Friday, March 20, 2020

New Orleans's Nobody

Enjoy this condensed first chapter (and part of the second) from Vampire Vignette New Orleans's Nobody.

I’m a nobody. I fade into the background at parties, nobody remembers my name when we’re introduced because I’m quiet, and bullies pick on me as their preferred prey because I don’t like to cause trouble and rarely fight back.

It makes me the butt of a lot of April Fools jokes. I don’t mind. People like to play pranks. Some can be mean, and it’s better they be mean to me, who can take it, than some poor soul who can’t.
Still, I should have been more wary about that particular note, found on March 31.

Meet me at the minimart at midnight. It’s a matter of life or death. ~Shawna. In my defense, it was her loopy handwriting.

I slipped out of my home, a two-vamp household, at eleven forty-five and walked briskly to the meet. The minimart was halfway between my household and Shawna’s. 

Trying to exude confidence, I strode along. Hoping any rogue vamps would think I had a protector vampire shadowing me. Jacksonville’s grandmaster has patrols out from dusk to dawn, but rogue vampires still hunt for easy blood, with us humans as prey.

Still, life or death, right? That wasn’t an overstatement. My best friend, Shawna Rice, was in the dangerous process of proving her household master vampire was…overtapping the veins, if you know what I mean. We’d meet at strange places at strange times, to avoid preternatural ears eavesdropping. 

If Shawna’s corrupt master got any hint of what she was doing before she had a solid case to bring before the Jacksonville grandmaster, she was dead.

The minimart was dark when I got there, the lot empty. No Shawna.
Instead a paper fluttered, taped to the glass door.

At that point my subconscious knocked on my brain (“Hello? Anyone home?”) and I got a bad feeling. Maureen “Mo” Gaffney, mistress of the obvious. 

I trotted toward the store, foreboding making my hand shake as I plucked the note off the door and read it.

Gotcha! April Fools, Mo! ~Jerkface. Not his name, but it should’ve been.

April Fools, right. I was the April Fool.

That was when the rogues melted out of the night.

Vampires circled me. I scanned them, using my peripheral vision. You don’t want to meet their hypnotic red eyes. One, two, three…French fry me. A dozen or more. 

Two were big goons who looked like they used soda straws made of hollow bones.

Three were pale and skeletal, which meant they hadn’t drunk blood lately. They’d be especially savage attacking. 

There I was, a human alone in the night. The paper rattling in my trembling hand wasn’t a particularly good weapon.

My heart pounded, but I stood my ground. Never run from a vamp. It excites them. And anyway, where would I go? The minimart, which had been a twenty-four/seven before the Great Unmasking—when we found out vampires weren’t fictitious and definitely did not sparkle—the minimart now shut up tight by sunset. No protection there.

I was a little light on weapons because I’d sneaked out of the house. The paper in my hand wouldn’t do squat.

One of the big goons broke away from the pack, stalking toward me with murder in his eyes.Eyes met mine, glowing red in a pale face. A tongue darted out to lick fangs. Thirsty.

Still, I tried to tough it out. “I know it looks like I’m helpless…but I’m not.”

“You look pretty helpless to me.” The vampire grinned, horrid with the fangs. “Unless you’re going to papercut my head off.”

Jerkface’s paper rattled in my hand, no danger to anyone except my ego. I did have one thing up my sleeve—or rather, in the open pocket of my cross-body day bag.

I’m a chef in training, with plenty of good, professional knives. Before heading out, I’d slipped a ten-inch chef’s knife and a small meat cleaver into cardboard sheaths, and they now nestled against my ribs in the bag’s pocket. The knives aren’t good for throwing, but for close-in defense? Brand-new and expensive, if anything could slice vampire hide, these knives could.

Whipping out the meat cleaver with my free hand, I chopped the arm of the sucker holding me. I managed to cut deep enough into sinew and meat to make him let go without slicing myself. Well, all right. Those hours of dicing practice, chopping until my arm screamed, had finally paid off. He shrieked and jumped back.

The adrenaline pumping through my veins spun me from the vamp at twice my normal speed—which was about half the speed of the remaining rogues, six of whom flickered into place before me. 

Faces now masked in horrifying armor, slavering at me with fangs the size of drywall nails.

Swallowing bile, I randomly swished the air in front of me with the cleaver, the sheen of vamp blood on it black in the phosphorescent light. Armor was bad news. I had a feeling I was only pushing out the inevitable TOD. 

My thoughts swirled like a life replay as I tried to come up with a defense. I remembered a time my mother had been teaching me to cook, fresh buttermilk biscuits in our warm kitchen. Me, piping, “There’s no baking powder! It’s ruined!” Her soothing alto voice. “If you don’t have baking powder, Moberry, just improvise. Use baking soda and cream of tartar instead.”

Improvise. Dropping the paper, I drew my chef’s knife. Cleaver in one hand, knife in the other, I started spinning, arms extended. As I spun, I randomly swiped up and down with my blades. It’s a fair strategy for Asteroids or any other video game where enemies come at you randomly from all directions. 

One sucker lunged for me. Surprisingly, my Asteroids strategy worked. He was young enough that I actually got in a few debilitating slices. He jumped back in surprise.

His cuts sealed up before my eyes. Unless you cut off their heads or hack out their hearts, a vamp will only laugh, heal up, and come back twice as hungry. 

Cold truth splashed through me.

Only a matter of time.

Sheer cussedness kept me spinning. I’d make them work for their supper.

Mid-revolution, something dark and massive wavered behind the rogues.

I was getting dizzy. Seeing things. My panting didn’t help. I was also seeing spots. I kept spinning.

My next time around, the shadow had shifted closer—and swept talons the size of kitchen knives through a rogue’s neck.

I slowed, almost afraid to complete this revolution.

The rogue stood there—shorter by ten inches of head.

I ground to a halt, my feet suddenly bricks of ice, staring as the headless sucker crumpled to the ground. My arms drooped in bewilderment. I nearly cut my thighs open before I remembered to turn the blades flat.

While the shadow—or should I say death machine?—methodically worked through the rest of the rogues.

Broad shoulders. The flash of muscle. Another swipe of powerful talons took off another sucker’s head.

I gulped. The vampire was huge and cutting through the suckers as if they were butter.

Bending over, I gulped air like I’d run the fastest race of my life. Beyond me, the thuds and thumps of fighting had stilled.


Then something…someone…took my knives from my hands, leaving me utterly defenseless. Then a large, warm hand settled on my shoulder. 

I froze hard, not even breathing.

“You’re safe now.” The voice was deep, sure, and touched with an unidentifiable but liquid accent. “We can put these away.” 

My cross-body bag dragged down. He’d put the knives in the pocket, returning them neatly to their sheaths. Considerate and tidy.

“You’re safe,” he repeated, his vowels fluid and warm. “Breathe.”

Since it was obey him or pass out, I managed a couple shallow breaths and a swallow. My throat felt like sandpaper. I still hadn’t looked at him. “Th-thanks?”

“You’re welcome.” He rubbed my shoulder soothingly. “Relax. Take a deep breath. It will slow your heart rate down.”

Yikes. He was listening to my heart? A heartbeat was the vamp equivalent of the sizzle and snap of frying bacon.

“Why?” I yelped. “Is it beating Eat At Mo’s?”

He chuckled. He had a nice laugh. “No, no. I’m quite content at the moment. Stress isn’t good for you, though. Your name is Mo?”

“Yes…” Curious, I dared look up at the creature who had wiped out a dozen vamps like bugs, but had a nice chuckle.

My breath stopped again.

He was…handsome is too tame a term. Beautiful is too restricted. Humans are handsome or beautiful. Vampires, thanks to their predator genes, swing a couple branches above that. This guy? He wasn’t simply stunningly handsome or exquisitely beautiful or jaw-droppingly attractive or wrenchingly virile. 

He was magnetic, as in, I wanted to plaster my body against his and do whatever he wanted, give him whatever he wanted, just to see that smile.

So I was stunned, and my jaw did drop, and my insides wrenched with a need so exquisite I shook with it. But more.

My heart broke, knowing little human me would never be more intimate with him than this, having his hand on my shoulder and his momentary smile filling my eyes.

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