Author: Kherezae PM
The man brings his leg back to kick and I'm there, my ankle trapping his and my fingertips digging into the hollows behind his collarbones. "Release her." My mouth is right next to his ear, my tone icy quiet. His friends stumble back a step, their drunken faces clearly registering surprise at my sudden appearance.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Words: 2,999 - Follows: 1 - Published: 06-19-12 - id: 3033950
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
author's note: This story is for fun. It's something my fiance wanted me to write. He's convinced it could be a bestseller; I just wanted to do something different to get my head out of the ideas that have been consuming me for years without going anywhere. I hope you enjoy, and I would appreciate any reviews.
Drunkards pollute the streets of Boston tonight. There's something to be said for the flavor of alcohol in the blood, but I despise the taste of drunkenness. I hoped that the path of the Emerald Necklace would be dry enough to hunt tonight, but it appears the game day celebration has even seeped into the park. The carousal must have deterred the few joggers who would normally risk the late hour for the solitude of a nighttime run.
I let my head fall back against the tree bark and roll my shoulder blade against the trunk. There is no one around for yards; the last soul passed better than ten minutes ago. I need to feed, but perhaps it isn't so urgent that I must hunt tonight. I'd rather wait than resort to the blood of someone stumbling drunk.
Long strides and leaps take me out of the park and back into civilization. A street narrow enough to bound across is all that separates the Emerald Necklace from Boston proper. The first building is five stories tall, but the tree outside the building dwarfs it. It takes three leaps from branch to branch to reach the top; I rest my fingertips against the bark for just a moment before arcing across the gap to the roof.
There is less give to the rooftop. It resounds in my ears each time my feet meet the surface. The wind drives against my face, nearly chill enough to feel. I leap across rooftops, cross to a smaller building—a church—and the wind turns and throws the scent of the river against me.
The next building is tall, but air conditioning units protrude from the windows. My weight can't be particularly good for them, but they will bear it. There are lights on in several of the apartments. My passage from window to window is too quick for most humans to notice, but I avoid those all the same. I crouch when I reach the rooftop and let the heat in my muscles spread. Fatigue makes me feel loose. The last I fed was a gangly red-headed youth three—no, four—nights ago.
I cross the roof and stare at the building squatting across the road. It's a supermarket, open twenty-four hours. The back is green with an odd growth. Across the roof, street lamps cast spotlights in the expanse of the parking lot. There are no more than ten cars parked, and half of these likely belong to employees. How many of the patrons are drunk, seeking cigarettes or food or more alcohol? I drop from the building and let the weight of my landing pull me into a squat, force shuddering through my legs and up into my torso. It only takes two leaps to scale this building, and then I am across the roof, the toes of my shoes meeting the open air and the wind snapping my coat behind me.
The parking lot of the store is busy for nearly two in the morning. A couple trundles toward the entrance, arm in arm. A group of men no older than twenty-two gather around a car at the west end of the lot, their raucous laughter punctuated by the crack of a bottle against asphalt. At the same edge of the store a young woman kneels next to a bike chained to a rack. Her fingers work the lock, and there's a subtle beat to her movements. She's wearing headphones.
She must not have noticed the bent front wheel on her bike yet. The warp to the metal isn't horrible, but it's enough that riding the bike will be impractical. She winds the bike chain around the pole supporting the seat.
The young men have gone quiet. I track their movements. They're just ten yards from the girl with the bike, and the way they're drawing together as they watch her bodes ominous. There's a drunken stagger to their movements. The shortest of them slams back the remainder of his drink and then tosses the bottle over his shoulder. When it cracks against the pavement, it seems to split the air, but the girl doesn't notice.
She has noticed the front wheel, though. I drop from the roof and land on my toes, rolling to my heels to absorb the faint noise. The girl is staring at the bike tire, one hand on her hip and the other against her face. Her thumb sits against her jaw, but her fingers dig into her hair. Finally her shoulders slump and she slaps her palms against the handlebars, the force causing the bike to bounce a little. She walks the bike west, cursing something quiet when it tries to veer to the side.
The drunks follow after her, but they keep their distance. There is something leisurely and distracted to the way they trundle along. At any moment they could forget all about their interest in this girl. One of them laughs and slaps a friend's shoulder. Likely their intentions aren't truly sinister, but whatever fun they have in mind, I'm sure it's nothing she wants a part of. I fall into step behind them as they cross into the parking lot for the next building, a darkened shell that probably houses offices of some kind in the daylight hours.
Their pace quickens. The girl is nearly to the far edge of the building when the first of them catches up to her. He lifts his boot to rest on the back wheel of her bike and it jerks to a stop, one handle pulling free of her grip. She half-turns to look back, her eyes narrowed and mouth turned down with irritation, but the expression melts from her face when she sees him. She has to look up to find his eyes. The rest of the men spread out, forming a haphazard half-circle around her. Their laughter is loud. "Hey beautiful," the leader says, his foot still against her tire.
She takes a step back and glances around. "Hi," she says, but it's absent. Her expression is caught between emotions—anger, terror, frustration, maybe even a hint of humor in a quirk at the corner of her mouth. Finally she brings her gaze back to his face, her knuckles going white against the bike handle she still has a grip on. Her other hand is in her pocket. These youths, impaired as they are, haven't noticed, but I can see her thumb moving under the fabric. Her headphones feed into that pocket. Underneath the laughter I catch the faint, mechanical tones of a programmed voice. "Call 911," the girl says, clearly and slowly.
"What?" The leader takes a step forward, grabs her wrist. She reacts to the movement, her hand slipping from her pocket. The screen of the phone lights up the night. "Shit," the man says, tendons standing out in his hand as his grip tightens on her arm. "Grab it!"
She jerks the phone back and releases the bike. It falls, causing the leader to stumble; his grip on her arm yanks her to the side and she checks her balance to keep from falling. The closest young man is wide-eyed, staring at the phone. It's like seeing puzzle pieces click into place on his face. Yes, you're doing something stupid. Yes, this girl had the sense to call 911. She raises the phone to her face and uses her teeth to yank the headphones free. Her thumb goes to the speaker icon and a male voice sounds from the phone: "—ston 911, what is your emergency?"
"Oh shit," one of the young men says. The others appear to be speechless. But the leader lunges for the phone without releasing the girl's wrist. She pulls back, squatting, and cries out when his hand smacks against her forehead. "I'm near Star Market, near Fenway, and I'm—"
The man brings his leg back to kick and I'm there, my ankle trapping his and my fingertips digging into the hollows behind his collarbones. "Release her." My mouth is right next to his ear, my tone icy quiet. His friends stumble back a step, their drunken faces clearly registering surprise at my sudden appearance.
He lets her go, but he brings his elbow back against my ribs. I take the hit without moving, but he flinches and tries to twist away from me. The girl trips backward, nearly catches her balance, but then her legs tangle with the frame of her bike and she starts to fall. I shove the man away and bound the short distance to the girl, catching her before she can meet the pavement. The first of the young men bolts; the others take their cue from him and turn tail, fleeing back toward the parking lot of the supermarket.
The girl is rigid against me as I squat, holding her weight. She mutters a soft "Ow." She never hit the ground, though her phone did; it's next to me, its screen cracked and dark on the asphalt. There's an ID card and some cash with it, fluttering a little in the wind. I start to raise the girl to her feet but she flinches, her fingers twisting a fistful of my sleeve. I glance down and see the way her ankle's turned under her bike, caught up against the gears. The chain broke the skin, and though the wind carries the worst of the scent away from us, I can still smell it. My fangs prick against my lip and I turn my face away from hers.
Just a second to clear my head. I look into the wind, inhaling the smell of the river. It takes longer than I'd like to master the impulse to bury my teeth in one of her veins. She's silent the whole time, occasionally shuddering against me. Finally I let out a low breath. "Here, I'll help." I grab her wrists and put my arm around her waist, easing her up enough that I can pivot closer to the bike. She balances her weight on one knee while keeping her trapped leg stretched out carefully. I lean until I can grab the farthest part of the bike frame and then pull on it, twisting the frame up enough that she can extract her ankle.
She sighs and eases herself back to sit on the pavement, wrapping her hands around her shin just above her wounded ankle. "Just great." There's a curious southern drawl to her voice that contrasts sharply with her dark hair and brown skin.
A smile pulls at my mouth, but I force my expression to relax. My fangs tend to peek out when I smile, and that's just what I'd need right now. I shake my head and pick up her things from the ground. Her ID reads Margaret Flores; I catch it in a glimpse at the card before I pass her belongings back into her hands. It's a name as discordant with her appearance as her accent, but I like it. "Margaret?"
She frowns. "Margo." Then she glances down at the ID and back up at me. "You could read that?"
Ah. The nearest streetlamp is yards away. I shrug a shoulder and stand. The scent of her blood hits me again. I turn away; time to go.
"Hey. Sorry." There's the clumsy sound of hands and shoes scrambling against asphalt as she pushes herself to her feet. "Thank you for rescuing me." I can hear a smile in her voice on the word rescue that makes me turn back to look at her. "I should've said that already."
"Don't worry about it."
She starts to say something, but her phone lights up in her hand, an eerie laughter splitting the silence. She glances at the cracked screen, grimaces, and answers the call. "Hello?"
The voice on the other end would be easy enough to make out if I chose, but I'm distracted by the way she's keeping her weight off her injured leg. Blood seeps slowly from the broken skin. "Yes—these guys were harassing me, but someone stepped in and scared them off. I'm fine now." She pauses to listen, tapping the fingers of her free hand against her elbow. "Yeah. Thank you, sir. Have a good night."
I look up to find her staring at me. The phone lights up the space between us for a few seconds, but then it goes dark. "Do you live far?" I ask. "Will you be able to make it home?"
She shrugs. "I'm sure I'll be fine." Then she glances over her shoulder, back the way the men ran when they left. Her gaze wanders down to her bike and she takes a step that way, but flinches when she puts weight on her ankle. I sigh and step forward, scooping her into my arms. "Hey!" She twists against me, pressing her hands against my chest and pushing.
The fight goes out of her when I catch her eyes. I barely have to press against her emotions to calm her, which says she was inclined to trust me anyway. "Where do you live?" I murmur.
"South Campus," she says. Her voice is heavy, like she's half-asleep. "The dorms."
It isn't a long trip. The girl is light in my arms. Her heartbeat pulses through her whole body, thudding against me; it's so much more distinct than the thrum of my own heart. I meet her eyes occasionally, pressing gently against her emotions to keep her distracted from the speed of our passage. In just minutes I hold her beneath the brownstone dormitories of South Campus at the university. "Which one?" I ask. She turns her face away, staring toward one of the windows.
There are card readers at the doors. "Your ID," I say, and I carry her to the nearest entrance. She fumbles in her pocket and then pulls out the ID, sliding it through the reader. The click of the lock releasing seems loud. I adjust her weight in my arms so I can grab the door, but she laughs a little and reaches out to open it for me. There's a smile on my lips before I can stop it, but I smother it quickly and use my foot to push the door open wide enough that we can pass through.
I take her to the stairs and then stop. In all likelihood she has roommates, and she's safe enough now. Best to leave her here, then. But with that ankle, she might have trouble making it to the fourth floor. I take a deep breath—the smell of blood isn't so bad now—and carry her up the stairs.
At the fourth floor I stop and lower Margaret gently, standing her so that she can lean against the wall. "I'm going to leave you here, Margaret. You're in your—"
"Margo," she says, insistent. Her eyes are clearing. She pulls her hand away from my arm, raising it to her face. "I go by Margo."
"Why?" The question escapes me, startled.
She frowns. "I hate the name Margaret."
"It was my mother's name," I tell her, and then I glance away; I haven't thought about my mother in many years.
Her soft laugh pulls my eyes back to her face. "Sorry." Then her expression sobers. "Thanks again. For helping me. What's your name?"
"Mason." I hesitate, watching her for a moment, and then turn to leave.
"Hey," she says. The word stops me. She pauses, and the stretch of silence itches until I turn back to face her. She's biting her lip as she watches me. "Can I give you my number?" she says finally.
I laugh at that, suddenly and helplessly, though I know it's a stupid thing to do. Her eyes narrow slightly and I shake my head. "I don't have a phone."
Something about her retreats even though she hasn't moved. "Oh. Okay. Have a good night." I don't like the deadpan quality to her voice. Her laughter was a much sweeter sound. There's really no good way to bridge the gap opening between us, though, and it's safer for her to leave it be.
She starts to leave. I should let her go, I know that, but I catch her shoulder and step up behind her. This is a very dangerous impulse….
Don't think about it. I catch her eyes when she glances back at me and give her emotions a gentle push. She stares, curious, and doesn't protest when I stretch the neck of her shirt to bare part of her shoulder. I put my lips to her skin and then set my fangs against a vein; one quick press and blood wells into my mouth.
Her number would mean nothing to me, but her blood… her blood will stretch between us. I only take a little—I have to force myself to pull away—but as long as it is in my system, I'll always be able to find Margaret.
I run my tongue over the punctures to help them clot, then slip down the stairs before her mind has time to clear.