I believe I was ten, but we hadn’t celebrated birthdays in a while. I hid in a copse of woods inside a park while Mom worked. She whistled for me, a whistle I knew well. I ran and embraced her. I didn’t always greet her this way, but the temperature had been dropping, and she radiated warmth.
This little kitten all orange and lines followed me all day.
“Where did that cat come from?” Mom asked.
“I don’t know. He’ll wander off.”
Mom bent down to me. “We cannot feed ourselves, and you’ve found a pet.”
“He found me.” I shivered. “We gotta get to the shelter.”
Mom sighed. “I saw on the TV in the lounge, our bus line is down tonight. We walk.”
I’d been outside all day. Temperature dropped all day. Mom started walking. I followed. The kitten followed me. I’d done absolutely nothing to befriend that cat. Never even touched it.
Clouds rolled in as we traveled. We walked in a rundown neighborhood with many boarded-up buildings. Rain fell. Then it turned to ice. The cold itched its way into my bones. Darkness enveloped the city.
Mom pointed. “That house, we need shelter. The board is ajar.”
So, we went into this derelict house. Basically empty. Even the copper wires and pipes had been looted. Mom broke out a box of granola bars, and we opened two packages and feasted. She had a bottle of water too with tiny slivers of ice floating in it.
Mom and I cuddled together for warmth. The kitten curled up on the inside of my legs, and truth is that kitten produced a huge amount of heat for as small as he was.
Three men crashed into the front door. One shouted, “Kill them. Take it all.”
Two of them fell on Mom, sunk inch long fangs into her. They spilled so much blood, like they didn’t value it. I ran. Nowhere to run. A damn bat landed on my back and bit me. I fell.
One of the men shouted. “Take it all. Nobody turns!”
I did my best lay-still-and-quiet routine. Mom didn’t make a sound. I don’t know what happened to the cat. What seemed to be the last of my blood drained. I passed out. I assumed at that point I died.
Drifting, floating in a kind of darkness, almost pure, almost twilight.
But I woke. My mom lay dead, but I knew she’d want to me to push forward and survive. Cold. Thirsty. Hungry. The beautiful cat rubbed against my leg and purred.
Hunger. Starving like never before. I whispered in my mind to the cat. Hunt.
The cat ran off. Granola bars. I ripped a twin pack open. Ate but they didn’t fill me. In fact, I puked them up. The kitten stood there with a small mouse in his mouth. The mouse still lived, but it died under my fangs. It tasted delicious. I only ate half.
I gave the other half back to the feline. He shredded it and ate the shreds.
Mom still lay there. Dead. Her body. The sun shone through the broken door. I approached it. Just a tiny bit of the sunshine, and it burned my skin like a hot iron.
The cat, with another juicy mouse. I ate the entire thing this time. For the first time, I petted the cat. I held the cat close.
I waited for darkness to fall. I salvaged what I could out of mom’s purse. Eight dollars and a couple of quarters. I felt my fangs. Sharp and long.
I wanted to bury Mom, but I knew better than to think I could dig a proper grave. Something was pulling me into the night.
I gave the cat a name, Bullox. While the cat was a great hunter, I knew there’d be lean times in the future, and at that point, his life seemed more important to me than my own.
I knew, if I headed left out of this house, I’d run into a corner store.
“Stay,” I said to Bullox.
He followed me anyhow, right into the store. The lady behind the counter didn’t bat an eye. I grabbed a gallon jug of water and a three-pound bag of catfood, the good kind. Both items weighed no more than a feather. I approached the counter and pulled out a five-dollar bill.
The lady smiled wide and made the sign of the Cross. “You need it more than I do.”
I ran. An old run-down church sat on one corner. Something in that church was drawing me in. I didn’t know what, but I had to know. One of the boards on the window hung slanted. I squeezed myself, Bullox, and both water and food inside. Pitch black, but for some reason I could see.
I didn’t question. Beyond questioning. Two wooden bowls sat on platforms by the door. No sound echoed, and I moved the bowls onto the floor and filled them for Bullox. Something smelled like metal, but like nothing I’d smelled before.
I stepped towards the altar. The thing had been toppled over and rested atop a kind of elevated wooden step. Maybe a false floor. The smell came from one corner. I stood above it. It reeked but somehow clean like metal.
I moved a carpet out of the way. A trapdoor with a lock. No key. My right fist came crashing down. Smash. It didn’t break, but it reverberated. My hand felt no pain. I hit it again and again. Maybe I made progress. I didn’t know.
A slow coal fire of anger started to grow in my heart. All this strength, and I couldn’t break a stupid piece of wood. I raised my fist up high and brought down my entire body weight on that false floor. The timber broke in half. I removed the two pieces. Even in the dark. Silver metal. Crosses, angels, coins. All pure silver. How did I know? I didn’t.
I touched one of the coins. It melted into my fingers. What? Yes, the coin disappeared into my fingers. I tried to flick my hand like flicking something gross off my hand. Nothing happened of course. Focus. Where that came from, I don’t know. I flicked my hand as hard as I could and willed, fly.
Silver darts flew out of my hand and embedded themselves in the wooden wall of the church. I walked over to them and stupidly touched them again. The metal melted back into my fingers. I repeated this process at least one hundred times because throwing metal darts was super cool.
The weird thing was, if the metal was in my hand, I’d feel the weight of it. One spot of light coming in from the steeple let me know the sun was up. Fatigue itched at my bones like I’d been up forever. I curled up in a ball with Bullox and slept like the dead. Maybe I was dead. I didn’t know.
When I woke, Bullox still curled up with me and darkness filled the church.
I thought back to Mom. The horrific way she died. I focused on the faces of the creatures who drained her dry, their stench.
I walked over to my stockpile of silver. I filled both hands until I felt it in my forearms, and both sides grew heavy.
I leaned down to my cat and whispered with my mind. Stay here.
The cat let out a little purr, and I took off. I stepped out of the church and breathed in the midnight air. The stench. That way. I started by walking, but soon I raced. In my heart, I wanted to follow that scent to its source. Strangers stared or glanced at me as I ran past, none intervened. None tried to stop me. A few of them made the sign of the Cross, but it didn’t faze me.
The stench and smell grew stronger and stronger until I reached a house, set back from the sidewalk. The paint was peeling. Plywood covered the windows, but the front door seemed passable. The aroma of decay filled my nostrils.
I knocked. What else would I have done? One of the grimy men who’d killed Mom opened the door. He wore clean clothes, but his hair was a mess. Fangs at least an inch long and fingernails more like claws. He shouted into the back, “Did you order delivery?”
“No, Jared is getting takeout.”
We were food to these men.
“Come in,” the first man said. The cue I somehow needed. A welcoming.
I lashed out with my right hand in an arc. Throwing the silver spikes with a fury I’d practiced so many times. My aim was off, and they pierced the man in the gut. Blood flowed and the, whatever he was, screamed.
I used my left. Fury and power, and my aim was true, right into the creature’s heart. He fell, seemingly dead. Blood flowed and pooled as if the heart still pumped.
The second man drew a pistol of some kind and squeezed off rounds in my general direction. None hit me. Whether because of some unnatural shield around my being, or perhaps the man was a poor shot.
I threw silver from my right hand again. Darts landed where they should. The monster fell and died. Blood spurted out of this one. He had fangs and claws similar to the first.
Supposed to be a third. Where was the third? They had a game console running on some virtual reality display. If I stepped into it, I’d be in the game. Instead, I tried to just breathe through my mouth. The death smell filled the house. They had couches and chairs like a normal living room, but more bloodstains on the carpet than most houses.
A few moments passed while I only breathed. Or did I breathe? I think I did, but maybe habit. I had to be breathing because the stench sickened me more and more.
The back door opened. The third man stepped in carrying a bundle on his shoulder. He wore a leather biker’s jacket and blue jeans. Short hair formed spikes on his skull. He dropped the bundle and a muffled grunt sounded.
The man, beast, whatever charged me, and I threw silver spikes. But he seemed stronger than the other two, and he deflected with his forearms. Something special in that leather jacket. He reached me. I had no backup plan.
He grabbed me by the throat and picked me up. In a raised voice, he said, “What are you?”
I didn’t see why it mattered. I willed the silver left in my right arm to bleed into my nails. A rage filled me, and I thrust my right hand into his chest. He gasped. I gripped his heart and pulled with all my strength.
I looked at the heart in my hand. It looked so delicious. Tasty. Food. I took a bite. Wonderful. I finished it. Blacked out. I flew in the skies.
My feet landed in a great garden filled with fruits, flowers, and herbs. My mom sat on a bench. Smiling at me, healthy and whole and young.
She spoke in a singsong voice. “You must go back. The path you’re on, you cannot keep Bullox. You must kill the master.”
I approached her and tried to hug her. As soon as we touched, I was back in my body and awake. I stood up. Muffled whimpers came from the kitchen.
The bundle the third man carried was no bigger than me. A child. I undid the wrappings. A girl. She screamed when she saw me. She had ponytails and brown eyes. Her white dress was clean although a bit frayed.
“Is that necessary?” I asked
She quieted down as I undid her bindings. When she saw the three dead, she screamed again. I rolled my eyes.
“Do you know your way home?” I asked.
“Yes, but do you think I’ll make it there?”
“I’ll get you home.”
“Do you have a name?”
I started towards the front door. “Walk and talk.”
She followed me. “My name is Samantha.”
Wait. Bullox. She could take care of Bullox.
“We have to stop somewhere,” I said.
She stopped walking. “Where?”
“I have a cat. You need to take care of it.”
“Fair trade for saving me from being lunch. Or worse.”
We walked to the church I nested in. I let out a whistle. Bullox came running.
“He’s just a kitten,” Samantha said.
“He’s a very good cat. Let’s walk.”
“You’re covered in blood. Even your face.”
I shrugged. We walked. The cat followed.
She continued, “I live in a foster home with boys your age. They would have clean clothes. We would feed you.”
No. I kept walking. We reached her house. A big two story.
I spoke in my mind to Bullox. Go with her.
Samantha picked up Bullox. “I would normally kiss a boy on the cheek for saving my life, but you’re really gross.”
Rather not get kissed anyhow. I ran for home. Instinct told me the sun would be up soon.
I slept the day away. When utter darkness filled the church, I stirred awake. I went to my cache of silver. After all the practice I’d had, the silver seemed to move of its own will into my fingers and hands. A simple look at it, and the silver would jump. When I felt the weight of the metal all the way into my shoulders, I stopped.
I put an extra silver coin in each of my pants pockets just in case.
I had never carried so much, and I wasn’t sure if it’d work. I snapped my left hand out in a wide arc. The silver darts flew and buried themselves in the wall. I had no idea where I was going, but the beast’s aroma of decay still itched in my nose. I bolted out of the church like one of the hounds of hell.
I traveled across the city, following the scent. None tried to stop me or said a word to me. People looked away. The house had lights on in it. Brick with a well-manicured lawn. I knocked on the door.
A black man answered the door. No stench filled this place, instead it smelled like they had a rotisserie chicken going. A lady sat on the couch reading.
“Can I help you?” The man asked. “You don’t look well.”
I stepped away. “Sorry, wrong house.”
I sniffed the air and moved my body. Three houses down. Tall grass. The stench was overpowering.
I knocked on the door.
A woman answered wearing black fishnet stockings and little else. She had black hair and her eyes seemed hollowed out.
“Come on in, kid. You’re welcome here,” she said.
Why she said it I didn’t know. Did I appear to her the same way I appeared to a human?
Music filled the house like a great party. I stepped inside.
“The master will want to meet you for sure,” she said.
I wanted to meet him, too. Do I need to kill them all? A great voice echoed in my mind. Yes.
I tossed the darts backhanded into her heart. She screamed and fell. Blood flowed like a fountain. Presumably dead.
I advanced into the next room. Three more of the creatures. They closed their eyes and transformed into bats. Just like the bat who bit me. I aimed for the first one, and threw. It dropped out the air and started smoking.
The second fell similarly. The third flew down a hallway, and I made the shot at distance. All that practice paid off.
Somebody came running down the stairs. The master. He wore the same kind of leather the one at the last house wore. I threw my bolts as rapidly as could. Each deflected. I made sure I saved some silver in each hand.
“What are you?” He asked.
Why did they care so much? Because I was so different from them?
“I’m going to bite you, just to see what happens,” he said. “Hold still.”
A paralysis like no other gripped me. He came towards me. What a stench. Possibly the grossest thing I ever smelled, and it came off him. Rage. It’s time to rage. I bled just enough silver out of my right hand to form a blade. He didn’t notice.
He leaned in close. I gagged, but my right hand moved, piercing him through the heart. He howled and fell and smoked.
I cut his heart out. All the blood everywhere. A ton of it in a pool on the floor.
I bit into the heart. So delicious. I ate the whole thing. I fell unconscious.
I drifted back into the heavens. I floated once again in a garden with Mom. She sat on a bench and smiled.
“You did well, but it isn’t your time. You must go back. Understand I’m in a good place now.”
I hugged her close.
I blacked out. Was I dead? What happened? I was in no pain. I opened my eyes.
Bright sunlight came in from the window. I cringed, but it didn’t burn. I lay in a bunkbed, still covered in blood and dirty clothes. I smelled something. Cookies. Three toffee cookies sat on a nightstand with a glass of water with just a few flakes of ice in it.
I took a bite of the first one. Delicious. I ate all three. My stomach made no complaints, and the water tasted crisp and clean. I looked around. Two dressers. The bunkbed. Some bedroom.
A mew sounded. I pulled the door open. “Bullox!”
I grabbed the cat up in my arms.
A lady’s voice sounded from the hallway. “So, the cat knows you, somehow. Did you eat the cookies?”
I looked, and an older lady stood in the hallway with her arms crossed. She wore a light blue dress down to her ankles and leather shoes that may have been boots.
“I did eat the cookies,” I said. “Thank you.”
“Then into the shower, Tommy. There are clothes in there.”
I shook my head. “Tom, or Thomas. Not Tommy.”
“Fair enough, they found your birth certificate when they found your mom, I’m sorry for your loss.”
“She’s in a good place now.”
“Then shower. Get ALL the blood off!”
I showered for what seemed like forever. I looked in the mirror. Clean as a whistle. I found underwear. Jeans a few sizes too big, but also a belt. Button up long sleeve shirt. Socks and shoes.
I stepped back into the hallway.
The woman looked me up and down. “Lunch time. You need to meet the others. I have ham and bread for sandwiches.”
I raced downstairs.
A bigger kid, skin dark as night smiled at me. “You’re up. I’m Jack. We’re roomies.” He held out his hand to shake, and I reciprocated.
Another boy sat in an electric wheelchair. He tried to push himself up and succeeded. But he held out his hand, and I was too slow, because he had to sit back down. I shook his hand and smiled.
“My name is George,” he said.
Samantha stood at the other end of the table.
I looked her in the eyes. “Hi.”
She held a finger over her lips as if to shush me.
The older lady touched my shoulder. “Let’s have lunch.”
“Was it real?” I asked.
The lady held out two silver coins. “They found these in your pockets. The police said there were a lot of bodies where they found you.”
I took the silver coins into my hand. The exact same coins.
“Run and put them away,” the lady said.
I ran back upstairs. I set them on my nightstand. I pointed my right hand at them and willed it. They scooted about an inch closer to my hand.
* * *
Living there became routine quickly. Daily chores. Church every Sunday and holidays no matter how obscure. My benefactor’s name was Ruth, but she did like to be called the governess by us kids. Seemed cards and boardgames were our main pastimes. The governess would be constantly reading if not cooking. She and Samantha did all the cooking.
Jack and I were responsible for dishes, sweeping, and vacuuming. The food was so varied and amazing at each meal, I was glad I didn’t cook. George simply couldn’t do some things, but he could load the clothes washer and dryer, and that was his main responsibility. I’d just drop dirty clothes in a basket, they’d reappear in the hallway outside my door on a milk crate. He used a lift to traverse the stairs.
Ruth had a laptop she’d break out presumably to send emails and look things up. When we needed groceries, we’d all go. I could ask for things. Ruth never got mad, but a toss of a coin to find out if I’d actually get the item.
Speaking of coins. I could move them, but I couldn’t seem to absorb them. I did not tell the others, and perhaps I’d just gone mad.
Part of each day, we studied lessons from some state sponsored curriculum. The tests were boring at best, and the lessons seemed to only value memorization versus any kind of creative effort. Ruth had a piano, and she tried to teach me. As frustrating as it was for me, she insisted I had natural talent, and I required practice.
Samantha possessed an easel and canvases. She would paint or sketch, but she never showed me the end products.
Bullox slept with me at night. I was responsible for his litter, food, and water.
The weather started getting warmer. Ruth taught Jack and I how to till a garden, and the work truly warmed my heart.
Something caught in the wind. A dank smell I had almost forgotten. Death. I ignored it and continued my labor. I wanted to puke so bad.
Jack must have seen it in my face. “What is it?”
“Nothing, I’m fine.”
At the end of the day, we were both covered in sweat, and it seemed every muscle in my body burned sore. Jack called dibs on the shower, and I was fine with it, I wasn’t done sweating.
A week later about midnight, I sweated in my sleep. I opened the window. The stench of death in the distance itched at my mind. Something changed. My body shifted into the past. I grabbed my silver coins. They bled into my fingers. I raced downstairs and out the door, leaving Bullox inside. An indoor cat now.
I didn’t know what I was up against. The smell dug into my nostrils like worms. I raced to the church where I nested before. Pitch black inside, but I could see. What was left of my stash of silver remained.
I filled my arms. The weight was heavy, but I knew strength. I willed it and flipped my right hand at the wall. Three precise bolts of silver landed in the wood and stuck.
Once outside the church, I smelled the air. That way and I took off. Not actually far from the foster home. I knocked. A dude with nasty, matted brown hair answered.
“You’re early for dinner, but come in,” he said.
I stepped inside. I noticed a camera in one corner.
“Pointless to kill me. We got your face now. You’ll never be welcomed in again.”
I would dance on this one’s grave. I threw metal at his chest. Blood squirted out far enough to splatter on me. He fell.
I threw a single dart destroying the camera next. I stormed through the rest of the house. In the basement, I found three of them feeding on a dog, but not like the others, they seemed to be animals themselves, vicious black claws and pure black eyes.
I killed each of them in turn. The stench of death was getting to me. I went upstairs. I raced home to the foster house.
Ruth sat on the screened in front porch.
What could I say? Would it matter?
“I baked cookies,” she said. We never got cookies.
“Shower first, clothes are in the bathroom,” she said.
Bullox sat on the porch. He rubbed against my leg.
I stepped inside. Jack and George played chess in front of a roaring fire. This was the first time I’d see that fireplace lit.
They smiled and waved. I raced up the stairs.
Samantha stood at the other end of the hall. “Did you get them all? Did any of them follow you back here?”
I chose my words carefully. “I believe so.”
“Shower, you get so dirty,” she said. Then she disappeared into her room.
Inside the bathroom, I found three toffee cookies and a glass of water with just a few flakes of ice floating in it.
I dumped four silver coins out of my hands onto my dresser, then I was back in my bed asleep in no time. Nobody mentioned that night for weeks. We wrapped up school for the year. The governess promised us a trip to the amusement park if we were good. As if we were ever not good.
George was clearly best at chess. Unstoppable. My best game was euchre, but only if Samantha was my partner. My window was open one night and a reek of death drifted into my room.
They were my friends. I should tell them. I wanted to leave a note or something. The note read, “Went out for some air.”
The four silver coins seemed to move of their own will into my hands.
I stepped out of the house. Bullox chased after me. I pointed back in the house and said, “Inside!”
The cat ignored me. Seemed the older the kitten grew, the more he ignored my commands. I followed the stank raunchy smell of death. Less than a mile. How they could set up shop so close to our house and I didn’t notice. Maybe a lot of them and everywhere, and only the close ones I picked up on.
The house had windows painted black. I leaned down to Bullox and whispered with my mind. Go home!
The cat sprinted off.
I approached the house. Two stories tall with a basement. I knocked on the door.
A tall man answered with blue jeans on, no shirt, and a wooden bat in his left hand. “Go away.”
The stench of decay drifted out of this man and the house. Thicker than molasses.
“Can I come in?” I asked.
“No.” He showed off his fangs as he said it. He slammed the door in my face. What?
I found a big rock in the yard and threw it in a bay window. Jumped in after it. The man with the bat smiled at me. I threw three darts with my right hand. He blocked them with the bat. I tried my left. Again. Blocked.
I formed a blade in my right hand and charged. The bat met me on the cheek before my blade reached his heart. Explosions and darkness filled my vision as I bounced off to the side.
Getting hit with a bat hurt bad. I didn’t lose my blade. I jumped forward. The bat swung in the other direction and hit me on the other side of my head. I went down. I stayed down longer.
The bat hit my right hand and bones crunched. I did drop my knife then. I still had silver in my left hand, but my head swam in pain.
The bat hit again. Right forearm. Did my bones break that time? I think they did. The bat kept falling. Until I think every bone broke. Was this death for my kind? Did I have a kind? The broken ribs were the worst because they pierced my lungs.
My entire body blazed with pain, like every bone but my skull and spine were in at least two pieces. Trying to move hurt. Not moving hurt. Everything hurt.
The man with the bat laughed. “Did they teach you nothing! You are weak if you aren’t invited in.”
The bat fell again. This time on my groin. Yes, the worst place to get hit.
“We’re going to eat your flesh! One bite at a time. Cut your toes off with a rusty knife. But my friends will want to feast right off the bones while your heart beats.”
My mind still worked. Who was the, they, he talked about? Who was supposed to teach me?
The bat fell on my gut. A minor annoyance at this time. I just needed to convince my mind to leave my body. Drift up up and away. Be anywhere but here. The man with the bat quit hitting me. He pulled out a phone and started talking to somebody. I was too lost in a haze to hear the words. Then he sat on a couch and started to flip through channels on the tv.
I figured I’d bleed out soon. Blood pooling in my lungs. Broken bones. Internal bleeding. Be with Mom again. I did my part. I killed enough. I closed my eyes and did my best to drift off to nothingness.
Somebody kicked in the front door. A cannon of a rifle boomed, and the dude with the bat’s head exploded.
The governess with a rifle in her hands. “I don’t have to be invited in.”
Bullox sat at her feet with his chest puffed out.
Samantha ran past her and to me. More bad guys appeared from other rooms. The governess cut them down with precise shots to the head.
Samantha leaned down to me. “We have to heal you.”
I spit up some blood and specs of it dotted Samantha’s face. I didn’t mean to. I was trying to breathe.
“Gross!” She said. “You must listen very carefully, Thomas. I can heal you, but only with your energy. I need you to rage. I need pure energy!”
She expects me to rage. I had nothing left.
I closed my eyes.
She grabbed me by the face and shouted, “No! Eyes open. Eyes on me!”
I opened my eyes, but I had nothing.
“Think of the worst day of your life,” she said. “Make that day into a ball of fire in your heart.”
“You mean today?” I feebly asked.
“No, your family or something. I don’t know, but I can’t do shit without energy.”
The day we buried Dad. I was seven going on eight. Mom insisted I wore a suit and tie. Cancer got him, just like every other member of his line. A small charcoal fire burned in my heart. I burned in a rage. I did have something left.
“That’s it,” Samantha said. “That’s the ticket.”
She moved her hands to my chest. Blessed relief. She fixed my ribs that had punctured lungs. I breathed in a huge breath.
“I need more! You gotta burn, my friend.”
The days after the funeral when money got tighter and tighter. The bank took the house. We moved into that crap shelter with addicts and madmen. Mom’s family wanted nothing to do with us. More fire in my heart.
I could breathe. I spasmed a bit. She fixed my legs.
The fire in my heart sputtered out.
“No, you stupid, dirty boy. Don’t quit now!”
I wasn’t stupid. But I was often dirty. Couldn’t be helped. I thought back to rummaging through Mom’s purse looking for money. Pure white fire in my heart.
“That’s it,” Samantha said.
She finished. I was pain free. She fell onto me and seemingly passed out.
“Carry her, boy, we’re not out of this yet,” the governess said.
I picked her up in my arms.
The governess growled. “Not that way, over your shoulder.”
I shifted Samantha’s weight onto my shoulder. The governess led the way outside. Bullox followed along.
Samantha groaned. “I hate doing that.”
“I appreciated it,” I said. “Thank you.”
“We still need the cloak on the rifle,” the governess said.
Samantha groaned again. “It’s done.”
And we did. But I was low on energy and carrying someone. I slowed down.
“Put me down!” Samantha shouted.
I dropped her on her feet.
“We’re being followed,” the governess said.
“I can’t run,” I said.
“Can’t or won’t?” She reached in a belt pouch and pulled out a toffee cookie.
I grabbed it and feasted. The governess gave one to Samantha too.
I could in fact run. We took off. We made it home. Jack and George once again played chess.
The governess turned to me, once we were inside. “Why do you keep running off alone! We’re a team!”
“A team?” I asked. “This is the first I’ve heard of any team.”
“Samantha has been teaching you? Showing you how everything works?”
The governess turned to Samantha.
She crossed her arms over her chest. “I didn’t want him to get hurt. I wasn’t thinking things through. I wanted our fourth to be a girl. I wanted a girl in our group, not another stupid, dirty boy.”
“I am neither stupid nor dirty!” George shouted.
“You’re the dirtiest,” Jack said.
“Piss off. Wait. My perimeter ward. You guys were followed.”
Jack turned to the governess. “Let me loose!”
She reached in her hand for four silver coins and tossed them at Jack. He caught them and spun around with blinding speed. When he stopped spinning, he had three silver blades coming out of both fists between the knuckles. He raced out of the house.
Why does he get claws and I don’t?
* * *
I collapsed onto the couch. It’d been too long of a day. My conscious part drifted off into nothingness. I heard the door open, and I looked.
Jack stood there covered in blood, and I knew from the smell of him that it was vampire blood. He raced upstairs, presumably to shower.
The governess leaned over me. “Do you need another cookie?”
Like what ten-year-old boy would say no? “Please.”
She held it out to me. I sat up on the couch, grabbed it, and ate it in two bites. What was in these cookies? Energy coursed through my body.
The governess set her rifle on a rack above the fireplace mantle, and it disappeared into the wall. She nodded towards George.
“You’ve got to explain to us how you’re finding their nests,” George said.
Samantha slammed her right foot on the floor. “We had been using me as bait. When you rescued me, Jack and the governess were about to storm the house.”
“They use you as bait?” I asked.
“I’m the only one who can teleport home in a pinch.”
I looked at one person to the next. These people were my friends. I trusted them. “I can smell them.”
Samantha’s eyes narrowed.
“A pure blood hunter,” George said. “I’ve read about them, but never expected to encounter one.”
“I will never be bait again!” Samantha shouted. Then she started to do this silly dance.
I had to know. “Why does Jack get claws and I don’t?”
The governess laughed bright.
George pointed upstairs at the shower. “He cannot retract them. He cannot throw them. He cannot hide them with a mask.”
“A mask?” I asked.
Samantha stopped dancing it. “You’ve been wearing masks. You just don’t realize it. When you walk around the city, or run, the humans all see a grown man. You spent so much time around us you dropped your mask.”
“How do I do it?”
I was looking at Samantha when I asked. She smiled. Then her teeth and eyes turned black. Her ears grew pointy. Her hair became a total mess compared to her usual braids. Wrinkles started to appear and her skin took on a silvery grey sheen.
I cringed. She was hideous.
She let out this great cackle and transformed back to her rosy cheeked self.
I tried to mimic her. Except to make myself younger and clean. I imagined an old picture of myself that was a few years old.
“Perfect,” the governess said. “Use that next time you knock on a door and ask to be let in.”
I shrugged it off.
Samantha pointed at me. “You realize you’re a tank, right?”
George rapped his fingers on the handle of his wheelchair. “You play too many video games.”
“This is not one giant role-playing game,” the governess said.
Jack came down the stairs. “What did I miss?”
“Thomas can smell out their nests.”
“Samantha is going to teach him more magic. How to rage. Hyper focus.”
“Hyper focus?” I asked.
Samantha nodded. “You did it today when I was healing you. Some call it a rage, others call it hyper focusing.”
Jack reached out with his fist. I fist bumped with him.
“So, what is the strategy? If we’re not using Samantha as bait?” George asked.
“Place a monitor ward on Thomas, so we can see. He gets invited in, and we back him up,” Samantha said.
This seemed like a solid plan to me. I didn’t mind going in first. They helped me practice with the masking and the silver. The hyper focus seemed difficult without adrenaline. I could, if I really willed it, create claws like Jack’s, but I found loading up my fingernails or a simple blade was more effective.
I got better at conveying thoughts to Bullox. It took a fair some of energy, but at times the cat would do as instructed, with a very short attention span.
Mid-summer, and I smelled the dead one day. We tracked down the house. I loaded up on silver.
I put my little kid mask on, mentally. Knocked on the door. A burly beast answered with a leather jacket on and khaki pants. He reeked of decaying corpses.
“You lost, kid?” His fangs were over an inch long and quite pointy.
“I can’t find my parents,” I asked. “Can I use your phone?”
“Sure, come on in.”
After that, it was a slaughter.