Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Frustrations With Tools - Road Trip!

My luck in working with anything remotely sophisticated is very limited, and computers are no exception.  I'm in Kansas City on a business trip and will have some free time to write, so I brought both my personal computer and my work computer.  No problem, right?


I soon as I got to my room, I booted up my personal computer and prepared to spend some time working on my new novel when, much to my dismay, all that happened was the screen lit up bright blue and stared at me.  I re-booted it - my favorite fix for computers, plus the only one I really know how to do - yet that technical sophistication didn't fix the problem.  The laptop is about three and a half years old and has been slow for a while now and I figured that maybe it finally reached the end of it's run.  Yes, I can probably get it fixed, but that won't solve my immediate problem of needing something to type on.

That was when I turned on my work computer.  I'd emailed my novel to my work account for just such an emergency, so I was certain that my problems would be solved.  Unfortunately, that wasn't to be the case.

My work computer takes a smart card to boot up(pretty high tech, isn't it?), and it asked for my PIN, which I was all too happy to provide.  However, the screen informed me that I'd entered the wrong PIN and would have to do so again.  Surely that can't be! I thought, but I went ahead and re-entered it, sure that I would soon be lost in the magical world I'd created.


That was when the damn machine informed me that my smart card had been locked and it was sorry to say that it wouldn't allow me access.  Actually, it only said that my smart card was locked, but adding the second part makes me feel better.  So I now have no way to write, and I won't be back to my home computer or able to get my work computer fixed until Friday night(late), and I'm stuck watching re-runs of The Big Bang Theory and griping about how computers in general are the spawn of Satan.

For those wondering how this is getting posted, I'm working on the lobby computer of the Best Western I'm staying in, so the hordes of humanity lean over my shoulder while I express myself, making this process that much more fun.  Maybe I should fart and get their reaction - shouldn't be hard since the Taco Bell I ate at is one of the only ones I know of that still has the Chili Cheese Burrito.

Next post will be more productive, as I'll discuss writing distractions.  Including this episode, I've had plenty of practice weeding them out.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Akeldama - Chapter 9 (continued)

This is the second half of chapter 9 from Akeldama.  In it, Maxwell, the vampire that freed the main character from his torture, has followed his own leads on enemy activity to Los Angeles.  Please enjoy.

UNTHINKABLE (continued)
            Maxwell disliked being around this many people, even if he was hidden on this roof by shadow of the tree.  Were he human, he might have worried about being in this part of Inglewood, but these small pests were unlikely to affect him.
            Even after 11pm the street was alive.  This was gang territory, and their music blared over speakers that were too loud to do anything but let the sound reverberate.  Maxwell could see several folks leaned up against the small chain link fence at the edge of the yard, most with a bottle in their hand.
            Occasionally a small fight would break out, but nothing more than some pushing and shoving.  The gang-toughs would deal with the disruption and then go back to their drink.
            It was here that Maxwell could smell blood.
            There was tons of fresh nectar on the street, and with its history of violence, Maxwell could understand why Los Muertos would choose places like this to feed – there was a healthy supply and they were less likely to draw attention.
            Dmitri was closer to the action since his special abilities let him approach without worry.  Maxwell could signal his associate when he needed to.
            It was pleasantly cool, but not frigid as it had been in Kansas.  Maxwell had chosen to wear a simple dark shirt and slacks.  He continued to watch the people mingle, fight, and drink.  A few cars rolled by, the occupants occasionally shouting out of the windows.
            It was a change in the wind that first brought a new scent to Maxwell, stale and lifeless.  He perked up and could distinguish six of them making their way down the street – five males and one female.  The woman had dark brown hair to match her eyes, in contrast to the very tight white top and leather mini-skirt she wore.  The men were non-descript, just looking like anyone else, three of the five with sunglasses on. 
            He looked at the spot by the large oak tree where Dmitri was located.  He saw dim blue light as the Russian flashed his eyes, showing that he’d recognized the enemy’s presence.  They would have to remain out of sight if they were to track these pests back to their nest.  Maxwell refocused himself and did what he could to filter out the chatter from below.  After a while, he could hear snippets of what he was sure was the enemy.
            “…you know.  I so fucking hungry I gotta get…” said a heavily Hispanic accented voice.
            “…they’re here, we pretty much screwed, but I ain’t seen…” said another.
            “Nah man.  Ain’t nobody seen one in more than a week.  I think they go…”
            Maxwell heard the words but didn’t understand the context.  It was obvious they were looking for food, but it was also obvious they were more hesitant than he ever thought Los Muertos would be.  His dealings with them showed aggression and confidence that crossed into arrogance, not cautiousness and trepidation.
            “…it quick, maybe we take some back you know.  Nobody even know we’re here, comprende?  Besides, probably just stories.  Ain’t nothing to…”
            “I don’t know.  Carlos disappeared a few weeks back, and they say he ran into one, you know.  He’s not a guy…”
            “…mean nothing.  They just trying new places to eat.  That, or they be scared.  It not like…”
            “You know, man, fuck this.  I’m hungry.  We gotta get us some grub or…”
            Again, Maxwell was confused – this was just not Los Muertos’ usual attitude.
            “Let’s do it.  You know, these stupid shits won’t know what hit them, k?”
            Maxwell watched the street, his own bloodlust up as drooled in anticipation.  He hoped he could control himself.
            All six of the enemy vampires walked down the middle of W. 80th Street, each scanning for a target.  It didn’t take long before a target approached them.
            A man in his late 20s walked up.  He had on baggy denim jeans and a checkered shirt unbuttoned in the front, exposing the white tank top underneath.  Maxwell could make out a .38 in the back of his pants.
            “Yo, who da fuck are you?  You show up on our turf, you got to pay respect.  So just go back…”
            He never got to finish.  The closest vampire reached out quickly and broke the man’s neck, turning it 180 degrees.  Someone screamed as the gang launched themselves into the crowd.
            Maxwell had only seen an attack by Los Muertos on tape before; never in person.  He could hear blood hitting the street like rain, but part of him was disappointed in the viciousness of it all.  There was no subtlety, no precision.  The enemy didn’t select prey – they just slaughtered.
            One of the vampires leaped through the air and landed on the back of a woman who was trying to run.  He pinned her to the ground and tore into her neck before turning her over to get at the throat.  Maxwell shook his head at the randomness.
            They’d taken eight or nine before there were no more people on the street.  Maxwell heard screams in the distance, but the vampires appeared too focused on eating to care.  He disliked the scene, because even though he’d gotten out of control in his younger days, Los Muertos did this just because they could.
            A couple of victims were still gurgling when Maxwell noticed a change in the air, like it had gone dead.  Even sound no longer echoed.  A hollow wind blew through the street.
            That was when Maxwell first spotted him few hundred yards away.
            The new figure moved east from Crenshaw, wind blowing its open trench coat at the bottom.  Even at this distance, Maxwell could tell the newcomer was Asian, and its arms hung loosely at its sides, hands drawn into talons.  A head of black hair matched its eyes, which looked like pools of deep, rich oil.
            “Oh shit,” said one of the Los Muertos vampires, voice shaking.
            Another one looked up from the body it had by the fence and stared in the direction of the latest arrival.  “Is that one of them?” he asked.  After another second, he released the grip on his victim and said, “Let’s get the fuck outta here!”
            The newcomer raised his arms to his sides, looking almost like a condor.  The wind changed direction and got progressively stronger.  Thin bolts of blue lightning came from the newcomer’s fingertips, tracing the edges of the fences and bouncing off of the vampires on the street.
            One of the vampires that tried to run was gradually pushed back towards the unknown visitor, like he was fighting a hurricane.  The lone female vampire who had been crouched over the top of a corpse was clawing at the street in a vain attempt to stay in place, but the wind eventually pushed her back too.
            Maxwell could just make out Dmitri bracing himself against the tree he’d hidden behind.  He wasn’t being drawn towards it.  The other vampires, however, weren’t so lucky.
            A vampire in a dark blue tank top and arms covered in various skull and crossbone tattoos was the first to reach whatever was was pulling them.  The Asian newcomer caught him by the throat and held him there like a ventriloquist’s dummy.  Soon, all six of the Los Muertos vampires were at his feet.
            He smiled at them, eyes narrowing to slits.  Maxwell watched the newcomer’s fangs grow to his chin.  Without a word, the newcomer stuck two fingers into the chest of a vampire he’d caught.  Maxwell watched in amazement as the prisoner seemed to swell…and then exploded.
            Blood and body parts hit the street with a splat.  The other vampires were all screaming, begging for their lives.  Maxwell had trouble seeing what happened next, such was the speed with which the newcomer moved.  It waded into the remaining five, ripping heads from bodies and landing punches with such force that his fist went through their ribcages.  The fight was over in seconds as the final body hit the street.  It was only then that Maxwell saw the newcomer drop something and realized it was a vampiric spine.
            A pair of police cars screamed up, sirens blaring.  They skidded in the street and blocked the newcomer’s path back to Crenshaw Avenue.  He briefly squinted while turning to look at the patrol cars, a hand shielding his face.  A pair of cops got out from each car, and he found himself staring down two pistols and two shotguns as the police used their cars doors for cover.
            “Stay where you are and put your hands up!” shouted the one of the officers.
            In a blur it was on top of the policemen, leaping over the passenger side door of the closest car and slicing an officer like roast beef.  The cop didn’t so much fall as collapsed in a mass of disconnected tissue.  The vampire(?) then jumped over the car to the driver’s side and grabbed a shotgun as it fired, directing its blast into the sky.  At that point, he took the officer’s head in both hands and twisted, quickly decapitating his target.
            Two shots rang out, but he was already gone before they could reach their mark, quickly crossing the distance between the two cars and grabbing the third officer.  Taking him by the shoulders, the vampire turned the policeman and used him as a shield when the final officer pulled the trigger on his own shotgun.  The blast caught the third officer in the chest, putting a hole in him the size of a dinner plate.
            The vampire dropped the third officer and crossed to his final victim, looking as if he’d sailed through the middle of the car.  He extended his hand, claws out, and inserted them into the groin of the final officer before pulling his hand straight up and ripping through the man.
            The final officer had a sudden look of surprise on his face as fell backwards.  However, when he started to fall, his left side went one direction while his right side went another.
            The lights on the cars continued to whirl, blue and white bouncing off of the nearby houses.  But for those lights, there was no other activity except the newcomer looking around at the street.  He stepped over bodies and emerged from the shadow of the police cruisers.  Turning back towards Crenshaw, he held out his right hand.
            That was when Dmitri was pulled into its grip.
            The newcomer lifted Dmitri off the ground and growled at him, lights glinting off of the fully bared teeth.  As the newcomer looked like he would crush Dmitri’s throat, Maxwell leapt from the roof of the house he’d been perched on and landed in the street.
            Alas, poor Yorik!  I knew him Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.
            Maxwell stood there, the knuckles on his index and middle fingers extended, waiting for the spell to take effect.  By all reasoning, the skin should have peeled quickly from the enemy’s flesh, leaving nothing but a skeleton behind.  But what happened worried Maxwell even more.
            The creature laughed.
            It was throaty laughter, deeply amused.  The newcomer dropped Dmitri and squared his body against Maxwell.  For his part, Maxwell was unsure what to do next.  He’d used up a large reserve of strength in casting the spell and was reluctant to use another so soon, but he didn’t think he’d fare well if it came to a test of strength.  Cupping his hands on either side, he brought them up in an arc.
            Kingdoms are clay; our dungy earth alike feeds beast as man.
            The asphalt became fluid and rose to envelope his new enemy.  Maxwell pressed his will, trying to loop the material around the newcomer.
            The next thing Maxwell knew, he was being showered with chunks of asphalt as the wall he’d been building shattered.  That was when the newcomer lowered his head and went straight for Maxwell.
            Maxwell didn’t even know he was in the other’s grip until he felt claws digging into the side of his throat.  The newcomer quickly forced him to his knees and Maxwell found himself staring up at the sky.
            The thing started sniffing at the top of Maxwell’s head, starting at his hair and moving to his ears.  There was no trace of anything that had once been human in the breath, and it chilled Maxwell to the bone.
            When he looked into the newcomer’s eyes, he felt like he was looking into a bottomless pit – there was no emotion, no pity, and a sense of something ancient.  His opponent smiled with mischievous confidence, fangs still extended impossibly long.
            Something else caught Maxwell’s attention –   a mark on the side of the thing’s neck.

            The newcomer let go and turned to leave.  Maxwell rubbed at his throat and tried to get off of his knees.  The newcomer slowly rose off the ground and into the air.  As it gained altitude, Maxwell stared into the night.  There had been reports of vampires that could fly, but he’d never seen anyone who could actually do it.
            He went over to Dmitri and said, “Let’s get out of here before whatever that was decides to come back.”  Dmitri nodded and leaned on Maxwell, but he gradually regained strength enough to walk on his own.
            They made their way back to the laundromat where they’d parked.  Silence stretched between them as they walked past the bodies and patches of bloodstained asphalt.  Maxwell’s thoughts were so consumed with what he’d seen that even the blood on the ground failed to arouse him.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Akeldama - Chapter 9

Below is the first half of chapter nine from Akeldama.  Be warned - this is very violent and doesn't paint the main character in the best light.  At this point, Seth, the focal point of the story, has just finished undergoing torture from the vampires and is looking for both revenge and information on the growing vampire threat.

I'll post the second half of this chapter on Sunday night.



            Seth had no time to select a new Associate, so he was forced to swallow whatever the Order gave him.  He’d been comfortable with Chris, but Ethan unnerved him.
            The new Associate was tall and heavily built, with a light brown beard and hair to his shoulders.  His eyes were a wild shade of green and Seth felt like there was something unbalanced in him.  But for what they were about to do, Seth figured that might be a good thing.
            They returned to the house of Seth’s torture and hid in a field behind it.  Seth thought calling it a house was an insult to the word – more of a dilapidated trailer with rotting wood attached that could laughingly be called a porch.
            They arrived in the daytime and parked the SUV a long way off.  Seth had no idea if the vampires would return, but this seemed as good a place as any to start.
            He shivered unwillingly.  They had on winter clothing, but the wind seemed to pierce them anyway.  Laying on ground that was sometimes covered by snow and ice and at other times by slush didn’t help.  Seth thought it was probably the cold that was bringing on his headache.
            As uneasy as Ethan made Seth feel, the newcomer stayed hidden in the field like it had enveloped him.  He was clearly comfortable, although Seth didn’t know if he had enough brains to distinguish between warmth and frigid.
            Seth left Simon in the SUV and told him to report anything that might be coming down the road.  As good as Seth felt about the Neophyte saving his life, he knew the older man wouldn’t do well out here.
            Seth would occasionally bring his binoculars up to his face and stare at the house, the cast on his wrist creaking.  Ethan would look at the house or towards the nearby woods and breath rhythmically for hours on end.  Seth tried to ignore the sound.
            Night came quickly, with nothing but darkness staring back at them from the trailer.  The night vision goggles yielded little of interest.  In this, Ethan sat apparently impervious to the conditions in a way that Seth knew he couldn’t emulate.
            He started to doze off but woke when Ethan jabbed him in the ribs.  The outline he could make out in the dark was that of Ethan’s tree limb-like arm pointing to two specks of light coming up the road.
            He nodded and held the goggles closer to his face.  A pickup truck and smaller car, probably an Audi, pulled up to the house.  Seth tilted the directional microphone and checked his earpiece.  The goggles helped to discern shapes, but they had no magnification, so he couldn’t get a precise count.  Magnification would come later when it was needed.  The microphone, however, picked up five distinct voices.
            “Hate to see it go like this,” said one.  “It was a nice place.”
            “Yeah, but the fire should take care of everything.”
            “I think someone will send another team, but that’s probably a couple of days off.  The asshole that got free is probably still running, screaming for his mommy.”  They all chortled.
            “Okay, stop fucking around.  I want to get this shit packed and get out of here.  We need to find out if anyone else is tracking us.”
            “Yeah, yeah.  I still want to eat before we go.  Not a lot between here and Des Moines.”
            “Relax.  We’ll grab someone on the road if we need to.  Des Moines is big enough to support us.”
            “You do realize that the closer we get to the Mississippi, the more likely we are for someone from the Assembly to come after us.  That’s probably who those two motherfuckers in Salina were.”
            “What choice do we have?  I wanted to stay in Phoenix, but that’s not an option.  Nah, once we get settled, we’ll build a new family and then we can fend off the Assembly of Cairo.”
            The loading of boxes continued until the back of the pickup truck was bulging.  There was no light from the house and snow muffled their footsteps.  They soon pulled up the tailgate.
            “You two know what to do.  Got enough gasoline?”
            “Yeah.  Shouldn’t take long.  Head out and we’ll follow in a bit.”
            Seth recognized one of the voices as belonging to Torrence and was disappointed to see the thing get into the pickup truck.  He was really hoping it would be staying back, but Seth figured they should count themselves lucky they had such a ripe target.  They were prepared to go after as many as four if necessary.
            He put the microphone down as he heard the tiny sound of Ethan popping open the sniper’s scope on the .50 caliber sniper rifle and accepted the weapon from his Associate.  The heavy silver slug should give them enough power to knock down the enemy.  The tiny cross carved into each one would add to the effect.
            The x 10 night vision scope made the pair of vampires easy to see.  It had been a while since he’d been on a rifle range and hoped it was like riding a bike – something you never forgot.
            He used his backpack to stabilize the weapon and drew a bead on the one closest to the car.  That one stood next to a pair of gasoline cans with its hands on its hips, laughing at something.  The IR crosshairs came to rest in the upper left portion of the target’s chest.  Seth gingerly put the meaty portion of his index finger on the trigger and began to edge it back.
            The first vampire fell.  The second looked wide-eyed at its partner and turned in the direction of the shot.  It had begun to raise its claws to its chest when Seth brought the crosshairs over its head and pulled the trigger again.
            It seemed the echo hung in the air as easily as early morning fog.  However, by the time the sound died, the second vampire had been driven into the ground by the bullet’s impact.
            Before Seth even had a chance to work the bolt for the second shot, Ethan was on his feet and running for the house, a dogwood stake in his right hand.  He was a good 25 feet in front of Seth when the Hunter got up and sprinted in the same direction.
            Seth left the rifle in the slush as he raced for the house and pulled out his UV flashlight on the way.  As the second vampire started groggily getting to its feet, Ethan speared it with a football tackle.  The vampire hit the ground with another thud and let out a loud “oomph.”
            The hesitation was all that Ethan required.  In a single fluid motion, he raised the stake above his head and stabbed it into the vampire’s chest.  Seth couldn’t tell if his Associate hit the heart on his first thrust but knew he had on the second when Ethan stabbed the beast.  It screamed and Seth could see its eyes bulged nearly out of its sockets, its tongue extended to an unnatural length.
            He had no time to stop and stare since the first one he’d hit was on its side and trying to get up.  Seth pulled the Beretta from his coat and put a silver bullet into its right hand. When it screamed, Seth kicked it over with his boot and emptied another five shots into it.
            The bullets wouldn’t kill it, but the allergic reaction that all vampires had to silver would keep it from moving.  He now calmly picked the net coated in holy oil from his bag and draped it over the creature.
            It started to thrash like it was caught under an electric fence, but it soon discovered that the oil would stop burning if it stopped moving.  Soon it just whimpered, rubbing at the wounds on its chest.
            “Simon, it’s Seth,” he said into the radio he pulled from his belt.  “We’ve got one.  Come on up.”
            Seth now looked at this helpless thing at his feet.  He wanted so badly to destroy it, but he knew he couldn’t yet – he needed information.
            Clicking his flashlight, he said, “I wouldn’t try to move around – that holy oil has got to sting.  And if you do somehow manage to get your grubby little claws out, well…that’s what things like this are for.”
            He brought the UV beam onto its exposed hand.  It screamed and tried to withdraw its burnt flesh, but its movement caused even more pain as other parts of its skin touched the netting.
            “I’m sorry about that,” Seth said without any trace of sympathy, “but a demonstration was necessary.  Now you understand what could happen if you fail to cooperate.”
            Ethan walked up to Seth, his stake still dripping blood.  The Associate wiped it on his pants legs and towered over the vampire.
            “Get the other one and put it in the trailer,” Seth said.  “Then grab the gasoline.  They wanted to destroy whatever was here, and I can’t say I blame them.”
            “Got it,” Ethan said, his voice trembling.  He hoisted the corpse over his shoulder and moved up the rickety wooden steps before disappeared inside.  A few seconds later, he came back out and grabbed the gas cans.
            Seth stood next to the creature, flashlight in hand.  While Ethan poured the gasoline over porch and splashed some on the trailer, Seth took delight in grazing the vampire with UV rays.  Seth soon looked up to the noise of the SUV coming up the hill.  Simon got out and opened up the back.
            “Ethan, if you would be so kind as to deposit our guest inside,” Seth ordered.
            “Gladly,” he said.  He grabbed the net and tossed it over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes.  The vampire screamed as more netting touched its skin.  Ethan then dumped it in the back of the vehicle.
            Seth got in the passenger seat and Ethan in back.  Seth said, “I wouldn’t try anything.  We’ve had the dome lights changed out.  Again, I apologize, but a demonstration is in order.”
            The Hunter turned on the dome lights briefly, flooding the SUV with ultra-violet light.  Smoke rose from the back as the beams hit the vampire.  Seth could smell the acrid scent of burning flesh, almost savoring it.
            “Don’t worry,” Seth said.  “We aren’t going far.”
            The abandoned barn was only a few miles up the road, and Seth knew their questioning would go uninterrupted.  The vampire cursed while Ethan carried it into the barn and dropped it beside a small chair.
            “I’m going to rip the skin from your bones!” it screamed.  “The rotting corpse of your whore of a mother won’t be able to recognize you.  You hear me?!?!”
            Seth smirked.  Knowing that trying to tie it to the chair would be difficult at best if they couldn’t immobilize the beast, he pulled his pistol out and took careful aim before firing two bullets into each arm, and another into its gut.
            “You’ll heal,” Seth said.  Ethan cut away the net and slammed it into the chair.  He draped heavy steel chains around its chest and arms, then finally around its legs.  Seth knew that a vampire at full strength might – might – be able to break free, but this one wasn’t going anywhere.
            A small portable lamp they’d brought gave just enough light for them to see.  The barn itself was run down, its doors hanging at an odd angle off its hinges and rotting wood seemingly weighed down by a wealth of dust.  Straw was lazily strewn about, looking like no one had disturbed it in years.
            “Ho ho,” Seth chuckled.  “Payback’s a real bitch.”
            “Fuck you,” it breathed.  “When I break these chains, I’ll inflict such nightmares on you that you’ll wish you’d died as a child.”
            Ignoring the creature, as well as the tinge of a persistent headache, Seth pulled out a flask of holy oil.  “This will be so much more fun than if you were human.  You being immortal and all, there’s no chance you’ll pass out from pain.  Answer what we need, and this can end pleasantly; keep down the douche bag road you’re on, and I promise that you’ll remember your turning fondly next to this.”
            Beside him, Ethan was methodically laying out additional tools, if for no other reason than to hopefully loosen its tongue.  On a small blue tarp held a drill with a silver bit, several more flashlights, wooden straws of dogwood, and an assortment of other devices.
            Seth pulled out an MP3 player and speakers that he sat on another chair.  He pulled up a selection of gospel hymns and hit play.  The melodious tunes started, Gloria in Excelsis Deo being first.  Seth always liked the hymnal and thought it would offer a good beginning.  For its part, the vampire made a face like it just ate a mouthful of mustard.
            “Great music, isn’t it?  We’ll start easy – what the hell are your kind doing here?” Seth asked.
            “We’re everywhere, as you well know…human.”
            Shaking his head, Seth said, “Mmm, wrong answer.”  He then dabbed a bit of holy oil on his finger and rubbed it under its eyes.
            “Ahhh,” it winced.
            “That was probably the easiest you’ll get.  Now, let’s try again – what is Los Muertos doing this far east?”  When it continued to sit silently, Seth pulled out his flashlight and shined the UV light on its eyes and mouth before focusing the beam on its bullet riddle hand.
            Blisters and blackening flesh darkened its face as it screamed, mouth open wide and fangs extended.  As if willing the beam to penetrate the skin, Seth continued to point the flashlight until its hand began to shrivel.  Finally, and with not a little reluctance, he pulled the beam off.
            The beast’s right hand looked as if someone had seared the skin off the bone.  Fingering the bandages wrapped around his own ribcage, Seth had little sympathy.  His heart was now beating faster, his breathing heavier.
            “Come on – this is the easy part,” said Seth.  “What are you doing this far east?”
            “Surviving,” it panted.  It winced again as A Mighty Fortress is Our God began to flow from the speakers.
            Seth cocked his head.  “You were surviving just fine until now.”
            Smoke was no longer coming from the vampire’s face and hand and the blisters were noticeably less.  Instead of elaborating, it just looked at Seth and growled.
            Seth picked up a heavy silver coated club and swung for the fences.  He heard a sickening crack as the vampire’s head hung limply to the right.  When it looked up, the left side of its head was deformed and bleeding thick dark blood.  The orbital bone around its left eye was shattered, and Seth absentmindedly wondered how long it would take to reform.  Less time, he was sure, than his own broken body.  He found himself tapping his foot to the hymnals.
            “We have to survive,” it mumbled at Seth.  “We can’t let them take us all.”
            “What do you mean?” Seth asked sharply.  “Who is ‘them’?”
            “We don’t know.”
            Seth picked up a small silver knife and the vampire screamed, “WE DON’T KNOW!!!”
            Seth held the knife against its cheek and said, “Fine, then tell me what you can.”
            After a moment’s hesitation, it said, “They came out of nowhere a few months ago.  So strong, so fast.  They’ve hit our hiding places and hunting grounds.  It seems wherever we go, they are there.”
            “Are they from the Assembly of Cairo?” Seth asked.
            “The Assembly?”  It spit a mixture of saliva and blood on the ground.  “We’ve faced those assholes and can always overcome them with a massed attack.  That’s one of the reasons they’ve never entered our territory – they may have the greater strength, but we’ve always had the numbers.  Once our blood strengthens, they’re finished.
            “But these are different.  They stop our attacks like we’re children.  They’re everywhere and nowhere.  We’ll migrate from one area to another and they’ll be waiting for us.  Shuffling through our own territory has done nothing.”
            “Go on.” Seth asked.
            “They raged up from Mexico, but go anywhere west of the Rockies and you’ll find them.”  It gave off a raspy laugh.  “Try southern California or Arizona.  If you really want them, by all means, go after them.  I look forward to seeing what you could do.”
            “How do you draw them in?”
            “Stupid human.  Haven’t you been listening?  We’ve never gone looking for them – they just show up.  Find us and you’ll find them.”
            Seth scratched his head.  They now had a lead, even if it wasn’t much.  The next part, however, was personal.
            “Where are Sandy and Chris?” he asked.
            “Who?” it asked.
            Seth ran the blade across the vampire’s throat.  It wailed like boiling water had been poured on its head as the hymn changed to Glory, Glory to the Father.
            “The two friends of mine you turned.  They need to be released.”
            It glared at Seth, a spark of arrogance returning to its eyes.  “Oh, you mean our new initiates?  Don’t worry – we’ll take care of them.”
            Seth drove the knife into its shoulder, twisting as he did so.  The muscles inside the vampire’s rotator cuff gave some resistance, but eventually Seth could feel the tissue tearing.
            Leaving the knife embedded, Seth demanded, “Where are they?”
            When it didn’t answer, Seth picked up a long wooden straw.  He slowly inserted it into the vampire’s wound, ignoring the creature’s howls.  Ethan smiled at the sound, cocking his head as if listening to a lively tune.
            “Dogwood,” Seth snarled.  “Very useful in these situations.”
            Dogwood was what the Church used exclusively for its stakes.  They’d been found to be far more effective than any other wood.  Seth briefly mused on the tale – that the dogwood tree had supposedly been used in the original cross.  According to legend, the tree wept because of the use.  In order to spare it further pain, God reduced the size of the dogwood so that it could never again be used like that.
            Whether the legend was true or not was irrelevant.  It took time and effort to cultivate so that it could be used for what the Order of Mount Sion required, but its impact had always been immediate.
            Seth slowly turned the straw.  The whimper in its voice had a brief effect on the Hunter, as it almost sounded human.  But only for a moment.
            Shaking off the sympathetic impulse, he pulled the straw in and out of the wound.  The vampire’s screams got louder until it grunted and began to blow thick saliva from its mouth.
            “They’ve been saved from death!” it yelled at Seth.
            He left the straw in and said, “There’s only one way to be saved from death, and that’s through belief in our Lord and Savior.”  He noticed he’d said it with less conviction than he normally did.
            The vampire grimaced anyway.  “You know nothing.  Beyond life is emptiness, a dark void from where none return…except us.  We are the only constants, and we’ll be around long after your bones have turned to dust.”
            Precious, Precious Blood of Jesus began to croon nearby.  “You’re wrong.  God will prevail.  Tell me about Chris and Sandy.”
            It tried to laugh, but the sound came out as a series of grunts.  “They’re going to be foot Soldiers in our war, the first into battle.  Once we’ve conquered the threat, we’ll turn our attention back to you.  This catastrophe will do nothing but make us stronger.”
            That was when Seth brought the baseball bat down across its left arm.
            It snapped like a hickory twig, and even Seth fought to keep control when he heard it pop.  The vampire’s arm hung at an unnatural angle from the chains, its hand limp.
            “You still haven’t told me where they are,” Seth said quietly.
            “They’ve been put where they should be, and where you should go.  They’ll probably be the first to succumb in battle, but they’ll make way for our resurrection.  The City of Angels is the place of their deliverance.”
            Fresh rage pounding, Seth grabbed the silver tipped drill and rammed it into the creature’s leg.  He drilled until hitting bone, slamming it back in several times.  He wiped vampiric blood from his face before moving on to his next tool.  I belong to Jesus began to play from the MP3 player.
            He grabbed his UV flashlight, walked over to the vampire, and stood behind the chair.  He pulled its head back and shined the light directly into its eyes.
            Seth was sure that if anyone was close, its scream would surely attract them now.  The sound was long and loud.  He was surprised to discover he was sweating and felt like everything that had happened was the fault of this one vampire.  Even if it wasn’t, he would make sure that it felt enough pain for the entire vampire race.
            Its eyes were soon black and sealed shut with baked skin.  Blisters reformed on its face.  The vampire shook its head furiously, as if trying to will itself out of blindness.
            “You deserve all of your pain for what you inflicted on the world,” Seth growled.  Behind him, he heard Ethan muttering, “Do it, do it.”
            “You’re a parasite, a disease, but people like me are the cure.”  Looking to his side, Seth said, “Ethan, please take our guest outside.”
            “With pleasure,” Ethan said eagerly.  It screamed when Ethan took the back of the chair and dragged it across the dirt and hay.  What a Friend We Have in Jesus flowed softly from the speakers.
            They waited in the field as the night continued to pass.  No moon graced the sky and the vampire shouted curses at them part of the time, while begging for its un-life the rest.
            It was only a couple more hours before the sky began to purple in the east.  The injuries on the creature appeared to be healing, but it began to inhale sharply.  As the sky went pale, smoke rose from its exposed skin.  Seth could hear a sound like sizzling bacon.
            The sun peeked over the horizon and the vampire’s skin blackened further.  Small blisters formed into larger ones and its screams pitched higher.  Finally, blue flames ran from the top of its collar and engulfed its head.  The chair toppled over, but snow and morning frost prevented the grass from catching fire.
            It was soon little more than ash.  Seth walked over and kicked at the mess.  He picked up his radio and called Simon to come get them.
            “Ashes to ashes,” Seth mumbled as he poked his feet around it the soot.  “And dust to dust.”
            Ethan smiled gleefully.  “That was great.  Let’s go get another.”
            “We will,” said Seth.  “But our next kill will be in Los Angeles.”
            The SUV stopped and Simon got out, holding a small bag.  Seth got into the passenger side and barely noticed his Neophyte scooping up the remains for burial on holy ground.  Seth shrugged it off; he wasn’t in the mood to be holy right now.
            As Simon got back in, Seth said, “West we go.  Next stop – Los Angeles.”