again, then, springing lightly to his feet, he strode to the glass doors leading out onto the rooftop patio, throwing aside the heavy draperies and stepping to the railing to breathe deeply of the moisture-laden air, scanning the sparkling carpet of lights stretching away toward the sea for some hint of her presence, worrying over the distinct possibility that the dense polluted atmosphere to which he had eventually accustomed himself had dulled his senses: Perhaps she was out there somewhere this very moment, searching for him, waiting for her prince to claim his bride after so many years of haunting, desolate loneliness….
He tasted nothing on the air. He, who had once boasted to his fellow lords that he could sniff out a ripe female at forty leagues.
Returning to the darkened room, he threw himself onto the rumpled sheets to ponder the problem. He must discover the female’s whereabouts quickly. Her untutored killing method was crude dangerous in this scientific age, the act of a headstrong forest youngling unused to moving among the dense herds of prey; prey who would gladly destroy her.
He must make a plan.
He closed his golden eyes, intending to evaluate several of the possible courses of action he might take. An image of the wild silvery creature whose tiny hand he had pressed in troth before the Oracle sprang to his mind instead. She would have grown into a magnificent huntress like her mother by now, a beautiful and deadly creature, slender of limb and swift of foot, a fitting vessel for his seed and the foundation of the proud new dynasty he would found in this raw new land.
He let his mind wander back to the painful reflections of the time after the purges. The pillaging mobs had done their work, raiding the deep forest strongholds of his race and those of the other non-human creatures who had chosen eons before to hide themselves from human eyes, decimating the tribes of the Seven Kingdoms with their dreadful tortures, finally burning down entire woodlands in order to drive two or three choking survivors into their foul traps.
His small band of warriors had been one of the few to survive. Forced into the high mountains, reduced to feeding on the thick revolting blood of lower animals in order to avoid detection by the mobs of marauding prey, they had barely survived.
Many seasons had passed in that dreadful cycle of death and isolation before he dared seek out the Oracle once more, determined to learn the worst.
Arriving in a shabby encampment of battered Gypsy caravans late one night, the vampire had discovered that the ancient human had fared little better than the bands of elves and faeries and hunters like himself, whose compact the old Gypsy and his forefathers had served as walkers among humanity since the founding of the Seven Kingdoms.
Despised and feared by their own kind for the magical powers they were thought to possess, the Gypsies, too, had been hunted and murdered, barred from the towns, cursed by the religionists and forced to forage among the barren fields for scraps and roots.
The young prince had crouched by the dim light of a shrouded fire as the old human had recounted the horror of the purges–for even in his misery, the Oracle had tended well to his ancient duty of recording the history and lore of the tribes–numbering the legions of the dead and dying, naming the few survivors. Then, to the defeated prince’s great surprise, the old man’s sadly shrunken lips had formed into a smile. And he had clasped the young hunter’s pale hand in his own once corpulent one and told him that his bride still lived.
The prince had listened in stunned silence as the Oracle described the humans’ discovery of new lands across the ocean sea, told of the canny relation–whose ties to Romany and the Seven Kingdoms were not suspected by humankind–who had already voyaged to the new land with more than a score of otherworldly creatures secreted in the cargo of his sailing ship; the same ship that had carried the dormant youngling female and her mother to the new land.
Straight Razor Dan sat bolt upright in his bed, his predator’s eyes glowing yellow in the black confines of the lightless room.
He knew exactly what he must do.
“What do you mean it can’t be the same guy?” Frolich, his dark blue suit a shambles, was grinning at him from behind the wheel of the green Chevy, and Vince knew the homicide investigator was rehearsing their triumphant return to Sanford with the new evidence they’d collected. After taking their samples, they had follwed the line of small footprints for nearly half a mile along the freeway easement before losing them on a slope covered with ice plant. It was dark by the time they’d trudged back to the car for the drive to San Berdoo and they’d been mired in the standard river of late afternoon traffic flowing east out of the city along the I-10 for more than two hours now. Plenty of time for Vince to mull over his conclusions.
“You saw the footprints,” he said, waiting for Frolich to squeeze the car into a marginally faster lane than the one they were in, which was filled with creeping tractor-trailer rigs. “I don’t think those size five prints were made by any man.”
Traffic in the lane they’d just entered ground to a sudden halt, giving Frolich another opportunity to make eye contact. “The only eyewitness description of The Vampire Killer specified a man,” Vince hurriedly explained.
Frolich laughed. “Yeah, with big yellow eyes and a face full of teeth.” The little detective reached across the passenger compartment and aimed a gentle punch at Vince’s chin. “Relax, Junior. Eyewitness descriptions never match up exactly. That USC campus cop got to see the killer at night for two, maybe three seconds, tops. She saw the white skin, yellow eyes, teeth… Hell, she probably thought Godzilla was comin’ at her out of those bushes.”
“Yeah,” Vince persisted, “but the point is, she swore her assailant was a male.
Frolich laid on the horn, goosing the Chevy between a beer truck and a low rider, sprinting into a lane that was unaccountably free of traffic and pushing the speedometer up to seventy. “The point is,” he said, glancing across at Vince, “that most of the particulars of both descriptions match perfectly. Now you add that to the highly unusual and almost identical way in which the victims’ throats were slashed and you’re stretching the envelope of coincidence to assume that this isn’t the same killer.” Frolich’s voice took on a sudden chill and he flashed the young deputy an annoyed look. “Besides, you’re making one major mistake that blows your whole theory right out of the water.”
Vince frowned at him.
“I wear a size five shoe,” you putz, hissed Frolich, “and the last time I looked in my jocky shorts, all the standard gear was still hanging off my crotch. So what does that do to your fucking theory?”
Vince stirred uneasily in his seat, feeling his ears beginning to do a slow burn. Frolich was openly glaring at him as he awaited a reply and Vince knew he had better do something to defuse the situation. “Can I ask you one question?” he asked after a moment’s reflection.
“What?” He could hear the hurt and resentment in the little man’s voice.
“Where were you the night that campus cop saw The Vampire Killer?”
“You son of a bitch!” Frolich’s anger dissolved in a burst of laughter and he threw a crumpled McDonalds wrapper at Vince’s head.
“Hey, I’m really sorry, Inspector,” Vince apologized. “I mean, I jumped to a stupid conclusion about the size of the footprints without thinking.”
Frolich shook his head. “Junior, guys have been ragging me about my size since I was in first grade. Forget it.” He tapped the brakes, bringing the Chevy’s speed down to a creep as the traffic stream slowed ahead. “The thing is,” he said looking back at Vince, “we can’t make any assumptions about this case. Maybe we are chasing a woman–women generally do have smaller feet than men–but that doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t The Vampire Killer. Female serial killers are unusual, but not unheard of.”
Vince nodded, seeing the flaw in his own logic and feeling a sudden surge of admiration for Frolich. Despite all the Fearless Fosdick jokes, the guy really seemed to know his stuff.
“So what happens from here,” he asked glumly, thinking how much simpler things were when all he had to worry about was piloting his Jeep around the lake.
Frolich shrugged. “We turn the casts of the footprints and the blood samples we took from that tree over to the forensics laboratory. The full autopsy reports ought to be back by tomorrow morning. Maybe they’ll tell us something else about the killer.”
The traffic was finally thinning as the Chevy started up the long grade leading to Pomona. Vince turned to look back at the vast sweep of lights glowing against the low clouds covering the Los Angeles basin.
“I know exactly what you’re thinking,” said Frolich. “Forget about it.”
Vince swiveled back to face him.
“This creep is on the streets until we can either I.D. him–or her–or he strikes again and makes a mistake. There’s nothing we can do about that. We could’ve followed those footprints to hell and it wouldn’t have done us any good. There’s only one way we’re going to catch him, and that’s by doing the job. All the evidence is going into the computer: The boy genius might come up with something else.
“My investigators are interviewing the friends and families of the victims, in case somebody might have noticed anything unusual. I want you to do the same thing up at the lake tomorrow.”
“The Lake?” Vince was pleasantly surprised. He had just assumed he was stuck on this investigation until further notice.
Frolich nodded. “As of tomorrow you’re back on regular duty. You put on your uniform, get in your unit and start making your regular patrols. You know those people up there. Talk to them. Find out if anybody else saw or heard anything unusual the night those kids were killed. Call me with your report.”
Vince grinned, thinking of Annie and the lake. “Yeah, I will. And thanks, Inspector. I’m afraid I’m not exactly the detective type.”
Frolich’s smile was genuine. “You’re not too bad, Junior.”