Prologue: The Short, Happy Life of Harrison Buford

The icy and bitter wind blew snow against the concrete walls of the Beethoven Bar. Despite its name, it was more of a honky tonk than an ornate establishment; all neon, buzzing light bulbs and splintery wooden floors. Although the cold night's wind howled and screamed against it, the place was warm and almost stifling inside. The loud and raucous music that poured out of the windows all around the square building was loud to passerby, and deafening if you were within.

Technically the Beethoven Bar didn't have a name. No thought had been made for the famous composer when the building was being constructed out of concrete, wood, and the sweat and hard work of the builders that raised it from the ground. No, that had come later on, once business in the then-nameless place had started to pick up speed. The bar was located close to the border between New Hampshire and Maine, and they were soon doing landslide business. However, patrons—if you could call them that—would want a name for the place they came to drink beer and nurse their sorrows.

Thus Freddie Buford, the owner and proprietor had made a search for a proper title for the place. This had been done with no small amount of bad temper and much swearing and cursing. But Freddie, while he had a head for business, was not a very creative man, and just as he was about to tell those that suggested a name to go shove it, his small and beady brown eyes had settled on the large wooden statue of Ludwig Von Beethoven that was propped against the wall in his office.

He had bought the thing on a whim from a state fair, but now he was inspired. "The Beethoven Bar!" he said to himself as he walked briskly around the desk where his statue was sitting. "That's what it'll be called! The damn Beethoven Bar and if they don't like that, well to hell with 'em!"

This became the bar's name and once Freddie had gotten enough money, he spent it on a fine neon sign that showed the famous composer's likeness in flashing green and yellow light. Another splurge in business enabled him to make an addition to the bar and he put a larger wooden statue of Beethoven in the front. He was sometimes tempted to take the final step and start playing old Ludwig's music from the speakers, but that would perhaps be taking it just a bit too far. The people in here were not connoisseurs of classical music.

The clientele were mostly truck drivers and sometimes people from the nearby town of Hawthorne. In fact, the people that weren't from the great highways were almost always from Hawthorne, that little burg with all the forests around it. The Beethoven Bar had once had a little silver bell that tinkled every time someone opened the door. Now, in the years since they'd gotten a sound system installed, the bell was inaudible now. No one had checked whether the thing was even still there or not.

Harry Buford ran the filthy rag furiously across the stained and pitted surface of the bar, swearing viciously inside of his head as a mixture of soapy water and spilled beer spilled over the bar and splattered his shoes. He could feel the cold and miserably slimy liquid soaking into the fabric of his socks and he cursed again. He turned away from the bar and almost tripped over the bright red bucket of water that contained the cleaning fluid that he was using.

He was a young man of twenty but he looked far younger that than. He had been nineteen when they'd done it to him; made him work in this miserable place for an indefinite amount of time. Harry hated the bar that his father had founded, but what other choice did he have? He was, after all, a nineteen year old college dropout with no other prospect of work except to do what they did in the olden days and return to the family business.

So return to the business he did, but not without a lot of complaining. And once he had finally come back, he had expected a good job. At least let the career that he had been assigned have something to do with occupying the large and spacious office that was at the rear of the building away from the stench of beer and fried food! But no, this was what he had been given, the job of a bartender, of mixing drinks and serving the customers of this rancid place that he hated with all his heart.

But he rarely mixed drinks; no that job fell to the two waitresses that ran roughshod over him most of the time. Christine and Ashleigh were the life of the Beethoven Bar. They were old pros at it; they'd been here for years before he had even conceived of the notion that he would be working in his father's miserable establishment. It was them that knew the names of all the regulars and they who knew whether to ask if Mr. Crane's daughter had shown any improvement over her leukemia or Mrs. Boddin if she had gotten any news about that job she was applying for. When these questions were asked, Harry would grind his teeth like an angry cow. Why did they get all of the attention and know all of the people?

Of course the fact that he barely responded to the people that talked to him made no register in my mind. He was far too busy counting all the ways that his previously borderline perfect life had been completely ruined. As an only child Harry Buford had enjoyed all the attention of his parents, undivided by any other brothers and sisters at all. He had grown up in a larger house than most in the two of Hawthorne and when he had asked for something, he usually got it.

His looks had certainly been a great help. He'd always looked younger than his age, and at twenty, he looked perhaps eighteen or so. Black and curly hair accented by equally black eyes and a healthy pink flush to his chiseled jaw was something that knocked the girls dead. In childhood all it took was a look at that face and people would do whatever the little boy demanded. Perhaps (although Harry would rather have his eyes drilled out of his head with rusty power tools than admit it) that had been the problem all this time. He had just been too spoiled and thus he had never learned the meaning of responsibility.

Freddie, his father, had made a great deal of money long ago by starting the Beethoven and that money financed his son's wishes and wants and his wife's love of fine things. In fact, the only one that had never really lavished himself with the money that the restaurant made was Freddie himself. Harry's father never did care much for money except for the value that it could bestow upon his family. He was a pragmatic man, and he didn't care at about the pomp and "respect" that money entailed. He'd grown up with nothing and he always said that one could get respect without buying it.

It wasn't that he didn't want to teach this thing to his son, it was just that Freddie was also a very lazy man and he'd been too lazy to really do much more than say this time and time again, which meant that the teachings went in one ear and right out the other onto the ground. Perhaps that was why, after such a charmed life, in which he flew through high school in which he bore a straight A in each class. This cruise of life finally culminated in his becoming the valedictorian of his class and going to his first choice college…in which he promptly flunked out of after his first month there.

That had been the beginning of the other side of his life, as if all of the years of happiness that had been his up until that point had been something he had purchased and the endless irritation of his existence now was the payment. Working in the bar that his father had started, the one that he hated, being reduced to cleaning up after the messes that other people left after they went off free to do something else. Oh, how he hated this job!

"Here, the bucket's running out," a voice said next to him and he heard the sound of water being poured into the hard red surface of the container at his feet. The hot water slopped even more over his shoes, but he didn't say anything. Christine shook her head and sighed as she looked at the bar which was littered with spilled drinks and crumbs from the small snacks that were served here along with a few articles of "real" food.

Christine was a large middle-aged woman with a head of steel gray hair that seemed to be perpetually fixed into a permanent bun. Her large and somewhat severe looking face was framed by a large set of earmuffs that she used to ward off the loud guitar music that streamed from the speakers overhead. It gave her a strange and somewhat quirky look, but the gray eyes that looked out of that face were very kind, and she was a motherly sort of person.

Harry knew that she didn't like him, that she only tolerated him because she had professional ethic. He knew that she had not liked him from the moment she saw him, and that his subsequent rudeness to her and general bad-tempered behavior had not improved things. Well, good if she was going to make judgments about him from day one, then let him show her why she should dislike him. Not that theopinions of people like her mattered to him anyway. "Thanks," he muttered to her as she went over to make a drink for a man in a large sweater that she was, even now, chatting animatedly to. The last of the spilled beer was attended to, so now it was time for him to start doing his real job instead of this clandestine janitorial duty that he'd been consigned to lately.

He looked out over the bar and surveyed the rest of the place. It was 11:15 and even the Beethoven Bar was mostly empty at this time of night. A few customers were sitting at its scarred wooden tables. A hand tapped him on the shoulder and he turned around, still frowned. "What is it, Ashleigh?" he asked, trying and failing to keep the irritation out of his voice. "What's the order?"

Ashleigh, the other waitress on duty tonight was actually younger than Harry. She was a senior in high school and was working her way up so that she could make enough money to contribute to her college costs. While Christine's personality was matronly and mothering, the younger waitress had a carefree spirit that was bubbly and contagious. Thus Harry hated her even more than he did Christine. To him Ashleigh represented everything that he had once been—well, except for the working part.

"The guy at table ten wants a gin and tonic, Harry," Ashleigh said, moving a stray wisp of blond hair that had fallen across her cobalt blue eyes. "You've been doing really well lately with the mixing. Did Freddie give you lessons?" she asked with a little smile. Before hiring other employees and even afterwards, Freddie had mixed the drinks himself for years after opening the Beethoven.

"Not really," Harry replied curtly. He ignored the slightly surprised look that she gave him and picked up the bucket and moved it away from the bar so that he could work without tripping over the damned thing. "Now, if you're finished with the questions, what were you saying about the order? Gin and tonic, right?"

"Yes," Ashleigh answered. Unlike Christine, she had not yet given up on trying to make him a happy member of their miserable little group that ran this place. Well, that was another reason why he hated her more than he did the other woman.

Christine had at least had the God-given sense to give up on him when she saw him for what he was: a failed and embittered person whose dreams had been snatched out from under him by the rude hands of life. She knew when she was not liked and knew how to respond in kind. This little airhead (or perhaps not so airheaded at all, because she had told him that she had a good chance at being accepted into Dartmouth) didn't understand any of that at all.

"It's freezing outside, huh?" Ashleigh continued her doomed attempts at conversation with him, blinking her eyes as she did so. "You know, Mr. Walker hasn't shown up in a while. And he's always coming in here, especially after a hard night's plowing. But it's like he's been missing or something, because the snow was piling up in front of my house for a while before my Dad called and the county sent in a new snowplow guy. I thought that Mr. Walker had just gotten reassigned or was sick or something, but he's not been in here lately either."

Harry slammed a glass down on the small metal bar that existed behind the wooden one and filled it up with a shower of the alcoholic liquid that came from the tap. He knew who the man that Ashleigh the Airhead was chattering on about.

Mr. Brandeis Walker was the local snowplow runner and he was a regular customer of the Beethoven Bar; he'd been coming since long before Harry was damned to work there. He hadn't stuck out much to Harry other than the fact that although it was snowing a lot he rarely wore a coat, and when he did, it wasn't a very heavy one. The only conclusion that he had ever made from that was that years of working with snow and ice had made him resistant to cold. Either that or he just couldn't afford a decent set of winter outfits; Harry didn't give a shit one way or the other.

"So what if he doesn't come here anymore?" he demanded of Ashleigh as he pushed the glass of alcohol into her hand. "Did you ever think that maybe he got fired from his job or something like that? Jeez, if I got so worked up every time the mailman or something didn't come to my house, I would be cold in my grave now!" he shook his head at the stupidity of some people.

Ashleigh's face hardened and Harry felt a little satisfaction at having altered her perky good mood for the night. Finally, some actual anger to that face; it was getting so irritating having her all smiles every single goddamned day—

"Mr. Walker is a very nice man and he's helped us out several times," Ashleigh said coldly. "Once when we were completely snowed in, he came on an emergency call and got us out free of charge because my Dad had lost his job. I think that's a shade nicer than the average plowman, don't you think Harry Buford?"

"…whatever," was Harry's response to that. He simply waved his hand in a gesture for her to go give the drinks to the customer who ordered it instead of spending all her time chattering idiotically to him. Jesus, what did she get paid for if she was going to spend all of her time trying to get him to "come out of his shell" or something like that? Still, he had to smile at himself for making her angry like that. It pleased him that he could get a little fool like that so upset by such a frank display of his own irritation. If he'd been more creative, he could have reduced her to hysterics, perhaps—

But now another customer had ordered a drink according to Christine and the moment of happiness wore off as he set back to the drudgery that was his daily life. When he had flunked out of college, he could still remember the face of his advisor. Mr. Bricker it had been, and he had told him, I'm sorry Harrison, but with your grades like this…I think it might not be wise for you to continue the semester.

He remembered the trapped and helpless feeling he had felt then, like he had been punched in the stomach. He had wanted the power to fly then, the power to just levitate off of the ground and into the sky until he disappeared from the eyes of men (and women) forevermore. But no such thing had happened and he had just bowed his head, his dark hair falling into those irresistible black eyes that had attracted so many girls to him over the years and muttered, Yes sir.

Well, that was how he had come to this finish. He wondered, not for the first time, about his future. What was going to happen to him? Was he going to stay like this forever, a bartender in his father's place that couldn't even be called a proper restaurant? A place where he came home half-deaf from the cranked up country music that flew from the speakers? The place where his hands smelled of bleach and alcohol and his clothes of fried food?

He wanted to scream his anguish and despair at the world. He would have traded his perfect childhood and teenaged years for that same perfection just now in the "real world". Well, at least I don't live at home, was his only comforting thought. That would have been a nightmare, something that would have made him contemplate suicide had it actually occurred. But no, he lived in a small one-bedroom apartment in Hawthorne's downtown section—not that the place was big enough to even have a downtown. His father was safely Berlin, that city named after the one in Germany so far away.

He realized that he had been standing there staring into space at the dingy walls that were green with reflected neon light from the sign outside. He took his eyes off of them and scanned the room in general to see if he could spot any regulars. Maybe if Christine and Ashleigh were so good at it, then why couldn't he? After all, he'd at least been in college; Ashleigh hadn't gone yet and he doubted like hell that Christine had even set foot inside of one.

Hmm…the place really was mostly empty. The wooden tables and few booths sat vacant and bare; the few customers that were present were strangers to him and undoubtedly to the other two as well. The man with the sweater that Christine had been talking to so chattily a while ago was long gone. He looked up at the clock. It was now 11:36 and he sighed with relief. Pretty soon the bar would close as it always did around midnight. He would get to go home and sleep through half the day before waking up to go around town and buy books on alternate jobs and feel sorry for himself.

He hated that, the night shift. He had begged his father to place him on a different one, but Freddie had refused each time, the bastard. He claimed that the night shift was the busiest one and he needed his "best bartender" to be the one to work it. Well, Harry couldn't doubt that it was the busiest shift, but he doubted that he was the best bartender in the Beethoven. The bitterest perhaps, but not the best. No, he had decided that Freddie consigned him to these miserable hours as a punishment for wasting the money that he'd sent him to college with.

The thing that scalded him like hot water was the he couldn't blame his old man about it; it just was something that he'd prefer not happen. He didn't want to be the victim of revenge. He hated the night shift with all that sleeping through the day and waking up halfway to sunset to go around and then work all night in the bar. It was like being a damn vampire or something; sleeping in a coffin all day and rising out of the ground to stalk victims.

He shook his head and his eyes then settled on a group of people by one of the booths far end of the room. Christine was talking to them right now and he could tell by the set of the woman's large shoulders that she was uncomfortable. He smiled a little in appreciation; anyone who could make that woman feel anything negative was ok in his book. He inspected the group that was at the booth.

There were three of them and all of them looked around his age. There were two men and they were dressed for the cold; bundled up in thick wool coats. The coats were dark colors, navy blue or black; it was impossible to tell at this distance. Their snow covered boots looked like real leather, and these were most assuredly black; they gleamed under the lights. But as his eyes traveled away from the clothes to the people themselves, he decided that it didn't matter if they were wearing rags, they would look good otherwise.

One of the males had short blond hair and the other's hair was bright blood red and pulled into a ponytail with a black band. They were both sitting straight in their seats and even at this distance he noticed that there was something a little…off about them, but that hardly registered to him as he looked at their faces. He was pretty sure of his sexual orientation, but he knew how easily a member of either sex could be attracted to these individuals. They were both very tall and appeared to be well-muscled beneath the coats and their faces had the soft masculine beauty of Renaissance works of art. The men were sitting so that he could see each of their faces and he wondered if they were brothers, they looked so much alike.

Then he saw their eyes and decided that they had to be brothers. Their eyes were both identical shades of emerald green. The green color was so vibrant that it seemed to emanate its own light and pull the eye of an onlooker towards them. The only thing he found slightly unpleasant about the two men was their skin. Although it was smooth, it was just as pale as it was flawless. In fact, as he looked even harder completely absorbed now, he saw that there was not a hint of a blush in that skin at all. It was just as white as the snow outside.

He pulled his eyes away from the strange men seated at the table and then shook his head. That was very unlike him to take an interest in who came into the bar. Normally the people who took service at this place were faceless drones to him, drones that he served and then forgot about in the next breath. No, he truly didn't get interested in people, much less stare like a buffoon at them for…good god, it had been five minutes spent examining those two men! What if one of them had seen him?

What if one of them had seen him? he thought grumpily. If one of them had seen him looking at him then they'd just shrug. And if they didn't like it, then they could come over here and say something about it to him. If they didn't have the guts to say it, then they could suck it up. Christine came back behind the bar, her face thoughtful and troubled. "What's the matter?" he asked curiously. He wanted to know that the two strange men had done to upset the older waitress.

Christine shook her head. "Nothing," she muttered. "It's just that they…I don't know. Anyway, the two of them are ordering a mix of lemonade and beer," she reported mechanically.

"What kind?" Harry asked, already getting out two glasses to start his craft. He was getting good at this bartending stuff and it disturbed him a little to think of that. He had been studying to be an architect, something a far cry from being a bartender.

Christine shrugged. "That's what I asked too, but they don't really care. Just any one will do; all they want is the drink. One of them said it's the 'liquid that counts'." She shivered a little.

Harry smirked. "Ok, spill it woman, what happened that's got you all worked up?" he was pleased to see Christine glare at him, but he didn't think that she was going to respond to his question until she opened her mouth, glanced back at the two men at the table and then looked back at him.

"I don't know," she said. "They just give me the creeps, that's all. I mean, they are very handsome young men and all, but…there's just something about them. When they were talking to me, they had this odd way of speaking. They didn't move their mouths all the way; they kept their lips almost completely closed over their teeth. It was strange. And the way they moved…it was like they were—I can't explain it. Then one of them…touched me!" she gave the biggest shudder of all. "He didn't feel human," she whispered and he knew that she was no longer talking to him, but to herself alone.

Crazy bitch, he thought as he filled the glasses and mixed the desired drinks. One look at Christine's glassy-eyed face was enough to tell him that Ashleigh would be needed to deliver them to the customers that had thrown such a scare into the big waitress. "Ash, come over here!" he called. He always referred to her as "Ash" when he addressed her by name, although in his thoughts she was always Ashleigh.

Ashleigh came from the far end of the bar and took up the glasses without question and without a look in his direction either. But now he was too curious about the mysterious men to really care about what she felt or didn't feel. The fact that they had scared Christine, who even now, was taking a small drink from the back, intrigued him. He looked at Ashleigh as she went over to their table and set the drinks down on it in front of them and he saw the two nod their thanks as the waitress went on her way.

Funny, nothing had happened to her when she had gone over, at least nothing that he could visibly see. Ashleigh was walking the way she always did in a light and unhurried saunter. Fear did not mar her stride at all; in fact she seemed even better than when she had gone over there. Her bad mood at Harry's indifference over Brandeis Walker's "disappearance" was gone at least. Well, time to start getting ready for closing, he thought as he began to clean out used glasses with water and a clean rag.

Now it was time for him to go back to his apartment in Hawthorne and sleep on the sofa-bed that he had in his room. He'd wake up at around twelve or something to start his day. Perhaps he'd go drive to Berlin and beg his dad once more to have mercy on his son and give him some other shift besides the night, where the only fun things to do were to torment and spread animosity with the two waitresses that were his only companions in this dismal bartending existence—

The door opened at the same time Christine turned down the music so that the ting of the silver bell above the door sounded as it opened. The sound pierced Harry's ears and he looked up instinctively from what he had been doing. There had never been a time when he'd heard the little bell make a sound, although he assumed that it did make one when people walked in and out—if the object existed at all. He had been told by Christine that it had been long forgotten, it's small cry drowned away by the swell of music from the speakers.

Harry looked at the door and at the life-size wooden statue of Ludwig Von Beethoven and saw the person who had entered through the door. Another newcomer and most definitely not one of the regular customers whom his waitress "friends" seemed so fond of speaking to and worrying about all their little problems. The girl that walked through the door looked around Ashleigh's age and not a very well tempered person either.

Her long hair was a blond with streaks of red running through it like channels of blood. It was wavy and curled at the edges as if she had run her hair through some kind of pressing machine. She wasn't fat exactly, not like Christine, but she was heavy. But something about this extra weight didn't convey a feeling of flabbiness and weakness; rather in displayed an aura of…power he guessed.

But the strangest thing about this girl was the way she was dressed. Although she had just come in from the swirling snow outside, she was dressed in a thin army green t-shirt and jeans that were so full of holes around the knees and ankles that they looked as if they were going to fall apart. In fact, as he looked closer, he saw that there were several safety-pins holding the whole works together on one leg around her calf. "What the hell?" he said aloud. Then he immediately clamped his mouth shut; his voice had seemed very loud in the silence that had been left behind by the music.

A scuffling noise reached his ears as Christine ran a glass down the bar toward him. He caught it at the same time turning around to face the girl that was coming toward him. Yes, he was sure of it, as he looked closer at him he was sure that she was no more than eighteen or nineteen. She noticed the way he was staring at her and her brown eyes immediately came to meet his own. Harry flinched away from the eye contact before he could stop himself.

What are you doing? he demanded of himself, but he didn't know why he had just looked away from her like that. It was just…there was something in that girl's dark brown eyes that made you not want to even look for too long. As if you'd find yourself messed up in a serious kind of way if you stared for too long. It was an animal thing; staring meant aggression and he had no intention of letting her think that he, Harry College Dropout Buford meant any menace to her.

But why was that so? Why did he need to be afraid of her when there was nothing that was…oh whatever. "What can I get you?" he asked her as she sat down on a barstool to the left of him, her elbows on the table. "We're almost closed, you know." Thank god.

The girl didn't respond to him, not at first anyway. She merely looked around the bar and Harry was standing so close to her that he saw her shoulders tense up. Her mouth tightened; it almost looked—but this had to be crazy, who did this?—as if she was trying to prevent herself from baring her teeth. Her brown eyes darted for a quick second to the corner of the room and Harry saw them settle for a brief instant on the men at the booth there.

Unconsciously he followed her gaze to the two heavily dressed men that were still sitting at the table and noticed that they had stopped drinking. Their identically emerald green eyes were fixed on the girl on the barstool and, as a consequence, on Harry. He found that he couldn't look away from those strange eyes; they seemed to hold him like a snake does to a bird that it is about to devour.

"What've you got left?" the girl asked, breaking the strange and somehow terrible spell that held him in its grasp. He looked back at her face, infinitely grateful to her for breaking the moment. Her face was curious and inquisitive, and she stared straight at him in a manner that he found almost disturbing. It was an intense stare and it had the exact opposite effect of the two men sitting at the booth. Instead of wanting to endlessly return that gaze, he wanted to look away from it immediately.

"Well, we've…what've we got, you two?" he yelled over his shoulder, glad to be away from those burning brown eyes.

Christine and Ashleigh looked back at him. Ashleigh shrugged. "Well, most of the stuff's been put away in terms of food. All the drinks are still out there though, so she can have whatever she wants from there." She went back to putting away a box of straws that she had been starting to unpack when she'd noticed the time of night.

Christine however was not in a very good mood; her face showed it like a thundercloud. She was still feeling the jitters over whatever experience she had gone through with the men who were, even now, going back to their drinks, and she was in no mood to stay here any longer. For the first time, she shared the same feelings as Harry of wanting to get out of the restaurant as fast as she could before something terrible happened. She didn't know what it was, but she had an awful feeling of impending doom. When Christine felt afraid, she channeled it out in anger. "Well, we have a raw hamburger if she wants to eat that, but I'm not wasting my time cooking it," she muttered under her breath so that Harry only heard the faintest whisper of what she said.

"A burger would be nice," the girl said, resting her chin in one large hand. "I didn't know a place like this served them, but it's just as well; I'm starving." Harry's eyes widened and his grip tightened on the glass that he hadn't realized he was still holding. How had she heard what Christine said? He had barely heard it and he was far closer to the waitress than this girl was—

"Yeah, I'll have the raw hamburger," the girl said, raising her voice so that Christine could hear her order. The middle aged waitress let out a small gasp and her face turned bright red like a stop sign. She fumbled with the strings of her stained apron and then looked away from the customer's brown eyes, seeming to suffer the same fate that Harry himself felt when he looked at her.

"Um…that would be quite impossible," Ashleigh said softly. "I mean, what Christine said was a jest, and quite a bad one, but there's no way that we could actually do that!" she attempted to infuse her voice with some laughter, but she was just as surprised at the act of hearing what this girl had demonstrated. What good ears! Harry turned away from them and began to clean the glass again, even though it was now past ready to be put away. He realized that the only ones left inside the bar were himself, Christine, Ashleigh, the girl and the two men at the booth.

Goosebumps waltzed delicately down his arms and legs as he looked at them again. One of them raised the glass to his lips and sipped at the last dregs of his drink, and quite suddenly a thought sounded in his head that made no sense at all. They aren't human! No, they aren't human at all! Look at them, how white and smooth they are, and how graceful that one's arm moves like that simple action is a choreographed performance. No human moves that way! But that was insane, completely mad. These were the thoughts that were caused by the hatred of his job and the late hours that he was running.

"Fine, just cook it then," the girl was saying. "I don't care what way you do it; like I was saying, it doesn't really matter to me if it's raw. Can I get drink too?" she pointed to Harry and he froze. "Just give me something alcoholic," she asked.

Mechanically, Harry filled the formerly clean glass with the first alcoholic beverage that he could find and then hesitated. He didn't want to slide it across the bar to her, which was something that he did often, because he was afraid that it might spill. Then what would she do if it did? He didn't know why he was afraid of that, but he had an idea that it wasn't a good thing to make this chick angry. But at the same time, he didn't want to go over there and physically give it to her…

Finally the second option won out and he took the few steps over to her that it required. As she reached out her hand for the glass, their fingers made contact for a brief minute. The girl's fingers were hard and strong feeling and…warm. No, more like burning hot; she felt as if she'd had her hand over a stove or something like that. "So…what's your name?" he asked curiously. It was the first time that he'd really ever talked like this to a person at the bar. Why on her? But, the die was already cast and she was either going to answer or she wasn't.

The girl looked up at him for what seemed like way too long and then answered. "Gabrielle Perry," she answered. She took a sip of her drink as she spoke and then swallowed. "And you?"

"Harry Buford," Harry answered without even thinking about what he was going to say. "You traveling alone or did you ditch your family somewhere out there?" he jerked his thumb out at the cold and swirling winds that smashed the snowflakes up against the windows. He really wasn't looking forward to driving home in that mess, but that was another consequence of being on the night shift. "So where're you traveling from?"

"New York," Gabrielle answered. "Look, can you just give me the food so I can get out of here?" it was too fast to follow, but she shot another glance at the men at the table. Harry looked back at Ashleigh and started to open his mouth, but the hard look in the other waitress's blue eyes made him close it before the words had even had a chance to form. Why had he even bothered to ask? A little strait-lace like Ash would never allow someone to consume a raw burger. Perhaps if it had just been him and Christine, but it wasn't…

One of the men at the booth in the corner got up and then the other did as well. The blond haired one looked at Gabrielle again and then made a gesture, as if to reach into his coat, but the red haired man shook his head sharply and then pointed outside. Their green eyes were following every move that the heavy girl made and Harry was realized that she was aware of it. More goosebumps went down his back and he very much wanted to be home at his apartment and waiting miserably for the next shift.

Looking at the two men, he know understood what had caught him as being odd about them even before he noticed their unnaturally pale skin. It was the way that they carried themselves…or perhaps the way that they didn't. Standing at the booth, the two of them could have been marble statues carved out of the ground to sit there for all eternity. When human beings "stand still", they always make some kind of movement; it's madness to think that a person can maintain a posture of perfect motionlessness. But that was exactly what these two were doing!

"Look, just give her the fucking burger!" he burst out to Ashleigh. He was surprised at the high and scared sound of his voice. "Just give it to her so that we can close the damn place and all go home!" he found himself breaking into a twitching grin. "You want to go home right? You want to go home so you can go to school tomorrow, don't you? So give the customer her food!" he screamed the last words. He didn't know why he was so scared, not at all, but he did know one thing: he was more afraid than he'd ever been in his life.

It's those two, he thought. Gabrielle's…weird, she heard Christine when it should have been impossible and her hand was burning up, but she's pretty normal. Those men over there though…oh, those men…he was broken out of his thoughts by the sound of boots on the splintery wooden floor. He felt his stomach draw up into his chest at the sight of the two men walking toward the bar, their black coats—they were black coats, there was no mistaking the color now—solid and dark against the dim light.

They don't move like humans do either, he thought as he took a few steps back from the counter, pushing back with his hands. This was not a conscious decision at all; it was just a completely autonomous act of instinct.

He became aware that Gabrielle had put down her drink and was looking at the stained and scratched surface of the bar as if she had discovered something very interesting there. Christine was still in the back putting things away, unaware of what was going on now, but Ashleigh had stopped what she was doing and was staring with wary blue eyes at the two strangers. The two of them walked past the bar toward the door outside—and then the blond long-haired man was pointing a gun at Gabrielle's head.

Harry blinked. There was no way that this could have happened, he must have blacked out and missed the step over to the barstool, hand reaching into the coat and the drawing of the weapon. There was no possible way that a person could just have a gun trained to someone's head in the blink of an eye; that would imply that the blond man had moved with speeds that were untraceable to the human eye…

Then the full magnitude of the situation kicked in. There was a man in front of him holding a gun to Gabrielle Perry's head and it looked like a pretty big one too. The red haired man at the door stopped dead at the sound of the gun and then he turned around so fast that his body blurred around the edges. "What the hell?" was out of Harry's mouth before he could stop it. Then his lungs released their pent up air in a hiss of breath and he felt his muscles go all loose and weak.

The red haired man's eyes were changing.

The eyes that had been bright emerald green were now slowly darkening; it was as if the pupils of his eyes were expanding outward to take over the iris until both irises of his eyes were jet black. "What are you doing, Reiner?" he demanded. Then he was at the blond man's side in an instant and his hand was swinging outward in a flash. Then a gun of his own was clearing the shoulder holster that was revealed beneath his coat and both of the weapons were leveled at Gabrielle's head.

Unsurprisingly, Ashleigh was the first one to recover from the shock of the sudden events. "A gun!" she screamed. She staggered backwards in surprise and knocked several glasses off the bar where they shattered onto the floor with piercing crashes. The two men and Gabrielle didn't notice. The red haired one placed his gun underneath Gabrielle's jaw and nudged the barrel into the area where the neck and head connect.

"I told you to wait until she was outside, Reiner," he said through clenched teeth. The blond man didn't answer; his gaze remained fixed on the blond girl's head. Then the red haired man turned his attention to her as well. "Get up, Perry," he ordered in a completely different voice than he had hissed at his partner, and somehow this voice was infinitely worse. It was low and cold enough to make Harry's blood freeze in his veins.

"Look," said Harry and he was surprised to hear that his voice was remarkably free of the shakes. That was a far cry from what he felt though; he wanted to crawl under the bar or better still burrow deep under the floor and into the solid concrete foundation that supported the building. "Look," he repeated again, "Could you just…put down the gun, please?" His hands were shaking under the bar, trembling like leaves caught in a gale. Ah, there was the trembling that he had been expecting from a situation like this.

The sound of dishes in the back stopped as Christine caught the sight of the action at the front of the bar. Harry turned his head slightly so that he could see out of the corner of his eye; the waitress was reaching slowly toward the phone that hung on the wall. "Don't even think about it," the blond man said without taking his eyes off the silent girl he had the gun to.

"What?" Christine drew in a harsh and rattling gasp in through her teeth. She withdrew her hand from the phone as if it was red hot. "What are you talking about? I didn't—"

"Don't call the police," the red haired man commanded. He looked away from Gabrielle and his eyes raked all of the threesome behind the bar. Harry noticed in a disconnected sort of way that his eyes had returned to their emerald green color, although the black still darkened them to a deeper color than they had been previously. "All of you just stand against the wall back there, pour yourselves drinks if you have to, but don't even think of going near that phone." He looked at Christine, whose face had now gone the color of unflavored yogurt. "Or we'll kill you." The words were not threatening; they were just stated calmly as if he had just told them that he was ready for the check.

As if he'd read Harry's mind, the blond haired man said, "After we've rounded up this bitch here, we'll pay the check and go. Just pretend this never happened." Then he turned his attention to Gabrielle and he pressed his gun further into the back of her head. "We said, get up dog."

Throughout this entire affair, Gabrielle had been sitting with her hands folded calmly on the bar and her head down. She hadn't even flinched when these two mysterious men had put their weapons to her head and shouted their threats at her. "Why?" she asked calmly. "I'm actually waiting for a meal—or at least I was until you decided that you were going to take me in. Can't you parasites just wait until I'm finished?"

What the hell's going on? Harry wondered as his back hit the wall. How can she be so calm with a gun to her head? No, make those two guns! I'd be crapping my pants at this point and begging them not to take my life! You've got to be insane girl! This was what came of being on the night shift; he had always known that one of these days the crowd here would actually contain someone dangerous to his health. And it had finally happened! The fact that Gabrielle and the two men seemed to know one another confirmed in his racing mind that this must be a criminal problem of some kind.

They're drug dealers or something, that has to be the reason that…no, those coats and boots look to fancy for that; they have to be mafia or something. That's the only thing that makes sense. Please don't let them blow her brains out right here and now; if they're going to do it, let it be outside or something…

"No, we're leaving NOW!" The blond haired man gripped Gabrielle's bare upper arm, his long white fingers sinking into her skin. She cried out in surprise and anger at the attack. Then Ashleigh cried out and Harry heard his own surprised exclamation as the blond man threw Gabrielle across the room. The girl was heavy and Harry would have thought this man would have had to move her with two arms, and even then he wouldn't be capable of what he had just done!

But he had done it, the truth was right there in front of him, in front of them all. As they watched, stupefied, the large girl went flying across the room and crashed into the wall opposite them. The plaster cracked in a million places and the small digital clock that was on the wall crashed down and its glass face fissured and its numbers blinked crazily. For what seemed like a thousand years no one moved.

"Was that really necessary, Reiner?" the red haired man asked. He strode away from the bar and slowed his walk as he neared the fallen girl. "You knocked her out, didn't you?" he asked without taking his eyes off of her.

"Yes sir," the blond man known as Reiner said quickly. "I made sure to throw her hard enough to make sure there was a concussion. I timed the trajectory so that there would also be severe head trauma and possible brain hemorrhage. I think that's enough to keep her down until well after we've restrained her."

Harry stared at their backs with fascination bordering on hysteria. What the hell were these two talking about? First of all the fact that he had just thrown that girl across the room was impossible and second of all, how did he have time to plan out what the attack would do when he had done it? Third, what did he mean "keep her down until they'd restrained her"? The injuries he was describing would require serious medical attention! Yet he spoke of them as if he had just hit her in the face.

It was becoming clearer and clearer to him that these two men were perhaps not men at all. Now that he had gotten a good look at them, he was more convinced than ever that they were something…well, something more than mere humans. Reiner and his red haired partner continued forward toward the fallen body, their guns held out as if they expected her to rise up and attack them at any time.

"I don't like this," the red haired man stated. "Are you absolutely sure that you did it? Her heart is still beating far too quickly for the wounds you think that you inflict—get back, NOW!" he cut himself off in a deafening roar and then his aimed pistol was firing shot after shot at the girl's body. But Gabrielle had sprung to life, and she rolled out of the gun's way. The bullet's slammed into the wall, punctuating the plaster with huge fist-sized holes.

Christine shrieked and clasped her hands to the side of her face like she had a bad tooth-ache. In the process, her arms came up and cleared more glasses onto the ground where they shattered. The sharps bits of glass shone wickedly in the light.

Nimble for such a large person, Gabrielle Perry avoided the gunshots by rolling and then jumped to her feet. Her face was flushed and it had the strangest look on it that Harry Buford had ever seen; she looked eager and furious at the same time. "You need to work on your aim, bloodsucker!" she taunted. Reiner fired at her from underneath his other arm, trying to conceal the gun, but Gabrielle jumped on top of a table, knocking it over with a crash.

The bullets slammed into the fallen table and splinters of wood flew everywhere, clouding the air with sawdust. Reiner's lips drew back from his teeth and he let out the most unearthly sound that any of them had ever heard; it was a furious hissing sound like the sound of a snake made human. But that didn't interest any of them; they weren't paying attention to their ears, their eyes were sending them the top message.

Reiner's teeth were like the teeth of no human being that they'd ever seen before. They were completely white and seemed to almost glow…but they were not human. Harry had seen teeth like them before—on a Great White Shark in a National Geographic special. Now he found himself doing the same thing that Christine was doing, clapping his hands to the side of his face and screaming…a scream that cut off at what happened next.

The red haired man had exhausted the ammo in his semiautomatic. He then reached one hand inside of his coat, at the same time leaping onto the walls and running across them horizontally as if they were regular ground (all of their eyes had to process this little event; yes the red haired man's boots were indeed sticking to the wall somehow). What he withdrew from his coat was a silver Uzi submachine gun.

"EVERYBODY HIT THE DECK!" Christine screamed as the man opened fire at his quarry. Gabrielle's rather amused expression was wiped off her face as the rapid-fire of bullets tore up the floor near her. She tried to doge again, but some of the bullets nicked her leg and she cried out in pain and her back slammed into the nearby wall.

"I'm asking you again—surrender," Reiner said. He didn't seem to be in possession of a second weapon, so he was still aiming his pistol at the girl. "Surrender and we will offer you the best possible terms. Lord Lewis is known for his kindness. All he wants is an elaboration of the events of New York. After you've given your statement, you'll be free to go. You'll be free, and you'll be in your home state!"

"Go eat shit, you leeches," Gabrielle said, breathing heavily. "I know what you really want. I'm not going back to New York after you've taken me to your fancy mansion. I'll die there, whether it's from you shooting me or knowing you bastards, just plain starvation. Or the Sink."

A spasm of what looked like pure and unfiltered disgust passed across both Reiner and the red haired man's faces. "God forbid the thought of having one of you dogs in the Sink with us," Reiner shuddered. His red haired partner said nothing, just continued to look even grimmer.

A hand touched Harry's and he almost screamed—but stopped by biting his tongue. "What's going on?" Ashley asked next to him.

Oh, so you've forgiven me, Little Miss Sunshine, Harry thought of saying, but he was too terrified for snide comments. It was occurring to him that he was going to die right now, be shot by these weird criminals that had come for this girl. What the hell was this, a drug deal gone badly? Or was it that she owed them for something she had done in New York and they wanted to take her to their bosses to pay for it? He shook his head to indicate that he didn't know any more than she did, and she should get her ass away from the bar because of all the broken glass. Already he could see that her arms were pretty badly cut up from crawling over it on her way here.

She nodded back and was moving backwards toward the back room—when she disappeared. Harry blinked. All that had happened was an abrupt wind on his face and then Ashleigh was gone. All that remained of her was a few drops of blood that decorated the broken glass on the ground.

"Put her down!" Gabrielle growled harshly. Harry's head popped up like a jack-in-the-box over the counter as he witnessed more of the strange and terrible scene. Reiner had seized Ashleigh by the back of her neck and was holding her close to him, almost crushing her against his body. Ashleigh struggled and writhed in the grip of his arm, but he was too strong for her to fight him successfully.

The red haired man glanced at Ashleigh for a moment and then at Reiner and then back at Gabrielle. "Will you come with us if we leave this human alone?" he asked. Reiner's face clouded with disappointment for a moment, but he shrugged and then tightened his grip on Ashleigh so that her struggles now became weak and almost nonexistent twitches.

Gabrielle's body became almost as still as the two pale men that had Ashleigh. "You bastards," she breathed. Harry saw her dark brown eyes dart to Ashleigh scared face and then to the expressions of the men that had her. Harry looked at their faces and then looked away at once. For what he saw in the eyes of the blond man was something that he had never expected to see when one human being looked at another: hunger.

He's not human! Harry's mind screamed at him again. Didn't you already see his teeth? Isn't that enough to convince you of his inhumanity? But the rational explanations, they craved to be looked at. Birth defects, surgery, anything but some kind of inhuman monster, his mind begged him. Please don't believe that, because what was he to do with such information?

"I refuse to come with you," she said again, but this time it was a reluctant refusal. She was looking at Ashleigh and then back at her shoes. Harry could tell that she was trying to decide whether to come or not. "If I come with you…will you let the girl go?" she asked.

"I promise," Reiner said…but once again Harry saw the emerald green eyes go to Ashleigh's face as if he was searching for something there. No, that wasn't it; the eyes weren't going to Ashleigh's head…they were going to her throat. He saw the blond man gently lick his tongue across those demonically sharp teeth that filled his mouth. Teeth that were impossible for any human being to possess.

Gabrielle's fists clenched and then her shoulders slumped seemingly in defeat. "Let her go then," she spat at Reiner and then she looked at the red haired man. "Let her go and then take me." She held her hands up to the ceiling like a holdup victim.

"Reiner," was all that the red haired man said. He seemed to be the one giving the orders, Harry noticed. With a sigh, the blond man released Ashleigh, who staggered away from him and bumped into a stool and then fell on the ground. The blood from her cut arms had gotten on the blond's hands. As Harry watched, the man lifted the hand that wasn't holding the gun to his mouth and licked the blood off.

I didn't see that. Harry ripped his eyes away from the sight of that and then watched as Reiner and his partner approached Gabrielle. "Hold out your hands," the red haired man snapped and Harry glimpsed them then, the same teeth that decorated the blond's mouth. They are not human.

"Thanks for letting her go," Gabrielle said, "I'll keep my promise; you can take me—if you can!" she jerked away from the pale men and then was up against the wall again so fast that none of them saw her really move. The red haired man shouted a curse at her, but Gabrielle responded with a snarl. A real snarl; it sounded like an animal of some kind had been unleashed within the confines of the room—confines that were seemingly smaller and smaller.

Then Gabrielle's lips drew away from her teeth—human shaped teeth, thank God—but that same animal snarling was coming from her in a rush. Then she changed. Christine screamed and the scream went on like the wail of a fire-bell. Ashleigh made no sound, but her eyes bugged so far out of her head that they almost popped out their sockets. And Harry…he just stood there, his hands gripping the counter so hard now that the imprints of his nails were made in the hard wood.

In the flash of a few seconds, Gabrielle Perry fell to the ground on all fours; her clothes exploded off as brown fur began to grow on a body that was rapidly reshaping itself, becoming…something else, something that he had only seen in…horror movies. What was standing before them was a brown wolf of epic proportions. The beast was huge; the size of a horse at least and its mouth was open, showing teeth as sharp as razors.

Both men backed away from the monsters as it stalked deliberately towards them, its burning brown eyes fixed on them. Ashleigh screamed as Reiner grabbed her up from the ground again. "NO!" she screamed. "No, let me go! Please don't hurt me—" she was cut off as the Reiner's teeth came down on her throat, ripping into her windpipe with furious abandon. His boots left the ground as he jumped away from the wolf and to the far corner of the room.

He gripped Ashleigh tightly as she screamed and screamed. The blood was dripping onto the floor and staining the boards as he drank it from the horrible wound he had made in her neck. "Dear God!" Christine gasped and she crossed herself at the same time drawing a small cross necklace from her dress with her other hand. "Dear God, preserve us!"

It took Harry's jammed mind a few minutes to understand that Ashleigh was dead. He saw her struggling furiously and then, as Reiner released her, her body fell lifelessly to the floor. Her awfully pale face was contorted in her dying terror and the tears still trickled from her staring eyes. He could not take his eyes from the sight of her dead body; it was so garish and so real to him, realer than anything had ever been in his life.

And the red haired man was shouting and then his Uzi was firing at the giant wolf with the abandon that comes when one is trying to indiscriminately kill something. Then Reiner was a blur across the room as he kicked the wolf in the side, sending it crashing into several tables. The tables were smashed into splinters with the mass of the creature's body, and it snarled with rage and whirled around faster than any normal wolf, snapping wildly with its teeth flashing white.

"Go, Noah!" Reiner screamed. "I'll hold it off!" his face was intent and concentrated and the formerly green eyes were now changing again, becoming a dark violet color. Despite the eyes, the face was actually more human looking; a faint flush had crept into the pale skin. But then a thrill of icy horror flew through his body as he realized that it was Ashleigh's blood that was now coloring this creature's skin with that red. Harry whirled away from the scene and jumped over the bar, a terrible scream of terror bursting from his mouth.

He was halfway to the door when he heard the sound of the Uzi starting up again and then a blinding pain erupted in the back of his legs as his thighs were raked by the machine-gun fire. The muscle was shredded away from the cracked bones and the skin was pulverized along with the cloth of his pants. He yelled in agony and fell to the ground, writhing and roaring in his pain. The whole world was red and as he looked upward, he saw that Reiner was now firing the Uzi at the wolf that was avoiding the individual bullets with uncanny perfection. It was zigzagging its way across the floor toward the blond man.

Then it struck, its jaws opening and shutting on the ends of Reiner's coat as he jumped into the air and flew away from it. The wolf snarled and then dodged another spray of bullets from the submachine gun. Wolf? No, this was not a wolf and even in the extremity of his pain, he could realize that. This was something different, a…a…a werewolf.

Then something pulled him upright and he screamed hoarsely as his injured legs were forced to support him. It was the red haired man named Noah. Up close Noah looked even more handsome; he had a delicate look to him that seemed to conceal a great amount of strength. His emerald green eyes regarded Harry's sweat and tearstained face coolly. "P-please," Harry whispered softly. "Please don't kill me, I don't want to die, I'm happy with working here, I just want to live!" but the man's eyes were still just staring straight ahead and Harry knew that he was not going to survive past this night.

"I'll be right there, Reiner!" he called over his shoulder and then he struck so fast that Harry only realized that Noah's teeth were buried in his neck when the pain hit him. He tried to scream, but only a gargling sound came out as a small trickle of blood oozed from the corner of his mouth. Then Noah turned his head roughly to the side and there was a flaring sheet of pain in his throat. Harry felt himself beginning to sink into the blackness, but one thought remained with him, floating into the void.

A fucking werewolf! I saw a werewolf, a real one, and…vampires.